Letter to the Boyfriend

FeaturedLetter to the Boyfriend

I found your book from the early ’90’s the other day. It’s the mystery about martial arts, ritual tattooing, sumo wrestling and a murderous Japanese crime syndicate. Mysteries are my favorite genre and I’ve read my share of torture and ritual killings, but no book ever frightened me more than yours.

Remember when you came to see me in Washington on your book tour? You phoned to ask if you could come over to my place. How did you know I wasn’t married? When I said no, you insisted on meeting me in the lobby of your hotel. Why were you staying so close to where I lived?

“Ok, but I’m not going to your room.” I said.

We sat in the hotel bar revealing certain truths of our lives from the past twenty-five years. Neither of us drank. You, of course, insisted I come to your room for a copy of the book. I relented, armed with my pocketed cell phone. You said I broke your heart when we were together one teenage summer. A high school teacher suggested you pour out your dejection on paper, which started your writing career. I was surprised, even flattered, to hear you’d written hundreds of pages about me, including detailed sex scenes some of which you duplicated in your novels.

I remember hiding naked with you in the basement of your parent’s Jersey Shore bungalow, listening to the undulating Atlantic Ocean, giggling at talk of marrying, concocting funny names for our children. Once, on the boardwalk, your mother’s eyes locked me down. “Don’t get pregnant,” she smiled. You returned to Philadelphia for senior year. I stayed, and went to someone else. You drove back to the Shore periodically that year, ambushed me at school and home, and tried to snare me into embracing you. You, the oversexed, body-building wrestler. You, the alpha male cornering me with your power. Did you have any sense of how frightening you were?

In your Washington hotel room I tried to avoid answering your demand, but you insisted over and over asking, “You really did love me, didn’t you?” 

“No. I just wanted the experience to write about.” I said.

“But you didn’t write. I did.” You said.

My head burned so hot I stepped outside of my body to cool off. Unaware, you gave a walking monologue on how successful you were, how physically fit you were and how you were taking female hormones to reduce whatever estrogen was active in your body. 

I scrambled out of there without the book.

A few days later multiple copies were stacked up in my neighborhood book store. Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted? For your old girlfriends to see your fruit on display? I bought it. In a straight-back chair at my dining room table I made it through a few nightmarish chapters, then hid the book in a cardboard box.

The book, your book, is now headed to a landfill.

Accidental Forgiveness

My parents thought the ability to read and write developed naturally, by osmosis. The first kindergarten in the US opened in 1860 but by the 1950s my parents still hadn’t heard about it. I wasn’t one of those three year olds who sat in the corner and taught herself to read and write. Learning letters and getting them into words, words into sentences, out of my brain through my pencil and onto paper developed painfully when I was eight at St. Patrick’s school in Terre Haute. Measles, chicken pox, mumps and parental neglect kept me from the entire first grade year. I was enrolled in second grade because, well, eight-year olds are in the second grade. On the first day, the nun circled the room asking each of us to stand and read a sentence from “Fun with Dick and Jane”. I rose, steadied my feet, stammered and shook. She stood right in front of me. 

“Well? Come on. Out with it.”

“I can’t read.” I mumbled.

My parents’ nonchalance over my lack of schooling perplexed the nuns. They treated my inability to read as a federal case. 

“I had no idea she couldn’t read,” my four-flushing mother announced to the mother superior, deflecting blame to my father. “He’s the smart one—he was supposed to teach her.” 

They sat me in first grade. My new classmates treated my flame-out as the worst thing that could ever happen at school. My older sister broadcasted I’d “flunked” second grade whenever she got the floor. Other parents said offhandedly, as if I couldn’t hear, that I had to repeat first grade because I couldn’t read.

To temper my embarrassment, my mother bought me a green Schwinn two-wheeler. Then she bought my two sisters their own Schwinns, red and blue. In June the nuns decided I had learned reading and writing well enough to skip second grade. They promoted me to third grade. We moved to St. Louis where I thought I’d escaped the school shame. But at Our Lady of Lourdes I faced a new mortifying unfamiliarity: multiplication tables. 

Sixty-five years later I’m promoting my first book on email and mulitplying the number sold times my cut. When a resident in my building replied “take me off your email list” to an announcement of the publication of the book, I thought, “What a bitch. Just delete it.” I’d included her in mass emails about community sing alongs for years with no response. Why gut-punch me for my book? If she’d known about the long and painful labor birthing the book, perhaps she’d have hesitated. Perhaps not. I never see her in the building’s communal laundry room where small talk turns strangers into neighbors. I suspect she has an unauthorized washer and dryer in her upgraded condo. 

When it comes to my book, my shadowy small self snarls under perceived offenses. I react as a child. It’s binary. Black and white. For me. Or against me. Because I’m published, accidental virtues visit me from time to time. I forgive my hapless parents, and I forgive the incurious, now-deleted emailer, too.