Walking Toward Destinations Unknown.
When I was a young girl, I learned to dance by standing on my father’s feet.
He would hold me in his strong arms humming Unforgettable, by Nat King Cole in the background. I felt safe, loved, and protected. He would call me Princess Smooth Cheek in those days.
I always hoped that the men in my future would cherish me in a similar fashion; but those shoes proved impossible to fill.
When my father died of early onset Alzheimer’s at 53, my husband found it unnecessary to come home early from work. I realized that if I needed comforting, I was on my own. Being neither mature nor wise enough, I took the easier route of shutting down. I folded myself like an unread letter.
I left my husband soon after.
I drank heavily for two years following my father’s death, trying desperately to stuff the grief I felt down, away. I thought at the time I needed to find someone who would help me navigate this incredible loss. I adopted the idea that my station in life, and the possessions I owned would give me the security I sought.
When I married the second time, it was to a man I thought much wiser than me. Perhaps he would help me find the answers I sought. Initially, he opened a wide world of adventure and travel. Life was exciting and totally different from anything I had previously experienced. I took his advice on most matters in life.
But over time, I became seriously depressed, unmoored, and agitated. I did not want to go to work, and felt reclusive. Entering therapy with the honesty it required was painful. When my therapist asked me to describe myself, I sat mute, then said in a small voice,
“I do not know the answer to your question.”
She said something I will never forget:
“Perhaps you simply forgot.”
Step by step, I began peeling back layers of self-protection and welcomed the stranger within. I went on periodic retreats for long weekends to sit with myself, my discomfort, and my questions. I read, journaled, and took long walks in nature.
One night I had a dream of being in a dark room with a locked door. I kept screaming for someone to let me out. I was begging, pleading to be set free, when I abruptly noticed I had locked the door from the inside.
After my first year of therapy, I attended a series of Wild Woman weekend retreats facilitated by my therapist and another professional colleague. They were unconventional gatherings, attended by approximately 50 women with diverse backgrounds. The first weekend I attended, I was extremely self-conscious, nauseous, and weepy. Whenever it came time for me to participate, I was too petrified to disclose anything about myself within a group setting. I simply could not give words to what I was feeling. I almost left the in the middle of the first night.
When I attended the second weekend, I was comforted by seeing several familiar faces. I was moved by the courage and depth of sharing offered by so many of the women. I came a little more prepared, and was much less terrified. The kindness and empathy of the group was comforting.
Following our silent lunch, we went back to our circle. After reading Wild Geese by Mary Oliver, we meditated. We were then asked what we would do with our one precious life? Looking back, I honestly do not know what came over me.
When my turn came to speak, I began with the poem When At Night, by Pattianne Rogers:
“Suppose all of you came in the dark,
each one, up to my bed while I was sleeping…
And at dawn, if everything were put
in place again, closing, sealing, my legs together…”
I read it slowly, clearly, surprising myself at my boldness.
When I finished reading, I said, “I must share an important truth, I have never dared say before. I am a lesbian. I adore women. Saying this will change my life forever.”
Through tears, I watched the group move toward me like a flock of birds. While I sobbed, they touched my hair, my arms, rubbed my back, kissed my forehead and cheeks. When I opened my eyes, my therapist was standing before me.
She bowed and said,
“I am in the presence of a lioness.”
Our fears and vulnerabilities are talismans of strength. They transcendent our resistance to change. We are individuals within a collective in need of understanding and kindness. I knew it was only a matter of time before I stood without apology on my own two feet.
I now better understand my fears and vulnerabilities are the foundation on which I have built my home.
The windows are open and the veils flutter in the breeze.
I appreciate my wrinkles and laugh lines, and have developed my own kind of beauty, standing on strong legs, in comfortable shoes, walking toward destinations unknown.