(Note: the actual memoir text is single spaced)
FOUR : Finding Lydia
As in, “I think I’ve met my soul mate.”
It’s a platinum-level phrase reserved for that once-in-a-lifetime love.
One can’t use the words too casually or too soon; most listeners will
certainly give a disapproving look.
The thing about soul mates: you never know when they’ll show up.
For some, it’s a first grade romance that never ends. Others find their soul
mate on the hundred-and-tenth blind date. Some meet their soul mate
while living as widows or widowers.
And me? I found my soul mate when I was barely fifteen.
Lydia King was my soul mate-in-waiting.
We began easy enough; a match-up through her friends. A
quick-witted cute blonde with a Mona Lisa smile, Lydia had a girl-next door
persona. She was always willing to touch—a hand, a sleeve, a
shoulder—when she spoke, which made her impossible to resist. She
smelled wonderful too; every morning she spritzed a tiny shot of Heaven
Scent on her neck. Most of all, she had a generous giving heart one size
larger than Alaska.
On the other hand, it shouldn’t have worked. Lydia was Missouri
Synod Lutheran in a family of before-dinner grace prayers. Unbelievably,
her parents didn’t even drink. Barbara and Samuel King also weren’t
crazy about Lydia dating anyone outside their religion. Catholics in
particular, especially Catholic boys with booming voices like mine, were
off-limits. Lydia was a year older, too—tenth grade to my ninth—at a
time when dating younger boys was borderline heretical.
“You were hard up,” I always kidded her.
Lydia thought I was nice, and she liked my sense of humor. She
bucked her parents.
“You’re so sensitive,” she said one night as we sat in her car, trying
to French kiss for the first time. “You’re not like other boys; you aren’t
afraid to tell me what’s in your heart.”
Certainly I was willing to talk about many things that most fifteen year-
old boys wouldn’t even consider. Like her interest in fashion design.
I actually asked questions as she described dress patterns or explained
how to make the perfect dart. It didn’t scare me to say that I liked her, or
more importantly, to show it.
Before long, I had written a couple dozen notes and cards telling
Lydia how special she was.
My best friend, Dennis Tharp, whom I nicknamed Thap, understood
that Lydia was a keeper.
“Krugger, what the hell is a girl like Lydia King doing with you?
She’s a sweetheart, and way too good for you,” he said with a wink. “She
should be dating me instead.”
I thought he might be a little serious.
“Leave me alone, Thap. Get your own girlfriend from the dozens
standing in line.”
“Seriously, Krug, she’s such a nice person. If you have any sense at
all, you’ll hang on to her.”
Thap definitely had enough experience to spot an exceptional girl.
We had been friends since the first day of eighth grade, when he walked
up the aisle of our loud school bus. He had a fresh crew cut to jet black
hair and wore brand-new blue jeans topped by a white button-down shirt.
I saw a smile and an offered hand.
“Hi, I’m Dennis.”
In retrospect, it’s a wonder Thap was so friendly; with shaggy hair
nearly to my shoulders, striped multicolored bell bottoms, and a Nehru
jacket, I was my own special mix of Iowa hippie and weirdo. A four-inch
silver medallion hung around my neck. Mom thought it made me look cool.
I smiled at this new kid, flashed the peace sign, and replied, “Peace,
It was 1970, after all.
Thap and I fell in as friends. Soon, we were nightly telephone junkies,
sharing about girls, music, and whatever else teenage boys talk about.
Eventually, we both made the football team, with Thap as quarterback
and me as front line guard. I was tasked with keeping Thap safe from
rushing linemen hell-bent on taking him down.
“Krug, do your job and don’t let that son of a bitch get to me!”
Because of Thap’s drop-dead gorgeous features—the hair, the tight
jaw, and the everlasting cocky spirit—he quickly faced the dilemma
of choosing among multiple girls. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, he
always wanted my opinion.
“What do you think, Krugger?” he risked during one lunch period.
“Should I spend my energy on Carmen, who’s happy to make out, or
should I go for Michelle, the smart one, who I really like but will need
convincing? I’m sure she’ll never let me get to second base, either.”
The poor guy. He had no clue that I was clueless.
I listened to Thap’s pronouncement about Lydia. No doubt, Lydia
oozed genuine goodness. Maybe a sheltered life had preserved her innocence
and values. Maybe it was that we seemed to just click. Regardless
of why, I was going to hang on to her.
I needed to.
Sometimes, my father stopped cold—drop-dead drunk—after too
many Scotches. Mark learned this the hard way one evening when he
couldn’t open the front door. Tom Terrific had passed out the moment he
got in the house.
Mark didn’t tell me about this until we were adults. As kids, the code
was to never talk about Dad’s boozing.
A year into dating, I brought Lydia back to Kent Drive after a Friday
night basketball game. She bolted ahead into the kitchen. I was halfway
up the split-level’s stairs when I saw her back out of the kitchen. She
turned around, looking puzzled and alarmed.
“What’s your father doing asleep on the floor?” she whispered, pointing
My heart stopped. I looked beyond her into the kitchen and saw my
old man’s crumpled legs.
“We’re outta here!” I yelled.
I retreated to the landing. “Come on, let’s go,” I ordered as I held the
front door open.
We got back in the family Corolla parked in the driveway. Lydia
demanded, “Tell me what’s going on!”
The car didn’t move. I couldn’t concentrate on driving, but I also
didn’t know what to say. I had never talked to anyone about my father—
not even Thap—and I didn’t have a rehearsed script.
I went for honesty.
“He drinks too much,” I said, deflating fast. “He always drinks
too much. Then he passes out, but I’ve never seen him like this, in the
middle of the goddamned floor.”
Lydia frowned. “Really? When I’ve been here, he’s never seemed to
drink very much. I’ve never even heard him slur his words.”
“Yes, really,” I answered defensively. “He holds it well until a certain
point, but once he gets there, forget about it, he’s gone.” Still stumbling, I
added, “I hate it. I so want to leave this house and him and my mother.”
I felt tears welling. I tightened. The last thing I wanted was to cry.
Lydia grabbed my hand. “What does your mom do about your dad?”
“She puts up with it,” I said. “She doesn’t know what to do, and she’s
afraid. Sometimes she joins him, and then both of them get bombed.”
Lydia gently squeezed. “Oh, Ed, why didn’t you tell me?”
I stared straight ahead; I couldn’t look at Lydia without breaking
down. Finally, I answered. “I’m so ashamed of him. I’m worried the guys
will think I’m a loser.”
I heard her tears, and from my eye’s corner, saw her reach for a tissue.
A second later, she leaned over and grabbed at my letter jacket, searching
for body mass. I fell toward her, over the stick shift, onto her seat.
That was enough to loosen the grip on my tears. Lydia held on like a
human sponge, absorbing my pain as I cried.
“I don’t care,” she said above my bawling. “I’m sorry you didn’t
think you could talk about this but, Ed, I don’t care. It’s you, not your
family, that matters to me.”
Her words melted something inside me, like a red-hot flame burning
through ice-cold wax.
If I had to pick the moment when I fell in love with Lydia—real love,
not that puppy stuff—this was it. I never expected someone, especially
this sweet untarnished girl, to know and still want me.
As we each held on tight, I told myself that I’d never let her go, not
now, not after she knew about my father and didn’t run away. Finally, I
had someone who would love me regardless of my history, someone who
was willing to stick with me and my fears.
We coined a pet name for each other after that. Both of us had taken
Spanish and learned that “bobo” meant “crazy.” After wearing out the
fun of calling each other “Señor Bobo” and “Señorita Bobo,” we settled
on our special name for each other: “Bo.”
“You’re my Bo, and I’m your Bo,” I told Lydia after the moniker was
ingrained. “I’m so lucky to have you.”
“No,” Lydia answered. “I’m the lucky one.”
Hearing that made me feel so incredibly good.
Everything changed after that night in the driveway. Lydia and I went
from talking about my dream (lawyer) or her dream (fashion designerbuyer)
to our dream of a life together. We dreamed a plan, a Grand Plan:
college, law school, our respective careers, children, and a big house
where we’d live happily ever after.
I surprised Lydia with a promise ring. “I’m yours forever,” I wrote
in the card.
“Oh Bo! I’m yours too. I love you so very much.”
Love. What an incredibly powerful word.
Almost as powerful as soul mate.
*** *** ***
Contact Information/Book Clubs
All of us have perspectives on life. I enjoy sharing about my “gender journey” in the hope that just maybe, my story will resonate with someone who would benefit from my perspective. At our core, we are simply human, and speaking “human to human” is so fundamentally important.
I have given many talks, and a number of readings from Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change. Please contact me it you’d like to arrange for a speaking event or reading. For book clubs in the Twin Cities, I’m happy to appear in person to discuss my book. For those outside the Twin Cities, I will Skype or speakerphone in.
Ellen (Ellie) Krug
i just finished your book–and loved it, though it was absolutely heartbreaking in so many places.I went to your talk in Cedar Rapids. There are a million things I want to say about this book and about your journey but before I get there I want to be sure to say thank you and that I wish you so much happiness you might worry you’ll spontaneously combust.
One of the things I’ve been telling my friends is about your extraordinary friend, Thap. It wouldn’t seem at all hard to imagine a woman sticking by her childhood friend in such a devoted and loving way as Thap, but it does seem remarkable that a man in our homophobic, gender-rigid culture never wavered, never hesitated, never once said, “Um…Ed, I’m your best friend but you’re going to have to give me a couple days to absorb this.” I ‘m just so happy to know that there are such good supportive men like Thap and your brother in this world. I mean, I think I know several such men, but you never know how a person will really react until they’re put to the test.
I loved how you structured this memoir with its variable time shifts. It is heartfelt & full of love. It answered so many questions and made compelling reading. Truly, I can’t imagine the kind of courage you summoned to get to Ellen. If you’ve done this, you really can do anything, Ellen. Thanks so much for sharing your story.
Nancy: thank you so very much for your kind words! And, thank you for taking the time to write!
I agree, I am very lucky to have Thap and my brother Mark in my life. I really don’t think I could have made it without either. Thap and I still talk several times a week; just last night,for example, he and I laughed together on the telephone.
I’m glad that you like the way the memoir is structured. Some readers may think that it takes a bit of work to shift back and forth, but there’s a reason for that work–I wanted the reader to understand how I, too, had to constantly shift back and forth–from boy to girl to boy–as I was getting to Ellen.
Again, thank you Nancy! I appreciate your support. Please tell the world about my memoir!
Ellen, I am going to buy your book. I am very interested in your story. I have to agree that your bother Mark is one of the most loving persons I have ever met. In my darkest hours he was one of the VERY few who stuck by me and offered his friendship. I !think the wolrd of him to this day!
I wanted to see your training today but weather prevented me from attending. Not only was I interested in learning more in my profession but as a mother. I have a 17 year old (daughter) now son, transforming. I want to be supportive as I can, learn as much as I can, and understand the best I can. I am going to get your book to read. If you have any other information for me I’d love to have as much as I can. My son tried to attempt suicide before and luckily he has found support in his journey. I love my son but there is so much more I need to learn about to assist him through this. My son is doing so much better now and I want to be able to show him how much I support him.