Writing Myself Home I don’t know if I could or even if I should dig through the debris of buried memory to get to the place where I can face… myself.
I wrote the above poem in the late 1990s and when I wrote it, I suspected it had to do with my mother’s mental illness and my fear it would happen to me. I had a good life with a husband who loved me and the daughter I’d always wanted, but something was always gnawing at me? I never felt satisfied, and my mother’s memory hung over my life like a grey cloud. I quit writing shortly after when work and family life took priority.
I came out to myself 12 years later. It would take another 6 years to come out of the “having a mentally ill mother” closet.
Last Fall after moving back to North Dakota, I read a call by the BisMan Writer’s Guild for a collaborative touring art show called The Art of Writing, sponsored in part by the North Dakota Art Gallery Association. Artists and writers were to submit samples and if an artist selected a piece of writing (or vice versa), they would create pieces of art inspired by the other’s work. I wanted to submit my poem, but it needed a title.
After having spent two years drafting, rewriting, excavating, and shaping my memoir, I realized the poem was a way to express what I could not. It was the beginning of “coming home” to myself. Then a year ago September I moved back to my home state of North Dakota. I literally and figuratively had come home, thus the title Writing Myself Home.
In 1974 at the age of 15, I started working for 75 cents an hour grading papers for a high school teacher.
“Be a secretary, you’ll always have something to fall back on,” my father told me. His advice bit me in the butt a few years later when as an Army Reservist 1976, I applied to be in the first class of women to be admitted to West Point. I missed the age cut-off by one year because I needed a year of prep school.
I’ve lost track of the number of jobs I’ve had over the years: medical clerk typist, pharmacy tech, “Officer Friendly” in military police community relations, C-130 cargo plane loader, publishing manager, small business owner, production control analyst, realtor…and secretary.
Sometimes I felt sentenced to being a secretary because I’d boomerang back yet again. Now, after all these years and perspective, it was an awesome way to get my foot in the door of some solid, well-respected companies. I’ve made the most of that opportunity the last 11 years and am grateful to have been able to bookend my career with the Army, first as a 19-year-old reservist and now as a retired civil servant.
I retired from my day job today. It’s going to take some time for that reality to sink in…but it definitely feels good.
I’ve been intending to write a post for the past month and a half, but I’ve been busy preparing to leave my home base to travel back to Michigan to work my final days in the office. It’s been a whirlwind.
As of today, I’m down to three days and a wake-up which seems surreal…but it’s finally here. Although my shoulder surgery delayed and changed my plans, if life has taught me nothing else it’s how to be resilient.
I’m grateful to be blessed with friends who have opened their homes to me during this interim period. I plan to hit the road and be a nomad for time, meandering where the spirit moves me, then winter in Tucson.
I’ve attended Pride events large and small in the last decade, but nothing moved me more than Capital Pride last Saturday on the grounds of the North Dakota State Capital in Bismarck. This town I grew up and fled from, finally felt welcoming…and the rainbow cloud over the festivities confirmed that.
In preparation for Pride, a local bakery held a 100-word Pride story contest with prizes for first, second, and third places. Stories were submitted. Prizes were awarded. There was, however, no publication of the stories.
Our stories deserve to be told for we are your daughters, your sons, sisters, brothers, your mothers, fathers, and yes, even your grandparents.
My military-related coming out story was published Wednesday, 23 June on The War Horse. The following is my tiny personal coming out story…
“I’m Proud of My Gay Daughter” said the pin I wore to my first pride event. Daisy came out as bisexual in 2001 at 16. Five years later, she dated a woman. I worried for her career and safety. Five years after that, I came out. I had to start over…again. When I broke the news, Daisy tucked me under her wing. At 56, I’d lived in many closets. If Daisy hadn’t come out, I wouldn’t have either. And that pin I wore to the 2011 Motor City Pride? Daisy wore one that said “I’m Proud of My Lesbian Mom.”
After I was discharged from the Marine Corps, my first mother-in-law asked me what would be a prescient question.
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to be a writer.”
“Don’t strive to be a writer, write.”
It would take years before I finally put pen to paper, first writing poetry in the 1990s. Then in 2018, I saw a Facebook post saying the MilSpeak Foundation was hosting a Women Warriors Writing Workshop weekend at Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina. I only had to pay for my room and transportation.
I jumped at the chance and took an early flight so I could check out the Whitewater Center and take a zipline tour before the festivities started. Note to self: visit the Whitewater Center again and try whitewater rafting.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I wanted to reignite that dream, to write the book I wanted to read when I was struggling.
The weekend was transformative.
A Friday night welcome reception with Open Mic kicked things off. Several women were published authors, and many others were further along their writing journeys than I was. It was intimidating. And inspiring.
The weekend was filled with keynotes, break out sessions, and on Sunday a small-group workshop. Participants were asked to bring five copies of a work-in-progress, whether it be fiction, memoir, poetry, or an article. I went back to my room to write something so I could participate.
I could not write. I was so hung up on wanting it to be perfect that I couldn’t get any words out of my head.
Sunday morning I listened in awe while other brave writers shared their stories. I vowed one day I would too.
It’s been three years since that weekend spent in the company of badass women warrior writers. Although I didn’t write anything myself, I consider it the beginning of my writing journey because of the writing friendships I made and the inspiration I received…and the adventure continues.
Forty-five years ago today, I stepped off the bus in Parris Island, South Carolina onto the infamous yellow footprints, forever changing my life.
While I intended to stay in and make it a career, the post-Vietnam era was not a popular time to be in the military. I couldn’t wait to get the hell out after my four-year enlistment. Now, 45 years later, it’s crazy how fast time has flown.
I am forever grateful to be one of the Few and the Proud…Semper Fidelis my Sisters and Brothers!
We are inextricably linked to our parents on our birthdays: they brought us into the world and are our first teachers.
On this 66th birthday, I’m thinking about my Pa…the dice game 6-5-4, the double-six boxcars he loved to roll, and the life lessons he taught me.
How to be a good parent. He raised me to be independent, yet I knew I could always count on him to be a sounding board, a shoulder to cry on, or a soft place to land.
Be less judgmental and more accepting. Rather than passing judgment on something, he would keep an open mind and say, “Well, that’s different.”
Focus on the positive. Pa had had been through a lot in his life plus he had medical problems, which you never knew because his focus was on you and making the best of the situation.
Cherish friends and family, giving them your full attention. There was nothing more that Pa loved to do than sit and visit with family and friends.
Stay curious about people. Pa loved to meet new people and hear their stories. Being an introvert myself, I challenged myself to be more Pa-like during my 2020 pre-Pandemic Portland trip. The rich, memory-filled trip was one I’ll never forget.
It’s never a bad day for a drive. Pa loved to drive and said, “There’s always something new to see.” After he retired, he worked for car dealers and Enterprise, driving and shuttling clients while chatting them up. He racked up some serious miles, and I definitely get my sense of adventure and love of the open road from from him.
So my 6-5-4 take-away on this day is: 1) life is like a dice roll, you never what’s coming; 2) don’t be greedy and squander a decent score because the next roll might be worse; and 3) sometimes, when you least expect it, you roll boxcars and win the pot.
Ten years ago, the evening before my 27th wedding anniversary, I came out. Although I had been faithful to my husband, I found myself oddly attracted to a woman so I finally came out to myself. I wasn’t sure if I was making the biggest mistake of my life, but I knew leaving my marriage was the path of integrity. Thankfully, the split was amicable. How amicable you ask? We went skydiving together for the first time three months later, weirdly something I never would have considered when we were married.
After the financial chaos of 2008, there wasn’t much to split. I didn’t make a lot of money as a secretary, but with benefits and my foot in the door, I knew I would be okay. I had done lots of hard things before. At times it wasn’t easy, but I persevered.
Looking back on the past 10 years, I’m humbled by the people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had, the places I’ve been, and I’m grateful for the opportunities that have come my way: living my rock star dream of playing in Sandy Mulligan and the Gypsies, going to 2012 Toronto World Pride, a trip down memory lane running 12 miles on Parris Island and attending the 69th Anniversary of women serving in the Marine Corps, running in Windsor, Canada and coming up through the tunnel and hearing my name announced in the Detroit Free Press International Half Marathon, having a Free Press photographer catch a snapshot of me celebrating marriage equality in Ann Arbor, realizing the dream of running the Marine Corps Marathon and having that journey published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Running For Good, and so many more memorable moments.
This year it’s about taking another leap of faith with retirement on the horizon…so cheers to the years and the new adventures to come. And in the end, all anyone wants in this world is to love and be loved.
Mother’s Day has always been bittersweet for me. I became a mother to the daughter I always wanted at 30…and my mother passed three months later. She never got to see and hold her granddaughter, and I was motherless on my first Mother’s Day.
Mother/daughter relationships are complicated.
Five and a half weeks ago I had bicep and rotator cuff surgery. I had heard the recovery was difficult and I can definitely affirm that, but I was unprepared for how helpless I was to do routine tasks…and how much we take for granted having two functional hands.
Knowing I had surgery scheduled in a week, I started using my non-dominant hand to get used to doing daily tasks. I’m very right-handed so the awkwardness of brushing my teeth with my left hand continues to this day.
I reported to surgery at 5:30 AM where I had a pain block with anesthesia for my arthroscopic surgery. My daughter Daisy took me home just after Noon. She had arranged to work from home that first week and I was to recuperate in her big, beefy recliner. I was feeling no pain in my pain block fog so I went upstairs to do a couple of laps around the kitchen and dining room. Then I had a brilliant idea! I need a few things while I’m in the recliner so I’ll just put them in a bag and carry them downstairs with my left hand. Oh, and I need to eat something. Daisy heard the microwave door open and came rushing up the stairs.
“What are you doing Mom? I’m supposed to be getting things for you.”
In my pain block induced stupor, I looked at her indignantly and blurted, “I. Am. Independent. As. Fuck!”
“I’ll make you whatever you want. Please go sit down. You had surgery today.”
I took up my position on her recliner, she put a pillow under my legs, and tucked the blanket around me snug as a bug in a rug as my mom used to say. Not long afterward, she left the room to answer a phone call.
I started getting too warm so I tried kicking the pillow out from under the blanket. When that didn’t work, I scooted down a little and reached with my left hand to grab the pillow and push…and suddenly the reclined chair tipped forward and touched the floor, with the back end in the air. I couldn’t scoot up into it and I definitely couldn’t get out of it.
I was just getting ready to text Daisy to say, “I think I have an issue…” when she came back into the room to find me at the bottom of the topsy turvy recliner. She didn’t skip a beat.
“So how’s that independence working for you now, Mom?”
“Well, I may have been a little hasty after all.”
I spent the rest of that week in a pain coma, trying to get comfortable enough to sleep in my recliner. With my useless right arm hanging like a limp noodle, Daisy and I confronted personal care-taking that I hadn’t imagined. The helplessness I felt was mortifying. The second week was pain coma round two getting off the narcotics and alternating acetaminophen and and ibuprofen. With my elbow and right wrist immobilized, there was little I could do for myself. I needed help dressing, showering, removing bottle caps, and the smallest of tasks that I wouldn’t have thought twice about before the surgery.
Near the end of the second recovery week, the funeral of a beloved aunt, my Mother’s sister, was to take place. My Aunt June was the closest thing I had to a career mentor in the family who was a registered nurse. My Mother looked up to her older sister and one year for my birthday Mom gave me an engraved bent-handle nurse’s scissors hoping I would follow in her sister’s footsteps. When I was raising my daughter out of state, Aunt June kept me in contact with the family and always tried to visit us when she was nearby. When she took the train to see me in Michigan, I surprised her with a bus trip to Niagara Falls. When the bus arrived earlier than planned, we had just enough time to make the last Maid of the Mist tour if we ran. So we did, with fashionable Aunt June running in her platform heels.
The trip was one of my fondest memories and Aunt June meant the world to me. As the weekend of her memorial got closer, the realization that I may not be able to make it was crushing. I took it day by day and tried to regain some strength. My cousin Shane said he would help me so I could go and he picked up me, my suitcase, my ice machine, a cooler filled with more frozen bottles of water and ice packs, and off we went with his mom, my Aunt Myrt.
The weekend spent in the company of my Mother’s extended family and 14 cousins did more to help my healing than any amount of rest could. Their stabilizing presence in my life during my formative years when my mother was hospitalized helped make me the person I am today.
Daughters are always hardest on their mothers and I’ve spent my life trying to understand my Mother and myself as her daughter. Many times when growing up, the last thing we want to to be like our mothers. I’ve spent countless hours in thought, writing, and therapy about mother/daughter relationships. I wrote this poem in the late 1990s.
Healing My Mother Wounds
I will never be the mother my daughter needs me to be
Just as my Mother was not the mom I thought I needed.
I can only love, protect, and comfort her to the best of my ability
knowing that I'll somehow fall short of her expectations...
and that's okay, because as a daughter my greatest fear
was to become like my mother with her worrisome ways.
Until I became one.
Then I understood with crystal clarity...
She did the best she could.
Mother/daughter relationships are complicated.
The challenge is even greater when as a mother, you’ve always been in control even though your daughter is an adult. This recovery has been a humbling experience, but I’m thankful to have had Daisy’s loving help and guidance through it. I’m nearing the six week mark when I can start driving and become independent again. To say I’ve been a compliant patient is an overstatement, but I have learned to relinquish control in small doses.
On this Mother’s Day, I’m grateful to my Mother and all the Aunts and women in my life who have mothered me. And to my daughter, ten years ago when I came out, you tucked me under your wing like a mother hen. During this pandemic year we’ve survived break-ups, moves, and surgeries…and if we can get through this, we can get through anything. I am forever grateful that I am your mother, and I’m proud of the woman you’ve become.
The comfort zone is a psychological state in which one feels familiar, safe, at ease, and secure. You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.
Roy T. Bennett
This month I’ve struggled with how to process the last year. I’ve wanted to write a post remembering the last week of normal life before the world shut down. The sign in CVS saying they were sold out of isopropyl alcohol and antiseptic wipes. The lines of worried patrons pushing toilet-paper topped carts down grocery aisles waiting to check out. Feeling foolish wearing a mask for the first time, like I was playing cops and robbers.
Shit got real for me when I heard Tom Hanks had Covid-19.
Michigan locked down, we were third in the nation for covids deaths, and every day seemed more surreal than the last. Each lockdown day was marked on the calendar, as if I was doing time. I dyed my hair purple. I doomscrolled social media searching for the coronavirus cavalry and watched a young woman in YouTube videos explaining the pandemic to her past self…and was horrified when she asked what year it was.
As the telework days turned into months and Spring turned to Summer in the chaos that was my personal life, I tried to hike every day at the state park across the street to prevent the walls from closing in. I needed something to look forward to so I set a retirement date of 31 July 2021. I moved closer to family to have a home base and quit numbering the lockdown days on the calendar.
Searching for and buying a home via Facetime turned out easier than I imagined, and packing up and selling the home across from the state park I loved to hike was gut wrenching. Having worked from home with a lockdown mentality, it was tough having people in my home getting it ready for sale, but it had to be done.
I was nervous about traveling because the last thing I wanted was to catch was the virus. With the Uhaul hitched to my Outback, I headed to my new life, and spent a restless night in a hotel halfway there, the first since being locked down.
Moving back to North Dakota in September, it seemed as if people were in denial about coronavirus and I felt like I was living in an alternate reality. The first weekend in my new home, the neighbor across the street with the Trump signs in her yard wanted to have a gathering of the neighborhood ladies to get to know my daughter and I.
“Where would we have the gathering?”
“In my Living Room.”
“I don’t really feel comfortable with that. I just moved from Michigan where we had refrigerator trucks parked outside hospitals.”
“Well, by October can be pretty cold. I guess we can play it by ear.”
The Friday before the Sunday gathering, my neighbor called to say she had Covid and the gathering had been delayed. I was relieved. Shortly after, local cases skyrocketed and the state hit the national news becoming North Dacovid. I questioned whether I had made the right decision to move back to my home state.
The upsides of the move were the first holidays spent with family in decades and access to great medical care when my daughter had emergency surgery in December. I had spent months avoiding people and hospitals, now I had to be there for my daughter. I focused my thoughts on her to avoid disaster-sizing the what ifs. My temperature was checked when I arrived at the hospital, they only let one visitor in at a time, everyone was masked, and they moved around like normal people in the land of the living. It was the beginning of starting to feel comfortable again out in the world, yet staying masked and protecting myself.
I was so glad to put 2020 behind me, hoping that with retirement on the horizon 2021 would be a better year. After the national chaos that was January, February loomed large on the horizon with memories of Portland, the last trip I’d taken before the pandemic. I needed to step outside my comfort zone again.
I’d seen reports of people flying and I had an airline credit with Delta, which was still committed to social distancing. I booked a flight to Tucson, a place I visited in the past, had family and friends who wintered there, and thought it might be right for me in retirement. At least it would be an opportunity to enjoy a long weekend in the warmth of the Arizona sun.
Tucson was everything I remembered and more. With a higher elevation, hiking and bike trails surrounded by mountains, the RV resort with their tennis and pickleball courts, and activities of every kind got me hooked. In my short long weekend trip, I made plans to winter there myself.
Returning home, I set my sights on planning the rest of my retirement dream. I ordered a 16′ Scamp to be delivered in August 2022, then found a 1973 13′ Boler as an interim solution until my Scamp is ready. She’s one of 10K ultralight fiberglass campers that were manufactured in Canada between 1968 and 1988. I won’t have time to do extensive renovations before I hit the road, but the original upholstery is really quite groovy. And she’s light enough to tow with my Outback.
I filed my retirement paperwork and with plans in place, it was just a matter of tying up loose ends…but the nagging shoulder pain I’d been nursing since the move last Summer had other plans. After an MRI revealed tears in the right rotator cuff, an orthopedic surgeon gave me the option of surgery or taking a wait and see approach. I’ve got places to go, things to see, and I want to lead an active retirement with biking, pickleball, and camper hauling, so surgery is scheduled for Tuesday, March 30th.
Life without the use of my dominant arm isn’t the way I imagined the last few months of my working life, but better I get it taken care of so I can enjoy life on the road. I keep reminding myself it’s just another speed bump and growth opportunity. I’ve come through worse so I’m keeping my eye on the prize…an active retirement and a new goal. #ambidextrous