HCE 664 Life Story Interview: The Importance of Sacred Stories
David S. Klippert
University of Southern Maine
Part One: Background
This is the life story interview of Terri Lynn Beal, who is currently 47-years old, married, and the mother of three children: a 16-year old daughter and dizogotic twins, who are 13-years old. Terri is in good health. Although having a busy life, she does mention that she is frantic and experiences stress from time-to-time, including migraine headaches.
Terri moved around the country as a child, which included stops in Florida, Seattle, Washington and Cleveland, Ohio. The majority of her adolescent years were spent in Seattle (8-years) and Cleveland (5-years). Her father was a sales engineer and her mother, a teacher, who worked part-time in order to be home for the children. Terri has a twin brother and a younger brother, who is three years younger.
In regards to her family of origin, it seems that Terri’s is a typical family of the 1960s and 1970s in that they experience some levels of interpersonal communication difficulties that result in concern for her. Terri’s college experience is very important to her as is her husband, her children, and her religious life. What’s more, some of Terri’s challenging experiences have resulted in her searching for deeper meaning from life. An example of this is the difficulties that she experienced with her husband Doug, which eventually led to a year-long separation. Both she and Doug worked through the challenging dilemma and are still married. Terri intends to dedicate time and energy into her important relationship with Doug. Terri now views her marriage and this experience as a truly meaningful and profound component of her life.
Part Two: The Life Story
What questions interested you?
Some of the questions made me want to cry because they take you to very intimate places of development that are really significant and for most of us I think we develop a self that can relate to people but there is always apart of us that is working behind that self we present to others that is sort of starving. So, what your questions did was start to resurrect those areas of ourselves that we really would like to talk about but think nobody is really interested in but it’s those circumstances that really developed us, that we put aside for the rest of our lives and never really revisit.
What is you earliest memory?
It’s funny that you ask that cause I told this to someone once—I remember bursting out in tears—but this is my earliest memory. I was in a sleeper pajama that zipped up, in a dark room, in a crib and I was wet and hot and I kept crying and crying and crying. And no one opened the door no one answered the door—and that truly is my earliest memory.
What is significant about that—how does it relate to your life today?
I think at some gut level it made me feel insignificant. And after that I was often left in my room with the door shut crying, and no one would come and answer the door. And so at some level I have stayed locked in my room—emotionally—waiting for someone to come and rescue me. So your questions, like I said, made me want to cry because I think we need to grieve incidents like that because often it’s healing—it doesn’t’ mean we are stuck there or we use it as an excuse—often times revisiting those places makes us or helps us to go there and then it’s up to me to now to open that door and pick-up that little baby in the crib and hold her and tell her how beautiful she is and that she is important and that I am capable of taking care of her.
Is there another early memory that you have?
I remember helping, taking care of my little brother, changing his diapers and watching him crawl on the floor and crawling behind him even though I was nearly four at the time but I would crawl because he was crawling and we lived in Florida so he would only have a diaper on because it was hot and I remember crawling behind him.
What significance does this have to your life?
Well, he was safe and he was safe and he was sweet and he didn’t hurt me and I felt like, I felt important because I was his older sister and I could protect him and I was, I didn’t hurt him, like I had been hurt because I was determined at a young age to not treat other people the way I had been treated.
You said hurt a couple of times and then you had been hurt—is that something that you want to talk about? Even at 4-years old that you were hurt?
Our house was, umm kind of a sterile place—it wasn’t homey. I remember we had a long hall and we had a living room you got to by going down one step. And if I fell down that one step—because I would forget that it was there I would get yelled at—I wouldn’t get comforted. Our Mom I remember—an early memory from down there is of Mom smoking and ironing—she would iron and smoke. And I remember one day I was trying to learn how to write cursive—like a big girl—because I was in Kindergarten—and I would run out and show her my writing and ask her—“Is this a word, is this a sentence” and she would say no there are some letters in there but it doesn’t mean anything and her being very unavailable and me being nothing more than an interruption in her day. Not really knowing at the time that she was not getting her needs met. So we can’t really give away what we don’t have. So I learned at a young age to learn how to behave to please her.
You said that she wasn’t getting her needs met—what does that mean to you?
My Dad’s first affair was when she was pregnant with my brother and I think that when they first got married, my Dad really only married her because it was everybody else was doing—she was attractive—they got along, he liked her. And, but his game plan was strategic in as much as she fit into his business plans it wasn’t truly—he didn’t really marry her—he always had one foot out the door and one foot in the door. So, he always gave himself permission to meet his needs outside of the marriage. Because he was convinced that they could not be meet within the marriage. So my—our family was never really being taken care of by him. Therefore, my Mom who grew up with three sisters and was whisked away to Clearwater, Florida and was isolated and very alone and very unhappy—and very young. She was about 26, 27, 28—so as a young woman—home alone no car, she did have somewhat of a community down there but her needs were not being met through my father so therefore, she didn’t have any comforting love to pass on to her babies. That just the way I see it.
How does that feel to you?
It made me feel said my whole life—cause I always felt, umm—I think that part of me died. That I didn’t have needs, I couldn’t be hungry, I couldn’t be happy, I couldn’t be sad I had to be neutral so I grew up taking care of my mother instead of growing up learning about who I was. You know, she never said like Terri—you are such a good draw-er or yer such a good little baker or yer so pretty or yer so this I wasn’t allowed to really be. I remember we had to, when my Dad came home, we had to behave perfectly because she would be punished if we didn’t behave correctly. So years later in a therapy session, she actually said to me that I sacrificed by children for my husband. And that’s exactly what she did. So, it did hurt because part of me died along time ago.
If there is a death, than there is a birth—do you agree with that?
Not at the time—it stayed dead for along time. It can but it depends on the person. Some people stay stuck and stay disassociated or split off into different personalities and stay there because they don’t have an observing ego enough to say wow something is wrong with me and I need to go get help. Some people stay there. So not only is there not a birth but like I think that my twin big brother has not been reborn and continues to kill others—with the same weapons that were used against him. I at a young age said to myself something is really wrong with this woman and unfortunate—I don’t know where that gift came from and I certainly don’t give myself credit—so on some level I knew something was wrong with her but I think with my twin brother he said—he swallowed—there is something wrong with me. So you do get a murderous spirit against yourself you just want to die because you join forces with the parent that was trying to kill you. And it wasn’t like my Mom knew that she was trying to kill us she just didn’t recognize the fact that she loved us because she herself was starving to death. When you are starving to death and you don’t have food for yourself you certainly don’t have food for anybody else so what happens with me to sometimes is I’ll join forces with her, too. And I’ll start to form those weapons against me and talk about how bad I am and how awful I am. I try to recognize when I do that.
How did you get along with family members—early on there was already a way to survive within the family in an unspoken way. Do you see that?
There was a father figure—he was our hero we couldn’t wait till Dad got home. Because when Dad got home, he was the good guy and Mom was the bad guy. Little did we know that it was really the other way a round. He was the bad guy and Mom was the good guy. Another thing you said was how did I get along with family members—like John Bradshaw says, everyone takes on a certain role—I think my twin brother took on the symptoms of the sickness of the family and he became very sick and he would hurt our younger brother and he would throw scissors at him and he would hurt me and he actually asked me on more than one occasion—I mean he actually tried to sexually molest me, come on to me on several different occasions and thank God I was strong enough—I had a much stronger personality than him so I would never do that.
How did that feel?
At the time I thought it was, umm normal. But all kids—especially in fourth grade are curious but it did feel dirty. Like a dirty secret.
How does it feel now?
Well, it still feels like a dirty secret but because it didn’t occur, I think I am ok and I think that I have come to grips with the fact that my brother umm is umm his behavior isn’t OK. So that doesn’t, that doesn’t have an impact on me so much as what I think happened is that I internalized, I must have an internalized twin on some level. That you know, when you are in the womb with someone and then, you know, you look at him face to face, is your in the early infant stages, on some level you internalize that person and on some level I am wondering if that has an impact that I am unaware of but. What I became is the little fixer, the little Suzie homemaker, the little girl who would give daddy backrubs and bake cookies, and change my little brothers diapers. So I became a little fix-it girl, where Steven took on the, manifested the illness in the family and David became the entertainer, the clown, to try to, umm, at his attempt, you know because everybody makes an attempt to try to mask the pain in every. And that’s what I became; I became this, this perfect little girl. And the earliest memory of school was in Kindergarten, in Florida unpacking my lunch and my Mom used to wrap pickles in foil. And, open, and she used to put everything in my bag, in foil and I remember opening the foil and being excited to find out what was inside whether it was a peanut butter sandwich, a cookie or what. And umm, my earliest memory of Sunday school was when I was five and my Sunday school teacher told me that Jesus was my best friend and Jesus was God and he’s everywhere all the time and that he’s next to me and he listens to me and he never goes to sleep so whenever I want to talk to him, he always awake. And I remember one day I was locked in my room for a very long time and I was sitting on my bed, crying and umm, and I remember clearly Jesus coming up to me and sitting next to me on the bed and putting his arm around me and telling me that what my Mom was doing to me wasn’t OK that even though she loves me, Mommies aren’t supposed to do that and that he would never treat me like that and he would never be mean to me or tell me that I was bad. That he would always take care of me, always be my best friend. And that’s really the truth—even in the darkest moments in my life he was always there and he was always taking care of me. So that was another early moment.
Why were you locked in your room?
No, but I remember one day I ran away from home and how many 5-year olds run away from home—yep, because we were still in Florida and we moved from Florida when I was about 5 1/2. And, ahh cause we went from Kindergarten in Florida to Kindergarten in Seattle. So, umm my window was open, and ahh the mail truck came, and I took my dolly and sat on the back of the mail truck and he drove down the street. He didn’t know I was on the back. And he drove down the street and around the corner and I got off and I went to a lady’s house with my doll and I had every intention of running away from home. Of finding a new mommy and new family. So…
What did it look like when Jesus came and sat by you?
He sat next to me and put his arm around me—oh I saw him, I saw him perfectly and that’s what saved me for the rest of my life—knowing that there is a God, there is the truth that he loves me and that he made me and umm that I can count on him and he’s pulled through. Every time that I have fallen he’s been there to pick me up.
Was that your first spiritual experience?
Yep! Yep and its one that umm, that I, umm, that’s sustained me throughout my whole life—it’s that truth. So, umm he’s more real than anybody else in my life. He came to me in a time and a place that I need him to umm reveal himself to me and he’s the one who’s been there to umm, reorient me when my own pain has gotten me off—you know when I pick the wrong boyfriends or I’ve made the wrong choices or I’ve been re-injured or triggered—he’s the one that does come and sit next to me, and umm, umm binds-up my wounds and heals my broken heart and empowers me for the next day.
What’s most important about your spiritual life?
Umm, spending time with God and his word, so that, that’s, that’s the truth. His word is alive—it never comes back void.
How do you spend time with God?
Umm, well, his bible is like a letter to us. So it’s like I read his letter to me in versus like, umm you know the world is very confusing and you get a lot of mixed messages in the world and you get a lot of. You know, everybody is seeking the truth. And, it is so awesome and comforting to know that we can go to him and be. And what that looks like is me, is me like this morning, I read a verse in Jeremiah, and it’s a beautiful verse and it says ahh that I created you and have wonderful plans for you. Plans of welfare, and of hope. Plans not of calamity or hardship. Or destruction but of welfare. And I think that’s a beautiful word because welfare means, umm, safety and protection and it doesn’t necessarily mean Disney World or that, you know, but of welfare. He says my plans are for to care for you, and to give you a plan for hope not for calamity. And umm, so when I find that I am in the midst of calamity, I will go in my room and close my door and close the door. But it’s for a different reason now. It’s me shutting out the world and going to my father’s feet and saying fill me up with your welfare because I’m feeling like I am in the midst of calamity. So I can be at peace in the midst of hardship and that’s the peace that comes from him that comes from his holy spirit. So it means spending time with him, and he does talk to me and I talk to him. And its more real than my best friend because I’ve met him and not everybody has met him. So that’s hard because then they don’t see all the time.
What do you wonder about?
Umm, right now I am wondering about Abbey—my oldest daughter, Abbey is fifteen and what the next few years hold for her. I think that sometimes what happens is that when our kids become the age we were at a certain time in our lives in might trigger us. And at fifteen, I felt like I was at a better place than Abbey not within my family, just socially. Umm, I think Abbey is struggling with who she is and maybe Abbey is different than who I was. I think I was more, bland and Abbey is more colorful. She starting to work in a music store, she sings in a band, and those are things I never did. So it’s unfamiliar to me in some ways, I can’t get around it because it is unfamiliar. So—that’s what I wonder about now. Is she going, what college is she going to and are we going to be able to pay for it. Things like that.
How long do you think you will live?
Wow, that’s a good question—we all wonder that. Umm, I think I will be 83. I don’t think I will live into my 90’s but I don’t think I die of a heart attack or anything or and accident. I think 83 is a wonderful time to go.
Would you ever consider killing yourself at 83?
Well, no because what happens, and I umm I always wanted to kill myself, like in high school. But you know what, I recently talked to a friend who’s a Christian about suicide and that kinda thing. And it was funny she said, this is what she said, she said Terri, Terri you would never kill yourself because you have the Holy Spirit in you. And it’s true, I do have the holy spirit in me and I do have God in me and I am not going to kill myself till God takes me. So I wouldn’t do that. Umm, even if someone is suffering with faith, even if I were to suffer and be old I would have faith enough that God was orchestrating a circumstance around my suffering for his purpose. So no I wouldn’t.
How would you like to die?
In my sleep. Well, I think it’s less costly on the family but more than that it’s just a peaceful way to go. I think that, ahh you go to sleep and the Lord takes you and you just don’t wake up. I saw my grandfather die on night up in Canada. And he went to sleep and whenever there’s a miracle there’s a little absurdity to it—that’s how you know its God because as people we want to explain it ourselves. But he went to bed and about midnight I woke up and the weirdest thing happened it was like—a half dream. But I woke up and looked outside and I saw a white spirit ascend to glory. And the next morning I got up and I got out of bed at 7 in the morning and I was an adolescent I usually slept in until about 10 and it was strange that I got up at 7 and went into the cottage. And my grandmother even thought it was my grandfather and I said no it’s just me. And a couple hours later after we were really worried about him, she decided to walk out to the cabin. And he was dead and that was a beautiful thing for me to see and to know that the Lord brought him home in such a peaceful way. And I would like to go the same way.
And you saw the spirit?
Yeah, it was very… Yep! And I never wake-up at midnight and that’s what’s so cool about it is I woke up and I was able to witness. And it was funny cause later when the medical examiner was asked the time of death he said 12:16am so I knew—it was just a confirmation cause my clock said about 12:15am. And I didn’t need a confirmation, but it was—it was a confirmation for other people that I told the story to that I wasn’t just seeing things. Isn’t there a first kiss question? I think the first kiss is very significant to a girl because it kinda talks about where she’s coming from. Umm it’s kinda like ahh. For me it was an indication—for example there’s a little girl who’s fifteen and goes to Milton Academy—a very prestigious prep school here in Boston. And two weeks ago her story ended up in the newspapers because she had given five-hockey players oral sex. The community was outraged. And a week after the story broke, it turns out that ahh, oh my goodness, this girl’s father had been indicted for sexually inappropriate behavior in a classroom that he had been a teacher. And not only that but her brother had also been involved in a sexual encounter with a teacher at a separate high school. So this girl’s behavior not only became merely promiscuous, but it became an indication of what was happening in her family. And I think that’s what I mean by a girl’s first kiss. I know one of my best friends in high school first major sexual encounter was with someone she loved and also loved her and this was very special—and every girl wants to have that—that sexual quality—but not every girl has it because some girls like myself were raised in a house that was sexually charged. My father had seventeen affairs and he taught me at a young age that women are to be sexual and sexually oriented and he taught me how to be sexual and how to gain a man’s attention and how important it is to gain a man’s attention through sex. So my first kiss umm was actually wonderful. It was during a youth group and some boys showed up on their bikes that I knew that went to the youth group. And the one boy’s name was Rick Enright and we kissed in the woods and my best friend timed it. I think it was 11-seconds long or something. And it was really awesome but what it was it was sexual. It wasn’t special, it wasn’t a connection. That I was taught how to be sexually aggressive. So my series of boyfriends were more about sex than they were about an intellectual connection or ahh ahh an emotional or spiritual connection. It was very physical and if a boy was very physically attractive to me, I was, the more he tried, the more likeable I was. And I think unfortunately that’s what a lot of girls do learn as they grow up.
What role does that have in your life? Is it important?
It meant that umm, that I was successful communicating with men but it was never on an authentic connection level. As soon as they started liking me, that’s when I froze. It was almost as if I had reactive attachment disorder or something. I couldn’t attachment intimately—emotionally because I didn’t know who I was. I was never let out of my room so I never let myself out of my room. So I could connect with them physically, I could flirt with them, and gain their attention, and rope them in through physical prowess, but never spiritual or an authentic, emotional connection.
Any other questions stand out for you?
The two that really stood out were your first two—my first memory and my first kiss. Umm, I just thought those were wonderful things for someone to talk about because they do and they can—for some people—they a foundation for the rest of their lives. My first memory being of course, sort of being neglected. And learning that I was unimportant. And my first kiss of course laying the ground work for umm sexually aggressive 11-year old umm, so those are, those are jammed full of hurt and important information.
What is the most important thing that your family gave you?
Ohh yeah, I saw that question too. All and all, I think the family, I think the family. Oh, sometimes you have to look at the big picture not the small focus, but the big picture and I think the big picture level my family was moral .We were moral we umm, were connected to the community. When we lived in Seattle we had a connection to the family and in that regard, that’s apart of the importance of family, umm we were clean, we were orderly, the house was always orderly, umm there was a strong sense of right and wrong—which was hypercritical because my dad was a having affairs and I wasn’t allowed to be late on a date or else I would be grounded. But I didn’t really know that at the time. I did not know that at the time—that my Dad was having affairs. Some people think that my Mother knew—but I don’t think she knew either. I think she just thought he was working late! Which shows, I wouldn’t want to be a good liar. I wouldn’t want to fool the people I love the most and he was able to fool the people he loved the most, which shows you, how disconnected he was and how unsupportive he was. But I think that our family was moral and had family ties and held us up to a high standard that I was able tam, able tah, to carry on to some degree. You wouldn’t have know our family, that our family was so sick. It had the appearance of stability and actually I fed off of some of that stability.
What was the most important historical event that you participated in? What does that mean to you?
Umm, it’s funny because there’s a couple of people that I know of that failed miserably in their life, but umm, they turned into a lifestyle. It’s kinda like you look at them and think wow they couldn’t be anything but that. One example is Chuck Coleson who is now in charge of prison ministries. Now this man was umm Richard Nixon’s hatchet man. And he went to jail because of Watergate. And now he runs a worldwide ministry—called prison ministries—in which he changing lives everyday by bringing the gospel to the prisoners. And its kinda funny cause Chuck Coleson kinda is that. And I liked to think that some of the mistakes that I’ve made or some of the circumstances surrounding the my own upbringing, that I could do the same thing. Bring it into a life that would have a universal impact that would somehow, changing the world according to God’s plan. Umm, one of um was ahh, when I found my daughter involved in sexual pressure—under sexual pressure—in 6th grade. I have actually formed a business equipping parents on how to talk to their kids about sex and giving them the whole truth. So I think in that I regard I have a universal impact on not only my own kids but other kids and generation to come.
How would you arrange your story in chapters?
Ohh, I don’t know, I don’t know—that’s too, ahh that’s like eating an elephant to me right now. Fro some people that might be easy to break it down that way, but I don’t know, that’s not… Right now, no cause I don’t know what the chapters would look like or be titled or anything else like that. Yeah, I’d have to sit down and think about it and I probably will now that you mention it… I tend to lack order so anything that tries to get me to get orderly is hard fro me, and my brain. For some people they kinda do that automatically but for me—it doesn’t come naturally—its not intuitive. I can’t break it down that way. It’s overwhelming like an overwhelming path for.
Did you grow up with any noticeable culture?
No, I didn’t and that’s a good thing because I am one of the few people who is truly not prejudiced. And I saw a show once that said children’s prejudice is formed by the time they are 5-years old and I remember being grateful that my parents never enforced any prejudice on me—and we were living in Florida awhile and Florida is a prejudicial state. That’s very palatable. And I remember in ahh a Seattle—I was grateful for the community that we lived in because about 18% of the junior high school I want to was black and two boys in particular were black and I adored them and loved them and adored them and I was grateful for that. Because it truly left umm, umm left with to know that I wasn’t different and that they weren’t different so… I think the only cultural thing was going to Presbyterian Church every Sunday. And the moms and the daughters and the dads all kinda dressing up and that kinda thing. Or not that I was white or Anglo-Saxon or upper middle class or middle class. It was when I got to Cleveland that I felt segregated into a new society because that was very upper class. And it was big jump for us to go from middle class to upper middle class. We moved to Cleveland when I was fourteen.
Does that move mean anything to you?
Umm, ahh, good question professor! Very good question. Probably the most significant question because when I was in Seattle, it was the roaring sixties was happening—and umm. Before I moved to Cleveland I—I had a good family base in Seattle and because we were in the midst of the sixties and Viet Nam, umm we were surrounding by umm, umm, the drug culture. It was great because our—all throughout school they educated us about the drugs and they actually showed us umm, what pot looked like and so on and they brought in a lung that had umm, been stored in formaldehyde and this lung—they showed us the difference between a healthy lung and an unhealthy lung. So I left Seattle very grounded—I was not going to smoke, I was not going to do drugs, and I was not going to have sex with boys because I had a group of friends there that were very supportive and we sorta made a pack about that. And yet, when we moved to Cleveland, we moved right next to, ahh along Lake Erie and I think during the first week I broke every rule that I had set with my friends in Seattle. And that was just due to need to fit in with peer pressure. We lived next to a family of seven kids. One boy, umm, two years older than me, one boy one year older than me and a girl my age and they all went to private catholic school. So not only was I meeting kids from the public school but I was also meeting a group of new kids from the catholic school. And we would go down to the lake and drink and smoke and make out. So I compromised every standard that I had for myself during that move.
Does that tie together with you younger days?
Yeah, I didn’t have an inner strength—I didn’t have an authentic self. If I had felt authentic I would’ve felt confident—standing my ground. So my confidence was in pleasing others. See, I grew up learning how to please Mom so that I won’t brutalized and that transferred itself into learning how to please others in order to be accepted because if I was accepted I then I was OK and I could come out of my room. If I was naughty, I was not OK and I had to go to my room. So that’s how that was.
Where did that go in high school? Then what?
Total compromise. Non-person. I used to ask people who am I, do I have a personality, what am I like?—those would be my questions! Do you love me?
Where does that fit today?
I still struggle with it but that’s why I am on the road to healing—it’s authenticity. It’s trying to put up boundaries—I mean even with—it’s, it’s, I mean I’m not good with boundaries. You know, the phone will ring, if I answer it I might be in the middle of something someone needs to talk, I can’t say, geese I’m in the middle of something. Can I call you back? Because that’s not taking care of them—that’s taking care of me, and I’m not allowed to take care of me. So it manifests itself in big ways as well as little ones.
What do you do for fun?
Umm, I get together with friends. I…. ahh, ahh, ski, swim, read, sew. I love doing things with the kids. I love them seeing them have fun. Like taking Charlotte for a manicure today was fun. Because I like doing things for my kids that weren’t done for me. I have three kids.
What do they mean to you?
I umm, adore them. I you know, I think that most moms have an instinct that’s born when their kids are born to protect them, to love them.
What’s the best or worst part of your marriage?
The best part of my marriage is that it’s peaceful, it’s friendly and we blend well we have similar interests. Doug is kind, and he ahh were at peace in each other’s company. We ahh, he’s easy to be around. He doesn’t have any strong overbearing traits like he doesn’t yell, he doesn’t talk too much. He doesn’t talk too little. He’s not a neat freak, he’s not a slob. No, he’s very moderate which is nice. The worst parts are probably that, he’s not, he’s not real successful in his job and that’s. Because of that sometimes I’m—it’s hard on the family financially.
Where did your dreams come from as a child?
I think that’s the hardest thing for me—I didn’t have any. Like, like with Abbey, she comes, she dreams someday she’ll be a musician—she loves music. So I feed that dream! I’m not setting her up for failure. I’m setting her up—what I try to be realistic with her, which is umm is ah ah is it a viable dream. Is it ahh, ahh realistic dream. Umm things like that. Were my parents never umm, really fed me. I did play piano but umm, I think their, they raised me to be umm, someone who could cook and clean and that was about it. I, I ahh don’t even think that they would have forced me to go to college unless I wanted to. And I was fortunate enough that I did meet a group of girls that who went to a good college and it’s easy to follow in someone’s footsteps. So I, I followed in their footsteps and I was very lucky because I was very lucky to go to a college that had high standards. And all the kids there had high standards. So, I created my own world that my parents really had nothing to do with. So I didn’t really have any dreams.
What did you want to be in high school?
Nothing in high school but in college there was one point that I wanted to—help children—you know children like me except worse off. Like children who were in horrific home situations that were being umm, mistreated and that kind of thing. I don’t know, umm I think I have a heart for kids. I have a heart for—I mean I think there’s apart of me that umm, umm analytical and ahh, and rehabilitative desired—rehabilitate, offer an environment for someone to flourish in—especially children who are less fortunate.
Where does that come from do you think?
I don’t know… I do think that some people are born with personalities and umm, even growing up I used to love to baby-sit and I loved children and I’m not sure it’s anything but genetical predisposition to umm, teach, and guide and nurture.
What if anything in the world, would you want?
Hmm, all my questions are answered! I know the key to peace, I know the key to happiness, I know the key to joy, I know the, the key to, to finan… I know the key to everything. I know the key to life. So I don’t really have any questions. It came form Jesus when he came and sat down by me that one day and said I am the truth, and the life, and the light, and everything comes through me. That comes from him. God does it. It was him. I went to Sunday school and heard the truth. Everybody’s experience is different but there’s a mystery as to why some people say yes and some say no. The answer to that is God gave people free will so he says I’m not going to cram myself down someone’s throat. The answer is really—that I thank God that I heard him, I thank God that I saw him, I thank God that he came to me…I really do. It’s a miracle…
What makes your life story yours?
I think ,what I thank God for is I was resourceful, so I was umm even in the midst of a desert I was able to go outside my family and find resources. Umm. I, was, definitely, that was one thing I remember saying as a young girl that I wanted to feel like, when I was a Mom I wanted my kids to feel like that I loved them. That I was connected to them. I’m not their friend, that umm, that I was connected.
What makes you feel uneasy about the future?
Not fulfilling God’s plan for my life—not being able to fulfill God’s purpose—you know having my anxiety or my insecurities or the devil get in the way of, of me, of me fulfilling his plan for my life. You know dieing have fellowship.
What was it like turning thirty?
It was hard turning thirty-five because I was no longer 26! At 26 I was still kinda 18. Uhh, youth, joy, ahh carefree not quite an adult. It’s hard, cause you really never grow up to take care of yourself, umm, that’s hard. It’s hard to be the adult when you haven’t grown up. When your development is arrested, on one level you have to be older even though your younger, on another level since you aren’t, since your development…it’s like a tree—like years ago American Indians in order to find their way back from a journey they would take saplings and they would bend them to create an angle in them…to one way and up again so that it would look like a chair, a right degree angle. So that when they came back there would be these saplings that would have these curves in them that they recognized their, their way back. And so now we are finding these trees, these trees with angles in them. There’s actually a lawsuit in New Hampshire where this fully grown tree has this bend in it—it looks like a chair—they want to tear it down, they want to cut it down. But the historical society says no. No, this, this is one of those trees that the American Indians formed a curve in so they could find there way back from a journey. So just like a child whose development some how’s been altered, even as an adult—the alteration remains as a permanent scare or malformation in their development. Even though I’m an adult, because some of my development was arrested or malformed, there’s still that part that I hold, so apart of me. No. It’s painful. So part of me hasn’t grown up, and part of me had to grow up too soon. So there’s two things going on. So thirty five was hard because I was no longer a kid which meant I guess I’ve lost my umm, ability grow up, I am grown up, I am an adult, and I guess I am just going to have to live with that lost time. I think 47 is hard because I’m almost fifty… that’s a big one, that’s a big number and it means I just have to grow up. Umm…uhh. Well, it’s that rebirth thing that you were talking about. I can turn it into…that’s why I was talking about Chuck Coleson—he turned it into something beautiful. I like to turn it into something beautiful besides being more sympathetic or ahh, err, or have a propensity to have sex and not respect their purity. Or by ahh offering services that have universal respect that we talked about earlier.
What do you see yourself as in the future?
I’d like to have a house—not huge—but is orderly and bright, and peaceful and that my children love to come home to and bring their own families’ home to.
What do you want to experience before you die?
Umm, ahh, being able to. Opening the door to my own bedroom and being able to go there in a safe place and feel confident that I can reveal that part of me and it’s not terrible and its not bad but that its OK. And to have that blending, ahh to have umm to be blended and feel whole—that’s what I want to accomplish. I feel like I have been locked in there for so long that a little girl learns that she’s bad and that she’s terrible because she’s—you know Mommy’s good. So if she’s being punished it must mean she’s terrible and is being bad and I couldn’t come out of my room until I had a smile on my face. Which meant that, that I had to sacrifice my authentic self and I want to gain some of that back. I wanna get rid of some of the shame, get rid of some of the darkness that umm, and to feel whole again. And that’s my journey right now. And not to feel insecure and guilty all of the time.
How would you like to close the door on this conversation?
Umm, umm. I think umm there’s probably a lot that I have left out but one thing in particular—my rage. Umm, I refuse and it does happen because that’s life. But I refuse to be conscious and allow the same behavior that contaminated my own childhood to become apart of my own life. And process then, my but, but at the same time here I am wanting to protect my family but I don’t have the skills to protect them. So I don’t do it very well. So in other words, I want to protect my family by putting up boundaries against vile information like bad TV shows, or wrong information, or people that are harmful because what mother wouldn’t protect her child against a robber whose coming in to rob, steal, and destroy the family? Of course I would. But a lot of this is insidious and I think one of the hardest things for me is dealing with my twin brother because of his behavior and umm, umm how harmful his behavior is. And umm, also against my father—I refuse to let him sexualize my children, which he has done, by grabbing their thighs and there fannies and making notation of their pubescent development. And that’s just inappropriate. So I guess I just wanna do is pray for more courage to say I am protecting my family, don’t act like that but don’t act guilty without putting up those boundaries—and that’s hard. Because putting up boundaries causes anxiety and not putting up boundaries causes anxiety so which anxiety am I willing to live with. So that’s been very difficult.
How does that feel to have your own father…
Ohh, horrific. And that’s why I say my own inability to but up boundaries I’ll look back and say I can’t believe I didn’t want to hurt my dad’s feelings and yet I allowed him to hurt my daughter—that’s not OK. So what it means sometimes is that—so I have to get mature enough to say you know what Dad, those comments really aren’t OK. To be able to speak the truth in love—so that I’m OK with saying Dad—you know what, what you are telling Abbey is this and do you really think that’s OK. And being able to protect my daughter over protecting my father. Because as a child, I learned to how to protect my parents. But as a Mom, my job is to protect my children.
Are you compassionate with yourself about this stuff?
I just think, I have written him one letter and I need to write a series of others. Just so I know that I have communicated with him. It’s sorta like the better business bureau—don’t, they don’t allow you to file a complaint until you have gone to the company to resolve the issue. So before I umm really cut him off entirely, I want to go to him and say these are the issues I have, in a loving way. Cause, he’s, he’s a product of his own environment. I don’t think people are off the wall cause they wanna be, I think that they are injured in their own right. So I wanna bring to his own attention, his behavior, and to try to reconnect in a safe place. And if we cant’ do that, I will continue to love him but I will probably not spend a whole lot of time with him but that’s OK cause I don’t really want to ignore or brush it under the rug or enable him.
Just to close it up, what are your feelings about this interview?
I think it’s good, I think more people should have an opportunity to be asked these types of questions, I think when you work through something like this it definitely opens doors and opens the opportunity to be healed and umm, and when you bring the information out into the open and it’s… Of course wonderful things happen because it’s not so scary or so dark or so horrible after all.
Part Three: My Personal Reaction
When I first started thinking about this assignment, my mind wondered. Who was I going to interview? Who do I know that has experienced a full and challenging life complete with its inevitable ups and downs? Who’s been touched by life’s intense joys and sorrows? I thought about this for several days before I had a list potential candidates.
A woman who I work with had been talking with me about her father. He had led an active life and was intimately familiar with life’s twists and turns. Knowing that the finished life story interview was going to be prepared as a gift for the family, I offered to interview her father, who eventually declined. I sensed that the process was too much for him to comprehend—scary stuff for him.
I decided to contact three other people on my list: David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, and her husband, Chris Franz (founding members of Talking Heads). Over the years I have gotten to know these individuals and felt comfortable e-mailing them the details of my request and the project including links to Dr. Atkinson’s website. “What rich stories they each have,” I thought to myself. Each responded in-kind but were too busy to entertain the idea however, they seemed to be authentically interested and appreciated my inquiry. I really value and appreciate the responses that I received and look forward to speaking with them in the future.
Another individual on my list was my sister who lives outside of Boston. I hesitated to interview her because I wanted to sit with someone who I did not know too well. I also see things quite differently than she does. However, in the end, sitting with my sister and completing her life story interview was an invaluable and poignant gift for both of us.
As a side note and from a certain perspective, it’s hard to believe that my sister and I are from the same family. For example, my spirituality is very important to me and is not defined or confined by man-made religiosity and boundaries. On the other hand, Terri’s religious beliefs are extremely important to her and seem to blind her in regards to life’s true beauty, mystery, and ultimate benevolence. As the Tao Te Ching states in stanza 72: “When they lose their sense of awe, people turn to religion. When they no longer trust themselves, they begin to depend upon authority. Therefore the Master steps back so that people won’t be confused. She teaches without a teaching, so that people will have nothing to learn.” These words speak directly to me and are reflected in the true north of my compass. For my sister however, her religious affiliation serves as her spiritual underpinnings, which saddens me. Sometimes I see fanaticism in her actions and words but ultimately, that is none of my business. I always remember that the journey of 1000-miles begins with the first step.
In reflection I also hear evidence of a soul wound in my sister’s life story. As JB Whipple spoke to our class in terms of her soul wound, I could not help wondering—as a son of white perpetrators—where is my soul wound and to what extent was my soul wounded? After hearing my sister’s life story, I can begin to recognize and appreciate my soul wound.
Some people like to think that “God” speaks directly to them via “his” voice. I disagree. In my world, God speaks directly through others and if I listen carefully, I can hear and decipher the messages. Perhaps this is how we are able to recognize and appreciate “true” life stories. We know that the life story that “fits” or parallels our own is true because of the “essence” that each has in common. For me, this is the Higher Power speaking to and through each of us.
There are several threads in Terri’s life story that seem to be universal components of everyone’s. I was deeply moved by her responses to the “beginning, muddle, and resolution” patterns that have shapes the person who she is today. The sacred patterns that have occurred in her life have prompted significant growth and are a source of courage, pride, and meaning for Terri. Without having the same type of challenging and reality-shattering experiences, my life story would also be devoid of its essential meaning and purpose. And according to Terri’s story, hers would be devoid of essential meaning, too.
I think the last statement Terri makes is profound and one which appears in most life stories. In response to the closing question “what are you feelings about this interview” Terri stated that “I think it’s good, I think more people should have an opportunity to be asked these types of questions, I think when you work through something like this it definitely opens doors and opens the opportunity to be healed and umm, and when you bring the information out into the open and it’s… Of course wonderful things happen because it’s not so scary or so dark or so horrible after all.” This comment captures the nature and essence of the life story interview process and experience. I was amazed when I heard her reflection that “it’s not so scary or so dark or so horrible after all.” As a school counselor, this insight will help me when I work with young people and encourage them to allow me to enter into and assist them with their journey. As we know, research suggests that the most valuable component of counseling is the therapeutic alliance regardless of therapeutic modus operandi. Recognizing and knowing that we all hesitate to share our hidden secrets in relation to our life story will help me to embrace the students as they struggle to make sense of their journey (parents and teachers, too). This has already helped me with my own journey and personal therapeutic alliance, which I have worked diligently to establish.
Interestingly enough, Terri has not read her life story as of yet. She has not “made the time.” From my perspective and in reflection of her current circumstances, I think that she is in the midst of a difficult sacred pattern and she is embedded in the muddle. She appears to be afraid of her story and unable to appreciate its essence or the essence of the sacred patterns, which we all encounter. And I also know that Terri has been deeply wounded—perhaps even deeply “soul wounded.” I don’t think she should or should not read her story. I just want the best for her and am grateful that we had the chance to experience this time together.
In closing, the experience of hearing another’s life story in the context of this class, its readings, and the associated assignments/discussion was powerful indeed. This course has helped to change the way that I view culture, tradition, and diversity. Fortunately, I had begun my journey towards equality in thought and actions some years ago so I was able to maximize my time here. I am more excited than ever about what the future holds for me both personally and professionally. As I walk over the portages and paddle the lakes that comprise my journey, I will be well equipped to handle the sacred patterns that are presented. And equally important, I look forward to helping others as they traverse their worlds, too. For me, sharing my energies with others is truly an honor and an enriching way to spend my “working hours.”