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Infusing Creativity & Authenticity into the modern Art of Homemaking & Homeschooling!
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Photo taken by: Liz Heruska
In June 2011, my prognosis was grave. My medical records and my infectious disease specialist indicated that the bags of chemo dripping into my heart daily had rendered my body incapacitated, inflamed, kaput. The treatment was making me worse. The infection was spreading. The toxins released by the dying bugs and the chemicals were killing me. Lyme disease, and my lovely cocktail of co-infections (Borrellia burgdorferi, Babesia sp., Mycoplasma sp., and Bartonella sp.) had taken hold. The plan: decrease the chemical strength; increase the lactated ringers solution; increase neurotropics, psychotropics, and anti-depressants. Keep her comfortable. Keep the chemicals dripping. Sedate the brain. Sedate Emily. And finally, pray for a miracle.
The part I’m leaving out, is the kicker. The part I hate writing about, talking about, and thinking about–that’s the real thing that was killing me. Everything in the first paragraph comes straight off my medical record. But, what was actually happening to me–to the spirit, to the human, to the person named Emily–was something much more riveting, much more painful, and much more challenging. June 7, 2011 also marked my fifth month of IV chemical treatment, or “chemo,” as it has been so eloquently nick-named. (No, I did not have cancer. Read above. Chemicals kill bugs. Chemical treatment, a.k.a “chemo,” is used in many pathological situations.) June 7, 2011 also marked the night that I hid in the bathroom, locked the door, turned the fan on, and prayed for two things: 1.) my cell phone would have enough signal to make a phone call, and 2.) he would think I was having diarrhea and not actually making a distress call.
Something that night gave me more courage than the day before. Something that night gave me more resolve and clarity than any day before in the previous ten years. Something that night told me to call for help when his anger began to rise. Something that night told me that those arms that were already swinging in anger might be my final end. Something that night told me that this night would be worse than the last. Simply put, I didn’t know if my eyes would open the next morning if I stayed put, with him, that night.
I’m not sure if I have ever been able to put those ten years of my life, or the four years following, in “perspective.” Actually, I know I haven’t. I’ve been ashamed. I’ve been horrified. I’ve been hurting. And for the most part, I have been all of those things with a damn big smile on my face. “I’m a Miracle. According to medicine, I shouldn’t be standing here and breathing.” I say lots of things like that when people ask me how I’m doing, you know, “medically-speaking.” I smile. I hide the pain. I hide the shame. I hide the shame of choosing an abusive, volatile, co-dependent relationship that defeated me. I hide the shame of what those choices did to me and still do to me.
In September 2010, my “world” stopped and my “identity,” and my life’s “purpose” was wretched from my grasp. I was a 26-year-old veterinary student, home-owner, wife, and dog-mom with a plan. My life was on track. I knew WHAT I wanted: to become a veterinary surgeon and a kick-ass mom. I knew WHO I wanted: my wounded and abusive husband. I was achieving things–degrees, surgical skills, and connections with colleagues. I was becoming someone; I had my hand on that white coat. Everything stopped that year when the verdict of my diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment was handed down. Everything got slower. My identity slipped away as my brain function slowed to a halt, and my friends moved on with their studies and their careers (and they had to.) Who was Emily if she wasn’t smart? Who was Emily if she didn’t become a vet? Who was Emily if she couldn’t get A’s on tests? Who was Emily if she didn’t get that white coat? Who was Emily if her husband despised and beat the invalid she had become? How would Emily ever be good enough?
Clearly, I “survived.” Clearly, I rose from the ashes. I destroyed the infectious bacteria’s grip on my body. I walked away from, and stayed away from, the destructive and hell-bent man that I vowed “until death do us part” to. Love found me again, in the form of a gentle and loving companion, and health, has gradually become a part of my life again. My “current” husband, my FOREVER husband, is a gentle man with a big, forgiving heart. He’s compassionate and kind, and I don’t know if he will ever understand me. But he loves me. He loved me sick. He loved me sedated. He married a sick, 29-year- old woman–named Emily– because he saw me, he loved me, and he thought I was worth it. As my health has increased, I’ve started back into my rhythm of attaining that “good enough” status. I have worn myself thin trying to become the best teacher I can be, and I have worn myself thin trying to say “yes” to all that is asked of me. I have worn myself thin, again, trying to be “good enough,” trying to answer those same two questions, “Who is Emily if she didn’t become a vet?” Moreover, who is Emily if her ex-husband despised and beat what was left of her when all her achievements were stripped away? How long will it take for everyone to figure out the same thing that he did: Emily will never be good enough.
This thought process is what almost killed me that June in 2011, and it’s also the thought process that has quietly circulated in the subconscious parts of my mind to this day. This thought process, this lie, is what holds my current health status in limbo and maintains the necessity for the chemical treatments that are still a part of my daily life. And this is the kicker. This is the part I hate talking about. The part I hate thinking about. The part I can’t write about. The part that I hide. The part that I have been hiding for fifteen years. Until today.
My husband and I moved to the middle of nowhere, Floyd County, in southwestern Virginia, last year. We moved here for the peace. We moved here for the culture, the music, the simplicity, and the mountains. We moved here to plant roots and start a family. Today, we celebrated the season of harvest and Halloween at a local farm. Before we left, I bumped into an old vet school friend, an old colleague that knew me as “the girl who almost died from Lyme Disease.” We were in the same class at NC State’s vet school. We were “first-years” in 2008. We were stressed, scared, in debt, and ready to save lives. Today, my old friend is the Chief Resident in his third year at an academic institution. He teaches vet students. He has his D.V.M., and he was glad to see me breathing. Seeing him was brilliant. Discussing medicine again was satisfying. Smiling and laughing with a good friend from vet school was nostalgic, and even a bit melancholic for me, behind my smile, of course. I couldn’t hide from my old friend. He knew my old ex-husband. He knew I chose to have abuse in my life. He knew I hid my illness until I couldn’t hide it anymore, and then, I “disappeared.” He smiled and exclaimed, “I didn’t know what ever became of you… You look great!”
Of course, he asked me the “will you go back to vet school?” question, and I gave him my usual answer, “No. That is over for me. I’m almost 32; I’m still healing; I’m still on treatment; I want a family.” The usual regret sank in. I was reminded of who I was before 2010, before 2011, before the divorce, before the chemo began, before I dropped out of vet school, before I walked away from a hell-bent ex-husband. “I was going somewhere,” I told my husband today after we left that farm, after our conversation with my old friend and his partner ended. “I knew what I wanted in life. I was doing something really important. I was becoming someone who mattered.”
Before I said “goodbye” to my old friend today, he hugged me and whispered, “I am so proud of you!” in my ear. The Chief Resident of Medicine, a guy with a veterinary doctorate, who teaches vet students how to be vets, told me– the “vet-school drop out,” the “abuse victim,” “the girl that almost died from Lyme Disease”– that he was proud of her. Something shifted.
I got home, put on the coffee, and starting typing this. Something is shifting, or maybe something has. Completely and wholly, I am realizing my own worth, my own good-enough-ness that exists regardless of my degrees or my job titles or my lack of that white coat. Today, I realized that “the girl who almost died from Lyme Disease” but chose to kick its ass instead is good enough. Today, I realized that the “abuse victim” who said “enough” and started making better choices is good enough. Today, I realized that being a teacher, or a vet, or a writer, or a drop out, or a sick person doesn’t have a damn thing to do with being good enough.I was born good enough. Emily is good enough.
And, so are you.
We did this big thing over the winter. I did. We did. We both did.
The back-story: last year this time, I came to the realization that I was healthy enough to DO something outside of the four walls of our house. I was ready to step outside of homemaking and housewifery for a while. (No, it wasn’t time to go back to vet school. In fact, my time for all-things-vet-school had passed. But, that is an entirely other blog post.) Here’s the short version: I did a bunch of paperwork and mailed it to the Virginia Department of Education, who then dubbed me licensed-to-teach biology and English to kids in the sixth-twelfth grades.
Within a week, I landed a long-term-substitute-English-teacher-gig at a local urban high school, and 147 city kids became my sole responsibility for eight hours a day, five days a week. I became intensely absorbed, hyper-focused, and unspeakably connected to my kids within days. That was the start of my professional teaching experience. It can’t be summed up in words. But, I can say this: those kids and that experience changed my life in a way that I’m not yet able to confine to the written word.
In the midst of my urban teaching experience last fall, I began to realize some major capital-T-Truths in my Life. City life and city kids weren’t right for me. My Life didn’t have room for the violence, gangs, vulgarity, and despair, even though joy, hope, and triumph were also present. When I walked away from that urban high school and MY 147 kids, something inside me broke in a way that was marked by deep despair and an equally intense feeling of self-empowerment. I mourned those children for weeks, but I chose what was best for my Life. And living there, in that city environment, and teaching there, in that city school, and surrounding myself with all the good and the bad that comes with city life, was so distinctly wrong for me. And it wasn’t right for my husband nor our future children either…
There is a small town in the hills of southwestern Virginia, on the other side of the mountain, southwest of that city. It’s a remarkably small place that harbors a beauty and ever-present sense of peace that my husband and I have never felt elsewhere. It didn’t take us too many visits to discover our deep longing to live and grow, as a family, in Floyd. We just couldn’t see how moving to Floyd was possible nor how it would ever be. Last winter we quit believing that we “couldn’t” move to Floyd, and we started honoring the capital-T-Truths that manifested during our time living and working in that city. Without knowing the “how,” we grabbed onto our BIG DREAM of moving to Floyd and raising a family there. I quit my job and started packing up our belongings, with no idea how things would “play out.” Within two weeks of claiming our Truth (to live in Floyd and raise a family there,) all the big and little “how’s” materialized and resolved.
Seven months ago we moved to the one stoplight, one high school, no middle school, county in southwestern Virginia, known as Floyd. Since then, it’s been straight free-falling. And I still don’t know what’s going to happen next. (And, by that I mean that I still don’t know all the “how’s” that will bring forth the materialization of our small and fancy homestead, with a bit of land, a few goats and chickens, and our brood of children.) I have taken a bit of a detour from the life of solely homemaking and house-wife-ing. This past year has been a year of teaching, discovering, and learning. I’ve signed up for another year of learning alongside the young people and fellow educators in my community, but Namaste House-Wifery is still within me. The beat to this rock song has changed a bit, but my capital-T-Truths haven’t changed; rather, the “hows” have just begun to materialize.
My husband says the snow is hard to keep up with– keeping the driveway and sidewalk clear for a potential emergency exit. Snow has been coming down heavily and sticking since early afternoon. She has not ceased her descent and is predicted to continue on her path through the night. Currently up to eighteen inches is predicted in our valley, and every few hours the forecasters increase the predicted amount of snowfall. We are keeping warm and well-fed with satisfying bean and rice soup. Matthew loves the thick, clumpy consistency of my slow-cooked assortment of lentils, pinto beans, field peas, black beans, brown rice, black Japonica rice, Wehani rice, garlic, and herb selection.
Spencer is purring in slumber and curled up on one of our bed pillows. The pups are adorned by knitted sweaters and huddled upon blankets upstairs where Matthew and I also huddle beneath blankets to keep our body heat close. Annie, our tough and tiny terrier mix, sprinted around the one acre property hopping through the snow, racing like a rabbit and went on a coveted car ride with us less than a quarter mile down the highway to put gas in the old Saturn sedan. Upright she sat in my lap in the passenger seat– my right hand fingers wrapped around her chest operating as a make-shift seat belt. Our shelter-rescued German Short-haired Pointer, Sadie, is too cold for the snow and playing outside. Instead of gallivanting and encircling the yard with her free-spirited run like she did years ago, double-layered in one knit sweater and one made of wool threads woven together, Sadie’s thin back legs tremble until the storm door is opened for her return back indoors. Sophie ran– a mixture of bunny-hopping, galloping, and thumping through the snow– around the inside of the fenced area and attempted a hardy tackle upon my body and into the snow many times. Dinner was exciting per usual, and the girls have full, happy bellies.
We just went out for the food staples we forgot to purchase before the winter storm began–beer and chips– and took Sophie along. As Matthew prepared the Saturn for the 1/2 mile round-trip traveling, Sophie cowered in the back seat. He took a broom to the roof and hood before continuing with the sophisticated snow brush and scraper while Soph and I warmed up with the Saturn’s engine, doors closed. A stray who was found starving to death, covered in wounds, and so many ticks that her fur color was hard to make out, Sophie has trouble forgetting her bait dog past and resting assured that her safe and forever home with us is surely that– safe and until death-do-us-part. So the broom on the car roof was a bit too much. I was proud of her though, because even in her fear Sophie managed courage and control of her urinary sphincter. Concerned, but open to my fingers gently rubbing under her chin and face-to-face Eskimo-kissing, Sophie survived the association of a broom and coinciding fear from her past life.
While Matthew was inside the local market, Sophie and I took off up the desolate hill behind the building. It appeared that Sophie found running to be excellent as she ran like a care-free pup– wonderful to experience as her human companion. In her zeal she pulled me up the hill laughing. She took off leaping through the snow faster than I could lift my feet in my heavy, rubber boots. I sat down in the snow at the top, and Sophie slowed to a stand-still. The snow was coming down so heavily that I could hardly differentiate the street from the grass from the houses, and I definitely couldn’t see Tinker Mountain anymore.
The sky is white. The mountains are white. Anything that was any other color is now white. My husband is back out scraping the driveway for the third time but promises he will let the snow have her way for the rest of the night. The snow will follow every scrape he makes, insisting that all stays white. Sophie is calm, her temperament even, as she rests her chin on my knee. The other two pups are satisfied after their playful puppy-ness and aging dog trembles in the snow. I’m worn out from running with the girls in the whiteness outdoors, and each time Matthew comes back inside he strips off layers of clothing that are more wet on the inside from sweat than they are on the outside from the snow. And we were disappointed by the gym’s closure due to the weather. The weather is having her way with us though, and she isn’t done with us yet.
On my drive to pick up my hubby from work this evening I meditated on what our transition to a one-car-household has taught me. Truth be told, we didn’t transition to a one-car-household on purpose, and it’s most likely a temporary situation. But, for a while, and for now, we share a 2003, 118,000 mile Saturn.
This is the story of how our two-car-household accidentally became a one-car-household and how it’s blessed this self-proclaimed connoisseur of house-wifery. I was dropping a fellow housewife off at home on the other side of the mountain when our 2008, 100,000 mile Honda Civic wouldn’t start back up for my drive home. It was around 11p.m., and my husband wasn’t answering my calls due to poor cell phone reception back at our homestead in the valley. (My friend and I were enjoying our “girl time” so enthusiastically that our get-together had run later into the evening than usual.) There was an angel looking out for me: the Civic’s battery died right in front of my friend’s apartment, and thank the Universe that her hubby was home. One of my biggest fears had become reality, but it became realized in the most perfect location–just a few steps away from someone who could “jump” our car. I was safe. I was with friends. (And I was given a cup of fresh coffee.) This situation significantly beat the alternative: I wasn’t stuck on the dark road over the mountain, alone, with no cell phone signal.
Our Civic’s battery was on its very last leg and to be honest, the car was a good bit behind on routine oil changes. But, I did get make it back home that night, over the mountain to my husband and our animal kiddos. The Civic hasn’t been driven since that night, and frankly, it won’t start up in the driveway. We’re okay with that, though; we are saving money for that much needed oil change and brand new battery, and like I said earlier, we’re sharing my old Saturn.
Our two-car-household became a one-car-household that night, and “sharing” a vehicle has infused more “sharing” into our marriage. Before we down-sized to one car, I thought we shared everything– our thoughts, our fears, our laughter, our home, our dogs, our cat, the survival of a government shut down, loss of income, and the survival of a devastating illness. But, somehow, the ten minutes we share in the car together on the drive to my husband’s workplace in the morning and the ten minute return to our homestead in the evening has created a connection between my career at the homestead and his career outside of our home. Because I drive my husband to work each morning, I share the stresses and the laughter and the newness of each morning with him. We share traffic. We share frustration. We share the surrounding mountains. And we share the start of each day in a whole new way. When our car idles outside of the tower where he directs air traffic, we both get out of the car and share a tight hug and a smile and a “HAVE FUN!” I look up at the tower, where from the inside you can see the mountains for miles and the highway back to our homestead. I feel connected to the experience of his day before I ever set off on the drive home. When I hear the airplanes and helicopters on their highway in the sky over our little ‘ol house during my work day, I share a piece of what my husband is doing and experiencing. Though we have radically different “jobs” and play radically different “games” and even use radically different “sides” of our brains, the connection we already carry through each moment has become even more evident to me. Now that we share a single vehicle, I’m next to my husband when he is decompressing from his work day and when I’m revving up with a second wind for mine. (I’m a night owl.) During the process of our two-car-household becoming one, in some simple way, so have we. Individualized in the expressions of our spirits and Life vocations, we’ve become more connected, more unified.
This experience has brought the power of Simplicity close to my heart and overwhelmed my spirit with gratitude. Now I know that a one-car-household just might be our path. It may seem old-fashioned and restrictive to many folks, but of course it isn’t. It opens our relationship to Growth, it brings our lives Simplicity, and enhances the efficiency and frugality of our budget.
With child-bearing and child-raising and homeschooling in our future, the question of safety and ease does come to mind, and we’ve been prompted to consider how to maintain this new-found simplicity as our family grows with each new, little human. For now, we are blessed to Live together in a one-car-household, and when children come we are planning not for a true one-car-household nor for a true two-car-household but for some sort of hybrid of the two. I’ll let you know where the melody of Simplicity leads us then.
Emily Stansberry, author, blogger, and house-wifey extraordinaire, created Namaste House Wifery to flip the idea of house-wifery and homemaking on its head!
Being a housewife isn’t boring. Being a homemaker isn’t dull. And both are hardly old-fashioned pursuits. Rather, house-wifery and homemaking are both magnificent, evolving, EXCITING splashes of ART! Namaste House Wifery is about Choice. It’s about Flow. It’s about Peace.
Namaste House Wifery isn’t just a lullaby;it’s a rock song too. It’s the lyric of a woman who’s experienced a good bit of that thing we call Life and stepped onto her Life path of artistic house-wifery, homemaking, composting, upcycling, dog-rescuing, writing, blogging, painting, dreaming, dancing– and child-bearing, child-raising, and homeschooling to come. Namaste House Wifery is Emily’s Choice, her Flow, and her Peace. This IS her rock song. Maybe you’ll like the beat.