peacegirl — a chapter from my memoir “whitegirrrl” (’70s) #amwriting #feminism #history

Peace girl.  You decided you were going to be that in 1969, didn’t you?

You were dancing and dancing and dancing to the songs on the radio because you thought you were going to be a modern dancer didn’t you?

You’re taking that for P. E. or instead of P. E. because you aren’t very good at track and besides the movements you can make with your body express things.  Like feelings.

You’re listening to Edwin Starr.  You’re dancing around and looking at pictures in Life Magazine.  You’ve seen the soldiers in Vietnam. When Judith tells you to put on a black armband you do it.  Everybody around you is marching in the streets.  All you hear is the sound of the word “Pigs” in those years, like a scream from the mouth of some great collective made of small white birds.

You’re in Mrs. Clark’s class when you pick up Johnny Got His Gun, right after lunch period.  It’s like a peaceful haven in her room — one of the places you go to escape into all the books you are reading.  Her class was in a huge Quonset hut filled with the hanging plants they were growing in Botany.  Your best friend Galio was taking it and she was teaching you to make cuttings and how the houseplants grew.

“Creeping Charlie,” she laughs.


“Piggy Back Plant.”

“Spider Plant.”

The plants make little babies that root themselves and she’s tending her rows of cuttings as the damp wet earthy smell in the greenhouse rises to your nostrils.  “Take these home,” she says.  “Babies.”

Donkey Tails, and String of Pearls.  Those are your favorites.  So is Bridal Veil, with its mist of tiny white flowers like the tulle you’re going to wear someday.  The houseplants fill everyone’s houses in those years, draped in macrame hangers, sitting next to sand candles.  They hang greenly whispering above you as you choose a book every week in Mrs. Clark’s class.  You slip inside the pages and the characters as if you are in the story itself.  It seems so grown up to taste instant coffee, or make hot chocolate and just laze around on one of the couches reading a book but you are doing that at thirteen, as often as you can –quietly choosing the empty sofa you want and lying down as you slip away to other worlds.

Judith wraps the little black rag, your armband, around your upper arm.  She tells you that there is going to be a Peace March.  You’re sewing a patch with a peace sign on it on the jeans you wear.  It fits with your embroidery of flowers.  Little chain-stiched daises run across the pockets of your jeans.  Your mother doesn’t notice, lost in her swirl of parties.  She doesn’t notice you are becoming a Peace Girl, like she didn’t really notice when you were a Girl Scout either.  She’s not paying any attention at all.

The sign for feminism is a fist inside a sign of Venus.  There are nothing but fists in the 1970’s.  Raised fists everywhere you go.  It’s not a part of your life with Galio, is it?  With Galio it’s all about being a girl and talking about cute boys and house plants.  This is the year you will be reading Dalton Trumbo, and George Orwell.  This is the year you will read Animal Farm, too.  And Lord of the Flies.  The words swim off the pages into your heart.  The pictures in Life magazine and on television swim into your heart too.

Peace and Love rule.  Peace and love run wild in the streets, in Indian bedspread clothes, and in the mud at Woodstock.  You were too young to go weren’t you?  But those were all your favorite songs. Peace and love are made of doves you think.  White doves, the opposite of hawks.

“Dabont habang about wabith haber,” Galio says, brushing your hair.

“Whaby nabut?’ you ask, as she deals with the tangles.

“Pabepablue wabill thabink yaboo abar aba labezbabiaban”

You have no idea what this word means yet, even though you are surrounded by flamboyant gay men.  Your mother knows every antique dealer and decorator in town.  Gary does display for her in the big department store where she works.  He teaches you how to hold a cigarette so that you will look like Bette Davis when a man lights it for you someday.  Just like the film Now Voyager.

Some girls decide not to shave their legs that year.  It was something you had only just started doing anyway, sneaking your mother’s razor and carefully removing everything from your knees down.  Galio doesn’t shave.  She’s blonde, and she’s natural like the mountains where she lives, filled with Hippies.

Judith and Abbey don’t shave either.

You want to though, because it is your way of saying, “I’m a girl.”

You’re reading your mother’s magazines and you are designing clothes.  You’re buying your first lipsticks and your first hats that year.  Even then you didn’t know where you fit in did you?  You weren’t sure.

“Thabere labezbabiabans,” she says.

“Pabepable wabill thabink yaboo abare taboo”

“Thabey abare mabeye frabends,” you say back to her.

It will be the following year when the boys begin to tease you and Galio, calling the two of you that word.  “Lesbians,” they scream at you.  You were best friends and inseparable, weren’t you?  You weren’t lesbians.  Even then they wanted to separate you.  With Judith you were beginning to learn about something called “sisterhood.”

Judith and Abbey and Helen’s parents teach out at the university.  They are all talking about the colleges they are going to go to, even though you are only in 7th.  It’s like a plan they have and you are going to do it too.  You don’t care what Galio says.  At night you write poems.  Sad poems about war.  After you read Trumbo you knew it was sad.  You knew you were going to be a peace girl forever.

You were going to be the kind of girl who shaved her legs and wore lipstick too, forever weren’t you?

Years later you run your hand up your calf, remembering.  You want to dance again, dancing through the streets with your hands flashing peace signs like they did when you were thirteen.  You want to believe that peace is possible in your lifetime.  You’re looking at the homeless veterans who are begging on the streets with nowhere to go and find a bed.  You can see the cover of Life Magazine.  The famous cover of the little girl running down the street in black and white.  You can smell the damp earth of the greenhouse, can’t you?

All of Galio’s little plants were in your room that year on the windowsills.  They grew and they grew and they grew until the strings of pearls and the creeping charlies brushed the floor.  The spider plant got the biggest, and you showed your grandfather what Galio had taught you.  He tells you he wanted to enlist because he went to military school and he pulls out old sepia tone photographs to show you.  It’s many years later when they are gone that you remember the bright look on his face in that uniform.  The shiny smile on a young boy’s face as he wanted to go off to war in 1917.


“peacegirl” — copyright 2011 — all rights reserved

*author note music:

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