Those words, ‘my husband left the family’ sound so straight forward and simple, they fail to convey their actual tsunami effect . . . tsunami? . . . umm: calamity . . . sudden and without warning . . . devastation . . . yes, tsunami! . . . but after, the sun comes out!
I’d gone back to work part-time 5 or 6 months before that sentence became part of my history. I had never questioned the Catholic mandate that marriage was permanent, no one in my family had ever divorced. Were there indications of problems? Yes, countless ones, and low-level tension, but his absolute refusal to consider counseling or even discuss the issues with me made me think, “O.K. I’m stuck with this” but divorce? Never. Neighbors were going through a divorce and my 6 year old daughter asked, “Are you and daddy going to get divorced?” I assured her we were not because we are Catholic—within a month he walked out. I was totally unprepared; had never handled finances, did not even know the where or if of bank accounts, was new to Georgia and all my family lived 1000 miles away in Connecticut.
I don’t know how I got through the first six months but looking back I believe it was a case of ‘not enough oil for the lamps, yet the lamps didn’t run out’! My folks urged us (kids and me) to return to Connecticut—they could watch the kids while I got back to full-time work; when I finally realized he was not going to ‘wake up’ and return to the family, and I acknowledged I wasn’t able to survive on part-time work, I gratefully accepted their offer and we headed North.
In this new chapter the kids felt secure and happy on the farm and I could work free of worry. I became head of the Occupational Therapy department at Hartford Hospital Psychiatric Unit. . . . The tsunami receded. My confidence returned, along with a burst of creativity and I began writing poetry. The sun was peeking out and I knew I could make it. My folks were tough, hard-working New England farmers who rose to meet, without complaint, whatever challenge presented itself. They’d helped me for nearly a year when I needed it, now it was time to get on with my life.
This decade which had begun with feeling as if my life had ended was actually its beginning. I’d lost myself. The writer ‘me’ that I’d recognized at age 10 got swallowed up in the Good-Catholic-Wife-role I felt obliged to uphold. When my husband objected to my wasting time on ‘all that unpaid writing and pointless study of useless things’ I’d moved it from the foreground to secret stolen hours to avoid his disdain. It took some time to recognize that removing that vital part of me had led to the demise of the rest of me. Yet to say something positive, I never doubted that to have these kids had been worth it.
The children and I returned to Georgia and while working as a waitress I fortuitously found work as director of the OT department at Georgia Mental Health Institute; in a couple of years I enrolled in the West Georgia College Psychology Masters program and following graduation became a Psychologist for the state of Georgia in a variety of positions over the next five years. My writing during that time was composing psychological evaluations and case studies . . . and privately, journaling and poetry.
After my oldest child, Lisa graduated for high school, a new decade for us began; I landed the job I’d been wanting and seeking since receiving my MA—a teaching job at Palm Beach Junior College (re-name Community College during my tenure). A perk with the job was free tuition for my children; Lisa chose to attend there. My background included degrees in Occupational Therapy, Psychology and Child Development (my first degree). The school had an Occupational Therapy Assistant program and I taught courses in all 3 areas. After having taught Intro to OT for several semesters I felt a good text book was needed for beginners in the field, I submitted a proposal to Mosby Publishers. It was accepted and Introduction to Occupational Therapy is now in its 4th edition. (other co-authors were brought in as I am no longer an active OT) At last, the sun was fully out! My ten years of teaching at PBJC as my children grew to adulthood were the happiest and most rewarding of my life.
(to be continued)