pink gingham memories

At someone’s white clean grownup-already house in the morning, they had all the supplies. Coolers and water jugs and beer beer beer (I never liked beer) and blankets and sunblock and I had my tiny pink gingham sundress, so short I couldn’t bend forward or move much. I had my dress and my sandals with my cash and driver’s license tucked into my bra.

We went in their cars, I don’t remember who they were or how I got there or if they are people I still know now.

Hours before the show started let’s get a good spot, we’ll get a nice good spot that’s not too crowded but where we can see the stage. Lots of clusters of people in the dusty dirt parking lot grass field.

Soul Coughing was why I came, or maybe Matthew Sweet. The Spin Doctors were there, too, and I was cool enough to hate them but was still me enough to like the Two Princes song because it was catchy bouncy dance-y good to sing with.

The group near us I don’t remember much either, but there was a small man without much hair on his head wearing beady sunglasses and brown skin and a leather vest with fringe and he sat in a low sun chair next to a blanket and his friend or friends talked and he just looked at me.

The music was going had been going for a long time when I put the little piece of paper the size of my fingernail or thumbnail on my tongue melting fuzzy on my tongue. When I said, yes, let’s and we went up to the crowd in front by the stage and someone picked me up and I was being tossed around and I didn’t like how many hands were grabbing squeezing hard my breasts and ass and I got down quickly and I hated it hated it it was not fun and I laughed and laughed and smiled because it was always okay nothing bothered me no it was ha ha ha but I wanted to get out of there now.

On the dark streets of DC long after the concert was over in Northeast maybe, or Capitol Hill or I’m not sure but it surely wasn’t Dupont or Adams Morgan and I didn’t recognize anything and I think I must be still tripping because I don’t know why this car bumper shimmering in the street light looks like it’s ocean waves hello who are you? Oh my god it’s you from high school? Do you live here? Do you recognize me? Who are you? Can you hear me talking? I am so cute? What? Yes okay yes, here is my number, it is so weird we met here at this time can you help me get home?

The florescent lights of the office seem dull but I’m back at my desk and I’m showered and it’s been two days since the show and coming back from such an event isn’t too hard on a 20-something if I drink a lot of water a lot of water. I’m doing my job. The front desk buzzes, I pick up. There’s a man in the front who wants to see me. I ask who he is. She tells me his name and I have no idea who it is. I tell her I’m sorry I’m busy please have him leave his card I will get back to him. She comes back to my office in a few minutes and gives me his card a beautiful business card with an irregular shape and hand written text. I don’t recognize his name. She describes him and I get a picture a quick picture a strange sunburning feeling and I feel puzzled.

The next day the front desk buzzes and it’s him again and this time I come to the front and say hello and yes it is the small man with the balding brown head and leather fringed vest and he looks at me looks at me looks at me like he is going to eat me pounce on me devour me and I say why hello, wow, you are here! as if I’m not all that surprised but that I’m surprised and he grins with beady rat eyes and says yes I am you told me you worked here and I said well that’s so great I have to get back to work though and he says I have a gift for you I want to give it to you should I bring it to your apartment later? And the gift he gives me at the front door of my apartment hours later is hand-made paper boxes inside boxes inside boxes and it is stunning and beautiful and full of time and concentration and care and effort to assemble and talent and art and I am so afraid. His rat eyes and his drooling hungry mouth face and his slow heavy breathing and his looking at me like I can do no wrong.

It’s time for you to go now I say before I open the front door thank you very much I appreciate it it’s beautiful and now it’s time for you to go how did you know I lived here nevermind thank you I will talk to you later. When? When. I will talk to you another time. No I don’t want your number no thank you thank you for the gift it was really nice thank you no.

The things I write here and think here and feel here are the things that come from inside me where my memory courage hides.

but Senator, you just don’t get it

Harriett was running down the hall, late for the luncheon with Senator Simpson. As she ran, she called over her shoulder, “someone canceled, do you want to come along?”

Did I?

I’d been working for Harriett Woods, former Lieutenant Governor of Missouri, at the National Women’s Political Caucus for just under a year. My most recent project was organizing luncheons with leaders of women’s organizations and each individual member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. This was just immediately following the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Of course I wanted to “come along!”

After passing through the metal detectors of the Senate building, I had to run to keep up with Harriett’s long leg strides. When we entered the private dining room, the architecture and decor seemed ancient and powerful. Two or three of the women’s group leaders had already arrived and were seated at the heavy wooden table that filled the small, bright, high-ceilinged room.

We took our seats and I sat, not speaking, just listening to Harriett make lovely appropriate small talk with the other women. No one spoke about what they were all there for: the topic was “discussing women’s perspectives on the Hill/Thomas hearings.” I was in shock. Here I was, 21 years old, sitting in a private dining room of the Senate with leaders of some of the most influential womens’ organizations in Washington, DC — we were all there together waiting for Senator Alan Simpson.

Senator Simpson, the vocal Judiciary Committee member from Wyoming.

After about ten minutes, the door behind us opened. The tallest man I’ve ever seen in my life limbered in followed by an elegant (and also tall) woman.

The Senator took a seat at the tremendous table. He took a seat directly across the table from me.

The woman who was with him, his wife Ann, sat at the head of the table on the other side of the room.

The Senate dining staff began serving our lunch as the polite and amiable chit-chat continued.

Again, there was no mention of what the participants were all there to discuss and I found the omission made the conversation shallow and stilted — though I see now how it was all about manners, protocol and style.

Finally, as I evaluated the fruit cup (yet another food item I couldn’t possibly eat with my stomach so full of butterflies), Harriett said something like, “Shall we get started?” Something like that. She crafted such an eloquent but simple statement, I wish I could recall the exact words.

She made her point: it was time to move beyond the small talk.

Then the Senator then took the lead.

He began speaking of Anita Hill and how she had perjured herself. I don’t know how long the Senator spoke, as I was still in shock, but I do remember distinctly that he mentioned the “corrupting effect of this rock and roll” — my jaw almost dropped onto the floor when he actually said that.

As the Senator spoke, I ground my fingernails into my palms to keep myself from speaking. The thoughts were a hurricane in my brain and I was afraid I would burst out in some verbal explosion of frustration.

He was missing the point, and no one was saying anything to him about it!

Were we going to sit there and listen to him slamming Anita Hill and just sit mute? Would all these nice manners continue and block any real communication about the frustrations of the issues of real sexual harassment in the workplace and the lack of women in the Senate?

At one point a sort of squawking noise escaped from my mouth.

My fingernails were almost through the skin on my palms.

I looked, pleadingly at Harriett after I made the sound and I said to her, “could… could I say something?”

And Harriett, the strong, impressive and grand woman announced to the shocked looking table members with her arms waving about, “Yes! Yes! My assistant, Heather, would like to say something!”

My hands relaxed in my lap.

I started to speak with a quivering and timid voice.

I said, “Senator, I understand that you think Anita Hill perjured herself. But, I don’t think that’s the point. I think the point is, there were no women up there on the Judiciary Committee, so no one could possibly know what she had gone through if she had been telling the truth.”

The Senator was just staring at me.

After I finished speaking I’m not sure if I even took a breath of air.

The Senator took a bite of his fruit cup and his head began to nod.

He chewed and said, “Hmmm…well, I never thought about it that way.”

I recognized even then that he was being kind and diplomatic — though I will always hope my words might’ve reached him.

I continued shaking and shivering throughout the rest of the luncheon. I have no recollection of any other words that were exchanged in the meeting. I just remember when it seemed it was time to go.

The Senator raised himself slowly from his chair, and the rest of us followed.

When all of the thank-you’s and good-bye’s were being exchanged came one of the most remarkable interactions of the whole experience.

Mrs. Simpson came over to me with her hand extended.

She introduced herself to me, and I introduced myself to her. She continued shaking my hand and looked deep into my eyes and said, “You keep on going,” and gave my hand an extra tight squeeze.

In the cab on the ride home, Harriett said to me, “I hope you’re writing about all of this.” That was eight years ago, and at the time I wasn’t. The experience, however, isn’t one I will ever forget. Each time I revisit the memory I’m energized by Mrs. Simpson’s words and I do “keep on going.”