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?”
“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.”
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