Standing at the counter of the University of Washington Bookstore looking at conducting batons seemed odd and surreal. Standing next to me, instructing the clerk, was the man who had told me a decade before I couldn’t conduct adults or an orchestra or band because, “(He) couldn’t handle the competition”. He was also told me, in answer to my request for him to teach me music theory, ‘If I teach you that, you won’t need me.” Classically trained, I mimicked the greats and knew not what I was playing...beyond the basics.
Hey! It’s on me. I was the dutiful wife who then conducted only children’s choirs and composed an entire musical singing the chords I was hearing in my head into his ear. Yea, yea, yea...don’t tell me you would have known better. We know what we know when we know it. And back then, you weren’t considered an abused wife unless he did something violent which after the first time he did it the first year we were married, I rose up and told him never again or I walk.
With that back story you can see that it was all the more puzzling for him to be picking out a baton for me. A King David baton, no less. Making sure the ball at the hand end was weighted right. It would take a year for me to find out he had moved in with another woman east of the mountains. After he drained the eighty thousand dollar trust fund meant for me from my aunt, that my mother, his favorite fan, was executrix of, got the Masters degree and passed the interview of the job that I found him in the paper, he did like so many other husbands: created a new life, told everyone wife #1 was crazy and proceeded down the road.
Him buying me a baton was actually him giving me my walking papers, or better yet, pink slip. The same weekend he gave me a book called, “Christian Men Who Hate Women”, and told me ‘this is the biggest mistake of my life” - because he knew I was clueless- “and the best gift I’ve ever given you.” -Because he was setting me free. He told me he could not do the few years of therapy it would take to heal from off the charts anxiety disorder and his misogyny. “I just can’t do it”. Then, in a final moment of clarity he said, “ I thought I’d killed you. Poof. His birth kids and me never saw him again, save for one brief court appearance where he didn’t even talk to us except to compliment my son on his hat.
I was very happily married in a very unhappy, abusive marriage. I am the Queen of the Make-Do’s. I was naive, and raised to ignore crazy, but when I have the epiphany, I am a most unwilling accomplice. I make a lousy co dependent.
Hmmm....back to the baton. That year, now alone, I formed a community choir out of a church choir, and the next year I added an orchestra. I also went to the head of the conducting program at the local University, who knew me from my husband’s studies, and he was going to let me test into the program if I passed the music theory test.
Two “whoo hoo” mystical things happened in those two ventures. When I touched the knob and handle on the door of the music building for my interview, this incredible whoooosh physically went through my body.
Similarly, when I lifted my baton in front of the orchestra for the first time, I felt the most incredible peace and unity within my body; like I was fulfilling my destiny.
When crazy happened in my life, husband leaving,myself taking a job where crazy was the daily flavor, dealing with my older adopted emotionally damaged childrens’ issues, the grief of two birth kids who lost their dad almost overnight, and the fallout from reporting the sexual advances of a co worker, I knew enough to go find a counselor and talk once a week. She actually used to fall asleep in our one o’clock appointments but because I just needed to hear myself talk, not do all that reflective stuff, it was OK. And somehow she always had a good question and I also knew she cared about me.
The few questions would help me turn corners in my soliloquy. Now I’m going to share this, but know that every person I’ve ever shared it with has gasped because they think it was completely inappropriate.
She asked me about being sexually abused for many years by a young boy in my family. “Why didn’t you say ‘No!’? Some little girls say ‘No!’ "
And that was the question I needed to answer, and the skill I needed to learn. I spent the next two decades of my life observing myself not set limits until things were way out of hand, and not say ‘No”. When I did start to set limits and say ‘No!”, guess what happened?
Things got very very bad. Go ahead. Tell a dependency based person who is using you ‘No!”. You see what they do. They get pissed, that’s what they do. And they yell, and then they tell lies about you to others and wow! I realized, I was a peacekeeper with very little sense of self. Anybody could own me, and I would take the fall rather than endure kerfuffle.
Well, I started saying “Hell No!” I count for something. I am worth something. I am nobody’s slave. Then I had to find people who are love based. They do interdependent relationships.
Tough tough learning curve. And all the while, the baton lay on my dressing table.
This past Spring I was given a gift of a weekend with college chums. They knew away from my family. They knew me as strong and dynamic, a person of radical zest. They reminded me who I am. Who I was. Who I was meant to be and had been on my way to becoming.
When I got home to the Island, I had the opportunity to sing a solo and I belted it out like my whole being was saying, ‘Yes!”. Eventually that solo led to someone turning to me and saying, ‘Hey, you could conduct’.
Two weeks later, I sat on the just right height stool and raised the baton for the downbeat for the little orchestra in front of me. I smile, now, thinking of that moment.
How did I find myself? I stayed single for one thing. Nineteen years of celibacy. I learned to not get lost in other people by being alone with me. I learned to enjoy my own company.
Then I surrendered myself to my God and my faith and said, “yes” to experiences that would grow and mature that faith.
Lastly, I allowed myself to be involved in the intimate stories of other people. What my counselor said, the other thing she said, was true. There are people who hold rocks in their pockets and people who hold flowers in their hands. I learned to tell the difference between the two and not serve others’ unhealthy issues.
Back at the store, the clerk took the selected baton and rang it up. Eventually I learned I gained more than I lost.
Judges 5:12 says, “Wake up, Deborah! Wake up and sing!!”. And I did, and I have, and I will, and waving a stick in front of musical instruments is part of that.
One, two three, begin!