Wednesday, January 07, 2009
It was in reading back my last entry that I discovered something that has eluded me all these years ...
At dinner a couple of days after Christmas my son Bob was speaking of his phone interview with author Bruce Frankel. He told us that it was while he was trying to think back on just when he believed I started life as an emancipated woman. "It was after the death of my grandfather and my father -- the main men in her life -- that she found her voice," was the statement he'd made to Bruce. I whole-heartedly agreed -- that is until I was re-living the Gregory Gardens meeting while writing about it a few nights ago. I think that I've always believed that I came into my own only after being forced to confront life without the men in my life who defined me. I think that I saw them as the positive space to my negative; that I had always been the other half of a whole. This is clearly not so, in retrospect.
When I read back over the account of that traumatic summer evening in Pleasant Hill I saw for the first time the actual description of my metamorphosis. I'd written that I'd suddenly stepped out of the role of victim and taken on that of defender. I know now that after spending those 3 years from 1950 through 1953 living as "other," and having to be seen as an outsider in that community with no way to escape the madness -- that I'd finally broken free. It was on that night in that frightening meeting that I tossed off the shroud of victimization that had held me in its grasp and became a full-fledged mature woman.
But it seems now when looking back that it was not possible for me to negotiate a way for that mature woman to exist in a marriage entered into by a 19 year-old girl with no expectations of emancipation and no idea of how to live in freedom. I was suddenly on a collision course with a reality that life had not prepared me for.
It must have been the Pleasant Hill event that changed the course of my life and started the process of slow erosion of my first marriage. I'm wondering now why I didn't see that the path I'd taken that fateful night would inevitably lead to full independence and complete emancipation at some point. Why did it take so many years? Why did I slip back into my traditional wife's role rather than proceed toward this new direction?
I'm assuming that it was easy to ignore the new restlessness since I'd found an avenue of expression through my association with the Unitarian Fellowship. I'd finally walked away from my restricting Catholic upbringing in favor of the intellectual and spiritual freedom of a new faith.
As it was with David Bortin, I can't recall ever speaking with Mel of my trip to Gregory Gardens. He was absent from our lives -- totally involved in his business at that point. About that time so much of my life became secret and unshared which probably caused the mental break a few years later when my distinctly different realities could no longer be held separate -- and when no amount of logic could bring them together with any semblance of order.
It was during those years that the threat to my sanity became real and when the artist Betty came into being. She was my defense against the growing split that would eventually have to be tended to. Fortunately, she found expression through a gift of a beautiful Martin guitar (still standing in my living room against the wall) that Mel gave to me at Christmas time that year. He had no idea what it would bring with it over the next few years.
The secret "Betty" that friends and family in my current world have no idea ever existed moved front and center for many years -- a talented young woman that I left in the suburbs in the early Seventies -- eventually abandoned but never quite forgotten.
She has been reclaimed only recently, and with no regret. She's back at a time when I'm able to integrate her into the whole and recognize her gifts with little ego involvement.
If only I'd found her sooner ... but then, I seriously doubt that she could have stood her ground before the Gregory Gardens Improvement Association the way that "defender" Betty did. And it was probably Defender Betty who saved us both, eventually. This is the "me" who took over our lives at that point and who (apparently) still runs the show.
I recall now saying to Bruce Frankel, "...life is about choices, and I'm quite satisfied with mine."
That is most decidedly true.
Photo: This was the frail (86 lb.) young mother who is seen here in the throes of a deep depression that evolved into Artist Betty after two years of great therapy and much support. (Click for enlargement.) The lower picture was taken a few years later after full recovery and after having written and performed a full repetoire of original songs.