Sunday, February 21, 2010

My Most Embarrassing Typo

Admittedly, my boss's handwriting could be hard to read, but I'd been working for him for over a year when I made the typo. I was 26; my ordinary job felt like a big deal. I was self-supporting for the first time in the choppy wake of a hellacious marriage of 8 years.

My boss’s title was the Assistant to the Bishop for Congregations, and I was his secretary in the diocesan office of the Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.

And I was in love. Except that part wasn't going so well. The light of my eyes, tall, dark, and Zen-gentle, was, as I saw him, committo-phobic. I’d known Steve as a friend for about half of my married life, and since my view of ‘normal’ involved my husband throwing glasses of beer around the apartment, I needed gentleness. The most I'd been able to pry out of my— ? boyfriend ?— was this koan: "I'm not not in love with you."

I mean, we were the real deal! We’d kissed under a streetlight at two in the morning, as well as lots of other venues, our religious values preventing further exploration—in which case, kissing can be amazingly hot. I announced my intentions with every glance of my eyes; we were always together. If he wasn’t in love with me, I was a wombat. Only he wouldn’t out with it. I churned up all the air around us trying to persuade him to admit that he knew what I knew he knew. I was so persuasive, in fact, that he rarely had a chance to say anything.

I was good in a crisis; if one didn’t exist, I would create it. Greetings from the State of Anxiety read a postcard I’d taped on a cabinet in my work cubicle.

Back to my boss; he was a priest, and later, a bishop. I believe he was the first African-American graduate of Yale Divinity School. He was good to me, and I was happy to do the occasional personal task for him. After a particularly gnawing weekend of Boyfriend Angst, Father Turner brought me a letter he’d handwritten to a nursing home in North Carolina, where his mother resided, and I proceeded to type it. The pertinent line read, “…and every time I visit my mother, and I might add unannounced, I am impressed with the quality of her care.”

I was in a tizzy of distraction, to put it mildly. My hands typed while my fraught mind layered another story over my own obsession, and I envisioned Father Turner and his mother, bravely enduring an atmosphere of chronic racism in a nursing home in the deep South of North Carolina. I brought my boss’s letter to life on that creamy Episcopal Church paper with the classy insignia. …”every time I visit my mother,” I typed, “and I might add, unarmed”…

With perky efficiency, I knocked on Father Turner’s door and gave him the letter. A few minutes later, he came back to my desk. “’Unarmed!? What is this?’”

I began to cry. “I’m so sorry. Boyfriend,” I blubbered. “Not. He won’t—but I—but he”—

“Come into my office,” my boss said, from where he regarded me with calm eyes across his desk. I spilled my story. Silence followed. I felt unzipped and raw, as if Father Turner could see, as if the whole planet could see, that I was the kind of person who would invite an older man to abuse me but that any young, good-looking man within a few strokes of normal would guess how fucked up I was and keep one eye on the exit door.

But Father Turner came to what must have seemed the logical conclusion. “Is your boyfriend gay?”

“No,” I howled, all over again. That was another thing I did know about him.

My boss must have had some parting, pastoral words for me—this was his job, after all—but I don’t remember them. I went back to my desk and typed the best spankin’ thank-you letter ever sent to a nursing home in North Carolina.
A typo betrayed me. I was the one who needed to be armed, not Father Turner, not his mother, but I didn’t know it. It took time, years; but I learned that to be vulnerable, and to admit you’re broken, is not an admission of failure. I laid aside my armor and gradually discovered the weakness that finds its own strength.

And what of Steve, my Zen hottie? I was actually relieved when he suggested we take a break from each other for two months. Whatever the outcome, I knew I could trust him. And I had to stop announcing myself…

In the end, I don’t think we lasted the entire eight weeks…and Father Turner gave us some very nice wine glasses as a wedding gift.

8 comments:

Ryoma Collia-Suzuki said...

Wonderful blog. I always want to learn more, read more. Thanks for sharing. :)

hmallon said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mary Oak said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Oak said...

Helen

Beautifully said.I have learned a similar lesson--that accepting and allowing our vulnerability is ultimately a strength, a source of power.

Mary L. Tabor said...

You are lovely, generous and honest. So glad to have found you, let alone this lovely blog. --Mary

hmallon said...

Mary Oak,
I know that what I posted has a particular connection for you, and I hope one day soon we can sit down over coffee or some healthier brew (I loved your mother's carrot juice) and review the last 30 years!!

Mary Tabor,
It's great to hear from you! One thing that might not come across in my post is that the typo incident was actually quite funny. I hope your editing is going well & that the ebook is finding its form. What a wonderful experiment!!
Helen

Laura said...

Loved this! Your willingness to be brutally honest in your writing is a gift to those of us who read it.

Glad that your story ended happily. I was way too persuasive with the man who became my second husband and it turned out he was right all along...he really didn't love me.

hmallon said...

Wow, Laura, that must have been a really painful time in your life...

...I don't know about BRUTAL honesty. But thank you for the compliment! The more honest the writing, the better, I say. Bring it on!