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Angela Townsend Nonfiction

Proper Posture

by Angela Townsend

Most of my life, I’ve been unable to speak the language of Boys Like You.

Even now, I am limited to “I am lost,” “Where is the bathroom?” and “Please take me to the hospital.” Generally speaking, that’s enough to get around town.

I once crashed into walls so reliably, I was a hazard to my health. My mother was forced to institute an emergency alert system. Meandering the mall or chit-chatting with tenors after a choir concert, she had sonar for shining eyes. If I was actively being appreciated, she would exhale what I can only describe as a Scandinavian drawl: “yahh.”

I never believed her, not even when her hypotheses grew sinews and spoke. A week after a science-fair “yahh,” Jake the sophomore told me I was prettier than all three girls on Friends.

“See?” My mother was exultant.

But he never asked me out. He never asked me to dance. In fact, he said I looked like a “lunatic linguini bean” when I leapt and whirled to Mariah Carey in the strobe light. He ended up going out with Jenna, who was blonde.

I was too much for them, my mother said. “Wait until college.”

My English teacher took this further. “Do you see all the hangdogs around you?”


“The kennel is open. But you have a forcefield.”

She was a fool. All my gates were open.

“You are wiser than you realize,” she insisted. “They are not ready for you. I don’t even foresee a boy rising above the buffoonery in college. Wait until grad school.”

I cursed her prophecy through college, where my only irrefutable admirer was a grizzly with a beard to his belly button. Isaac was my square-dance partner at orientation, and he circled me for four unsatisfying years.

“Why don’t you give him a chance?” my stepfather demanded.

“Because there are woodland creatures living in his facial hair.” I was, at least, honest. “Because he is semi-feral.”

“Because he’s too interested?”

My mother interjected. “She calls him ‘the hairy, scary guy.’”

“Because he’s too interested,” my stepfather confirmed. “I’m gonna start calling you Fox on the Run.”

“I’m no fox.”

Isaac drew me cartoons of men with hot dogs and hamburgers for hats, his mysterious specialty. He threw them under my dorm room door: “Salutations, my pixie! Library, 11am?” I piled them under my Post-its. Isaac found a film major named Hannah but still bowed at the waist every time he saw me.

Senior year, I waited for the train with a boy who always let me cut in line at the salad bar. He looked like the host of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and had the courage to wear Dick Tracy hats.

“I don’t think I’ve ever caught your name.” With NJ Transit only three minutes away, I could be brave.

He was pleased to answer. “I’m Michael.”


He shook my hand. He told me he was born on Michaelmas. He described the asters in his mother’s garden, planted to celebrate his birth. He asked about my birthday.

“St. Patrick’s Day.”

“How fitting!” He clapped his long hands.

“How so?” Did he not know that I was the girl of no beers? I hid in the chapel on the campus the Princeton Review voted “most likely to ignore God on a regular basis.” I was the unofficial psychologist to the anthropology department. Did he have any idea how depressed those professors were after field work in Yemen and the Trobriand Islands? Did he not know that I could tell the difference between the scents of marijuana and Cinnabons? Did he not know that I had Type 1 diabetes? Also, I was a virgin.

Should he not be wearing a hazmat suit, or at least the lead vest from the dentist’s office?

He threw an asteroid. “It’s one of those holidays that exists to add color to our lives. You radiate joy.”

“What makes you say that?” I was not about to accept such a thesis without teeth.

“I don’t know. I mean, I do know.” He adjusted his fedora. “You are just this little orb of light everywhere I see you.”


“If so, nuke it up, my lady.”

I felt lightheaded. “I think I want that on a bumper sticker.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

NJ Transit arrived. Michael sent me emails on Candlemas and Michaelmas. I never saw him on campus again.

“You should have been more responsive,” my stepfather chided.

“But I did respond.” I did. “I want them to pursue me.”

“I don’t think you know what you want, foxie.”

I wanted to go to seminary, where pastors-to-be would pursue me in the Presbyterian way, “decently and in order.” The first month into a Master of Divinity, liturgical hooligans proved we had not come far since high school.

The gentlest boy in Koine Greek cornered me in the mailroom to sing that numinous Top 40 hymn, “Hot in Hrrr.” He had sacralized the lyrics: “I am getting so hot/that I wanna take my robes off!”

I laughed, and I ran.

I chose to concentrate in Pastoral Counseling. The first day of The Minister and Mental Illness, Dr. Dykstra informed us, “conservatively, one third of you have some form of pathology at the diagnostic level. Statistically, at least one of you in this classroom is a predator.”

We would learn our Myers-Briggs types and the wrong reasons people skulk pulpits. We evaluated television preachers as charitably as possible, although we were unanimous that a man named Prophet Angelo Prosper was placed upon this earth exclusively for educational purposes. A boy named Mark rolled his eyes at me every Tuesday and Thursday at 10:40am.

One day he manifested behind me in the dining hall. “So, you think it’s me?”

“What?” I laughed for no reason.

“The predator. You think it’s gotta be me, don’t you?”

He had hair like overcooked ramen and something very John the Baptist behind his eyes. He wore T-shirts that said things like Save Darfur and Love is Love.

“Definitely,” I answered.

“What kind of music do you like?” This seemed an appropriate follow-up.

I answered without thinking. “Johnny Cash.”

“Aw yeah!”

“Willie Nelson. Emmylou. You know, country when it was still folk.”

“AW! YEAH!” Mark slammed down his tray. “That’s right!” He nodded for several seconds. “Wanna know which one you are?”


“You’re not the predator. But I know what you are.”

“Please tell me.” This could be helpful information.

“You’re the one with the best posture in the whole wide world.” He nodded in rhythm with some inner music.

“I am?”

“You are.” He took a stance that I could only assume would merit my mother’s “yahh.” “Were you a ballerina?”

“What are you talking about?”

“You sit perfectly, so properly.” He extended his neck and crossed his eyes. “You learned that somewhere.”

I had wanted to be a ballerina so badly, I had put magazine pictures of pointe shoes in my parents’ lunch bags until they relented to lessons. I had lasted three months before the instructor, my body, and my ego agreed this was not meant to be.

“I took piano lessons.”

“That ain’t it.” Mark shook his head. John the Baptist kindled his eyes. “It must be the Hoooooooly Ghost.”

He went to his lunch table and never talked to me again. Maybe he was the predator.

“He wanted you to follow him,” my mother insisted.

“He put his entire heart on the tray,” my stepfather groaned.

“He didn’t ask me out!” I shouted so loud, a man in a fedora heard it all the way across the asteroid belt. A boy at a science fair dropped his “linguini beans.” All the woodland creatures crawled out of a distant beard and said “yahh!”

And I walked into the wall and knocked my glasses off. And I staggered into the bathroom. And I saw a tall girl in the mirror, blurry but alive. And I took my robe off.

And I decided to sign up for salsa lessons on the far side of town. I would not stop at the mall. I did not need anything there.

I packed my translation guide.


Angela Townsend is the Development Director at Tabby’s Place: a Cat Sanctuary. She graduated from Princeton Seminary and Vassar College. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Chautauqua, The Penn Review, The Razor, and Still Point Arts Quarterly, among others. She is a Best Spiritual Literature nominee. Angie has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 33 years, laughs with her poet mother every morning, and loves life affectionately.

The Writing Disorder is a quarterly literary journal. We publish exceptional new works of fiction, poetry, nonfiction and art. We also feature interviews with writers and artists, as well as reviews.



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