This past school year, I tasked my students with writing their memoirs, their story. We read The Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell et al and were privileged to glimpse – although briefly- into the lives of the Freedom Writers.
While we read, we talked about the way that the students in Ms. Gruwell’s class told their stories and how my students could tell their own story. In essence, I was asking my kids to open up to me…and to each other…
To help break the ice, I read my kids a part of the memoir that I wrote during my last semester of undergrad. I was only able to read the first couple of pages because I actually got really choked up while reading. I stopped and the kids asked, “So, you expect us to tell you all about us but you won’t read yours?”
They made a great point. I wouldn’t (or couldn’t) read mine. But, I’m now putting it “out there” so that the next time I require my kids to do the seemingly impossible I can tell them the story about how I overcame my fear and published my memoir for the whole world to ridicule. So, here’s part one of two of my memoir. Just me.
I realize how dramatic I sound when I say that I never knew what it was like to have a family. Yes, I have a mother and father and sisters and a brother but it never really felt like a family…a place where I belonged and was free to be who I am. I often felt like an outsider and been told that I: dress “like a teacher,” talk “too proper,” and I just know that I differ from the rest of my family on many important issues.
My parents are both from Louisiana and although it has been quite some time since they’ve resided there, when they and my sisters go back, they fit right into the swing of things and there I am, the proper one who can never say the right thing, who apparently has a haughty air about her and doesn’t even try to fit in. It isn’t that I don’t try it’s that no matter how hard I try, it feels insincere, shallow and unnatural.
My parents have been married for nearly 30 years but separated-or should I say “separate” since the separation is not validated in the eyes of the law?- for about 13 of them. One day, my dad went to go visit his sister in Texas and was gone for three weeks longer than expected. He came back to Tucson packed up most of his valuables- I say most because he forgot three of the most valuable things in his life: me and my two sisters– put them in his beloved Ford Explorer and drove away. There was no real explanation except that he was “tired” of my mother and her crazy antics. And, my mom is crazy (for real) but he thought it would be better for us to stay with her instead of go with him to greener pastures. I was sixteen. And my thoughts of not being a part of a family were solidified when my father drove off without so much as a look in the rear view mirror.
For the record, I never desired to get married and I certainly didn’t have that feeling that many young girls and boys have where they’re so excited for when they grow up so that they can have a husband or wife and 2.5 kids. I was never that girl. I wanted to attend college. I longed for a career. I wanted to be self-sufficient and independent. I knew that in college and, ultimately, the professional world was where I would be able to find my own niche. After all, there comes a point in life where we choose our family. This chosen family can be the one we were born into or it could be made up of a network of friends met along the path of life… hopefully the family we choose includes the family we were born into. It doesn’t always happen that way.
I didn’t know that my chosen family would be the one that I would marry into. I met my husband in 2005 and we were married in 2006. It was kind of interesting the way that it all happened. When I tell people, I still kind of feel like I’m a crazy person trying to explain unbelievable, supernatural things to someone who has no reason to believe that I’m a credible witness to the events: Our two separate churches merged into one church in their church building but with the pastor of my church. So, one day, I was sitting in my normal seat in the center section of pews, third seat from the right. What can I say except that I’m a creature of habit? I heard the doors to the foyer open and then immediately in my head I heard, “That’s the one.” It was a voice that was both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. I turned to see who was speaking to me but there wasn’t anyone… just the swinging of the doors.
I attempted to keep paying attention to my pastor as he was talking at the front. I was not successful. I really wanted to know who it was that just walked through the doors? Who is the one? Is this really the way that You’re going to tell me to marry someone? I have plans. Those plans do not include being bogged down by marriage.
He came in through the doors after attending to whatever business had taken him out of the service and that’s when I saw him. The guy who played the keyboards at church. I knew his name and a little about his family but nothing really ground breaking. Now, all that I had to do was gather up the courage to ask him to hang out with me. I couldn’t ask him on a date because that was way too official.
I had a couple of relationships before that were neither fruitful nor beneficial for me or the other party. I remember telling God, “If I’m ever going to get married, You’re going to have to tell me flat out that this is the one that I’m supposed to marry.” God did His part, now I just needed the courage to do mine.
We come from very different backgrounds. The most obvious of the differences is our ethnicity. He was raised in a family where he knew from a very early age that it would never be okay to marry outside of his race. This concept was just understood… but it was sort of like that for me, too. When my sister married a man who was a different race than our family I remember my mom crying that, “She’s ruining our family!!!” What family? I’m pretty sure that our family was ruined before this point. But, I also agreed that it was strange that my sister was marrying outside of our race. I was never against it but I also hadn’t thought it was a possibility or something that I even needed to take a stance on.
I finally gathered up the courage to ask him out after a pep talk from my older brother telling me in his Navy sailor way that I needed to, “grow some balls.” My new friend and I started hanging out: we went out to dinner and the movies running in to people that he knew; people who for sure wouldn’t be able to keep the secret that he was going out with a black girl. I mean, we saw his grandparents! It was crazy. I guess these run ins just made the initial introduction much less awkward… they already knew I was black so it wouldn’t be like a scene from the movie “Guess Who” with Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mack where Bernie doesn’t know that his daughter’s fiancé is white. In the movie, the scenario is hilarious I’m sure it wouldn’t be very funny watching it play out in real life and, thank goodness, we didn’t have to.
My meeting his family went so smooth.
“What do you like to do?” his mom asked.
“I love to read. One day I hope to become a high school English teacher,” I replied very politely.
And on and on it went until…
“What are your favorite desserts? Probably anything with chocolate?”
Trying to find the most polite way to say that I think that chocolate is gross, “Um… I don’t really like chocolate. If I never had it again it would be too soon.”
I thought they were going to kick me out right then! But they didn’t kick me out. They just laughed.
After we were married, I found myself gravitating to my new family. My new sisters. My new grandparents. Although it sort of irked me how much family time they enjoyed spending with each other I slowly began requesting family time.
“When are we going to the parents’ house?,” I’d ask my husband.
One of the things that I like the most about my new family is that they like to play games. Phase 10, Scattergories, Pictionary, Yahtzee… you name it, they like it. The only game I ever played with my original family was Monopoly but we’d usually end up arguing and call it quits before we actually finished that game. I always felt guilty for being so involved with my husband’s family like I was cheating on my mom and sisters by actually enjoying the time that I was spending elsewhere.
…to be continued…