Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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Scarlet Letter, No More

Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

For 45 years, I have locked my secret away in a vault.

Lead lined, buried deep, for me and me alone, always to keep and never to tell.

Under lock and key, it seemed safer that way.

Forty-five years ago, just sixteen years old, I went looking for love, wherever I could find it.

And it wasn’t at home.

Outside looking in, I was Doctor Peacock’s daughter, well to do, parochial school girl, goody two shoes, and middle child.

Inside looking out, I parented myself from a very early age. While my alcoholic bipolar mom was behind closed doors and my workaholic dad was forever making rounds, I learned to take care of Joani.

So I found love in the boy next door. Both refugees from our dysfunctional households, close friends, we clung to one another for love and support.

And then I was “late”. O my God, O my God, what have I done?

1972. Alone and disowned by my parents, I had become a disgrace. A shame on my family, impossible to erase.

Should we have a shotgun wedding? My parents said no. His parents said yes. But both sets agreed that teenage parents, we were destined to be.

But I was a minor, just a child myself. And though I had conceived this child, I could not possibly conceive of  being a mom at 17. No, not yet. No, not now. No visible means of support. No diploma. No degree. Not even a bank account to call my own.

I was terrified. Out and out terrified.

A junior in high school, at Immaculata Prep, I hid my belly beneath a sweater buttoned up well into the spring. And on May 19th of ’72, the priest having refused us, we were married at the courthouse by the Justice of the Peace. I bought a calico hippy peasant dress for the occasion but my mother insisted I wear white.

I might, as well, have worn a Scarlet Letter.

scarlet-letter-two

And though, I knew I could not keep her, I also knew I had to bring her into this world.

The social worker at the adoption agency, whose name I wish I could remember, mothered me three trimesters through. But it was 1972. There was no Planned Parenthood. No birthing classes. No Lamaze. Just a stick figure pamphlet from the Medicaid clinic.

I remember going to the public library to find a picture book, so I could see and understand what was happening inside of me. Blushing at the circulation desk, I was terrified to actually check it out.

September 28th of ’72, in a cab all by myself, I made it to my final appointment at Georgetown Hospital. Already in labor, the nurse rushed me to the delivery room. No time for drugs. I did nothing but push.

And out she came. Purple and slippery and squawking and full of life. Shaking and in shock, I could not bring myself to hold her. I knew that if I did, I risked not giving her up.

I had no plans to even name her, for she was never going to be mine. But the birth certificate sat on my tray table. I had to fill in the blanks. Elizabeth Catherine. Or was it Elizabeth Beatrice? I can’t quite remember.

But I did visit the nursery, though I did not go inside.

“Please, hold her up to the window for me, so that I can see her before I go.”

“Goodbye, little Elizabeth. I wish you a good life. I wish you the best it can be.”

And I have never regretted this decision. I am proud of that child that brought this child into the world in 1972.

So I signed the papers, a sealed adoption. She would never know us and we would never know her. It seemed best for all concerned. And what did I know? I was only seventeen.

So I locked the secret up tight and threw away the key. Grieving was a luxury, I could not afford. Traumatized teenagers, kicked to the curb, we had to survive.

So I skipped my senior year and a year or so later, I made it to CUA. We got jobs in a preschool and the tiniest efficiency you have ever seen.

And now, to make a long story short, we took ten years to grow up. Built a marriage. Built a home. Built a life. And ten years later, in 1982, we had Zach and then Colleen and then Jacob.

All three babies made possible by Elizabeth, the baby I never held in my arms.

And even to my three children, she was a secret. Locked up tight. Never to tell. Why? What good would it do? What would I say? What purpose would it serve? Forty-five years is a very long time. It seemed the vault would hold forever.

And then she found me.

Through a DNA test on Ancestry.com (my brother’s account), just before Christmas, she found me.

An emotional tsunami broke loose in my head. Pummeled by waves, I was certain, I’d drown. Buoyed by therapy, I did not.

Rebecca Dragon is her name. Mother of three. Lives on a farm in Vermont.Spiritual seeker. Russian Orthodox, by choice. Theater major. She found and read my blog. My daughter’s too.

Excited beyond words, she had found her tribe.

Terrified beyond words, I froze, not knowing what I would do.

But, of course, I did.

The next morning, I called her. The hardest phone call I have ever made in my life. We talked for half an hour. Crying. Incredulous. Laughing.  And now, we have talked many more times. Texting, emailing, Face Booking, too.

She is happy, healthy, and whole. A down to earth, sort of off-the-grid parent, she home schools her three children. Crafty, she spins and knits. Comfortable in the kitchen, she makes real food from scratch. She is snarky and hysterical, theological and spiritual. And a blogger, herself, twice over. An urban expat, living on a rural route, she grew up in D.C.

Though those domestic genes are certainly not mine, she reminds me so much of me. Different, of course, taller, green eyes, and a different nose. She is definitely one of us. Primarily a Peacock, I would vainly say.

DNA is much more powerful than I ever could have imagined.

And now my children know and have happily connected with her, too. And my siblings know. And my coworkers know.  And my friends.

And now you know too.

Saint Patrick’s Day weekend, I fly to Vermont, to meet Rebecca and her children: Bella, Jude, and Meir. And her husband too.

I am going as “just Joani.” I am not “mom” or “grandma”. Rebecca’s fabulous parents, alone, deserve these titles. I did not raise her as my own. I like to call her “my long lost offspring” and as for me, maybe “biomom”, at least for now.

But we are definitely biologically joined at the hip. And I really, really like her. And I look forward to knowing her and her family, more and more.

So the “Peacock and the Dragon” will meet and we’ll take it from there.

No more “Mea maxima culpa.”

Scarlet Letter, no more.

(And meet Rebecca! Yes, also a blogger @ The Wee Dragon!)
JoaniSign

 

 


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U&U: The List 2016/2017


The third annual U&U List, full of twists and turns, blessing and curse, presented in whimsical and random order for your year ending contemplation and consideration. (And once you’ve read mine, grab pen and paper and come up with your own!)

  1. 2016/2017
  2. 61/62
  3. I’m with Her/I’m Still with Her
  4. Bishop Payne Library/Library of Congress
  5. Ghost of Christmas Present/Ghost of Christmas Future
  6. Story District 1st 2nd Tuesday/Story District 2nd 2nd Tuesday
  7. Unorthodox&Unhinged/Sex&The Single Vicar
  8. Milk/Almond Milk
  9. Mulder/David Duchovny
  10. Whole Foods/Harris Teeter
  11. Blogger/Author
  12. Kindle Fire/iPad Mini
  13. Target/Lululemon
  14. Killer ESP/Killer ESP
  15. Kind Bars/Dangerously Delicious Pies
  16. OK Cupid/DC Singles
  17. #NeverTrump/#NeverEverEverTrump
  18. Old Town/Capitol Hill
  19. Metro/Uber
  20. Priest Associate/Associate for Liturgy & Hilarity 
  21. La Croix/Spindrift
  22. “Going Clear”/”The Path”
  23. TOMS/Bucketfeet
  24. Knowledge/Wisdom
  25. Maniac/Bibliomaniac
  26. Caffeine/Half Caf
  27. Half Marathons/Half Measures
  28. Lewis Carroll/Christmas Carols
  29. Vacuuming/Dusting
  30. Alphabetical/Color Coded
  31. Worshipper/Whisperer
  32. Friend/Femme Fatale
  33. Sirius XM/Spotify
  34. Keeping Secrets/Spilling the Beans
  35. Break Ups/Make Ups
  36. Cider/IPA
  37. Mom/Mom-in-law
  38. Procrastinator/Finisher
  39. Wedding Chapels/Baptismal Fonts
  40. Aunt Joani/Great Aunt Joani
  41. Nail Biting/Manicures
  42. Rosary Beads/Meditation Apps
  43. Head Bands/Head Space
  44. Fair Trade/Free Trade
  45. Off the Cuff/Office Hours
  46. Early Voting/Emigrating
  47. Curtains/Shades
  48. Tights/Spanx
  49. Blue Glasses/Red Spectacles
  50. Gray Hair/God’s Highlights
  51. Preacher/Teacher
  52. Possibility/Possibilities Publishing
  53. God with us/God within us
  54. Burt’s Bees/Bella Cara
  55. Backpack/Purse
  56. Matchie-Matchie/Mix&Matchie
  57. Out of the Pool/Into the Fire
  58. Road Tripper/Time Traveller
  59. Fit to be tied/Wii Fit
  60. Mood Swings/Climate Changes
  61. 6:30/Half Past Six
  62. Business/Pleasure
  63. Ribbon/String
  64. Coworkers/Coconspirators
  65. Democrat/Citizen
  66. Ball Points/Felt Tips
  67. Stuffed Animals/Animal Shelters
  68. Feel the Bern/Feel the Pain
  69. Saint Robin (Williams)/Saint Carrie (Fisher)
  70. “The Tudors”/”The Crown”
  71. Potted Plants/Fresh Flowers
  72. Le Pain Quotodien/Carluccio’s
  73. Starbucks/Stumptown
  74. Victoria’s Secret/Bloomers
  75. Pajamas/Slips
  76. Turtlenecks/Cowl Necks
  77. Collecting/Contemplating
  78. Safety Nets/Safety Pins
  79. Bitches/Bichon Frises
  80. Krispy Kreme/Sugar Shack
  81. Amazon.com/East City Bookshop
  82. Left Turn/”The Right Turn”
  83. Huntley Meadows Nature Park/Flirtatious Downtown Dog Park
  84. Hand Dryers/Paper Towels
  85. E-book/Real Book
  86. Facebook/Instagram
  87. WNS4950/JLPU&U
  88. Baby Spinach/Grownup Kale
  89. Friday Therapy/Wednesday Therapy
  90. Blissed/Blessed
  91. Digestive System/Solar System
  92. Irritable/Anxious
  93. Banker/Debtor
  94. Songster/Dancer
  95. Babbler/Believer
  96. Off Ramp/On Ramp
  97. Oak Trees/Acorns
  98. Hipster/Hope Peddler
  99. Peacock/Like the Bird
  100. Middle Child/Going Wild
  101. Star Gazer/Earth Dweller

And I am ecstatically, exquisitely, eternally grateful to the Creator of the Universe, the Very Ground of my Being for each and every day of each and every year.

Each and every day, even if it be the worst day, is a holy day, a gift.

Big blessings be to you and yours in 2017! 


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Bipolar Love: The Tale of Archie & Amelie

archie and amelie book cover

“On December 5, 1900, the New York Herald headlines screamed:”

“CHANLER ESCAPES

Amelie Rives First Husband

IS OUT OF ASYLUM

Search Fails to Find Wealthy Demented Man

Who Left Bloomingdale Institution…

Former Wife, Princess Troubetzkoy, Also Insane.”

This is the dark and delicious tale of doomed passion: meticulously researched and wonderfully told in Archie and Amelie: Love and Madness in the Gilded Age by Donna M. Lucey.

Archie is John Armstrong Chanler, born in 1862, and heir to the estate of his great –grandfather John Jacob Astor of New York.

Amelie Rives, born in 1863, is the goddaughter of Robert E. Lee and descendant of a storied first family of Virginia.

Archie’s family fortune was built on the fur trade, clear-eyed capitalism, and Presbyterian rectitude. Orphaned at a tender age, Archie and his siblings were raised by committee. “A wild and willful bunch” they were tamed by “nannies, tutors, and distant guardians.”

The eldest and legally responsible for his younger siblings, Archie, at Eton honed a refined and reasonable self-control — while underneath simmered his literary and artistic appetites.

A nephew of Julia Ward Howe, a progressive scion of the salon, Archie was intellectually curious and cautiously broad-minded. A romantic and eccentric soul, he was also an inventive young man full of ideas and boundless generosity.

Amelie Rives of Castle Hill was a gifted young writer — gifted — with a dark sensuality. The provocative prose of her first novel, The Quick or the Dead?, garnered her both notoriety and the notice of the literary lions of her day – including the likes of Oscar Wilde and Willa Cather.

Amelie’s Virginia home had “an air of civilized taste and ancient leisure.” Her noble ancestors included revolutionary war heroes and ambassadors to France. But the “War between the States” left the family homestead in tatters. Her father, a civil engineer, like a nomad wandered from post to post to keep his family financially afloat.

And so women, strong women, ruled the roost at Castle Hill. Captured in an 1880 photograph “Amelie, a young beauty at seventeen, stands behind the powerful figures of her grandmother and her granite faced Aunt Ella – as if she were next in line in a dynasty.”

Seductively, Ameilie wielded both her pen and her person to woo the men in her life. Though a woman of the Gilded Age, she boldly bucked the constricting conventions of her time.

Amelie cast aside her corset and wore exotic flowing gowns. Described as “a sizzling vessel of molten lava”, she was also surprisingly religiously devout. Most passionate and erotic in her prose, she made her reviewers blush and made her suitors swoon.

Archie madly, deeply, hopelessly pursued her. After three persistent marriage proposals, Amelie accepted and they were engaged.

Hot and cold, like fire and ice, their eight-year love affair was doomed to failure. The first two years the couple skipped across Europe — settling down long enough only to become unsettled.

Amelie seemed to love Archie the most when he was absent. And when he was absent, Archie was a tortured soul never quite knowing how to rekindle Amelie’s ardor.

Eight years after their nuptials at Castle Hill, Amelie runs off with a dashing and penniless prince, a Russian royal named Troubetzkoy.

Divorced and disgraced, Archie, still hopelessly in love with Amelie, supports her until the day he dies.

The truth be told, they drove each other mad.

Separately they suffer bouts of insanity. Some real and some feigned.

Amelie is prone to melancholy and takes up some unusual cures in the sanitariums of the Gilded Age.

Archie, wrongly committed by his scheming siblings for seven years, escapes the asylum only to descend deeper into a manic kind of madness. He becomes a prolific automatic writer of the self-published kind. A most generous and penniless philanthropist, he ends his days scribbling his name on the walls.

Bipolar love.

Archie, posthumously, is believed to have come by his bipolar disorder quite honestly. It runs in the family. A gift that keeps giving.

Amelie’s madness is of a similar kind. Euphoric, grandiose, verbose, and highly creative, she cannot help but crash from time to time.

Their marriage was both heaven and hell: Brief episodes of bliss, bright bursts of passion. Disrupted by storms, overwhelmed by sadness.

It could not possibly last. And indeed, it did not.

The madness of such love, can it possibly be worth it?

My sensible side says “NO!”, of course. Who wants to end up on the shores of life an emotional wreck?

But my bipolar soul, the manic-depressive me, screams “YES!”

Let me have a mad, deep, intoxicating, engaging, infuriating, invigorating, reckless, mad, mad love affair…

at least one, or two, or three.

Good for a novel, a movie, a play, a memoir. Good for some crazy tall tales to tell my grandchildren some day.

And maybe good for a blog post — or two, or three.

Who knows? Stay tuned, U&U followers.

I’ll keep you up to date one week at a time – – at Sex & The Single Vicar!

JoaniSign