In 1960 I spent four months in a small town called Petersburg, NE where I had spent most of my growing up years. I had been away for two years and homesickness had assaulted me on a daily basis. Returning brought me great joy. That little town proved to be the nucleus in my life of great happiness and great tragedy. When I lived there my father had raped me when I was thirteen years old. My mother found out and had my father beat me for what he had done. Her motto was “Even when he’s wrong he’s right.” I found out years later that that was the motto of all women of that era and they found nothing wrong with it. My life descended into hell. We had moved away in 1958 and my return was to help a former neighborhood friend of ours who had five small children. To me it meant mainly that I was returning to that town I loved so much. I had had two sanctuaries. One was a forested area called Rae Creek where I had escaped to whenever possible to sit on limbs of trees and write poetry. There, I could find happiness, however fleeting. But I had another sanctuary. Her name was Sr. Stephanie and she was my Biology teacher in my sophomore year. She had about her an era of a shining light. Her eyes were always filled with life, her skin glowed and she floated through the four stories of St. John the Baptist Catholic School with the grace of a ballerina. I grew to love her so much that she seemed more my mother than my real mother. I would do anything for her. A friend of mine and I spent many joyous hours that summer doing things for Sr. Stephanie. Whatever she wanted we cheerfully did. It was a summer of bliss. No father raping me, no mother having him beat me, no dark and stormy times. I was home! Home! And mostly I was with Rae Creek and Sr. Stephanie.
My summer came to an end and I had to return to California where my parents increased their violence, their discipline, and their loathing of me as they told everyone I was no good. When I was 18 I ran away from home after a beating that almost killed me. I spent the next two and a half decades going from one abuser to another, and had two nervous breakdowns after failed suicide attempts until I finally entered recovery at the age of 45. By then I was married to my third abuser, was still suicidal, filled with despair and living part time in a women’s shelter. Once my recovery was completed my motto was: “If I’d have known life was going to turn out this good I would have started it sooner.”
In those early days I lost my connection to Sr. Stephanie. I tried everything to find her. Year after year I questioned other nuns of the same order, sent letters to people who may have been with her, and pestered people who lived in Petersburg that may know something. Always I came up with a dead end. When I returned to Petersburg after a 22 year absence I raced madly down a country road to see my old friend Rae Creek. My throat was dry with anticipation. It had lived in my memory and in my poetry for so long that my anticipation made my heart feel it would burst.
Rae Creek was gone. A tornado in the seventies had tore most of the oak and cottonwood trees out and an elm disease took the rest. Without any shade Rae Creek dried up and all I saw was a muddy trickle of water going through a barren piece of land. I sat by the side of the road and cried till I had no more tears.
Back in California I continued my search for Sr. Stephanie. Year after year I followed any thread I could. Then in 2009, almost 50 years since I had seen her last I received an email from a gal named Pam that I had never met but had found out about my search and wanted to help. She had connections with some of the other nuns and began a crusade to make my dream come true. One day she sent me the name and address of a woman who she said might be Sr. Stephanie or might know of her. I sat down and wrote a heartfelt letter of how hard I’d been searching, how much I had loved her, how thinking of her through all the despair I had had in my life was a light that kept me going. Was their any way she could be Sr.Stephanie or knew of her whereabouts? I had little hope as the lady I was writing to was obviously not a nun. But maybe she would know something, anything.
A few days later I received a letter in response. The letter began: “Dear Margie, Yes, I was Sister Stephanie. I can’t tell you how surprised I was, not only to hear from you, but how heart-broken I was to learn of all the trauma that was a part of your life for so many years.” She went on to explain that she had left the convent, had been married for over 40 years and that she and her husband, while they lived in Wisconsin, had a summer home in Mesa, AZ which was only 1.5 hours from me. They were coming down in a few weeks and she was eager to see me.
That is the definition of Happiness; it is the end of a search, a dream you live with that you think will never come to be. I cried and cried, jumping around like a three year old, so filled with joy I thought my heart would break. Our reunion a few weeks later when she and her husband drove up to spend a day and a night with us was a great and tender moment in my life.