Spiritual Autobiography – A Small Voice

If you really knew me, you would know that as a child I had no voice … you would know that at 40 years old when I first attempted to speak my truth, things turned out so badly that I went back to stuffing my feelings inside. And if you really knew me, you would know that God gave me a voice for Him first, before He ever gave me my own voice out in the world and in my relationships. Music has always moved me like nothing else. It often gives voice to the emotions that well up in me … so I am choosing to use music to tell my story, to share pieces of my spiritual journey with you.

I was raised in the Midwest with lots of rules, a strong work ethic, a sense of responsibility, and high expectations for achievement and behavior. My dad was very strict and he wasn’t at all affectionate. I don’t remember him ever expressing pride or love – it was all about meeting his standards or expectations. Mama was the exact opposite – she was all mush and hugs and kisses, who offered her lap freely to cuddle up, and she was the one who told us not to worry when we were afraid of not measuring up in dad’s eyes.

I was the middle of five kids, and grew up in a churched home – we went to Mass weekly, said prayers before meals, I attended Catholic grade school – all the rituals of religion, but there was never any conversation about how faith informed our lives. I don’t ever remember a suggestion to pray through a difficult time or call on God – we fixed things ourselves. The focus was on self-reliance, and as a 10 year old when my mom died, I learned from my dad that life isn’t fair, but you just buck up and handle it. I never experienced the emotions or loss of mama as a child … I just did what needed to be done at each turn in life. I felt unseen, overlooked, insignificant, like I didn’t matter or wasn’t good enough to be noticed. My dad remarried two years later and we all quickly learned that my stepmom was essentially my dad’s double, and the rigidity they governed with, drew us together into a united front and formed unshakably close sibling bonds.

I got a full-time job after high school, moved into my own apartment, and started looking for love in all the wrong places. I went through a period of sexual promiscuity, mistaking sex for the love and worthiness I longed for but just couldn’t seem to find.  I met the man who was to become my second husband on a business trip, and 4 months later I left Milwaukee to move in with him in New Jersey. He talked about buying me a big rock, getting married and going to the islands for our honeymoon. I still remember the sick feeling I had when I got out there and for months he didn’t want to set a wedding date. I had left everything – my job, my family, my friends to be with him. We did marry 8 months later, but there was no engagement ring except for the diamond ring from my first husband that I took to the jeweler myself to reset in a new band, and our honeymoon was on Martha’s Vineyard, not the islands he promised. My husband always laughed about that, but he had no idea how important those things were to my sense of feeling loved and valued and worth it.

We both worked for AT&T and when Ma Bell divested in 1982 we opted to go back to his home company New England Telephone in Boston.  He was from Boston so he returned to a city, friends, and co-workers all familiar to him and I felt jealous, abandoned, alone, pushed aside when he wanted to commute separately or spend time with his friends or co-workers. Our three children were born in Concord where we lived and I received my Bachelor’s Degree from Northeastern after 9 years of going to school at night … those are among just a handful of happy times I count from our 6 years in Boston before we moved back to New Jersey.

Our life in NJ as a family felt perfect. I loved those 7 years in Ramsey and I was happy with our family and home and social life. When my husband’s position was being cut in a corporate downsizing, he wanted to return to his old job in Boston to provide for the family and ensure that the kids could go to good colleges, but I objected vehemently – I did not want to return to Boston. When I overheard him on the phone tell a friend he was returning to New England Telephone, I was livid that he made a decision on his own against my wishes, and so hurt that my opinion didn’t matter, that I didn’t matter. I told him I wanted to see someone to process my feelings before I decided if I would follow him to Boston with the kids in June. That was the first time I remember having a voice, really believing that he wouldn’t go to Boston, that my happiness would be enough for him to apologize and for him to prove my worth by not taking the job.