Root Menu

Sherry Martin

A Self-Portrait

PRIORITIES

For a long time, other people were my main priority. First my father, who had a brain tumor and needed care, and then my youngest sister. I moved on to a career in which I concentrated on helping people who were in trouble and who had little or no resources. Finally, I also centred on my husband and children. I did have a place for myself in the mix, but it was often third place, or lower. It was only after a heart attack that I realized that if I wanted to do things for myself, then I had to get going.

I have had three conversations that I think of as extremely important to me. The first was with my father, when after months of discussion with him, I told him I still felt I had to move out. I was 23. The part that really struck me was that he said, “Tell me what you want, again, and this time I’ll listen.” It was really a surprise. For a long time he had been telling me that any restlessness on my part should not lead to my leaving home. We talked and talked, I thought. Then, he let me glimpse this basic indifference to what I needed. Or perhaps I was just ready to admit what was in front of me, that very little of the structure of the family was really for me or to care for me, but rather to make sure that I stayed there and was useful.

Years later, the second conversation took place in a counseling session with my husband and his therapist. We were there because I felt our marriage was over and my then husband wanted me to see his counselor with him. In the session, the counselor pressed my ex-husband to tell me something, but after a time just told me himself. My ex-husband felt he was gay and was seeing men. That was very painful because of the betrayal, but it was just as liberating as the conversation with my father. I think I had made a similar mistake, in that I was aware of serious problems, but kept trying to put a good face on it and work things through, even when I felt there was no real progress.

I went on with my work and raising the children, until the final conversation of this trio. I had a heart attack, and for three months, could get no information from my doctors about my future. This pretty much told me what I needed to know, of course, but it was deeply unsettling to suspect that things were really serious and at the same time no one would admit it. During the last of those three months, suddenly my cardiologist wanted many more tests. They became so frequent that one of the technicians reminded me that I had been in the week before for the same test. I told her that the doctor had ordered more, and she abruptly stopped talking. Her mouth just snapped shut, she did not look at me, and we went ahead with the test. When I saw my cardiologist, I was as calm as I could make myself having worked on my attitude to whatever restrictions would be necessary. Something is better than nothing, I kept thinking. The doctor told me twice before I could take it in. He finally said, “Look, you can go back to your former life as if this had never happened.” I got it then, and I thought to myself, “Not a chance, baby, this time I’m going to have fun.”

That last conversation was almost precisely five years ago. The cardiologist did say that initially he had thought I was just on the line for being a heart transplant recipient, but then my heart started to heal. I had had an escape from really serious trouble. While I was in intensive care, I had realized that I had only two real regrets, were things over then. I would not get to see my children, then 15 and 13, become adults. I had never made it to China. I decided that I had to work on that last one, if I got the chance. When I did get out of hospital, it was harder that I had thought it would be in a way, as I had to change all those priorities to put myself high enough so that I actually would go. I also felt I had to be sure my kids would come with me or be OK with me gone. And I did make it, a few months ago.

BACKGROUND

I feel I was lucky in that the time in which I grew up was filled with change and promise. The sixties have been written about by more able people than I, but I remember thinking about what I might do and where I might go, and feeling excited. The idea of the possibility of change and movement was just everywhere. When my father got so sick, I felt I should take care of him and I turned away from the idea of personal change and movement for a time. My mother had left years before, which is another area of difficulty in my life, I know, but it happened when I was only about 12 or 13, so the effects of it are very hard for me to assess in myself. It meant that when my father became so sick, I was the adult at age 19, who had to take over. My youngest sister was only 12. When I was ready to leave home, there were student assistance programs that helped, and it was OK for a woman to go to law school. I was in the right country at the right time to be able to use my talents as I wished to. As for my personal experience, I feel a lot of it was painful and hard, but I also feel I understand a good deal about life and how the world works and that I could bring about change. I wanted to do that on the level of the individual.

LONELINESS

I think everyone experiences loneliness from time to time. I feel sometimes that I am adrift, loose from the need to be in a given place or with certain people to feel comfortable. Certainly, now that I have traveled right out of my own original culture, I notice that most people seem to need a lot more direct contact with family or friends than I do. I suppose the remedy I have is that I am interested in facts, things, ideas, almost as much as in people. I am interested in people as a kind of study, as well as in making contact. This means that wherever I am, and whoever I am with, I have something to think about, to consider. I feel I can relate to people around me, even if we are not becoming friends or making much contact. I usually feel I am in a world filled with activity and that I can participate.

Also, I find a huge amount of life to be very funny. I am laughing now, as I suspect that the earlier part of this portrait did not suggest that of me. Whoever said life is a tragedy to those who feel and a comedy to those who think, really had it right. I don’t know this for a fact, but I suspect that having had a lot of emotional hard times, has left me in a position where a great deal of what I am and do is thinking. Hence the comedy. I regret that this is not a remedy for loneliness that has much to recommend it for general use, and of course, I am not. It is one of those fabled silver linings, I suppose.

LOVE

Some of my experiences of love have been harsh. Both my father and my ex-husband assured me that they loved me, even after things went quite wrong. Perhaps they did, I don’t really worry about it. I just remember it so I don’t forget how people will use words with all apparent sincerity and mean nothing at all like what you do. Some of my experiences of love have been transcendent. My grandfather loved me dearly and lived until I was 22, so I really got to know him and value what he felt for me. I have a friend now who could not be closer to me emotionally. We are in touch almost every single day. I can tell her anything, and she says the same of me. My children mean so much to me, and as they are becoming mature adults, I am profoundly impressed and touched by their growth. Just knowing they are living real lives, are developing and maturing makes me feel it was all worth it. That has to be love. I feel love, but often it is of a spiritual nature, a great expansion of the heart when I am standing in a forest of redwoods, or looking at images of the most distant stars. I feel love on the level of the personal, too, but I know that I have lost some of what seems to be felt by many people, the wish to be close and intimate with a companion. I have friends, but no lovers. I have loves, but many of them are not for people.

TASTES

Some of my tastes are just the same as when I was 15. I love to read murder mysteries and watch westerns. My taste in food has changed, though, as now I really like hot sauces and strong flavours. I cultivate my senses more now than I ever did while I was younger. I will stop wherever I am and look at flowers, even smell them if they are new to me or one of those old-fashioned kind of roses, maybe forgotten in the corner of a house lot. Those are wonderful, with terrific scent, even if the bloom is usually small. I try to take time to use lotions and perfumes. I just used to accumulate them if they were gifts, but now I use them. I get different tea, different bread, anything, to keep trying things. China is wonderful for that. So many growing things I have never seen before: flowers, vegetables, fruits. I walk around and look at things, which I always did, even back in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, not a city noted for its beauty or exoticism.

My sixth sense is finding connections. I will observe things, for example, and suddenly notice that there is sense in the layout of a walkway, where a moment before, it seemed random. I like to hear from other people about what they are doing or planning or think of things, and quite often, there are points of connection in many directions between them or others I have seen. I feel as if I have picked up a length of a very long tapestry, and if you study both the larger picture and the small things such as how the thread runs in this one part that makes up a rose, say, you begin to understand much about people and how things work and don’t work. Sometimes you step back and look at the next part. Sometimes you go for a walk and look at parts far down the tapestry, but it’s all a whole and it all repays study.

RELATIONS BETWEEN THE SEXES

Haven’t really changed my views on how things ought to be, but I have thought that things rarely turn out as one wishes. At the moment, I am side-lined and out of the game. It’s possible that someone will make me want to play again, but not likely.

MOTIVATION

I have not been motivated by money or power, although over the years I have wielded a good deal of power in my job. I have also handled a great deal of money, but for others. I was a lawyer for about 25 years, and often was in a position where my decisions and actions greatly affected the lives of the people with whom I related. I am motivated by the wish to help out. That sounds vague, but I mean to help people make a change in their lives that they want to make and to help them overcome what might stop them. My last job was working for Children’s Aid Societies, getting children out of dangerous or neglectful places and into homes where they were safe and cared for. Sometimes that meant helping the parents, sometimes only the child. It was less worrying than you might think, as most of the social workers I dealt with really tried to leave children with their families and only move them when the problem was severe and apparently unsolvable. There were two problems that I thought were the most sad, where a parent was unable to care for a child because of illness or mental limits, and where a parent was drug addicted. I became completely set against cocaine in any amount at any time, from watching what it did to people.

LEADING AND FOLLOWING

I will lead when I am needed, but I like to follow, too. I feel that learning is a form of following that is particularly rewarding. It seems to me that everyone has something to teach you, if only you take the time to listen. I like to challenge by making observations or comments, but often this leads to hearing something new. What can limit a conversation is when people become so intent on making sure you agree with them, that they lose sight of the chance to look at something a new way or to convey new information themselves.

FEAR

This is such a slippery feeling. Some things that I know are supposed to frighten you badly, have not bothered me. I am certain I could have died three times in my life: car accident, post-operative shock, heart attack. Each time I was conscious and had a pretty good idea of the risks, but I could still do what had to be done and keep myself in a form of calm. But I have also had times when I was all but frozen with anxiety. Is anxiety fear without immediate danger? If so, I have had periods of tremendous fear, but hardly ever of something physical. Not doing a good enough job, that terrorizes me.

I used to go to court in a particular building for about 12 or 13 years, and noticed that a woman had a little poem posted. It said, roughly, that you should not think that someone who seems cheery or upbeat, has less to deal with than you do, because some of the most sunny people had come to that place through great darkness. The woman was always cheerful, one of those blond, blue-eyed, healthy seeming sorts you think fortune has loved. I could never get a chance to talk with her, as she was in a position where she was constantly interrupted and had to deal with the public. I always wondered what prompted her to put that poem up, what things she came through, and I remember it.

ENEMIES

I try not to have enemies. I tried, even when I was taking someone’s children away forever, not to cause any more pain or distress than was the inevitable part of the process. I try to be fair and to be patient and to respect what I can in another person. If I make an enemy, then I try not to make that worse. If I have to, then I will take on an enemy, but only over something that has merit and in a principled way. If someone is my enemy and wants to call me names, I will not fight over that. It isn’t worth it.

Sometimes I get very angry with people, but usually over the abuse of power. I cannot abide a bully, someone who will give out pain, and when I get the chance, I like taking them on. This was usually as a lawyer, of course, but I have stepped in when I saw something on the street, and I’ll do it again. A better way was shown me though, than just being confrontational, and I try to follow it now. I saw a tiny woman step up when a man was being abusive to a woman, and say very calmly and seriously that what the man was doing was not good for the other person, and surely, the man did not mean to seem so harsh. Could she help? Did he need something? That man did not turn and beat that little woman as I feared, but instead listened to the voice of peace and began to talk. When I left, as I did not want to upset the man by seeming to be nosy or disapproving of him, the little woman had calmed the situation and seemed to be on the way, at the least, to keeping that man from continuing to be abusive that day. Did she change him? I don’t know, but it changed how I thought of such situations and I try her way now. I think it better than being simply confrontational and saying as I used to, that I had called 911, and the man better run for it. That works too, to stop the harm of the moment, but if you can reach the mind of the bully, it is better. Sometimes you can’t and you just have to get the attack stopped. I think she showed me, that if you can reach the mind and heart of an enemy and communicate, then the enemy may cease to be an enemy, and that’s the best way of dealing with them.

THINGS I RUN FROM

Oh, there are a lot of them. I have things I hate to do and make an effort to avoid, same as most people, I believe. Some things are little, like cleaning. With the little ones, you just do it. Some things are bigger, like dealing with something that you fear may end up requiring too much of you. I run from having to spend long periods with relatives I don’t like. I feel family should stick together and try to make room for all of its members, but I find it hard to tolerate a week or two of actually doing it. I tend to avoid situations where I think I will not live up to my own standards, where I will not do well enough or where I feel I have already fallen below the mark. I wish I could find a way to overcome the avoidance desire and just do the big things too, because in the long run, that’s what will happen. So my methods are not satisfactory and I wish I had the courage to face such tasks earlier and with less preliminary worrying.

DO YOU DO ENOUGH? WHAT ARE YOUR LIMITS?

This is the big question, to me. I have done a good deal in my life for others. Partly, it was just how I lived, but partly I made the decision to do so. I tried to help people who had almost nothing and who were in desperate shape. I wish I had kept records, but as best I can estimate, I have directly assisted somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 people, over a period of some 27 years working as a law student or lawyer. These people were refugees, the homeless, mentally ill, battered, neglected or just limited in some way. I found that it was very good work, that I felt I was doing something worthwhile. I also found that there were situations that appeared over and over. A mild or passive person was the victim of someone aggressive. A person with really bad priorities kept making bad decisions. A person with an illness or an addiction lost control over it again. The repetitive nature of the problems made me lose patience.

First, I limited the cases I took, to people who were ready for a change and whether or not that person was successful in making a change, at least that person tried. I found I could not represent the mentally ill anymore. After about 15 years, I just could not tolerate the sheer amount of time each of them took. As a lawyer, I felt one of the highest duties I had was not to substitute my decision for that of the client. I felt it wrong for me to make the decision when a person in bad shape would not or could not, or kept making a new decision. I tried to stick with them and get something for them that they wanted, but it was so very hard. The pressure of money was a big problem in this regard, as if you don’t work for an organization that has a budget, you have to earn enough from other cases to carry the ones for people who have no money, especially when legal aid was cut. The economics of the situation drove me to work for agencies, although I had much less discretion as to the kind of work I could do. But the work I had, I could do well. At the very end of this last period as a lawyer, as I was experienced, I was given the more difficult cases and many of them. The weight of carrying so much for so long finally made me let go.

I felt tremendous guilt for not working to help people when there are so many who need it. I also knew that I had had one heart attack and that the case load I was carrying only three years later was extreme. I tried to make adjustments and keep going, but more and more, I felt it was time for me to move on. Sometimes I still feel guilty and feel I have to tell people how much I did, so that I can prove to “them” that I did my part. One person pointed out that perhaps if I had kept on, I would have burned out. That would not have helped anyone. I don’t know why exactly, but that made me feel better.

After reflecting that I had reached a limit in how much I was willing to do and perhaps able to do, I decided I would move to China. I am teaching here, and my students tell me that I have assisted them beyond just teaching a class. Some of them have made a connection with me, and I with them. I am not “in the trenches” but I am seeing that there are other ways to help people. This way is easier on me by far, and perhaps the results are not as dramatic for the individual, but I feel I have not left the field entirely. I suppose if I may use a metaphor – and those who know me will tell you to stand back so as not to be cut by flying adjectives – I am still working in a hospital. I have left the emergency ward and I am in the well babies clinic, or something of that kind. It’s OK. Help is help.

TOLERANCE, TRAVEL AND FEELING AT HOME

I grew up in Southern Ontario, Canada. I have traveled over most of my own country, except the far north. I have visited four or five of the United States and I spent three weeks in England, before the big move. I have been in China six months, now. That’s not terribly long, but I think I am OK here. I like the people, the feel of the place, the food, the city I am near. I expected to feel more depression or home-sickness. Everyone warned me to brace myself in effect, as there would be long periods where I would feel out of place or miss home. I have felt out of place. When a cafeteria room full of 850 busy chattering students grinds to all but a full halt when you come in, well, you feel out of place. On the other hand, everybody knows you are that foreigner, and they make allowances. If you get in the wrong line up, they serve you anyhow, and explain what to do next time. Many people are interested and pleasant. I have been lucky to land in a good place and I am hugely enjoying every day.

The way it feels is that I have always been tolerant of differences, and never much worried about how I was treated. I mean in the sense of worrying over things such as, Was I being treated as someone important? That indifference has become a strength, here. Most of the time, I take what comes, and don’t worry about it much. Things are different, and it is endlessly fascinating to see in what ways and to speculate on why.

I think travel has re-assured me that I am tolerant, and what it has given me is mental models of other ways to do things. I am a bit surprised to find that I feel about as “at home” in Nanjing, China as I did in Hamilton, Ontario. I realize in some ways I could see how I might be, but to experience it is fun and heartening. Being adrift can mean willing to drift. I am delighted to find that the disconnectedness that saddened me sometimes in Canada, is also a strength here.

MONEY

I am happy enough with my habits, although lately there are those around me who would not agree. For many years, I was very thrifty and worked hard to save and be careful. Then my marriage broke up, and that caused a financial set-back for years. Next, the heart attack, which left me wiped out financially. Now, I am struggling on, but much of the burden of having things is gone. I lost everything, but I lost a lot of worry with those things too. I am fortunate in my friends.

I feel that the things money cannot buy are fairly well covered at the moment. I wish I were closer to my son, who is emotionally distant right now, but we seem to be working on it. My being here is not that much of a problem in terms of communicating with him, to my surprise. That underlined to me that he really has been at a remove from me emotionally, but it also made my contacts a bit more interesting to him, I think, and we are slowly moving along. My daughter and I made a huge step closer, and that was a result of doing the first draft of this self-portrait, which I lost. I got to this question and told her what I had written. We began to talk in a new way, and we are finally relating as adults, not only parent and child. She just came to China to see me, and for a whole month, we hung around together and I feel there is a lot of friendship in what we have as mother and daughter.

MAKING FRIENDS

I have been lucky. Quite often in my life, a casual conversation bloomed into friendship. I have two very close friends I met this way, talking and then talking about what mattered. Being honest seemed to do it. I have met good friends through work. The ones that have stayed with me, I guess, are getting something out of it, too. I find that although I can become fairly close with someone, it seems as if that person may have so much in his or her life, that there is not time for me. I regret that, but that is why I say you have to be lucky. You have to meet and connect and have time or will to keep that connection going. I would like more friends, and as the time passes here, I feel I am making more. Just chatting. Sometimes, I deliberately ask a Muse question, to see if we can relate. So far, that has been about as productive as what I think of as regular chatting, but I feel as if I have a further store of ideas to draw from that may spark interest in others. If nothing else, it is a more interesting chat.

Of real friends, I expect to hear the truth and tell it, but in as gentle a way as possible. I want to hear what they are doing and I want to tell them about what I am doing. I expect honesty and loyalty. My real friends are giving me this unstintingly.

THE FUTURE

I suppose I am superstitious to a degree. I do look for signs of impending good luck, although I don’t stop doing something if I get a bad sign or no sign. I feel it is lucky to see a hawk soaring and it cheers me. There have been hawks everywhere I have lived, ones I could see from my window, and there are several here. I see one pair quite often and watch for them particularly. On the other hand, I do plan and research, think and take advice. Over the years, I have found that the lucky signs have been right about as often as much of the research, planning and advice. I know that just means the future is really hard to predict, but it hasn’t broken me of the habit of looking for luck. On the whole, I am an optimist and I am looking forward to what comes next.

The inability to predict what will happen used to worry me more than it does now. At some point, not that long ago in fact, I was thinking about what could happen and worrying, when I suddenly thought, statistically, it is as likely that good events will happen, as bad. There is no reason to believe there is a universal bias for you or against you. I felt much better. I don’t mind being in a universe that may be essentially proceeding on strictly mechanical lines with no deity to direct things. I don’t mind a universe where things just happen. I accept that I don’t know and perhaps cannot know.

As for the long future, I feel we should do “the right thing” because it is right. Does that offend a deity, should there be a deity? I think not, because my actions so far as I can make them so, follow moral rules. Even if some religious views I have read suggest that this is not enough, I honestly have difficulty with the idea of a deity able to punish people infinitely, who will not let people know which rules are important. What good is it to have people trying as hard as they can to live morally, and to a reasonable degree succeeding, if they will be damned regardless for, say, wearing blue? I made up that rule so far as I know, to suggest that some of the rules of pretty much any formal religion appear arbitrary and not obviously grounded in moral concepts. I can understand most moral rules quite clearly, and usually feel I can apply them properly. I don’t understand how to know which of the other kind of rules are important, the ones that are dietary, about clothing, the timing of religious observance, the roles of men and women in the church, those rules. It may reflect just a limited understanding, but I don’t see why a deity would make really important rules obscure or contradictory. I know the rules do not seem obscure or contradictory in any given religion, but when you look at a few of them side by side, how do you choose? I mean with the best will in the world and a sincere desire to do right. I really don’t know and so, have not chosen.

WASTED LIFE

None of it. There are parts I could have done without and parts I could have done better, but I feel it was all worth doing. The experiences all fit in somewhere and sometimes things that seem to go wrong can turn out to set you on a new path. The idea is not new, but if you look at your life and actually see where such a change has happened to you, it makes set-backs more tolerable. I try to look at what seems to be a set-back as a change of direction. That view can let your mind start to work in a new way and to let go of the negative part of the change. It can let you see other things to do or other people to be near. “Down time”, healing time, just getting along time, it all fits somewhere and I value what I have had.

PARENTS

With my mother, the best times were at the beginning of my life and near the end of hers. She had trouble in her life, some of which was as a result of marrying my father, and some was just the way she was. When I was tiny, I remember her coming out of the kitchen to me and my sister in the sand box. I had to be about 2. She would make little sand steps for our sand houses. I loved this because the steps she made were perfect, so tiny and in proportion to the house. They were more real, in my mind, better. We would make our fingers walk up and down the steps, which would crumble. I remember Mom saying not to ruin these steps because she didn’t have time to make more, and thinking, but she said that last time. She’ll come again if I don’t waste the steps. It made me feel happy. We had our ups and downs, and of course, her leaving the family was very hard. My father did not want us to see her, and even asked the question you are not supposed to ask: Who do you like better? We all knew the answer, my two sisters and I. He agreed to have Mom visit us one Christmas Day, and suddenly I thought, she came into this house to see us. I think she wants to see us. Dad never spoke of it. I had to ask an aunt where Mom lived, so I could find her and visit. We all went after that.

At the very end of her life, when she was sick for some years with heart problems, we spoke a very little about that time. She said she had not really left us. She kept an eye on us and had told Dad that if he ever mistreated us she would come after him with a knife. This conversation is both the best and the worst, because she did say she had this wish for our safety and that she was interested in us, but at the same time, she never said Dad denied her visitation rights. There was a connection there, but it was strange and difficult. As a parent now, I don’t understand it. As an adult, I suppose she must have been in great pain and confusion and just did what she had to. She died six years ago.

With my father, I find it hard to admit that we had good times. We are trained by literature and movies and so much more of culture to think of people as being good or bad. After the conversation I described earlier, I felt so angry with my father for so long that it colours my memories. That’s unbalanced, I know. He actually did make times with the four of us, my sisters and him, really fun. I can remember laughing so hard my jaws ached. We would play cards and tell stories. Friends came over and we watched television together and talked and ate popcorn. When Dad was in a good mood, everyone had fun. A fair amount of the time, he was in a good mood.

And again, this was also the worst part of times with him. He never hit us, or did obvious things to cause us any distress. It was just that every single thing was about him. The easiest example to show what I mean is lunches. One of my chores was to make lunches and every single time, we ate what he wanted. To this day, I cannot eat the packaged, sliced lunchmeats he liked, because I had them so often when I didn’t want them. I would have eaten plain bread, but my father said I could not. I’m not sure why, but he would have given me a reason at the time. I only remember the request being turned down. I was the kind of conscientious kid who then ate the lunchmeat, never throwing it away, because I couldn’t lie about it. I didn’t want to lie, but also, I probably could not have tricked him anyhow because I would have felt so guilty. When you agreed with him, or liked what he liked, or felt like doing what he wanted, it was great fun.

BEING A PARENT

The best part about being a parent is getting to watch your children grow up. You see how they begin and develop and are so themselves from the very first. Even in the womb. They become adults and become individuals who can take care of themselves, do jobs, be creative, have families of their own. It is amazing. I have felt such a strong sense that they come first that I didn’t even know I was feeling it until they moved out. They are each in their schools and live away from me.

Now, I notice I am being very careful to word this so that what I feel does not come out. I feel that I lost them. I feel that they had to move so the house we lived in could be prepared for sale, and that was a failing of mine. Objectively, I know that I did what I could. Still, it was not enough.

I have to tell you why. After the heart attack, and for some three months more, I was waiting to hear if I had a good heart or if it was so damaged that I was never going to be able to rely on it again. My mother died of heart failure, brought on by smoking two packs a day for about 43 years and having no treatment until she was found unconscious one morning with kidney failure. Still, her condition was too close to mine for comfort. When I found I was going to be OK, it was such a relief that for a time I was giddy with it. I think everyone, and to a degree me too, thought the whole thing was over. I still had a chronic illness, and much to do to overcome the remaining effects of the heart attack and its treatment. I had been told to avoid stairs and hot baths and all kinds of things for three months. It took its own toll. I know now I was a mess physically. And emotionally, not so good. Then I was wiped out financially. I found myself working harder and harder to earn enough money to stave off the financial collapse, and being scared that this would kill me of itself. You gotta love doctors, because after telling me to go back to my normal life and all, I was also told to be careful. So which is it? Am I in danger or not? What it boils down to is that they didn’t know. OK. The future is like that. See above. The upshot was that I had quite a long period of pretty severe depression. Even when I took treatment for it (there I said it), it did not entirely lift. Post-traumatic stress disorder. OK, no shame there. Perfectly good soldiers with guns and combat training and all go down with that. And they don’t admit it either.

I have thought about it a good deal. The way I handled it was the best I could do, trying with all my might and intelligence. It was still not enough. I have no idea how I could have done it better, but I really hope there is some way. I wish I had found it. My kids and I paid a price because I did not. There is still a breach with my son, although with my daughter, I feel we are probably OK again.

DIRECTIONS IN LIFE, CAN YOU MAKE ANOTHER CHOICE?

I suppose I did. I had been considering the move to China for a long time, about three years, and to a degree moving towards it. When I sold the house, I got rid of a lot so that I could move again more easily. I also began to look at how I lived and decide what I could do without and what I wanted. I saw the move a year and a bit ago as a “shakedown cruise” in which I would see if I could stand pulling up roots and if my kids were really OK on their own. They have their father, but I wanted to be there, too. I always had been.

It became clear to me that I could travel and that it was probably a good idea. My work was once again becoming more intense, but this time because the place I worked was not handling the staffing well. It was not because I was over-doing it. I decided I should see if I could get a job in China. I started to talk to my kids and friends about it. My friends were very supportive in helping me make a decision for myself. My best friend was so balanced about it that I felt calm. If she was considering it as possible, then it was. I finished my portrait and talked to my daughter about it, and she and I began to reconcile. I think she could see that I did acknowledge my short-comings and I think she accepted that adults do make mistakes, even her mom. She was always willing to point them out, but I think she felt that somehow I could have avoided those mistakes if I just paid more attention. She told me she forgave me. I took it to mean that we could move on and try to develop an adult relationship, still mother and daughter, but adult mother and adult daughter. I think the month in China proved that we have made it.

I think that I made the choice for change over a long time, and almost entirely internally, until the very end. I told people who were not friends about the change only when I was well committed to it. From the outside, I know some business acquaintances thought I decided to drop my job and go to China in a three-week period. Not at all, but if you don’t talk about these deep changes, then that is the way it looks from the outside.

Do I want more for life to feel complete? Beyond being able to feel closer to my son again, I would have said no, yesterday, but last night I had a dream. I was moving from job to job in this dream, where it made sense at the time. Someone asked me where I had traveled and I told them about several places I have not really been. In my dream I thought, boy, I wish I had traveled more. I hardly saw the world at all. Perhaps that is the beginning of another decision. We’ll see.


April 2005