Fog, Magic hour light – by Adrienne Wilson
The landscape opens. He didn’t want to leave you, and he wasn’t mean. This is what you will learn. Last night in the harbor remembering the boat leaving shore, the soft laps of the water. Four girls of 22, arriving wanting to pet your dog.
You tell them, the harbor is safe, the men down here are the best men you will ever meet. One of them is tipsy. You feel you know them, know what comes ahead. Not that you can, just that you want it to be better for them.
I had to learn they were all different.
They will be.
He’s standing holding Alladin in his arms like a baby, and he purrs. The bamboo rustles in the rain outside your tiny world.
He knows you are cold, and he brings a union suit, and a candle.
He builds shelves in your pantry, handy with a hammer.
The girls tell you that they don’t want Botox or butt lifts.
You smile and say don’t follow that road that they might have planned for you.
“We’re not going to,” they say.
They could be grandchildren.
How strange to suddenly be thinking like that, sending warnings across vast expanses like 40 years of time.
They are all just starting in College. You remember.
The freedom comes later.
The freedom is something that you have to carve, because there will be times it’s going to seem impossible to stay with him.
Little pieces of something that was the thing you might have wanted, once.
It might be the thing that you wanted for yourself.
How can you prevent someone from making the same mistakes that you did?
Is it even possible?
My best friend was pregnant at my wedding, something like eight months along. She wasn’t married to him yet, that would come later, as would her second child. Towheads. It’s going to be almost impossible to keep the friendship, they are buying a house in a different town, your lives diverge from being the two best friends on a beach, waves lapping at your skirts, collecting shells and dreams together.
He chose the rings.
“I want these to match,” he said.
Maybe in your mind, like Cinderella, you were expecting the down on one knee, with a flashy diamond.
That’s not how it happened though.
There isn’t going to be a Bridal Registry for you.
Maybe it is the era.
She doesn’t have a wedding either.
She’s just pregnant standing there, and your lives divide in the courthouse tower, that day. You can’t be the mothers that you planned, pushing strollers at the seashore.
She asks how much you make, and you don’t know what to say, because, the path you chose was job, and not hers, and you are afraid of her path. She has to depend on him, and you had tried that the first and second times you were in love.
It’s what she tells you later.
He controls everything.
He tells her, dropping a five dollar bill in the center of the table, that she is supposed to feed the kids on that.
She has a pack of hot dogs, and some milk for them.
You drive her to the store.
You pay for the groceries, thinking of your mother and how she did that for all her friends in the same kind of jam, when you were little. The mother who made you her best friend. The mother who mothered your best friend. Instead of you.
You are quiet driving back home, the roads curving down from Ojai.
You go back into work and realize you have to be strong.
You learn to wriggle away from the arms encircling you at the light table. You learn to stand on your own two feet, with the males at work.
She’s your best friend and the two of you are 30.
“Tell me how much you make,” she says.
“How can you?”
It seems too terrible, to name the figure. It’s not that much, actually. You cannot stand what he is doing to her. Your best friend. The two of you were only fourteen, once, full of dreams about what the future was going to hold.
They like to try and intimidate you at work.
That’s when you become fierce.
Your last act of kindness was another defloration. He’s 36, one of those tech types and he’s a virgin. At twenty nine, you cannot believe this is true, but it is.
He’s madly in love with a co-worker out at the tech place he works. You’re friends, having Thai. He starts asking you how to approach her, he is almost obsessed he is so in love. You try walking him through what to do, what might work, like sending her flowers, just because.
The reason he is in this spot?
He’s not one of the really handsome ones. It will be more difficult for guys like him.
Still, it seems so unfair, and so you offer to show him how.
Perhaps you have spent your life trying to help others.
What is experience for?
You congratulate yourself later. He manages a ten year relationship after that.
Not with her, but you helped him break the ice. He won’t have kids either.
At work in Ad Alley, you learn to perform the simple functions of the job. Taking studio classes will be where you turn. Because you have a job, you can pay for these.
In Benet’s class she has you learn assemblage. Art will be the only way you can express feelings. You learn that, quickly enough, through her.
There is a cardboard box you wrap with fluffy cotton batting, pure white over the red lights you strung inside. They glow pink under the layers. He watches while you wrap it, not understanding what it is like to get crits in Art classes. He drives you in the MGA to class, smiling. You are holding it on your lap, like the day with the Pavlova.
It’s a womb in all purity, emitting a sound you can’t remember. From the Walkman inside. You fill it with cotton balls and q-tips, those for eggs and sperm.
The grey box is set to the side.
You never open it again.
Gold ring on your finger.
You’ve said certain vows.
You’ve gotten another A.
Your best friend leaves him.
She marries another, who will raise the kids.
She begins school. She begins school after the kids are old enough, and she starts up at the lost path. She was raped too, she tells you.
“He raped me,” she says.
Years later you will write it, for the other little 22 year olds.
You don’t want anything bad to happen to them.
It hurts so much to lay it out on the pages, remembering what they had done to the two of you.
It becomes easier to work with sound, those years. You wear the Walkman to work, it gives you silence, while you paste up. You can tune all of it out.
Cardboard flats hold each ad.
There are mountains of them.
Mountains and mountains that have to run the next day or the day after, the work is never ending. So is the loyalty. To him and to this place.
You think work is like a family.
Later you will learn it isn’t.
Don’t avoid it whispers the Muse in your head. Don’t avoid talking about the hardest things, or all the things left unsaid, for the 22 year olds coming up behind you.
You don’t want them to miss having kids.
You don’t want them to miss what everyone calls perfection in this lifetime.
He left her a five dollar bill to feed her kids, on a shabby table, in her well scrubbed kitchen.
“At least you aren’t saddled with kids,” your mother says.
Suddenly you can see how you took to heart all the things she had ever said.
“Washers and Dryers,” he laughs, as the two of you watch them spin. You bought them for Pedregosa, yourself, at Sears. Just minis. You just want things to be clean and perfect. At all times, proving yourself to be a girl, proving yourself to your friends.
The clock going off in your head, banging like a gong.
“Fuck it,” he says.
The thermometer goes cold on the bed.
He doesn’t want the responsibility.
He should have told you, you think.
It takes years to understand.
Years later, learning to become the therapist you will become, one named Don pushes your buttons so hard, the anger wells up as tears.
“Why didn’t you have kids in your twenties?”
He has no concept of what other men are like, in his perfect little ordered world.
He tries with EMDR to get at it. They want you cleaned out, empty of emotion, so that you can cure others.
A scented candle burns.
Birds sing outside.
The sea sings in all her colors, blue into silver, the purple out over the islands. You have managed to write past it. The hardest part. You could not have done what she had done. You could never be that vulnerable. She didn’t have a mom and dad either. You wonder where they all went?
You wonder why they couldn’t be parents.
Generation Warhol had Generation Woodstock.
Generation Warhol had no idea how hard it was going to be for their kids.
It’s easier to put pen to paper.
It’s easier to put paint to canvas.
It’s easier to try and blend it all together into purple.
How can you begin to trust men when you didn’t have a father?
He was supposed to be there, be there, be there, and he wasn’t.
The clock ticks.
The clock ticks until it goes off screaming in your head.
You’ll never be the girl some guy throws down $5 on a table for. Not ever.
You weep for what he put her through that year.
She and those two little towheads, that were so adorable.
Newspaperpeople Memoir by Adrienne Wilson copyright November 12, 2021 all rights reserved