Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Into the Abyss


I have fictionalized places, government agencies, and names to protect the innocent and the guilty.

I was 20 when I met Sean, a strawberry blond lad working his way through college fighting fires for the Bureau of Land Management.  He grew up in an Irish Catholic family dripping with strawberry blond children and humor.  He made me laugh so I naturally fell in love with him that summer, the summer of 1980, the summer I worked as a Wildlife Biology intern in the Northwestern Nevada Resource Area for the Bureau of Land Management.  Someday I will comb my journals and share my stories with you, dear reader, of how he flirted and seduced my heart by collecting dying butterflies when he mowed the lawn of the fire station where we both lived.  I was collecting butterflies that summer for a professor of Wildlife Biology at the University of California at Davis who was working on the diet of native shrikes that ate insects.

I used to visit the hot springs with the firefighters.  They persuaded me to skinny dip with them.  I figured it wasn't so immodest a choice to make because we skinny dipped to the light of the Milky Way and the moon.  One night I was sitting next to Sean when I felt his fingers on my  thigh, his explorations hidden from everyone but me by the hot night's water.

I said, unsure if I felt comfortable with his attentions, "What are you doing?"

He removed his fingers, but some minutes later they roamed around again.

This time I remained silent.

The relationship was consummated in the weeks that followed, but Sean always vacillated in his interest and commitment -- one day ardent and attentive and avoiding me the next.  I always struggled with the ends of relationships, going into a depressed funk for two years after each one.  I did not want to repeat the pattern.  I did not want to be used.  I did not want to be neglected or mistreated or abandoned when the summer came to an end, so I ended the relationship.  I tried not to talk to Sean the day when the fire station chief assigned him to work with me as I worked on some wildlife forage evaluation transects far out in the Nevada desert.  It was many years before I learned non-violent communication which would have given me the tools to tell Sean how I felt diplomatically.  Sean knew something was wrong when I would not laugh at his jokes.  He tried and tried and tried until he broke down my resistance, and I spoke.  I told him I had a hard time with the ends of relationships.  I told him that he was not treating me in a way I felt comfortable me.  He promised to write when the summer was over.  It was all I needed as I was still so young I had not lived through that many broken promises of romance.  I had stood up at least a little -- something I had not done before.

When the summer was over and Sean returned to Mill Valley State University and I returned to UC, he did not write.

Months passed.  I wrote him a couple letters and agonized.

I called the directory for Mill Valley and obtained his number.  It was the days before the passage of laws protecting privacy.

My roommate dialed the number for me and put me on the phone after Sean answered.

Sean said, "I am never going to write; I am never going to write."

This is not a story about Sean's feelings about his actions.  I don't know them.   I do know he had stayed faithful through four years of college to a high school girlfriend.   In the end she married someone else.  

I remembered his cast off words said out of context, "Long distance relationships don't work."

I agonized.  Of course I should have known he was never going to write.

I agonized for the usual two years, considered suicide, felt worthless and unlovable, and fell into a prolonged depression.

Two summers later, the summer of 1982,  I worked as a Biological Technician for Great Basin National Forest -- a mere fifty miles across the basin and range plateau from where Sean worked once again as a fire fighter for the Bureau of Land Management.

On summer nights I looked across the plateau and thought of him not so very far away and yet a billion miles away as though he was across the universe on the other side of a singularity.

And I wrote Into The Abyss.

Twenty years later I learned that survivors of child sex abuse like me often struggle with feeling abandoned, devastated at the end of a relationship.  I learned my feelings were a normal symptom experienced by many abuse survivors.  That helped me understand my depressions and help me cope better with the damage done to me by abuse at age four.

So I share my poem with you in hopes it helps you understand your own feelings and behaviors or the feelings and behaviors of a loved one or friend.


Last thoughts only as I fall away,
A particle of planetary debris
Sucked into the black hole.
Whose gravity not even light escapes.
Now you see me,
Now I am a billion light years away
Across the universe,
Reborn as a microwave pulse oscillation
In your radio telescope,
Invisible to the naked eye.

Are we not all doomed to eternity
as Subnuclear particles
Locked into the endless
Oscillations of matter,

Each of us
Our own black hole universe,
Our lives lost
In tidal expansions and contractions?

As you reach out to me.
I am already gone,
Traveling away from you at the speed of light,
Matter to your antimatter,
Doomed to mutual destruction whenever we meet.

© 2014 Virginia Pickles Jones 

This is me in the summer of 1980.



Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Man Who Went to the Ends of the Earth To Help His Child Abuse Survivor Wife Heal

By Preston McMurry as told to Virginia Pickles Jones


The stereotyped endings of some old movies picture the hero and heroine walking off hand in hand into the sunset.  But there are other love stories, ones people normally keep to themselves, sad but sweet ones about the love between abuse survivors and their confused but supportive spouses.  In the end the hero and the heroine may smile and wave at each other, but they walk off into the sunset on separate paths.  

Survivors struggle.  They cannot trust, and even if they know they can, the legacy of not being able to trust is so hard wired into their brains, they cannot make the leap into trusting.  Or they trust too easily because being used by others is also so hard wired into their brains, they are unable to do anything else. Survivors also often struggle with addiction to drugs and alcohol, depression, anxiety, discomfort with touch, addiction to sex or dislike of sex, inability to sleep and more.

Being in a relationship with a survivor can be challenging.  Some romantic partners give up because the challenge of marriage to a survivor is just too, well, challenging.  Others stick through the challenges and do everything they can to support the survivor on the path to healing.

But few have done what Preston (Pres) McMurry, Jr. has done -- start a family foundation to fight family violence and name it Theresa’s Fund after his child abuse survivor former wife.  Since its origins 22 years ago, Theresa’s Fund has donated and helped raise more than $49,000,000 for non-profits addressing child abuse and family violence in Arizona and elsewhere.   Now Pres’ son, Chris McMurry, has followed in his father’s footsteps by creating an internet data base with 156 data points about 3,000 plus US shelters -- domesticshelters.org. --- in association with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV).  This effort is the first and only of its kind.

Pres founded Theresa’s Fund as a part of his own healing process while  recovering from his April 23, 1991, divorce from his wife Donna.

Donna was the love of Pres’ life.  Their marriage was compassionate, loving, and free of acrimony. 



“To see them together,” says Pres’ son Chris, “Was to understand the meaning of love.” 

They met while attending a couple of healthcare conferences during the 1970s.  Donna worked as a highly respected Occupational Therapist and Pres was employed by a Milwaukee, Wisconsin, hospital as Vice President of Development and Marketing.

They started dating after their second meeting, eventually spending nights at each-others’ homes.  Early in the relationship Pres noticed Donna had many scars on her body, including six identical scars on each foot.  She did not remember their cause and simply passed them off as “birth marks I guess.” 

Much of Donna’s early childhood remained unrembered to her until age 13, when she snooped through her parents bedroom closet while they were away for a three day vacation.  In that closet she found her adoption papers from Chicago Catholic Services and learned that her name was not Donna, that the only parents she remembered were not her birth parents, and that the February date her family always celebrated for her birthday was not the day she was born.  She also learned that she was not even an American.  She was adopted from an orphanage in Rome, Italy.  The adoption papers filled in none of the missing details of her name, her parents' names, her birthdate, and her first home.  Those details would remain a mystery for another 20 years.
  
During Donna and Pres' courtship, she never spoke about her early childhood.  Their life together was focused the fun and love in the present.  After they dated for three years, Pres proposed and Donna accepted.  They married, but when they returned home from a serenely passionate honeymoon in San Francisco, everything changed.  Despite their long history of nearly living together, Donna lost interest in the intimate aspects of their relationship.  She rejected Pres’ attentions night after night, four nights in a row. 

On the fifth night she rolled into a fetal position, glassy eyed, and almost catatonic,” explained Pres

Hurting and not knowing what else to do, Pres sat quietly, next to his wife, patiently waiting  for three hours, hoping she would speak.

Finally he ventured to ask, “Do you love me?”

She shrugged her shoulders -- a motion Pres interpreted as suggesting “perhaps.”  Donna was then and would always remain the love of Pres’ life.  He would not leave her although she rejected him nearly two hundred times during their first year of marriage -- a pattern that continued for 16 years.

When a California hospital offered Pres a 50% salary increase, the couple said goodbye to Wisconsin, and followed the money west.  As planned, Donna preceded Pres to California.  Her reputation as a gifted Occupational Therapist followed her, and she received three job offers in as many days.  She then spent the rest of the week buying a house in Palos Verdes, a nifty Los Angeles suburb overlooking the ocean.   

One evening, shortly after settling into their new home, Donna said: “Pres, I love you, but I am leaving.”

She returned a week later.  It was the first time she left but not the last. The next time Donna left for three weeks.  Eventually she left for eight months. 

Each time she left, she announced, “I love you, but I’m leaving.”  

“It damn near killed me,” Pres recounts.

After being gone for eight months, Donna returned on a Saturday morning.  Pres had just finished showering and answered the door dressed in a towel. He invited Donna in and asked her to “wait a minute” while he dressed.  A few minutes later he returned to the front door, but she had disappeared -- again.  

Three hours later she returned.

Pres accepted her back, of course, but this time with the condition that they attend therapy together.  So they did:  Two hours every week for a year. 

At the end of that year their psychologist, who happened to be a woman, ventured, “The only thing that causes this kind of behavior is massive child abuse: Physical, sexual, and emotional child abuse.”

Pres recalls, “When I heard that, klaxons went off in my head. Immediately I knew what caused the scars on Donna's feet: Six on each extremity in neat rows, measuring three quarters of an inch long by a half inch wide.  She had been tortured by fire.”

Pres wept when he realized what his wife had endured during the missing years of her childhood.   The psychologist recommended that Donna and Pres continue therapy.  And they did.

Some months later a head hunter sought Pres out to offer him a unique and challenging position in Phoenix, Arizona.  Pending Donna’s approval, Pres accepted, becoming the hospital company’s Executive Vice President in charge of marketing, planning, public relations, and development.  Pres’ assigned task was to grow the hospital into a multi-hospital operation.        

In Phoenix the couple continued their routine  of two hours of weekly counseling for nine years.  They varied that routine only to accommodate Pres’ business travel or family vacations.

Donna selected a therapist who specialized in hypnotic regression therapy.  It sounded like witchcraft to Pres, but for him, Donna’s wishes prevailed. Pres grew to both like and trust the therapist.  During the ensuing years, only once did Donna experience recall memory during a regression.  It was the smell of hay. 

Significantly, at the close of each regression, Donna experienced terrible headaches and hip pain.  Years later the couple learned that Donna’s eardrums and hip had been broken during the first four years of her life.  Looking back, Pres realized that Donna had indeed  experienced at least limited recall of her early life through hypnotic regression therapy, but the traumas of Donna's early years were simply too horrendous for her to remember the details.  Or, perhaps, her base levels of anxiety caused by Post Traumatic Stress were too high for her to enter a stage of hypnosis deep enough to recall her unknown past.

Despite the long years of therapy, Donna’s attitude towards intimacy never changed, but Pres loved her irrevocably.  In her own way, Donna loved Pres deeply too. 

Their devotion to each other was obvious to all who met them.  It wasn’t anything they did or said.  Rather it was an aura, a sense people around them often felt.  Once, Pres explains, at a dinner organized to bring two hospital boards together to test waters for a potential merger, he had to excuse himself.  He was standing in the men’s room doing what men do, when the guest Chairman of the Board of the other hospital appeared in the stall next to him.  A conversation ensued. 

The Chairman said, “It is so obvious that you and your wife are in love and devoted to each other, I feel I can trust you, so we’re merging our organization with yours.”  

They shook hands over the shoulder high stall, and the hospitals merged.  

Pres’ professional life thrived.  His marriage to Donna also thrived, but ten years of therapy had not made a dent in their struggles with intimacy.  The couple’s psychologist suggested that they go to Italy to discover Donna’s roots and perhaps to learn about her life before coming to America.

Pres was supportive of anything that might help.  Besides a trip to Italy sounded like fun. The first questions were how and where to begin. The name of a Roman orphanage that no longer existed was all the information they had.  That and a birth date.   Then, as luck would have it, Donna learned about an organization called Truth In Adoption.  She called.  

The man answering the phone advised her, “Put nothing in writing to us, but do write to Chicago Catholic Social Services asking a question, any question."  

He also warned Donna that Catholic Social Services might not reveal anything.  He was correct.  They responded to Donna’s letter with a terse note “Records sealed."  But in the upper right hand corner of the letter, sure enough, there was the key to knowledge -- her case number -- just as  Donna had been told it would be.  Three days later Donna and Pres had the information they needed.  Donna was born Theresa DellaCroce on a New Year’s day in Agnone, Italy, a small, ancient, mountaintop town a hundred miles east and south of Rome. 

Pres asks the question, “What would you be willing to pay to find out where you came from?” 

"Just about anything," most people respond. 

But Truth In Adoption charged just twenty-five dollars for their assistance. 

Armed with their new found information about Donna's birth name, birth place, and birth date, the McMurrys headed for Rome, via Zurich, Switzerland, where they stopped to visit friends.  From Zurich they traveled by train to Milan, where they changed trains.  They finally arrived in Rome a few hours later.  It was dark when they arrived in October 1989. The station was mobbed.  Beyond "Grazie," "Si," and "Ciao baby," Pres and Donna spoke no Italian.  Dozens of cab drivers descended upon them, offering rides and pulling at their luggage.  Unschooled travelers that they were, they fought their way through cabbies and jostling travelers and found their way through the station out into the night.  They walked several blocks, carrying their suitcases in hand, finally choosing one of the many near-by hotels for their night time accommodations. 

Those accommodations were “a funny little room” with leftover furniture and a bathroom that also served as a shower.  The shower-head protruded from the center of the ceiling and sprayed all four walls when turned on.  A guest could shower and brush his teeth at the sink at the same time.  As Pres recalls, it hadn’t quite sunk in at that moment that Italy was a culture which required some getting used to. 

Once settled, Pres and Donna found a little restaurant offering alley seating, a musician, and tables covered with red and white checked cloths.  They enjoyed a pleasant, romantic evening warmed by candlelight and a melodic mandolin.

The next day they were up and out early, visiting, as millions of others have, the Vatican and the Coliseum.  Pres wanted to see more of Rome.  Donna wanted to proceed to Agnone.  Now!  Pres remembers that an argument ensued -- one of only two during 16 years of marriage.  No shouting.  No screaming.  Just heated silence. 

To make the trip to Donna’s birthplace, they found the smallest, least expensive Fiat money could rent, and quickly learned they were totally unprepared to deal with the traffic in Rome’s warrior driver culture in which the rules of the road were viewed as suggestions. For example, you might give thought to stopping at the traffic light, but then again, maybe not.  Since the non-Italian speaking couple couldn’t ask for directions, it took them 2 1/2 hours to find the autostrada or highway as Americans would call it.

Heading south on the autostrada toward Agnone, they learned that a bitty Fiat could be nearly blown off the road by the air pressure created from an eighteen wheel freight truck passing at a hundred plus miles per hour.  They also learned to expect that two Mercedes would pass them simultaneously at breathtaking speeds -- one on their left and the other on their right -- turning two lanes into three.  Exhausted, the McMurrys exited the autostrada, driving east as the sun dipped behind the Apennine Mountains.  They arrived in a town called Isernia after dark, still looking for a hotel.  The only one in sight for miles in all directions was a place called Hotel Bellissima.  It was a shadowy, sparsely lit place.  But stay they did -- at Donna’s insistence. 

The hotel’s reception area was the size of a small bedroom.  On one wall hung a soccer pennant.  It read "Agnone."  It was the first time the couple had ever seen the name of their destination in print. 

With that, some of the tension between them dissipated. 

They rented a room for the night and discovered the elevator was only large enough for one person and one suitcase.  They stumbled through the unlit second floor hall by the flame of Donna’s cigarette lighter, found their room, and entered.  Pres pulled a knotted string attached to the light bulb hanging from a long cord.  And voila, they had light. Dinner was delightful as only an Italian meal with good wine can be.  Later, they discovered the bed squeaked. 

The next morning at breakfast they met a waiter who spoke English.  He inquired where they were going.  When he learned Agnone, somewhat astonished, he asked why.  Much to the couple’s surprise he was familiar with the DellaCroce name.  Later, he offered to guide the McMurrys up the mountain to Agnone, explaining getting there could be a bit of a challenge. 

Bags and all, the three crammed into the Fiat and chugged off.   

They traveled narrow, winding roads, some little more than paths, passing through long, dark, unventilated tunnels--this was 1989--until reaching the mountaintop where the road branched into a Y. The sign pointing left read, “AGNONE.” 

“It literally took our breath away,” sighed Pres. “We were almost there.”

Pres stopped the car at the waiter’s suggestion. 

“Follow the road down the mountain  into the valley.  It goes straight to Agnone.”

Pointing across the valley to the opposite mountain top he said, “See those buildings you can barely make out on top of those cliffs? That’s Agnone.” 




Then he added, ”I’m going to visit my mother. Ciao." 


And off to the right he trotted.  

Grateful for the help and encouraged to continue their quest, Donna and Pres headed towards Agnone.    

Down, down the narrow road they motored, entering what felt like a time warp traveling back to the pastoral past.  A shepherd, crooked staff in hand, herded his flock up the road, bringing Donna and Pres to a halt.  The sheep enveloped the Fiat, sauntering slowly past the car.  The shepherd paid no heed to the car and couple inside.  

Continuing down around a curve, they encountered a large woman wearing a black, ankle length dress and sandals.  She was pushing a wooden plow, which was being drawn by a mule.  The mule, in turn, was being pulled by a man.  All three were struggling to turn over the pale tan soil covering the rocky slope.

It was October, and the valley was lined with rows of grapes as far as the eye could see.  They continued forward in the Fiat.  Across the valley floor they stopped at a bridge crossing a small river beneath the cliff where, they were told, Roman soldiers died millennia ago in a failed effort to conquer the heights above.  

The valley was filled with the colors of autumn: Ochre, rust red, green, and orange shaded earth tone tans and browns.  It was so lovely there beneath the cliffs.  Pres got out of the Fiat to take a picture and invited Donna to join him.  Donna declined, preferring to sit in the car.  Pres botched his picture taking which defused the mounting tension.

Then, up the serpentine road they drove.  After rounding one in a seemingly endless number of curves, they found themselves on one of five roads converging on a piazza with a fountain and a memorial commemorating World War I.  This was central piazza of Agnone. 

Pres asked Donna which way to drive. 

“Turn right,” she replied. 

Then, “Left.” 

Then, “Right,” again.

She seemed to know where she was going despite not consciously remembering the town where she was born.

The Fiat clunked over the cobblestones made from granite quarried from nearby hills.  The roads grew narrower and narrower as they moved deeper into the ancient village.  The Fiat, with mere inches to spare, eased along the one lane street built for horse carts.  Pedestrians stepped into doorways making room for them to pass.  Stone and painted stucco-patched buildings lined the cool, shadowed streets and, since their earliest days, leaned into each other for support.  The place held an ageless beauty.

“Park here,” Donna whispered, looking at an empty space where a building once stood. 

Several days later they learned they had parked across the street from the house where Donna had been born on a dirt floor thirty-five years earlier.

Gathering their thoughts and mustering courage, Donna and Pres walked hand-in-hand down the street, arriving at a small print shop with two signs in the window. 

One read, “Closed.” 

It was near lunch time. 

The other sign announced the availability of “English Instruction.” 

Donna knocked.  No answer.  Pres knocked harder.  They waited longer.   Finally a young lady answered the door.

“Boun Giorno,” she smiled. 

She told them her name was Anna Maria and asked, “How can I help you?” 

Anna Maria listened intently to Donna’s brief retelling of her search for her family and said, “My father is the judge. Would you like to go to the court house?”

“Now?” the McMurrys asked, flabbergasted.

“Yes. Now,” came the answer.

The court, of course, was closed.  It was noon -- the customary lunch time for some of the residents of this Italian town, nap time for others, and both lunch and nap time for the rest.  But as the judge’s daughter, Anna Maria, enjoyed a certain authoritative celebrity.  She switched on the lights in the court and explained the search for roots to the startled clerk of courts. 

The book of “Births and Deaths," a large, heavy, dust covered volume, was retrieved and slowly, almost reverently, opened.  It smelled old because it clearly was. 

The clerk began.  The McMurrys held their breath as he traced his finger down page after page of hand inked entries.  Two minutes passed.  Eight.  Pres began to believe a contribution might speed the process.  Just as he reached into his billfold for an inducement, the clerk’s finger paused. 

He looked at Donna and quietly said, “Theresa, my name is Giovanni.  I am five years older than you.  I remember you.  We used to play in la piazza.”

Giovanni continued, “Your parents died at age 53.  Alcoholism.  Your father worked as a coppersmith and sometime shepherd.”

Pres froze.  He knew tools.  He had always known his beloved wife’s feet had been burned twelve times with a white hot poker.  Hearing the confirmation, Pres could almost sense the smell and sizzle of burning flesh. 

“I almost puked,” agonized Pres, remembering. 

“Your mother cleaned homes,” Giovanni continued.  “You have three sisters: One in America of whom we know nothing.  Two live here in Agnone.  Their names are Carmella and Lucia.”

Pres and Donna were stunned, speechless. 

Anna Maria broke the silence saying, “I’ve known your sisters all my life.  You want to meet them?” 

From that moment forward Pres knew his wife as Donna Theresa.  And he knew that he was the only person on earth who knew and loved both the woman Donna and the child Theresa.   

Anna Maria thanked Giovanni, took Donna Theresa by the hand, and lead the McMurrys out onto the cobbled street.  After a short walk, she stopped before a church.  There upon the steps, perhaps fifteen or so feet above them, sat a pile of rags.  From beneath leered a gargoyle sneering at passers-by. 

Anna Marie said, “That is your sister Lucia. You want to meet her?” 

Donna Theresa recoiled. 

“No,” she snarled. 

Pres explains that by Donna Theresa’s reaction, he knew he was looking at a crazy woman who was somehow involved in his wife’s childhood torture. 

Quickly moving further along the street Pres ducked into a flower shop and bought a small bouquet, hoping as he did, that an offering of flowers might help produce a better result when they next met Carmella.    

As they rounded a corner and entered a small piazza, Anna Maria said, “That’s Carmella.” 

In the piazza by a fruit stand sat a woman wearing a long, flowing, print dress draped over her legs to her sandals. She rose smiling beautifully as her friend, Anna Maria, approached leading two strangers. 

Customers perhaps. Americans, she thought. 

Anna Maria introduced Donna Theresa and her husband Pres.  Carmella nodded welcome.  Then, as Anna Maria began to explain who her friends were and why they had come to Agnone, Carmella’s smile faded. Her face darkened.

God, Pres thought as his heart sank. 

His out-stretched hand and flower offering hung mid-air for what felt like an eternity.  Then, suddenly, Carmella realized that standing before her, rooted to the cobblestones, stood her baby half-sister, Theresa, who she had not seen in 31 years.  Carmella’s gorgeous smile returned, tears flowed as she opened her heart to embrace petite Theresa, who all but disappeared in her sister’s ample bosom.  She invited Pres and Theresa home to eat lunch with family.  Anna Maria accompanied them to help translate

Carmella’s home, a two story building constructed from stone,  terra-cotta  block, and stucco, was nearby.  The McMurrys were grateful for the invitation and felt comfortable in Carmella's house surrounded by hard woods and marble covered walls and floors. They couldn’t help appreciating the centerpiece of the kitchen -- a huge fireplace that also served as dinner area and family gathering place.

Conversation was warm, typical of friends getting to know each other. 

“Where do you live? What is it like? How many children do you have? What do you do for a living?” Carmella wanted to know. 

The difference being all the questions and answers had to be translated either in Italian or English.  Laughter was full bodied and frequent, between sips of strong coffee, sausage, cheese, and crackers. 

Then, without warning, the kitchen door banged open, joyful voices preceded a parade of girls home from school for lunch, all eleven of them Donna Theresa’s nieces.  They were excited to find “real live Americans” right in their home.

Amazingly, in less than an hour, Donna had discovered her roots, met a man who remembered her, discovered she had three sisters, learned something of her parents' lives and deaths, and met a loving sister and eleven adoring nieces. 

“If someone wrote that story,” Pres said, “No one would be gullible enough to believe it.”  

The girls set the table and laid out the simmering meal while stealing glances at the Americans in their midst.  They practiced their English lessons by asking questions that mimicked Carmella’s inquiries, producing good natured fun.
         
Then, from stage left, entered Bruno.  Bruno -- husband, father, patriarch -- sat at the head of the table. His bread was buttered.  His wine poured.  His meat cut to bite size pieces. Grace was said.  The family waited for him to take the first taste.  Then they ate. 

Conversation continued.  Bruno listened with interest.  He wanted to know about his guests and why they had travelled almost half way around the world to visit Agnone.  He had questions of his own.  He asked how much the McMurrys paid for their plane tickets.  How much Pres had in his wallet, etc.  When he had satisfied himself that he had more money than Pres, he pulled a giant fists full of Lire from his pants' pocket and held the wad above his head, as though it were a wreath of victory. 

As it turned out Bruno owned all the fruit stands in Agnone and the surrounding towns, and the largest black Mercedes known to man.  It was clear to Pres, first that Bruno was privy to information about Theresa’s scandalous abuse, and second, Bruno feared the McMurrys might be seeking recompense. 

When Bruno was satisfied that was not the case, conversation continued on a lighter note until Anna Maria asked Donna Theresa if she would like to meet Lucia, her other half-sister. Bruno colored, interrupting any attempt to respond. 

As Anna Maria interpreted, every eye stared at the McMurrys, “If you even so much as attempt to meet Lucia, you will never again be welcome in this home. We have done all we will ever do for her.” 

The message was clear. 

Fortunately, the rest of the family did not pose the the same tension as Lucia.  Donna Theresa and Pres met other cousins the next day and were toured about the village.  They visited a home next to the house where Theresa was born and the kindly lady who lived there.  She remembered Theresa and recounted how she had “fed her bread” when she was hungry and took her in when she “was thrown naked into the street one winter.” 

She asked Donna Theresa if she would like to go into the house where she was born, saying, “I have the key. The house is empty.” 

Donna Theresa’s “No,” was emphatic. 

Later that day, Donna Theresa was asked if she would like to visit her parents’ gravesite.  Again the answer was an emphatic “No.” 

As he recalled these invitations Pres observed, “After we returned from Italy, my wife had no memory of these three events. She did not remember seeing Lucia at the top of the church steps, she did not remember being invited to visit her birth place, and she did not remember the invitation to visit her parents' burial site.  I will never forget those invitations as long as I live.  I think she suffered abuse so awful and satanic that it is too traumatic to remember.  I don’t have the luxury of denial so common among the seriously abused.  But I have embraced her pain in a very real sense and will carry it to my grave.” 


Mid-morning the following day, the air was crisp.  A light drizzle fell, as Pres remembers the occasion.  A fire crackled in the great stone hearth in Carmella’s kitchen. Pres and Donna Theresa gathered there with several dozen family members --  cousins, daughters, spouses, children, and grandchildren.  Carmella presided, adding her matriarchal warmth to the occasion.  Everyone spoke at once, hands and arms gesturing to punctuate comments and emphasize emotions. 

Bruno sat on a bench next to Donna Theresa, his arm resting lightly around her shoulders. There was laughter and kids crying and kids just being kids. When one needed a swat or a hug and kiss, it was received with affection from the nearest relative. It was a family, Donna Theresa’s family, living life and in love with life. 

Pres remembers thinking, “Donna and Theresa are finally home.” 

 “In retrospect,” added Pres, “We accomplished so much on the first day, that we decided to hang around town three more days just to suck up the local culture.  We visited relatives and new friends and even celebrated the town’s Patron Saint's Feast day, as I recall.  We watched the village band parading, the members of which each wore a different piece of uniform; some a hat, one a shirt, a pair of trousers here and there.  We ate roasted chestnuts one evening at the Saint’s festival and attended a wedding dinner since that was the only meal the hotel was serving that night.”

Before leaving town, the McMurrys visited a church dominating the far side of the small piazza located a short walk from where Donna Theresa was born.  It was a small church made of black granite centuries before the construction of Medieval cathedrals built with flying buttresses to support massive, vaulted ceilings.  The walls of the church were exceptionally thick in order to support the weight of cross beams and tile roof.  In contrast, the church's builders made the windows small so as to not weaken the walls.  Those tiny windows allowed little light into the interior.  On the exterior of the church, grass and weeds grew in wall crevices and flourished among roof tiles where centuries of weathering had created tiny bits of soil.

Pres pushed past wooden doors to the church, entered a small vestibule, then held open a heavy drape allowing his love to enter the nave.  He looked into the church’s interior. It was dark except for the glow of a few flickering candles.  The  hollow and empty nave was cold and damp, uninviting, and even scary from Pres’ perspective. 

He was about to say, “Let’s get out of here,” when Donna Theresa whispered, tears flowing down her cheeks, “Oh Pres, this is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.”  

Pres says he immediately thought, Oh my God, this was Theresa’s sanctuary. This is where she ran and hid from abuse. 

He didn’t, however, share that thought. It seemed plausible though.  It was, after all, quite close to her home.

After many long and heartfelt goodbyes and promises to write and stay in touch, the McMurrys left Agnone, drove down the mountain, over the bridge beneath the towering cliffs, across the valley of grapes, now a bit riper and ready for harvest, through the dark tunnels, finally enjoying the vacation Pres so dearly hoped to experience. They visited  Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento, Rome, Florence, Venice and got lost in Milan looking for the main post office. 

As always, it was good to come home, back to Phoenix where forecasters almost always promised good weather, and back to Donna’s fabulous meals. Pres thought and friends confirmed, Donna Theresa seemed to “have found peace.” 

But late one night, months after the trip to Italy, upon returning home from a three day business trip, Pres discovered his house empty.  His beloved wife was gone.  No message.  No note.  No phone call.  The only things left in their home were Pres’ books and clothes, a guest room bed, a television, and a frozen pie crust in the freezer.  Donna Theresa had simply vanished.

To be continued.

For more information on Theresa's Fund see:  https://www.facebook.com/TheresasFund

For more information on Theresa’s Fund's offspring -- Domestic Shelters.org -- a searchable data base of domestic violence shelters -- see : https://www.domesticshelters.org.

The Story of Agnone, Italy


Agnone is an ancient, mountaintop town in Southern Italy.  The origins of the town predate Julius Ceasar.  Currently many of the stone buildings date back hundreds of years.  The town is also the home of one of the oldest family run businesses in the world -- the Marinelli Pontifical Foundry.  The foundry dates back to 1040 AD and produces bronze bells, decorative friezes, and plaster molds of saints and other religious figures.  It still uses the same technique used in 1040 AD to make bells.  First a brick core slathered in clay slightly smaller than the bell is constructed.  Wax is then pored over this core.  Next the wax is covered by more clay.  After the clay hardens, the bell mold is heated to melt the wax inside.  Then molten bronze is pored into the gap.  Finally the mold is broken to produce the bell.  Despite the antiquity of the technique, it produces very high quality bells.  Since 1924, the Marinelli family has produced bells for the Vatican, hence the name "Pontifical."  However, bells from the foundry are found not only in St. Peter's Square, but all over the world in South Korea, Jerusalem, and in the United Nations building in New York City.

http://blogginginitaly.com/2014/07/11/marinelli-bell-foundry-agnone/, October 29, 2014.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pontificia_Fonderia_Marinelli, October 29, 2014.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnone, October 29, 2014.


By Preston McMurry story as told to Virginia Pickles Jones

© 2014 Preston McMurry and Virginia Pickles Jones