Good Choices and The Good Effects of Bad Ones by Susan G Holland (aka Fellow Traveler)

  • THIS WAS WRITTEN AS “A CURRENT LETTER TO YOUR TEEN-AGED SELF” originally published at Cowbird.com in 2014

Dear Susan, They call you Susie at home and at school you are Sue. It will be about thirty years before you willingly embrace the name Susan! The Dean of Admissions asked you last year, when you were seventeen, “What are your goals for your future career?” You answered, “Oh, I want most of all to be a mother…(oh and of course be married..to be a housewife!” ) Kind of an addendum, there!

This interview will come back and bop you on the head. Eventually it will sink in that you were telling a greater truth than you realized! Would you get entry into this prep school as a Senior? (you were making up a year lost in public school because of your difficult surgery.) Well, you got in, didn’t you, and you just about wore yourself to 99 pounds by graduation, with whiz-bang grades in all five majors, and a four-year scholarship to one of the top art schools in the country. Yup, you turned down Skidmore, and went to Tyler.

You will excel at Tyler as well, but you will also be derailed before you finished. Why? Because you will decide you must start your housewife career right at the cusp of your final year there. You will think you must now get married and take a job to support your fiance while he went to Medical School! You will have been engaged for three years and it will seem time to tie the knot!

What a costly miscalculation! BUT will teach you something about emotional decisions and about your own priorities. When he shows you how you can kneel down and wash the dishes in the bathtub in the tiny gabled attic room offered at the college campus, you will realize that you don’t love him enough for that, and he must not love you enough to refuse to let you do that.

You headlong, headstrong person! Of course you will slide backward! You will feel terrible you broke a promise, and you will punish yourself by living dangerously. You will find a good job managing an advertising department for a branch of JC Penney…nice start! But you will make rebellious choices about your life for about a year…you will try to live a free adult life that will seriously hobble your outlook. To be smart and pretty and talented and ambitious! What big bites you will take out of so much of you do! And how big will be the rewards! But how dramatic the failures! And how easily broken your heart!

And how furious you will be…furious enough to marry someone you have known only 30 days, he being on board a ship most of those days. You will fall in love with some letters! You decide to marry a Coastguardsman who is a buddy of your friend’s husband. You will go to Hawaii, have a beautiful child, but a weak marriage marred by his abuse of alcohol and post service constant unemployment.

Desperate and ready to run away from him, you’ll find a last ditch possibility. It’s the Gospel. A friend will go to all lengths to evangelize you into a Bible Church. You will finally, just weary of the awfulness, decide that even becoming what your father disparagingly used to call a “Christer” would be better than jumping off a bridge. You will wait, and you will slowly become amazed at the change in yourself. You AND your husband are mended by virtue of this focus on a personal Savior.

But you will have a long road ahead that will not be peachy keen. Life will wear out years of patience, and the church people’s prayers will not change the inner habits and world-views enough to stabilize the marriage Alcohol will rear its ugly head once more. After 13 years of marriage, your husband will decide that a geographical cure will be the answer.

After moving obediently, but uncheerfully to the West Coast and after 7 more years of marriage, you will have suddenly become a displaced homemaker, and you will have to support three teen-aged children by yourself. Your terror alone will make it hard to concentrate on any job. You will actually be fired from one because you could not add! Being fired is something you have no idea now that could happen to someone like you. You HAVE to earn some money. You do automated calling for an insurance agent. You become a telephone receptionist for an apartment manager. You will spend a couple of weeks working for Service Master cleaning up homes damaged by fire! You will try accounting, and it will drive you nuts. You will be an office manager for a thriving business that will burn down while you are having surgery!

You will struggle often in your life, but as you heard Dad often say: “Susie, you’ll always land on your feet. You’re just that kind of person.” You will realize that computers are the industry of the future, and you will get a degree in computer programming! You will have to take two of the classes over because of a hysterectomy interruption.

Then you will remarry a divorced old friend from Tyler School of Fine Arts. Your kids will hate him. You will divorce after about seven years, but amicably.

You will keep occasionally making and teaching art all along. You will win prizes and be accepted into wonderful competitions. People will go out of their way to buy your art! But still you will need to work to support yourself and a teenager still at home, and you will never think there is another option. Who else would? You will work nights and your teenager will get into mischief at home, making headlong, headstrong choices. You will get a parents’ view of such teen behavior,

But you will NOT go on welfare.

You will keep that house, and after finally finding a local rural postal delivery job that suited you and your schedule, seeing your kids go off on their own, you will decide to sell the house and go live in New Jersey with an old friend from high school days. This was a case of magical thinking, you will find. It will not be a good move except for the dearness of friendship and the beauty of a woods and a garden.

You will find you now have a problem with wine. You live for the garden and wine while cooking. It is not working out, this coupling. But you will then go to AA on your own behalf, and it will cut short a dead-end journey, and give you the clarity to make some good decisions: you will move back to Washington State near your children.

You will try a couple of rent shares and find a cabin in the mountains. Then you will be ill in a deep snow blizzard, with an infection, and stranded. You will be glad you raised your children with your heart and soul, lovingly. They will now rescue you!

This seems to be the story you sketched out to that Admissions Officer, doesn’t it? You have no idea what you knew in your bones when you answered him like that, Susan.

I will skip the arithmetic, my dear, and try to give you a bottom line, as of 2014. You will find yourself, today, in your eldest daughter’s basement apartment, on “family welfare” because you are old and creaky, your house was sold to go on another affair of the heart some seven years ago (yes, dear, old people do have romances) that, as I have told you,failed!

You will find yourself more clear-headed in your dotage than in earlier years. Bruised, yes. Wiser, yes! Grateful, YES! Your three children will have made remarkable successes, and had remarkable failures. You taught them well, though inexpertly, to respect their father, who died in 2012. And they honored him as they buried him. Your first grandchild will, as of now, be 35 years old. He will buy a second house this month with his creative earnings that support such things. You will have five grandchildren who love you dearly. You will go to their concerts and games and go camping with them in the summers, even when you are an old lady. You will stand on your head on your 76th birthday!

  • And you will land on your feet, because that is the kind of person you are!
  • [Note from author: It is now 2017 and I am still, at 79, headlong and headstrong, but with a sort of kindly feeling about the spirit that is me. I did what my dad suspected I would, bruises and breaks notwithstanding. And today, on my 79th birthday, I shall stand on my head and have someone take a photo, just to prove that I always land on my feet, because that is the sort of person I am.]

Originally published at cowbird.com.