My Story, Part 4

It was a Friday night after a particularly long, hard week that began in Washington, D.C. for an AAG conference.  Throughout that trip, I thought of nothing but my brother and planned to call him later that weekend.  As I mentioned in my last post, he’d been diagnosed with cancer and after a very difficult adjustment period, he had finally moved on with his life and was in his last semester of a master of communication program . He was a graduate student in the University of Oklahoma at Norman’s Communication program.  I never got an opportunity to talk to him. I received a frantic call from my niece who lived with my Mom. An answering machine message from a Norman, Oklahoma funeral home wanted to what my Mom wished to do with my brother’s body. Please note that at this point, we had no knowledge that  there was a problem.

As the oldest, I took care of anything important, so there was no question as to who would handle this task.  In shock, I verified that my brother had indeed died.  After a number of calls, I learned that the University of Oklahoma-Norman police department notified the New Orleans police department who were supposed to personally notify my mother about the death. They did not. The man from the funeral home waited all day for a return call and after receiving none, assumed that the family had been notified and left his questions on the machine.  He was mortified when he learned that my mother had no idea about my brother’s death and I am certain that he has not left such messages on an answering machine since then.  Nevertheless, my mother learned of the death of her beloved son, from an answering machine.

It was I, who moved my brother to Norman 1 ½ years before, and it was I, and my husband, who drove  to Norman, where, four years after his cancer diagnosis, my baby brother died of congestive heart failure.  He’d already purchased the frame for his diploma. It was just like him to plan ahead.  Since I’d helped move him in, it seemed natural that I would move him out.  Nothing was natural about the trip and what followed and I never counted on the future impact that it would have on me.  Imagine this, I literally carried my dear brother’s ashes, in one of his carry on bags, onto a Southwest airlines flight from Norman to New Orleans, rented a car and brought him home to my mother–one of his best friends. I had never experienced that degree of overwhelming anguish and despair, then or since.  As I  write this, I can feel remnants of those feelings that still exist, and always will.

Afterwards, I tried to pretend that nothing had changed, that I was the same, but it was all a lie.  I went back to my job as an AAG, working the horrendous hours, year after year, ignoring what was happening to my body.   Until then, my life never left me much opportunity for self-inquiry. Growing up poor, left an indelible mark upon me to succeed at all costs–and that I did.  Stopping was not an option, so I didn’t. I kept up the insane, crazy, out-of-control pace: working, going to classes, parenting, commuting between Cypress, Texas and Austin for 2 years, and then, the stressful life of a trial attorney. Just as I ignored my inner thoughts, I ignored my body and its’ pleas to stop the madness. Soon, my body wouldn’t take no for an answer and, it stopped me in my tracks. I had no choice but to listen and I am listening still.

My Story, Part 3

This post continues my story. If you’d like to, you can read part 1, here, and part 2, here.

I landed in Houston, Texas. Once there, I was homesick for home, family and friends, as well as my son, who was living with his dad.  Over the years, leaving my son with his father is the only thing that I wish that I could do over.  All the other choices, big and small, missteps and those less than perfect choices that litter my life’s path, I’ve grown to accept as necessary to make me the person that I am today, and I would not change them if I could.  For example, marrying young was not a good choice, but as a result of that choice, I have three beautiful children, whom I would not have without that particular person, at that particular time. Yet, I see my choice of leaving my son with his father as more about me and less about my son.  Although he disagrees, I should have chosen better.

Anyway, after months of sending out resumes and applications and interviews, I finally secured a job as an assistant geologist with Sohio, which after a number of iterations is now BP America.  I loved my job, was good at it, and rewarded accordingly. By 1984, I was once again ready to resume my education.  I did with a vengeance.  With Sohio’s assistance, and my husband’s help. (By this time, I’d remarried.).

Looking back, I can’t believe how I managed to do it. I attended undergrad full-time at night, while working full-time during the day. My weekends, lunch hours, and kid’s soccer games were set aside for study.  I was on a mission to prove to my ex-husband that I would not be one of those women who ended up in the project trying to subsist on welfare.  Whenever my energies lagged, the memory of this statement never failed to reinvigorate me and spur me forward.  After just 4 years, I graduated summa cum laude with a 3.74 G.P.A. and a B.S. degree in General Studies. I was the first college graduate in my immediate family. I’d finally repaid my Mom’s efforts.

I went on to win an academic scholarship to law school at the University of Texas at Austin-a top tier law school, as well as the other law schools to which I’d applied. I choose the University of Texas in Austin, even though it meant leaving my then husband and children outside of Houston while I commuted back and forth every other week. With the blessing of my husband, I moved to Austin, and into a small condo not far from the university.  Believe it or not, I was 29 years old and this was the very first time that I had ever lived alone in my life. I was terrified. Guilt and terror drove me through the days. For two years, I trekked back and forth along the well worn back between my Austin home and my Houston home. That is, until the summer between my second and third year of law school, when my marriage ended and I brought my girls to Austin, where we made our home.

My last year of law school (1990-1991) was, in a word, hell. My baby brother, who was my dearest and closest sibling, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 23.  A favored cousin was diagnosed with cancer in early 1991 and died that same year. The girl’s step-mother who had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, died in the first half of 1991. Due to the girls’ school schedules, I could not work and we had to rely on my scholarship and financial aid to survive. Pets died. Cars were broken in to. At times life appeared to be careening out of control, but as always, it didn’t.  

After an emotionally grueling and money-strapped year, I graduated from law school in 1991, sat for the bar and was licensed the same year. My headstrong, tenacious baby brother did not succumb to cancer, though he was forced to leave his beloved San Francisco and return home to New Orleans to be close to family. I began working as a trial attorney practicing civil rights defense for the State of Texas. Except for a brief stint, I remained with the State until my health forced me to resign early in 2004. With the exception of some health issues that did not impact my ability to perform my job duties, things were reasonably quiet until 1997. Everything up to this point, pales in comparison to what happened in 1997.  It changed my life and sent me spiralling into a deep, dark depression. To be continued. . .

A Thought For The Day

Is there anyone,. . ., who is not wounded and in the process of healing? 

                                                                                                                       ~ May Sarton

My Story, Part 2

Continuing my story forces me to discuss a topic that I have kept close to my heart, both out of fear of what others would think of me, as well as shame and regret. At the same time, I’ve always felt a calling to tell my story for others who find themselves in the same circumstance. Just a way to let them know that they are not alone and that the situation may not be as dire as it seems. 

The past  months have led me to reconsider and in some ways, let go of some of my old negative ways of thinking. It occurred to me that I’d long ago come to terms with the shame and regret, and for reasons that I will discuss later, they no longer exist.  Moreover, I’ve almost outgrown any fear of what others may think of me. The people who know and love me will be there as always and anyone who isn’t, they shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Anyway, it is time. Time to let go. With this letting go, it is my hope that someone, somewhere out there will read it and from it, understand that with hard work and determination, a seemingly dire event, can have positive results. No matter how huge the mistake may seem, we have control over the direction our lives take.

By the time that I graduated high school, I had three scholarships in hand; the most generous at a college in Lafayette. Great, I thought, here’s my ticket to freedom.  I’d been waiting to leave home since the day that I was born. I graduated high school and began what was supposed to be my final summer before college.  Instead, it turned out to  be the summer that I made a decision that changed the course of my entire life–I became pregnant at 17 1/2 years of age.  I was the oldest; the one to set an example for my younger brother and sisters. I was terrified and my Mom, not one to express her feelings, was undoubtedly devastated.

Did you know that “[t]he United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world. The Center for Disease control says that one-third of girls get pregnant before the age of 20., a site managed by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, states that there are “750,000 teen pregnancies annually. Eight in ten of these pregnancies are unintended and 81 percent are to unmarried teens.”  I was one of those girls.
Thinking that I had no other choice, soon after, I was in an ill-advised, destined to fail, marriage. Since I was not even 18, my mother, who did not support the marriage, had to sign for the marriage license!  After decades of self-inquiry, I’ve come to realize that my actions were borne of fear of leaving home and fear of the unknown. I was torn in half; I desperately wanted to leave home and to “be free,” but I had not been prepared for the outside world and my fear overtook my reason.  As a result, I choose a different, and difficult road. The marriage did not bring me freedom; it merely introduced me to another form of dependency.  

I was a very young mother, with 3 children by the age of 21.  I always believed that some way and some how, I would graduate college.  I refused to be one of those teenaged mothers that others looked upon as having ruined her life by getting pergnant. I tried attending college but with children, a job and a lack of significant support at home, it was difficult. Since we had no car, I remember spending countless hours on the bus lugging my happy, but chubby young son, from our tiny, postage-stamped sized apartment, to his baby-sitter, then to school and work, only to reverse the route at the end of any already long, exhausting day.  I can remember one occasion where I had to take my son to class with me, where he was the center of attention. Finally, however, I could not  manage it all and I had to forego my education. Between 1976 and 1981, I made 3 failed attempts to pursue my college degree but the stresses of caring for a family, working and going to school were too great and I was forced to stop each time. 

Five years passed and by this time, I had wheedled my way into the oil and gas exploration business.  First, I worked for Shell Oil Company and then Tomlinson Offshore. Even though I had no college degree, I was a assistant geophysicist, and later an assistant geologist.  Unfortunately, the oil and gas bust came and hit New Orleans and I was laid off.  There were no similar jobs to be had throughout the city.  By this time, I’d grown up and my marriage was over.  I had children to care for and I made a decision that I thought that I would never make–I moved to Texas, a place that I  thought was, the land of cowboys and no trees.  I was heartbroken to leave my home, but a part of me was looking forward to the unknown. To be continued. . .