Growing up small town Texan meant that glamour was a sin. I had learned that from Mrs. Hampton, the lady who owned the grocery store down Elm’s street. Everything else I learned, I learned from my Momma. She taught me things everything a lady should be. And I used to listen to her all wide-eyed and holey like a sponge that if anybody had requested so, I would squish out every single thing she used to say to me word for word like a parakeet. I still remember them. Not all, just the important bits.
She would say. To be a lady is to ward off any men before her husband comes along. To be a lady is to say thank you to Mrs. Hampton even when she calls her mother a wench. To be a lady is to cover her shoulders and knees, and to do so without looking like she’s doing so. To be a lady is to curl her hair not with hairspray but with sheer determination. And most importantly, she would say, to be a lady is to stay by her family no matter what. A lady can forgo everything else, but she must never forget her family. I used to believe so wholeheartedly in that, I didn’t even know when I went wrong.
Harrowing was a small small town. Even by small town Texan standards. Outside, the world had moved on to Dean Martin and Bardot. Here in Harrowing, we still bar our doors at night extra shut to discourage drunk men milling about still shouting about the first great war. No, Harrowing was not New York or Vegas. Harrowing was forgotten, lifeless, and had no hope of returning to the modern age. If I had been plain, I would never had resisted. Simple girls suit Harrowing quite well. Only unfortunately for me, I was born blonde, beautiful with the face of an angel. An angel with surprisingly straight teeth, or so Buddy had told me, as well as George. My teeth were so straight, Gordon had said that it hurt to kiss me. So, it wasn’t so surprising really, that I would high-tail my way out of here. The moment Momma died, I gathered my cotton dresses, shoes and flaking pins and tossed them into my leather case. I guess I made such a racket that Gordon came pounding up the stairs wondering what I was going on about, that I was yelling and screaming like a madwoman. He didn’t know, but I had inherited a pistol from Momma. I had bought it when her estate went on auction. When the man with the sign called out my name, I held my head proud and high. I was so sure that someone would tell Gordon about it, but he never found out. I guess everyone just assumed I bought it for him. But he never had a clue, and when I left him bleeding out in our bedroom with a single bullet to his chest, the last name he spoke wasn’t even mine. It was the name of some ghastly girl down at the diner. I never did hear what he said about her. He bit a bullet into the temple before he could confess. It’s a shame really. I have always hated wasting bullets.
I’m glad Gordon and I hadn’t had kids yet. Or else I would have broken my promise to Momma, and I couldn’t bear that. Momma was the only family I had, and she was gone. After that night, there was nothing left for me in Harrowing. So, with my luggage, light as can be, fifty bucks, and a pistol, I headed north. I was gonna be a famous lady. A star.
I was 17 when I found a copy of a book by the author named F. Scott Fitzgerald. A woman stared out of it, directly at me. It looked as if she was far, far away and contemplating my face with hooded eyes. I shouldn’t have been scared. She was nothing more than two dark kohl drawn eyes, and a pair of lips disembodied floating above a carnival city of lights. But when I saw this picture hanging heavy and red over the world like a grand poster held against the stars, I knew that I whatever I was right now, it wasn’t enough. I wanted to be her. Without my blonde hair or southern twang, it was like I was her.
Then I started dreaming about them. Daisy and Gatsby. I imagined them reveling in their mansions throwing the parties of the century. Champagne, lipstick, opium, glitter, fiddle music, and mad men all sent flying into the air. Only the problem was, glamour like that comes at a steep price. The scenes of feathers and brocade always swelled up big and large, and then exploded into fragments. By the time I arrived, all was left around were the crime sites of alcohol, violent sex, and murder, littered like broken glass. And the party ends, it always does. And soon after begins the mighty hangover. The terrible pounding and pressure up above. So, terrible it may as well be God. Only it doesn’t hurt, it glows. Upon everything it touches. In its splendor reveals Daisy and Mr. Gatsby strangled by their pearls, hung up amongst their crystals like prickling beads. Daisy never died in Mr. Fitzgerald’s story, but seeing what she had done, it seemed appropriate.
When I arrived in New York in 1959, I felt very much like Mr. Gatsby. I was dirt poor, handsome, and ambitious. Only, instead of looking for a girl, I was looking for a man.
To Be Continued?