By Holly H.
In 1952 I was born into a family that valued upward mobility, church going, and keeping up appearances. I was dressed up and put through my paces, told that my destiny in life was to be a young lady, and to smile…smile…smile.
Serving in the invasion of Normandy at age 17 probably contributed to my father’s alcoholism as did his type-A career in sales and real estate.
My mother had been raised with the proverbial “silver spoon” but it did not prevent life-long scars. She retreated into self-absorption, fashion, the Junior League and a variety of church committees.
Overwhelmed by caring for one child and a home, she quickly adopted the 50s pacifier of coffee, cigarettes and tranquilizers. She wanted to be the child, not care for one.
My father raged and my mother sobbed as they sought ways to reshape their hyperactive tomboy into a pleasing young lady. Alcohol fueled physical violence on a daily basis. The family could not eat dinner together because of my father’s violent rages. When he finished with me, he sometimes started in on my mother or the cat. Still, at church or on holidays they presented the perfectly groomed family.
I hated the emphasis on how I should look, and my hyperactivity and learning disabilities made school a nightmare. I was happiest grubbing around the backyard building something in dirty jeans, reading, playing piano or spending time with my cats. I loved Girl Scouts and camp with other girls who weren’t afraid to be strong or outspoken, and I especially loved some of my camp counselors! While friends sighed over boys, I carried on long correspondences with several counselors to whom I was deeply devoted. Home was a battlefield where I disappeared into my projects and school was challenging as my girlfriends shifted focus to their crushes on boys and the Beatles.
A freshman high school crush on my fundamentalist teacher led me into “Miss Steele’s Bible Study Class” where I connected with a group of girls who led me into Young Life, Youth for Christ, Intervarsity and Campus Crusade. I left Girl Scout camp for the fundamentalist Happy-T Ranch in New Hampshire where I had counselors from all the Christian colleges and Bible schools. I was accepted into Wheaton in 1969.
I expected Wheaton to be like a 24-hour Bible camp. was so wrong. My fellow Wheaton students were boy-crazy. In Fischer Hall, I was surrounded by hormones and hyper-hetero longings. A few of my floor-mates did laundry and ironed shirts for boys while others cried and sighed over pictures, dates, and too-silent phones. I struggled along during Fall quarter, alienated and unhappy.
Apparently our goal was to get on with dating and mating. My first candle passing filled me with disgust! I wasn’t like the others. . .the girls were crazy about boys and I was crazy about….girls? I felt invisible and alone and began questioning the faith. I missed the Christian intellectuals who had inspired me back east. My depression and anxiety affected my musicianship, and I was shunned in the Conservatory. I would stand at the end of the Fischer corridor, facing away from campus with my face pressed against the window, trying to feel both something and nothing, begging God for help, full of self-hatred and knowing that if anyone knew the real me, I would be shunned and hated.
I wish someone had told me “The only way out is through,””You are not alone,” “It will get better” and “Listen to your inner voice.”
I was able to move in with relatives in Wheaton soon after. I was way too close to wanting to end my life to stay in the toxic campus environment. My faith was gone and God had abandoned me at my lowest point.
I took slight detour before healing began. I married at 19 and split with my husband at 22. 1974 was a magical year for me. Lesbians were emerging in feminist communities and I was in one of the meccas in Northampton, Massachusetts! Therapy and a women’s community were the openings I needed to come to terms with my past and begin to define my future. There were plenty of painful learning-experience relationships along the way, but I was on the right track.
Connecting with WCGALA and now OneWheaton, I have come full circle to complete an unresolved chapter in my life. My life is enriched by our group and together we can tell students:
THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
IT WILL GET BETTER
LISTEN TO YOUR INNER VOICE