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?

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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.

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