THE CHOICES WE MAKE | 1010 Park Place
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THE CHOICES WE MAKE

21-YEAR-OLD BRENDA AND 33-YEAR-OLD PHILIP. PHOTOGRAPHS ©BRENDA COFFEE, 2017
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One of the things I like best about reading blogs is getting an insight into how other women live; a sense of who they are, what troubles them and what lights up their world. Blogs have also underscored something I already knew… how out of the mainstream my life has been.

I’ve also realized, for the most part, the life we have is the life we choose.

Before Philip, my first husband, and I started seeing one another—he was 33 and I was 21—he said I had “everything it took” except I needed someone to take my brain out and play basketball with it. I got it. I needed life experiences and the savvy that comes with them, but little did I know, he would be the one to dribble me down center court.

The choices I made in my 20’s have set the tone for the rest of my life, and they were based on one thing: How could I be a woman this sophisticated, daring, James Bond, darling of Wall Street would be interested in, longterm? How could I compete with Sasha, his former French lover and spy who wrote him heartbreaking, state edited letters from prison? Looking back, I should have been thinking about what I needed from life to make me a fulfilled woman who gave back to the world. But then at 21, few of us are thinking about things like that.

Instead I wanted to be like no other woman Philip had met or ever would meet. I was young and in love. I wanted to be the one he couldn’t live without, and in the end… I learned to be careful what you wish for.

PHILIP, AFTER FOUR DAYS AT SEA IN THE CARIBBEAN, BRINGING THE MAST AROUND

When we first started living together, Philip gave me Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five to read. While I wasn’t your average 21-year-old, I wasn’t ready for this book. Kurt Vonnegut did help me with my “how can I be like no other woman” question.

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down. I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”

In that moment I reinvented myself from the sickly little girl with asthma—who couldn’t take PE—to experiencing most anything Philip wanted me to whether it was sexual, adventurous, dangerous or illegal. I wanted to be the female version of him. The saying, “Fake it till you make it?” Whether we were racing cars, diving for buried ocean treasure, digging for Mayan artifacts or trying to turn the proverbial lead into gold, I pretended to be afraid of nothing and no one.

I WAS 23-YEARS-OLD, GOING OVER THE RACE COURSE IN MY MIND AFTER A PRACTICE LAP.

IN MY MID 20’S, A JOURNALIST FOR SOUTHWEST AIRLINES SPIRT MAGAZINE, FLYING IN THE BACKSEAT OF AN AIR FORCE FIGHTER JET. I WAS WAY PAST BEING AFRAID OF ANYTHING.

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Kurt Vonnegut

I’m not proud of all of my choices, but at some point, I realized I wasn’t pretending anymore. I was really living that life. The nature of my husband’s work and his desire to stay low profile restricted our social circle. While it’s too late for me to be mainstream—and I’m not complaining—it was isolating. I’ve discovered we gravitate toward those with common experiences, but I no longer know anyone like me. And after 45 years of hanging out over the edge, I don’t want to be “Ramborella” anymore.

It’s taken me a year in my new house and a trip to Italy to get comfortable that I’m a different person with a new life. I’m not pretending. It’s a good feeling to be standing on solid ground, on my own terms, knowing I can survive anything.

Have there been any 20-something choices you made that changed your life?

Love, Brenda

26 Comments

  • Reply Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski October 21, 2017 at 1:21 am

    I did some pretty nutty things when I was in my 20’s that led me into the film business. Some of it I should have avoided but it’s in the past. Love your pics.

    • Reply 1010ParkPlace October 21, 2017 at 1:03 pm

      Rebecca, I’d love to read a story written by each of the women I know, like you. I think it would be fascinating and cathartic for all of us, don’t you?

  • Reply Robin LaMonte October 21, 2017 at 5:56 am

    Brenda,

    My life was forever changed at the age of 20 when I became pregnant with my oldest daughter while in college.
    It was an unplanned pregnancy and I had different plans than becoming a mother at the age of 20.
    I moved forward marrying a boy I barely knew, left him at the age of 23, and began my journey as a single parent.
    Thankfully I was determined to make a good life for my daughter and myself and became a flight attendant.
    My world was not full of partying or youthful fun, but of working and surviving as a young mother.
    My choices at the age of 20 changed my life, she made me stronger and a better person.

    Hugs,
    Robin

    • Reply 1010ParkPlace October 21, 2017 at 1:07 pm

      Robin, you made a brave choice. At 18, I took the coward’s way out and had an abortion but married him anyway out of some misplaced sense of guilt. It was also a way for me to get away from my mother. Look at the wonderful experiences you’ve had, watching your daughter grow up and having you as a role model. I’m so awed by you. That couldn’t have been easy. xoxox, Brenda

  • Reply Mithra Ballesteros October 21, 2017 at 6:56 am

    I am intrigued by your post but I’m not sure you’ve told us quite enough! What do you mean by “mainstream”? What mistakes have you made? How were you isolated? Should this be a book? I think probably!

    • Reply 1010ParkPlace October 21, 2017 at 3:13 pm

      Mithra, I’ve tried to answer you here a half a dozen times but erased each one and started over. There are no easy answers, no pretty ones I can offer in this limited space. For a long time I thought I would write a book about Philip but I now realize it’s an even bigger story… I’m thinking about whether I want to “gear up” to do this and if it’s story that’s in anyone’s best interest to tell… For now I’m dipping my toe in the water, here… Brenda

      • Reply Mithra Ballesteros October 21, 2017 at 8:48 pm

        Bravo for dipping your toe in the water. And I guess putting words to paper doesn’t necessarily mean the words have to be public. It might feel good to keep going… though I’d keep a fire going in the hearth in case I needed to destroy something pronto.

        • Reply 1010ParkPlace October 21, 2017 at 11:14 pm

          Mithra, Those things were destroyed long ago. When I told James my story, he insisted I give him all of those things and we never discussed what he did with them. I will say I’ve already written several pieces I’ve never published. One was a thriller… I secured a top agent who subsequently had life pile on top of her and she left the agency. Months went by and I received a letter from them, telling me what had happened: They had a surge of new writers to represent and were not going ahead with her writers… In a way, I was relieved. I’ve not gone through the painful process of finding another agent for the book. From time to time I think I’ll post part of a chapter here on my blog, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the kind of thing my readers want to read on a bright, cheery, Saturday morning. You’ve always left me positive comments when I veer off in that direction. I appreciate those. Thank you.

  • Debby Bain Whitsitt
    Reply Debby Bain Whitsitt October 21, 2017 at 7:24 am

    Brenda, what an encouraging article. I think my life has been the opposite, and I’m ready to soar. It’s been me and my dog now for a about a year. Today is a another new beginning. And I’m excited~ d

    • Reply 1010ParkPlace October 21, 2017 at 3:15 pm

      Oh, Debby! I love hearing this! Take flight and soar as high as you can and take in the view! I’m excited for you! Brenda

  • Reply Pat October 21, 2017 at 8:24 am

    Ah yes, the choices we make may not always the best ones in our youth. But we do learn from each experience. I have found that as women we are always in the process of becoming. I am glad you discovered your authentic self. I am also happy that you had that trip to Italy.

    • Reply 1010ParkPlace October 21, 2017 at 3:16 pm

      Sweet email, Pat. Thank you! As women, we’re generally looking out for not just ourselves, but others who we place ahead of us. “We’re in the process of becoming…. ” That’s one of my primary thoughts, so I love that you think the same way. xoxo, Brenda

  • Reply Anita October 21, 2017 at 9:34 am

    This is well written but I am left wanting more. And you do know people like you….you know me. I have had adventures! Maybe your from the little you said are more extreme – but I understand the need for experiences.
    The Stylish

    • Reply 1010ParkPlace.com October 21, 2017 at 3:29 pm

      Hi Anita, I just left you a comment on your “shoe embellishment” post. So fabulous! I know there are millions of women who’ve had astounding adventures! I just don’t know any that fit into the “can’t talk about it,” “can’t put your garbage on the street for pickup” category. That’s a whole other “undercover” life I’m not sure I’m ready to talk about, but am testing it out, here…. Thank you, Brenda

  • Reply LA CONTESSA October 21, 2017 at 10:21 am

    “WE ARE WHAT WE PRETEND TO BE, SO WE MUST BE CAREFUL ABOUT WHAT WE PRETEND TO BE.” KURT VONNEGUT

    SO,THAT MEANS I AM A REAL LIVING CONTESSA!!!!!!

    I STAYED ON TRACK…………..had DREAMS and you know what?
    THEY ALL CAME TRUE I JUST REALIZED!!!!!
    XX

    • Reply 1010ParkPlace October 21, 2017 at 3:33 pm

      LOL! I LOVE YOU, CONTESSA ELIZABETH! Your zest for life, your individuality and eccentricities that open the rest of us up to the possibilities we can adopt into our own lives. As little girls, we played pretend and were good at it. Who’s to say we can’t still pretend and where the line between pretend and reality are anchored? I pretend. I talk to myself. It’s part of what makes me… ME!! xoxox, Brenda

  • Reply Diane October 21, 2017 at 11:05 am

    In my teens, I knew what I wanted. A cowboy. So, I dated cowboys. Nearly married one or two.
    Then, just before I turned 20, I had a moment of clarity. Cowboys were interesting and sexy as hell, but none of them wanted me to be me. They all wanted their little cheering squad/spotlight to constantly train the beam on them. I realized I would be in the shadows. And while I wasn’t wanting success or recognition, I really wanted to be happy with myself and my accomplishments.
    And I wasn’t.
    I started dating my Husby. A farm boy with a brilliant mind. He went on to doctoral work and government connections and I stayed at home and did the things I wanted. Raising kids and writing.
    My life is totally fulfilling for me. And he has supported my every decision. With enthusiasm.
    He allowed me to be me.
    I will always, ALWAYS be grateful for that moment of clarity.

    • Reply 1010ParkPlace.com October 21, 2017 at 3:40 pm

      Diane, Here’s to moments of clarity and supportive spouses!!! Philip supported what HE thought I should be doing… how HE would have spent HIS time. My goodness, what a PhD I received at his school of life, business and intrigue, but in the end, I was supporting HIM… Toward the end, I kept HIS secrets and protected HIM. I’m not sure he knew that, or if he did, he never acknowledged it. Don’t misinterpret me… I was fulfilled in a world that was bigger than I wouldn’t have known otherwise, but at the time, I wasn’t fulfilled by things that were 100% of my choosing. Lucky you! Brenda

  • Reply Marsha Scott October 21, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    I’ve known that our we are continually learning as we progress through life. There are many of us who don’t, and they just repeat repeat repeat. Life is supposed to be wonderful, I think. I’ve taken many chances, often been led right up to the edge of that cliff, but I’ve never fallen. Then, in itself, is a true learning experience. I think you’re brilliant and simply cannot wait to meet you !!!

    • Reply 1010ParkPlace.com October 21, 2017 at 3:48 pm

      Oh, my! Thank you, Marsha! I’ve never fallen off the cliff, either, and you’re right… That’s where our growth is, hanging on for dear life, rethinking the best ways to step back and start again. “The Boyfriend from Hell” said I was too stupid to know when I was in trouble…. LOL! I think it shook his belief in his strength that I responded and bounced back from situations he couldn’t and/or wouldn’t have thought of bouncing back from. Life is such a classroom, whether we grab hold of our dreams or sit back and dream. xox, Brenda

  • Reply Mamavalveeta03 October 21, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    Ah, my 20’s…I was pretty lost at that time. In college, lonely, insecure and not sure of what I wanted to do, but having big dreams of moving to NYC. This from the inexperienced Wisconsin girl who grew-up very sheltered in a town of 1200 people. My drinking at the time was out of control and changed my life in ways that I never bargained for.

    I think it was fate that I met my future husband, Bill, at a time when I was so at odds with my true self. I wanted to be the fearless girl that was always up for adventure (like hitch-hiking and jumping on a big ol’ Harley with a biker gang!) and yet, I didn’t like myself very much. But Bill helped me to see that I was important…he valued me and I began to value myself. I cut way back on drinking and I liked the feeling of having control over my decisions. Although I never expected to get married 6 days after graduation, it’s the best decision I ever made. We’ve grown-up together, had 3 gorgeous & amazing daughters and now 3 grandkids, we’re empty nesters and enjoying each other’ company more than ever. I feel like we’ve had many “adventures” throughout our life together and I look forward to more!

    I’d love to know more of your story, Brenda! Whenever you’re ready to share it. 🙂

    • Reply 1010ParkPlace October 21, 2017 at 11:33 pm

      Val, You’re lucky something really bad didn’t happen to you before you met Bill. Brave of you to share this. So many young women are vulnerable, alone and adrift at that age and go down the wrong path. The young, ex-girlfriend of a friend of mine is there now. She doesn’t like herself, and I fear she’s staying in a self-destructive mode because of that. She’s said as much. I love that you found someone who “valued you.” James told me those words, daily. He rescued me in so many ways. He was angry with Philip because he put me at risk so many times…. The year we knew Philip had terminal cancer, he never spoke about that or that he knew we was leaving me in a serious financial hole. Before they lowered his casket into the ground, I leaned over and said, “Damn you!” and slammed my fist into the top of the casket. The pictures I used of him in this post have really gotten to me today, made me think of the good times and how there was nothing I could do to stop “his train.” My only alternative would have been to “get off,” but I knew he would self destruct in an even more brutal way, so I couldn’t bring myself to leave him. He needed me to protect himself and his reputation… Kind of strange that after all of that, I’m thinking about writing a book that won’t always paint him in a good light.

  • Reply Doreen McGettigan October 24, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    Oh the choices we made in our 20’s…I got married at 16 to get away from my mother, had my first child at 17-because I wanted to be a better mother than the one I had and at 23 with 2 and 3/4 children I realized I made a huge mistake and divorced my husband.
    I agree with the other commenters, I would love to read the book version of your story. I am SO happy you aren’t like anyone else. I really, really like just who you are.
    I suppose we should be grateful for the paths we took and the people who came in and out of our lives. Without them we wouldn’t be who we are.

    • Reply 1010ParkPlace October 25, 2017 at 7:01 pm

      Thank you, Doreen. You’re right: If we went back and changed anything, something about us would have changed. While much of what we experienced was difficult and tragic, it gives us the ability to reach out and help others, like you have done. Your two books are amazing. Speaking of those, I’m emailing you now… xoxox, Brenda

  • Reply Elizabeth Comuzzi October 25, 2017 at 8:16 am

    In my 20’s I did everything I was “expected” to do…university, graduate school, career, husband and babies…..phew….Now lets talk about my 40’s cause that is when I came of age! New circle of powerful girlfriends lead to a whole new lease on life and well everything that comes with being empowered, confident, successful, healthy and in control….I was a magnate for everything “fabulous”. While finding the fabulous, I at times stumbled or down right fell down but it was all part of this incredible journey that has lead to a life that is awesome!

    I try to guide my 2 daughters who are in their 20’s to LIVE LIFE and LIVE THEIR ADVENTURE….guess where they are… in University! Hopefully it won’t take them till their 40’s…I keep coaching them…time will tell….

    Great blog!

    • Reply 1010ParkPlace October 25, 2017 at 7:26 pm

      You have done everything expected of you, and it sounds like you’ve done them well. Brava! I love knowing women are empowered and the journey they took. Your daughters are so blessed to have a mother like you tutoring them. My mother was just the opposite, and after high school, I ran in the opposite direction from her as fast as I could. My path was full of the empowered, confident and successful, but they were all men. I must give my first husband, Philip, much credit because he gave me great responsibility and put me in positions of power that grad school couldn’t have done. Not all of it was pleasant. All of it was an amazing growth opportunity I wouldn’t change for anything… even knowing everything I know now. I’m so happy you like my blog! Thank you! Brenda

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