That what he does to you is going to kill off pieces of your heart and soul hasn’t occurred to you in 1981. You are so in love with him looking placidly into his lens. It’s later you realize it was the sickest camera in all of Los Angeles. And it just happened to photograph you. Documentary style.
You’re trying to go to school and get your education. You’ve moved north and you tried to get away, didn’t you? God, I was in love, is what you remember.
You’re working two different jobs just to stay afloat existing on student loans so you can manage the university fees. One of these jobs is in a cage, and you sit there for four hours a night answering the telephone for the newspaper where you work. It almost never rings unless it rains and people want their soggy papers redelivered and so you sit there in silence in this cage of iron looking out through the bars and studying art out of books. You drag one of the portable typewriters to the cage and you can type your papers in there, between rings. Selectric. The selection of just the right words and the little ball that spins erasing everything you didn’t want in the years before there were actually computers.
He’s calling every night just to talk to you from some phone booth in Los Angeles.
“I can’t stand to think of you wasting your life on me,” he says.
You should have taken that as a clue but you didn’t because you were too young, weren’t you?
He was the second love of your life.
It takes years to erase what he did to you, as if you ever can that year. He kept sending you photographs, didn’t he? They arrived every day in the mailbox, little pieces of you and of him and these little messages were written on the back, weren’t they?
He didn’t love you and he didn’t love his wife either in those years. You were just an art student, nothing more. You were nothing but a piece of his epic calling. A sliver of silver. A scrap of existence.
And he’s calling and he says, “I have to talk to you,” and so he decides this is going to only work if he can call you collect. “I’ll pay the bill, ” he says. “When I come up.”
You’re sitting on the simple beige sea of your empty first apartment and reading about O’Keefe. He’s telling you that you’re his Tina Modotti. He’s trying to make you believe that you are something and that his humble little Leica can record that, isn’t he?
What he did was snap the soul right out of you because all he was, was a lie.
I was in love with a lie, you realize later.
You’re in class trying to write the paper on feminism and it’s 1981. They are asking you to tell all about how you are going to be different than your mother and your grandmother. It takes years to understand just what the Lost Generation of women feminists at the tail end of the Baby Boom are going to go through doesn’t it?
It takes years to understand how they wanted to see women get a chance, those teachers of feminism in the 1980’s. Women like you who were just prey for art teachers in little colleges all over America. Women who were going to be really fucked over by some men. Women who were going to have to go into little clinics because there was no man there to care about what he had actually done.
Your hatred flares up easily these days. It’s like a pyre where you plan to burn things in effigy on paper. It wasn’t just white girls was it? It was thousands and thousands and thousands of girls who were abandoned once they opened their legs and their hearts and they fell in love and they opened their souls and they opened their wombs like angels to their lovers.
White girls were supposed to grin and bear it.
Years later you wonder what your calling was. You find it along the slim scroll your pen lays out along blank pages.
You find your calling watching women get shattered in politics, getting shattered on battlefields, getting shattered once again by global patriarchy with its constant streams of controls, don’t you?
Fume Blanc, smoked, aged whitehot.
He tells you he buys this by the case in Los Angeles in the 80’s. He likes to bring a bottle up when he comes and he leaves it there, empty afterwards.
He’s got a wad of cash to pay your phone bill, too. He throws it on the bed like an afterthought. As if you are some kind of whore that he’s paying off. He’s the one who called you, because you weren’t allowed to call him. He calls you collect every single night from some phone booth in Los Angeles and your phone bills are in the hundreds. More than you are even making at your two different jobs. You have no idea how you will pay the bill each month, do you? How you will pay the rent because he’s called you and called you and called you.
He makes you into a whore.
He’s buying bottles of wine that he takes to the valley where he watches the very pornographic films your father is making in that era. He’s telling you that she really isn’t crazy about doing that, but she goes because this is how married couples like to spend their weekends in the Valley of the dead down there. The thought of that makes you laugh inwardly years later. It was your father he must have been watching. Your father’s films.
You pull the card for estrella from your little loteria pack, like you pull cards in order to understand what’s coming next. You’ve done this all your life, or at least as long as you can remember only this time you have an ally.
It makes you happy, years later. The bloodletting for your ally. His friendship makes you strong and you feel your voice starting to rise higher and higher on the page like an angel’s.
You’re rising up from the ash and the dust and the ground up into the sky full of written words like a resurrection that is almost biblical.
You’re rising for the millions of them, all the girls like you who had to sit in some little phone booth, someplace waiting and waiting and waiting for the one man they thought really loved them to make that call.
“callings” — copyright 2011 — all rights reserved
*author note music