To celebrate Pride Month 2021, we asked Melissa Lenhardt, author of LGBTQI+ romance The Secret of You and Me to write a blog piece for us. We were expecting something along the lines of an inspiration piece about her book. Instead Melissa wrote a powerful and emotional essay that we, at Mills and Boon, were proud to publish. This essay, her personal coming out journey, is inspirational and can be read here.
For Pride Month 2022, we asked Melissa if she’d like to write a One Year Later piece and it is just as beautiful and moving as the piece she wrote one year ago.
I feel like I have my daughter back.
One year ago, in June 2021, when I sat at my computer to write my coming out essay my life was very different. Freshly divorced, I’d made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t make any drastic decisions about my life for a year. My lease was up in October. The year was coming to an end soon.
I’d looked at houses and was close to buying one. The urge to settle, to be still, had been ingrained into me for my entire life. That’s the dream, right? To settle down, have a community, make friends, socialise, volunteer, work. I’d lived that dream for 25 years and, by and large, I’d been happy. My sons were, and are, a constant joy (even though I have to remind one son the correct way to hug his mother is with both arms, not a side hug). We’d lived within our means, saved money religiously, and I was financially secure. I had options, too many probably. I could do the expected thing (see above), but where? Or, I could do something else. Something bolder. Unexpected. Scary. Thrilling. Life-changing.
I chose life changing, scary, and thrilling.
Deciding to become a digital nomad probably seemed like a whim to my friends and family, but it was a path I’d considered before I opted to take a rental house for a year. I was still in the midst of my divorce and I needed the stability of staying put because I was an emotional mess. At the end of 2020 travelling to the next state was almost impossible. Travelling to another country was prohibited, and I had no idea how long those restrictions would last.
A lot of things happened in the first part of 2021 to push me forward. My divorce was finalised, vaccines rolled out, travel restrictions relaxed. The political situation in the States was going to hell, and in Texas in particular, my home state, the place I’ve lived for all but two of my 52 years, the place I love, had become a place I didn’t want to live. I don’t feel safe in Texas, and I haven’t for a while. With the mass shootings, the bills that have passed to take rights away from people, the voter suppression, the fealty of the state government to business interests (specifically energy, oil, and gas; see February 2021) instead of the interests of its citizens, it became harder and harder to remember why I wanted to live in a state that is the antithesis of all of my beliefs. I talked to my sons about my plan to work abroad and travel and they supported me, one even saying that I’d had raised them (I was a SAHM) and stayed put, that I should travel if I wanted. I set January 2022 as the date, new year new beginnings, and all.
Then, I came out publicly, and nothing changed. I’d been out to close friends and family for a few months. The friends I expected to be supportive were. The friends who hadn’t been supportive for months still weren’t. There was some friction, but I’m lucky to have come out during a period in time when being gay is no longer scandalous, and my family is accepting. Don’t misunderstand; I didn’t want or expect fanfare or a party. Writing the essay last year wasn’t about letting the world know about my fluidity. It was my personal line in the sand, the delineation between the life I had before and the life I wanted. The life I have now.
In July, I decided to move up my travel date to October, when my lease was up. Why wait for an arbitrary date? I decided to go to Paris, because hello? It’s Paris. It was probably not my best decision. Paris was amazing but when things go tits up in another country, you really don’t want to be in one of the most expensive cities in the world. (The trip really deserves its own essay, but here’s a twitter thread to give you the gist.) What France, and spraining my ankle in Venice, taught me is that I’m up for the challenge, damn it. When things went wrong, (like spraining my ankle my last night in Venice) I didn’t panic or freak out or throw up my hands in defeat. I didn’t become Karen American. I solved problems as they came, moved on, solved the next problem that came at me sooner than I wished. I returned home the week before Christmas exhausted, jetlagged, sick with Covid, and stronger than I’ve ever been.
June 30, 2021, is the anniversary of the day I was finally able to move past the doubt, the pain, and the emotional turmoil of the previous few years. I said this is me, I’m happy with who I am, take me or leave me, I’m living the rest of my life on my terms. For the past year I have. I’ve been to France, Spain, Italy, and England, and have met so many wonderful people. I am dating a woman who I adore and who I’m gooey and sappy with and who loves that I’m a dork. She called me a ray of sunshine yesterday, but I think that was mostly because the sun was in my eyes and she got carried away. She makes me incredibly happy, and it a nice feeling.
I spent the first half of 2022 with my Mum, taking care of Hazel, The Best Dog Ever, until my son moved into an apartment at college and she goes to live with him. (She is currently charming everyone she meets and taking advantage of poor communication and her big brown eyes to be fed two breakfasts each morning.) Living with my mum was amazing. We never fought, much to the amazement of almost every person I know. I learned how to play canasta and mah-jong we marathoned so many crime dramas we lost count. We also sat together in silence, reading, enjoying each other’s company. It was the best six months of my life.
One day, my mother turned to me and said, “You know, I feel like I have my daughter back.” I knew exactly what she meant, because I finally feel like myself again.