Note: This has been rejected as a third-person story; so I took Sarah’s advice and am trying it in second person. The epigraph is from a musty “teenage advice” book I found when I worked in a Catholic school library–in the early 2000s! (!) The story is fiction, but inspired by my own status as an adoptee, born pre-Roe. (And I hate that “Post-Roe” is even a word.)
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1969

* You look forward to marriage and want yours to be the holiest and happiest possible. Thus you are preparing yourself now by practicing self-control, by acquiring the virtue of purity.
(from 20th-Century Teenagers, by “A Friend of Youth,” St. Paul Editions, © 1961 *

You gave up chocolate for Lent but it didn’t take. You aren’t good at saying no. To hamburgers on a Friday. Glasses of pale beer at a college party where none of his friends guess you’re only sixteen. You are a wild girl. A hungry girl. Hungry girls want everything.
You want to see everything. Stars and elephants, titan footprints, dinosaurs, meteors, galaxies expanding, spilled milk and moondust cupping the horizon like the hand that you’re your breast. Your gauzy peasant blouse slipping from one bare shoulder as he kisses lower, lower, on the dark balcony of his off-campus apartment with the whole world watching. No one is looking, he whispers. Mr. and Mrs. America are in bed, they’re watching Johnny Carson, and you think of the pamphlet your mother gave you, the boy and girl in a lover’s lane, arms reaching for each other, but they can’t touch because Jesus sits between them in the car. Jesus in the picture is shiny and half-invisible, like a jellyfish you don’t see until it stings. You could pop him like a soap bubble if you put your hand through, and you do. Too late to stop now, you think, and three months later, bent over the bowl, stomach hitching, you know it’s too late for everything. Woodstock this summer, he’d said. Europe, later, but now he won’t take your calls and the nuns say what your mother says: Why buy the cow?
You’re a cow in in a barn with bile-green walls, the home for girls who should have known better. Girls who come fat and leave skinny, nothing in their arms but a suitcase. Babies signed away to the church, to a fine family who’ll bring them up right.
Daily Mass. Mopping floors, washing dishes. Food so bland and boiled and beige girls fight over smuggled-in ketchup packets. Sometimes people got away. A girl whose boyfriend showed up late one night with a ring: they all tell that story. Another girl, with bedsheets: an ambulance driving away slowly, siren off. And Sheila, who swallowed soap so they’d have to take her to the hospital. Hospital doors aren’t locked, the girls say.
The girls say: carry low, a boy it’ll be; carry high, a girl you’ll see. The nuns say: You’ll get what you get. What God wills. You know you’ll have a girl. A girl who will someday imagine a thousand lives for the mother you never knew: truck stop waitress, call girl, party girl, runaway bride; bored housewife, teenage alcoholic, Bonnie to someone’s Clyde.
You imagine your daughter only one way. Free.
You put her hand against the window glass. It ripples like a jellyfish Jesus. Like a vow, so easy to break.

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13 Comments

  1. Mikki Aronoff

    This is wonderful, Kathryn! I tried reading it a little bit in third person and for me it works a treat in second — it makes it everyone’s story, whether that’s the story one has lived or not. And the images are so striking. I particularly liked the jellyfish/Jesus ones. I’m sure this’ll get snapped up by the right folks soon!

    • Kathryn Kulpa

      Thanks, Mikki! It was fun to change it and it really makes me see the story in a new way, after feeling stuck.

  2. Sarah Freligh

    Kathryn, I agree with Mikki about second person and how effective it is. This is a particular, well-drawn character but the “you” draws me in to her side of the window glass and into her shoes in a way that she or I just might not have. I love, too, how the distance you get from second person strikes just the right tone, pitches it low so that the drama of the events never slips into melodrama as well as beautifully accommodates what “you” imagines. That riff on Jesus as a soap bubble is all kinds of amazing and I love how it comes back–jellyfish Jesus– in the end.

    What do you think of jumping in and starting at “You aren’t good at saying no,” which is such a nice, ironic counterpart to the epigraph and its preach about self-control (Why is it always the girl, FFS?). Thinking, too, that you could probably trim some of the details about the unwed mom’s home, go with the girls there. The ones who come in fat and leave skinny, the ones who get away before that, in whatever manner. Those feel especially particular and startling in their specificity, the best kinds of details!

    This one’s got legs!

    • Kathryn Kulpa

      Thanks so much, Sarah, for the original prompt and all the on-target observations.

      • Sarah Freligh

        You’re welcome! Can’t wait to see this one out in the world. Reject that, MFers.

  3. Kathryn Silver-Hajo

    Hello, Kathryn. So happy to be workshop mates with you!

    This story feels very important and timely to me, especially as it harkens back to a time we may well be headed back to. I second Mikki and Sarah’s comments about how effective the 2nd person is here and the wonderful, unique imagery. I got a little lost in the woods in the paragraph about the home for girls who should’ve known better and I agree with Sarah’s suggestion that it could be tightened up a bit, but I also suggest you keep it all in present tense and frame the chores, etc. in the 2nd person. Here’s what I mean (something like this):

    “You go to daily mass. Mop floors, wash dishes, eat food so bland…” Then later: “Some get away” (instead of sometimes people got away.) Etc.

    Also, I was a little confused by “A girl who will someday imagine a thousand lives for the mother you never knew.” Shouldn’t this be “she” never knew? Since the “you” is the mother?

    Beautiful work Kathryn!

    • Kathryn Kulpa

      Thanks, fellow Kathryn, and good catch on the ‘mother you never knew’–which shows the dangers of find/replace! I had to go through and change some of the oddities that caused, like ‘sheets’ coming out as ‘youets,’ but I must have missed that one. I like the idea of changing the chores, etc., to present tense as well.

  4. MaxieJane Frazier

    Hi Kathryn, I can only exclaim along with jellyfish Jesus popped like a soap bubble. I loved the shared mythology the pregnant girls have: a boyfriend with a ring and carrying high/low. The content feels so much like an insider’s view–easily told even in the first-person, though I agree with everyone that the second is working so well here.

  5. Chelsea Stickle

    “Hungry girls want everything.” Hell, yes. Honestly, I’d love that for a title. Or “Hungry girls want everything, 1969.”

    Even with your intro, I got super invested when she was pregnant. You showed me a world I don’t know much about and only heard whispers. I like that you end on a hopeful note but also undercut it. It’s such a bittersweet ending. She wants everything for her daughter, but can’t provide it. Heartbreaking. Jellyfish Jesus can’t save her. (What a great image.)

    My only suggestion would be maybe cutting the first paragraph or combining some of the details into the second one? Getting to her pregnant faster.

  6. Traci Mullins

    Kathryn, it’s interesting that we’re seeing stories in this group that hearken back to days when females were oppressed. Maybe it’s the headlines, reminding us that it’s happening all over again. I loved the Jesus imagery so much, it’s brilliantly original. In fact, I almost wished the story would end shortly afterward, so a wild idea… you could consider making this a micro and letting the reader imagine the rest of the story. What if you stopped at “…you know it’s too late for everything”? Either way, this is an important story.

  7. Nancy Stohlman

    Oh I love all this: Mr. and Mrs. America are in bed, they’re watching Johnny Carson, and you think of the pamphlet your mother gave you, the boy and girl in a lover’s lane, arms reaching for each other, but they can’t touch because Jesus sits between them in the car.

    This: Sometimes people got away. A girl whose boyfriend showed up late one night with a ring: they all tell that story. Another girl, with bedsheets: an ambulance driving away slowly, siren off. And Sheila, who swallowed soap so they’d have to take her to the hospital. Hospital doors aren’t locked, the girls say.

    This ending: You put her hand against the window glass. It ripples like a jellyfish Jesus. Like a vow, so easy to break.

    I’m trying to picture how this might have been in 3rd person, but it feels like it has some fire in the second person for sure!
    I hate that Post-Roe is a word, too.
    I wonder if you even need the epigraph? I think you could begin the story afterwards and it would work, especially since you have placed us in time with the title: 1969 (AND because some people will have an automatically different association with that year and so this will know the bucket off center in a good way. Glad you threw Woodstock in there as a reference of what OTHER people are doing…)
    Thanks for sharing this! xo

  8. Suzanne van de Velde

    Kathryn — wow, hard to add much to the comments here, except AMEN. This feels urgent and immediate and fresh, even if I know some stories from this world. The world you offer up is so rich and complex. “You are a wild girl. A hungry girl. Hungry girls want everything.” Oh yes, and why should you not?
    To my mind, you’ve got the perfect POV here, and after you implement a few of the suggestions, you must send it out! Brother, Jesus in the middle seat, how about some birth control pills instead?
    thank you for this…

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