(I'm not a musician.) I was taught as a child that I must not 'blow my own trumpet' as in talking about myself – especially not to say anything good about myself. I was also taught that much of what I could say about myself was nonsense and I needn't expect anyone to believe it. If I myself believed it, I must be insane. If not, I was obviously a liar. Telling my story, therefore, became a very confronting task. I am now in my late seventies, as I begin this blog, and it is only a preparation – things I write on the way to writing the memoir. Nevertheless, everything posted here is copyright and must not be reproduced without written permission from the author (usually me).

Sunday, 20 August 2017

An Interpolation

Before continuing with new bits of memoir writing, I'm inserting this story, published in 1991 (under the name Rosemary Nissen) by Women's Redress Press, Inc. of Sydney in BODY LINES: A WOMEN'S ANTHOLOGY. I include it at this point as it illustrates some lessons I learned which influenced my behaviour, as described in the previous post. (If you've been following all these posts, you may recognise a couple of the incidents, that have been mentioned before though in less detail.)



Refusals

White face in the car. Young, smug, fat, balding. White shirt, smooth white hands. Round the corner, then slow, cruising to a stop. The night is late and cold and I am alone. This corner, this intersection of five busy daytime streets, is deserted except for me and now this car. I press my back against someone’s fence as the car starts its crawl. I’m twenty-five: I know the rules. Stand straight, look away, don’t speak. Soon they’ll give up; just endure till then.

I was fainting with fear, but I stood straight. ‘Please let me past,’  still coldly polite, and at last he moved aside. I hadn’t believed he would. I walked deliberately down the passage and out the door, then fast along the street to cut through Melbourne Uni—my Uni—and catch a tram. I was twenty-two, about to graduate; it had been my Uni for five years. I felt safer among these familiar paths and buildings than I did on the street, though they were bleak and deserted this winter night. Only Dr R, the handsome Philosophy lecturer, walked past in his own mood, scowling. His black gown flapped in a sudden gust. I stalked in my opposite direction, scowling back.

Big, crinkly, chunky face. Mobile face, tanned. Sensitive face, artist face, playing to his own mirror, his own eyes and mind. Handsome, vain, leering face, God’s gift. Little-boy wide eyes: aren’t I cute? But not a little boy—thirty to my nineteen. Dark, volatile, my old friend’s husband. His contrast with her dreamy blondeness, her twenty years. A flirter, pincher, squeezer, whom all her friends put up with, ignored, tried to fend off with jokes. A mass collusion with him to keep her happily ignorant. Can she have been so vague, so unaware?

Lank hair, blue stubble, open pores. Spit spraying out of his mouth. His body pressing mine down on his narrow bed in his narrow room in the strange, dark, silent boarding house. ‘I’ll take you out for dinner,’ he’d said. ‘May I meet your family first?’ and charmed them in spite of the spray with his laughter and easy talk.

Twinkling innocently as he pinched my bottom hard and I gasped and yelped. The clout, the satisfying smack. His skittering face on his skittering body, sliding and falling backwards across the room, stopped by the old couch hitting the backs of his knees. My hand still lifted, frozen in my own surprise. His sprawling collapse. ‘Serves you right,’ said his wife.

Earlier tonight I saw my husband off on the Sydney train. ‘Trial separation,’ he kept saying and, ‘Join me as soon as you’re ready to start again.’ But I know I’ll never want that. I cry for hours. I go to my friends in Elsternwick, sit in their kitchen with coffee and cigarettes, and I cry and I talk, and finally walk to the corner in spite of all their pleas, to catch the Brighton bus. I am cried out, emptied, ready to be alone.

‘We just have to go to my place first, to pick something up,’ and when we arrived: ‘Sit down. Sit on the bed, it’s the only place.’  It was. He made me coffee in a grimy cup. I hid my face in my hair, pretending to sip. He shoved at me a slice of apple strudel in torn white paper. ‘You wanted dinner? Here’s dinner.’  It looked greasy and old. ‘No thank you,’ I said. He sat down and pushed me flat on the bed. I squirmed my face away. ‘Anyway, today’s my birthday,’ he said.

My face is thick with crying, red and blotched. My eyes burn. My eyelids have swelled —puffy, transparent, glistening, they will look like slugs for another twenty-four hours. I feel ugly all the way through. I’m past caring.

‘You’re not like all the other girls,’ he’d said when we met. ‘You seem more innocent.’ He’d led me to shop windows. ‘There, do you like that dress? Do you like that one?’ until, to stop this uncomfortable game, I’d agreed,’That one’s all right.’ He’d dropped my arm at once. ‘I suppose you want me to buy it for you,’ he’d spat. He had been spitting on me all night, talking as we danced. I was brought up to be polite. I’d held my face as far from his as I could, kept my expression  bland, agreed to another dance, accepted the walk to the train, not to hurt his feelings. I didn't want the dress, I didn't want him. ‘I’m very busy studying,’  I’d tried to excuse myself. But, ‘Let me meet your family,’ and now we were struggling here on his bed.

Gasping and holding his face. Slack, childish face wiped blank of shifting expressions, gaping up at my hand. Every face in the room, including mine, gaping at my frail right hand—usually too weak to open a jar without help. My hand still stinging. His hand nursing the side of his gone-stupid face.

I managed to push him off. My voice was cold but polite. ‘I’m leaving now.’ He stood with his arm across the door, a bulky man, blocking my exit while he accused. Gold-digger. Heartless. Deserve what you get. His mouth twisted hard to one side, the side that sprayed spit. His face, more than his words, said he always knew no bitch would ever love.

He leans across the passenger seat and rolls the window down. I am emptied of everything. I am at the end. Before he can speak, I step forward. I thrust a contorted face at the open window and say, clearly and fiercely, ‘You get out of here and you leave me alone.’ His face is suddenly contorted too. His face is terrified. Without a word, he steps on the accelerator and speeds off. Five minutes later the bus trundles up. I begin the ride home to my safe, solitary flat.


Copyright © Rosemary Nissen 1991

4 comments:

  1. Wow! Powerful! Wish i had been that strong that young.

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    1. Oh, Sherry, you read it with several uncorrected typos! (Courtesy of auto-correct.) 'Kitten' for 'kitchen', 'soaring' for 'spraying', etc. But I expect you worked it all out.

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  2. Women our age, were taught how to be nice and compliant, in order to attract a man. Had to learn alone and scared how to protect ourselves from a man. Powerful and enlightening story. Congratulations, Rosemary,

    Elizabeth

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  3. It should not happen, but happens too often, and so much more. You were a brave young woman.

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