Here's the Whole Picture
by Yvonne Palmer
I don’t think in any point of your life have you ever truly found yourself. I think you’re still evolving and changing and it’s kind of cool to see that. … I think just being open to who you can be and who you can become is important.
Chapter 2: Big Changes
When I was little, I always wanted siblings. Especially having divorced parents. My mom and I would go to the pool, and I’d really have no one to play with so I’d make stuff up, but I always joke, when I have kids - which I want kids - I will have no idea how to play with them unless it’s sports, because I have no imagination at all.
I spent a lot of time by myself but just wishing I had other people to play with. I had this weird ability to make friends, though. My parents laugh – we'd be at a restaurant for dinner and I’d go join other tables, and I’d start with “Do you like my new shoes?” and then I’d be sitting eating with these other families at their dinner table. I would talk to anybody about anything; but I think that shaped me into who I am. Growing up I was always comfortable around adults, because that’s who all I was around.
When I turned eight – I guess, yeah, sometime after I turned eight - my stepmom told me she was pregnant. I remember running through the entire house, being so excited. Like screaming, yelling, and I look back and think, “Oh my god, I’m so embarrassed.” And it was only my parents, but I’m still embarrassed because I can picture the whole thing; but I was excited!
So Jack came, and I still remember his due date. This is how excited I was. He was supposed to be born on September 21st. He was born on September 18th, and funny enough, right now, in my office I’m looking at a giant cut out of his head. He is like my child, and I’ll get to that a bit more later. But because he was my first sibling and I was so much older, he drove me nuts. I can remember one time he was learning how to crawl, and he was crawling up the stairs, and I was standing there, and he just leaned over and bit my toe. And in the car - I had a new gameboy and it was pink and I was playing with it and he was two and he would scream his head off if he didn’t get to play with it. I had to give it to him. And my parents still say, "You never played with that.”
I’m like, “Because I had to give it to Jack. He was two!”
But he was so funny! We taught him, I guess because I was in grade school, you know, the things that were popular. We taught him how to say, “Yo yo yo.” Those were some of his first words. He was so cute! He was this little redhead and they never cut his hair, because they loved his curls, but then it became like a mullet.
Then when I was about 10, my mom met my stepdad, Aaron. They met in October or November of that year, and I met him in December. My mom and I were so close that I was going through her jewelry on her dresser. I had just met Aaron, and I’m playing around on her dresser, and I’m like “Ooh, what’s this?” and I opened this box, and then I realized “Oh.”
It was an engagement ring.
I closed it and put it down. My mom looked at me and said, “So, what do you think?”
I liked him. I didn’t really know him, they moved so fast. Looking back now, well it had to be right. And it was. But at that time I was a little shocked.
And so then I met his kids. He had two girls. One was seven and one was two, and I knew that they were getting married but the girls didn’t. So we spent the whole day together, hung out, became fast friends, loved it, so my mom and Aaron asked, “How would you girls like it if you were sisters?”
We all excitedly yelled, “Yeah!”
So it worked out. It was great. And we got to be in the wedding in February. It was very very fast – meet, engagement, married.
So I went to having three siblings, and then in February, my brother, my second brother, was born. Then I had four siblings. I always joke: I used to pray on this a lot, but God answered my prayers a little too late, because I was good being an only child by eight. It was great. I got all the attention.
I think that’s a lot of what shaped me — I have some qualities of an only child and some qualities of an oldest child. I’m not sure if they’re all good or bad, but you know, it’s who I am.
Then my mom and Aaron got pregnant and they had Joey I remember them telling us – my poor mom. I guess I was maybe 13 and she’d always told me she didn’t really want any more kids, so of course she tells us they’re pregnant and I looked at her in front of everybody and I said, “I thought you didn’t want any more kids.”
She was like, “Well, we weren’t planning on it.”
Then my next brother – my dad and my stepmom have three boys - that third one came in June of the following year, so it was just like rapid fire, I got six siblings.
For me, it was so hard to go away [to college] because I was leaving six little ones behind who – you know, I would miss out on a lot of their lives.
I think Jack is – I know you’re not supposed to have favorite siblings, but he’s my favorite, because he is like my little buddy. When I would leave to go back to college from a break I cried each time because I love my family. I would cry saying bye to my mom and I would cry saying bye to Jack. He was my first sibling and he now goes out of his way to make me feel included in the family. And he’s only 17.
The other ones … one of them went away to a hockey tournament and I was back living at home after college. He went away and got presents for everyone in our family but not for me. It's not that I need a present, but it’s like I’m not thought of as part of the family sometimes. It’s very hard for me to kind of see them function as a family without me. We went on a family vacation last year and I had to come back early for work, and they stayed on and took a picture and even family members were commenting on how cute of a family they were and how great their family was and I was like, “Hello! I’m missing.” Not that they intentionally do that. I know that. But yeah, that’s kind of how my family is.
Then there’s my mom who – she is my best friend. I think I’m always at the front of her mind. She writes letters every year just telling me how much I changed her life and I’m the reason she’s here. I think this book could tell her how thankful I am and appreciative to have her.
My mom’s always taught me you should just be happy, you should want to be happy. But my dad’s really brought in the more materialistic things in my life. The thing that’s awesome about both my parents is even though they don’t work together, they have a lot of the same values. And both of them, they're so supportive of me.
Chapter 5: Man, I Love College
I would put my college years [as my most important chapter] because I really think that is when I turned into who I am. I think it gave me a way to see things through a different lens. I’d say that was where I made this huge change and shift in my beliefs. I was very liberal going into college, very into the social aspects of the liberal side of things. And so going to a school in the South where most people are very conservative – that was a new thing for me. I was presented with this whole new set of ideas that it wasn’t going away, so what I had to do was think about – okay, where do my ideas come from and where do these ideas that are being presented to me come from? And how do I wrap my head around that? I think that allowed me to see both sides of a story before I make a decision.
I’d say [my mom's] the one who I can be most open with and discuss that with. She's always been good about presenting every side of the story to me. Especially when I was in college and kind of flipped my beliefs on things where they technically did align more with her, she’d then flip it on me, and present the other side just to make sure that I was firm in my beliefs, but also that I could see both sides. I'm the type of person that I likes to see everything from every side and each point of view, and I think all those years and all those changes allowed me to do just that.
You know you see a lot of things in college. I always say college isn’t real life, which is really sad because college is so much fun. You’re free but you don’t have all the responsibility, so I think I got to see my friends make some pretty big mistakes in college and I think it allowed me to see that everyone’s human, you know. It’s okay to mess up and it’s okay to do these things. It allowed me to kind of relax in that way and see people for more of who they are rather than what their ideas are or where their stance is on things. My best friend in college, we became best friends because I took her to the hospital my freshman year because she’d had too much to drink. I mean, she made a dumb mistake and she was a freshman. She overdrank, and she was fine, thankfully, but you go through these things.
Clemson is the best three and a half years I’ve ever had in my life. For college – I wanted warm weather and good football. I love sports. That’s my whole background. Growing up my mom was the one who loved football and she taught me everything I know about football. So I wound up at Clemson and loved every minute of it.
Well actually, I called home crying every night that first month, and my mom thought when I was coming home for fall break that I wasn’t going to go back to school. But luckily, right before fall break I met the girl who was supposed to be my roommate (and then didn’t end up being my roommate) and we became best friends and that helped me love college.
But the minute I went to college, I saw my parents in a whole new way – they were like my friends now, not just my parents, which was kind of nice.
My dad and I weren’t always the closest growing up, but in college, he and I became so much closer, even though I lived forever apart. I think it’s the fact that I wasn’t there all the time that helped us grow closer. When I went down for orientation, my dad and I – my dad likes really nice clothes. And so they have this men’s store in downtown Clemson. They do custom suits, custom shirts, whatever. My dad - they of course loved him, because he’s like, “These are all the brands I love.” And so he’s shopping and a lot of guys who work in the store are college guys, but they’re all in button-downs and khakis and bow-ties and – and so one of the men was like “Have you gotten your game day dresses yet?”
You know, when you’re younger, you crave those pajama days for school, because you want to wear pajamas to school. I was always that girl that was like, “Oh, I’m going to wear pajamas to class in college.” No. You do not wear pajamas to class in the South. I don’t know about other schools, but at Clemson, you do not wear pajamas to school. I never did.
But I didn’t want to go to Ole Miss, because the girls wore dresses to football games, and I thought, “That’s so stupid.” And then I got to Clemson and I wore dresses to every single football game.
Nobody told me in all my visits [to Clemson] about wearing dresses to games, so I responded, “No.”
He was like, “Oh, you gotta get your game day dresses. All the girls are going to wear dresses.”
And I said, “Okay. Where do I go?”
So he’s telling me all of the places to go and my dad and I then were on a mission to find my game day dresses.
I have so many stories about him coming down. The funny thing is those guys at that store, they always said, “If you ever need anything, you come to us.” And there were times where I just had a question and I didn’t know who to ask so I’d walk into the men’s store, and I’d say, “Hi,” and they’d be like “Yvonne!” They were so excited to see me. At Christmas I always brought them cookies.
My dad and my stepdad and my grandpa, every time they came, we all had to spend like two hours in the store shopping, so I became friends with all the guys. They gave me a graduation present when I left. I still call them – when I want a gift for my dad or my stepdad, I just call them and they know the size. They text me pictures of what they have - because they don’t have an online store – they text me pictures of what they think they’ll like, and they wrap it for me and stick it in the mail and it’s so nice.
So then I jumped into it, and I had [my dresses] ready for the season. Depending I think on the environment you’re in, you kind of adapt to it, but I didn’t have to. Not every girl wore dresses. My roommate, she wore t-shirts and shorts. But I loved it.
Everyone came together for football. I mean the whole school rallied around that, so it didn’t matter who you were. You bonded over those football games. My roommate and I got to the games early before the gates even opened, so that we could run down and beat everyone to the front of the hill. We sat at the front of the hill for every game freshman year. They have a grassy hill where it’s just general admission, and they have big – they don’t do this anymore – but they had all these balloons in a netting so you’d get to rip that open. They’d all go into the air as the team ran down the hill, and so we were at the front for every game. It was amazing.
And you go anywhere – I remember that summer before [college], we always had vacationed at Hilton Head in South Carolina. We were there and I was wearing a Clemson shirt. We were riding our bikes around and someone yelled, “Go Tigers!” And everywhere we went, people were yelling, “Go Tigers” and I didn't know how to respond to them. What do I say back? So I’d just kind of smile.
Now I’m that person. I see anyone anywhere with anything Clemson, I’m yelling at them.
I really do think each chapter is really about kind of who I became today. I wouldn’t change anything. I’d definitely change little things. But not big things. Something I think about constantly is my future, because I’m very much a planner, through and through, and all I’ve ever wanted is to be an influential person in St Louis. What I love about my dad is everyone knows him. Like he just knows everyone – and that’s one thing about St Louis. That everyone knows everyone. But I want to continue to be that person. That’s how I was in college. I would go somewhere and I knew everyone. And that’s - I think that’s what I want in my life. I want to know everyone. I want to get to know everyone. Like I don’t want to be just like everyone knows who I am. I want to know everyone.
I’ve always kind of wanted the life my dad has, and I’d say that's negatively impacted relationships I’ve been in because I see the person and think they can’t give me what I want, so I end it. So I want to be in St Louis. That’s my future I see, I’m in St Louis; I have a house; I have kids, I have a family. I would love to be that person that could move. I would love to live in Colorado. I would love to live in Texas. I’d love to live in California. I want to go to all those places and have the opportunity to live there. But I 100% know I won’t.
I think that this is home. I think being in a place where I feel comfortable – I like the idea that I can go places and I see people I know. I see my grade school teachers. I see kids I grew up with. St Louis has kind of the best of both worlds for me.
I love St Louis, but yeah – if my mom moved away and Jack moved away – I don’t know that St Louis would be home to me anymore. So that’s an interesting thing to think about. Maybe I’ll get them to move to Colorado and then California and then Texas.
[If I could give this book to anyone,] I’m torn because – my first instinct is my mom, to just do this as a thank you and to see how she’s shaped me. But also for my brother, Jack, because he’s about to go into college and he’s still – I think he’s very comfortable in who he is, which I love about him. He is Mr. Popular; he’s got such strong grades; he plays on the varsity hockey team. He is just the best kid. And I just think it would be nice for him to see that you can be whoever you want and if you do change, that’s fine.
And also I think – I don’t know if he knows this, but I recently had a girlfriend. This is a new thing for me. I’ve always dated guys until like two years ago, and I still like guys. I don’t know that Jack knows. He doesn’t really ask questions. I think he assumed I was dating my girlfriend. It was like 11 months, but we’ve never had a conversation about it. So I think this book would just show him that I’m still me. I think that’s something that I think he probably knows. I think that’s something internally that I have to deal with and figure out. I feel like I don’t need to be convincing everyone that I’m still me but he’s like the most important person for me. To have him be like “Okay, she’s cool.” You know?
I guess for me - I think having gone to a southern school, and then kind of this new "now I’m dating women" type of thing… That’s just something that’s kind of obviously more recently become very important to me, you know, breaking those barriers. I think a lot of people meet me, especially in the work place – working for a very liberal university, people kind of assume that you agree with them on things. I’m one of those people that I don’t believe in talking politics in the workplace, and so even if I agree with people I try not to talk about it. I think the fact that I’ve dated a woman - people now assume that I have certain beliefs on things and stances on things that I don’t. I think that that’s something that can be kind of interesting and powerful: just because someone fits in with your views in one way doesn’t mean that they necessarily agree with you on everything. But I don’t know – I think something that I’m still struggling with is – do I tell my college friends? Are they going to be open to that?
My dad’s still not super open to it. My mom’s totally fine with it. She loved my girlfriend. So I think that’s something interesting, too. All these different years and chapters of my book I’m finding myself. I don’t think in any point of your life have you ever truly found yourself. I think you’re still evolving and changing and it’s kind of cool to see that even – I know I’m still young at 26, but even at 26 — I can be finding new things about myself, you know? So, I think just being open to who you can be and who you can become is important.
Here's the Whole Picture: Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Years I Can’t Remember
In which Yvonne describes the years when she was too young to have her own vivid memories, but that her parents and family filled her in.
Chapter 2: Big Changes
In which Yvonne's parents get a divorce when she was three, followed by her father's remarriage when she was five. Eventually, she would go from being an only child to one of seven siblings.
Chapter 3: The Years I was in Grade School
In which Yvonne went to school in grades K-8 in a class that ended up being 20 people. She is still friends with them to this day.
Chapter 4: Growing Pains
In which Yvonne started high school at a Catholic all girls school and hated it, then transferred to a new high school in her sophomore year.
Chapter 5: Man, I Love College
In which Yvonne gets into Clemson University and experiences the most fun she's had in her life and made the friendships that will carry on forever.
Chapter 6: Finding Myself
In which Yvonne spends the first few years out of college trying a few different jobs and figuring out who she wants to be in her post-college life.
Chapter 7: Who I am Now
In which Yvonne reflects on her life now as an event planner in St Louis and the experience of dating a woman for the first time.
About the Author
Yvonne Palmer grew up in St Louis and still makes her home there. She started out at one high school and ended up at another one after freshman year, and she would have to say which ones, because everyone in St Louis is going to want to know, "so might as well get that out of the way." She went to Clemson University and got to witness the first national championship they had won since 1981. She worked for the Cincinnati Reds as well as for a couple of universities. She’s a huge Blues fan, Cardinals fan, and a Clemson fan.
 All names have been changed to pseudonyms