Every Woman a Road Warrior
New anthology is a travelogue of women’s lives
By Gregory Flannery
I’ve never been a woman and never owned a truck, and I have enough lingering sexist prejudice that I’m still surprised when I see a woman driving one. That said, a truck might have been the perfect cover illustration for When One Door Closes: Reflections from Women on Life’s Turning Points.
Trucks figure prominently in two of the 56 essays that make up this powerful anthology. One author credits a garbage truck that crashed into her car with leading her to a career of religious ministry. Another author describes the murder of her daughter by an estranged husband, who first rammed her car with his truck and then shot her as she dangled upside-down, suspended by a seat belt.
This diverse collection traverses the winding roadway from tragedy to triumph and all points in between in the lives of women. Edited by Teri Spahr Nelson, a clinical social worker in Oxford, Ohio, When One Door Closes does not settle for blithe happy endings but relates the hard-earned wisdom of women who have encountered detours, road closings and potholes and sometimes run out of gas on their journeys.
Readers will know from the start that this is no Chicken Soup for the Soul takeoff. The first essay is by a woman married to a female-to-male transsexual, frustrated that so many questions about their relationship are merely anatomical. Another author talks about her four marriages. Yet another describes herself as happily married but unable to escape the feelings she has for another man.
Spahr Nelson has organized the essays into chapters that capture some of the complexity of women’s lives – marriage and divorce, parenting, abuse, illness, addiction, finding one’s identity, careers and death. Death makes many appearances.
“I’m Here,” by Alice Coggin Bagley, caught me off guard. Her account of her friend’s dying day is excruciating. Bagley had the unhappy task of helping her friend’s family prepare for the death – a task I had in the case of both my parents but which didn’t affect me in the gut-wrenching way this essay did.
In “Paula,” Vickie Andresen Sedillo discusses the suicide of her schizophrenic mother: “By the time the news came that Mom had died, she had been dead for years. Not her body, but whatever it was deep inside her that made her my mother was long dead.” As if to drive home the point, the mother’s body lay undiscovered for two months in her apartment in the Arizona desert. To Sedillo and her friend fell the odiferous task of cleaning up afterward.
“We did it all in one day, with no help from the men,” Sedillo writes. “This is not to say that the guys wouldn’t have helped, had we asked them to help us. Uncle Johnny, however, had gone an eloquent shade of green the first time he smelled the papers that Paula and I carried through the house.”
Other kinds of loss can be equally grievous. One author comes to terms with learning that she must carry her dead fetus to delivery for several weeks, only to have her husband make sexual overtures a few days later. Another writer, Erin Wilson, is shocked by the idiotic comment of a doctor who refuses to perform a vasectomy on her young husband because his “next wife” might want children.
But Wilson’s essay, like others in this book, isn’t without humor – though in the case of her essay, “Biology,” some of the laughs might be best appreciated by women. Wilson describes the pre-surgical preparation for the vasectomy – “his rooster plucked of every last feather, head bowed in reverence to the upcoming chop.” In “Shopping in the Sperm Aisle,” Rebecca J. Love reveals that an extra $85 will pay for the seed of a donor who has a Ph.D.
Seemingly minor events can prove life-altering. In “Ending the Tyranny of ‘Supposed To,’ ” Margo Pierce – a contributing writer for Streetvibes – describes the awakening she experienced when she put canisters on her kitchen counter-top. It was an act of rebellion against a domineering husband. But it was the reaction by Pierce’s sister that made the author realize that something in her marriage was terribly wrong.
After each chapter, Spahr Nelson lists “Reflection Points,” and she closes the book with “Lessons Learned.” These are helpful and un-intrusive but sometimes unnecessary. The authors do a fine job of drawing the lessons on their own.
In “Winter Solstice,” Karen Ander Francis notes, “Resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
“A New Challenge” by Va Vang, who moved in 1975 from Laos to Thailand and then to the United States, best sums up the book’s theme: “No one really knows what life might throw at us. One day we think that life will be the same and we will be doing the same thing all our lives. Then change strikes without warning.”
Spahr Nelson is donating 35 percent of profits from When One Door Closes to charities: the Global Fund for Women; the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network; the Beginning Over Foundation; the Washington Area Women’s Foundation; and Women’s Legal Resource. To order a copy, visit sugatipublications.com.