Editor’s Note: This story appeared in the Senior Living section of the May 11 issue of LNP.
Suzette Mullen describes her everyday world as a little triangle that takes her from the Lancaster Press Building apartment she shares with her wife, Wendy, to her co-working space at the Candy Factory across the street, to Evolution Power Yoga down Harrisburg Pike, and back home again.
“I’m so happy about that,” she says. “It’s a very beautiful life.”
But it is certainly not the life Mullen, a book coach, imagined writing for herself over 30 years ago when she married and moved with her husband to Houston, Texas to pursue a career in corporate law.
Mullen likes to tell her writing clients that a good memoir takes on meaning in a life experience in a way that suits the reader.
Realizing her true sexual identity inspired Mullen’s own recently completed memoir, Graveyard of Safe Choices, but at its core, she says, it’s about coming to yourself, whatever that may be. Her message to readers is simple: it’s never too late to say yes to your life.
For Mullen, 61, that ‘yes’ came in his mid-50s, but the story begins much earlier.
The daughter of public school teachers, Mullen grew up in New Rochelle, New York, and graduated from Wellesley College and Harvard Law School. After moving to Houston, she worked for a general law firm dealing with mergers, acquisitions and stock transactions. She would later embark on a second legal career, representing low-income families in special education. In between, she devoted her time to volunteering and raising the couple’s two sons.
After 25 years in Texas, Mullen and her husband returned to New York 10 years ago as empty nesters, ready to write their next chapter.
“It’s definitely a time when people are taking stock of what’s next,” she says. “That was definitely the case for me. I thought it would only be professional, but it turned out to be personal too.”
And she would soon discover that the two were inextricably linked.
Mullen considered returning to her law career, but after a period of discernment, she realized this was no longer her calling.
“When I really sat and listened to myself and all the things I loved to do, everything that had to do with writing and editing,” she says, “I was like, duh. I’ve been doing all this for years in many different capacities. and was very good at it. If something comes to you pretty easily and you’re good at it, you don’t think too much about it.”
Taking the plunge into a new career was quite easy. She began freelance editing and helped students prepare their college and graduate school interview essays. She also began writing a memoir – not the one she had just completed, but another that explores her professional journey.
As part of that process, Mullen wrote about what she describes as an intense female friendship. After reading those pages, Mullen’s book coach noted that one scene sounded exactly like someone falling in love.
And then it suddenly became clear what had been there all along.
“It’s possible to have many, many, many layers of denial,” Mullen says. “We have all lived in a world where heterosexuality is the norm. This was a friendship that was very important to me, but I had struggled with it for 15, 17 years. I didn’t have the language to express who this person was to me. I really feel like I’ve written myself out a little bit.”
However, the personal revelation was much harder to deal with than the professional one.
“I had a very solid marriage. I’ve had a really nice life,” she says. “I was married to a lovely man. I loved him. He loved me. From the outside it all looked really perfect.”
Mullen struggled for 18 months to cope with this life-changing revelation. She had never been a risk taker, she says. Should she play it safe or free herself from a cage of her own making? Was she entitled to pursue her own happiness at the expense of everyone else’s? Her husband reminded her that there was no way forward without pain.
“Eventually I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t willing to go to my grave without knowing who I really was,” she says. “It was the most terrifying moment of my life. … To leave a marriage, to leave a life, even if it is good, is still a great loss.”
During her divorce in 2017, she visited the only one she knew in Lancaster. Five weeks later, she decided to move here.
“I had never been here, never thought of coming here, and when I got here it was like things were queuing up,” Mullen says. “Sometimes I think we don’t know what we need or what home is for us until we actually see it and we’re really there.”
By staying personally true to herself, Mullen also discovered the professional life she had longed for. In 2019, she earned her certification as an Author Accelerator book coach and now works with LGBTQ writers and allies to start and finish their memoir and nonfiction books. She is a founding board member of the Lancaster LGBTQ+ Coalition.
She also found time to complete her own memoir. Her main target audience is mostly middle-aged readers, she says, but not necessarily those who question their sexuality or reflect on the radical changes she’s made in her own life. It could just be someone who has put off their own dreams or who is afraid of leaving the safety of the unknown, she says.
“It’s not too late to say yes to everything you feel authentically called to do,” says Mullen. “Now that I’m on this side, even though it was very difficult, I don’t regret it. And there are no past life regrets either. I’ve been lucky enough to have had some very meaningful and beautiful chapters in my life, and this is a new chapter and it’s exciting.”