It has taken half
Of my life
If they could
Get it wrong.
Of our humanity
Is a pain
If they could
For us all,
With no hands,
I have now, today, 129 days of sobriety.
I gave up alcohol in November.
I decided that I want to
live fully every minute of my life.
I also want to claim
every moment of my past.
I will own what serves,
release what doesn’t
and love it all.
I want the direction of
and the protection of God’s grace.
I want my life more than ever before,
and in the word ‘life’
for me, is the word purpose.
There was a moment about 7 years ago
when I developed the habit of
the evening cocktail or two.
I didn’t want to feel the pain
of rejection, the disappointment of loss,
and then the ensuing loneliness.
I am very self forgiving.
I know that I managed
what I could and I
didn’t do so badly.
Today having revisited the past
with clarity, acceptance and forgiveness,
I am learning a new way to walk
forward in love.
Actually, I’m running forward
toward love more
true than I knew possible.
The good thing about love is that
it doesn’t work backwards
What ever we have had before
we will have more the next time.
That is sure.
We will never again accept the
the truth we made of limitation.
A yearning to know more about
love strong enough to create separation
is a yearning that will be fulfilled
Love is reciprocal.
It is not just that we want love,
Love also wants us.
Reach for it.
It will reach back.
My home tonight is quiet.
The smell of jasmine
lifts up and into my window.
I feel very blessed.
I walked out onto a wet Madison Avenue.
It was still raining. I was without an umbrella. I was so disturbed about my failed typing test that I didn’t care.
I walked without direction.
I knew the city but not well enough to be purposeful.
The rain splashed up onto the backs of my legs. My hose were getting ruined.
My feet hurt in my new pumps and I knew already that I would never wear them again.
I stopped at the first corner and looked at the backs of my calves. They were dotted with sooty spots. My hair was growing fuller and frizzier by the minute and my new suit was becoming darker with each drop.
I didn’t care.
I had been dreaming of this day for much of my life, and I honestly didn’t know if I would be capable of passing the test.
50 words a minute. Five mistakes. Five mistakes. 50 words a minute Five mistakes. I though of nothing else.
At the time, Conde Nast was housed in a grand brick building on Madison avenue between 44th and 45th streets. I wandered north and then west over to fifth avenue and then continued to Sixth.
I stumbled upon a La Fondue restaurant.
La fondu held a fond memory for me of a funny visit to Manhattan shared with my two dearest friends from Smith. Eda and Wendy and I had come into the city to run around for a day and we had lunch at La Fondue.
La fondu aptly serves fondu and fondu is served in little pots that have either very hot cheese in them or hot oil. The cheese is for the dipping of bread and the oil is for the cooking of meats.
The waitresses walk quickly through the narrow aisles saying hot oil, hot oil with heavy french accents and we found this unremarkable thing so funny. For months we mimicked them and cracked up as if we were actually amusing.
Hot oil, hot oil…..it was just one of those things that stuck.
I went in.
I had some French onion soup.
I thought of Wendy and Eda and tried to feel some sense of levity but I was numb with misery.
Ms Slavin had told me to come back when I was ready.
I was not yet ready. I felt terrible in fact.
I stumbled out and back over to Fifth avenue.
Having gone a bit north, I found myself facing St. Patrick’s cathedral.
In the movie version perhaps the music would change or maybe the rain would suddenly stop and the sun would break free .
Nothing dramatic happened. I was just desperate.
I climbed the wide grey steps of the cathedral.
I was not a catholic but you can bet I put my fingers in the holy water, I made the sign of the cross, I bowed before kneeling. I placed my lips over my clasped hands, and prayed. ” Dear God, please, please let me pass this typing test. Please let me do it right. I want to work at Conde Nast so badly. Please. I feel I have been good. I have worked so hard. I don’t want to work any where else. Just please let me pass this typing test.” Amen.
I walked back. By now I looked rather like a heavy metal singer.
My hair was outrageously undone, my hose were mottled and I didn’t care. I marched thought the revolving door, I went up to the 8th floor, I sat in the pristine white waiting room, and Ms Slavin came out.
“Are you ready", she queried.
I looked straight at her, “yes.”
“Yes I am", I said.
I sat down,
She handed me the copy and blessedly it was the same copy I’d had earlier.
I lifted my wrists, turned my head left to read and turning on the timer, she said, ” Begin".
I was invited back for an interview.
To be continued.
I remember driving to my interview from Smith. I drove down alone in my little Audi Fox. My dad had given me the car in my sophomore year as a reward for getting good grades and because going to an all women’s college had made a social life difficult without a car.
It was pouring rain. I knew the 95 well but it still felt treacherous to be driving. I don’t think I had ever driven into Manhattan from school before and I was nervous. It was only mid March but I was interviewing for my first post college job early. I knew that I wouldn’t want to live at home for long before moving into the city so a job was an imperative.
I grew up loving fashion magazines.
I was obsessed with them.
I had to have Seventeen, Glamour, Mademoiselle and of course Vogue every month.
I was fiercely possessive over them. I never shared them with anyone and I read them privately and in silence.
I didn’t just read them, I studied them . I knew the names of every designer, all the photographers, and the models.
When I was at Smith there were only two things I wanted to do. I wanted to be an actress and I wanted to work at Vogue magazine.
My dad would have neither. Neither seemed good enough for him.
I studied medicine because he was a doctor and it was difficult and cost me a real experience of learning.
In my senior year I switched majors to french literature and before graduating decided that as I hadn’t been able to study acting, I could still perhaps work at Vogue.
And so I wrote to Conde Nast, the publishing company that hires for all their magazines. At the time they were, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Mademoiselle, Seventeen, Brides, GQ, House and Garden and I think, Gourmet.
I wrote and I was invited to come in for an interview.
I wore a bone colored suit with a little fitted jacket and a knee length skirt. With it, a short sleeved, nubby knitted crew neck little sweater and on my feet, spectator pumps. My curly hair was blown out smoothly and as it was raining I drove into the city with it twisted around my head tightly and covered with a stripped ski cap.
My plan was to brush out my hair at the last minute.
I do not remember arriving to the building or where I parked.
I do remember my interview with Ms. Sarah Slavin.
Ms. Slavin was a conservative brunette with a pretty face. It was challenging being interviewed by her as one of her eyes was either lazy or deformed and so I spent much of the interview wondering if she could tell that I was either looking into that eye, or not looking at it. I tried to look into both eyes normally. I wondered what was normal and whether or not one looks into both eyes at once . I tried to look from one eye to the other in a casual way. I finally decided to talk into her mouth and to listen there too and I wondered if she could tell.
I remember that she stood up and extended her hand and said, “Well, thank you, Shareen, lovely to meet you.” And I stopped for a second and thought, she is dismissing me. She is sending me away. And so I said, ” No, no, wait, I am going to work here. I am not going to leave here until I do work here. I have been offered jobs in the Bloomingdales buying program and the Macy’s buying program and I am going to turn them both down. I will sit out there in your waiting room unemployed for the next year if I have to but I am going to work here.”
Honestly, I do not know where I got that from or how I had that moxie but I was always outgoing and very confident and determined.. And she smiled at me. I can still see her. She smiled at me and said, ok, then, let me bring you back in for a typing test.
Conde Nast is a publishing company. At the time it was a tradition to take a typing test irrespective of which department you were to work in. It was required that you pass the typing test before moving forward with the interview process. One had to type 50 words a minute with only 5 mistakes.
Smith College does not have dorms. Rather it has houses in which you live for all four years. The houses house all four grades and you have singles or doubles depending on seniority. Everyone eats together in the “dining room” and there is a common living room and study room on the first floor.
For three weeks in April I was found in the study room typing. I had a basic typing instruction manual from which I read while typing on my IBM electric typewriter. At the time you only studied typing if you intended to be a secretary. It wasn’t like today when typing is a part of our every waking moment. And so I sat in the study practicing over and over and over.
I remember the tiny room in the personnel offices in which there was housed a simple metal table, an electric typewriter and a chair. I was seated there, a piece of copy was placed to my side, Ms. Slavin stood over me and I was timed for exactly 60 seconds. Ms Slavin circled each mistake in red. 8. I had failed.
I asked if I could take the test again and she permitted me. I took a deep breath.
It felt as if the keys were moving underneath my fingers. I lost control. 9. Failed.
I looked up at her blankly.
She asked if I could do better and I said, I know I can.
She suggested I go and take a walk, get some air and come back after lunch.
To be continued…
Were we not friends?
Did we not laugh
Were we not friends?
When we met.
You were angry
And I understood.
I welcomed you to my
Because I wanted to dress you
Your name was Joy
But then, you had none.
Were we not friends?
You cried and told me
You loved me
And wished we
Could share Paris.
Mine was Henry
And yours Obediah.
We held them in our pockets
And I remember
how you cried when he died.
I was sorry it was not
Because I loved you
And wanted your kitten
Were we not friends?
Were we really not?
We had no courage
And this is what it takes
And be mean
And be silent
But still in love
We were friends.
I know you.
A life must not be filled with
We must work to keep
The love in bodies here
As long as it is.
The time for
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