Saturday, April 21, 2012

Circuitous Routes

(Edited repost from June 2011)
In mid-January 1967—a month after leaving the convent—I  began to work for a Catholic publishing house in Dayton, Ohio. Its office occupied a brick building in a rundown section of town. Lots of bars, vacate buildings, men down on their luck.   

            I lived a few blocks away in a home for working women. Each of us had a narrow room with a twin bed, a dresser with three drawers, a straight-backed chair, a nightstand with a lamp, a sink, and a miniscule closet. We used communal showers and toilets and had both cafeteria and curfew. I felt right at home there—the convent with amenities.
            I took off my habit for the last time on the morning of December 24, 1966. Because the convent had no stash of ordinary clothing, my mom brought me an outfit she’d borrowed from my sister-in-law. Putting on those cotton panties, silky slip, pleated skirt, and patterned blouse felt strange. Alien.
            Mom included lipstick, rouge, and powder. I hadn’t worn makeup in almost nine years. My hand trembled as I picked up the lipstick. I meandered over my lips. Powdered. Over-rouged. Looked in the mirror and saw a clown. I teared up. What was I leaving? What was I going to?
            A few days later, I flew to Ohio for a job interview at a publishing house. Later, a senior editor gave me a tour of the city. He pointed out the Dominican-run, brick, four-story building where I could stay should the firm offer me a job.
             If hired, I’d exit the brick building, turn left, walk to the corner, turn right, cross the street, walk down five blocks, wait for the light, cross the street, turn left, pass the café, and open the door to the publishing house. An easy daily route.
            Three weeks later, I learned the job was mine. Before I departed for Ohio, Dad gave me some considered advice. “Dolores,” he said, “tell me approximately where the place you live will be in relation to where you’ll work.”
            My dad respected blueprints and maps, so I drew him one with both the living quarters and the workplace clearly labeled.
            “How are you getting to work?”           
            “I’ll walk.”
            “Tell me your route.”
            I walked it off on the map.
            “That’s not good,” he insisted. “I want you to go a different way each day.”
            “What do you mean, Dad?”
             “One day, turn right instead of left. It’ll be longer but safer,” Dad said, using his index finger to show me the proposed route on the map. “The next day, turn right but walk beyond the corner, up a block or two. Then turn right and walk to the office. You'll be coming from a different direction.” His finger followed that route. “Some days I want you to walk down six or seven blocks and then come back up to the office. Change your route each day.”
            “Why would I do that?”
            “Honey, all sorts of men lurk out there. They’ll know your route if you take the same one each day."
            “Yes . . .?”
            “They prey on women,” he said.
            “Dad, who’d want to prey on me?”
            “Dolores, they don’t care what you look like. You’re a woman.”
            Thanks, Dad.
            I didn’t take his advice. No circuitous routes.
            He was right though. I did meet men. But no one “hit on” me. That’s the phrase I learned from a woman with whom I worked. Men “hit on” her.
            The truth is I’m not sure I’d recognize a “hit” if it happened. Some things just don’t occur to me. It’s often only later—hours, days, weeks, years—that the match sparks and I say, “Oh, that’s what that was all about.”  So if someone “hit” on me those long ago years, the hit never landed.

Photo from Wikipedia


  1. Wonderful to read more about your life.
    A good C word.
    I think your dad was right, I recall my husband telling my daughter alost the same thing when she started work, not that she took any notice either.
    Have a peacful Sunday.

  2. I love that you never seem to have lived in fear. I appreciate your dad's concern, but your response was perfect. The less we choose fear, the less we have to fear. I enjoyed reading about this new chapter in your life. Are you fleshing it out for your memoir? I can easily see it in fuller description. You have a wonderful way of immediately drawing us in with your chosen words.

  3. I think Dad was very smart and caring.


  4. That name they gave you in the convent really fit you, didn't it? Sister Innocence for sure. But I'm glad you didn't take a different route every day, cowering in fear of what might happen. I too am enjoying your excursions into the past.

  5. Your dad's advice was practical and cautious, Dee. Old habits die hard, I suppose. We were robbed once in an apartment we lived in and while we moves on in life, I've never forgotten the feeling. It was a long, long time ago, but all were sure it was someone watching my patterns of going out and coming home.

  6. Wonderfully told and quite intersting. Looking forward to reading more~

  7. I am enjoying these posts such a lot. Thank you so much.

  8. Your stories are so wonderful, Dee! I love reading about your life -- before, during and after the convent. What a change for you in only a month -- to be back in the secular world, in another state, working a different kind of job and in the middle of winter! I'm in awe!

  9. It wouldn't matter if you took a different route every day--if men are going to hit on you, they will hit on you--LOL! Your dad was just being protective.

    What a whole new life after leaving the convent. Be glad when you're back in May to hear some more. :)

  10. I do so love your stories. They are really eye openers for someone like me who has only known a secular lifestyle. Please keep them coming.

  11. I think when we are young we all feel invincible. As if it could never happen to me, is a mantra.
    I have to agree with your dad about taking different routes. I just wished he had told you of course men would "hit on" you because you are an amazing and beautiful woman.
    I wish you had known that way back when my friend.

  12. I think it's terribly sweet that your father wanted to protect you in that way (and that he was so gentle about it). I also love that you did what you wanted to and didn't worry about anyone preying on you. You have truly lived a varied life, haven't you! The part about trying on makeup after so many years really touched me, though. It must have been so strange and isolating to leave the convent and be essentially on your own in an alien world.

  13. Another example to me of your courage. After leaving the convent it would have seemed natural to me to find a job right under the shadow of my flying off to Dayton! It's possible that after living inside the confines of the convent you were eager to be out on your own, but that speaks volumes to me, too, in your ability to navigate solely on your own instincts. Being a little naive may have given you time to explore and learn more about yourself. I think that's what you explorer! And you write about the episodes in your life so beautifully. I enjoy reading and learning more about you. Debra

  14. I think you were very brave. I would have been terrified. Your father was right in his directions.. BUT, he didn't count of Gods angels walking with you and protecting you.
    At these times it is wonderful to have faith. I began nursing in a large Sydney hospital at seventeen. I was a very shy inexperienced country girl. The suburb behind the hospital I worked at was known for all kinds of evils, so I never went there. One day a patient wanted me to attend her hairdresser and she would pay for it, it was a gift. I was too shy to say no, and because it was early in the afternoon, I considered it would be safe. When I came out of that shop with my new hair style, it was dust and getting dark quickly. My heart beat faster and with head down, I walked as fast as possible, back to the hospital. Mum had told me a story about a similar circumstance when two angels walked beside a young girl and protected her from a rapist. She said that another girl was attacked a short time after the first one was protected. When the rapist was asked why he didn't touch the first girl, he answered. "She had two big blokes walking each side of her, I wasn't about to tackle them".

  15. Dee, I think both you and your father were right - he in trying to protect you and share his worldly knowledge with you, you in exercising your freedom to reject his advice and make your own decisions as an adult woman. I'm glad you were safe, though....

  16. Wonderful words of your Dad's, Dee, such a treasure!

    I've been in a few convents, so I recognized your room description right away.......!!


  17. You were lucky to be warned and that you avoided the awful things that could have gone wrong.