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What is courage and where do I find it in my life? The movie, “Conviction,” about a woman who battles to free her brother from prison, inspired me to look at my own acts of courage. Like the protagonist, I went to graduate school while going through a divorce and raising children. I also sweated to pay the mortgage (when it was still possible to buy a house), do laundry, keep track of where my (five!) kids were,  drive to school and internships, wait in line while reading assignments to get gas on odd or even days, try to get papers in on time – and come out as a lesbian! By the time I finished with school – it took five years – I had no money and a big loan to pay.  I borrowed money from a friend and started working.

Those difficult years were only made easier by the companionship of my first lover and her enjoyment of my young children. That didn’t last, however. We worked hard to pass the licensing exam. She passed and I didn’t. The kids were getting older and she was jealous of them. She moved out and we struggled to live separately but it didn’t work out.  It was the first time I understood why people take their lives. I was devastated.

My kids left home to go to school across the country. I was alone for the first time after almost twenty-five years of parenting. I went nuts. For the first time I was having my “lesbian adolescence”. During my good Catholic girl upbringing there had been no chance to rebel. It was the “me” decade anyway and everyone I knew was doing whatever they felt like doing. Compared to most of my peers my rule breaking, sexual and drug activity was tame. But, for me, it took courage to break out of the frame and, perhaps for the first time, embrace all the different parts of myself,

Change is endless. Another relationship and parenting (my sixth child!) with my second lover was to last nineteen years. It was a sweet return to domesticity, but it took courage to deal with our age differences, which plagued many aspects of our life together. Eventually, she wanted to have another child. It was not part of our original agreement. She left. I was already 70!

I learned – and this, I believe was a big act of courage – that nothing ever stays the same. I really got it. Day by day  what was joyful, or sad, would change. As unpredictably as the weather.  But now, the biggest challenge of them all, is here: aging, Everyday I contemplate the changes, and work to accept them, that take place in my body, in my mind and feelings. It is not just about the wrinkles, or sagging belly, or the arthritic changes in my neck or hands, or needing stronger glasses, but also about not finding the word for _______, or not remembering what the name of that restaurant was where I ate last week. It is about writing post-its about my dentist’s appointment, or when the next street cleaning is, or what day I’m supposed to pick up my grandson early from school. But the worst part, is the fear that wakes me up in the night. The fear of  all the big and small losses along the way: loss of being seen, of feeling needed, of being part of  a working and productive community, loss of income, loss of attractiveness and loss of energy. I hope to have the courage to free myself from fear of what the future will bring and try to be in this magic, ever-changing present.

Carmen de Monteflores is a native Puerto Rican writer living in the U. S. She is the author of the well-received novel, Cantando Bajito/ Singing Softly. She wrote and produced the play, Blood Lines, presented twice in San Francisco, and has written articles, poetry and essays. Check out her new book “Possessions” at

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One comment

  • Nena Fraser Hodder says:

    To my dearest Mami– This made me cry! Such a window onto what YOU were experiencing, inside, all those incredibly challenging years… Now, as an adult, I can more fully and truly appreciate your incredible courage and bravery to break so many boundaries, inner and outer, to carry so much responsibility, and to be so creative and beautiful and loving and kind throughout it all… You’re amazing, dear Mami!! This was so moving to me. Thank you for the gifts of your insight and wisdom, your honesty and openness. I love you so!! your Nena