Episode 39: Visiting with Marie Hale of Chicago, IL, and her story “Red Lipstick and Resilience”
SSPP ep 39 MARIE HALE “RED LIPSTICK AND RESILIENCE”
Marie opened the first virtual show in 2020 with her story “Red Lipstick and Resilience.” She shares with Kerry and Jenette the tragic events that she survived to build a life and a company and a family for her daughter, and she inspires other women to lean on their resilience in difficult times.
ANNOUNCER: Raising women’s voices. One story at a time.
Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast.
JENETTE JURCZYK: Welcome everybody to another exciting episode of The She Said Project Podcast. I’m your host, Jenette Jurczyk, National Director of The She Said Project, and with me today, my dear friend and co-host—
KERRY ROSSOW: Kerry Rossow, tagging along.
JENETTE: Kerry Rossow in the house!
KERRY: I heard that Marie Hale is going to be here and it was like, “Katy bar the door. I am down!”
JENETTE: (laughter) Marie is one of those women whose a force, a force to be reckoned with and she jumped in, with us, on something we had never done before. That’s What She Said is a live show, usually, we produce in communities, now going across the country and empowering everyday women to share their extraordinary stories with a couple hundred of their closest friends. But in 2020, we couldn’t do those live events for some strange reason, and we had to pivot and find a new way to share women’s stories. So we launched a series of virtual events called The She Said Story Sharing Showcase. I got it on the first try, that was awesome! And we had Marie Hale from Chicago, Illinois join us in that very first adventure, and now she’s here with us in the Zoom studio to chat about that experience. Good Morning! Hello, Marie Hale?
MARIE HALE: Good morning! And I was very happy to be part of your pirouette into the virtual world.
JENETTE: Very nice! Are you a dancer?
MARIE: I have shaken a couple of things in my life. (laughing)
JENETTE: I heard a rumor you were a belly dancer, and don’t worry, we can edit this out.
MARIE: I was for fifteen years. I was a belly dancer. It was the first company I opened and my name was (dramatic whisper) “Akasha.”
KERRY: I need a stage name!
JENETTE: Kerry Rossow, you do need a stage name! What would it be?
KERRY: I don’t know. I’m putting Marie on the case. I like that name so much, maybe she can come up with one for me.
JENETTE: Like your drag queen name! (dramatic whisper) “Akasha.” Awesome, I love it. Marie, you join us with a group of really amazing women who had never met in real life! We met on Zoom. You all developed a personal story. Can you share with our audience a little bit about what you shared in the show last year?
MARIE: Yeah! So first of all, it was an absolutely soul changing experience to tell that story. I had a really rough couple of years to say the least. I moved back to Chicago from Austin, which—Chicago has just been my boyfriend forever; I don’t know why I left him for two years. My life partner, my guru, my sales coach, my love of my life and I started a little business, putting our companies together, sales and marketing. Seven months after we started, he passed and I had to decide whether or not I was going to run our family business. And had to grieve, on brand, publicly. And then, I got skin cancer in the middle of my face. So the red lipstick that I put on, [was] so people wouldn’t look at my red eyes now showed that I had a distorted lip, that was a quarter of an inch moved across my face. And then my very best friend, who had decided to come be my office manager with me and help me raise my daughter, passed the next year.
JENETTE: That is a lot!
MARIE: It was hit after hit.
JENETTE: That is a lot for anyone to go through in such a short amount of time.
MARIE: Yeah, and what I noticed is people are terrified of grief, almost like it’s contagious. And so I decided to start talking about it because if we talk about it, if we share the journey, when the next woman goes through it, she doesn’t have to be as scared or alone. Couple nights ago, I met up with a dear friend who also used to work with me. (Most of my friends work with me because I work all the time.) And about a year ago, her husband was shot in a Chicago alley and left for dead. And I reached out to her when he passed, and then I gave her time to process and sat down with her and had dinner. And I was able to hold space for her, because we were allowed to talk about it. And grief is a hard thing, people put all of their feelings on your grief, right? Or you get the head tilt.. Oh my God, if anybody else head tilts at me again in my life, I’m just going to hit him with a blow dart, just (blow dart noise) done. To be able to sit there in a place of strength—she heard my story before her husband passed and she knew that when she was a little more on her feet, she had a sister. And it made a small difference in her life. And if telling stories and sharing not just the struggle but the joy that you find in life, gives somebody just that much more, get out there and tell your story. Find your message, you’ve got a responsibility to this community, to this society, to this world, to be a light. Right? Who are we, who are we to play small?
KERRY: Go big or go home. Right?
JENETTE: Absolutely. I mean what you went through is tragic and painful, but everything you just said are the tenets behind That’s What She Said and The She Said Project, you could be our spokesmodel right here. Like, this is why we do what we do and create that safe space to hold for women who need to express themselves in a deeper way than we do in everyday life. You know, we go through life having small talk, chit chat, and work conversations, but it takes time and effort and a sense of trust and peace to go deeper. But man oh man, when you do, right?
MARIE: I am at the beauty of standing in vulnerability, it feels like being on a placid lake and just open. It’s terrifying. But that vulnerability is what allows others to truly see you and see a way to connect to you. Where so often we put on the mask and we go about business, right? Go to a networking event and you ask somebody how are things going: “Everything’s great, everything’s perfect, we’re just booming.” And I’m like, all of the curse words if I ask you that again and you give me that crap answer, you’re out of the club. You’re done. I’m stripping you of your princess points. Like out.
KERRY: It’s giving people permission. But that is what is expected, the happy thing? And if you are the first to say, “It sucks right now,” then everybody… we always talk about the after party conversation because the during the party conversation of all of that, “We’re great. Things are booming. Fabulous, couldn’t be better.” And then after the party, they’re like, “Oh my God, you’re not going to believe what’s going on.” And then it’s like, “Who cares about the pre stuff? It’s the after party that I want to get to.” And I think telling stories like yours, kinda like what happened with your friend, is especially when it’s ‘on the line’ as my mom says, and it’s recorded, you might tell the story that doesn’t connect with somebody until five years later, and then something happens and those words were a gift because then they say, “I remember Marie talking about that,” and those words are a gift sometimes in the moment and sometimes not until much later.
MARIE: And, you know, when we think about it from a psychological standpoint, our brains are always recording whether we can pull up that file or not. Because I know I’m running out of file space and I can’t find a lot of those things, but it’s still there, it’s still there. And your soul, your intuition, your subconscious, will come back for it and I think that’s also part of what makes She Said so incredible, it’s not just one kind of story and that beautiful tapestry that gets woven of emotions and laughter, and joy, and tears, and breath; stays and it creates solidarity, and my god, do we need solidarity right now.
KERRY: We’ve been saying “me too” long before it was just specific to women who had gone through a sexual assault. That it is that the “me too” can be the whole gamut of something really funny and embarrassing that happened to you and you look out and see someone like, “Solidarity, sister,” or it’s something, you know, the whole spectrum of our lives—because it isn’t and that’s why we’re so purposeful about the stories we choose. Life isn’t just the funny, laughy, haha, and it isn’t just the other side of the coin—if there’s been trauma, it’s all those things in between. And when you look and someone’s nodding and smiling or you see somebody having that moment I was like, well never never saw the world that way; thanks for shining a light on that. All the things and it still comes down to solidarity.
JENETTE: And you know, we would love our audience here on a podcast to connect with Marie and the journey that she went through. So let’s go ahead and play the recording from her performance in the first ever virtual show that we coined The She Said Story Sharing Showcase from August 2020. Here is Marie Hale and her story, “Red Lipstick and Resilience.”
MARIE: Allow me to paint you a picture. I’m nine years old, sixty-five pounds with bifocals (that tinted in the sun,) I’ve got a big perm and those big fluffy bangs that go… Yeah, all kinds of 80s awesomeness. I’m strolling up to you with a big ol’ smile and neon Jesus t-shirt and you have never met me before. With a thrust out of my tiny hand I say, “Hi, my name is Marie. Are you saved?”
Yeah, big hit in the 6th grade.
Raucous confidence, resilience since Day One.
Fast forward like eight years, three business ventures, and I’m strolling into a Panera for another networking meeting. Coffee, chit chat, this and that. And I knew who he was before he even said my name. My heart knew.
“Marie Hale?” he boomed. “Jim Rosas. I’ve heard so many good things about you, I expected you to be older.”
“Oh no, I’m 45,” I quipped, “But I bathe in the blood of young children and I really think it’s starting to work.”
If I had known back then that he wasn’t just a sales coach, but also a body language expert, I might have played it a little bit cooler. He caught my eyes darting around, and I caught his shiny, newly placed wedding ring. I was six months too late.
Over the next ten years we built our businesses side by side. We had dinners together with his wife and my boyfriend, Rafael, and we built a friendship—half torture, and half the closest thing I could get. And so I stayed.
After dating Rafael for nine years with no hope of Jim ever leaving his wife, I got married, mostly because I was thirty and afraid that my eggs were old and trying to kill me. Rafael knew Jim was the love of my life, and he married me anyway. Jim didn’t come to the wedding. A year and a half after that, when I was 4 months pregnant, Jim left his wife.
All of those years of sitting next to him and the longing with every sense of my being taking over and one day, we were on a plane to New York City for a day of client meetings, there was a lull in what was a very heated conversation in the room and you just felt the silence. The client, Jacki, quips, “Did the two of you just have a conversation without speaking?” Yes, yes we did. I felt a flush take over my entire body, and I asked for a divorce at 6 o’clock that night.
We got stuck in Queens that weekend for three days. There was a big ol’ storm. We did nothing but swim in sheets and eat New York pizza in bed. In that hotel room, we found nirvana and our home.
Our adventures as a family began and three years later we opened a business together, and every morning we would walk our little family to daycare with Lily holding his hand and chattering the whole way. We’d drop her off and hold each other’s hands as we made it to the Brown Line and took the train to our little one person office that we loved so much. Of course I had confidence, I’d had every dream I’d ever had come true!
And then… in one horrible afternoon in February, at 49, he left this world. (crying) He left us.
I can still hear the sound of the body bag zipping and the echoes of my screams as I tried to find someone to take Lily so she wouldn’t see. I was shattered. A million pieces of my soul poured out into nothing. And just like that, the dream was gone.
But I had a business to keep going and a daughter to raise and it was just me. (sobs) It was just me—and half a soul. And so I put on my red lipstick, a bold lipstick. The kind that made everyone look at your mouth as you walked by, because if they were looking at my lips, maybe they wouldn’t look at my eyes. If I didn’t have confidence for the moment, then I would fake it. I would lean on my resilience to hold me together. I had three weeks to bury him, and decide if I was going to take his role, teach his classes, and be the whole team in our family business. And to learn how to mourn publically. Jackie O was one tough broad. (sighs)
I lined up doctors so I wouldn’t let that part of my life fall apart too, and it was perfunctory, it was something I could check off a list. And I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’m white. Like really white, like that kind of Canadian pale that no one really aspires to. And so of course a dermatologist was on my list. And she took that little patch of dry skin that I had been asking doctors about for years and sent it to Florida, you know, where skin cancer is born. And three days later I got the call. “Basal Cell Carcinoma, get in now.”
It was in the middle of my face, between my nose and my lip. And the world would never see me the same.
A few weeks before my 38th birthday they cut through my face, over and over, until a deep hole the size of a cigar butt was open on my lip. And if I hadn’t lost my confidence then, I was at zero. And I didn’t have my hero to hold me up. My legs wobbled as I walked back and forth from the operating room and back each times. I was physically held, my mom was there and my Laura, she had been my ride or die for almost fifteen years now and she made sure I knew that dying was not an option.
They told me my lips would never look the same, that there would be a quarter inch difference in my lip line. I grabbed that tube of lipstick that had steeled me in the past. I Will Still Wear Red.
Never one to face a challenge quietly, I formulated a little plan. I still had stages to be on and business to close. And so like I’ve always done when I’m terrified, I took it head on. As they cut through my lip over and over, I chronicled the surgery on Facebook and I gave resources on how others could get checked and I asked them to send me pictures of themselves wearing red lipstick. And I did it every step of the way, wearing my signature red.
My little stunt, #Iwillstillwearred, resulted in over three hundred people getting into their derms that year and thirteen lives were saved.
And the truth was, it allowed me to hide in plain sight. Being out there, I didn’t have to deal with all the loneliness. I could convince myself through the filter of Facebook that I was surrounded, but the only person I let close was Laura. We had been friends since she was making skanky comments in the back of my belly dancing class. (laughs) And now she lived with me three days a week. She was the best auntie that Lily could have ever asked for and she was running my office. She stood next to me and let me scream and fall apart and put myself back together. And she brought really great tequila.
And just when I stopped feeling broken, it was her turn to break.
We picked Lily up from camp and in a blur I could never have imagined, she didn’t come home with us that day. She felt funny, she couldn’t breathe, and when the blood clot hit her lung (sobs) all of us lost our air that day.
I shattered again and I used the F-word in her eulogy and I had no choice. I was surrounded and alone and I looked for that little girl who I once was, in Jesus t-shirt number seven, and I looked for that naive ability to walk towards the goal when you don’t know what dangers lie ahead, but I walked through all of them in just under eighteen months.
And so I just keep walking: feelings on the outside, lonely and broken, and beautiful, and wholly unashamed of the pain, that’s my resilience.
Because there might be another soul who is breaking and alone, and to her I say, “Hi. My name is Marie, what’s your shade?”
JENETTE: Oh, Marie. I just want to reach through my computer and give you the biggest hug right now.
Thank you for sharing that in all its emotional glory. I live for that kind of deep connected emotion, I really do. I just wish you hadn’t had to live through what you lived through to get there. How do you feel today?
MARIE: Today I’m on fire.
JENETTE: How did your personal story Inspire you to go out and change the workforce and change the community for moms and women who got hit hard by the pandemic?
MARIE: Because I had my feet kicked out from underneath of me so many times and what I realized that The She Said Project was part of that, you have to look at the reality of what is and choose how you’re going to get through it. When I go through the challenges that I go through, I know that other people have gone through it. So if I have these needs, someone else has these needs. And I knew at that moment in October, and it was like the 15th, that there were so many people out there that needed what I could do that I had to get out and I had to make it happen. We all share the same threads in this tapestry, and if we don’t take it out there and do something with it, then we simply fail ourselves and our communities. So go build something big and different and wonderful and let people tell you you’re crazy because I will tell you, they told me I was nuts, “Everybody’s going to want to go back to the way things were.” Uh no, Karen is not going to want to go work for Todd that took her job, making more money than she did, with less experience, and she’s going to do her job and his. And she’s not going to do that. She’s not. So, how are we going to change it and if you’re not going to change it, I sure the hell will, give me a minute.
KERRY: Mic. Drop. I think that there’s so many women who when we first pitched She Said, people kept saying, “But then, but if it’s just, That’s What She Said, then you’re only targeting women and women won’t fill the, you have a lot of seats to fill, and women is…” And I was like, are you doubting women? Are you serious? Because women have shit to say, and they will show up and they will buy the tickets, and they did, they sold out. And it was, I think of that so often because we had all of those voices that we’re putting doubt and putting, you know, helping us with our business plan and women show up.
MARIE: Everyone has a reason, you’ll fail. Everyone has a reason, you’ll fail. You have a reason to succeed.
KERRY: Watch me!
MARIE: Yeah, sit back and watch. And if I’m too much for you, go, find somebody else.
MARIE: Thank you, and next! Right? (KERRY laughs) Some will, some won’t. So what? Who’s next?
KERRY: Thank you and next!
MARIE: “I invite you to be yourself by yourself.” That’s from Suicidal Tendencies for any metalheads out there.
KERRY: And I think being bold about it. No more of apologizing for you. Say, we were vying for women and we would take so much heat. And trust me when I tell you, if you are a fella and you want something in the world to connect to, that plate’s full. Plenty of those opportunities. This was not.
MARIE: Right now there are so many men that have realized their role in how the world has turned out. That they are rooting out in connecting with these stories. They are trying to change their perception because there are some amazing men out there.
KERRY: You know, we’ve heard from men that were they’re sitting there with their significant other, their sister, or whatever it was, or someone that they cared about told the story and it was, it was a gift to them too. To like, oh my gosh, I’ve never ever heard that story or I never saw it that way or all of it and it’s telling how men respond to it as well.
JENETTE: We have a lot of men out in the audience as cheerleaders. It’s phenomenal to see! It’s really about building community and community comes from all sides and all stories, we’re just creating that safe space for women to get their voices heard. Period. Like it’s that simple, but we do our part and you do your part and we welcome all the women out there to stand up, speak proud, do something, say something and join us. Join us in the revolution. Join us in That’s What She Said or go build something in your community that you can be proud of. Thank you so much Marie for joining us today on the podcast, Kerry, always a delight and I’m so excited for the world to be returning to almost normal. What a joy it was to meet and work with women from places like Chicago and across the country in our virtual shows. Marie, pleasure to see you as always and hear you and chat with you and catch up. I am so excited to see what happens next.
Thank you to our friends and fans! You are listening to the She Said Project podcast.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you for listening to The She Said Project Podcast in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in the podcast for the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. For more information on our live shows go to http://shesaidproject.com
This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management, empowering women to live their best lives.
Marie opened the first virtual show in 2020 with her story "Red Lipstick and Resilience." Now, she shares with hosts Kerry and Jenette the tragic events she survived to build a life, a company, and a family for her daughter, and how she inspires other women to lean on their resilience in difficult times.
The She Said Project Podcast is recorded in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in this podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That's What She Said, LLC. Learn more at shesaidproject.com.