Random memory on International Women’s Day

Back in the 1980s I was managing an office staff of about 4 and a cashiering staff of about 40. It was Spring, which was our busiest time. It was Saturday, which was our busiest day. Lines at the checkouts were long and relentless. The husband of one of the cashiers phoned me. He had unexpected company and needed his wife to come home immediately to make coffee. I told him that I would talk him through making the coffee, but that I wouldn’t let her go home. I explained what happened to the cashier and she said that she agreed with my decision and that her husband was being unreasonable. She finished the day, then never came back.

Medal of Honor

In every dogwood blossom his face
smiles too perfectly.
He never yelled about
my forgotten homework; never
buried my first dog by the fence
in our backyard; never
went eyeball-to-eyeball
with a used car salesman
to get my first car.
He’s a photograph now,
an old one in gray scale.
Only I remember
how the dogwood bloomed
the last time he leaned from the train
to wave goodbye.


~Note: Written to honor Technician Fifth Grade F. Peden who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on February 13, 1946. All events but the dogwood and the train are fictional.

Archaeology

Drowned cities
spanning the globe
from John Franklin to Roald Amundsen,
all claim to be Atlantis.
Each one shows off their stone arch. Each one
bears a painted image of warriors still in battle,
or women collecting jugs of water despite
being in the deepest fathoms of it.
Each one declares authenticity, holds up their ruins
and begs to be remembered, as
all of us ask to be remember,
to be loved for eternity:
I was here. I was here.
Please
never forget me.

© 2021 Vera S. Scott


“. . . there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea.” – Plato

Dream State

Even the places here are turning
to dreams.
From the bus window, I point out landmarks:
I used to live on the second floor of a blue house down that street
I used to buy lunch from the hot buffet in that market and then skip dinner
I used to feed the feral cats in that park and was especially fond of a black and white kitten
but I don’t remember
the street address, the best entre, the kitten’s name.
Where I was and
who we were
a decade ago, two decades ago,  
half-a-century past
is nearly unconjurable,
as if it never,
as if you never
happened
at all.

The tenacity of truth in a small town

Okay, here goes.

This is a story that I have not told to any living soul. My mother and I spoke of it when it happened. My Aunt Vera spent countless hours discussing the event and the situations surrounding it as a means of helping me cope and put my life back together afterwards. Both of them are now gone and I have not thought about this in over forty years.

It comes to mind now because, as some of you may have guessed based on some of the things I have been writing or posting, I have been doing a lot of thinking about celebrities and how instantly, anonymously and ubiquitously the internet allows objectification to supersede human dignity and encourages the reduction of people into commodities. Once a collection of, say butt gifs, goes out into the ether it bounces around the cloud forever, reaching potentially 3 billion users. What happens is what always happens with false statements and unkind words: you can never take them back.

This story, then, is about a lie, said about me, said in a small town that encompassed my entire universe at the time.

When I reached high school more people knew me then whom I knew in return. I had always been creative, always writing, always putting together with some new thing or another — a play (about cross-dressing, put into production during 7th or 8th grade but cancelled when the principal realized the content); a multitude of short stories; a walk-out on Earth Day (10th grade, sanctioned, everyone got an A); an assembly about avoiding the draft (junior year, high school, Vietnam); and on and on. I had won an international award and been interviewed for the local papers several times. When I walked down the hallway at school, people knew who I was. On the few occasions when I walked down the sidewalk in town, people I had never met, people I had never seen before in my life, would recognize me and stop me to talk.

My parents were not well educated. My mother in particular carried a lifelong disdain for formal education and she repeatedly tried to stop me from writing. Mentors for me came in the form of teachers, and then only sparingly: one in fourth grade, another in high school.

The high school mentor was a young man whom I first met when he was a student teacher. He was successful enough that the school hired him to be on staff the following year. (As far as I know, this gentleman is still out there in the world, so no, I will not tell you his name.) He quickly garnered a small entourage of students who liked his modern, freethinking methods. He took an interest in my writing and often provided advice and encouragement.

That small entourage of students, however, proved to be his undoing as an educator. The school asked him to leave mid-year. That fact that he had mentored me brought additional suspicion on him — but while the principal questioned whether he and I were having an affair, the accusations went no farther than that interrogation.

The inexplicable rise to fame on the foundation of a lifetime of criticism and belittling, the sudden loss of my mentor, combined with the natural angst and anxiety associated with being a teen-ager, plunged me into a depression. I became suicidal. Desperately needing a way to hold on, I decided to leave school — no argument from my parents on that because they didn’t care much for schools anyway.

Therefore, as I junior, only a year from graduation, I walked out the door of my high school, never to go back. That action almost completely severed my contact with friends, classmates and the only life with which I was familiar. I did not live in town, but rather quite far out in the country. I did not own a car. It was not close enough to walk anywhere. Only one friend even bothered to phone me after I left.

That’s how I found out. That friend called to let me know that people were saying that the teacher who mentored me had gotten me pregnant. The rumor was that I had quit school to have his child.

He and I had never been alone together, or seen each other outside of the school except for a farewell dinner where we were in the presence of several students and my grandparents. I was a virgin, and in fact, I remained so for a number of years afterwards.

It was totally not true.

Moreover, it was indefensible. I was no longer in school. There was no way for me to combat the rumors, outlive the lie, or do anything else to clear my name or his.

At this point, my Aunt Vera convinced her employer to give me a job as a receptionist. She would pick me up and we would drive together to and from work. It was on those rides that she eventually got me to start talking about things. Slowly, bit by bit, I started to put the lie, the rumors, the distress, even the thoughts of suicide behind me. I took up photography. I started buying cool clothes. I even started going to the club on weekends (it was legal drink at 18.) Eventually I received my high school diploma and then an associate’s degree.

Fifteen or so years later while I visiting my parents, I walked into a restaurant in that same little town. Someone called my name and I turned to see Fran sitting at one of the tables. Fran was in the same circle of friends I was; we attended the same sleepovers; she was there when a mutual friend, Karen, pushed me off a dock and I nearly drowned; Fran knew me. I walked over, happy to see her. She smiled her best smile and asked, “How are you, Vera? How’s your daughter? She must be in high school. How many children do you have now?”

“Ah, none.”

“But I thought . . .”

“No.”

That lie lived all those years. That lie is probably still alive in that little town. I can imagine the old farts nodding with certainty as they caution their granddaughters: be careful now, that happened to a girl I knew when I was your age.

Except that it didn’t.

Today, what is particularly troubling to me is that technology has raised the bar on rumors. The internet would not only increase the quantity of people hearing the story well beyond the original few thousand; it would increase the quality of it also: someone would take the time to create photos of the daughter I do not actually have, there eventually would also be photos of that daughter’s children, and 3 billion users would keep forwarding the lie.