plumblines — a chapter from my feminist memoir “whitegirrrl” — #amwriting #American #feminism #80’s #era #universitygirls

Timbo knows you only as the rose girl.  You were his girl.  The girl he brought the red rose to in high school.  Timbo with the poet’s eyes and the tallness, Timbo of the long blond hair that swam down his back in the late 70’s.  He flashed it around just like Galio’s boyfriend did.  He wrote you a poem even before the two of you curled briefly around each other as a solace.  It was Timbo you called.  Timbo of the classics, until he gave all that up for Economics.

It was Timbo who taught you to drive his stick shift — his cars — down by the beach in the parking lots.  It was Timbo you called when you wanted to come home and he came and got you.  It wasn’t love with him.  It was friendship and it lasted across years and years as it drifted in and out of your lives.

“I’m getting you out of there,” he said.

“You can live at my mom’s in one of the rooms.”

“You can transfer.”

Timbo came and got you.  He came and got you in Los Angeles when you had to get out because you needed to save yourself from love.  He brought Mark that day.  Mark was the mechanic he knew and they did the moving, didn’t they?

The three of you went up and down all those flights of stairs because you and your mother lived on Barrington and she had the penthouse apartment.  How many boxes did you have?  Hardly any.

Timbo strapped everything in, and your iron scrolled bedframe.  Your few antiques.  Your start at life in college, actually.  You were leaving Los Angeles for good that year.  You were leaving the photographer you were in love with because he was just using you.  You knew that someplace very deep, but it hurt.  It hurt so much to have to leave him.

At his mother’s, Timbo wanted you.  He thought his body was going to wipe away your tears but he had an ulterior motive too.  What he wanted was for you to be his girlfriend.  He had wanted that for a very long time.

You were renting a room from his mother and he thought he could sleep with you again, didn’t he?

Girlfriend on autopilot.  Girlfriend in place, finally.

Timbo was the second person you ever slept with.  After the relationship with the actor broke up.  You weren’t a virgin anymore.  His mother was Australian and she was made of some tough picnic at hanging rock grit.  Like all boys mothers are.  She couldn’t stand the fact her son was in love with somebody right under her nose.  She lived on the Mesa in a five bedroom tract house.  The first thing she told you was that your long hair was clogging the plumbing and that you should cut it off.

“I’ve had girls like you rent from me before and I don’t want to have to call the plumber every week.”

The day they moved you, the photographer had walked by, hadn’t he?  He dropped a rose in one of the moving boxes and he just kept walking down the street.  He had you by his roses, didn’t he?

“Is that him?” Jimbo asked?

“That guy?”

You looked at the red rose in the box and closed it before you ran down the street after him, didn’t you?

White girls fall pretty hard when they are in love.

You found a job immediately within the week at a newspaper, after moving.  As a cashier at first.  It would be the kindness of the older men at work that got you the promotions that kept you alive and paying the rent in those years.  You loved Timbo.  But you weren’t in love.

In love was what you were with the photographer.

It wasn’t over yet.  It wouldn’t be for two more years.

Your hands repelled Timbo, but it didn’t do any good.

Timbo’s mother had grown up on a ranch where they sheared sheep out in the bush.  She was hardy.  Hardier than your mother.  Hardier than you, wasn’t she?  She liked to decant the soap for washing the dishes in her kitchen into a bottle that was labeled with an expensive brand that she couldn’t afford didn’t she?  That made you smile because it seemed a rogue-ish ruse on her part.  Saucy.

She didn’t smile back at you.

The day the four dozen red roses arrived from the photographer, who had no intention of giving you up just yet she thought they were for her until she saw the card.

Timbo was trying to learn to be a real estate agent on the side like she was, part-time in those years.

He was lying on the sofa one morning just after the roses arrived and you caught her standing over him as he was dressing in a three piece suit and tie and she was zipping his fly up.  She was draped over him zipping up his fly and the two of your were something like 23 years old.

He was so kind in those years, you remember later.  He was letting her help him because he was the baby in the family and that is how everyone treated him, too.  He had three sisters, all older.  Like he was a thing that needed to be zipped because he was incapable.

After the roses she wanted some kind of explanation from you, didn’t she?

Timbo had told her something like he was going to be your boyfriend.

White girls learn to deal with the roses they are handed.

“Why did you leave LA?” was all the note on the flowers said.

You never unpacked there because right after you got your job you moved to the apartment with the roommate didn’t you?  Maybe three weeks later.  Timbo was too young in those years.  Timbo was a boy in a polyester suit and his mother was zipping up his fly as if he were still in diapers, wasn’t she?

You were both 23, that year.

You tried to explain things to her about how you were trying to get away from the man with the roses that kept coming and coming and coming and you saved every little thing about him didn’t you?  All his postcards and all his petals.  You dried them like so many dark black tears.

You and Timbo were going to go to the university together.  It was bigger than high school, wasn’t it?  And you were both doing it later than others, too, because you had wanted to taste life a little first and you both had, hadn’t you?

Years later, you can still talk to Timbo about everything because the two of you stretch backwards through time and through everything that ever happened.  You heard that he married too, and later, when he is divorced from it, he tells you everything in his tract house in the desert — like the kind he lived in as a child with all those bedrooms and bathrooms going on forever and ever.

By cactus light and Joshua trees he can finally breath free around the airplanes that he always wanted to fly.

Relationships end for you when you reach something Timbo’s mother taught you.  It was a word called the plumbline.  She must have been in her fifties when she thought those roses that were delivered were for her and she was disappointed, wasn’t she?

She gave you a long lecture about what a plumbline was.  How people reach things called plumblines over things.  On boats the plumbline means everything.

It was just you and your cat Alladin after that in those years.  You had decided you were grown up enough to try and never go home again — not back to mothers anyway.  You were going someplace and that was the university.  After you moved, you and Timbo stayed friends, forever.  he liked to come over to your place and talk and sometimes you fixed dinner for him when he needed to get away, didn’t you?

You learned how to call each other every so often just to touch base.

Hearing him talk about all his plumblines strengthens you, doesn’t it?

Years later you will see him and he is the same boy you always knew.  You remind him of this when he is down on himself, don’t you?

That is what real friends do.  Help each other when there are plumblines.


“plumblines” — copyright 2011 — all rights reserved

* author note music

(the below is for Timbo — from my heart to his across all the many years)

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