Heather L Johnson
In Search of the Frightening and Beautiful


Stories contributed to In Search of the Frightening & Beautiful 4 / 2019. These are descriptions of transformative moments in people’s lives, from the subtle to the sublime. From each story I extract a key phrase and stitch it to a piece of linen that will be given as gifts to others I meet on the road, in exchange for a story of their own.

Stories contributed to the upcoming fourth leg of In Search of the Frightening & Beautiful. These are descriptions of transformative moments in people’s lives, from the subtle to the sublime. From each story I extract a key phrase and stitch it to a piece of linen that will be given as gifts to others I meet on the road this summer, in exchange for a story of their own.

"Millie and Carol". Dianna Ray. Houston, TX

This is my love letter to Millie and Carol - Millicent Patty and Carol Buckland, to be exact.

I met them in 1978, when I was 18 years old. I was going to school on the southwest side of Houston, studying to be a travel agent. Because I wanted to leave home and have a career…not that I wanted to be a travel agent, but it only took a month and my dad paid for the classes - probably the best investment he’d ever made, because it kept me in a career path with money and an ability to live on my own for decades after that. But at this point in time I was 18… I was living in student housing, in an apartment complex in what is now known as the Gulfton Ghetto. It was depressing to me… it was beyond depressing, and I was already depressed and struggling with that illness. But there I found myself in an apartment with another young woman, going to school.. in some environment that was utterly foreign and apart from anything I might have desired in some ways for myself - from anything that felt authentic. I was in a part of town I didn’t know and didn’t appreciate. It didn’t remind me of the Montrose, the place that I had been and come to love for its…old wordless and idiosyncracity.  

At one point, when I was staying in these apartments (which were fake-decorated), going to learn a career that had nothing to do with my desires as a human being and a creative person, as an empath… and… I remember one day I was so depressed that in the evening I was literally walking out into traffic on a busy street. I didn’t care. I didn’t care if I got hit. And that actually didn’t work - I didn’t get struck by any vehicles, so I made it back to the apartment complex, whereupon I decided to beat my head against a brick wall, quite literally. It didn’t - like the figurative example of “beating your head against a brick wall” - it didn’t change anything. 

So I had come to make friends with a couple of folks, a couple of women at my travel agent school, one of whom was Carol Buckland. This was a one month course, so there wasn’t a lot of time to make great friendships. I think I must have been sharing about the place where I was - I was probably in class crying for all I know - and Carol asked me what was going on. And I told her that I was.. that I didn’t have a job for when I’d get out of here, I didn’t have a place to live, and that I was depressed, hopeless and a bit suicidal. And I guess Carol went home that evening and talked to her partner, Millie (Millicent Patty) and Carol came the next day and asked me to come to her house for dinner. And she and Millie preceded to invite me - a stranger to them, really - into their home, to live with them…until I could get on my feet and find a place to live.

They made an offer that was beyond important to me and has a lasting effect throughout all of my life. Because they gave me what I craved so much at that moment, which was stability, comfort, care, recognition. I wanted to be seen. I wanted to matter.. and I wanted to be safe. They gave me all of that. And beyond what they gave me was my first example of a non-heterosexual union… of this beautiful relationship between these two women, and the home they shared. I also tasted my first cup of fresh ground bean coffee - something besides Maxwell House and Folger’s - and it was a revelation. 

I wasn’t always respectful of that space. I had a friend come and stay with me. We were selling these beautiful - the fact that they were beautiful was no excuse - but these beautiful buds of pot out of the bedroom they allowed me to stay in. It was on a street called Vassar. It was named after a Houstonian, Vassar Miller, who was a poet. Her dad.. I guess he was a developer or - I’m not sure - but he named the street after his daughter, Vassar. She was a Poet Laureate of Houston I think, for a long time.

Anyway.. that experience, that generosity, has played out in my life in a way of me trying to constantly pay back the enormous gift that Millie and Carol gave to me that day. For those months. At that turning point in my life. Even today, I have a friend staying with me, hoping he gets on his feet, in the same way they showed me that generosity. It has become a part of my mantra. 

And I will forever be grateful to Millicent Patty and Carol Buckland.

Thank you, ladies. Thank you.

Heather L Johnson