Serendipity

Recently I pulled out an essay I had written many years before I knew of my same-sex sexuality. The title of my essay was Why I Write.  In it I had mentioned visiting my aunt. She introduced me to her neighbor, a very old and fragile woman. The woman looked up at me and asked  “what do you  want to do with your life?” At that time I had a secret dream of being a writer. “I want to write short stories,” I said. She reached for my hand and took it with a surprisingly strong  grip. She continued to  hold it and stare into my eyes. After what seemed like a long time she said, “No. You are meant to be writing about women’s issues.” I laughed to myself. I had no idea what women’s issues were. My sister used to call me “Pollyanna.” I lived in a secure world protected by an invisible white picket fence. Mine was the “perfect” family. My husband and I were married after we had dated for three years. I was 19 and he was 21. Our babies came as we had planned. Two and a half years after our wedding, our son arrived, and then two years after him, our daughter.

I was so preoccupied with my husband and children and their needs that I was oblivious to my own, or to what was happening in the larger world. After living in the Buffalo area for some time, my husband’s job led us back to Brooklyn, my place of birth. The move was difficult as, by that time, I’d become a part of the writers community. But getting our new house in order for our kids’ return from college kept me busy. In preparation for painting, I spread some newspapers on the table. The words “Writer’s Group” leapt out at me.  A group was meeting that very afternoon, and not far from our new house. “I hate to leave you with all of this,”  I said to my husband, surprising both of us, “but I have to go to this writer’s group.”  How serendipitous I thought as I hurried to the meeting. What I didn’t know was that this was only the beginning. 

That afternoon would change my life. I connected with Toby, another writer. We became good friends and spent hours in each other’s company. Until I was 43, I would have said with absolute certainty, “I am not, nor could I ever become, a lesbian” —and then I fell in love with Toby. We were sitting across the table from each other listening to music and enjoying our cups of coffee and I looked at her and thought, “Oh my God, I’m in love with this woman.” Our friendship was based on openness and honesty and within a week of my discovery I told her how I felt. My feelings were not reciprocated.  I couldn’t understand. If I loved her as much as I did, how could she not be in love with me too?  But she wasn’t. I’m generally a strong woman but this discovery about myself was one of the most difficult truths I’d ever had to face. I experienced more passion, pain, isolation, and turmoil than I had ever thought possible. What was happening to me? I went on a quest to find out if I was just in love with Toby or if I was a lesbian. Needing to make sense of what I was going through, I sought information but this was in the late 1980s and I could find no books or reading materials on the library shelves. Although I felt totally alone at the time, I learned that I was not the only woman who has stumbled onto the path of sexual discovery and growth. I discovered that my experience was not uncommon  when I began to talk to other women. For some, it was a compilation of occurrences and a slow realization and awakening. For others like myself, it was a sudden discovery. 

This new awareness changed my entire life. Through it all, my world was to become clearer and brighter . . . and I was to grow wiser from my experience. I began to write, and what began as a catharsis for myself, became a catalyst for a great many other women. The reason for the change in my world was to make itself known to me through my writing. It started with an article for Ms. magazine about married women who love women. But how could I explain to my family why I was interested in writing about this topic and still keep my own frightening secret? Then I thought of my friend Jeanne who had recently died. I could truthfully say I was writing this piece as a tribute to her as she had been a married woman who loved women. The editor who had approved the article left the magazine. The new editor wasn’t interested and I filed the unpublished article away. 

At a writers conference two years later I mentioned the piece. There was a tremendous amount of interest in the topic and questions began to fly. It was at that moment that I realized this topic was too big for an article. It would have to be a book. I pulled out the piece and reread it. I had written it in the third person but I realized that if I wanted my book to be taken seriously, it had to be written seriously. That meant I had to use my real name, which meant I had to come out to my family. The idea of being ‘out’ was terrifying. I confided in a friend, and she, playing Devil’s Advocate, asked me what was more important, my family or my book. As I considered her question, I heard the voice of my aunt’s old neighbor, from years before, saying once again, “You are meant to be writing about women’s issues.” And then I knew. It was not an either or. I loved my family—and I was supposed to write this book. Still, coming out to my husband was extremely difficult. Only through continued dialog, and afterward, much open communication with our children, have we all stretched our awareness and come to a greater appreciation of each other. And, ultimately, their support and unconditional love enabled me to write Married Women Who Love Women with total honesty. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until I’d been published, and while I was doing an early reading, that the reason for my writing this book became clear. Initially what had begun as a catharsis for myself, ultimately became a life support for a great many women. One woman, clutching my book to her came up to me and hugged me. In between sobs and profound thank yous, she told me that she’d been so distraught thinking that she was the only married woman ever to have fallen in love with another woman that she decided that the best thing she could do for her husband and children was kill herself. She had planned her suicide for a night when her family was going to be home late. On that night, walking home from work for what she thought would be the last time, she passed a bookstore. They were just putting my book in the window. Seeing the title, she knew she was not alone. And she chose to live. As I think about Toby now, I wonder if she, and everything leading up to my meeting her and discovering who I was, was part of a greater plan. Had Toby reciprocated my feelings of love, I never would have gone on my quest. And Married Women Who Love Women might never have been written. And this once ground-breaking book, now in its third edition more than twenty years later, would not be continuing to help more generations of women who are discovering their own sexual realities.

Please feel free to look at my website www.carrenstrock.com if you’d like to learn more about me and the other books I’ve written, or look for me on my facebook author page.

Carren Strock

Carren Strock
Author of:

  • Married Women Who Love Women 
  • A Writer’s Journey: What to Know Before, During, and After Writing a Book 
  • In the Shadow of the Wonder Wheel
  • Tangled Ribbons 
  • Grandpa and Me and the Park in the City
  • Potatoes With Appeal: 105 Mouth-Watering Recipes 
  • Secret Survivors 

www.carrenstrock.com

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