Yesterday, I was sitting at a picnic table with a woman I had just met and the sunlight was absorbing into her dark red hair making the tips look like they had ignited. Her eyes were sparkling, amplified by the wrinkles that radiated out from them, like starbursts.
I thought to myself, This woman is beautiful.
I had only learned her name an hour before, and confessing that she would forget mine, she said, I’ll just call you honey-darling.
We talked there in the sunlight a long time. As she talked, I thought about sitting in the kitchen as a child listening to my mother and my aunt intensely talk while slicing cucumbers and about my uncle leaning over to my brother man-to-man, saying, Women can just go on for hours, can’t they? And I thought about all the times I’ve been chided by partners because I am most certainly what you would call “a talker,” late nights with friends out on the porch and long forty-minute goodbyes.
The woman at the picnic table was going a mile-a-minute, her words spilling out from her so quickly that sometimes they fell on top of each other in a puddle and she scooped them back up in her sun-spotted hands and tried again.
And I thought to myself, Maybe this is what happens, all this babbling and carrying-on, when you live in a world that sanctions you no air time.
She is writing a book, she said, could I maybe edit it? She doesn’t have much education, she said, so she’s dictating it onto a computer but it doesn’t put in the punctuation. Sure, I said, I can help with that.
When it’s done, she wanted to know if I would take it back to Greensboro, the city where I am from. She can’t let people here read it, the town is too small, and it’s about stuff that no one would believe anyway. Her father, the neighbor, husbands, boyfriends, a teacher, a stranger, an uncle. She said, I dyed my hair black one time and got myself fat for a while hoping they might stop touching me.
One cousin apologized and said he hoped it hadn’t messed her up too bad. She really appreciated that.
And I thought about Christmas Eve just a few months ago when I sat with my friend in a Mexican restaurant, Feliz Navidad written in fake snow frosting on a Dos Equis mirror above her head, and she told me about her cousin who killed herself at eleven and over beers we recounted all the men who had damaged us. I thought about the hundreds of conversations that we all have had, women to women, sometimes strangers, words pouring out untrained and undisciplined as if we had just been released from a cage and our wings were beating hard, unsteady, like we are just trying to stay up.
And I thought about another restaurant, a fancier one, that I was sitting in about a year ago with the man I was dating. And I thought about how, when I began to share with him some of the things I knew, things that I had seen as a woman, he stopped me and said, Why do you want to talk about this? We are out to dinner after all.
I asked, Does it make you uncomfortable? And he said, No, it’s just that no one I have ever dated has wanted to talk about what had happened to them before. And I thought, Well, that’s not true.
But then he went on to tell me about the upcoming tour with his band while I wondered what it would feel like to swallow my own throat.
So the woman with red hair is going to write her book, and I will fill in the punctuation and take it home with me to Greensboro, which she fancies to be a big city, but I know is not. I will copy it a thousand times and bring it to you, and ask you to read it carefully, committing it to memory, the type of memory that isn’t a word-for-word recitation, but something deeper, something closer to the marrow of your bones.
Come talk to me, friends. Use all the words in the dictionary and use them right and use them wrong and do what you will with the punctuation. Tell me long stories, the ones you worry I don’t want to hear.
Tell me your troubles over dinner. Sit on my porch and stay too long.