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A Tale From the New West: 21st Century American Single Mom
August 12, 2003
by Tracy E. Houston, M.A.

Deep, in the back part of my throat, I pass a short all-knowing breath, one of camaraderie. It's Tuesday night and I'm watching this new PBS phenomenon of Old West living. I don't answer the phone. I respect these people because they know what it's like to be shoveling mercy with a pitchfork.

Being a realist and a visionary at the same time here in the New West, just about wraps up my life. I am an early representative of the first generation of middle-class women who had the opportunity to build a life completely on their own merit. Over the last two decades, I have thought back to childhood ghost tales of miners with eyes of liquid night as I choked, as they must have, on feelings of survival.

My story starts as I stand in my mobile home, a baby in my arms and no way to support myself. I clearly remember the sinking feeling of doom as I faced the staggering task before me. I dropped out of high school, had a short marriage and had no idea where to find my absent husband. Harboring a fervent hope, I set out on a 20-year trailblazing journey.

During this time my day-to-day life felt like a vast stretch of the unknown and unanswered. There was no escape from the pressure of performing physical labor all day, going to school at night, and tending to my home and daughter in between. In the first few years, I literally ran out of cuss words. I often thought of my grandparents who, as dryland wheat farmers, never knew the meaning of the word "vacation." With no education or job skills, I washed other people's toilets while I earned my first degree. And, while my personal situation was stressful and humiliating, it paled next to the emotional maelstrom I made for my daughter. I had to live with the fact that I passed down to her a legacy of hurt and abandonment. My mother left me when I was a kid so I knew deep, devastating pain on an intimate basis. How could I have chosen a mate who brought that same destruction, devastation and desolation to my own flesh and blood? This truth walks through my soul like an iceberg from hell.

Although my path was rude and ungeometrical, my professional contributions were rewarding. As a single mother and a highly independent member of this contemporary family phenomenon, I chose to build my career. I succeeded beyond expectation. Some high points included being called by the Clinton Administration to serve on Colorado's Task Force for Race Relations and working to develop programs for Welfare-to-Work reform. In my own community, I was a charter member of a citizens' group that successfully petitioned the school board to open an alternative school. After almost ten years of night school, I obtained my Master's Degree and began a public speaking career directed at inspiring single mothers like myself.

As time passed, what was overwhelming became my element and finally my element took the life off of my bones. Without a spouse and a typical family, I had to do so much on my own for so long that the cumulative affects today are a haunting fatigue and psychic pain. Some of the realizations I made during those years were so pervasive and diminishing that I felt like my life was an endless eerie wail. My childhood reality of being a stabilizer for those around me was severely threatened when, after years of counseling; I understood that safe, supportive relationships existed and I had yet to experience one. What is especially poignant about my choices were the years of isolation and loneliness I experienced. I cried at the stiff silence of my own existence. Then, like a spur gouging me, my mind would ask the question, where were the voices to cheer me on?

The cost was quite high in terms of connection to my daughter, as well. I was so busy building my life that she got the short end of the stick. I knew my knees were bruised and scabbed; life had brought me to my knees repeatedly, without mercy. Broken into the knowledge of pain, she has to live with the poisonous memories of watching this happen to her mother.

I am so mad about this that a part of me paces before God, finger pointed, demanding an explanation. She should not have had to take this into her little soul. Today, she is angry and I'm at a complete loss for how to build a connection with her. Now that she is raised, I find myself in a total emotional vacuum. Living with the stark contrasts of my efforts causes me great angst.

From the years of perpetual, pervading pressure I did learn to be deeply comforted by the little things. I have moments of delight when I yip for joy as I ride my bicycle through Aspen groves flouting reds and golds and moments of awe as I summit several of Colorado's sky-marching fourteeners each year. I feel a kindred spirit with the mountain views of grandeur for I have developed self-realization through intense, unrelenting personal efforts.

Today, I am examining the vortex of my experience and have found a precious gift. I have a keen sense about the vast personal potential of all those around me. My journey, much like the Old Timers, gave me a voice that speaks of "challenge vistas." Having the Spirit of the West within helped me with the challenges I was willing to accept, unwilling to postpone, and ones that I intended to win. I have lived resilience. I know the spine of my being. I got to the top of this mountain by my own sheer determination and that feels good. Unfortunately, I'm standing alone, and this makes all my accomplishments seem like a river of futility.

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