I turned out okay.
Regardless of what anyone else thinks, I have done well with my 53 years of life. I am no millionaire, but I do not measure success by money, so that's perfectly fine.
My mother used to tell me I would not amount to anything, even though I was a straight A student and I graduated fourth in my class in high school. I wanted to be a writer and she told me to take secretary classes - because all I was good for was to be some guy's little girl who would fetch his coffee.
I wanted to go to Hollins College and major in English. Instead, my parents sent me to a music school in Tennessee, where I lasted about two nights and then came home. I didn't want to major in music. While I played guitar well enough, I knew I wasn't good enough to make a career of it. I was no Sheryl Crow or Melissa Etheridge or Nancy Wilson. I was just average, and I knew that.
But I wasn't an average writer, and I knew that, too.
And I sure as hell wasn't anybody's little girl who would fetch coffee.
So I married at the age of 20 - making sure I fell in love with a nice guy who valued family and women, who wasn't a misogynistic asshole who would treat me poorly but instead would be my life partner and not my king. I wanted a husband, not a ruler. I would make us both a castle, not one just for him, with me his servant. And that is what I did.
Mom was right - I did become a secretary at a manufacturing place, but moved up to a management position pretty quickly. I lost the job when I became ill, or maybe the boss wanted me fired because I refused to pick up his laundry on my lunch hour. It was my lunch hour. He could pick up his own damn laundry. I think I told him I'd take an extra half-hour and go get it, on the time he was paying me and not my own. I remember it didn't go over well.
I drew unemployment so I wasn't in the wrong, whatever the reason I lost the job.
Then I became a legal secretary, which was still a secretary, but I also started writing and publishing. I went to the community college at night, working on my two-year degree.
When I learned that Hollins College accepted older students, I made a case for myself as an older student, even though they defined older as age 27 and I was only 22. I was married, I said. I was working. I couldn't live on campus. They let me into the program because they had this gap that apparently no one else had tried to fill - and I wanted to go to Hollins bad enough to fight for it, so I did.
They changed the rules and redesigned the program a bit, in part because of my insistence on entry. And later, while I took eight years to get my diploma because of multiple surgeries, I took on the establishment over class limits and grant funding, writing furious letters to the president of the college asking for equality for older students.
At that time, they only allowed older students to take two (or maybe it was three) classes - not enough to be a full-time student. So we couldn't qualify for things like the TAG grant, or other grants available for those who carried a full load of courses.
Lots of people don't know that, how hard I fought to get that changed. Most of the people who were at the college then aren't around now. But I did fight for it. It was a long time coming, but I laid the groundwork. I am proud of that even if I am the only person who acknowledges it or remembers it.
My husband and I built a small home, large enough and not so big that it is a pain in the behind to keep up. It's a nice little ranch, all on one level, easily accessible with a wheelchair. We both plan to die here. It's a good home.
We have had help, of course, my husband and I. We had privilege - both of us had parents who could offer us financial assistance in one way or another. He had a good job. I worked as much as my health would allow me, until I finally in 1993 could no longer handle a job.
I switched over to freelancing at just the right time - a time when one could do that and make a small but decent amount of money. At one time, I fell into the category of top 10 percent of paid freelancers. That was an easy thing to do, as freelancing paid so little, but I worked hard at it. My work was mostly locally published, and while I disappointed one of my Hollins professors, I think, by not going into poetry or novel writing, I loved news reporting.
My work was well-received and generally well-written. I didn't always score a homerun with my words, but nobody does every time, and besides, government meetings are boring and there are only so many ways to make those stories interesting.
My health has been my Achilles heel. Too many abdominal surgeries, too many allergies, too much fat on a body not made to carry such a load, and too much inflammation from eating processed food. I was raised on bologna sandwiches, just like every other kid in my generation. I hated to cook, and still don't like it. We don't starve but I do not serve gourmet meals, although I do try for healthy. Meat and a vegetable, maybe a little whole grain bread. That's dinner.
So I'm basically retired, now. I'm under doctor's orders to work on my health and not worry about anything else. I have a prescription that says that pinned to my wall.
And still, I think I did okay. I went back to school again and received my masters degree. I did not end up in jail, or create problems for other people, or destroy property or do drugs. I couldn't have children and that was a trial, but I am too old now for that to matter any more. It's long behind me and it's a regret I cannot undo. My little articles were my children. Thousands of little children, all on the pages of local newspapers, touching the lives of thousands of people. Hopefully they found some of them helpful.
One day, 100 years from now maybe, someone - maybe my niece's grandchild - will look back on copies of The Fincastle Herald, The New Castle Record, The Roanoke Times, and other local publications, and find my byline. Maybe that someone will be curious enough to try to figure out who I was, this writer with a byline that said "contributing writer" and not "staff writer." This writer who went up in a hot air balloon and an airplane, and explored caves where endangered bats lived. Who was she?
Maybe they'll look back at my body of work and say, whoever she was, she did okay.