Fifty Years of Bad Decisions:
Change the Voices Within—and Without
Breaking the Legacy of Silence
Kim D. Bailey
“Made a wrong turn, once or twice
Dug my way out, blood and fire,
Bad decisions, that’s all right
Welcome to my silly life.”
F**king Perfect, by P!nk
It is no secret to those who know me that I’ve been through a lot of shit.
Some of it was not by choice. Some of the hell I endured was indeed from making “bad” decisions. And some of it happened because life is a mystery and we don’t have control over everything that happens to us or around us.
My earliest memories include self-loathing. I felt like a burden, unworthy of love, time, attention, or protection from those who were in charge of providing those things and more.
These memories were compounded and reinforced by my encounters with people who continued to amalgamate my feelings of worthlessness into a magnet that attracted people who sustained these feelings, and often intensified them.
I married my first husband because I was pregnant. I knew he didn’t love me, not as I thought I loved him. My second marriage was one I entered knowing I didn’t love him as I should. I could go on, but the fact is, I married men, or had relationships with others, who were either emotionally unavailable to me, who actively and/or passively devalued me, and some who physically and mentally abused me. I felt I deserved nothing less, and the idea of deserving more was out of my mental and emotional reach for far too long.
Once I became a mother, especially after my second child was born, I began to see that I had some value. I deserved to be treated with respect. My children were tiny human beings that I not only helped to create, but brought forth into this world and nurtured, and loved. I didn’t know exactly how to do this. Some of it was instinctual, but some of it had to be learned.
My friend Peggy was someone I watched and learned from so I could be a better mother. She had nursed all three of her children, and she was patient with them. Her kids knew, beyond any doubt, their mother loved them and would protect them.
I voluntarily took parenting classes. You know—the kind that some people are court-ordered to take, or else the state will take their kids away? Yeah. Those classes. I knew I didn’t have the role model I needed growing up to be the most effective, loving, and nurturing mother to my children. That was a hard truth to not only accept, but to overcome and be willing to change. Still, my wish to give my children what I never had was overarching, so I swallowed my pride and shame. I did what I had to do.
Despite my intentions, I failed at my marriages. They say it takes two to make it, as well as to break it. I agree, but when one goes into a marriage or relationship knowing his or her heart isn’t in it, the other person is at a disadvantage. Still, as my ex-husband Thomas said to me several years ago, “At some point, you just have to let all of that go.” It was his way of telling me he forgave me for not loving him enough. He knew I did the best I could with what I had at the time. He also knew he couldn’t give me what I needed—unconditional love and respect that valued me for me, with all of my character flaws and all the damaged parts of me, the broken places inflicted by others.
I also forgave my first husband for the same, for not loving me as he promised he would. I recognized, as I grew older, that each relationship was imperfect and for the most part, forced by one or both of us, in order to conform to some societal “norm” or simply because the result, to love and be loved, was one initiated out of desperation.
My other life choices have been less than stellar, though I will say, I worked hard to make them better than one would expect.
Although I didn’t graduate from high school, I went on to earn an associate degree and then a bachelor degree, the latter from the University of Oklahoma. The degree is in Liberal Studies—not one that can acquire most jobs—but I used it to work for several years with the State of Oklahoma’s Developmental Disabilities Services Division. My work there made a difference. I didn’t earn a lot of money, relative to other careers involving technology, law, health, or corporate tracks. However, I did make enough to take care of myself and my children for a period of time.
Life has been messy. Health issues, divorce, financial woes, and lack of natural supports combined with my low self-esteem, all created a sinkhole of failure and despair.
One day, I began to write about all of it, and I made my way out of the hole.
So here I am, a 50-year-old woman who has made more “bad” decisions. I’ve been homeless this year, left a relationship of nearly four years for reasons many would say aren’t valid due to their beliefs, and I’ve had to beg and borrow to survive.
In February, I found a place to rent at a moment’s notice because the arrangements I had made with another landlord fell through on the morning I was to get my apartment keys. That particular apartment was one I could afford on low income, and she essentially screwed me by backing out of the whole thing last minute. The place I found, that same day, cost twice as much to rent and required four times the deposit. But, being a survivor and fighter, I took it with full intentions and the belief that I could make it work. I also had some financial help to get into the place, so I did what I felt was my only option—besides living in my car.
Last month, my landlord said I needed to find a different place or come up with a better job or he would have to “do something different,” because I paid my rent late in March and April. Shan and I began to look for another less expensive place.
One such place we looked at was a small apartment in an old historic building in Fort Oglethorpe. It was beautiful, built in the early 1900’s, with wood floors and a view of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Civil War Battlefield from the bedroom window. The rent was reasonable, deposits were small, and he would accept our dog.
We met with the landlord there and he invited us into his office to sit and talk, so he could get “a feel for who you are.” He didn’t run credit checks or anything fancy like that. He talked with all of his prospective tenants and got to know them, thereby making his decision to rent to them based on his instincts and any facts gleaned from these encounters.
He asked us where we were living at the moment. Instead of lie to him about the situation, we told the truth. It would have been easy to lie or withhold information, but we chose otherwise.
He got a little personal, which I allowed at first. He wanted an overall picture of our lives and decisions. I had been divorced, had a bankruptcy back in 1998, and Shan had his own broken past.
Then he began to talk about how he comes to his decision to rent to someone. He sat back in his chair, hands folded and tucked under his chin, and in his patriarchal and what he probably imagined, “fatherly” way, told us how the cow eats the cabbage.
“Well, I like to consider myself a fair man, and one who lives right. I go to church, and I tithe, and I try to help people who need help. But you see, I’m a business man. And your situation doesn’t look very good. After all,” he said, looking directly at me, “fifty years of bad decisions doesn’t hold up.”
At first I heard these words, especially the last ones, with a fair amount of cynicism and disappointment. I knew he found us lacking, not only financially, but according to his moral standards. When Shan and I left, I had a sense of being “put in my place.” Old feelings, and old words, came back to me in a rush.
You’ll never measure up.
You’ll never be good enough.
You’d be perfect if you lost about 25 pounds.
Your face is too asymmetrical. That crooked mouth of yours…
You’re a flake.
You’re too emotional.
When will you ever learn?
What’s wrong with you?
You need a psychiatrist, or some pills, you’re crazy.
I still don’t respect you, and probably never will.
Why can’t you just act right?
You brought this on yourself.
I could go on, but you get the gist.
So, for the last three weeks or so, these words have hovered in my mind like the mist hangs just at the top of these mountains around Chattanooga, obscuring the view.
Some old demons have come to make camp. We moved, physically everything, by ourselves two weeks ago this Sunday. We barely made the rent and deposit. I wondered how we would pay other bills. Since I wanted to be responsible, I nearly backed out of a writing seminar I paid for last December, before all of this craziness happened and I found myself scrambling to survive.
Provisions were made, but the demons lingered. I had a Fibromyalgia flare. I wanted to eat everything I could get my hands on and then go purge it. I wanted to restrict food, or just not eat at all. At one point, I wanted to cut myself, to feel that pain on the outside and alleviate the torture on the inside. Fear drove me to push and punch at those who do love me, and to grasp after those who don’t, those who say they do but withhold their time, attention, and respect while telling me it’s my fault they reject me. I wanted to scream, sleep all day and night, run away, cry, and rage.
When deciding what to write for this column installment, I already had a couple of ideas in place for about three columns, but I chose to write this one as a preamble to those to come.
In the last three weeks I have been reminded, without any doubt, that there are those who still see me, my gender, and my history as weak, degenerate, unsuccessful, invalid, and unworthy of respect.
Patriarchy, misogyny, and classism—that gentrification and colonial mindset—are still alive and kicking, especially here in Northwest Georgia. It still reaches out to me from my past when I’m reminded that my voice and my truth are all lies, according to a couple of exes and our progeny. It still takes measure of me in my job, bank account, and buying power.
But you know, after some thought, and fighting with those old demons, I’ve found I am livid.
I am enraged that a man, who knows nothing about me and my past or present, would have the audacity to sum me up in one sentence and attribute all of my failures as bad decisions on my part. I am hurt and angry that I cannot have a relationship with people I love because they believe the lies about me that I once believed of myself.
I can take responsibility for myself. Does that mean my entire life has been nothing but one bad decision after another?
No, it does not.
My life is exactly that—mine. I do the best with it each day. No one has a right to preface their justifications for denying me anything based on who I am, or even all I’ve done. Deny me your time, protection, money, or love—just do it honestly and take responsibility for it instead of pushing that off on me.
Next week I will speak more to misogyny and patriarchy, experienced from a friend’s point of view and my own, from seemingly innocuous sources; men who were our “friends” and who flaunt their feminist badges with pride, when in fact, they harbor deep disdain for our gender.
Meanwhile, change the voices. Don’t let them change you, unless the messages are loving and kind. Hard decisions aren’t necessarily bad decisions. Failure doesn’t automatically equate to bad decisions, either.
In fact, some of the best lessons and gifts in my life have come from “bad” decisions. If this weren’t true, I would only have two children, and not four.
What “bad decisions” have turned out to be beautiful gifts in your life?