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.

Silent Spaces

A house in the Woods

A house in the Woods

I am alone, often. Don’t mistake this as a cry for company, I like my silent spaces and will paint them in deeper silence more frequently than I realize. I am I think strange in liking my silent spaces, no television, no background music, no white noise to distract me; only me, the clacking of my nails on the keyboard and occasionally the roll of my lighter as I fire a cigarette, or a candle.

I have always been this way, always liked the silence the quiet of empty beaches with only the waves for company. I have always liked mountaintops in the winter with only the crunch of snow as your feet break through icy top layers or you slide across the top during a solitary run on slick ski’s. I was always able to dance in a silent studio, without music except what I heard in my heart my body following a rhythm all its own.

Don’t mistake me, I like people truly I do like people in small doses. I enjoy a night out with friends; a great meal with magnificent wine is my idea of a fabulous way to spend money and time. Given the right cornersoftheroomgroup of women (or men) I could sit up all night and talk, I know this is true I have done it. With some people, I can spend hours on the phone and have far ranging conversations that touch on nearly every aspect of life, from children to government misconduct. I am not I don’t think a hermit.

Nevertheless, I love my silent spaces and have never felt the need to fill them. As I have grown older, I feel as if I am growing in. I am looking for balance; you know that ever-elusive balance we all seek in life between our mental, emotional and physical well-being and what the world requires of us. The requirements of paying the bills, keeping a roof over our heads and the lights on and if you live in one of the hot as Hades during the summer months keeping the air conditioning pumping, at least at a reasonable temperature so you don’t look like the Wicked Witch of the West or the Polar Ice Cap, you know…melting.

Growing in, what does that really mean? For me it means I am finding myself less and less likely to be tolerant of the bad behavior of others, this is especially true of what I perceive as the ‘entitlement’ syndrome. What is this you ask; well you should ask as this it is a growing phenomenon within society today. There are many infected and this nasty and pernicious disease of the soul spreads into both their personal and professional interactions touching all they touch and leaving an oily residue behind.

Growing in, I find what it means is I am unwilling to sell myself short or cheaply. What was acceptable even five years ago is not any longer “just part of the package, just part of the business”. I have ten, maybe fifteen years left to work, I love what I do, at least I use to truly love what I do. I worked very hard to carve a niche for myself in what had always been a man’s world, I had put in my time and when I say this I don’t just mean the years I mean the 70 hour work weeks and the millions of air miles. I now find I am truly unwilling to accept the disdain from some asshat recruiter who calls me with an opportunity but then has the nerve to say the following to me:

“Would you be willing to pay your own expenses to Philadelphia for a face-to-face interview?”

This for a 4-month project!

Then had the nerve to say to me, “Your rate is too high, I can find someone for half that price at an all-inclusive rate.”

“No, no you cannot, not with my level of experience, not with US Citizenship which you stated is a requirement and not with my references. But you know you should go ahead and try, call me back when they screw up the project my rate is double when I do project remediation.”

Yes, I did say that. I don’t know if that particular recruiter understood half of my response, however since it was in writing he can look up the big words.

perfectly silent and stunning

perfectly silent and stunning

Growing in, I find has created a great big question mark in my life. That question mark is leading me down the path of questioning what I really want to be and do right now and for the remainder of my productive / working life. What are the other things I truly care about and that matter to me? My independence in work, yes that matters. Being able to take time to myself, yes that matters. My silent spaces, yes that matters a great deal. The questions though are these:

Does my independence trump stability, focus and being able to chase other important dreams?

I am alone, often. This is not a complaint, not a cry for company. I like my silent spaces. I like my growing in. I like I am questioning my new places and maybe yet again reinventing myself, what I don’t like is I am being forced to this by an environment unkind to people like me, people of a certain age, certain gender, certain type; people who are growing in like me.

What Do You Want to Be

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Remember when adults asked this question? What did you say? If you were a little girl, was it something normal and expected or did the adult asking stare at you dumbfounded and wonder what in the hell was wrong with you.

Usually I got that dumbfounded look. Eventually my parents’ friends stopped asking, afraid I think either I would continue to give them answers they didn’t understand or they were embarrassed by. Too often, my answers also humiliated my mother; I paid for these later when there was no one was around to stop her.

Some of my more interesting answers, all given prior to my tenth birthday:

Gypsy Rose Lee in her heyday

Gypsy Rose Lee in her heyday

  • I want to be a gypsy, live in a wagon and travel the world.
  • I want to be Gypsy Rose Lee; I had seen a poster of her in a friend’s basement and thought she was fabulous.
  • I want to be a courtesan. I didn’t really understand this one but we had recently toured some castle in either France or England, it had been built for a Kings favorite. This seemed like a good occupation.
  • I want to be an artist.
  • I want to write books.
  • I want to dance.

Some fine adult shocked by my list of what I wanted to be finally asked the question, “Don’t you want to get married?” Of course, others would ask in dismay, “Don’t you want to have babies?”

As a side note, I never played with baby dolls and tended to abuse Barbie’s. I simply wasn’t very girlie.

“No,” I said wisely with a shake of my head, “married isn’t for me”. Oddly, I would marry three times before I was forty, none of them took. Perhaps I was correct at the time, marriage truly wasn’t for me at a young age.

“Don’t you want to be a nurse or maybe a fairy princess?”

“Silly there isn’t any such thing as fairies,” I sagely counseled the adults who asked, “and I don’t like sick people,” I shamelessly added.

I was not a normal little girl at all, introverted and with a rich inner life, I had little desire for friends and found most the adults around me slightly silly. My dreams tended to be fed by the books I read or the landscapes I was exposed too. The two and half years we spent in Europe provided fodder for an imagination that built worlds peopled by those who loved me and led me on adventures too feed a starved soul.

Then I grew up, harshly and with little transition time between childhood and adulthood. No time to feel my way gently through those awkward stages of pre-teen when we discover who we might become or might wish to be, instead I was just forced through to the other side. My heart faltered, froze to be honest. My imagination took to darker roads.


Huntress, DC Comics

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

  • I want to dance.
  • I want to write books.
  • I want to be an artist.
  • I want to be a stewardess, I want to see the world and never stop traveling.
  • I want to be a masked avenger and kill those who hurt others, especially children and girls.

All these were told to those fine adults when they asked me between the ages of 11 and 12. Just one year, during that year of course something terrible had happened to me. Because of the last answer, a school counselor suggested to my parents I had a ‘slight’ problem and perhaps they should get me some help.

I attempted to burn down the playhouse at the child physiologists’ office when he asked me to demonstrate how I felt about my home life. I rescued my brother and the dogs first. He concluded I had deep seated problems, he didn’t ask why I did that. I concluded he was an idiot and refused to return.

I learned one thing after this adventure. Keep my less socially acceptable thoughts to myself; they could get me in trouble.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis

  • I want to dance.
  • I want to write.
  • I want to be an artist.
  • I want to travel and take pictures to show the world as it is.
  • I want to be an attorney and argue before the Supreme Court.
  • I want to be a politician and change the world.
  • I want to change the world.

The last time someone asked me, what I wanted to be when I grew up I was nearly 15. It was just before I ran away for the last time. It was just before my world would change and my life would change forever. What I wanted to be? I wanted to be all of those things, not just some of those things. Even then, even at that age, I was locked into the world around me and I knew there was something desperately wrong, horribly incompatible with equity and fairness.

I wanted to change the world.

Now, forty-one years later I think the world is more wrong, the world needs more positive change. I ask myself, “What do you want to do before you are too old to do it?”

I find though, I am afraid. I am scared to death of lunatics with guns. I am scared beyond reason of just how much my life, my world, my history could be exposed and thus those I love could be harmed if I stepped outside of this small arena, the world of blogging. I am afraid I have lived a life full of potholes, mistakes and terrible pain and even those things over which I had no control over could be used to do great harm to those I care deeply for, could be used to destroy futures. So now, when the world most needs masked avengers, activists willing to use their powers for good I am brought to my knees in fear and I am both afraid and ashamed of my fear.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Are you doing it?

In Your Absense

When I was young, I was my father’s child, a daddy’s girl. This was apparently true of me from the moment my parents brought me home from the hospital. My first memory was of my father and all my best memories of childhood include him. My second family pursued adoption because my father wanted children; he wanted to be a father.

He failed miserably at fatherhood.

The above statement is an outrageously harsh indictment of a man who loved his children. I often doubted his love, through my childhood when he failed me so absolutely I often asked why he hated me. Even into my young adulthood, I sometimes would ask him:

“What did I do that was so wrong?”

If the question was asked during one of our many arguments  screaming matches, he always had a litany of my wrongs, I never had an answer as they were mostly true. My father didn’t know the whole story, ever. I don’t know why he didn’t know the entire story of my childhood except he was never present; he lived in the same household he simply wasn’t present.

This is the story of my father and me, another entry to Broken Chains. My father, my Daddy, my Hero; the man who set the bar high for others, but also hurt me first and worst, fortunately this is also a story of reconciliation and redemption.


My first memories of my father all revolve around the shell of a sailboat. My dad always had hobbies, they absorbed him, took all his time and energy. The sailboat was the first of these that I remember. The shell of the boat was in our garage and each day my father would come home from work and change into his ‘work clothes’, eat dinner and abscond to the garage to sand, hammer, saw or otherwise work on the sailboat. Sometimes I was allowed to sit in the boat and watch him work; I liked this mostly because if I was quite I could stay there until bedtime.

Of course there were days this worked out quite well, others not so much. My mother didn’t think the hull of a boat in the garage was the place for a little girl and she would snatch me back faster than my fat little legs could carry me. Other days, well those days I was simply in the way; I didn’t understand then, I suppose looking back, I do now but then my feelings were hurt.

Did I mention my father would pick up hobbies? He became nearly obsessive with his hobbies, in the early years it was that stupid boat first building it then sailing it.


The Hull – Really

My dad built it from the ground up, lovingly bending every board, sanding every visible surface and polishing every piece of brass. When he finally launched Frappe’ spring and summer, boating and Racing season couldn’t come soon enough for him each year. The chance to escape, to feel the wind and test himself but mostly to escape the confines of a marriage that was always a misery. For all the years of my childhood and into my teens, that boat was my father’s escape. It was also the blight of my existence during many a summer holiday when I would be confined in 26 feet of Hell with two adults who spent much of their time bickering, another part of their time screaming either at each other or us and the rest in blessed silence to angry or worn out to fight any longer.

I hated those family outings!

My brother and I were adopted because my father wanted children, he wanted a family yet when he finally had one, he failed to be present. My father was so terribly miserable in his marriage he

Daddy & I, 1959

failed to protect me from the woman he married. Perhaps it was the time, but he also failed to believe me when I tried to tell him who she was and what she did. Despite his own antipathy toward his wife, the woman he choose to marry and remain with for over twenty years, he failed to believe me even after I ran away multiple times. He failed to believe me even after a court removed me from their custody. He failed to believe me even when he saw bruises.

There were so many secrets in our home. Because my father chose not to be present, he was part of the problem by enabling the secret life and world. It was many years before we would finally talk; finally clear much of the hurt that hung over our relationship. His hobbies were his escape, they were his freedom but in escaping to the lakes and seas or later to the mountains to ski (his next obsession), he left me especially to take the brunt of his wife’s fury. It was a long time before the toxic wasteland of my own hurt and rage at his apathy would dissipate.


As with all the entries to Broken Chains, I will tell the story in three parts. The story of my father and I is not as terrible as other entries, for those who are afraid to read because Broken Chains has been hard.

I will tell what I know of my father’s story and how he brought his history to his marriage and how it affected me especially. My dad passed in 2009; before he passed, we had made peace. It was sometimes a rocky peace but it was a peace forged of forgiveness, understanding and most of all love.

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