From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

Color My World

My husband of eleven years had left me. He hadn’t just left . . . he had run away with another woman, his bookkeeper. And he hadn’t just left me, he had also abandoned our four small children. My world of safe, muted colors went up in smoke with the reading of his note, and nothing remained of the woman who had been, or of my world, but gray ash.

When I took stock of myself, I saw an insecure, overweight housewife with four small children and no skills with which to support them. The two things I did have were determination and friends.

Because I was suddenly without funds, my father offered me the job of bookkeeper at the family business— at the farm implement dealership he co-owned with my husband. I was to replace the woman who had run off with my husband. Though determined to keep my kids afloat, it seemed a cruel joke that I had to go in every day, sit at her desk, answer her phone, and try to do her bookkeeping job.

The farmers who came in winced at the sight of me. Everyone was aware of the story, aware of my pain. The humiliation made me sick to my stomach every day. I was so insecure that going to the mailbox or the grocery store took all my energy.

Where only a week before, my quiet days had been spent looking after the children, cooking, cleaning and knitting, I was suddenly thrown out into the working world, unprepared.

After a few weeks, I decided that if I had to work as a bookkeeper, I would learn how to do the job correctly. I enrolled in a night class in accounting. I hated it. Numbers had never been my thing, and being in class with all those bright young people unnerved me. But I was determined to make a life for my children at any cost.

After I successfully passed that first course, my father offered to buy out my half of the business so I could go to school full-time. This meant I would have an income while attending classes. By the time the payments ended, I could have my degree and, hopefully, a high-paying job.

When I timidly mentioned this offer to my friend Rob-bie, she enthusiastically said she’d help in any way she could. And she did! Within days, we were maneuvering the parking lots of the nearby community college and marching toward the registrar’s office, where I signed up for accounting classes. I was going to be an accountant— me, who had always hated numbers!

Robbie said that we needed to celebrate this first step toward a new life, so we stopped at a restaurant for lunch. There, we met another old friend, JoAnn, who had been a commercial artist. She was now painting her own watercolors and taught art classes—in fact, her classes had been one of my few indulgences between my first two babies. Like everyone else in town, JoAnn had heard about my plight and asked how I was doing. At least there was something new to tell.

“She’s going back to school!” Robbie grinned.

“Oh!” my former teacher exclaimed. “You’re finally going to get into graphic design!”

“No,” I stammered. “Actually, I’ve just signed up for accounting courses.”

“Oh?” She was clearly confused.

I was stunned. It had never occurred to me to go to school for something I wanted to do. Since my husband’s disappearance, I had plodded along, doing whatever was necessary, going through the motions of my life.

As we drove home, I thought about the possibility of changing my major. I reopened the catalog in my lap to the section describing graphic design. The course names danced before me as I read them to Robbie: “Illustration! Art history! Oil painting! Can this be a real career?” I gasped in awe.

“Thank God!” Robbie was now laughing. “I was beginning to think that this was all just wasted effort. I haven’t seen you excited about anything in months!”

That evening, I gathered my courage and called JoAnn at her home. “Do you think I could support my children with graphic design?” I asked.

“I did it. And you are good . . . very good! I really believe that you could do it, too,” she answered, and it sounded as if there was even relief in her voice.

The next day, I marched back to college—on my own. When I said I was changing my major, the course counselor looked at me as if I’d lost my mind.

It turned out to be one of the best choices I’ve evermade.

And you know what? I am actually thankful for my first marriage and for having to live through such traumatic times. If not for that marriage, I would not have my wonderful children. If I had not had to struggle, I might still be thinking of myself as an unhappy, overweight housewife, afraid to leave the house.

Instead, I went on to earn the prestigious title of creative director with a large company, and the paycheck to go with it. My studio wall is lined with awards, which I consider medals of honor in my long-fought battle. I was able to put all my children through college; they are now grown with families and careers of their own. We are closer and stronger for having shared, and overcome, that time of pain.

But most of all, the colors of my life are not muted, nor did they remain gray ash forever. The spectrum is full and the colors are vibrant! I might never have known that this rainbow of strength and love was inside me all along. Every day, I thank God for the small kernel of determination— and the support of my friends—who helped find and free the rainbow during that stormiest of times.

Sharon M. Chamberlain

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