And so, the countdown nears an end.
Seven years since the true beginning. Five since the beginning of phase two - when the first of those wonderful preparations found themselves coursing through my body, saving me from the inexorable ravages of time. Four since things really began to step beyond anything I'd ever imagined. Now, only a week remains.
It is strange how, at this point, when faced with the terrifying, staggering prospect of finality, one looks back at all that has happened and cannot help but laugh. The hours spent in silent withdrawal, inner mind prowling through the intricacies of the journey ahead when it should have been focused towards getting respectable grades. Still, a little self-indulgence never hurt anyone. After all, that is the reason why this node exists.
So, why am I, your host for this little journey, writing a rambling account at some stupid time of the night instead of sleeping -as would be sensible? That's a good question. Perhaps it is a fear of saying goodbye without leaving something behind -after all, the unknown into which I step brings with it the possibility that this could indeed be the end. Perhaps it is a desire to be able to look back and laugh, as I look back now and laugh at the fears that tortured me all those years ago.
Or perhaps it is a desire to reach out a hand towards any other who dares to walk this path, and say "You are not alone". I have read hundreds of accounts of other tortured souls who dared to tread the path before me - and I cannot help but desire to add my own account to this.
"What path?" you are probably asking yourself. What path indeed? What is the best way to explain the enormity of this journey, which is at once almost inconsequential and yet mind-shatteringly vast in scope? How do you describe a battle with the fundamental flesh that forms one's own being? I think it an impossible challenge, so I shall merely describe the destination, a snapshot of the briefest moment.
In a week's time, I shall awake from the cold, empty haze of the anesthetist's merciful pain-masking slumber, and find myself complete. In those first few hours, while concerned family crowds around and the world seems to drift by with an air of post-operative surreality, the shell that I call my own will begin to come to terms with what has happened to it.
Under the surgeon's expert blade, I will be remade. Reborn. Every cut, every piece of flesh that is stripped, shaped, reconfigured and reattached, will take me one step closer to the end of my journey.
This flesh - this prison toward which I have directed so many years of hatred and revulsion - will finally be fixed. No more fear. No more awkwardness. No more lying awake at night, endlessly running over the same questions and the same ridiculous situations again and again.
It will not be perfect. Nothing is perfect. This body is definitely flawed, and will remain so. The hallmarks of my initial construction will haunt me forever, every time I look in the mirror, every time I pass hands across my flesh and feel the bones which lie beneath.
Imperfect, yes. However, it seems that imperfection is a great deal harder to recognise than one would think. It is so easy to hide in plain sight if one knows how to do so. Now, I have fawning crowds of admirers. Heads turn when I walk past - not to stare in horror at the freakish monster, but to gaze upon the beautiful woman who carries herself with a quiet confidence, always smiling at some inner joke that only she understands.
I have been deeply immersed in this identity for so long now that it takes a conscious effort to recall the original name assigned to that other person, that other me-who-is-not. I have friends - oh, many friends, old and new, across both identities. All but one of the new set are blissfully unaware of the past - and somehow, I have been able to maintain such a state for what is now a staggeringly long time.
Not a day passes where I do not thank whatever divinity might lie outside this world for the wondrous second chance I have been given. An opportunity to rebuild myself as the person I *should* have been, and to finally face the world with a body that is no longer a source of terrible embarrassment and insecurity.
I do not wish to bring out the obligatory sob stories of a hellish childhood. Nor do I wish to belittle the difficulties faced by those who stand before far more terrible obstacles than this.
I do, however, wish to state that nowadays, I am rarely found without a smile on my face - a smile that is as much inward as outward, sole party as I am to this wonderful, universal secret. For I know that despite the obstacles placed in my path, I have already beaten the challenge set by life. I have already won the greatest victory possible.
I am happy.
So here I am. Standing upon the brink of the greatest cliff I have ever faced. What lies past that edge? What lies beyond that horizon, on the other side? I know that, in the short term, there is only pain and discomfort. Possibly even death, or post-operative complication, or all manner of horrors. But in the long term?
Perhaps, after all this searching, I will finally find peace.
I can but hope.