When I was Twenty-One

So young so dumb

So young so dumb

Elyse at Fifty Four and a Half asked a series of questions I nearly didn’t answer, despite promising I would. When I began answering them, I realized it was hard looking back. History, even our own sometimes causes us to assess who we are today, not always with a forgiving eye. Nevertheless, I promised and so I sat down and wrote. I hope some of you will also, if you do, please link back to Elyse’s original and mine if you like. Here are Elyse’s original questions:

What were your plans and dreams at 21? Are they different from the dreams you had at 31? At 41? Did you make any decisions at 21 that you would change if you could? Did you want to have children when you were 21? Would you change anything?


It was 1978, can you imagine it was thirty-six years ago and I was just a baby in terms of the world. In 1978, I was twenty-one years old and already I felt I had lived one thousand years; my soul was battered, my heart broken and I was without any real direction at all. I was truly a mess by the time I was twenty-one, I had survived though and I was standing something many had predicted I would not be doing. By 1978, I had survived being a street child, I ran away from foster care barely past my fifteenth birthday and hitch hiked across country more than once.

Saying Good Bye

Saying Good Bye

By 1978, I had survived my first husband who I was married to by Texas common law. He was violent to the point of nearly killing me twice in two and half years. His violence painted ribbons of blood on my body, left me with scars that will never fade, left me without a uterus and with only one ovary before my sixteenth birthday. I thought he was all I deserved, I didn’t know better. He kept me safe from the streets, from worse. Finally I ran, with nothing but my life I was still only seventeen.

By 1978, I had married (legally) my first ‘real’ and ‘true’ love and lost him through my own pride and his stupidity (he went to prison). I didn’t know how to trust his love for me; looking back, I realize he did see me truly and love me despite my battle weariness, my luggage. He didn’t know how to fix what was broken inside of me. I ultimately ran, again. Loving me wasn’t enough to hold me, certainly not through his incarceration. Loving me wasn’t enough to fix what was broken. Although we would remain married for five years, we only lived together for two, we talked, we wrote long letters; I would not return to the marriage though I returned long enough to say good-bye when he was released.

By 1978, I had returned to my father’s house for a short time during his recovery from multiple heart attacks and by-pass surgery. Originally it was to be a short stint that would ‘help’ us both, it turned into nearly two years during which time we reconnected and fought through many of our most bitter feelings. Despite some of our ugly fights, I remained a mystery to my father for nearly two more decades. This is one of my greatest regrets we missed so much.

The only one I didn't marry

The only one I didn’t marry

By 1978, I was without direction in my life. I had no understanding of who I was or should be. I knew where I had been and didn’t think I could escape my past, didn’t believe I had value in the world beyond, the world of ‘normal’. It was a terrible place I lived in my head. How do I answer those questions? Did I have dreams? Yes, I did but I don’t think they were the dreams of normal twenty-one year old women of the time. My dreams were more nightmares, too often waking me screaming at night in a cold sweat with fear palpable as if spread by a fog machine. At twenty-one I already mourned the future I thought I would never have and chased the early grave I dreamed of too many nights.

How much had changed by thirty-one, fascinating what a decade, a short ten years can do. Though I was still searching for ‘true love’ and parts of myself in the ether, I had begun the long process of repairing my broken psyche. I had my first hard fought college degree; I had another short-lived marriage under my belt by now and had begun another much longer marriage that would produce some spectacular outcomes despite eventually ending in divorce. I had two young sons, something I thought I would never have. I had a wife-in-law who would eventually become one of my dearest friends. I had the beginnings of a successful career and the foundations of friendships that continue to this day. I had also by this time met my biological parents and siblings, relationships I value to this day and meetings that helped me tie up questions I had all my life about who I was and why I was so different from everyone else in my family.

By the time I was forty-one, so much had changed in my life again. My world had been rocked back by violence with my kidnapping-carjacking and ultimately the shooting that left me for dead and ultimately disabled. That same incident left my ‘normal’ family shaken to its foundation and unable to recover though we would struggle to maintain a façade of normalcy for several more years, my socially acceptable husband ultimately followed his demons back into the bottle and away from his children and the stability of marriage. That divorce cost his children and me, but all of us including their other mother found our way back together to what is our new normal, our family is odd to the outside world, two ex-wives working and loving together but for us, we work.

My babies

My babies

I wanted children, yes of course I did. I married my forth husband because he was ‘normal’ and I believed he would provide the best opportunity for me to adopt. It was part of our agreement, part of personal vows. He lied. He had a history he didn’t tell me about, he would never be able to adopt. By the time he was forced to tell the truth I was so enmeshed in the lives of his children, so in love with them, I could not imagine walking away and starting over, a part of me always hated him for that lie. One day when my sons were teenagers my oldest said to me he thought his parents had children so I would have children, I always wondered if that might not be true.

I made decisions throughout my life I sometimes wish I could change, forks in the road I wonder if I had only taken the more heavily trod would I have been better off. Even as I think this though, even as I consider the alternative path, the person I might be had I chosen differently I think, ‘no, I am this person and I am not bad as I am.’

I wouldn’t change a thing.

From 1978, the memories pour back.

Jumping in Delicately

I have been absent lately, from my own space and yours. It is has been a tough time, I haven’t made a secret of it have I? That being said and the fact that I have shared mostly the harder parts of the past three months versus the small victories, well it hasn’t been all bad and it hasn’t been a complete and utter disaster, every day and without relief.

Yes, I really have gotten out of bed on occasion. Though I must admit, I do love my bed.

Thanks to the wonderful advice and information found at Lessons From the End of a Marriage, I have started to build up some stamina, a toolbox suggestion came from this particular posting and I am working on my own this week. I realized after reading the post and checking in at the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory that I was high up there (438), not just in the past year, in the past 90 days. Wow, that was an eye opening; guess it is time too really take steps to align my attitude with my true needs and take care of myself.

No, I haven’t found the RIGHT job yet, however, I am committed too not run scared from my plan to stop consulting, stop traveling and reinvent my career and myself. Don’t believe for an instant I am not scared, I am petrified; still I am going to pursue this change for my own good, for my health spiritually, mentally and physically. For my financial health (and so I don’t panic) I may have to modify, I may need to take on short-term contracts, but that is something I can do easily I think.

All this being said, let’s talk about some wonderful things. Things I did for myself and things that have entered my life.

First, isn’t he handsome?

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Yes, he is the newest addition to my family, born Thursday, 13 March 2014. I was there, at the hospital this time. Unlike when his big brother was born, I was there. I realized how special it was to be able to be part of momentous family events, rather than off somewhere else because of work. What a blessing this was. I am so excited with Chase Lee, he is beautiful and his big brother is happy to have a new brother. Yes, for all you who take exception, Painted (Inked) Grandma’s are the BOMB, and I say this with the very best meaning.

Last month Red from Momma Money Matters came for a visit. As most of you know, Red is one of my nearest and dearest and her visit was lifesaving, truly. We didn’t do much, a few shopping trips, a trip to the ballet, a couple of dinners out. Mostly we sat and talked sipped wine and talked. The biggest and most important thing Red did was demand my presence in life, require me to get out of bed every morning and move. I needed that more than anything else at that point. What most people don’t know is I have spent so much time on the road I don’t have a social network of friends here, where I live.

One other thing I did while Red was visiting was have new professional photographs taken. My original intention was simply to have headshots done to update my profile on job-hunting sites such as LinkedIn and elsewhere. With Red in town I expanded that to include her for our business cards and banners at RedmundPro and anywhere else we might choose to use them. But then, with her encouragement, I expanded one more time and had new ‘fun’ and personal pictures taken of just me, being well not quite me but maybe the me I hope to be sometime in the future.  This is the result:

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The photographer is Christ Hanna of Posture Studios, he does a great job and this is the second time he has made me look beautiful (when I was feeling less than). Personally, I think he does a wonderful job and looking through his portfolio, well it is eye-popping to say the least. I am not his usual subject, so I am in awe just how marvelous he made me look. The first time he photographed me the results made me cry (happy tears), it was a low point and I was stunned into speechlessness.

If you are in the Dallas metroplex and want wonderful photos of yourself or someone else I would highly recommend you consider Christ, he is wonderfully talented. I have already engaged him to take the first formal pictures of my lovely grandson; I am more than certain he will do marvelously. With a wedding coming up (youngest son) I intend to hire him again in the near future.

Finally, on a slightly more personal note I am sure will find hysterically funny. I want to relay I am not dead; I might be slightly socially awkward. For many years, I have had two modes of being, the married Val and the business Val. I do not know how to respond to anyone flirting with me other than to ignore and think they are full of it. Blatant showing interest in me whether simply to get in my bed or otherwise, tends to go right over my head. In fact, I truly do not recognize it, I am oblivious; truthfully, I can’t imagine why anyone would.

So what you should find funny, while Red was on her mission of mercy she yanked my chain; twice no less. Yes, men actually flirted with me, attempted to gain my attention and I was utterly unaware. Handsome men paid attention and I was unconscious. Probably I should not admit any of this, what does it say about me? Well, married Val still exists in my heart and brain; I suppose that is what it really says. Somewhere there is someone else, somewhere there is the other me the one who knows how to flirt back, who knows how to ride a bike, who knows how to be less socially awkward. Somewhere inside of me is that woman, maybe someday in the future she will emerge with some encouragement and enough opportunities and reminders.

Thanks to Red and Christ, at least I know now I still look half way wonderful on a good day (Thank you).

riding a bike

Transitions and Assessments

VictoriousWhen we mourn, it is for our loss; no matter the loss, we mourn a change to our circumstance. The degree of our mourning, the style of our mourning, how we grieve it is deeply personal. No other person can tell us whether our mourning is too great or not great enough, too short or long, appropriate or inappropriate considering the specific loss we have experienced. Whether we are heartless, or instead whether we feel too deeply our loss. Grief is very personal, expressed in both public and private it remains nonetheless a very personal expression.

Oh, I know there have been countless studies and pragmatically I understand the stages of grief, truly, I do. I also understand I have been hit with perhaps too many things all in a very short space of time and I haven’t processed one thing before being punched in the head by another. Rationally, I ‘get’ that I am not working through the stages of grief in the manner people expect, or showing the outward signs of grief for the individual losses in the manner others expect of me. I also know this makes people uncomfortable.

I can’t help their discomfort.

I can’t even particularly gather the energy to care about their discomfort.

In fact, I do not consider their discomfort as relevant to what is needful for me, for my life, for my future. This week I have done some soul searching, I have done some foot stomping, I have done some staring in the mirror and asking myself some hard questions.

  • What do I want?
  • What is important to me?
  • What do I need?
  • What are my core values?
  • How do I want to live the rest of my life?

These were important questions for me to ask and answer. I don’t know that I have fully answered all of them to my satisfaction; I have started though. This morning I woke to a comment on my previous post (Not Strong) filled with malice and written purely with the intent to hurt. I considered simply sending it to Spam rather than answering and perhaps I should have, but I allowed it to stand and I answered with exactly the anger I felt, perhaps the anger I needed for others who have treated me without care, compassion, empathy or respect.  I found though, this comment simply pushed me over the edge and so I let it stand.

I saw this quote today and it struck me;

“Do what you feel in your heart is right, for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” Eleanor Roosevelt

This is the truth, isn’t it? This is part of the answer to all of my questions, the first steps toward moving forward. Not fearfully, not ashamed of my failure but instead proud of my success. I shouldn’t hide who I am, dim my light or attempt to fill the bucket of other people’s expectations, I have been doing this my entire life and it did not make me joyful, it did not create a happy home, nor did it make me want to get out of bed and gladly go to work every morning. What fulfilling everyone else’s expectations did to me was slowly kill my soul. When I allowed people to speak to me as if my humanity was not worthy of respect, without saying “No”, whether from a family member, a loved one, a friend or an employer or even a stranger in cyber space; what it did was diminish me in my own eyes.

Is the sadness over? No, probably not. It has been less than three months. In this short period, I have lost a beloved husband, I am unemployed and I have lost a mother no matter the relationship. These are all very difficult losses and hard to process, especially on top of each other the way they have been. The reality is, I have a right to feel sad, I have a right to be pissed off; I have the right to feel any damned way I want to feel. This is hard, there is no other way to say it but this is hard.

Hopefully, I will have more good days than bad days. I keep looking for silver linings, I truly do. I have had a number of decent prospects and am committed to finding the ‘right’ job not just any job that is one of the answers. Life transitions are difficult, I know that.

As to the rest, I hope those of you who read and hang with me, who offer your support and advice will continue to do so. I know, I haven’t been my normal self. I will get back there.

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