Hey, gang! Welcome to EP 11 of my podcast, “Something That I Wrote.”
I’m glad you’re back here. I’ve really wanted to talk with you. I’ve felt a bit bad for my last post, cause I think I was a bit unfair to Teddy. I didn’t mean to be, but I think that I was. And I feel just awful.
I was frustrated, that’s all. Sometimes we do things we don’t mean to when we’re frustrated, like when Juliette and that girl she knew from Hollywood climbed upstairs with the knives she’d just had sharpened by the guy who rides the truck round town. I still think of them, every time I hear the Beach Boys, and I just can’t sing along without smiling. Ahhhhh, ahhhhh, ahhh-ahhhhh!
I feel bad about Teddy, though. I didn’t say anything mean or nasty about him, but I think I was impatient. I know better than anyone how shy Teddy Thompson can be, and I should’ve waited a little bit longer. Cause he sure isn’t gonna get in touch with me now. There’s no hope of it. I was too harsh. I’ve scared him off.
But if I know Teddy like I think I do, I think he was thinking of poking his head out sometime soon. I really think he was. And I never understood why he was so reluctant, and that’s why I was so short-tempered and annoyed. But I think I understand why now. I’ve thought about it a lot, and I think I know now why Teddy’s kept away from me.
I think Teddy is ashamed of his story.
And this shatters my heart. It really does. I know Teddy wouldn’t want me to do anything different to it, and even if he did, I got too much pride as a writer to tell a story in any way other than the way it ought to be told, but still, I think that Teddy is ashamed. And I wish I could remind him of something that he taught me. If Teddy really thought things through for himself, he’d know there’s no reason to be ashamed at all.
Last week I told you about the conversation he and I had on a bench outside a coffeeshop. The way I told it to you, it seemed like that was just about the only conversation we ever had. But that’s not exactly true. I told it that way cause I’m the writer and sometimes I can get away with stuff like that, but really, Teddy and I had a couple other talks, too. Not many, but there were some. We’d go for walks down by the riverbank, and the marina, and the hill out on the edge of town – never near the shops, cause he hated those terribly, and he’d never go near em if he didn’t have to. And we’d just talk. I wanted to get to know him, wanted to understand him fully and completely so I could recreate him exactly, and so I’d ask him questions about his taste in art, the way he drank his coffee, his deepest regrets and the things that made him smile. You know, by the end, I think I really understood him. I even made him laugh, sometimes.
A lotta the stuff he told me ended up in the story, even if I don’t say so outloud. It’s in there, in the way I talk about him and the things that he does, and I know it, which is all that matters. I put in as much of it as I can, and I knew him so well that some of it even snuck in accidentally and unintentionally, and I didn’t even realize it until recently. One such thing was a story he told me about his great great-aunt.
We were walking down near the shore, past the golf course, where all the biggest houses are. Teddy was in a happy mood, in a way I hadn’t seen him before. He was playful and cheeky and almost even hyper. And we’re walking along, and as we walk, I’m kicking a can, and Teddy’s walking almost fast for once, he really was, and it was so nice to see him strutting like that, especially at his age. I bet his shaky knees didn’t bother him at all. And we pass by this house, this big white house, massive, a mansion, really, all Jazz Age splendor, luxuriant and grand, like you’d see in The Great Gatsby. And Teddy sees it, and he starts to laugh.
He stops, and leans on the fence, and he goes, “Boy, have I got a story about this place!”
And I stop and lean beside him, and I look up at it, and I look at him, and I say, “Well, tell me it!”
So Teddy tells me this story about his great-great-aunt. He said that when his great-great-aunt was a young girl, she got a job working in that house, as a servant of some sort. He said that was common in those days – a lotta young girls, from around here, would get jobs as servants of some sort in the rich folk’s houses. It was either that or working on a farm, and there were hardly any girls in town who wanted to pick peaches, not unless the farmer’s son was a handsome guy. And Teddy’s great-great-aunt was one of the lucky ones, cause those jobs in the rich houses were hard to come by.
Now, she was obviously grateful, Teddy said, but shortly after she started there she got sickened and bitter, and soon she didn’t want to go to work at all. She wasn’t lazy – she just said the rich man that she worked for was a pig, a total pig, in looks but especially in manners. When he’d eat chicken he’d throw the bones onto the dining room floor, and when he’d spill his wine he’d make the staff wipe it up with their dresses. But Teddy’s great-great-aunt said the worst thing of all was the way he treated his fiancee. He was engaged to get married, at the end of the summer, to a redhead who was gentle and sincere and kind, and who had no idea that when she went out of town to visit her parents, her fiance would kiss the servant girls on the cheek and grab them and pull them by the hand into his bedroom, and if a girl fought back, like Teddy’s great-great-aunt did, he’d let her go, but he’d give her all the worst chores, after, while the ones that did go in there with him would get the rest of the weekend off, and he’d buy them little gifts and things, earrings and watches and cigarettes. And his fiancee had no idea. She knew nothing. She was hopelessly naive, and she always, always smiled.
Teddy said his great-great-aunt wanted to do something about it, cause she hated pigs, but she couldn’t. If she told someone she’d get fired, and the rich man would tell the other rich men, and she’d never work in another rich house again. That’s how rich folks are. And the other servant girls would be so mad at her, too, and she’d never have any friends to go around with. Everyone made her promise not to ever speak a word, and so she kept her mouth shut. But she hated him so much. She hated him so so so so so so so so much, and she wanted to do something.
On the day that they got married Teddy’s great-great-aunt was working. The wedding was in the back garden. Everything was beautiful and expensive and white. And Teddy’s great-great-aunt had been the one who had to set up all the chairs. They needed 300 chairs, in rows of ten, and her back was so sore by the end. And only her and one other girl had had to do it. The other servant girls were upstairs with the rich man, and through the open window she could hear all of them giggling. And Teddy’s great-great-aunt had enough.
She stared out in disgust the entire ceremony. Everyone was fanning themselves, and looking very, very bored. She stayed off to the side, outta sight, exactly where she’d been told to stay. And she watched the bride-to-be. She looked so beautiful, so radiant, so unaware. She deserved so much better.
Finally, it all got to be too much. Teddy’s great-great-aunt just could not contain herself, and suddenly, she burst from the bushes and ran straight down the aisle. If she’d really wanted to be poetic, she’d have waited till the priest asked if anyone had any objections, but it was effective nonetheless. It stirred some life into the crowd, that’s for sure. Teddy’s great-great-aunt ran down the aisle, and she did not say anything – she’d promised she wouldn’t – but instead, she ran right up to the rich man, and, as hard as she could, kicked him right in the fucking nuts. Then she turned and ran back down the aisle, around the front of the house, and was gone. She was panting and she was panicked, but she was proud.
Teddy finished the story, looked up at the house, sighed, and then smiled.
“There’s a real moral in there somewhere,” he said to me.
“What is it?” I asked.
He grinned with mischief. “You tell me,” he said. “You’re the writer.”
I thought about that story a lot, and I realized there is one heckuva lesson in there. Teddy’s great-great-aunt’s actions did nothing to change anything at all. Teddy’s great-great-aunt had hoped her stunt might shake something inside of that girl, but it didn’t. For a second the redheaded girl did wonder what might’ve motivated it, but then the rich man, bent over in pain, rubbed the back of her hand, and said, “Don’t worry, darling – she’s just jealous that she’ll never be as rich as you.” And then the girl went back to smiling. That dumb, stupid bride still married the pig, and she died young, full of shattered dreams and wasted chances, and so, so terribly unhappy.
But it doesn’t matter. She tried. Teddy’s great-great-aunt tried to do something. She tried.
And that’s what I want Teddy to remember. That’s all I want to tell him. He doesn’t have to call me back, he doesn’t have to send a postcard from wherever he is. He especially doesn’t have to throw rocks at my bedroom window late at night, though I wouldn’t mind if he did. I just want him to remember this: it doesn’t matter what happened, in the end. It doesn’t matter how it all played out. He tried.
You taught me this, Teddy, so please don’t forget it. You tried, Teddy. You tried, you tried, you tried.