At the end of January 2011, my husband decided to take a visit to his parents across the state, a visit which at the time had no planned return date. He had been unemployed for 20 months, the fourth major period of unemployment in 17 years. Our nearly-24-year-old marriage had always been rocky, punctuated with a 45-month period of homelessness (living in the homes of friends and family members, house-sitting, and a horrible five-month stint in a homeless shelter), emotional--and sometimes--physical abuse, poverty, paranoia, and social seclusion. Shortly after he left, I went to the YWCA's Domestic Violence program and sought assistance under the guidance of a pro-bono lawyer, who although she did not represent me, was able--along with her paralegal--to help me with divorce and restraining order paperwork.
I took the first of many personal days off to meet with a paralegal to review my paperwork before visiting the county courthouse to file it and attend a hearing with a county commissioner, who would approve the restraining order and accept my petition for a dissolution. Ironically, it was February 14th, Valentine's Day. I remember the surreal feeling of realizing what day it was as I was standing in line at the security check and watching a well-dressed man carrying a large bouquet of flowers for his wife or sweetheart--who must have worked in one of the county offices--go through ahead of me. Surely, this would cause some shaking of heads of my descendants a century later. I could just hear them saying, "What was great-great-grandma thinking? Filing for divorce on Valentine's Day!" A simple explanation was that it was the first day I could schedule to get off work and meet with the paralegal, and once my paperwork had been reviewed satisfactorily, I was not going to waste another minute--or a personal day--to file at courthouse, which was only half a dozen blocks away from the YWCA.
The next few months were chaotic and overwhelming as I was supporting my son and myself without any child support and had no idea if I could keep my house or would be forced to sell it as part of the proceedings. Additionally, my car had died the previous October and the car my husband had primarily used, which I was now using, died in April. I got around all right by bus, walking, riding my bike, or getting rides from family members and friends, but it did take a lot of planning and time to get from point A to point B. Work was two miles away and there was no grocery store within walking distance. I also realized I had to hire a lawyer because my husband had hired a very expensive, aggressive one, and I knew I was no match in representing myself. Fortunately, through the help of a colleague, I was referred to an inexpensive yet capable female lawyer, who cut her fee in half after reviewing my documents and realizing I had done much of the footwork of filing and filling out paperwork on my own.
In fact, I would not have gotten through the year without the help and moral support of my family members (which includes my ex-husband's siblings and extended family) and friends and colleagues. For my birthday in March, the president of my genealogical society got together with a church friend of hers, who happened to be a colleague at my school, and threw a surprise birthday party for me at a local Chinese restaurant. In attendance were both members of my society and colleagues from my school! They blessed me abundantly with cash donations, which not only paid some bills, but allowed me to travel to the coast for some much-needed time off during Spring Break. I had visited Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound twelve years ago with my husband and children, shortly after--in yet another case of irony--an extremely difficult period in our marriage when I had seriously contemplated divorce, but decided to stay in it for the kids' sake. I had loved the island because it reminded me very much of Southeast Alaska where I had grown up. Even though my brother lived there for years, I had only had that one opportunity in 1999 to visit. And so I made up for lost time by visiting five times from April through August, usually taking Greyhound and at one point, catching a ride with some friends who were going over to the area for a long weekend. I was able to get reacquainted with friends from my hometown in Alaska who now live in the Whidbey Island-area and to catch up on all that has happened "back home" in the past 32 years. Additionally, I felt reconnected to the Native heritage that I had grown up in. Being able to be near the salt water and hike along the beaches and in the overgrown woods, so different from Eastern Washington, was good for my soul and allowed me to reflect and relax; to build courage for the next month or two of uncertainty in my life of change before I could visit again.
My job was a refuge as well. It was good for me to have structure and purpose during those months. In June and July, I was able to secure two summer school positions that helped me keep my head above water financially when the regular school year was out. I did have nearly the entire month of August off, and by then, with the divorce finalized July 21st and knowing that I would be able to keep the house, I was able to declutter and free my life up from the reminders of my past.
Once the school year began, my search for a vehicle intensified. In October, I purchased a 2004 Toyota Camry LE. I can't think of a time when I haven't driven it, even around the block, when I don't utter a prayer of gratitude for it. Although now I have a car payment, insurance, and fuel and maintenance costs, it has freed up my time considerably, not to have to plan five steps ahead on when and how and where I must travel just to get an errand done.
As part of the settlement, I chose to go back to my maiden name of Robbins--not because of any feelings of animosity toward the Midkiff name or family (who have been just wonderfully supportive, by the way)--but out of feelings of a fresh start, independence, and as a nod of recognition to my Dutch and Frisian female ancestors who kept their maiden names throughout their entire lives in the Old Country. I'll continue to research the Midkiff side of the family tree for my children's sake, as well as my future grandchildren's. The other day, I was at Blockbuster and requested my name be changed on my account. The clerk, thinking--I suppose--that I might have been newly married, asked how long I had been a Robbins. "My whole life," I told her proudly.
So, you see, I haven't had a lot of time to blog or even to think. Writing this post has taken me all day, simply because I'm so rusty. Also, one of the things I learned in a class at work about children who grow up in the midst of trauma is that it affects the ability to think linearly. There have been times I sat down in the past year to blog, and could not come up with anything coherent, and now I realize why. Life was too chaotic. I didn't accomplish a single genealogy goal that I listed back at the end of 2010, but that's all right. My life journey took a different--and better--path.
Another thing I decided to do to free up my time was to resign at the end of 2011 from most of my duties with the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society. I have served as 1st Vice President for two years and as education chairperson for the past three. I'll still continue to write for the society blog and will head up the rest stop fundraiser, as well as lend a helping hand as needed. But I have to have the option of not attending a meeting now and again; and I felt that in the past year, my ability and quality of service were not my best work.
I do have some genealogy goals for this year, but they are fairly simple. The first I have already begun, and that is to order the pension file of my 3rd-great-grandfather, Benjamin Henry KIMBALL, to see if it reveals any information as to the death and burial of his first wife, my ancestor, Lucy May KIMBALL. My theory is that Lucy died at or shortly after the birth of their last child, my great-great-grandmother, Mary May KIMBALL.
My second goal is to write one quality post per month. Yes, just one. If I write more than that, wonderful; if not, I will have an attainable goal. The next goal is to continue doing what I have been doing: Scanfest, and working on my Online Historical Directories and Online Historical Newspapers websites. My last goal is to create an e-book based on my 52 Weeks of Online American Digital Archives and Databases posts - with all 50 states, the territories, and national resources complete, of course.
To help me out, I have partnered with Elyse Doerflinger of Elyse's Genealogy Blog to be my research and blogging buddy, just as several other geneabloggers have done in recent years. We all need a cheerleader and, in turn, to cheer someone else on. I can't think of a more enthusiastic cheerleader than Elyse! I had the privilege of meeting her at Jamboree 2010. Although she's young enough to be my daughter, I think we are kindred spirits. At first appearance, our lives are very different: she's a full-time twenty-something student and I'm a single forty-something mom supporting myself and a young man who's almost out on his own. But we are both extremely busy, juggling several plates-full in our quests to support ourselves and move forward in this journey called life. And we both have an unquenchable desire to research our ancestors, blog about it, and teach others how to do so as well.
So here I am, at the doorway to 2012. It will be a good year. It may be difficult, but I have learned in the past quarter-century that I can survive and yes, even triumph over difficulties. For those who would want to say, "Sorry to hear about your divorce," I reply with, "Don't say 'sorry.' I'm not sorry for this. 'Sorry' is for 24 years of misery. Be happy for me, with me, in this new life I've found!" And for all of you who didn't unsubscribe after months of little-to-no posts, I say "Thank you!" Here's to a wonderful new year!
"The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.”
--G. K. Chesterton
--G. K. Chesterton