They say that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, but more often than not, the truth is just more painful than fiction. This is the premise behind The Gifted Ones, a memoir written by author Lisa Vaughn, that chronicles a very difficult time of her life: adolescence.
You might be thinking, weren’t those awkward teenage years difficult for everyone? I’d wager that we all had our fair share of unique challenges, but I’d also wager that only a microscopic percentage of people will have ever dealt with the growing pains felt by Ms. Vaughn. Coming of age during the late ‘70s in Terra Haute, Indiana would’ve been challenging enough, but it was amplified by the iron-fisted rule of ultra-conservative, God-fearing parents. Lisa had a secret: she had fallen in love with another girl.
In The Gifted Ones, Ms. Vaughn tells her story openly with a commendable level of bravery. Being that this memoir is an actual recounting of true events from her life, I found myself experiencing the feelings that she likely had at the time. I laughed at the sarcastic barbs she exchanged with her mother. I felt the gentle tugs at my heart strings as she delicately expressed her feelings of love toward Selina. I got mad at her for making the dumb mistakes of a capricious youth. I cried from the gut-wrenching pain of seeing a love so pure and beautiful crumble away until it was lost. In particular though, I found my bottom lip begin to quiver as I read through the epilogue, but it wasn’t until after I turned the last page and stared down at a real-life photo of Lisa and Selina together as teenagers that the floodgates finally opened.
Not everyone will be able to relate to the tale of Ms. Vaughn, but it’s the moral of the story that you’d be a fool to miss. This book isn’t about same sex relationships, it just happens to include the story of one. At its core, this book is about love, pure and simple. A love that sees no color, race, or gender. It’s a book that is both romantic and cautionary. To love and to lose. No matter whom you have ever loved, you will be able to relate to this story on a personal level. I learned something about myself, which was an unexpected, yet much needed, side effect.
Readers will appreciate that Ms. Vaughn has written this book in a unique voice. It’s not the structurally sound format of a traditional book. Instead, it is written as though she is sitting right next to you, reading into your ear. It’s a charm that a cookie-cutter memoir lacks, and The Gifted Ones is anything but cookie-cutter.
[DAVID K. HULEGAARD]: The events in your book took place while you were a young woman coming of age. What made it the right time to tell your story now?
[LISA VAUGHN]: Well, I actually started dealing with all that ‘baggage’ shortly after my mother passed away in 2005. I discovered I held a lot of pent up anger still and needed to work through it in order to forgive, let go, and move on. Through that process I also discovered ‘others’ along my journey that needed and deserved the same attention, including Selina. But it wasn’t until one fateful afternoon when, for whatever reason, I decided to sit down with a friend of mine and purge the story I had held inside my soul for 30+ years. After I was finished revealing my naked soul, she looked at me with tears running down her face telling me I MUST write a book, as the world needs to hear this story. And that’s when I knew the purpose of my entire journey…to share my story and emphasis the importance of acceptance.
[DKH]: Your story is extremely personal and you reveal many sensitive moments from your past. Was it difficult for you to speak so openly about your life?
[LV]: Yes and No. Once I committed to writing about my life, I knew I had to be genuine, which meant being real, raw, and honest. I couldn’t see sugar-coating any aspect of it, as that would change the entire feel and outcome of my story, thus changing my whole purpose of writing it in the first place. Once I gave myself permission to let it all out, my fingers took control and they typed as I purged. The hardest part was letting my husband read it for the first time! And then of course, when I unleashed it onto the world. What I thought would be the most joyous moment in my life was the most frightening, as I was once again setting myself up for rejection and not being accepted…and THAT scared the hell out of me!
[DKH]: Was it hard for you to relive this story while writing your memoir? Was there a particular part of the story in particular that you struggled to tell?
[LV]: Although very therapeutic and healing, yes, it was extremely emotional – a necessary evil of any healing process. The hardest parts to write were when my parents ‘found’ my diary and the initial episodes following that, and of course, when Selina left me. Both those scenes touched me at my core, even 30 years later. I still get choked up a bit when I read them, but also feel they were the most powerful chapters in the book.
[DKH]: What would you say was your primary goal with this book?
[LV]: My sole intent and purpose for sharing my naked soul with the world is wrapped around one simple word: ACCEPTANCE. If I can change one person’s outlook, either for themselves, their children, or even society as a whole, then I’ve done my job. To realize that love comes in all shapes and sizes, and if it is a healthy love, how can that ever be wrong? I thought for sure by the year 2011 this wouldn’t be an issue, but sadly it still is for some. Hopefully after being a voyeur into my life, even if you don’t agree, perhaps compassion and empathy will overtake the fear or misunderstanding and replace it with acceptance, or at the very least, tolerance.
[DKH]: You have said that publishing the book reconnected you with some of the people from your past. What is Selina like today?
[LV]: I knew as the words were flying onto the pages, that if I decided to publish I would have to locate at least Selina…which I ultimately did. And that itself made this project more than worth it. Even if I failed to sell one copy, my reconnection with my BFF, and the healing that came with it, was well worth my efforts. Today we keep in touch on a regular basis and have visited one another numerous times. She is the same person I knew 30+ years ago, her core has not changed a bit, which made it easy to fall right back into our friendship and make it seem as though we never lost precious time in-between. She is, and always will be, my soul-sister, and I can’t imagine my life without her in it now. I am truly blessed to be loved on so many levels now.
[DKH]: Has anyone that was featured in the book ever read it? What kind of feedback have you received from them?
[LV]: My husband, sister, Selina, Jon and Sis have all read it and have given me nothing but support, encouragement, and glowing reviews. Each was touched in their own ways, as each played a very different role in my life. I will have to admit, I was overwhelmingly nervous when I presented this little ‘firecracker’ to each of them, but pleasantly surprised at the amount of love I received back. I think when you open your raw soul to people and are completely genuine with them, they feel and respect that. I mean, how can you fault someone for complete honesty and revealing how they feel (felt)? You just have to respect that on some level, even if you don’t totally agree. Live and Let Live.
[DKH]: In the book, you posit that Selina knew you weren’t gay even before you did. Do you think that fact was more important to her than it was to you?
[LV]: Yes. In fact I know it was. She was able to foresee future problems for us in regards to family and acceptance, and ultimately me accepting my choice down the road, as I was already showing signs of drifting to the ‘other side’- all warning signs for her I’m sure. As for me, I still say I have the capacity to love based on WHO they are, not WHAT they are, so I don’t think it’s an issue with me, especially now that I’ve lived a full life with love on both sides – I know it can be done…and it can be awesome either way! Love is love to me.
[DKH]: Now that you’ve completed your memoir, what will you do next? Do you want to keep writing?
[LV]: I’ve been asked this many times, and my stock answer is I never say never! As an artist, I live to express myself in my work, whatever medium that may be, so if I feel I have something worthwhile to say, you know I will! At this point I have nothing to lose and everything to gain…so who knows? That chapter has yet to be written, as I said. Since we’ve reconnected, maybe I can get to work on The Gifted Ones, Part II, Senior Edition!
Buy The Gifted Ones on: Kindle
For more information, please visit Lisa Vaughn’s website.