Uncategorized: Baring her soul … and starting a dialogue
Baring her soul … and starting a dialogue
Local author Claudette McIntosh has a true story of survival.
Story: Christine Walsh
Photos: Christine Walsh
Local author Claudette McIntosh has a true story of survival.
The Mahomet resident chronicles her life in her autobiography, “Swerve: The Strange Turns of a Backslider.”
The book focuses on her rise from a dysfunctional family, early pregnancy, a troubled marriage and being a promiscuous young woman to achieving peace.
McIntosh was born in Chicago and grew up in the northwestern suburb of Carpentersville. Her father went into rehab for a heroin addiction and ultimately left the family. McIntosh and her sister were the only black kids in their school. “It was a culture shock for us, going to school in the middle of nowhere,” McIntosh said.
Between her parents, they had a total of eight kids. “I’ve been in a big family my whole life,” she said.
McIntosh’s mother got married and became a compulsive gambler. McIntosh grew up fast, getting her first job on a work permit at 14. She got involved in cheerleading, track, cross-country and indoor track and volunteered at the local Boys and Girls Club as a way of avoiding home as much as possible.
McIntosh met her future husband in eighth grade, got pregnant her senior year in high school and was married at 18. “My mom put me out because she wasn’t going to raise another child,” McIntosh said.
McIntosh had an older sister who took on the mother role, helping her out in times of need. McIntosh had long ago learned to be responsible, though. “It didn’t really feel like anything had changed,” she said.
McIntosh had a second baby two years later. “My marriage was not very good,” she said, adding that her husband was not prepared a second child. “He shut down and checked out. There was a lot going on from his childhood that he hadn’t dealt with.”
McIntosh became depressed and suicidal. She and her husband separated for a while, but then he returned and went to boot camp for the Marine Corps. “I thought everything was going to change,” McIntosh said.
Feeling sexually inadequate because her husband would often watch pornography after they had been intimate, McIntosh began online dating. “I looked for that comfort through other relationships,” she said.
McIntosh began a promiscuous lifestyle in which she felt she was making all the decisions. “Acquiring control made me out of control,” she said. “I forgot about everything I had learned in church.”
McIntosh had been baptized at 5 and had always been active in church. “Even at that time in my life, I was still in church every Sunday,” she said.
But McIntosh never felt that she could open up to her church family about what she was experiencing. “They couldn’t acknowledge their own sins,” she said.
McIntosh then had another child from a man she had met online. The father denied him. “It was an eye-opener for me,” she said. “He was like, ‘How do I know if it’s mine?’”
McIntosh’s dad became ill with prostate cancer. She sought comfort in the lifestyle that had given her a sense of control in the past.
“I started to slide back into that behavior,” she said. “That’s kind of like the secrecy of sex; nobody knows unless you tell them.”
One day when McIntosh went to see her father, he called her a “ho.” “It really woke me up,” she said. “I started thinking, ‘God is always there and sees what I’m doing.’ I just could not keep living the same way. That was really my turning point.”
Becoming promiscuous had changed her from being a caring person into one who was callous, McIntosh admitted. When her father was dying, she cried for the first time in a long time. “It brought out all sorts of emotions,” she said.
McIntosh started thinking about how many people have nobody they can go to to talk about the kinds of problems she was facing and to have the person tell them she understood. She even watched some friends take their own lives because of that feeling of isolation. “So I started putting it on paper,” she said. “I just felt like it was my duty.”
McIntosh had long enjoyed writing poetry. “It’s always been my thing,” she said.
Co-workers began encouraging her to write a book. “But I never pictured telling everyone my business,” she said. “I started writing it for myself, and then I was like, ‘Other people need this story.’”
McIntosh drives for a ridesharing service and would often share her story with young female passengers. She did much of her writing on her laptop computer between trips. “I would have passengers in my car start crying,” she said. “I’ve given my phone number to so many random strangers.”
McIntosh acknowledges it’s not easy to write about taboo subjects. “People are not wanting to come out of their comfort zone,” she said.
But McIntosh said fear no longer has any control over her. “I know my story, God knows my story, and God has forgiven me, and I have forgiven myself, so whatever anyone else thinks doesn’t matter,” she said. “It’s for people who need that help.”
The title comes in part from the book’s first chapter, “Stay in Your Lane.” “I was thinking about all our detours and turns we make,” she said. “Oftentimes, we change directions.” McIntosh thought about the things she already knew and realized most of it had been learned in church. “I’ve known better my whole life,” she said. “I would swerve and come back.”
On the cover of the book is a shadowy picture of McIntosh naked – a metaphor for the honesty with which she wrote it. “I didn’t hold anything back,” she said. “This is all of me in this book.”
Sometimes that honesty was difficult, like when she wrote about contracting herpes and then went back an erased it. “I couldn’t sleep, so I put it back in and slept like a baby,” she said. “God has told me to put it all out there and be honest.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one out of every six people aged 14 to 49 years in the U.S. has genital herpes. McIntosh had researched it and discovered how common it was, leading her to believe it needs to be talked about more.
“I really hope young women in particular would realize their body doesn’t have to be a symbol of their worth, that they don’t need to get that fulfillment from being accepted by a man,” she said.
Although McIntosh’s book raised some eyebrows in her church community, she has been pleasantly surprised by the overall response. “For the most part it has really been positive,” she said. “I’ve had people quote me on Facebook.”
One mother McIntosh talked to decided that even though the book contains some mature content, her young daughter should read it since she was starting to go down the wrong road. McIntosh encouraged the mother to have a discussion with her daughter afterwards about the consequences of her choices and how they can affect her future.
McIntosh would like to see discussion groups for her book.
She thinks her story could even make for a good movie. “I’ve played around with writing it as a script,” she said.
McIntosh used to tell people that a dark cloud always followed her. When she became a sex addict, she told herself, “This (addiction) is just what happens in our family.” But McIntosh wants young women facing some of the struggles she did to know there is hope.
“That’s not the final stop,” she said. “Even when the road is rough, you can detour. There’s so much more, even after you’ve made bad decisions. There’s still an opportunity to better yourself.”
“Swerve” is available at lulu.com, as well as through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.