My Old Typewriter

I found my old typewriter the other day. It’s a Royal—gray with green keys. I don’t remember the exact Christmas or birthday that my parents gave to me, but it was when I was a teenager. I was a Catholic schoolgirl—twelve years being taught by the Sisters of the Presentation—but I learned to type in public school one summer of freedom (from my uniform) at Berkeley High. It was my first time in the classroom with boys since eighth grade. It was my best summer ever.

My finger muscles still hold the memory of those drills: asdf jkl;asdfjkl;asdfjkl;asdfjkl;

My typewriter, like my fingers, is full of memories, too: onion skin paper so thin and crisp, carbon paper, smudges on my fingers, the black and red ribbon. Thumping keys shifting from upper to lower case, paper ripped from the cartridge (in anger or error), crumpled papers on the floor, keys that clacked even when I had nothing to say.

I loved typing (I still do). Those forty some-odd keys were my substitute piano. Somehow, sitting in front of the typewriter I felt proper and important. Business-like. Accomplished. Words and ideas leaping from brain to fingers, appearing like magic, turning blank paper into a poem, a story, a report, a letter, an application, a list of things to do and places to go.

I typed for my father: his reports for his social club—he was the secretary. Back in those days, I thought typing was what the secretary should do. I was the secretary’s secretary—second in command. He hunted and pecked. I typed—40 words a minute.

Term papers. White-out. Fancy ink erasers.

I typed for my college boyfriend. Love. Papers for his political science class with him looking over my shoulders or pacing the length of my parents’ living room, making me even more nervous than I already was. I’ve lost track of how many papers I typed for him. I remember the pages rolling out of the cartridge, him proofreading, the ding of the right hand margin, the  keys sticking as they neared the end of the page. My parents peeking into the dining room when we became too quiet. The cartridge sliding in one inch for every paragraph, the tab button, the cartridge speeding toward the next sentence.

College all-nighters with girlfriends, each of us sharing my typewriter to finish up term papers—me typing, them talking. Coffee, cigarettes, No Doze.

I wrote my first stories on that typewriter. I wonder now if I have the patience to type even one page. I’ve become that impatient, that much of a cut-and-paste writer.

Years later, taking it from its case, those memories are back, and I feel nineteen again. Flighty, skinny, full of hopes and dreams, a whole life in front of me.

Now my typewriter sits in my office, like something from an archeological dig, tinier than I remember. It still thrills me with its possibilities. It smells the same. Like ink and dust and late nights, term papers and a boyfriend’s faint cologne. The red and black ribbon still works. The keys require pressure and intention. The clacking is the same.

asdf jkl;