Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Learning to Dance In The Rain

If you can learn to dance in the can do anything!

A good friend of mine wrote something the other day that touched me. To someone who was running their mouth about life wasn't fair, he said, 
"Yes it is fair, because it's unfair to everyone!"

That struck me as being profoundly true; there are none of us who don't have our cares and problems whether they're related to love, money, health or any other human condition, each of us has a fair chance of something we struggle with daily. I struggle with being able to breathe each day, from a condition for which I take sole responsibility. I chose to smoke cigarettes for 44 years. But in coming to terms with the things I'm now unable to do,  I learned something; I learned to dance in the rain!

Learning to Dance in the Rain.........
One of my all-time favorite quotes is "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain," by Vivian Green. I think that means to take the good with the bad and do the best you can with them. As for dancing, I always loved to dance, it was my joy and passion to be on a dance floor moving to the music. But when I was 19 years old, married, and mother to a beautiful baby girl, my dancing days had to take a backseat to responsibilities. I did everything I could to please the man I married. I planned on being married to my husband forever, and by the time I was 23, I had three small daughters. I also had a marriage that was falling apart, an abusive, unfaithful husband, and I couldn't do anything right. My confidence and self-esteem slowly became nonexistent. What was it about ME that caused the problem? Women are always supposed to be able to "fix" things, aren't they? Well, I couldn't fix this and in 1968, we divorced. I was still in love with the man I had married, but he no longer existed and I felt lost for a time. Meanwhile, he had moved on to life with another woman. When he came to get the children for his visits, she was always with him and it hurt to see them. I refused to allow my feelings to show. Yes, I was beaten, defeated and depressed beneath the mask of pride I wore. But life went on and I began to learn to dance in the rain.

Dancing with tears in my eyes....

Eventually I found someone I cared for very deeply, who was kind to my girls and I began to make a new life. One evening I was busy with the kids and I decided not to go along when he went out with "friends." I never saw him alive again, he was murdered that night. I thought my life was over as well. I felt he would still have been alive if I'd been with him that night. I felt responsible for his death and began to drink to ease the pain and guilt. My family tried talking to me but I thought they had no idea how I felt. I even went to a psychiatrist to try to get my head on straight. The psychiatrist said to me, "If you were with him that night, you might both be dead, it was his time to go." But I couldn't accept that and continued to beat myself up. The only time I danced then was after a few drinks stopped the pain and then I was dancing with tears in my eyes. I knew in my heart this could not go on.


Photo of me and two of my daughters,
Courtesy of Allen Studios, 1961

"I could have missed the pain.......................but I'd have had to miss the dance."

This song by Garth brooks says so much how I feel about my life.

A whole new form of dance...rain or shine!

I have no idea how it happened, but suddenly I woke up to reality. I realized I was trying to share a grave with a man who had died, but I had three little girls who needed me to make a life for them. I began to try to build a better life, so I started bookkeeping school with a government grant. It was something I really struggled with, because anybody who knows me can tell you math is not my strong suit. So I concentrated fiercely with all my energy, hating it all the time. One morning as I was halfheartedly preparing to leave for class, a commercial came on the radio specifically addressed to women about joining the United States Women's Army Corps. I listened intently, copied down the address, and took the day off from school. After talking with the WAC Counselor at the Army Recruiting office, I found that I could enlist if my test scores were good enough, and if my children were put into another person's custody, which to me, meant my mother. I was 28 years old at this time, and felt I had no hope for any kind of professional career, since I had no experience. I went home and talked to Mom and she said there was nothing in our town that would help me to make a better life for my kids. She agreed to take temporary custody of my girls. That was in the month of February and by March 8, 1968, I was sworn into the WAC, where I learned a new form of dancing....marching!

And life again marched on; dancing the Army way.

It turns out that I was very good at being a soldier and this was where I healed and regained my self-esteem. I was proficient enough that I was given an advance promotion to Private E-2 out of basic training. When 8 weeks of basic was over many of us moved up the hill to CTC (Clerical Training Center.)

As we took classes in military justice, courtesy and customs, clerical training, military correspondence and various other classes, I found myself understanding the material and doing very well. Sometimes I was able to help the others and my self-confidence grew. I began to realize I was not "dumb" "stupid" and "ugly," as I had been called repeatedly during my marriage.

The Platoon Sergeant made me the Class Leader, responsible each day for seeing that the entire platoon of girls did the details (chores) they were supposed to do, and kept their individual areas clean.  I also had to march them back and forth to class. Now, you might think marching a group of women is an easy task, but let me tell you, if you don't give the commands at the exact time they should be given, you can get run over by your own platoon. Don't even ask me how I know this! But finally I learned to put the new "dance" steps and commands together properly, and my platoon received awards for their marching. WE WERE GOOD and we were proud! One of our platoon even wrote words to an old song especially for us to march to and from class with, set to the tune of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home."

Courtesy of the United States Women's Army Corps, 1968

  That's me on the right front, wearing an armband.

Got Training, Got Job

Out of Military Correspondence and Clerical Training (known as AIT,) I was Honor Graduate and given an advance promotion to SP4, skipping the pay grade of PFC-E3. After 3 years working in offices at at Fort McClellan, AL and Fort Knox, KY, I moved to an off-post job as a Women's Army Corps recruiter in my hometown, Evansville, Indiana, where I could have my children with me. And life again rolled on...from marching to dancing the Army way and then....

Learning the "Corporate Dance" And Other Things

When I came out of the WAC after four years, looking for a job was my main focus. This "dance" was a whole new way of life, and I had to learn how to do it successfully for the sake of my kids. I worked at numerous clerical jobs, some of which were not satisfying, all of which paid little. We scraped by and managed to get through each day. My oldest daughter enlisted in the Army in 1976. After she left, I met someone, had a fling, and to my utter surprise, found I was expecting a child at the age of 38. The man wanted nothing to do with the child, so it was up to me to take care of the two girls I still had at home, and make a home for the new baby. I did this to the best of my ability, with the help of six months of welfare payments. When my son was six months old, I relocated my family to Las Vegas, where I still live today. 

Still Dancing, But Not Like You'd Think

No, there were no "dancing" jobs, that wasn't my scene, but I worked for a couple of local newspapers where I finally found my niche. I have always loved the written word, so I settled in at the first paper, worked in advertising, moved to entertainment advertising, then the newsroom, where they finally gave me a chance to write. Unfortunately the writing gig didn't last long...the newspaper was in financial trouble since the death of its founder. Eventually I had to make the move to the other, bigger newspaper. But without a degree in journalism, I was relegated to clerical duties. I yearned to write, but had to settle for just getting a paycheck. I learned the corporate dance pretty well, progressing until I was a department secretary with a little clout in the company. I became what is known as a "Class A" personality, on the go continually, never stopping for anything, and insisting that every little detail be just right. Stress was my life. Little did I know what was going to hit the dance floor next!

 Photo courtesy Las Vegas SUN, taking a call at my work desk, 1985

Dancing to an entirely different tune....

My health began to suffer, I weighed less than 110 pounds, took no time to eat at my job, but smoked continuously. As I began to have more and more days of illness, the abuse of 44 years of smoking and neglecting my health began to take their toll. Since experiencing a collapsed lung a few years earlier, my breathing had become increasingly labored. It became harder for me to perform the tasks I was accustomed to doing. Finally, it got through to me that if I didn't stop smoking, I wasn't long for this world. Although I quit smoking in 1996 my second lung collapsed in 1997. 

Dancing Was Over For Me - I Thought

I was placed on oxygen 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the rest of my life. Since then, life has totally changed for me. No more hiking in Yellowstone or Yosemite, no more bicycling, now it's a medical mobility scooter. If I go somewhere I have to be sure to take enough oxygen to last for the time I'm gone. We usually take extra tanks to guard against any unforeseen problems in getting home. When I am home, my concentrator runs all day and night, and I am tethered to it by a 50-foot line. HA! My dog feels sorry for me because she thinks I'm on a leash, and in a way I am. But we've gone on an Alaskan cruise, drove across country to my home state and back, gone to the Grand Canyon and Death Valley, anywhere we feel like going, just as long as we prepare well in advance. Also, I have found it's difficult but not impossible to dance with an oxygen tank and a scooter, or to ride an ATV! You can do lots of things if you want to do them bad enough. So I'm still here and have lived long enough to see grandchildren and great-grandchildren, an experience I once doubted I would have. Now I'm dancing to an entirely different tune, relegated to my scooter...but it can be done! And life rolls on...and I'm still dancing.

Photo: Dancing in my scooter, with my son-in-law at my granddaughter's wedding reception, 2009 courtesy Judy Schweitzer.

What About YOU? Have you lived, loved and lost?

Have you experienced a change of direction in your life due to a catastrophic event?

  • Yes, a dramatic change in my life's direction.
  • Yes but I don't talk about the change in my life.
  • A little, not a very significant change, pretty humdrum.
  • No I've never experienced anything that changed my life's direction.