“You need to claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all that you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality.” ~ Florida Scott Maxwell ~
Part I of this memoir is an adventure story—my story of finding myself by seeking worlds to conquer outside myself. I sought adventure, success, and fulfillment in the outer world, and always found it. Experiencing the meaning of the Women’s Liberation Movement firsthand, it was a big part of my adventure story. I took risks professionally and personally to participate in the Movement. In my personal life, however, I sought safety. I drew the line at professional risks that threatened my ability to support my family, and was even more protective of my personal safety in relationships.
But the events of the middle of my life—1979, when I was 39 years old—made me realize that the safety I had tried to nail down for my personal life had always been an illusion, and that what I relied on for my “safety” could fall apart overnight, with no warning.
The watershed year turned me in a different direction. I no longer sought safety outside myself, but began to nurture it in myself. The outer experiences I had sought and found had not satisfied me, nor kept me safe.
Part II of this Memoir will be equally as long as Part I. Still an adventure story, and there is more to tell.
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At the start of 1980, when I was truly in charge of all my personal choices for the first time in my life, I had nothing I would have called a spiritual path, beyond the Transcendental Meditation that was all the rage in the Sixties and Seventies. I was given a mantra: “top secret, never say it out loud, chosen especially for you.” Years later, I found the formula on the Internet. There mine was: “shirim.” As I had suspected, mantras—only sixteen of them—were assigned according to a chart based on gender and age range. I had meditated off and on beginning in 1969, with or without my mantra. I attached no particular spiritual meaning to it. It was more of a centering and relaxing practice.
I healed, physically and emotionally. Continued to work at the Lab. Bought a small new house, with one bedroom and a bonus room large enough for several overnight guests—my kids, or friends. Signed up for a season ticket for the symphony, and settled happily into my new, quiet, single life. I didn’t date, preferring my own company. I was only beginning to examine and recognize my complicity in both failed marriages, and knew I needed a lot more clarity before I even thought about having a relationship of any kind.
By the time I realized and understood my own hidden agendas going into my marriages, I was content with my life and needed nothing else to make me happy or secure. I did finally have one or two “dates” with Jack, a colleague and friend at the Lab, but he had only been widowed for a year and a half and we kept it platonic. We went to the boat show, one spring Sunday afternoon, then had dinner. It was pleasant. In the summer, he invited me to dinner at his home. When I realized I was the only guest, and saw the sumptuous meal he had prepared, I got worried. Over steak and shrimp salad, we talked. We talked about what it was like to be single, and not necessarily of our own volition.
“I like being single,” I confessed. “In fact, I intend to remain single and celibate for the rest of my life,” I hadn’t said it out loud until now, but realized it was indeed my intention.
Jack smiled and suppressed a chuckle. “That wouldn’t be the way I’d want to live my life, but if that’s the way you want to live yours, I guess that’s okay. It’s your life.”
Once again, he offered no advice. I recalled how, six months earlier on my first day back at work after I had moved out, I had sought out someone to talk to, a friend. No one came to mind with whom I wanted to share this debacle. Walking by Jack’s office, I realized: he’s a friend. I went in, he looked up and saw my face, and gestured to his overstuffed rocking chair. I sank into it, and rocked. Gave him a brief summary of what I had done, and why. I recalled his face, the compassion reflected there, and his deep laugh wrinkles. He listened, but offered not a word of advice, only, “I’m sorry,” exactly what I had needed.
“When someone really hears you without passing judgment on you, without taking responsibility for you, without trying to mold you, it feels damn good…When I have been listened to and when I have been heard, I am able to perceive my world in a new way and to go on. It is astonishing how elements which seem insoluble become soluble when someone listens.” ~ Carl Rogers
Jack ushered me into his living room after our conversation about being single, then served a luscious pecan pie he had made himself. I got scared. Ate and ran.
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I had always been aware of a quiet inner voice—call it my own intuition if you prefer—that seemed to guide and advise me when I needed it, and comfort me when things got scary. Usually when I contemplated a potential friendship or a relationship, I could easily ignore or override that inner guidance, but this time, with Jack, the message was insistent. It was as if the inner voice (thoughts or images, actually, not audible) held up a small sign on a stick: TRUST HIM.
Still, it was October, 1980 before our friendship became serious. We spent time together at the Lab Planning Retreat at the coast, and realized we wanted more time together. Compatible friendship turned to courtship. He brought me a giant yellow rose the size of a dinner plate, that he had nurtured in his rose garden. More and more often, we spent our lunch hours finding new places to eat and talk.
I tried to keep our secret at work, to avoid interoffice gossip. We weren’t living together, but sometimes we did arrive at work together. I said we were car-pooling, hoping no one would figure out how unlikely that was, since we lived across town from each other.
Christmas Eve, 1980, Jack came to my house for dinner and to help decorate the tree. We documented the evening with photographs, from the bare tree to the tree covered with ornaments and tinsel, wrote Christmas cards to our friends, then opened our gifts to each other.
In the final photographs, we wore happy smiles, and my left hand draped so casually on the back of the sofa, wore a stunning engagement ring.
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Before I could get serious about setting a date for our marriage, however, I had some unfinished business we had to talk about, my only remaining doubt. I brought it up during an aimless drive on a rainy, dark day.
“You’ve told me about losing your wife to genetic lung disease, after seven years of illness and decline and loss. Do you really want to take a chance you’d have to go through that experience again? Because even though I’m apparently weller than well, we have to be realistic. It could happen again. I don’t expect it, but it’s possible. I hate to think you might have to watch it happen again.”
Jack reached over, took my hand and squeezed. “Anything’s possible. I could get cancer, or some rare disease, and then you’d go through that experience. My hope is that you will never get sick again, but if you do—I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. You can’t get rid of me that easily.” He flashed the warm grin that never failed to melt my heart.
Neither of us knew, in those first years of happiness together, that he would have to watch it happen again, and again, and again.
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We married the Sunday before Easter, 1981 and honeymooned in La Paz and Cozumel, Mexico. We had both accumulated many weeks of unused vacation time at the Lab, and had made plans to stay away for a month. But after two weeks, we cut the trip short, eager to get home and begin our new life together.
At first, we lived in my little house, which was free of memories of the past for either of us. Within a few months, we had rented out both houses and, to everyone’s dismay, bought a run-down 70-acre farm in the Coast range. I wanted it for the honeysuckle draped over the back porch. Jack wanted it for the 10-foot high pile of scrap iron in the front driveway. We both wanted it for Fishhawk Creek, a fresh, singing creek right behind the house. A bridge between the house and the barn gave access to the back pasture and the forest that began just beyond, some of it old growth cedar.
The hour and a half commute to work every morning and evening was precious time together. When we were home at the farm, we were remodeling, tearing down old outbuildings and (Jack and his son, Lee) building a new woodshed, but we were running out of both money and energy for that task.
Our joined families, just beginning to form families of their own, came out to the farm often. We cooked and ate, celebrated birthdays and births, played croquet in the large front yard, collected crawdads in the creek, and boiled them up for dinner over the fire pit in the back yard next to the creek. The fire pit, in the middle of a thick carpet of bright yellow buttercups, also served as the gathering spot for salmon bakes, hot dogs and S’Mores, or just sitting watching the embers die down and listening to the sounds of wind rustling the trees, evening birds, the mumbling, splashing creek, the unspoiled hush of wilderness all around.
One bright and lovely spring morning we were getting a late start to Portland, because we couldn’t bear to leave the sparkling creek flashing and trilling over rocks , and the flowers, and the goats. Then we noticed three blonde young men in light blue uniforms, walking across our pasture toward us.
Jack stopped, held the car door open before he got in, and shielded his eyes to look at the men. “Who are those guys?” he asked.
I watched them as they approached. The sun caught glints off their blonde hair. They looked like brothers. Without thinking, I replied, “They’re angels.”
I was close to right. It turned out they were engineers for Reichold Exploration, and there apparently was a large natural gas deposit under our side yard. Which led to a gas well. Reichold invited us, our entire family, and all our neighbors to a glorious steak cookout at the well head the night they “flamed the well.” In this exciting ceremony, the pipe coming out of the well was uncapped and a flaming torch touched to the gas. An explosion of flame shot 30 feet in the air. It was thrilling, and the celebratory air lasted through the night, as our family enjoyed the party, and the scenarios rivaling the Ewings on South Fork Ranch. Kelley has a particular memory that pretty well describes the end of the evening…see Comments.
Two years later, the well was sealed off after Reichold pumped too fast, and pulled salt water into the gas pool, ruining it. The salt water would take years to settle back out. But meanwhile, the well had provided just enough in royalty checks to pay for remodeling materials and workers, to make big progress on the remodel. Upstairs and down, we turned an old shack into a beautiful retreat.
My spiritual path had begun, and took the form of simple happiness and joy. Life was good, and promised to remain so.