In 1972 I turned 19 and I thought that I had passed through the gates of maturity. Boy, did I think that I knew it all! My last year of being a teenager, I was ready to see the world with an eye on an adventure. I packed up my orange Duster with all my worldly belongings. I was excited about leaving behind life as I knew it.
“On my own at last,” I thought to myself as I waved goodbye to my parents and siblings. I headed South down US Route 1 toward the unknown, with a song in my heart. A new life was emerging.
My destination: Miami, Florida.
Estimated time of arrival: 48 hours (after a quick layover at Disney World)
Dream to come true: Occupation as stewardess
Trailing behind me, driving her white Volkswagen “bug,” was Peggy, a high school classmate, who I had convinced to be my roommate. Our teenage minds assured us that we were all grown up. We were soon to find out how little we knew. As one rides down the road of life, one learns from hands on experiences that may leave an unforgettable mark on your heart. Some wisdom cannot be taught in a book. Maturity has a way of building into life a healthy fear of the unknown and the knowledge that trust is earned. Our estimated time of arrival proved to be correct as we pulled into the parking lot of an apartment building in Hialeah on the outskirts of Miami. This was to be our new “Home Sweet Home.”
We added responsibility to our character as we now were officially adults. We had bills to pay, chores to do, and now all we needed were well-paid jobs. Thankfully Peggy was the experienced one in the responsibility department; I was her apprentice. We added to our already busy life, people to meet, an area I excelled in. You can only imagine the interesting people two barely nineteen Midwestern gals can meet when on their own for the first time in the Sunshine State.
We found ourselves on the Florida express lane, as the pace of our life began to accelerate at a rapid speed. Within the first few months, our desire of being stewardesses had come true when we were hired among the first twenty-five stewardesses of a brand new airline, Air Florida. Our training began immediately. Our journey was complete the day our wings were pinned on and we were Air Florida stewardesses. We both wore our bright orange uniform with pride. Our life was about to change forever.
Two Catholic school gals who still held the teachings of our faith in high esteem had no idea that we had lived sheltered lives. Neither of us were street-smart or worldly. I guess you could have nicknamed us the “clueless twins” or “blonde and blonder,” except Peggy was a brunette and I a bleached blond. The only life experiences we had experienced were among the Forest View High School class of 1971. We had been together with the same 500 plus people for almost four years. It was safe to say that Peggy and I were the “goody-two-shoes” gals.
Most of the guys I dated in high school could be described as the young and the restless. However no matter how feisty and restless, they did not cross the line. It was a time when saying “No!” meant no! At least in my realm of friends, a girl’s voice was heard and respected.
When I relocated to Miami, I trusted everyone I met as I had trusted the buddies in my high school. I was too naïve to have a filter and friendly by nature, but lacking good discernment. Dating without the maturity to read a man’s character became problematic for me. I had not yet learned the life lesson, “Trust has to be earned.” I did not anticipate that “NO!” was not respected by all.
The Florida adventure of a lifetime soon became a teen age girl’s worst nightmare when I began dating a man seven years my senior. I was an immature teenage girl, but he was an experienced man. We had dated for a while before I invited him to my apartment. I was too much in “puppy love” to see the red flags waving before my eyes. His friendly advances rapidly crossed over the line. Either he chose to be deaf to my “No!” or he did not hear the words coming from my lips, spoken in panic.
My old-fashioned morals rose up, awakening my conscience and alerting me with fear. I realized that I had put myself in a compromising position, entering a “danger zone.” With quick thinking and terror hastening my steps, I exited the premises. It was my way of saying, “NO!” once again, but this time firm and loudly.
Thankfully, I was able to escape to a neighbor’s apartment, where I felt relatively safe. This incident took place before much was known about date rape. I am convinced if I had not escaped, I would have been a “date rape” casualty.
This incident was a turning point in my life. It was the day I became a “stand-up gal.” In hindsight, I realized that my invite to my apartment probably gave him the wrong message. My occupation as a stewardess must have given him an impression of a character that I was not. Books, movies, and television sitcoms may have painted a picture of life that was not going to be mine.
As a stand-up gal, I was given many opportunities to practice my new skill of just saying no. I said no to alcohol because I was under age. I said no to drugs because they were illegal. I continued to say no to sex. Now as I look back on my life I am very grateful that I have only been intimate with my husband, Patrick. My heart was not divided, but fully his, when we chose to marry on May 1, 1974.
As a stand-up gal to this day, I have had to make the right choice over the popular choice. The decisions that I make daily are my way of stating, I respect me. They give me the ability to sleep peacefully at night, with a clear conscience. When a person respects them self, others respect them too. My dad used to say, “Ellen, you need to be able to look yourself in the mirror every night and like what you see.”
In our “hypersexualized” culture, are we really surprised by a need for the “me too” movement? The naive Catholic school gal that lives inside me still blushes when I think about that time in my life. I am mortified! A woman should never be disrespected or violated, because she too “was created in the image and likeness of God.” Date rape or inappropriate touching can have lasting harmful effects on a woman. “No!” must be respected, no matter who says it, or who they say it to.
So why do I choose to tell my story now? I tell my story to protect the innocent and those who may have lived a protected youth. My heart weeps for those who also lived a sheltered life and now are leaving home for the first time yet are not equipped to deal with the world we live in. They may not understand the reality that everyone is not like your trusted high-school boyfriend or Catholic-school buddy. These teens who think they are all grown up may find there is still much to learn. They too might trust all, without really knowing what danger might await them.
Take note from my story, moms. It is not going to be a Hollywood movie or get a book published; no, it is too embarrassing a story to tell. It is written only at the prompting of the Holy Spirit! It is written from the heart because I don’t want your daughter to be a “me too” gal! In fact, I encourage you to let your daughters read my story and use it as a springboard to talk together, heart to heart.
Young people today need to be given the tools to build a life of character and respect for them self and others. It is a shame that we need to educate our teenage gals on such a tough subject. The world we live in has stolen their innocence and fed “big gal” food to one way too young to digest it. Do you want your daughter to be a victim, or a victor? Do you want them to be a “stand-up gal?”
If you do, give them the tools by educating them in the ways of the Lord and the ways of the world too. Be a good example by standing up for what you believe in. Being a “stand-up gal” may not win you a popularity contest but it will give you the confidence that comes from making right choices. Put on your high heels, mom, and stand up tall, being the good example that your children can look up to and willingly follow.
In August of this year, I will turn the big 65. In those six-plus decades a lot of life has been lived. The journey to maturity taught me important life lessons. I now share what I have learned and help to guide the teens and moms of the next generation. As a teen, I thought I knew it all. Maturity has taught me, that there is always more to learn. Maturity has a way of building into life both a healthy fear of the unknown, and the knowledge that trust is earned. Be careful who you open the door of your life to or your apartment; they may be a snake in a man’s clothing. Be a “stand up gal,” be shrewd, even if you stand alone as “simple as a dove.”
Copyright 2018 Ellen Mongan
Ellen Mongan is a Catholic writer, speaker and the host of WOW Radio Podcasts. She is married to Deacon Patrick Mongan, M.D., and they have seven children, one baby in heaven, and thirteen grandchildren. She goes where God calls her to go, and does what God calls her to do with His grace.