Meet Marsha, a gifted writer, and lover of cats who recently moved into a sunny apartment in Middlebury with support from Pathways Vermont. Marsha lived an inspiring and independent life but found herself lost in a cycle of addiction and homelessness. In working with Pathways Vermont, Marsha found her strength again and is looking forward to the possible future ahead in her new home. Read her story below, in her own words.
“Considering my background, it shouldn’t be surprising that I eventually ended up in jail, homeless and hopelessly addicted. I was born in a tiny town in North Carolina, never knew who my father was, and grew up in abject poverty–Dickensian poverty. Vermin everywhere, holes in the floor, no running hot water. Sexually abused from the age of 2 by an uncle. Aware always that my mother attempted suicide when she discovered she was pregnant with me, from the delicate white scar that snaked around her throat like some sinister necklace.
But an obsession burned inside me, even as an adolescent, to transcend my upbringing–to push that unwanted, abused child away. I became determined to be defined by something other than poverty and illegitimacy. I am stunned even today by my laser-focused determination to reinvent myself. I can’t pinpoint where this drive ultimately originated. Maybe the pitying looks I got when I presented my free lunch card in the school cafeteria. Maybe the not-so-subtle whispers: She doesn’t have a father. She lives in a rat-infested hellhole.
Above all else, I vowed never to become my mother: a victim, trapped in abject desperation, in and out of mental hospitals. It took me decades to finally acknowledge how brave she’d been to have an illegitimate child in the late 50s in a tiny Southern town. How kind she was to me: telling me I was beautiful every day; brushing my hair 100 strokes every night. How she brought me to our tiny downtown during the holidays, despite the cruelty and judgment we faced, to show me how the town could turn magical, all twinkling lights and shops open after dark with glittering window displays, under a softly falling snow.
I did reinvent myself. I flouted my intelligence. I made excellent grades. I was called “gifted.” I not only went to college, but spent six years there, earning an M.A. in English and Creative Writing. I became an award-winning journalist and, in quick succession, became the managing editor of three different newspapers. I traveled, both for work and for fun. I lived in San Francisco, Boston, New Orleans. I interviewed famous people. I was light-years away from my past. I finally decided to pursue a job at a newspaper in a small city near my hometown in North Carolina. I’m still not sure what drove me to go back. Maybe a dark romanticism I had allowed to bloom in recent years about the smoke-blue mountains and the soft Carolina sky and even my Southern gothic childhood. I became managing editor of a newspaper in Asheville and quickly flourished, moving up the ranks from reporter to arts editor to managing editor. I was a minor celebrity in the area, especially because of my coverage of music and art. But somewhere in my second year there, a gnawing anxiety gripped me. I was an imposter. I was still the unwanted child. I was 100 miles from my small hometown, but I almost never visited.
Within a couple of years, I was drinking in the morning before work, drinking during work, drinking after work. My publisher granted me a leave of absence to go to rehab, but it didn’t “stick.” Finally, the inevitable happened. I was fired. And with that, my very identity was quashed. It was the beginning of the end. Although I was able to acquire a couple more newspaper jobs, I was fired from them also. I was far from the golden-child image I had cultivated for decades. I went on disability.
Next came years and years of living in cheap motels, going in and out of rehabs and jail and becoming addicted to drugs as well as alcohol. I had moved to Vermont to “start over,” but
for the first time, I became involved in an abusive relationship–something I vowed would never happen to me. And when I finally untangled myself from that relationship, leaving with just the clothes on my back, I was homeless. I had finally lost everything.
I lived at the Charter House in Middlebury before being accepted at the John Graham Shelter in Vergennes, a move that was the beginning of a redemptive journey for me. After eight months there, director Peter Kellerman hooked me up with Pathways. From my first meeting with Amos, I felt hope for the first time in a long while. Pathways helped me find a beautiful apartment in downtown Middlebury with subsidized rent. And on the day I moved in, housing coordinator Nicole showed up with everything I could possibly need to set up a household–dishes, small appliances, sheets and towels, cleaning supplies … even paper towels, toilet paper, a trash can. A brand new bed was delivered that day.
Slowly, I began to rebuild my life. My service coordinators Jeff and Dave, have been indispensable, helping me with everything from groceries to much-needed emotional support. I sometimes have to pinch myself to believe I could receive this magnitude of help.
The gratitude I feel for Pathways and all the amazing people who work there knows no bounds. I am beginning to feel whole again.”