The Many Pulsating Hearts

By Wendy Ortiz

Categories: Alum Experiences, Women's Voices,

In July 2007, I stepped off a ferry onto Whidbey Island on what felt like the hottest day of the year. I arrived at Hedgebrook and was told that Gloria Steinem was on the land, in the house, for the period of time I too would be on the land and in the farmhouse.  I was stunned. Already, this experience was becoming bigger, more surreal and amazing than I could have imagined.

I was a newly married woman wearing a handmade ring. I was wondering, constantly, what this ring meant about me, how people might see me, but mostly, what it meant for the queerness I knew was in my blood.

I recently published an essay in The New York Times describing the experience of coming out to my husband and going on to fashion a life incredibly different from the one I’d planned when we’d gotten hitched in the California desert. In less than 1600 words I managed to describe one heart of the experience, which is to say that this was, and continues to be, an experience with many pulsating hearts. 

During that residency I tried to tackle the turmoil I was living by listening to a lot of classic rock on the radio (an oracle I use often), writing poems late into the night, and staring out the window trying to figure out the big question of What Comes Next. I was falling in love with a woman, a longtime friend. A guilt cloud hung over me, one that I had to wrestle and untangle from the other clouds I was walking in—love, confusion, and complete shock—not only about the personal dilemma I was involved in, but also about the fact that I was standing in a cottage that was mine for two weeks, on land that was set aside for the sole purpose that I and many others might write.

I went deep into myself during that time. And that is an understatement.

By my second residency in March 2009, my life was altogether different. Now, three years later, I find myself published in The New York Times, with an essay that has received an array of responses that has astonished me.

I have heard from at least two women in decades-plus marriages who are straight but see themselves in my story as they contemplate separating from their spouses. I have heard from women who also came out in their 30s, in the midst of marriages to men, one of them describing the “eerie” similarity in our stories. One man in New York read the Sunday paper and promptly emailed me about his wife leaving him and their two kids over a decade ago. He wanted to be seen for his experience going to support groups for people with gay spouses and the hurt he endured “from the other side” of where I stand. Another woman in Massachusetts shared her painful story of being left by her spouse of over twenty years when he came out.

I heard from one “ex-gay activist” who diagnosed me and gave me books and websites to “cure” me.

Dozens of friends began reposting my essay on social networking sites, introducing their friends to my essay by taking out quotes that were particularly resonant for them, headlining the essay in their own personal way, using my words.

The consensus seemed to be that the essay made many people cry. Like the laughter of recognition we’re most familiar with, I imagine there is also the crying of recognition.

The resonance for people seems to be around the concept of love conquering fear. Of intuition, and how one does or doesn’t heed those internal voices. How living one’s truth, while potentially agonizing at first, offers many valuable gifts.

As I write this I’m still receiving personal notes from friends and strangers around the country.

This morning I replied to an email from a woman who described a story both similar and different than mine: she had told her husband she was attracted to women before they married. When she fell in love with a woman in the midst of their marriage, he threw her, and their child, out. She has found her true love, but there is the ever-present struggle of what it means to live with her truth.

This afternoon I received an email from a woman who told me her story, beginning with “I feel you are speaking to my future self.” After she shared her story, she asked me, point blank, How did you know that you had to tell him? What specifically triggered it? Besides being a writer, I’m a marriage and family therapist intern. The counselor part of me emerges and I want to listen, comfort and be present for all these stories—not to advise, but to listen. I’ve become a keeper of countless other personal, beautiful, aching stories—all of them embodying an element of hope.

Receiving these stories is one of the most astounding outcomes of having this story published. These stories are living things of their own. Every person who contacted me sought connection in some way, shape, or form. I am acutely reminded that all over the country, these hearts are beating out their own stories in time with mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wendy C. Ortiz, a writer and psychotherapist intern in Los Angeles, is a founder and curator of the Rhapsodomancy Reading Series.  Visit her website.

The piece referenced above was originally published in The New York Times and can be accessed here.

 

 

Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

 

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