1981-1982 Finding Mr. Right

A few days after I turned 26, something wonderful happened. I met my husband at a Halloween party. It was shortly after I decided I would never find true love and I should give up the search and begin my life as an independent woman. I mailed my last law school application a day or so before the party and began planning a trip to visit law schools in the Midwest. I have always believed that one reason the relationship was a success is that I had finally decided to be me instead of trying to be who I thought the guy I was attracted to wanted me to be.

Was it love at first sight? I’m not sure what that means – I was immediately attracted to Rick, but it took a bit longer for the relationship to develop. One of my housemates worked in the building where Rick was doing his PhD research so we immediately began planning when and how I could see him again. An upcoming party at our house seemed to be the perfect opportunity.

Now we are entering territory that some of you (including our children) have heard before – “How did you meet, where did you go on your first date, when did you decide to get married etc. etc. etc.”

Duke Play Therapy Staff with Dr. Katz - Head of Pediatrics - 1981
Duke Play Therapy Staff with Dr. Katz – Head of Pediatrics – October 31, 1981

So here’s the official version. We met on Halloween at a party I almost didn’t go to. Halloween was a big day on the pediatric ward. The play therapy staff had dressed up as characters from the Wizard of Oz – I was Dorothy.  I was exhausted when I got home and didn’t have the energy to think of a costume or go out, but my roommates convinced me to join them. I threw together something fun at the last minute – it was fun to be something other than Dorothy and I went.

 Definitely not Dorothy
Definitely not Dorothy
Rick as a priest
Rick as a priest

As a brief aside – happy anniversary of our first meeting,  Rick. Can you believe it’s been 34 years!

We talked briefly but the music at the party was loud so it was hard to hear each other. I think we danced (that seems so unlikely because Rick doesn’t like to dance but I recall that we danced) and we got the basic information about each other. Rick was a graduate student working on his PhD in Immunology. He was from California. That was pretty exciting in and of itself! California held a mystical appeal for me ever since I was ten years old and our family talked about camping our way across country one summer. That trip never happened but ever since then I’d wanted to go to California.

The night of the party at our house finally arrived and I was looking forward to seeing Rick again. He’d been told that I wanted to get to know him better so he was interested enough to come to a party where he didn’t know anyone. Anyone who knows Rick knows – parties and making small talk with people he doesn’t know are not high on his list of favorite things – so obviously he wanted to get to know me better too. The only problem was that the people I lived with had been telling all the single guys they knew that I was single and really wanted to meet someone. Let’s just say, I was “in demand” on the night of our party.

It seemed like every time I started talking to Rick another guy would come up and I would stop talking to Rick and start talking to the next guy. I’m not quite sure how long this went on, but Rick grew impatient because it didn’t seem that I was interested in getting to know him better, which is what he’d been told. At some point one of my housemates came over to let me know that Rick had just left the party. I remember running to the door in time to see him drive away. I was disappointed – to say the least – but intrigued – looks like he was going to play hard to get.

A few weeks later, at my suggestion, we met in the hospital cafeteria for lunch. Much more conducive to getting to know each other than a loud, crowded party. We had our first date on December 5, 1981 – dinner in Chapel Hill followed by a movie “True Confessions” with Robert Duvall and Robert De Niro. Duvall&DeNiro.1981

TRUE CONFESSIONS, Robert De Niro, 1981, (c) United Artists
TRUE CONFESSIONS, Robert De Niro, 1981, (c) United Artists

Rick was impressed that I ordered a dark beer and shared an octopus appetizer. I remember his yellow Fiat with the blue California personalized license plate – FWG 4 – his curly hair and his Roman nose. He was less thrilled about my curly hair – I’d gotten a perm in between the time I’d met him on Halloween and our first date. He liked my short, straight hair just the way it was (or had been.)

Rick was going home to California that Christmas but he gave me a dozen red roses before he left. I’m not sure I’d ever gotten a dozen roses from anyone before.  I gave him a shirt for Christmas that I spent a long time picking out and thought would look good on him. I could tell something was wrong when he opened it and checked the label. That was when I learned that he only wears shirts that are 100% cotton! And to this day that is true and he washes and irons every one of them himself.

By March or April of 1982, it was pretty clear that this was a serious relationship for both of us. The only problem was that I was about to leave Durham to start law school. I had been accepted at Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Maryland in Baltimore and I was on the wait list at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. About a week before school started, I got into UNC law school and wondered whether or not I should stay in North Carolina. We jointly decided that the Washington DC area was a likely place for Rick to get a fellowship or post-doc position after he finished his PhD so I decided to attend the University of Maryland in Baltimore. I moved to Baltimore in August 1982 and was very excited to start law school.


1980 – 1981 – The Quarter Century Mark!

When you say it that way – it sounds old. Though turning 18 or 21 signals being and adult (voting, drinking, signing contracts, etc.) I think turning 25 is a more significant birthday. That’s when rental car companies stop charging a premium! You must be an adult for sure! But more importantly, most 25 year olds have been on their own for a few years and have been making independent life choices for a few years.

When I turned 25 in October 1980, I’d already had one job post-college and was starting my next one (not counting my gigs in the bookstore and fish restaurant!) I’d moved four times in two years – including moves between three states – and I was back where I started. I was “comfortable?” with the notion of being single (not forever – of course.) I was “unattached” for all of 1980 and 1981.

There was no doubt that I suffered “burn out” from the stressful conditions of my first job as a play therapist in Baltimore. When I had the chance to return to Durham NC where I first worked in the play therapy department at Duke University and join a team with five other play therapists, I couldn’t say no. I had a chance to work in the new hospital at Duke Medical Center that opened in October 1980. I had to give it one more shot.

Maybe it hadn’t worked out in Baltimore because I was the only play therapist in the outpatient clinic. I only had 30 minutes to an hour to develop a relationship with parents and children. I often felt like a glorified “baby sitter” keeping children “entertained” while they waited for their appointment. Before giving up the career forever, I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just the setting that had soured me on the job.

I enjoyed my first year back at Duke. The head of the play therapy department was someone I’d worked with when I was a student at Duke and she created a supportive, professional environment. The head of the Pediatric Department – Dr. Katz – was supportive of a play therapist’s role in providing superior care for hospitalized children. I had a co-worker – Alex – who had been an elementary school teacher and had a calm, reassuring manner. It was the perfect opportunity – if I didn’t enjoy being a play therapist here – I would know it was not the right job for me. The two of us covered the 32 beds designated for children from birth to six. There were 3 separate playrooms – one for each age division (0-6), (6-12) and teens. Continue reading

Reflections on my Life Story Writing Project

It’s been hard getting back in the groove of writing my life story after my trip last week to Baltimore and Richmond. It took a few days for me to catch up on sleep – sleep-deprived writing never looks very good the next day. If I’d stuck with my original schedule of a year a day between August 22 and October 20 – I’d be writing about my 41st year by now. Since I just finished my post about my 25th year this morning, I’m about 16 years behind schedule.

Running behind schedule is a trait that has plagued me most of my life – it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. I’m more perplexed by the dread with which I approach each writing session. I want to accomplish what I set out to do, but it isn’t as much fun as it was when I started. Maybe it’s because the years I’ve been writing about recently weren’t very happy times while I was living them so reliving them by writing about them isn’t much fun either.

In an effort to stay on track, I stopped taking the time to find the pictures and excerpts from other sources that made my earlier posts visually appealing. I thought I could always go back and add photos later (though I probably won’t) and I wanted to get each year written. But I had more fun with the story, and I was happier with the finished product, when I took time to find excerpts from my grandfather’s letters about my early years. It provided an objective (and I think more interesting) account of my life. So I plan to go back to that even though I know it will add time to the process.

I tried to “catch up” by lumping some years together but this morning when I returned to my original format of one year per post, it was easier to write. Looking at the busy month I have ahead of me at work, which includes weekend work events on two out of the next three weekends, I’m not likely to complete my life story by my birthday. But as I mentioned in an earlier post – one of the things I like about myself is my ability to change. And since I made the rules about how I was going to write my life story – I can change them. How’s that for self-empowerment!

Deadlines are helpful so it might be time to revisit an idea from the WordPress U Course, Blogging 201, and create an editorial calendar. Once I do this I’ll have a better idea of how long this life story might take. It will also allow time for my other interests (I haven’t been on Ancestry.com in a couple of months and I’m starting to miss the time I spent researching my ancestors’ stories). So I hope this new schedule doesn’t disappoint anyone but I think it will result in better content. Ahhh… I feel better already.

My Life Story Continues – My First Job 1978 – 1980

A bit of background in case you’ve stumbled upon this post by chance. About a month ago I decided it would be “fun”? to capture my life story in 59 days (from August 22 to October 20). You can learn more about that here. After a week’s hiatus which has gotten me seriously behind schedule, I am back on task and looking forward to a rainy weekend to catch up. Today’s post recalls my first job after college, which I started just before I turned 23.

On my own for the first time – in a new city and a very big city at that. I lived in Baltimore Maryland from September 1978 until May 1980. As the outpatient Child Life Specialist at Baltimore City Hospital on Eastern Avenue (now Bayview Hospital) I provided parent education to low income parents – “modeling” good parenting skills while they waited for their pediatrician appointment. I observed parent child interactions and shared my assessments with the pediatricians in the clinic.

There four other women named Cathy or Kathy in the clinic where I worked so when I started my job in Baltimore I became Kalen. New city, new job – seemed like the right time for a new name. Kathy sounded too young, Kathleen sounded too old, and Kalen was just right – it still is. I liked the people I worked with. I had lots of girlfriends who were also single and we had fun together – dinners out, ski trips, camping and hiking, white water rafting and baseball games. I became a huge Baltimore Orioles fan and still remember my favorite players – Rick Dempsey, Scotty McGregor, Doug DeCinces and Earl Weaver the manager. In 1979, the Orioles were in the World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. (Pirates 4 – Orioles 3)

In the first year of my job, the department started a new program to assist with the intake of children who were victims of alleged sexual abuse. The police brought the alleged victim to City Hospital for an examination when sexual abuse was reported. My role was to gather information from the child about what had happened. It was important to be objective and to get the child’s version of events without “suggesting” anything to the child. I also explained the upcoming medical procedure and sometimes stayed with the child during the exam. Continue reading

My College Years – 1975 – 1978

Last week I had a creative burst and published a week’s worth of blogs for Years 14-20 of my life. This week I’ve managed to keep up with my Writing 101 assignments but have not posted anything for my “year a day” challenge. We left off after my first year at Duke University and my trip to Europe during the summer of 1975.

In order to have any hope of staying on track (and finishing my life story by the time I turn 60 on October 20th) I’m going to combine a few years. As people have mentioned, I can always go back and flesh it out. I plan to write one post for each of the  following time periods:

1975 – 1978 – College
1978 – 1980 – First job
1980 – 1982 – Second job

Even though I am at a certain stage of my life where I’m comfortable publishing my “Life Story,” I don’t think I would have been able to do so at any time before now. I kept a journal (off and on) but even if there had been blogs back then, I never would have used this forum for those personal experiences. I think it is important that I have some distance from the events I write about. It is difficult to write objectively about things when you’re living them.

Last week my husband, who has been a faithful reader and admits that he is learning things about me that he never knew, realized that I was getting close to the point in my life when I met him (1981). Over the last few weeks as he’s been reading my blog, he never thought about the fact that he’d soon be appearing in my “Life Story.” He figures prominently so you will definitely start hearing about Rick, as well as our two children, Sarah and Will. But for other people are part of my “Life Story,” you’ll probably start seeing more generic phrases such as “my housemates,” “a classmate,” “co-workers” or “Boyfriend #1, #2 etc.” I think that is the best way to preserve anonymity of people who are part of my life but who may not want “their life story” revealed.

So without further ado:

Years 1975 – 1978 –  My Last Three Years of College

I started my second year at Duke in the fall of 1975 and began to reconsider my original goal of a career in international relations or law. I was struggling, not just academically but emotionally – it was hard for me to find my place at Duke. Not fitting in socially wasn’t that unusual for me, but struggling to do well academically was a first. I could no longer fall back on “well, at least I’m smart.” Everyone at Duke was smart – probably smarter than me. Actually, I felt like EVERYONE there was smarter than me – if that gives you an idea of my emotional state at the time.

I went to the Counseling Department at Duke and began getting individual and group therapy. It should come as no surprise if you read about my early years – I needed some help to improve my mental health and emotional well-being. My parents separated at the end of my sophomore year of college and divorced a year later. My mother explained that they had stayed together “for me” but now that I was “old enough,” they could go their separate ways.

In fall 1975, I started a new work-study job in the Play Therapy Department at Duke Hospital. A play therapist’s role is to provide as normal a childhood experience as possible for hospitalized children. Through play, the child can process what is going on with her illness and the endless medical procedures. For the pediatric patient, time in the playroom offers the chance to interact with other kids and to just be a kid. It also allows the play therapist to observe the child’s developmental and emotional needs and share those observations with the rest of the medical team. I worked in the play therapy department at Duke Hospital for the next three years. Continue reading

My 20th Year – 1974-1975 What’s a Poor Girl from Richmond doing in a Place Like This?

My first job at Duke was as a receptionist at the desk in my dormitory. Gilbert Adams was a large all-girls dorm on East Campus. Boys were not allowed in the building unless accompanied by a resident. There were rooms on the first floor of the dorm that were available for boys and girls to study together or to visit, but the boys had to check in at the front desk to be announced. My job was to use the intercom system to let the girl know she had a “caller.” Most of the time it was a pretty boring job and I could study, but Friday and Saturday nights tended to be busy.

That was not a very exciting job but as an incoming freshman it as a good way to fulfill my required ten hours of work each week. The work-study program was how I earned my spending money while in school. For the second semester my freshman year, I got a job in the East Campus library. I had always loved libraries so being able to work in a beautiful library about a five-minute walk from my dormitory seemed ideal.

When I started at Duke I was planning to go to law school or pursue a career in international relations. My advisor was a professor in the political science department but like most undergraduate advisors, I never found his advice that helpful and I don’t think he really knew who I was. Duke seemed so big and for someone who thrived on teacher student interaction (i.e. I liked being the teacher’s pet) I was lost. There was only one professor who I connected with, my political science professor Dr. Samuel DuBois Cook. Continue reading

My Nineteenth Year – 1973 –1974 College Bound

At the beginning of my senior year of high school, my English teacher arranged a trip to Duke University for some students who were still “undecided” about where they wanted to attend college. I was pretty set on attending William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA but I went along anyway. I should mention that a few days before the trip while taking pictures for yearbook, I had been covering myself in the beautiful fall leaves at the edge of the woods near our school. How I spent two years in Girl Scouts and didn’t learn that poison ivy leaves change color in the fall, I’ll never know but by the time of the trip I was covered in red itchy welts – some wrapped in gauze because they were so disgusting. I was sort of a cross between the worst case of untreated teenage acne you can imagine and a mummy when I toured the campus of Duke University in the fall of 1973.

When the orientation speaker said that the cost of attending Duke should not deter anyone from applying, my ears perked up. The school was committed, through a series of loans, grants and work-study opportunities, to make sure that anyone who met the admissions requirements could attend. Well maybe I could go to Duke after all. Continue reading

My Eighteenth Year – 1972-1973 – A Year of Highs and Lows and Auf gets Lëtzebuergesch

Soon after I turned 17 in October 1972, Buck (my grandfather married to Nana) was diagnosed with cancer and was hospitalized in November. He was in the hospital for several weeks and died four days after Christmas. Buck is my best example of why family is not based on sharing genetic material. I have none of his DNA but always felt closer to him than my biological maternal grandfather.  Buck married Nana (my mother’s mother) after her divorce from Cecil Broski, her first husband. There’s a great story about their marriage in the fourth and fifth paragraphs of this post. How Nana and Buck Married

Buck was a good man and he and Nana had the kind of love that I admire. They respected each other. I will always remember Nana telling me later that even when she came in from working in the garden and her hair was a mess and she felt unattractive, Buck would put his arms around her and tell her she was beautiful. And because of that, she felt beautiful.

Even though we’d all had time (two months) to prepare for it – it was a shock to realize that Buck was dead. I was trying to be stoic, but when I saw Nana cry at his funeral – I completely fell apart. There was such raw anguish in her sobs – a sound I had never heard before. I remember that our close family friend, Mrs. Brennan, consoled me. It was probably the first and only time in my life or hers that Nana couldn’t do that for me. Continue reading

My Seventeenth Year – The Times They are A Changin’

Unfortunately, my father lost his job five days before my 16th birthday in October 1971. His alcohol addiction had gotten so bad that he was making alcohol in his laboratory at work. Interestingly, I don’t think he was drunk at work. He was just finding a way to feed his habit without costing the family a lot of money. But then his boss discovered his still. He was allowed to resign rather than be terminated for cause, but it still took him more than a year to find another job. The notification of personnel action simply states “Employee gave no reason for resigning – – no other information available.”

Continue reading