THIS IS AN ESSAY IN RESPONSE TO AN ARTICLE WRITTEN BY LINDA HOLMES IN JUNE 2011. I AM RECYCLING IT BECAUSE IT IS ONE OF MY FAVORITES!
Linda Holmes writes NPR’s entertainment and pop-culture blog, Monkey See. After reading her post about the Oxford or Serial Comma as it is also known, I wanted to call her for lunch. I remember when I learned in a journalism class that I shouldn’t use the Serial Comma or the Oxford comma. You know the comma I’m talking about. The one before a coordinating conjunction. I was in a class where I was learning AP style. I am certain this was when I realized that I could not be a news reporter. The kind of person who could write a concise “who, what, when, where, why, and how” article. I wanted to write alliterative stories with ample appealing adjectives. The kind of stories which painted pictures for my readers. Once I decided I was not going to report news stories, I welcomed back that petite punctuation mark. It is great to know that the folks at the University of Oxford are keeping our comma. Yes, “our” comma. It must be “our” comma because since reading Linda’s post, “Going, Going, And Gone?: No, The Oxford Comma Is Safe…For Now” I have seen countless (I could probably count them I just don’t want to) articles about the survival of this stout little character.
There is even a Facebook group dedicated to preserving him and a song by Vampire Weekend (I’ve never heard of them either) aptly named, “Oxford Comma.” I feel like this little guy needs to be more than just an it. I now think of this petite purveyor of order as a small friend…almost like a pet rock. Of course, my little friend actually does more than just sit there like a rock. He can make a list a little clearer or as Linda explained the Serial Comma can actually create life (you will actually have to read her post to understand this one).
I’ve read the arguments for the survival of Blip (I always name my pets…yes, even the rock) and the arguments for why we don’t need him. It seems to be a pretty even debate. Irregardless (I’m just kidding, Linda) I will continue to honor Blip by including him in my notes, letters, and my blog. Even if he doesn’t make things clearer, Linda seems like she would be a great friend. She would tolerate my fragments, my occasional placement of the preposition at the end of my run on sentence, my…, and any infinitives that I might happen to split. And, we would share our fondness for Blip! Yes, I hope to make Linda’s acquaintance someday because I do like a writer who starts a post with a confession.
“We will never find it, Baby; it’s gone.” After looking through the pile of gravel for hours on a spring afternoon in Whistler, Alabama in 1968, I figured my Paw Paw was right. It was gone. My special birthstone ring with the green gem and gold band was lost in a pile of roofing gravel. The ring that signified that I was born in August. My first big girl ring. The ring I graduated to after my baby ring. The ring that represented the characteristics of someone who does not give up.
My cousins and I were playing outside at my Grandnana and Paw Paw’s home. I have no memory of how the ring came not to be on my hand. All of my memories are the searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. I remember sifting for the entire afternoon trying to find my ring.
My Paw Paw owned a roofing company and my cousins, and I were playing on the pile of gravel. I know it must have been spring because the gravel was not hot. The gravel was a mixture of hues. Browns. Tans. Yellows. My gold ring was lost in the chaotic mix of fun.
I remember being sad. I wasn’t afraid of getting into trouble for losing it. I remember the determination I had to find my ring. The ring that represented my August birthday. The stone that had the most beautiful and confusing name. Peridot. I remember knowing I was not going to give up until I found it.
Leos are known for being strong-willed and confident. I can only concur that this is why I kept looking. I was not going to give up. I knew my ring was in that pile. I just had to be patient, determined, and I would eventually find it. My Paw Paw promised me he would not let anyone disturb the pile. I think he knew his first-born granddaughter would find her ring. Every day I would go outside and sift through the gravel pile. I would make up games as I searched for my ring. My cousins would join me as we set out to conquer this kingdom of rocks hiding my treasure.
I don’t remember how many days it took. But, I still have the memory of my cousins and one of my Paw Paw’s employees standing around the pile with me holding up my ring. We did it! We didn’t give up. We found my simple, beautiful birthstone ring. My five year and eight month old self understood life better than my adult self. Be patient. Don’t give up. It’s there. You will eventually find it.
Author’s Note-About 10 years ago I started creating a character in my thoughts named, Sir Real. He was bizarre-surreal on the surface but deep down he was authentic and trying to find out who he really was. I am sharing one of my short stories about Sir Real on my blog.
Sir Real Walks Into a Room
He was a small man who appeared 6 feet tall. When he walked in the room, all eyes were upon him. His presence made everyone look. He hated this. He wore black, and a hat was always on his head. The hat made him feel like he was hiding from their gaze. He didn’t realize that the cap set him apart from everyone. Not everyone can get away with wearing a hat.
Who was he? Why did they all want to talk to him?
What was it about Sir Real?
He was ordinary, or so he thought. Unremarkable. He was born into a typical family. Traditional. Routine. Standard. He didn’t have any talents. He was, on the surface, a friendly person, but people wore him out. Exhausted him.
But, there was something about being with people and connecting with them that allured Sir Real. The problem was when he entered their presence, the presence of people, he put on his mask. Correction. He didn’t put on the mask; a reflexive facade of protection covered him.
He became the life of the party. The teller of stories. He felt his place was to entertain and to make others laugh. Not just smile, but to laugh. He was infused with energy. Sir Real wasn’t a teller of stories, but a teller of truth.
When he was finished he was spent. Depleted.
Sir Real thought he knew who he was, but as he got older, he began to question himself. His life. His purpose. As he was growing up, he thought he was supposed to entertain others and give them what they wanted or what they needed. A good laugh or a good story to make them feel good. As he aged, he began to realize that his strong personality was what he hated the most. He didn’t want to be that person. Others told him to “just be yourself, just be who you are.” He wasn’t quite sure if he knew who he was. One day he put on a colored shirt which complimented his tanned skin. He quickly took it off. “Color will bring more attention to me,” he thought.
He didn’t want that attention. He wanted attention on his terms.
When he walked into a room people would smile. They would remark, “Sir Real, where do you get all of your energy?” Sir Real was known as an over the top bizarre character, but Sir Real was one of the most authentic people one would hope to meet. He was loyal. He paid attention to people. He listened, even when they thought he wasn’t listening. He heard everything they were saying. Perhaps that is why Sir Real had to take a break from people. Sometimes what they are saying is not meant for the ears of a veritable shrinking persona.
The Good Girl
Good girls wait until marriage. I was a good girl, and I intended to wait. From the time I was 15 until I was 18 and in my first year of college I dated the same boy. He was respectful and understood that I was not going to have sex until I got married. We engaged in what they used to call “heavy petting” during that three years, but never sex, and he was always respectful of me. He understood the meaning of, “no.” We went to different colleges; we broke up during our Freshman year. I started going out with other guys, but the dates were mainly campus events. I didn’t begin drinking alcohol until my Sophomore year in college when I was 19. I was always a late-bloomer and younger in my class. I had grown up moving around and never felt that I fit in and I felt out of place in college.
I remember being in my dorm room with a bunch of girls as they were discussing losing their virginity in high school and I realized that I was the oldest and only virgin in my circle. I intended to keep it that way.
I wanted to fit in, so I started drinking with everyone else. I was a silly college girl who got more foolish the more I drank. I finally fit in. I remember going out with one guy; we were making out, and he tried to undo my pants. I told him no. He told me that I was a tease and I was giving him blue balls. I had no idea what blue balls were, but I knew what a tease was and I was confused. Why couldn’t we kiss and be close like my high school boyfriend and I had been? The date quickly came to an end, and he was mad at me. I had never felt such hurt, embarrassment, and shame. I didn’t mean to be a tease, but his anger at me made me believe I had done something very wrong.
I went on other dates mainly football games and socials, but I wasn’t alone with many guys after this until that night. One night I was attending a keg party at a fraternity house. This was the same fraternity as the guy who called me a tease. I had several friends who were dating boys from this fraternity, and they became the group I started hanging out with. This particular fraternity was one of the oldest and top tier at our university. I think it was Winter of 1982. I was 19. I can see the fraternity house. I can see the keg. The people hanging around. I was stupid. I was drunk. I remember a girl with a patch of gray hair in her otherwise brunette hair and drunk me told her, “You have gray hair right there.” I remember this vividly. As I was saying it, I felt like an idiot. I remember this tall guy with curly dark hair who was beautiful. He was one of the most handsome guys I had ever seen. I begin following him around like a puppy. A stupid drunk puppy.
The next thing I know there was a discussion that we should go back to his fraternity brother’s dorm. His fraternity brother was a friend of mine who lived across the parking lot from me in the quad. I trusted my friend. I was naive enough to think that this guy and I would go to my friend’s dorm, watch TV, and make out.
Deep down all I wanted was to be held and have a connection with someone.
Of course, I should have realized that in dorms there are beds and kissing on a bed must imply that I was intending to do more, but that was not my intention at all. We kissed. The more we kissed he went for my pants and I said, no. I told him that I had never “done it before” even when I dated my boyfriend of three years. He got angrier as we kissed. “You can’t tell me you never did it with that boyfriend of yours. Three years.” I began to cry and realize. I was doing it again. I was being a tease. He was mad at me. I begged him. “No. I am a virgin. I have never done it.” He continued to force himself in my pants, and he proceeded to have sex with me. It was painful. I was crying. I bled. I bled a lot. I bled all over his fraternity brother’s, my friend’s, sheets. He was disgusted and done with me. I left. I went back to my dorm room full of shame. I got a shower.
The next day the news that I was a slut was around his group on campus. My high school friend who had invited me to be a part of this group called me. I just remember that she told me people were talking about it. It was evident that I had done something very wrong. Getting drunk and acting stupid. She then asked was I worried that I might be pregnant. In all of my turmoil that was the last thing on my mind. I was simply ashamed, and I was no longer a good girl. I was wrecked. I wanted to fix this. I didn’t want other people to think negatively of me. So, I wrote the young man who took my virginity a letter. I apologized for being drunk and teasing him. I carried the letter with me until I saw him and I slipped it to him. Later when I would run into him and any of his fraternity brothers, they would be joking and laughing at me. They seemed amused that I was his conquest. I quit hanging out with this group of people. I still drank. I still acted stupidly. I carried so much guilt and wore a cloak of shame. I felt so alone.
After my husband and I married, we attended church with a couple. The husband was a fraternity brother of the young man from college. the wife told me that when her husband heard about this incident in college, he was disappointed in me. I had always been such a good girl, but after that, I had a reputation. She told me he also shared the news of my college incident with my high school boyfriend. They both shared their disappointment of me. The good girl gone bad.
One Sunday in about 1995 my husband and I were sitting in church with our young daughter. I thought I saw the back of his head. His dark curly hair. I had to run to the bathroom where I got sick. My husband who is a kind man wanted so much to take this from me. I had told him about my experience when we were dating, but I had never gone into detail. This is the first time I have done so. I’ve never even told my therapist. I have never told anyone the details of that night. It was evident that I had done wrong. I was the bad girl. He was just being a guy. Boys will be boys. I always wondered who washed my friend David’s sheets. Did the guy take them that night? Did he leave them there?
In 2009 when I created my FB account, I searched for him. I found him, and I requested him as a Facebook friend. He accepted. I wanted him to see me. To remember what he had done to me. We never communicated.
It has been 36 years and a few months since that night. I know young people do stupid things. I was stupid. He was stupid.
I hope he no longer wields power in such an intimidating manner. I hope I was the only one who was subject to his aggression. I hope he learned after he saw the sheets.
I dated many young men who wanted to have sex. There was drinking; there was making out, but nothing happened until I said, yes. My husband included. These were young men who had respect for women and did not want to dominate a woman. Can a person change? Of course. But, it doesn’t erase the prevalent attitude that something that happened long ago is over. It is still not over for me. It is not over for any survivor of a sexual assault.
I accept my part in that night. I was drunk. It was my fault that I got myself in such a precarious situation, but I begged, “No, Please, No.” It was not enough.
I hope that we are toppling the culture of power and dominance. I hope that today, “No means, no. Period.”.
I miss Delchamps.
I miss ambulances that look like Batmobiles.
I miss cinnamon toast with lots of butter. I miss bad tuna sandwiches my mother made me eat because they were cheap to make. I miss vacations where we would get up and leave at 4 in the morning. We would hop in our 1961 Pontiac Bonneville or the 1963 Plymouth Valiant looking at the ordinary life we were leaving as we were about to embark upon an adventure. We snacked on crackers and mayonnaise Mother had packed. There is nothing better than stopping on the side of the road at a picnic table to eat crackers and mayonnaise.
I miss my Daddy and Mother looking at the Atlas from different angles to ensure we were taking the correct roads. I miss sitting in the back seat looking at the Atlas and making up stories of the people I would meet. My favorite thing to do was as we got closer to our destination was to take my fingers and measure how many miles away we were. A couple of inches and we were 30 miles away! “How many minutes will it be to 30 miles, Daddy?”
I miss static on the AM radio and Mother struggling with the tuner to get a clear sound when my favorite song came on. I felt like a movie star in that 61′ Bonneville. So sleek and shiny. It had an air conditioner in the middle of the front floorboard.
I miss clean Holiday Inns where you could drive right up to your door and large picture window to peek in with excitement that this was your place for the night until we moved on to the next town. Mother and Daddy would always let me buy a souvenir at each stop. Maybe a pennant for my room or a figurine for my curio.
The late sixties were a special time for me. I have all these fond memories. However, I do know that not all little girls my age had the same experiences. Families of color may not have been welcomed to the places we visited. It was a time of turmoil for many. I am grateful for my memories. I just want to savor them, but be aware that we must continue to change so other little girls can have a childhood they fondly miss.
CDS 2018 August