Growing up in the “Bible Belt”, I knew my place as wife; especially as a preacher’s wife. My duties were to keep the house clean, cook the meals, watch after the children and do everything perfectly. I was to be “seen” and not “heard”. My place was in the house; no job and no friends. Three children and 11 years of marriage later, I had my role down to a science.
And then my husband left.
Life became a struggle; financially, emotionally and physically. We were living on welfare (as I had no job skills). As mortifying as that was, the shame was compounded by my church asking me to leave the membership. The philosophy given me was that if my husband left me, there must be something wrong with me.
I was slowly selling the beautiful pieces of furniture in the nine-room house that had his name on the deed. I had no idea what my husband’s plans were. But I knew what my job was……to keep us together until he came back.
I existed through the days, making money as a babysitter, seamstress and housecleaner. And I waited.
It was a summer Saturday. Busy around the house, I had my hair in curlers. My housedress was orange and it just hung on me. My weight had dropped to 104.
The doorbell rang. I never had company. Cautiously I opened the door…..and there stood my brother, Bob. He had married and moved away when I was four years old, so our relationship was not a really close one. He lived in Colorado and I lived in Nebraska. And now he stood at my door. What could he want?
I invited him in, but he declined, saying, “Let’s just sit here on the porch in this glider”. He quieted my questions with a wave of his hand and said, “I’m here for one thing and one thing only. I want to see the whites of your eyes while I talk with you”. I felt the impact of his words in my stomach. What had I done to him?
He began to bombard me with questions. “Why are you still married? What are you going to do with your life? Why don’t you have a job?”
As I tried to answer him, I noticed I had the same three answers for everything. “The church won’t let me. Mother said I couldn’t.” Or, “What would people think?”
I had a life-long history of not being allowed to think for myself. And now Bob expected me to have some answers.
The more he questioned, the sicker I became. After about two hours, I began to cry.
“What do you want from me?” I asked him.
“When I hear the answer I’m looking for, I will leave” was his reply.
But he changed his direction with the questions.
“Do you think you’re smart?”
“I know I am. I got straight A’s in high school.”
“Do you like the way you are living now?”
No one had ever asked me that. And I certainly had never voiced any commentary on my life. The church had arranged our marriage because they felt I would be the best preacher’s wife (I was 17 at the time). Who was I to argue? But deep inside I felt life could be better.
“No, I don’t really like this” I answered. But my body began to tremble. My mother’s religion had me condemned to hell if I took the initiative and took charge of my life.
“What do you think you can do to change it?” Bob continued.
Timidly, in fear of being struck by lightening, I said, “I could get a divorce and start over somewhere else”.
Bob stood up.
“Where are you going?”
“Home” he said. “I got the answer I came for”……and he did, indeed, turn around and drive back to Colorado.
He gave me a chance at life that day…….and I took it. Scary? You bet. Hard? Yes. But I discovered I am a very strong woman and have many creative abilities.
I now know that Bob did a very hard thing. He knew how he was scaring me. But he was teaching me to think for myself. He helped me see that I had the right to make a life for the girls and me. He knew how I had been raised. It took “tough love” to break through to the real me.
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