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Archive for August, 2021

No Sex

Asked to speak with a group of young women interested in STEM careers about what it was like to break into tech as a women oh-so-many years ago, I offered a few of my essays on that fraught subject to begin a dialogue.  The response was “Too much sex.  We are just interested in the work itself.”

My response was a total agreement.  It was way too sexual.  That was the big problem when women dared to suggest that we could do work available only to men.  Everything got to be gender-charged in a hurry.  In those days, it was being female that incited most of the problems. 

It reminds me of a dastardly job interview where after the interviewer and I were finished talking and rose to leave the office, he stood to reveal his zipper down, and underwear askew, though he was oblivious.  Whatever had he been doing behind his desk as he spoke at length with a female job applicant?  I asked that we wait a moment and requested that he tuck and zip before leaving the office.  He looked down, flushed red, and grabbed his crotch.  Yes, he was being much too sexual, pleasuring himself at my expense, while I spoke earnestly about my years of working as an engineer in various corporations, asking to be considered for serious work at the one he represented.  I was not a sex worker, but he had used me as if I were.  I left, happy to have learned—before signing any employment contract—that job was not for me.

Most job interviews were at least respectful if not serious.  In those days, I was often told that no woman was appropriate to the task, and would leave quietly.  What good would it do to fuss?  But there came a time when the law of the land caught up with all that.  I applied for an advertised position as Manufacturing Engineer at Murdock Machine and Manufacturing Company in Dallas.  The interviewer led me across the machine shop floor where catcalls approved my shapely legs.  He explained that as a woman I would never be able to deal with those bawdy workers and their technical problems.  He asked me if I could type, suggesting that if only I could type he would put me to work in the contract department.  I thanked him and left.  Then I drove to the EEOC where I sued his manly outfit and won a $60,000 payout plus a job offer.  The EEOC found the man they hired to be far less qualified.  I declined their job offer but gladly accepted their money, smiling all the way to the bank.

One of the beautiful things I helped improve for today’s young ladies presenting themselves as engineering applicants is an expectation of being taken seriously.  They deserve that, as did I, but I had to work very hard to achieve it.  While today’s sexual harassment is more subtle and sophisticated, it is still a problem in this millenium’s workplace.  Though there is no doubt that the young women applying for today’s STEM positions are worthy competitors, it is still a man’s world.  A woman’s place in it must still be fought for and won.

The young ladies puzzled about my early work history are correct.  Engineering is most assuredly not about sex.  But if I reconstructed my early mis-adventures, castrating the gender angst that often accrued to them, it would excise the irony that made them so compelling.  Worse still—it wouldn’t be true.

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The Letter

My last letter from Judy was written from her hospital bed.  She explained how Wesson had beaten her—again—this time breaking three ribs and both bones of a forearm.  That arm was in a cast, her left one, a fortunate break since that left her good right arm capable of scratching out the letter.  She explained that Wesson was finally history.  As soon as she got better she would go see her lawyer and change her will.  She planned to leave her entire estate to me and cut Wesson out completely.  Of course she would be divorcing him, at long last.  Judy had lost count of how many times she had suffered his fractures and contusions.  She had long ago explained about how it was impossible to operate a serious business without Wesson to sign papers.  In 1963 Texas, women were just barely viable as persons. 

MacNeil’s Fashion Corner, an upscale ladies ready-to-wear emporium, so recently expanded to a newer grander venue was her personal creation, with Wesson doing nothing but serving as a front so it could function legally.  No matter how profitable her enterprise, whenever she needed to borrow money from the bank for product or real-estate expansion, after she had negotiated the terms of the agreement and shaken hands with the bank president, her husband was required to appear and make it shimmer legally in the Lone Star State.  Wesson R. MacNeil, not Jewel J. MacNeil, sealed every contract.

I shuddered, sensing the pain she must have been suffering and worried that he might do even worse when she returned home, still hurting.  Judy had emphysema, a result of all those many years of puff, puff, puffing on the cigarettes that she bought economically by the carton.  Judy wouldn’t be Judy without a dirty weed hanging from her lips.  There was no empathy from me on that score.  I had no idea how the nicotine pleasured her and felt only guilt despising a stupid habit that was surely killing her. 

It was only a few days after receiving the letter that my phone rang.  I grabbed it to hear Uncle CJ advising me of the worst.  Judy had returned home to heal and was found dead the very next morning.  CJ, as her eldest brother, was notified before noon by a Dallas County Sheriff’s Deputy.  Wesson claimed no knowledge of what had happened, but her pillow was found on the floor, not underneath her head.  The Medical Examiner certified emphysema to be the probable cause of death.  Respiratory phlegm smeared onto the pillow might have been collected as she was smothered by a violent attacker, or it could have been from fighting to breathe her last due to a terminal illness.  There was no knowing.  With no obvious proof or motive, who could say?

I was speechless, my head swimming.  I thanked Uncle CJ for letting me know and hung up the receiver.  I retrieved her letter from my dresser drawer and read through it again.  Of course Wesson had killed her.  Maybe I should send the letter with its postmarked envelope to CJ so he could take it to the Sheriff and file charges.  Maybe I should go to Texas myself and fight for her in person.  But whatever could I actually do?  I determined to keep the letter, the last memory of my dear Aunt who had loved me enough to give me a home and had intended even to provide for my future.  I would wait awhile and decide after thinking it through.

As tears chased each other down my cheeks I shuddered, imagining Judy smothered by her own pillow, under the fists of Wesson, my old nemesis.  What if he decided to kill me too?  Schoolwork had me already buried, preparing for college finals, and I couldn’t bring Judy back to life, no matter what I did.

Weeks went by, and when I answered the phone and again heard Uncle CJ’s drawl crawling out of the receiver, he explained that Wesson had married one of his neighbors only two months after Judy’s funeral.  That was a solid motive for wanting his wife dead in the ground.  I mentioned my recent letter from her, but CJ seemed depressed and distracted, just wanting to reach out to somebody who also had loved his sister.  We commiserated awhile, said our goodbyes, and hung up.

Months later I decided to look for the letter, but couldn’t find it.  It was nowhere—nowhere at all.  How could I possibly have lost it?  I’d been puzzling over why I had been thinking somebody else would avenge her death.  It was surely my job, and I had failed her.  She was too young to die—only fifty-five.  But then, there was no use going to Texas and raisin’ a ruckus, even if I scared up the money for a ticket.  Who would believe me anyhow?

Even all these many years later, whenever I poke about among my old papers, I always wonder if I might somehow turn up that fateful letter.  If ever I do, I will head for Dallas, even if I have to ride the dogs.  I need to find that Sheriff’s successor and fold that missive firmly into his hand.  I’ll explain that in 1963 I was just a stupid kid who didn’t know enough to step up when it was my turn to make things right.  Of course in 2021 Wesson is long dead, and his punishment is no longer up to me. 

Sure enough, an Internet lookup showed that Wesson Richardson MacNeil breathed for seventeen more years until 1980, and then he died.  He had to live all those many years with the guilty knowledge that he was a murderer, and murder has no statute of limitations—even in an oddball jurisdiction like Dallas County.  Of course a man like Wesson isn’t capable of guilt. Even so, the world needs to learn what happened to Jewel Josephine Tyson so she can rest in peace.  MacNeil might be a moniker gleefully discarded, her maiden name of Tyson reassumed.  It was interesting to notice the photo of her headstone posted online says only “Daughter.”  No mention of “Loving Wife” was inscribed to grace the headstone of this long married woman who had suffered so much at the hands of Wesson Richardson MacNeil.  Perhaps it would have cost money better spent for his upcoming nuptials.

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