“Martha Randolph, you are so opinionated.” That could have been more than a dozen possible faces, screwed up like they were sucking on a mildly sour lemon that had gone bad the day before.
Just so you know, Randolph is my middle name and it was getting whipped out so that I’d know just how deeply the speaker felt about my inability to keep my mouth shut or at least stop the words from once again, erupting.
I grew up mostly in the South, raised by very Southern parents with a capital ‘S’ during the ‘60’s and ‘70’s and went to college in the South. First school I attended was in love with beach music and balls, dances for all of you Northerners, where the men came dressed in Civil War costumes and the women in hoop skirts.
I could not have been more out of place if everyone had actually been speaking a different language. Most of my friends at the school were intent on making a good match, meaning husband, and at the time I was trying to fit in, which meant keeping my opinions to myself. Might as well ask me to fly.
I would try, honestly, and I’d pull it off for a few months mostly by saying absolutely nothing beyond what was needed to get something passed at a table or a door opened. In those days ladies didn’t ask a gentleman where the ladies room was so that wasn’t a problem. But somebody would say something negative about women who work and have children or something about ‘those people’ meaning anyone who wasn’t white or any one of a dozen different topics and I’d sit there listening, taking it all in, being very quiet.
But do that for enough days and it can start to feel like a lie that’s growing into a giant, living being and is threatening to suffocate you.
Unfortunately, some remark, usually in a restaurant full of people or sitting in the front seat of a car a long way from my dorm, would throw me over the edge and everything I’d been keeping to myself would come spilling out in one long, well laid out argument.
I’d had all that time to think things through so I was ready. It was only the latest, hapless boyfriend who looked genuinely surprised and betrayed. Then, that look would come over their face and they’d say it. I was so opinionated. It was like they had finally seen that big, ugly birthmark and were thoroughly disenchanted.
For years I was so sorry I couldn’t pull off that magic trick and just get married, stay home and cruise through life. At least, that’s the view I had of that choice.
Instead, I was struggling to be a writer, a journalist and raise a child on my own. Look at where all of those opinions had gotten me. Most of my relatives agreed with the cause and effect as well and hoped I’d come to my senses and finally get that secretarial job. At least there’d be a paycheck and maybe I’d land a good husband. Someone in the office of where I worked, I suppose.
But, along with being opinionated I was also labeled stubborn, which I suppose goes hand in hand and I kept pushing forward sharing those opinions all over the Washington Post and every other publication that would have me. I started out writing about others but it wasn’t long before I started writing about my own life and of course, gave my opinion. My parents were frankly aghast until the notes started coming in from their friends that called me open and talented and even courageous. Other opinions that left them a little speechless for a while.
Even the Episcopal Bishop of Virginia at the time, Peter Lee told my father that I was very brave, which really put everyone back on their heels for some time. I remember how it felt like my first real taste of understanding that these opinions were mine to claim and that owning them actually gave me power, not took it away.
Then I wrote my first novel, Wired, a thriller that was about keeping secrets and what affect that has on a body. I was trying my best to break even further out of my self-imposed jail and start speaking my own truths. All I was, was scared until I started getting an avalanche of letters and then emails from women all over the country telling me their secrets. One, right after the other.
A very wise woman once told me that setting the truth free is a necessary part of life because when the truth is set free, it does its own work. However, the only way to really know that in your bones is to find the grace to speak your mind and live through it. Not your opinions of others because that’s gossip, but what you believe to be true about who you are in this life.
Things never did work out the way everyone had hoped for me all those years ago. It’s so much better, each and every day and it’s all of my own design because I finally said something. Tweet me @MarthaRandolph or comment here and tell me what you need someone to hear. I’d love to have a conversation with you.