It’s Been Hell and It’s Been a Ride

How do you cram 60 years worth of living in 200 words or less?  Let me try.

It’s been a hell of a ride or as my older sister likes to say, “it’s been hell and it’s been a ride,” beginning at age seven, with our family’s ten year “project”– building a forty-foot gaff-rigged schooner in an old barn situated among the vineyards of northern California– before sailing, at age sixteen, under the Golden Gate, for ports unknown.  Along the way, our family, Mosquito Coast style, encountered a plethora of natural and man-made disasters, culminating in Trinidad where, in a matter of seconds, we watched our adventure end:  Boat destroyed, political struggle for salvage rights, a middle of the night smuggling operation, rebuilding and a new beginning, and then, the ultimate cliffhanger–a life extinguished.  All  good fodder for a book… and a change of venue, preferably away from any large bodies of water!  Hence, my brief life in Aspen, where I imbibed and indulged in a perennial, as John Denver so often crooned, “Rocky Mountain High,” while tearing down the slopes to the sounds of K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s, Shake Your Booty.

When not working toward becoming a lean, mean machine, I put long days for-no-pay in my then boyfriend’s laundromat, washing people’s unmentionables and wondering, as I descended every morning down the dark labyrinthine steps into his basement establishment, why the myriad of spiritual, relationship, and health workshops I attended with him still left me with a feeling of rage and emptiness.  Ram Dass and folding laundry wasn’t cutting it.  So, I decided to do what Joseph Campbell decreed and I followed my bliss…out of town as fast as my hiking boots could carry me.

I moved to New York.

I adapted quickly to the fast-paced energy of the city and soon vowed I would rather die than move anywhere else.  I stayed thirty years before relinquishing that vow.

In those ensuing years, I reinvented myself more times than Madonna, searching for something that would quiet the storm within me.  I became a model.  I traveled the world.  Stumbled through a number of relationships.  Made money, lost money. Demolished a few apartments.  Renovated a few.   Studied acting with a famous tyrant.  Auditioned more times than I care to remember.  Got rejected more times than I care to remember.  Performed in an off-Broadway improv group.  Learned I could make people laugh.  Finished my undergraduate degree in writing.  Wrote a book.  Studied goldsmithing.  Became a studio jeweler.  Sold jewelry on live Japanese t.v.  Peered over death’s ledge once or twice.  Regained my health and pulled myself together.  Accidentally got it right and married at forty.  And, most miraculously, experienced, at age fifty-two, the single, greatest achievement in my life, by giving birth to my glorious child, Vivien.

I now reside in the Hudson Valley in an old barn–funny how it all is circular–with my husband and daughter and three, certifiably crazy bengal cats.

Already a week into the New Year, I recognize that while life will continue to provide me with a glimpse every now and again of the underworld, a shift has occurred. Life is not what it once was. I experience bouts of joy and like Leo Sayer’s tune says, it “makes me feel like dancing.” Whether it was created from some random cosmic shift or from something deep within my spirit, I suddenly find myself giving Michael Flatley a run for his money. As I Riverdance between my computer and couch, I feel, for a brief moment, what it was like before I stepped on that wild ride and it dawns on me that so long as you have a little bit of Heaven, Hell’s not so bad.

JR Roessl

After more than thirty years as a model and actor, JR moved to the Hudson Valley in 2006. She lives in an 1880 renovated barn with her husband and young daughter and three crazy bengal cats. She received her B.A. in creative writing from NYU and has written a memoir about her teenage years spent sailing on the high seas. She is thrilled to be writing for the Feminine Collective.


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