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.