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Woman strengthened by writing, music

From the first night of her marriage, Jose Beth Smolensky wanted to turn back and go home.

Instead, she stayed and tried to make the marriage work — through abuse, infidelity and finally her institutionalization.

Just after graduating from the prestigious Juilliard School of Music, where she studied violin, Smolensky was 22 when she started down a path she didn’t want to be on. But her father told her she could never come back home if she got married.

Smolensky now lives in Hillsboro, and her memoir, “Hide and Seek: Out of the Darkness and Into my Life,” was published by Portland based Inkwater Press and released this summer.

In the book, Smolensky details the first 84 years of her life, starting with her motherless childhood in New York, where she was ruled by a strict father.

The book digs through the years she spent with an abusive husband, and then turns to a better stretch when she makes a life for herself and her children, discovers her repressed sexuality, and, eventually, finds real love.

Writing the book was therapeutic at first, she said, but after months of recounting the most agonizing memories of her life, it was mostly just painful.

Still, Smolensky put her story on paper “to offer another woman, somewhere, courage,” she wrote in her book.

“I feel I’ve been helped; now I want to help women,” Smolensky said. “When somebody suffers something like that, it becomes a part of you. It’s never over. I’ve never recovered from it.”

After years of physical and emotional abuse, Smolensky finally summoned the courage to leave her husband after she was released from the mental institution he checked her into in the early 1960s — without any medical evaluation.

Tears still well up in her eyes thinking about those 10 days that could’ve led to the rest of her life in a place she didn’t belong and away from her four children.

“Now you have to have more than a husband saying you’re crazy,” said Smolensky.

The decades after she left her husband led to continued harassment, and Smolensky felt betrayed by her social circle.

Her first move took her away from her Illinois home where she lived with her ex-husband and into Florida, where Smolensky saw racism she “can’t understand even today.” This added to her fear of prejudice when she started recognizing something that was “always there” — she was gay.

Smolensky continued to move “in the dead of night,” running from her husband, who would spread reputation-damaging rumors wherever she established herself in the 1960s and 1970s, when homosexuality wasn’t as widely accepted and many people equated being gay with sexual perversion or a predisposition to prey on children, she said.

Through it all she continued playing the violin. She secured positions in orchestras, continued her formal education, and discovered a gift for teaching.

The violin was always her savior, she said. In times of constant belittlement and feeling completely alone, playing the instrument was something she was good at and praised for.

Her prestigious education taught her about “what’s important, how to go about making choices and doing what you’re obligated to do,” Smolensky said.

She lives with her partner, Pat Brown, and she’s free to pursue what she’s always wanted — art.

Smolensky will have a book signing at Arcade Book Exchange, 136 S.E. Third Street in Hillsboro, from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7. The signing will be right next to Sequoia Gallery + Studios, where Smolensky also displays her wood sculptures.

“You release yourself by writing,” said Smolensky, who wants to send a message to the abused: “I may not know you, but I care.”

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