Brand building through storytelling

Reconnecting with the girl I used to be

When I was a 19-year-old virgin wondering when some young god would finally come along and ravish me, I sold an opinion piece to Seventeen called “Virginity is an Outmoded Ideal.” My ringing conclusion: “…the standard of behavior in sexual as in all matters should be, ‘Is this action appropriate to my sense of what’s right?’… Like most of my contemporaries, I value honesty, competence, awareness, independence. That’s what determines what I do–or don’t do.”

By the time my piece appeared, I had already betrayed that principle for an older guy (of course he had to be older) who wrote me bad poetry and claimed to have done time in a military prison for safe-cracking. Because the readers of Seventeen were most likely to be 12, none of my friends read my declaration of sexual independence or even knew I’d written such a thing. But it did inspire a hate letter from pre-teen girl somewhere in the Midwest, which bristled with accusations like “I bet you’re the kind of girl who wears mini-skirts so short, a passer-by can see every wrinkle and hair on your butt.” (I would later see seem pretty odious language hurled my way as Editor of Chatelaine, but only one irate reader has ever speculated on the appearance of my butt.)

Intuition told me this girl was no virgin, and that the insults she lobbed in my direction had already been used against her. She seemed desperate to be heard and I listened, as I would later do in the Editor’s chair. I sent her a thoughtful reply and soon found myself cast in the role of fantasy mentor to this kid in Iowa or wherever. Thank goodness she never hitch-hiked to Toronto to see me, as at one point she vowed to do.

After that, I forgot about the Seventeen piece. I had never been proud of it, and its every existence revealed a hypocritical streak I couldn’t bear to see, much less accept. I didn’t even save a copy for my files. Then a week or so ago, after more than 40 years, I received a message here at Facebook from Cheryl Kreiser, a high school teacher in Maryland, who had not only saved my piece but taught it many times in her classroom. Cheryl, who’s a few years younger than I am, had been struck by my boldness back in 1969. “You had it together,” she wrote. I didn’t, of course. But Cheryl’s note still made my day.

As I write this, I’m looking at a yellowed tearsheet from Seventeen. There’s a photo of me, snapped in a booth, looking moody and glamorous in a jungle-print dress I found at a discount store. The dress was my idea of what a footloose poet would wear in Greenwich Village. I never lived in the Village and I lost that photo long ago. But thanks to Cheryl, I am now reconnected to the girl I was in 1969.

Posted by Rona

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