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.


  1. I remember those college days when everyone would ask to borrow my license as I was 21 to go to the bars. When I had to use the ID myself they would not accept my ID because “everyone uses this one” . Hey, but this is really me…

  2. I turned 20 in Nov. 1978. My experience was not so violent. My trouble seems to be more in my own mind; for whatever reason. Why me? I don’t know. I have spent considerable time contemplating this and many other such questions. For the person who has Severe Clinical Depression; even though he knows the problem is there; he knows what it does; he knows how it works; yet it always seems to sneak up and do its work, seemingly while he sleeps.

    This is my first visit; I think. I will be following. I would love to hear more of your early life. Not the graphics. Just where you were born. What do you know of your family history?

    I also checked out another article. Great stuff. Keep on writing.

    • Thanks for your visit, I have watched you and followed for some time now and am glad to see you back. You can read early life in a series here called Broken Chains and another called Crime and Punishment, these would tell you all you could ever want to know. Likely give you good insight into how I came to many of my views.

      My experiences defined me, strengthened me and tempered me. I can’t regret them yet sometimes I might wish they weren’t quite so harsh a lesson.

      I know most of my history, both my birth family and my adopted. I was born in Seattle, raised in many places.

  3. I love your Rhoda look!

    You know, I think we’ve all wondered about choices made and not made. And, while it might be interesting to wonder what may or may not have happened if different choices were made, it really is one of those activities that is ultimately unproductive. I spent a good deal of time wandering down the road of What If …. and, I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter. I mean, chances are the What If would probably have had its own set of ups and downs too.

    I’m glad to know the You Who Currently Are … I think you’re a wonderful human being.

    • John, I suspect you are right. There isn’t any of us who don’t look back at the forks in the road and wonder. It matters, those choices always matter but hopefully we don’t live with regret our entire lives. Regret, as you point out it is unproductive. You are so right, no matter what we choose, there would have still been stumbles.

      Thank you John, I am so grateful for the community I have found here. So grateful for those who continue to lift me up.

  4. This story gave me shivers … but I’m astounded that you wouldn’t change a thing. I understand your point …. and I’m impressed …. but I’m still shivering.

    • I have told so much of this story, bits and pieces of it but never like this. But no, changing anything would inevitably change me. I don’t know what that would mean, but the me I am is the only one I know.

  5. Wow. You have definitely led an interesting (and not at all easy) life. Glad you wouldn’t change a thing about who you are.

  6. Wow, you’re amazing!

  7. Yours is quite a story, Val. Resiliency should be your middle name. I hope that by sharing it here with us, you’re able to let go, if only a little, some of the pain you carry. Hopefully, if you’re like me in any way, it’s a relief to share some of the darker points in our life. Anyway, thank you for your honesty in telling your story.

    • I think, Monica, I have always just seen it as my life. Not special, not different just my life. Yes some of it sucked, some of it wasn’t terribly wonderful but I have known people with far worse.

      I let go, it is why I can tell the stories now.

  8. You know, you may have lived through more in that one year than I have through my entire more or less comfortable life. That memoir Elyse and Carrie have mentioned might not be such a bad idea – and you definitely can write.

    • So many people have lived lives like mine, most simply didn’t make it out. I knew lots of them X. That memoir, it is on my hard drive, but to write it I would also have to talk about the less comfortable parts, I am not certain I am prepared for that. Thank you though.

  9. Val you a truly gifted writer, a remarkable woman, and a survivor. You have overcome so many hardships and challenges in your life to become the the incredible woman you are today. You are a tribute to the human spirit, which makes me realize how amazing we are as human beings.

    • I am simply and just me, but I prefer ‘Victorious’ over ‘survivor’. We are indeed an incredible species, when we choose. Thank you so much for reading, please be well and get well, I so look forward to your future posts.

  10. When you’ve lived a story like yours Val, you need to be heard. And I hear you. With love, Valerie

  11. On another note …..
    It Is What It Is has been nominated for this new award. We are paying it forward!!!

  12. We all have our own journey … this is a wonderfully written piece. Nicely done!

  13. You’ve been through more in half your life than most in their entire life. The most powerful is the last line, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” It’s a real testament to your tenacity to say that.

    • Peg, I kept on thinking, who would I be if something changed? What would I be if something changed? Would I still be me?

      The answer always came back to, no.

      As much as I sometimes rail at the ugly, the hurt. The idea of ‘no’, well I am not sure I would want to not be me. So I have to always say, I want me. I want my children, I want my wife-in-law, I want the perfect memories of love, even if it is lost. I want me.

      That is not tenacity but instead a somewhat demented view that says everything wonderful is worth it.

    • Yes, that last statement was not what I was expecting, either.

  14. Dear Val, your life is a testament to the incredible power of the human spirit to survive!

    • What else is there? That is the point of the tattoo on my right arm, it says Victorious, I want to do more than survive in the end.

      • I apologize for not knowing what was tattooed on your arm perhaps if I did my comment would not have evoked such a frustrated reply.
        I truly am sorry for the pain you have suffered now and in the past however for some individuals surviving their past is triumph enough! Your friend, Nancy

        • No that wasn’t frustrated, I promise you. My apologies, it wasn’t. It was truly just a stand up and throw my arms in the air, fist up “I am standing, dammit” reply. Some days are like that. I just want to say that.

          Does that make sense?

          • Yes, it does make sense! Thank you for the clarification and apology. I wear my heart on my sleeve, unfortunately this leaves my arm at times very bruised! Please know that you don’t stand alone, you have many individuals who care. Kindest regards, Nancy

  15. Gray Dawster says:

    I think that we can all look back and reminisce over our choices in life but whichever path we take we are the same person underneath, nurtured by time and experience but nevertheless impartially feeling our way forwards.

    The paths that we choose always have a second or third alternative but life is too complex to know the true direction, and through living our lives we are faced with numerous and often challenging experiences, sometimes these occurrences test our resolve but without taking these steps into the unknown how are we to learn about life?

    I see a woman that has truly endeavoured, a courageous and sweet human being that has trod an incredibly difficult path and yet has succeeded in becoming a magnificent woman, someone that deserves much better in her life and I believe that this will be realised in the time to come.

    It is not easy to write down one’s life in such detail to be read by friends and passersby, but the road ahead is a positive one my dear friend, you will see. Have a very nice start to your Thursday Val and be well 🙂 Oh yes and good too, or else? 😉

    Andro xxxx

    • I like the ‘or else’, Andro. Or else indeed. What choice do we have? Move forward in life, each day a choice in how we live, who we let in, who we love. The risk we take with each step forward, to do otherwise is inertia. Sometimes we fall down, sometimes we are hurt, sometimes we blow in gale force winds and tip to the side. Yet, we move and anything less is to be less than human.

      As easy as it is to do nothing and let life overtake me, I choice living. Thank you my friend, for the caring enough to come back time and again and remind me I am worth the fight.


      • Gray Dawster says:

        You are more than worth it Val,
        you are a diamond and I really
        mean that my sweet and great
        friend 🙂

        Have a relaxing evening and
        eat something yummy, I will if
        you will 😉

        Andro xxxx

  16. These reflections about what you’ve endured in your life, Val, confirms that mine is a Disney cartoon. You have quite a history and quite a story. I’m glad you’re so resilient.

    • This one was a hard one, though I have spent time writing different pieces and they were all difficult for different reasons for some reason this one was strangely hard. You know, all of us have to contend with life choices and pain. That each of us have different pain, different hard choices doesn’t make them less so. I would never think to diminish or compare, we are each of us set at lives table with our portion based on what we are asked to give back in the end and what who we are intended to touch. That is my belief anyway.

  17. You’ve led quite a life, Val. I know there’s been a lot of pain, but it got you here now. And, those of us in the blogging community are definitely glad for it! People who think they have it rough because their stupid I-Pod won’t work need to listen to your story.

    • Well dammit Alejandro, my I-Pod didn’t work yesterday! I thought my world would end, not really. You are right, it got me here, it is just life you know? We all have to live it and we all have to pick our poisons, the paths we walk down and what sort of shoes we wear when we walk it. I suspect some of us simply weren’t cut from cloth that let us take the easy path, maybe I am one of those. I just hope, the lessons I take from those stumbles help others. That they aren’t wasted only on me.

      • That’s why I feel it’s important for folks like you who’ve endured so much to speak out and / or write about your experiences. You definitely have a lot to share with the world, and others can learn from you, Val. Besides, you’re a great writer who conducts impeccable research on various subjects. We need more people like you!

  18. Life is stranger than fiction. Who could make this stuff up or want to. You are mystery. That you still stand on your own two feet is a miracle to me. Hear, hear to you, Val. May the best be yet to come. 😉

    • My view? It is just life, truly just life. I never thought of it as anything other than that. For many years I never thought of it as odd, different or unusual. It was simply my life. I knew so many others with similar tales, similar lives. The only difference, I made it out of the worst of it.

      Tess, I only hope the path ahead is better and the landing softer. From your lips to any God who might be listening. 🙂

  19. There is a reason you are a “POWER HOUSE.”

    If your journey had been different, you probably wouldn’t be the amazing, compassionate, empathetic, intellectual, brilliant person you are now.

    God has BIG plans for you, Val.

    LOVE U. xx

    • I don’t know my friend, Power House might be a bit of a stretch these days. I am feeling more like a pillow hugging whiner. But, from you I will take compliments! From you that feels pretty damned good. Frankly, I wish God, Goddess all of them would cut me a bit of slack or let me in on the plan, but I am here, “use me”.

      Love you also Kim, big plans? We who are on the blueprint table must stick together.


  20. Val, I don’t even know what to say. This a a very courageous post. I’m heartbroken over the incredible amount of suffering you have endured and I am privileged to know you.

  21. Wow, Val, what a powerful post! I had no idea you had survived so much! I can’t even imagine being kidnapped and left for dead. My life has had a lot of drama, as well, as you know. But I wouldn’t change a thing either. I wouldn’t be who I am without those events. Wonderful to hear you have similar feelings.

    Hugs from Ecuador,

    • I think Kathy it is why we bond, our lives have not been without drama but we are. Does that make sense? We are somewhat the eye of the storm, that calm that is always there.

      Hugs back as always from lovely Dallas

  22. What an incredible life story. So much pain but so much resilience, too. I’m with Elyse–hope you’ve considered writing a memoir.

    • Yet to me, it is just life. Strange isn’t it, just life. Both the fury and oddly the great loves, just life. As I said to Elyse, I write to a memoir now and then but oddly I find it difficult. Maybe someday I will settle into finishing it, I think though I won’t call it a memoir when I do.

      Thanks Carrie

  23. What an amazing tale, Val. I’m so glad you overcame your misgivings and told it. You have had such a life that has made you who you are. And for that I am so very glad. Although, seriously, you could have done without some of that. The shooting, for example.

    But you should write a memoir. A full story of the amazing journey you’ve taken.


    • Likely I could have Elyse, but then who would I be? Maybe I would be bitter? Maybe less conscious? My heart mother once told me when God wanted my attention he threw bricks because my head was so hard it was the only way to get it. While she and I might have had different spiritual / religious beliefs, I understood what she meant. So perhaps all those lessons honed me.

      Memoir? I write to it now and again, beyond some of the stories I have told here though, it is hard.

      Love right back.

  24. Even though you’ve been through many difficult things, the fact that you conclude you wouldn’t change anything is more powerful, in a positive way, than all of the bad things combined.


  25. This is why Val I often tell you how strong you are.. even though I know at times you may not feel it.. For despite your path you have carved out your place, and you do have a strong family around you..
    Life may have bitten chucks out of you, but throughout it all, your compassion is still in tact… You have recounted your life and have found it within your heart to be there for those who were not there for you.. Now that takes courage.. that is true grit.. In you love of those whose past actions started you upon your present road..
    A road which has been harder than most.. But you know what Val?.. Those who have the hardest roads to travel often have the best haven at that final destination…
    We can never message another’s journey, for like one of your comments said… We know not what drives a person to be homeless, or take the route they have…
    And Val, thats why I admire you so much… For your strength and resolve and true grit to carry on regardless of what is thrown your way… You survive and You will THRIVE… believe me… you will…

    Love you….
    Sue xox

    • ( Error (We can never ( message ) dont know why I put that!.. We can never understand the path of another )

    • I suspect Sue, I helped with life taking those chunks now and again. You know what they say though, we are not given more of a burden than we can bear. I sometimes wonder who said that, I would truly love to kick that person really hard.

      My thought? What choice does any of us have but to go on? Truly what choice?

      Thank you so much for your words of wisdom and compassion, I am grateful always.

  26. Stories like the one you have just related help me to understand that people I pass in the street may be walking around with the same feelings of rejection and lament. I need to be more pro active in seeking to gladden sad hearts with a smile of recognition and willingness to help out within the limits of my own health and finances. The news media convince me your story is one of so many in our world today. It’s a sick old world isn’t it? I’m glad I believe there’s a better world to go to after my life is over.

    • I have heard time and again and always try to remember, ‘we don’t know what a strangers life story is’, this is so true. Smiling is one of our greatest gifts and it is free. You are a kind and good man Ian.

  27. Wow! What a journey, Val.

    I’ve read your posts where you’ve recounted many parts of your life and re reading some of them here – they never fail to amaze.


    • Yet they are just my life, just what I lived and just what made me me. Thus, how could I wish them different?

      Peace indeed, that is what I wish for, for all of us.

  28. Jueseppi B. says:

    ~♥~ ʚ(ˆ◡ˆ)ɞ ~♥~

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