And so, it began…
I was born in 1959, in a small-town hospital in northeast Mississippi. We lived out in the country, so I went to a rural school called New Hope for twelve years—the same school my mother had attended back in the 1930s and 40s. I’ve never known why the community was called New Hope. New hope for what? Cooler weather? Less mosquitoes? Maybe some church thing.
Speaking of church. I grew up in the Southern Baptist church; there every time the doors were open. Sunday school, preaching, training union, preaching, Wednesday night prayer meeting, choir practice. Sat within spitting distance of the preacher and became truly convinced I was a hell-bound sinner at the age of seven. So, I got saved and baptized—all the way under the water. Nothing else would do. Vacation Bible School, played the piano for Sunday service, revivals every spring and summer. The kind with the endless invitations for people to get saved. Where you stand in the pew and sing all seven verses of Just as I Am over and over until your knees start to buckle. Ironic… just as I am. Hmm… wasn’t my experience.
Never traveled any further than Stone Mountain, Georgia until I was a senior in high school—our senior trip being Philadelphia, NYC, and Washington, D. C.—quite a trip for a bunch of kids from Mississippi. I went to college in the town where I was born—Mississippi University for Women. Studied nursing. I was eighteen years old when I married my high school sweetheart. It was the end of my freshman year in college. We were both still virgins. I moved from my mother’s house to live with my new, 19-year-old, husband in an apartment in nearby downtown Columbus. The apartment was furnished, $75 a month.
My first inkling that something might be not quite right in my cloistered heterosexual world was a giant crush on one of my nursing school teachers. There was some highly secretive experimentation with kissing (cue I kissed a girl and I liked it) and touching. And, yes, I remember truly believing this was a one-off. Would never happen again. How many women have told themselves that story? After nursing school, I worked a year, then went to grad school in Jackson, Mississippi. I lived in the dorm during the week, then drove home to play wife and attend church on the weekends. For a while, I thought I could maintain my friendship, dabbling around with my now ex-teacher. Play my good Christian wife role at the same time. But the well-practiced Baptist guilt overcame me and I broke off the friendship. I did what good Baptists do; I dove deeper into the church. But here’s the thing. My new best friend turned out to be a woman from the church who liked to kiss me out of Christian love. I tried to tell her I wasn’t feeling Jesus when she kissed me, but she wouldn’t hear it. Denial is a beautiful thing.
Ever planning ahead (and probably trying to prove my straightness to myself), I decided to get pregnant the spring before I finished my master’s. It was time. Getting pregnant was the next logical thing. I determined when I was ovulating, had sex at my fertile times—even when it meant having my husband drive from Columbus to Jackson. Boom, two tries, and pregnant. Anyhow, I finished the master’s and got a job teaching nursing at the university I’d graduated from. It was the fall of 1983. I was 23 years old.
My beautiful eight-pound, thirteen-ounce daughter was born December 31, 1983. I went back to teaching in January. My office was across the hall from the classroom and I brought her in her carrier. When my milk let down, I’d give the students a break and hurry into my office to breastfeed her. Good job, new house, church member, new mother. Oh, and a husband. I was on the righteous path of the straight and narrow.
Six months later, as a brand-new nursing instructor, I noticed a particular student in the hallway of the moldy old building that housed the nursing school on the magnolia-shaded campus of Mississippi University for Women. I took one look at the lanky woman walking toward me and there was a definite pinging sound in my head. In retrospect, I think it was the sound of the last thread of my unraveling heterosexuality breaking. She wore purple pants and a striped shirt (it was the mid-eighties, remember). She was laughing and talking about her cat, Seagram (as in Seagram 7. No, I did not catch the reference). Deep voice, beautiful smile. She made several parts of me flutter. And, before long, the fluttering was mutual. I think, at the time, we were each other’s much-needed adventure. We had no idea what we were in for.
I was a ridiculously young academic—only 24 years old. She was a student (same age, since this was her second degree). Her dream was to be a flight nurse who jumped out of helicopters and drove a midnight-blue 280ZX with dove-gray interior. She was everything I wasn’t, including having never even considered pregnancy or children. I was infatuated.
My daughter was six months old and my mothering while queer story had begun. I never looked back. Well, there was that brief hiccup when I tried dating men again. More on that later. To his credit, my 25-year-old husband was cute, smart, a natural athlete, and very much the Southern man. Unfortunately, there is no worse affront to the ego of a man than his wife leaving him for another woman. He never forgave me. But as Emily Dickinson said, the heart wants what it wants. Or else it does not care. I was soon to learn the price I’d pay for what my heart wanted.