On a cool March morning in 2017, my mother finally gave up fighting and succumbed to the cancer that had consumed her body.
In that moment, not only was my mom gone, but so was the lifestyle I had become accustomed to. I could no longer live like a carefree adult child who had never really grown up. I had long been perceived by my family, including my own children, as someone who was dependent, selfish, and constantly needy. The perception was not altogether untrue.
Intuitively, I was aware that I had to be the rock that everyone I knew depended upon. I had to break the news of our mother's death, first, to my brothers, and then gently let my children know that their grandmother, whom they had depended on for most of their lives, was gone and I was all they had left. I became, in an instant, the one who had to be strong for everyone else.
Over the next few days, preparations had to be made. I insisted, and my brothers agreed, that we move my mom 1200 miles from Texas back home to Iowa so she could have a Catholic funeral and be laid to rest next to my dad. We packed everyone up and made the trip in record time. At the funeral home, on most issues, my brothers deferred to me as Mom and I had been living together for the last 10 years.
Before the wake, I styled my mom's hair and touched up her makeup the way she would have wanted it. Then during the wake and funeral, I took on the role of primary greeter and liaison between the friends and relatives whom I had not seen or spoken to for many years. It was exhausting, but I managed it. When it was all over, my daughters and I headed back to Texas to start our new lives without my mom.
I had promised Mom that I would put together a memorial service for her there in Texas for the people she had worked with. This was her last wish and I had to fulfill it for her. i put together a video of her life, collected anecdotes about her from her brothers, sisters, and friends, and contacted coworkers and local friends to speak at the service. It turned out to be really beautiful and I was very glad that I had done it.
During the next couple of months, I realized there was no way I was going to be able to continue to afford to live in Texas. Thanks to a small life insurance policy through Mom's job, I was able to keep the mortgage paid and the lights on, but that was quickly running out. Because of this, I made the extremely difficult decision to pack up my kids and move us all back to Iowa so we could be closer to family and enjoy a slightly lower cost of living. My kids hated me for making them leave the only home they had ever known, but it had to be done. So we went.
Once we were settled, I found myself unemployed for several months and still quite bereft. I needed to make a new start and figure out what exactly I wanted to do with myself. I had always dabbled in artsy things and had recently discovered a love for putting together designs on my computer. My brother and his family operated a t-shirt printing company and I realized that this may be a way to make a little money until I found a job. I started pestering him to help me get something set up, which he ultimately did. And so Black Shirt Affair was born.
There are a couple of reasons why I only sell black shirts. The first is simply practical. After some research, I learned that the majority of shirts purchased online are black. Being somewhat desperate for an income at this point, I decided to capitalize on this fact. The second reason is purely artistic and a matter of personal taste. I wear mostly black shirts and my designs looked great on a black background. So only black shirts it is.
I opened my shop just before Thanksgiving, in time for Black Friday 2017. With a little success after opening I was greatly encouraged to produce more designs to offer my customers a wider range of choices. Even though i now have a "real" job, I continue to do so, with a new shirt coming out every couple of weeks. Within the near future, I hope to add wall art designs, photography and coffee mugs to my slate of offerings as well.
Finding this creative outlet has helped me move into adulthood at last. I love doing this and hope to one day make it the only job I need. Finally, I am an artist. I understand now that this is what I have always wanted and every day I strive to learn more and grow in this capacity.
The drastic changes in my life I have been forced to make and the completely new direction it has taken have shown me that one of my favorite quotes is true: "It is never too late to be what you might have been." I, and Black Shirt Affair, are living proof of this.