The Reconstruction of My Life

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| This is the 432nd story of Our Life Logs |


In life, we play various roles, and like the legs of a stool, those roles support us. They are the indication of our existence. Each role is as important to the structure’s stability as the other. When one of them disappears, it threatens the whole system, and in my case, my entire being. I was forced to rebuild my life and myself.

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I was born during World War II on November 15, 1943 in San Francisco, California, where my father was stationed. He worked as a radio operator until the war ended. Then, we moved to my father’s hometown, Del Norte, Colorado. My great-great-great grandparents moved to the United States from Scotland, and since then Del Norte has been home to the last four generations.

My parents did their best to raise me with an open mind and with as many opportunities as they could offer. From an outside perspective, it appeared that life had been handed to me on a silver platter. I came from a good family with strong core values and I fit the archetype of a “goodie-two-shoes” who would never get in trouble. However, to the surprise of many, fitting into the “norm” didn’t give me any advantage when it came to the obstacles of life.

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As I began high school, I started wondering what I wanted to do with my life. By my sophomore year, I’d made a choice: teaching. I had a few very influential teachers in my high school years who not only taught me valuable lessons but showed me how rewarding of a profession it was. I had one teacher who allowed me to articulate with thought-provoking evidence and gain the confidence to speak my mind without fear of retribution. Women were not on the scale of equality they are today, so this always meant a lot to me. And so, teaching become the first pillar in the life I was making for myself and in my sense of identity.

In 1961, I graduated high school, then I was off to college! I started at the small, traditional, all-girls liberal arts Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri, but after two years there, I decided to change the scenery and transfer to Colorado State University. This wound up being a great choice, because it was there that I met Gene, the man I’d fall in love with. We clicked instantly and were married by the summer of 1964. A year later, both he and I graduated and we moved back to my hometown, Del Norte, Colorado. And now, being a wife was the second pillar of my under-construction life.

The next 10 years were spent building our family. From 1968 to 1974, Gene and I had three children. I was struggling at first. Transitioning into motherhood came naturally to me, but to play both the role of mother and educator was a heavy weight to carry. Still, I managed and raised my kids with buckets full of love. In doing so I added the final pillar to my life: motherhood.

patti in her early 30s
In my early 30s.

Yearning for more, I went back to school a few years later and obtained a master’s degree from Adams State College in Alamosa, Colorado, where I was offered a full ride. In the mid-80s, I began working as an English teacher in my daughter’s high school. I enjoyed the job and the ability to help others like my teachers did for me. Everything seemed to be coming together in my life, resting on those unbreakable pillars, sturdy and balanced—until one of them broke.

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After being together for over two decades, Gene and I realized we were no longer in love. While we had many blissful years of marriage, the spark wasn’t there anymore. It’s funny how love, the love that you thought would never go away, goes away in the end. It was completely devastating to face, but I knew it was better for the both of us.

With my marriage falling apart, I had a hard time juggling my family matters and job. I fell into a deep depression, and removed myself from my family and friends for a while. I wound up resigning halfway through the school year because it was all too much. I decided to focus solely on rebuilding my life and more importantly, my identity. After being married for so many years, I felt like I didn’t have an identity outside of Gene. I knew that needed to change, but how? How was I going to raise the kids all on my own? Would I be able to financially afford it? And what about my kids? Would they be okay now that the family foundation crumbled? It was a lot to handle, and it was harder to establish independence in the 80s.

But again, what other choices did I have other than hold my head high walking through the darkness and be the best single mother ever for my children? Picking up the broken pieces of my life, I started to look at myself outside of my marriage. What else was I besides being a wife? A mother, a daughter, a teacher. It was then I realized that I needed to move on and reconstruct my life. Losing the role of being a wife didn’t mean I couldn’t and shouldn’t continue to succeed in these other roles that I played.

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Living in a small town leaves no room for privacy, so naturally many people knew my personal business. The unsteady, tense nature of my home life became the gossip of the town. Fortunately, the town gossip ended up doing some good for me. An old friend of a friend who did student teaching with me back when I was pursuing my master’s degree reached out with a job opportunity. He was now head of the English Department at the renamed Adams State University and was offering me a life raft, just as I felt I’d drown in my new reality.

This job was my light in the darkness. Alamosa was only about 30 or so minutes outside of Del Norte. It was a drive I actually loved to take, and I was thrilled to be going back to my alma mater. When I look back, getting this job is what helped me feel good about my future—like I would be okay despite everything.

Turns out, I was okay, perhaps even more than okay.

I taught at Adams State University for the next 18 years until I retired in 2006, and I loved every second of it. Soon, as my children all entered adulthood, I was able to move on emotionally and rekindle my love with a childhood sweetheart. While we both married and had children apart, I think we were always destined to find our way back to each other, just like I was destined to be a teacher and destined to come back to my hometown.

patti at work at Adams State College with friends
Me (right) at work at Adams State University with friends.

I now live a peaceful life in Del Norte with my husband, blessed with four grandchildren. I love my hometown. There is something about the valley that captivates me. The smell of the trees and the sound of the nearby river brings me back to my childhood, and I feel content with who I am despite everything. It was here I found my passion, my love, my children. Del Norte is as much of a part of me as teaching. And in discovering that, I realized I had my identity with me all along, tucked in my heart.

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I was someone who fit the status quo of norms in that time period. When I got divorced, it felt like the life I had planned was falling apart. It felt like that was the end. But through throwing myself into my career, I found the healing I needed to move forward. Establishing my individuality from my first husband and rebuilding my life was the feat I credit to making me the strong and independent woman I am today. Teaching has always been mine, through it all. It is something no one can take from me. Doing what you love and finding a passion will fill your chest with air and give you confidence in yourself that no other act can accomplish.

 

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This is the story of Patricia Cook

Patricia (Patti) was born during World War II in November 1943 in San Francisco. She graduated from Colorado State University with a Bachelor’s in Speech Arts in 1965 and later, obtained her master’s degree from Adams State College in Alamosa, Colorado. It seemed that Patti had a perfectly normal life, married with three kids and doing her dream job as a teacher, until her divorce tore down the balanced structure of her life. Through teaching, she was able to rebuild her life and found love again. Patti currently lives in her hometown Del Norte in Colorado with her husband, Curtis. She loves spending the summers with Curtis and her only sister, Evallyn, on their ranch that has been in the family since her great-great-great-great-grandparents moved there from Scotland. Patti is a woman powered by faith and by her love for literature. She spends her days traveling the world, reading, and enjoying time with her family.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on September 18, 2019.

| Writer: Samantha Page | Editor: Kristen Petronio |

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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