smilingfaces — a chapter from my feminist memoir “whitegirrrl” #amwriting #feminism #hetero #female #teen #70’s

It’s all smiling faces in the 1970’s, isn’t it?

You were never expecting what was going to happen to Galio the year the two of you were fourteen did you?  That was the year that your grandmother and your mother tried to separate the two of you.  They didn’t want you to associate with her ever again.

Galio’s mother had gone wild in her yellow Victorian house.  Gone wild like she did up on the Drive, gone wild the way it caused Galio’s father to leave.  He’d gone wild too, and you knew this because of the big Victorian nude he had hanging up in his little Craftsman house, or the magazines you saw on his burlwood table.  They were full of nudes too, weren’t they?

Galio bounced like a ball between the two of them, between her parents, that year.  Back and forth and back and forth.  She really didn’t live in either place, did she?

White girls live in stable homes.

You didn’t, and neither did Galio in those years.

Her father likes to grin at you.

He’s staring at you and complimenting you on the way look, telling you at fourteen that you are beautiful and it makes you blush.  There is some kind of glint in his eye as he tells you this, isn’t there?  Galio took her spider plants there and she was building a little garden for him on the days she was staying there.  She makes you tea at the tiny breakfast bar and the train rushes by every so often with its clang and roar right on schedule, a streak heading northward.

“That’s a Remington,” she says.

She’s proud of him with all his prints and his statues and his turquoises.  He’s got the only bedroom, and she sleeps on the couch or a tiny single bed in the living room.  You’re drinking tea before you head out for the beach that afternoon.  You’re flipping through the magazines looking at pictures of the girls in there and seeing what he’s seeing.  They are girls upended, girls splayed open, girls who are trying to be provocative.  You’ve never seen magazines like that have you?  Not in your whole life, because the people that your mother hangs around with or your grandparents don’t look at things like that.

Years later Galio tells you that she told him she hated him for abandoning her during the divorce.  She said she stood and hit him repeatedly on his chest, a fourteen year old pounding and pounding and pounding and she cried and cried while he held her, telling her he loved her.  She said she knew that he did, in that moment.

That will be the year that she loses the precious thing, the thing you are supposed to be saving for marriage because you are a little white princess, aren’t you?  Just like all girls are supposed to be princesses in their father’s eyes.

He doesn’t even know, does he?

He doesn’t know how her mother took her to a party in Isla Vista in those years and she ended up spending the night with a man who was thirty.  He took something from her.  He took her flower.  That was the word for it in those days.  Deflowering.

The parties seethed all over town in those years.  Parties full of smoke and mirrors where people were pairing off under black light posters and strobes.  Everyone had them.  Galio wants you to go, and your mother is saying no to you, like she always says no about most things.  She wants to keep you as a little doll maybe, you think later.  This year you will break away from her influence by choosing your own clothes.  It’s something that you wanted to do for years.  Escape the way she tried to make you look.  It was never good enough for her anyway.  At least not after she’d had several Gimlets.  Then her words cut into you like a knife slicing ribbons out of your soul.  In the morning she was always sorry, smiling at you as if nothing had ever happened.

“I don’t think you should see her anymore,” your mother is saying.

She doesn’t like the little Victorian on the wrong side of the tracks.  It doesn’t stop you from going though,  because you love Galio, even after she turned on you, didn’t you?

There wasn’t any food in the house.  There wasn’t anything for Galio to eat, but she had learned to make whole wheat bread all by herself.  She baked loaf after loaf in those years.  Loaf after loaf after loaf sat on the counter in old tin bread pans.  She must have figured out how to do that from the cookbook they’d given to both of you in Home Economics.  In the 70’s that was supposed to be your specialty, wasn’t it?

That cookbook was supposed to set you up for that marriage where you were going to live happily ever after wasn’t it?

You were so proud that year as you made the little cookies called “Galaxy.”  They were having a mother and daughter tea at school and it meant everything in the world to have your glamorous mother go didn’t it?”

Your glamorous mother who was the biggest fashion plate in town.  Your mother who never took you anywhere but restaurants when she needed to feed her two children.  It was what she knew, wasn’t it?  That was a year when you didn’t have live-ins anymore.  That task was left to you, wasn’t it?  Learning how to cook, and learning how to mother.

You were making galaxies and Galio was trying to bake bread so that she could survive, survive, survive inside the crazy world the two of you were growing up in where fathers were gone or looking at something that was spread wide open all across a page in pink flesh with that beckoning come hither look.

You were making galaxies and Galio was fourteen climbing into garbage dumpsters looking for vegetables, for anything, anything, just so she could have a meal.

Years later you remember the smiling faces that all the parents wore.  Smoked, stoned, glittering smiles that were all about themselves from the biggest to the littlest house in town.  Eddie whispers something to you about your best friend, doesn’t he?

He’s telling you on the lower field that she was caught running naked in the street that year.  At a party.  He tells you that she stripped off all her clothes and she was running in the streets that night.  The whole school starts to call her a name.

It’s a name that white girls can’t be called isn’t it?

It’s a name that sticks to you like a brand that you will wear for life, isn’t it?

Years later Galio tells you about her first job.  It’s one of the restaurants your mother loves in those years down in Montecito like some kind of Gold Rush spectacle.  It’s in the freshly built mall and they serve things like tin pan apple pie in tin pans and french dip sandwiches and everybody eats there in those days, don’t they?

It’s a family restaurant.

And you’re dipping your fork delicately into your pie and you’re watching Galio run around the room taking orders on her little pad and you aren’t even really working yet are you?   Galio tells you many years later what the man who gave her the job interview wanted her to do in that office behind closed doors.  It was so she could get the job.  It was like some kind of guarantee that she was going to, wasn’t it?

White girls are expected to do things for white men aren’t they?

She tells you that she said, “I’m going to tell my father on you.”

She got that job that year, anyway, didn’t she?


“smilingfaces” — copyright 2011 — all rights reserved

*author note music

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