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Not Thinking Straight by Madelyn Arnold
Murder light
by Madelyn Arnold - SGN Contributing Writer

This is about someone dying of a stomach disease. Not that that's so infrequent - and it didn't used to be especially infrequent either. But this happened to my First Lover (FL), which of course can never again happen, just as she never can.

An Old Rhyme
In the last part of the 60's, FL and I were picked up in a bar raid - I, because I was a kid and she, because she was not. She was 20 to my 16 (and only I had known what the words "queer" and "Lesbian" meant. Or thought I did).

After the dust cleared, nothing further happened to her because her brother was a lawyer. Nothing further than that the career she had prepared for her entire life had been fixed - the way you 'fix' a cat.

On one of those dreamy summer afternoons (before anything either horrible or marvelous had happened) I had asked her why on earth she wanted to be a mathematics teacher - I had never met anyone who wanted to be a mathematics teacher... a math teacher had told her that she was good at seventh-grade math, so FL had not quit school (!!) like her sister had.

All Ball State University (and the icky little state of Indiana) did was (1) erase any college credit which could be applied to teaching, and (2) enjoin any faculty recommendations for the same purpose.

Life Being Over, FL -
FL sank into a little blob of soggy butch blight. It was only natural, I suppose, but even later -- hearing about it, I was not really very supportive.

She had worked very hard on her teaching credits, which were now as useful as nuts on a statue; now she couldn't graduate at midyear - she'd be lucky to graduate at all.... And in what subject? It's not as though she knew anything about physics (and neither did Ball State University). Her teaching adviser scuttled around her with a crucifix; but there remained her mathematics advisor.

Dear old Pot(aswami). He told her to begin the classes he was beginning to teach, in the soon-to-be-(no doubt)-useless area of "computer science".

Other than that, he sniffed around us with the utter dedication of a doberman. What, precisely, was this women "homo-sect-you-all"? Fortunately, he never figured it out.

Mother, May I Go Out to Swim? Yes, My Darling Daughter...
For the next two quarters, four or five students sat in the afternoon sun, balancing notebooks on their knees - until released as computer experts. Bell Systems hired 2 as programmers, of which one was FL.

She liked setting up systems. She liked Arrays and Databases... she loved it all in the way that she had loved chess. But one problem was, she was not hired to actually do the work.

It's like: I was trained to be a microbiologist. I like germs and viruses - or rather, loved manipulating all the fuss and bother that goes into identifying and annihilating them. I often think over what a misery it would have been if I had been hired to play microbiologist - and then have been prevented from doing it. It wouldn't only have been my disappointment at missing the work. There'd be the humiliation that I hadn't figured it out.

Hang Your Clothes On A Hick'ry Limb
The more important problem was what she was actually hired to do: be The Broad. I almost wrote that much more harshly. And she was supposed to dress the part, although she looked like a linebacker with great knockers.

She had the dress she'd applied to the Air Force in; with the sudden influx of Bell Laboratories money and lots of good advice, she went out and bought lots of overstuffed sofa dresses just like it. They should have just hired Gayle Sayers in drag: he was available and they'd have met two quotas.

But Don't Go Near The Water
There were endless meetings; interpersonal skills were not her thing. She tried being quiet (she was not good at being quiet). She tried speaking up (this was much worse). Men openly laughed at her, and the secretaries, clerks, cafeteria ladies, etc. despised her.

When given actual work, she killed herself doing it - broke all records for speed and accuracy - only to find someone else had also been assigned, and they would use HIS work.

She couldn't understand what she was doing wrong... interpersonal skills were not her thing. She pined after the numbers that had always hidden her - for the honest praise that work had always brought her; and all the while her insides churned and twisted. And bled. She was of the ilk that didn't see doctors - and about such private matters! Certainly not.

FL could not grasp that she had been hired in the hope she would fail. She couldn't comprehend such outright cruelty.

But thank heaven she had met a wonderful, placid woman who could take her in her arms. Where she died one day in 1978.

And Bell Labs had proven... what? That women couldn't handle programming jobs? And had no sense of humor? I'm sure they had proven something useful... it's just that I don't quite understand what.
Autumn Insert

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