In Pittsburgh, we met a classic radio broadcaster. He’d read the book, asked cogent questions, and royally chewed out his producer when he failed to screen a truly offensive question. When the show was over, he shook our hands over his desk and said, “It’s a pleasure to work with pros.” We knew we would never receive a higher compliment.
That broadcaster was the good part of Pittsburgh. The bad part was getting out. Our plane departed at seven in the morning, causing us once more to miss out on breakfast at the hotel coffee shop, which didn’t open until seven. When we got to the airport, we found that nothing there did, either, not even the newsstand. We couldn’t buy a candy bar. The flight was delayed, but not long enough for us to get food before we were ushered into the plane. It taxied down the runway and stopped. We were there for five hours. They wouldn’t let us get off, and they wouldn’t give us food. I don’t remember their reason for the latter. It couldn’t have had anything to do with cooking, because all we got, once the plane did take off, was two miniature Danish.
Leaving Boston was worse. We had to go back to New York, for some reason. There must have been a show that was important and couldn’t be scheduled for the first go-round. Whoever handled the travel arrangements had, for some reason, booked us onto a plane, instead of the simple, speedy train that would have taken us into downtown New York. We finished an evening appearance and were on our way to the airport when it started to rain. By the time we got there, it was a classic dark and stormy night. People began to pile up in the waiting areas as departures were delayed and then delayed again. Hours went by. The restaurants were, of course, closed. Finally, a harried airline employee came out for what we assumed was yet one more update on conditions and said, “We’re going to try to make it to New York.”
It is a measure of our desperation that Andra and I got on that plane.
The wear and tear was starting to show. It was the pace, of course, but it was also the subject matter. We had been thinking about rape for more than three years, but we’d always been able to distract ourselves with television, books, lovers, and similarly secondary things, at least for awhile. Now, we were thinking and talking about it every moment that we were awake, except for waiting at airports and that day in Philadelphia. And it seemed as though we had been on this tour for months.
We were beginning to wear a hunted look. I could see it in Andra’s face and I’m sure she saw it in mine. Our nerves were old rope.
That’s the state we were in when we flew into High Point, North Carolina, the final stop on the tour. A widely syndicated television show was broadcast out of the little town that, otherwise, was filled with furniture manufacturers, distributors, and stores. We checked in at a nice old hotel in the middle of town, where the television station was also located. In the elevator on the way to our room, Andra turned to an older man next to us and asked, “Is there a swimming pool in this hotel?”
He smiled sweetly at her and said, “On the top floor.”
As we got out of the elevator, Andra suggested maybe we could go swimming after the show the next morning.
“You didn’t believe him, did you?” I asked.
“He was lying. You’re in the South. They think that’s funny.”
Andra was sure I was wrong, but when she checked with the desk clerk later, he told her there was no pool in the hotel.
We were in the television studio the next morning at a time we were getting painfully accustomed to. The host was a former offensive football player for the state university, a personable, attractive and popular personality. Let’s call him Don. He welcomed us and introduced us to three other women. One was a counselor at a rape crisis center in Greensboro. (They were just beginning to show up in the cities.) The other two were women she had counseled. We can call them Phyllis and Lorraine. Don explained that they were going to be on the show with us, that they wanted to help other women with their stories. We didn’t have any problem with that, did we?
We had big problems with it, but there didn’t seem to be a lot we could do except lay down conditions. We would be on first, to introduce the subject and set the tone. Phyllis and Lorraine would then join us. They would not, at any time, be on the air without us.
Don agreed to our conditions, and the show went on. It was a very good show, with enough time to get into the subject and really get our message across. We were able to run interference for Phyllis and Lorraine, making sure they were not subjected to inappropriate and shaming questions. When the lights in the studio went down and we all took off our mikes, everyone was pleased. We had the rest of the day off and tomorrow we would be back in Chicago. And it was my twenty-eighth birthday.
We gathered our belongings from the folding chairs behind the cameras where we’d left them and were on our way out when Don intercepted us, wondering if he could ask us a favor. The show was so great, he said, that they wanted to have us on his afternoon show as well. Phyllis and Lorraine had already agreed. Would we do it?
If Phyllis and Lorraine had agreed, we had no choice but to do it. We weren’t going to let them go it alone. So we said yes and went out to explore High Point. It was a beautiful, sunny, early fall day and we saw a lot of nice furniture. We got back to our hotel room an hour or so before the second show. There was a knock on the door and, when Andra opened it, Phyllis and Lorraine stood there with a small birthday cake and a couple of gift-wrapped packages, singing “Happy Birthday.” I opened my presents and we ate the cake. There were hugs all around. It was a very sweet party.
Then we went down to the studio together. We were all sitting in the folding chairs when the producer came over and asked if he could talk to Phyllis and Lorraine. They followed him into the shadows. Moments later, the theme song started, the lights went up on the set, and Phyllis and Lorraine were there with Don.
We had been outmaneuvered.
While we sat in our chairs salt-still, Don asked Phyllis and Lorraine every question we had tried to block. Phyllis and Lorraine, still trying to help other women, sincerely answered questions about their sex lives. They look confused and then ashamed as Don asked them why they were out late at night, what were they doing, didn’t they know better? When Don went to a commercial, the producer came over to escort us onto the set.
I walked past him and out of the studio. Andra followed me.
“I’m not going on,” I said, as I walked.
“I want to kill him. I can’t talk to him.”
“I think I can. I’m going to try.”
“I’ll be here if you need me. Say good-bye to Phyllis and Lorraine.” I walked into the little vending machine room at the end of the long corridor. She didn’t try to hug me before she went back down the hall to the studio. A moment later I heard Don’s voice.”
“I just want to talk to her.”
“No,” Andra said. “She doesn’t want to talk to you.”
“I’m sure I can make her see that–“
There was a shuffle of feet as he tried to pass her.
“You’re not going down there,” said Andra to the former linebacker. “Just turn around and let’s go do the show.”
I couldn’t hear the show from the snack room, but I could tell when it was over. I got out of there and up to the room. Andra followed soon after. Don called the room, but Andra fended him off again. The next day, we went home.
I don’t know whether I would have done it if we hadn’t been so exhausted, if this hadn’t been the last stop on the tour, if Phyllis and Lorraine hadn’t helped me celebrate my birthday with cake and dimestore jewelry. It doesn’t matter. I did it, and Andra covered for me. Not for the last time.
For awhile after we were back in Chicago, Andra and I clung to each other. Then gradually we began to be able to tolerate other people and finally to be separated. James opened my letters to make sure there was nothing in them I couldn’t bear, either more painful stories or hate mail. Interestingly, the worst mail we got was inspired by our pointing out that most rape occurred within and not between races and that more white men raped black women than black men raped white women. A little later, the book was banned in South Africa for the same statement.
We would soon have some royalties coming in and, in the meantime, I started looking for another way to support myself while I wrote. This is embarrassing, but I’m trying to tell the truth here. Having learned absolutely nothing from previous experience, I decided to open another store. And this time I dragged my poor little sister into it with me.