The problem with letting somebody so close to your heart in the way you might at say 22, is that you don’t know what kinds of wounds they might be carrying. You don’t know if they plan to napalm your soul. Because they had seen it. The Napalm.
Don’t choose somebody older than you if you can help it, although the heart always makes its own path doesn’t it?
This is going to get worse the older you get because you might have to carry a body so filled with the wounds that men might have inflicted, or that women might have inflicted you no longer even know what you might be holding.
It’s a heart.
It’s a heart that once was young and bright and skipped or skipped stones.
A heart that rode bicycles that switched to cars later.
All hearts on earth, have paths.
It’s the path of the heart that you will remember most.
Choose the path filled with flowers.
Choose the path with the least tears.
Choose the path that makes you laugh.
“I always drop acid before I make any important decisions,“ he says, bouncing along the beach at Thousand Steps. Just below Red Rose Way.
That was the day I told him.
“Now what,” he said. “I’ll pay for it.”
A girl, sitting in a beige carpeted empty apartment will have her first lesson. It’s the most painful lesson she will ever learn.
She will have nowhere to turn.
It happened the week he had off.
“We can spend the whole week together,” he said. “She’s going to be in Washington, on business.”
The he had the nerve to treat you like his wife, cooking in your sandy little kitchen. What was it he made then?
You looked out to sea, and the poems began to form, as poems always form. One word after another. You never imagined you would be like Hemingway one day, looking back at hills like white elephants, in the snow capped frost of winter.
He destroyed you that year.
He thought he could take Christmas, but he didn’t.
Maybe he thought you’d just off yourself.
He must have been used to offing people.
The struggle to breathe overtakes you in the doctor’s office out at Student Health. They offer Xanax and teach you how to breathe into a brown paper bag, if the panic attacks start in again.
And the postcards kept coming, daily, and there wasn’t going to be anywhere you could turn, and you realize that even now, some girl is in your position trapped butterfly-like against a wall, with a guy who was just using her as if she was a cotton cloud.
It’s the magic of other hearts that will hold you.
Strangers at work, all smiles, walnut desks, flirtatious males. You weave in and out of a landscape made of words, letters strung together on chains, paper chains, presses rolling, clanks and thumps.
We were the biggest Romantics in the world, once.
We were the ones who didn’t have to go to war at nineteen.
You think that women will be just like you, don’t you?
“Take this fucking thing out,” he said, pulling the diaphragm from inside you. “It’s in my way.”
“Don’t” I said, hands trying to fend off what he was doing.
“I want to plant my seed inside you,” he said.
Over and over all that week.
The week he played house with you in your purple kimono, all curly and pretty and damp and he told you he didn’t love his wife anymore.
Maybe you should have taken it as a warning that day at LACMA, where he showed you
Back Seat Dodge.
Years later your breath engulfs you.
You surface, no longer undersea.
The tail of a mermaid has grown, you carry a knife. Your knife is made of letters, thousands. and thousands of letters. Your power? They always have one for you, when you turn your eyes on them.
Then you will smile.
You can use the words to tell him how much you hated him.
Margaux, late 60’s the dayside proofreader. She slips sexily on cork wedgies through the room and you are only 22 when you start as the night proofreader. The other girl quit, and suddenly you are making $10.00 an hour in the Composing Room. It happened so fast that your salary doubled, because you were in a Union. They called them associations in those years. The men you had known as friends out in the tear stained lobby swept you into their world. There were other girls in there, and there were women upstairs who were reporters.
Suddenly it was fun to have all the art tools in your hands, again. You could see the men wearing them. Pica poles and rollers and exacto knives, triangles. It was going to be graphic art, and you had studied that. Font after font. You learned the names of those.
“Come on in here, Andreean,” Gabe says. Margaux will show you what you need to know. On your desk, her desk, there are dictionaries, there are books covering every word you will ever need to know, and there is the AP Stylebook. That’s how important it all was once. There are baskets on your desk. Margaux shows you the marks, and you learn these by heart. Margaux dresses like Flashdance, a tiny little bird, with wicked dancing eyes. She misses nothing in the room full of men. It’s fun for her, you notice.
This is where you will learn not to ever make a mistake.
Because it’s too important.
“Good catch,” the reporters say.
Especially when you, just a college girl, question phrases.
Gabe is too important to ever let down.
You loved him as a boss, and you loved Harold. your other boss.
Gabe with a smile like the very best gelato.
Harold and his spiked Christmas punchbowls.
The typists cluck in their corner like hens, pecking the keys. Those are the women, and they are set into roles, most are mothers except one or two strays. Most everyone is married, except for one or two, or you. The difference is that only one of them has gone to college. All of them had gone immediately to work after High School, like you had, because that was all there was going to be for you, right?
Marriage, like a cotton cloud.
We all knew it.
We all wanted it, but just not quite yet.
The romantics were much younger in spirit than most.
That most of us might end up as DINKS was something we did not know yet.
It wasn’t what we had in mind, actually.
We wanted to fall in love. We wanted children.
There were millions of us.
Millions upon millions upon millions and millions.
Millions of our hearts shattered into glass splinters after 1973.
They used that as a back up for their mistakes. All the men who had no intention of being fathers. Men who used women just to get laid. That was that.
That’s all they wanted.
Millions and millions of American girls, hearts felled.
Hearts, the petalled hearts, falling, tears running red, rivers of red, streams of red, oceans of red.
To men we were just a joke,
Just a series of little dishrags.
Sharon was a farm girl, she dressed in chinos just like men. Her eyes were slits, hardened slits from the Valley. She had horses, there, maybe she still lived at home, for all I knew. The women were mean. Not the ones in Editorial, the women who worked int he bowels of the building, down with all the dirty, greasy, men. They took it out on each other, and I watched this with horror, coming from Fashion as I had.
I wonder what they must have thought of me?
Thierry Mugler Jellies.
Kenzo oversized shapeless forms, cueing zen.
Sex wasn’t going to be part of the game with me.
She hated me.
“College girl,” she sneered.
The first night I sat down to proofread.
The first night I made my marks.
The first night I consulted the AP Stylebook.
In the basket, every story in the world passed through.
You will never know the responsibility that all of us had.
My job was to read everything in the baskets, and then, after the typists had typeset the story, to read it again, so that the story was perfect. You did this by compare and contrast.
Line by line, letter by letter.
The terror of making a mistake.
The terror of letting Harold and Gabe down.
The terror of seeing that in print the following day, at the place that I called home, with all the people I worked next to.
Soon he wasn’t going to be able to call me anymore.
Still the postcards came.
“There will never be a last postcard.”
The way he did that one, was write one word on each image, so they came like this:
I never want you to be a girl that has to stand on her own two feet. I want you to find a really sweet boyfriend that is your age.
I want you to choose that shy boy, the one that has poems he knows how to write for you. I want you to choose that pimple covered boy in High School who is going to take you to the prom. I want you to be wearing his corsage. I want you to fumble around making out, but you won’t go all the way unless you have birth control. I want you to know that he loves you. I want you to have a baby.
I want to see you dancing on a cotton cloud, under the moon in all her sweeping starlit curves. When he kisses you, I want to see you surrounded by stardust. I want to see you in the ballgowns, the pretty dresses, with the pimple-faced poet beside you. The one who can hardly speak because he is so taken with everything about you.
Don’t let him go.
Newspaperpeople by Adrienne Wilson copyright November 5th, 2021 – all rights reserved NaNoWriMo 2021