PASSENGER ON A TRAIN - 1010 Park Place
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PASSENGER ON A TRAIN

ME AND MY FIRST HUSBAND ON A TRAIN IN SWITZERLAND. I WAS 22.
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So many of you have left comments on my blog, Instagram and Facebook and even sent me emails, telling me how much you like my writing and urging me to write my story… a memoir. Thank you, sweet friends, for supporting what are sometimes difficult things to write, but that’s what I do. I’m a writer, and our stories are not always pretty. While I haven’t decided whether writing a book is something I want to do, you’ve made me think about it. In the meantime I found a piece I wrote 20 years ago for a writer’s workshop. The assignment was to write the first page of your memoir. For your consideration… xoxox, Brenda

I’ve often wondered if he liked to possess me just as some men like to own fast cars. “This week she landed on an aircraft carrier, cooked a gourmet dinner for 12 and won a race at Texas World Speedway.”

I was fast and sleek and hung my ass out over the edge. A risk taker. A reflection of him.

Toward the beginning of our 17-year marriage he once told me, “This is my train, and you’re welcome to ride it. If at any time you don’t like the destination, you’re free to get off, but you won’t find a better ride anywhere.”

Had I been the tour guide, much of his route I wouldn’t have chosen, but the decision to stay onboard—or get off—was always mine.

For a young woman of 21, life with a handsome, successful man—13 years my senior and the darling of Wall Street—was exciting and glamorous, like something out of a movie. With sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, we traveled the world in search of places where no one spoke English; you couldn’t get a cheeseburger, and a room for the night might be a hammock with a skinned squirrel that dripped blood on our foreheads.

As his train gathered speed, one by one, his cars began to careen off the tracks. First came the Valium, taken only for sleep. A brilliant mind like his couldn’t shut off by itself. We moved to a new city, a world away, and a few days later, he ran out of his precious sleep elixir. The results were unexpected and unforgiving.

That evening I was in the backseat of a Mercedes, driven by a psychiatrist with a goatee and a heavy German accent, while my “can’t hurt steel” husband rocked back and forth in the front seat. I watched as he was admitted to a teenage psycho ward—the only bed available—and led away in a white, canvas straightjacket, his arms buckled behind his back. They gave him an injection of Valium, and the next day he was fine and demanding to be released. But he wasn’t fine…

Cold turkey on Valium can kill. At best it rewires the way the synapses fire in the brain. For three months he sat in the dark, communicating rarely with me and no one else. At 24, I made excuses to employees in two cities why he was out of pocket, soothed anxious investors, made fiscal decisions and hosted a Christmas party for employees and their families. Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

For the next 10 years we lived on the edge of everything, withdrawing from corporate America and all but a few friends, in search of undiscovered Mayan ruins, abandoned silver mines, the best reefs to snorkel on… Anything that would help him escape his post Valium demons.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde had crept into my bed. He was manic one day, depressed the next. Alcohol, and lots of it, became his new sleep elixir with a chaser of cocaine in the morning. My career had been sidetracked by his out of control train. I hung on tightly, reading every book I could find about addiction.

He was charismatic, a natural born teacher, and I was his Eliza Doolittle. I was encouraged to become a mixture of Barbarella and Mata Hari, but in the end, it was my train. I was the conductor.

 

Love, Brenda

58 Comments

  • Beckye March 24, 2018 at 5:51 am

    Brenda, this is fabulous. You must write it! You have so many amazing stories. Incredible stories, and wisdom. It’ll be a best seller! You are a great writer. You make your stories fun, funny, exciting, and always leave us wanting to know more! Praying for wisdom and discernment for you to know what you should do, and when. But if it were up to me… (!!)

    What an amazing ride, and grateful you survived it! Knowing some about addiction, I know you couldn’t have been unscathed. Thank you for sharing your life with us, and your beautiful writing. You truly are gifted! And we are blessed by your sharing it.

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 2:12 pm

      “Praying for wisdom and discernment… ” I would appreciate that, Beckye. I’ve spent most of my adult life keeping a huge part of my life private. Part of me wants to scream it. The rest of me doesn’t know whether I want to go there, again. Thank you, sweet lady. xoxox, Brenda

  • Kathy March 24, 2018 at 6:42 am

    Brenda, I was hooked immediately, and wanting more! I would definitely buy your book. Please do your readers a favor and write it!

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 2:13 pm

      Thanks, Kathy, for your response to what I wrote. I appreciate it. Brenda

  • JoAnna March 24, 2018 at 7:12 am

    Wow! I wanted more!

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 2:13 pm

      Joanna, Thanks for letting me know, Brenda

  • Kathy L. March 24, 2018 at 7:28 am

    Maybe this was meant to be your “next act”!

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 2:14 pm

      My “next act…. ” But would it be a step backwards for me? It’s outrageous…. Just don’t know. Thank you, Brenda

  • Arabella Williams March 24, 2018 at 7:39 am

    “Scratching the Surface!” – more, please

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 2:15 pm

      Thanks for weighing in, Arabella. Brenda

  • Lucy Wilson March 24, 2018 at 7:43 am

    That was amazing. When you’re ready to write it, I’m ready to read it!

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 2:16 pm

      Hi Lucy, “…ready to write it.” That’s it in a nutshell. Will I every be ready? Thank you, Lucy! Brenda

  • Doreen McGettigan March 24, 2018 at 9:14 am

    They say everyone has a story but everyone doesn’t tell their story well. You have such a beautiful storytelling talent.
    I hope you decide to share your memories with the world.
    You’ve been through so much and never gave up. Your story is sure to give others strength.

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 2:17 pm

      We’re a lot alike, Doreen. We’ve been to Hell and back, several times, but we’re here. We’re strong. Thanks for your note. xoxox, Brenda

  • Michaele Hall March 24, 2018 at 9:18 am

    Brenda, I will be first in line for your book when you write it. Your stories are so interesting and I love your writing style. Yes please, write your memoirs. XOXO

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 2:19 pm

      “Write your memoirs!” LOL! That sounds so old-fashioned, although now we do use the term “memoir.” I’m grateful you like my writing. Thank you. Brenda

  • Lynda Forsthooffer March 24, 2018 at 9:19 am

    Brenda, I read this twice, the second time hoping there was more! Hope you choose to write your memoirs, I’m Hooked!

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 2:20 pm

      Woah! You read it twice, hoping for more! I’ll take that as a complement my friend. xoxox, Brenda

  • Marysue March 24, 2018 at 9:41 am

    Each of us has a story to tell, but those with the ability to write have a special gift. Please consider writing yours as I think you would have a market which appreciates your voice! Love your blog! Look forward every Saturday morning! Thank you

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 2:24 pm

      Hi MarySue! You made my year so far, telling me you look forward to my blog every Saturday morning! How sweet! I’m never sure who’s reading, but I feel a responsibility to make it worth your time. Some weeks are easier than others. Please know how much I appreciate you and your support!! Thank you, Brenda

  • [email protected] March 24, 2018 at 9:58 am

    Brenda, you are such a fabulous writer. I really hope you write your book!

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 2:25 pm

      Thank you for the wonderful compliment, Nancy. I will continue to ponder the book. Brenda

  • Cindy Beck March 24, 2018 at 10:55 am

    Please, please continue. Don’t leave us hanging!

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 2:26 pm

      Hi Cindy, I’ve written a couple of self-published books and a thriller that got an agent, but didn’t make it to market… long story. They’re all consuming. Do I want to do that, again? I’m giving it serious thought. Thanks so much, Brenda

  • Deborah Peterson Milne March 24, 2018 at 12:45 pm

    You must continue Brenda, for our sake!!

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 2:28 pm

      LOL! You’re funny, Deborah, but sweet. Thank you very much for taking the time to leave me a note. Brenda

  • Kimberly Fri March 24, 2018 at 12:48 pm

    I agree, you need to right this story, your story. What a life you have led, what a survivor you are! So many will be helped by this. I encourage you to GO FOR IT!

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 2:29 pm

      And you haven’t even read the good parts, yet. Thanks, Kim! xoxox

  • Kimberly Frick March 24, 2018 at 12:49 pm

    Oh Brenda, I agree with everyone! You must write this story, your story! So many will be helped an we all will hang on every word.

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 2:30 pm

      Thanks for leaving two messages!! LOL! Brenda

  • LA CONTESSA March 24, 2018 at 3:22 pm

    GOOD GRIEF!
    CANNOT SAY I WOULD OF STAYED ONBOARD!!!!!!
    HOWEVER, I WILL READ YOUR STORY with INTEREST!!!!!!

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 2:37 pm

      I hear you, Contessa. I could say this wasn’t your average “drinks too much” story with many, complicated, unbelievable variables, and that would be more than true. Plus he was so revered and respected, I didn’t want anyone to know about some of his lesser qualities. Before he was diagnosed with lung cancer, I’d begun to seriously think about leaving him. Then it became about trying to “cure” him and then just be there for him when he died. COMPLICATED!! Then there’s my train… That ride was equally terrifying, unseen, caught me off guard… Not sure what word to use. It’s a doozy! Thanks, Brenda

  • Gayle March 24, 2018 at 3:35 pm

    OMG, I was breathless with fear, excitement and yes, joy! You are gifted. In this short piece I came to realize an extended family member is on the train your husband was on and how will he get off??? I thought it was his own journey and maybe not, it is a trip that needs a map. More please, we all have a story but not as dramatic or interesting. You are and were beautiful, I am pleasant looking, I always wondered about beauty and the people it attracts….

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 2:48 pm

      Hi Gayle, I’m glad you had all of those feelings as you read the piece. Thank you, for the sweet compliments. In this piece I’m only referring to my first husband and me, plus I mentioned the psychiatrist. No extended family members, although a cast of thousands were affected. Your comments about beauty… I never thought I was beautiful. Attractive, pleasant, yes, but never beautiful. Now that I’m in my 60’s, I look back at that young woman and am sorry I never appreciated her more, especially her inner strength. Money, fame, beauty… Honest to goodness… They’re not important. I now believe, with every fiber in me, the most important things are whether you know you’re loved by God and you love Him in return. Everything else is gravy. Brenda

  • Hilda Smith March 24, 2018 at 6:00 pm

    Yes Brenda..you have led such an interesting life and you tell it so well. I love reading these extracts!!!

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 2:49 pm

      Thank you, Hilda! I appreciate your comment, and I’m delighted you like to read them. Brenda

  • Lee March 24, 2018 at 6:23 pm

    Dear Brenda,
    Don’t know how you found me, but sure glad you did!!!!! Just read your story—-and yes, I agree with all the others, YOU ARE SO GIFTED, YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO WRITE THE FULL STORY OF YOUR LIFE!!!!! You are gifted AND deep AND tough!!!!!!!

    We have soooooooooooo much in common, though our lives have been very different! We both love life AND are fighters!!!!! We have a lot in common—–just one thing—-is cancer. ( have survived it twice——once at 70 and second time and then again at 84 — a total of 10 surgeries). I am now 93 and one-half and act like I’m pushing 60!!! My secret? (Don’t have anything to do with old people!!!!!) I’m in the process of writing a book and it is entitled: “Wake UP….DRESS UP…… and SHOW UP!!” It’s about my speaking career and my being a “Late Bloomer”!!!!! You have inspired me to finish my book!!!!! And I don’t have as much time as you do!!!!!!!

    Hope I am inspiring you just a bit!!! You are a beautiful young woman and have already accomplished SO MUCH already!!! But the best is yet to come—–I’m positive!!!!!

    Thank you for inspiring me!!!!!!
    Lee

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 3:03 pm

      Hi Lee, You’re my kind of woman! A tough, funny survivor! I had 10 breast cancer surgeries as well, but then you may know that. You MUST finish your book, because the title is all encompassing! WAKE UP… Not just in the morning, but wakeup about where you are in your life and get on with the business of living and doing what’s important to you. YOU ARE AMAZING!! Many… most of us won’t make it to 93.5 years old, and if we do, we won’t have the spirit and drive to write a book. You’re extraordinary! I’ve looked you up on the internet and think we need to meet. I’d love to do a story about you! Thank you for your kind words… I inspired you!! Who would have thought it? YOU’RE THE INSPIRATION DEAR LADY! Thank you, Brenda

    • Mithra Ballesteros March 26, 2018 at 9:02 am

      Lee, are you writing a blog? I’d sure be interested in following you!

      • Brenda Coffee March 26, 2018 at 2:49 pm

        Wouldn’t you thought, Mithra? I’ve already gotten ahold of Lee and am taking a photographer and going to interview her. She’s a story for sure! Talk about stamina!! How does someone her age have the stamina to write a book? From what I’ve gathered, she’s an amazing woman. Stay tuned for her story! Brenda

  • Donna O’Klock March 24, 2018 at 9:39 pm

    More. More. More!

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 3:07 pm

      My cheerleader!! Thank you, Donna! xoxox, Brenda

  • Mamavalveeta03 March 25, 2018 at 2:42 am

    Phillip sounds like he had charisma in spades! But sometimes the ones we can’t look away from are the ones that threaten to suck all of the life out of us. His mental illness combined with drugs and alcohol was a certain recipe for disaster, and he was more than willing to pull you down with him…but you’re a strong woman, Brenda…even when you were barely more than a girl! Our life experiences make us who we become, and yours have certainly made you compassionate, funny, with a spine of steel and a heart full of compassion.

    Your life with Phillip certainly makes for an interesting memoir, although I have a feeling that the writing process wouldn’t be easy. Write it because you HAVE to – not because others want you to. Love and hugs XOX Val

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 3:46 pm

      Dearest Val, You’re always so perceptive… about everything! You’re right in that writing this book would be difficult although it would be more than writing about him. It’s my incredible journey after him. And if I’m to be totally honest, he’s slipped through the cracks of history, and that makes me sad. The saying, “Success has a 1000 fathers, but failure is a bastard,” is true in his case. The history of the computer and the microprocessor is a fairy tale, and I’m the only one who will set the record straight… and then there’s…. another biggie. A number of people have wanted me to write the true story for 20 years, but that’s just a blip in time compared to this wild train ride. You’re also right when you say I need to write it because I WANT to… HAVE to, not because that’s what others want. That’s what I don’t know, yet… It’s not going back and reliving everything as much as it is the dedication it takes to write a book!!! All encompassing!!! In his low key, quiet way, his charisma was this strong magnet. People came to our house just to be around him and learn from him, although please don’t get the idea that he cultivated center stage. Just the opposite. Out of college he took the Dale Carnegie course, and made everything about other people, but it just made them clammer for more of him. While I know he loved me, I was an extension of him. He valued my intelligence and strength and never treated me like I was only 21, but like his peer. That could have been Dale Carnegie at work, but it wasn’t. I never wanted to disappoint him, even when he pushed me in directions he knew were bad for me… And there were many! By the time he was diagnosed with lung cancer, I was DONE… but he didn’t know that. Lots of things to think about, but the world will go on spinning regardless of what I do, so I don’t have any pressure. Thank you for your concern and for being such a sweet, forgiving, loving friend. I appreciate you more than you know. Love, Brenda

  • Terry Corley March 25, 2018 at 11:14 am

    Yes! Yes! Please write your memoir!

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 3:47 pm

      I hear you, Terry! I’m thinking about it!! The real question is are all of you ready for it? Thanks for leaving me a note, Brenda

  • Amy Kennedy March 25, 2018 at 4:17 pm

    Oh my goodness, please write this book! So many have been down that path with addiction and your writing is so compelling, its a story that will resonate with so many! The places and circumstances are different of course but addiction is a nightmare that so many of us know first hand either by our own doing or someone we love. You are a fantastic writer and this is an incredible story.

    • 1010ParkPlace March 25, 2018 at 9:37 pm

      I appreciate that, Amy. Thank you, and I agree… Far too many of us know far too much about addiction. I continue to wonder how new addicts get sucked in when they see what it’s done to others, but drugs have a way of fooling us… We’ll be different. We can stop when we want. When I met my first husband, he would nurse a gin and tonic all night, so to see him go down this road… Thank you, again, for your support. Brenda

  • Sandra Sallin-Apart From My Art March 26, 2018 at 1:29 am

    OMG! You’re better than I thought you were. Now I’m going to go back and reread this because I love it so much and I also want to read all the comments. Girl, you’ve got it in spades.

    • 1010ParkPlace March 26, 2018 at 2:22 pm

      LOL! Thank you, Sandra! You’re sweet and funny, and I appreciate you, Brenda

  • Sandra Sallin-Apart From My Art March 26, 2018 at 1:46 am

    Well, how about being a Charles Dickens and write your memoirs weekly or monthly. You can’t leave us wanting so much more. It’s not just about your husband it’s about you. What is that bit about computers? Why 10 breast cancer surgeries? Landing on an aircraft carrier.Your life is like Raiders of the Lost Ark!
    Truly you are a gifted writer with a hell of a story to tell. I adore you!

    • 1010ParkPlace March 26, 2018 at 2:26 pm

      Sandra, If I tell this story, I will have to have a total handle on how it’s presented. If I did installments, I wouldn’t have that. It wouldn’t be any different from short, weekly blogs, with much… accidentally left out, but thanks for offering me an alternative. This is a big story… shocking and amazing at the same time! I have to either do it all or nothing, and yes… We were Indiana Jones before there was an Indiana Jones. Thank you for your encouragement and compliments. They are so appreciated. xoxox, Brenda

  • Mithra Ballesteros March 26, 2018 at 9:09 am

    Brenda, if you ever want to talk about the pros and cons of writing this book, please call me. Not to be entered into lightly. It would be an all-consuming affair. You would be boarding another “train.” But I sure understand the urge. And you have a story, you have the ability to tell a story, I bet you have connections to getting the story in print, you have an audience, and maybe you have the stamina. Now, the fear part, there’s the rub…

    • 1010ParkPlace March 26, 2018 at 2:38 pm

      Hi Mithra, You’re so right. It would be all consuming… another full-time train, and that’s why I’m not sure I want to write it. In the late ’90’s, I wrote a thriller… a fictionalized version of two threads of what would be my “memoir,” and got a well-known agent. Unfortunately she had personal problems and had to leave the agency. By the time the agency discovered my manuscript in her office, they were all too overloaded to take it on, and I didn’t have the desire to find another agent. I’d accomplished my goal: I wrote an incredible story and for a time, it was out of my system. In reality I know that will never happen. I also wonder if it’s a story that’s in anyone’s best interest to tell. My main “rub” is that it would be an all consuming job, thinking about how I’d lay out my story and then actually writing it. You mentioned fear… only from guys out there named Chico and Chuy and Guido and Little Louie. Thank you, friend, for offering to help me think through this. xoxox, Brenda

  • Pat March 26, 2018 at 12:45 pm

    Wow Brenda I am hooked on your story. You must write that memoir and I will be the first to by it.

    • 1010ParkPlace March 26, 2018 at 2:39 pm

      Thank you, Pat! I appreciate your encouragement and support and for letting me know. I really, really appreciate it. Brenda

  • Jill Anthony April 29, 2018 at 8:02 pm

    Brenda, you had me at “I’ve often wondered if he liked to posses me…”. Your work is always raw and honest. You are so incredibly talented. Oh we all want more!!!!

    • Brenda Coffee April 30, 2018 at 3:24 pm

      Thank you, Jill for your kind words. Raw and honest… I hear that a lot about my writing, but in fact, it’s the only way I know to write. My uncensored thoughts and memories come flooding from my brain to the keyboard. Still thinking about writing a memoir. xoxox, Brenda

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