He didn’t really have the right to shatter you, did he? It takes many years for you to open the hardest door you will ever have to open. The door where the room in your memory has been locked for years.
White girls wanted white picket fences when they were growing up.
It’s in Santa Monica when your art teacher comes up to you with his Leica. You’re sitting on a little concrete wall when he makes his first approach. You’re fiddling with your camera. Your uncle had had dozens, but you kept this one after his wake and after all his antiques had passed to everyone. He must have brought it back from Russia, or Europe. It’s just like a Leica. Viewfinder.
There seem to be two separate schools of thought on cameras in 1980.
There seem to be two separate schools of men, too.
“I’m going to seduce you,” he says. “What kind of camera is that?”
“Let me see it.”
He’s taking it out of your hands and he sits down beside you on the wall.
You want to talk about photography with him, and what you are learning in your Art History classes. You want to talk about Art, because you are an artist. It seems he has other plans. This will be your second hardest lesson about men. He doesn’t care about your education. He cares about what is between your thighs.
He’s wearing a turquoise ring on his long middle finger. He’s tall and he’s in his thirties and he’s rail thin, all angles and fingers and nerves it seems to you, or nerve. He’s got your camera in his hands and the next time you come to class he hands you a huge photograph. It’s an 18 x 20 of the classroom, and all the students. Black and white. He’s giving it to you and on the back you see he has written down the student Id numbers of everyone in class. But, on top of you? He wrote your name.
This is some kind of message isn’t it?
He’s not wearing a wedding ring. You notice that first. Just that turquoise ring and those uncool Levi’s and that plaid pearl button down faux western shirt and those running shoes. You like 501’s. They stand for something else.
“No you aren’t,” you say, as he hands you the camera back.
“Yes, I will,” is what he said as he was walking away.
You are 22 and you are going to City College and you are going dancing at night except it’s different clubs, harder, edgier, clubs where people listen to bands like X because punk rock has just started or New Wave. You left your full time job in fashion, and that mahogany briefcase you used to carry behind for a navy zippered backpack because you want your degree so much. All you had ever known was art. It’s what you were, really, not what your mother wanted for you. You’re trying to decide on which major you should take. You’ve gotten a part time job at an import store on Wilshire. You’re counting baskets in the stockroom. You’re accumulating units each semester. You’re getting A’s.
Design 101, Photo 101, Art History 101.
You switch, second semester. You declare a major. You know where you are going.
It interests you because your uncle was a filmmaker, and so was your father. Your uncle, who had been like a father was gone. Your father was in San Francisco making movies. You knew this in an oblique way because he had been gone since you were thirteen. That’s the last contact you had had.
You’re in the darkroom at school learning to develop film and all the greats of photography are like some kind of line you believe yourself to be standing in. You’re studying their names. You’re learning their styles. Your images float up as 8 x 10’s, black and white and full of grain and you are learning to walk with the light just like that teacher said he did. He’s relentless when it comes to the pursuit isn’t he?
Next he brought roses.
He brought roses that he’d snatch on his way out the door of his bungalow, didn’t he? He wrapped the bases in tinfoil and wet paper towels.
One at a time, each time. It’s later that he sends them from a florist.
It’s later when you live on Red Rose Way and you transferred schools.
It’s later when he’s wrapped around you calling you “My sweet baboo” that he tells you what kind of films he likes to watch with his friends in the Valley. The films your father is making aren’t they?
The films that your mother hates. The father that you loved, and now are forced to hate because she does.
He tells you that he doesn’t care where he sees you. He tells you that he can’t stop coming. He’s changed his style over to black lace up converses. He’s jumping when he aims the Leica at you as if he is Cartier-Bresson but he isn’t. The images curl, burned into your memory. Black and whites. Greyscales. Lovestories.
Years later you will remember as you feel a twinge in your left ovary. The moon is full and you think, I wonder if my eggs are still viable. I wonder if I can have the love child born of love that I wasn’t able to have?
You wanted a white picket fence covered in roses didn’t you?
You wanted a house and a yard and a decent husband before you were going to take that plunge and be a mother. You wanted your college education and a job and a home because you wanted a family.
“You can come to me with anything,” your mother says.
“If you ever get in trouble.”
White girls can’t be unwed mothers.
There wasn’t any place you could go was there?
Years later you unpack the hardest room you will ever have to unpack in your memory. You can see the turquoise ring and you can feel the fingers he had inside you when the results came back two weeks after you missed it. He was thrusting them wasn’t he? Like he used to thrust himself into you even when it hurt and you told him to please stop.
What he said to you comes back as you listen to this song. It’s Motown. It’s what you grew up dancing to, when you were twelve and just little and dreaming playing with your dolls. It’s that life with the white picket fence where white girls were supposed to live with men that they fell in love with. It’s those rules that you knew how to follow.
“lovechild” — copyright 2011 — all rights reserved
*author note on music: