It’s only through the hardest lessons of life that you can be shaped and formed into what you will become. Nobody knows that at 22. It’s all so fresh and fine and full and you are going to go to college because it will be the best time of your life. It’s something you can’t miss, and you must choose the right school. While I am at it, choose the Major you really love, because chances are, that one won’t be the job you get. If you declare the wrong major for you it will be an uphill battle to claim something like Studio Art, at work, especially if you work for a newspaper.
I was a girl who sat in an iron cage in a lobby of a building where things hummed at night because in other parts of the building people were getting the paper out. I think I worked something like 5 – 9 in those times, just part time, but I loved it there so much, after what Mr. Sykes and Mr. Plet had done for me? In retrospect, I should have gone to them with the problem I was having, as they would have known what to do, because he kept calling. Every night. Every day the postcards arrived at Red Rose Way, black and whites that jarred the memory of everywhere we had been in Los Angeles on those shoots we did. Behind my own lens I photographed him. It seemed a way of keeping him at bay, behind my lens. But the arrival every day of those made my heart glassine, like the strips we kept negatives in those years.
He did this to me, and I never want this to happen to you, because you will never get over it. Not ever.
That’s how I met Alan and Harold.
I think they heard me crying in that little iron cage, because I did.
After he hung up.
My first relationship had ended for reasons that were different.
Getting out of this new one was going to be one of the hardest things I ever had to do, to break that bond. To this day I cannot stand to look at pictures of myself, because of what he did. Besides, as artists we like self-portraits best anyway.
How can I explain the minefield that men were going to be?
That’s what it was.
They rule the world, they always have and they always will.
You will meet good ones and bad ones.
You will meet cheap ones.
You will meet violent ones.
You will meet poetic types.
You will meet handsome ones.
You will meet ugly ones.
You will meet generous ones.
You will meet sexy ones.
You will meet shy ones.
You will feel sorry for some of them.
You will learn that you are a temple and it’s very holy.
You will meet men who have no idea what making love actually is.
You will meet men who can’t last.
You will meet men who can’t get one anymore.
You will meet a whole generation of men who don’t actually want to be fathers.
Perhaps that is the saddest part of this tale.
I only met one with a soul so diseased that sometimes he looked like Satan to me.
I only met pure evil once.
I met some very evil men at that newspaper, but not in the earliest years, and not Alan and not Harold and not Jack and not Eddie and not any of the men in the Pressroom, or any of the Reporters.
Harold’s smile. His wit. His charm.
Alan’s cockiness, his English wit.
Those two must have thought to themselves, how come that girl is crying?
I can’t remember if I told them or not.
Every night it was as if they came to check on me like angels, like Mr. Plet and Mr. Sykes had been. In my darkest moments in that cage, when I did not know what to do, and Winter Quarter 1981 had started, and I, who had been the A student was suddenly getting D’s and F’s on everything, and when I would drive to school, I would think of crashing my card out on Ward Memorial just so I could end it, those two saved me. Just like Henry had.
Alan had the prettiest girlfriend. She was petite and blond and she made the best little Christmas cookies ever. They were mini cheesecakes made with vanilla wafers in the bottom of muffin cups. They had cherries on top. As pretty and delicate as she was. We had worked together in accounting, with Rosie.
Those were the days we were so very young, and we must have both been so very much in love. I know we were, but maybe we were too young to discuss our personal lives yet. That comes later, for women.
I didn’t know how to stop him.
It’s as if he was a secret.
I couldn’t talk to anyone about him, and that was my first mistake.
The panic attacks began with the postcards, and I had no idea what they were. I would get this terrible feeling as I was driving, kind of pins and needles in a way, and it would take over. I wasn’t breathing. The hyperventilation would start in as I was driving to class.
I was so frightened by these I had no idea what was going on.
Do you know what that bastard did to me?
He took away all my sense of control.
He had me pinned to a wall, in a cage I could not escape. The phone kept ringing and ringing and ringing and ringing and I had to answer it, because that was my job.
The postcards kept coming to Red Rose Way like affirmations of love.
It wasn’t love.
It was never love.
To begin to unpack my hatred of him for what he did to me is a secret I have had to hold for forty years.
He was responsible for my having the panic attacks.
There are two types of men in this world.
Good ones, and evil ones.
They will all try to bed you if you are beautiful.
So, I decided to become like them.
I decided I would bed them.
I needed to erase him.
It’s a very long process when you are going to erase a man.
Especially one you were madly in love with.
Alan and Harold would come out to check on me, and shoot the breeze with jokes, and I loved them. I sat in that cage and pulled the biggest fanciest Selectric typewriter I could find, (these were all on rolling tables, then, everywhere in the building) because the building was built of words, thousands of words and thousands of fingers typing those words) over to my little cage and began to write my first papers for Arts & Letters, which was what I had declared.
Every day, I read the paper cover to cover.
It had everything in it.
It had stories.
It had the town in its palm, and I belonged to that.
I belonged to something so much bigger than myself. I had made new friends there.
He was going to recede.
I had my little electric typewriter at home. I was taking poetry.
I was learning to compose lines.
The phone never rang at night unless it had been raining and people were full of rage that they had a soggy paper. Otherwise it was him, standing on some cold corner in the city of Lost Angels in a filthy phone booth, dialing.
And I was typing.
I was a girl that lived on a street called Red Rose Way taking poetry from Edgar Bowers who lived in one of the little houses facing the sea at Miramar Beach.
There weren’t too many of us in class.
The girl sitting next to me, I shall never forget the first lines of something she did, a poem on marriage.
This is how she began: “It waited for me like a cotton cloud”
The poem was about a wedding cake, and as I recall she didn’t want that cake.
The again, all of us were only 22, and what did we exactly know about life at that age.
My bed was about to become a cotton cloud for the bodies of the men who wanted to bed me. I did favors for two of them. One a 19 year old who begged me to show him how. He was heading off to medical school that fall and he told me he wanted to know how so he could get a girlfriend. We worked together, there. He wrote me a love letter. I probably still have it around here somewhere, in all these pages and papers and boxes that say “a life was lived, here” that I just happen to have.
“Can I carry your books for you?” begged the TA who tried.
He liked that pretty flowery dress I designed.
He actually used to follow me, and pop up out of thin air.
You think that you know the lives of women if you are a man.
You started with your mother, and she was your template. Then, everyone you ever bedded. Maybe it was just one.
My heart locked itself behind doors made of corten steel.
After what he did to me.
When the sculptor ran after me down the street I turned to look into that rugged face. There was something about his weldings and colors and his pseudo Motherwells that I liked. I had Diebenkorn up on my wall, right next to Klimt’s “The Kiss.”
My generation. The generation who were the most Romantic people in the world, had their hearts broken.
Nearly all of us have had this.
Lucky, the few who escaped alive.
I never want you to be as dumb as I was at 22.
If you ever meet a person who is making you have panic attacks?
No matter what it takes.
Copyright November 4th, 2021 by Adrienne Wilson – all rights reserved