Friday, December 19, 2014

Pres and Donna Theresa Part Two: Pres Works on Healing From the Loss of Donna Theresa

By Preston McMurry as told to Virginia Pickles Jones

In part one, Pres and Donna Theresa:  The Love Story That Inspired A Nonprofit Combatting Domestic Violence, we watched as Preston V. McMurry, Jr. and his beloved wife, Donna Theresa, who was born in Italy, struggled through 16 years of marriage.  Their marriage was burdened by the emotional and physical scars Donna carried as the of result of the horrific abuse she suffered prior to her adoption at age five by a fine American family.  In pursuit of a fully compatible marriage, the deeply in love couple committed to psychological counseling.

After ten years of therapy and an ongoing struggle with intimacy, they followed their therapist’s advice to travel to Italy to find Donna Theresa’s roots in Agnone,  the mountaintop village where she was born in 1947.  They hoped to fill in her lost memories about her childhood with insights that might  improve their amorous relationship.  She was 42 and Pres was 53 when they embarked on the adventure. 

Miraculously, within minutes of arriving in Agnone, an ancient village of stucco, stone, and narrow cobbled streets, they met Anna Maria, an English instructor who was also the local judge’s daughter; Giovanni, the clerk of court who remembered Donna Theresa; and her older half-sister, Carmella, and her husband, Bruno, and their 11 daughters.  

Just as Donna Theresa did not remember her early childhood in Italy, she did not remember some episodes of the visit to Agnone.  Blocking out or repressing painful memories is a powerful defense mechanism of the seriously abused -- a mechanism Donna Theresa’s subconscious used repeatedly to protect her psyche.  Not only did Donna Theresa not remember being tortured by fire, raped, and starved as a small child, she did not remember her hips and ear drums being broken by age four.  After returning to Phoenix from Italy, she also recalled neither being offered the opportunity to visit the home where she was born on a dirt floor nor the opportunity to visit to her birth parents' grave site.  She didn’t even recall physically retreating while crying “No!” to these invitations. 

Nor did Donna Theresa recall seeing her crazed half-sister, Lucia, who Pres suspected was somehow involved in his wife’s childhood tortures.  

After they returned to Phoenix, Donna Theresa and Pres returned to their careers but not to counseling as Pres had hoped.  Still, Pres thought Donna seemed to have found an inner peace.  Friends conferred feeling the same perception.                

In the meantime Donna and Pres proceeded with plans to build the home of their dreams, selecting a lakeside property halfway between Pres’ office and the hospital where Donna worked.  Donna Theresa embraced the project as construction manager and architect.  The April weekend Pres planned to fly to the Midwest for a weekend business trip, Donna promised to pick up the check for the down payment for the house from Pres’ office.  

When Pres returned from the trip late on Sunday night, he returned home, parked his car, and entered the house he shared with Donna Theresa. 

“My home was empty,” he recounts. 

Paintings, pictures, furniture, dinnerware, kitchen utensils, toiletries, and Donna Theresa’s clothes were gone.  Even the clothes hangers were gone. 

“The place was wiped clean. There wasn’t even a bar of soap left behind,” remembers Pres. 

All that remained was a forgotten pie crust in the freezer. 

The love of his life had simply disappeared.  Again.  No note.  No Letter.  No recorded phone message.  No reason why.

We pick the story up there, that Sunday night in April 1990, when Pres came home to an empty house.

Pres stood frozen in place in utter shock.

In the months that followed he experienced disorientation, memory loss, disassociation, and suicidal depression.  He returned to therapy, experienced an epiphany and discovered his purpose in life.  That epiphany inspired him to create Theresa’s Fund to combat family violence and child abuse.  In the 22 years that have passed since the incorporation of the fund, Pres has donated and helped raise $49,000,000 for the cause.   Now Pres’ son Chris has created a new initiative,, an online, searchable, free, easy to use database of more than 3,000 shelters in the United States. 

The site is a partnership between Theresa’s Fund and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.  It also offers many articles about coping with abuse.  Both Pres and Chris work unpaid almost full time for Theresa’s Fund and  Site Development, maintenance, and operation for the first year are estimated to cost $150,000.00 including associated social media. 

Pres and Donna Theresa’s second husband, Frank, have each committed $35,000 in matching funds. In other words, every donor’s dollar is really worth three because Pres and Frank will match it.  To donate, please mail your gift to:

Theresa’s Fund
1300 E. Missouri Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85014

Or contribute through Pay Pal.  


Over their years together Pres often told Donna, “You are my home.  No matter where I am in the world, when you are with me, I am home.”  

That April night he came home to the empty house and discovered she was gone, he roamed from empty room to empty room to still more empty rooms -- as though he could walk into a room and find the missing furniture and knick knacks and photos and clothes and Donna Theresa too. 

He searched for clues that might explain what happened and what might happen.  As he wandered he found all that remained in the house -- an old bed in a guest room, a television, his books, an old text book belonging to Donna, a forgotten pie crust in the freezer, and some cigarette butts in the kitchen sink.  The otherwise empty refrigerator suggested she couldn’t have travelled far without the food spoiling.  Cigarette butts indicated that she had started smoking again.  

Pres examined book shelves.  He picked up an old child psychology book dating from the 1970s when Donna Theresa had earned a master’s degree in educational psychology.  A bookmark called attention to a chapter titled “Child Abuse”.  It was a mere two pages long.   

As he wandered the house looking for answers, the words he so often repeated to Donna Theresa “You are my home” began to assume profound meaning.  

As dawn approached, not only was Pres’ home empty, but so was his heart and his soul.  He lay down on the carpet in the empty living room and surrendered to exhaustion. 

He rose an empty man in an empty home.  It was Monday, April 23, 1990, a date he has never forgotten. 

“It is burned into my memory,” Pres recalls. 

He had thought Donna Theresa’s periodic disappearances had stopped ten years before when they began twice weekly counseling.  Despite Donna’s inability to remember anything of her early childhood, he believed counseling would eventually produce a stronger, more intimate marriage -- a marriage that  would last a lifetime.  But no, that bleak Monday, it looked as though it was too late for that.

The light of day didn’t make the mystery of Donna’s disappearance any clearer.  Pres was still in the dark, still without answers.  He resumed wandering the house.  He searched his woodshop for answers.  None there.  But he did find a metal folding chair and card table.  At least he now had a place to sit and a place to eat even though food held no interest.  

Pres visited neighbors in search of answers.  Yes, a U-Haul had backed up to the house Friday evening, and a group of people loaded it with furniture. 

Donna Theresa explained to the neighbors, “No.  We’re not moving, just storing furniture while the house is being painted.” 

The neighbors thought it unusual as they had not seen her car since.  

Pres’ secretary of 14 years, Char, remembered being puzzled three days earlier on Friday when Donna Theresa hadn’t picked up the check to purchase the property for the new house.  But she knew nothing more.

Pres sought answers from friends and family, but his telephone calls produced no new information.  He thought of other options.  The police could track the U-Haul.  So could his detective friend, Jim Gumm, and his bank connections.  But, he reasoned, those solutions smacked of invasion.  If Donna Theresa was to return, he knew he had to respect her obvious desire to be alone.  He held onto the hope his love would return as she had so often in the past.  But her absence and the empty house held a finality that her previous disappearances had not.

Yet Pres held so tightly to hope that she would return that he went grocery shopping for Donna Theresa.  He laid in food she liked and the white wine she preferred.  

He bought a telephone answering system, “So she could leave a message when she called.”  

And for the first time in a long time he made an appointment with Wayne, the psychologist with whom he and Donna Theresa had been working for ten years.  Wayne, after all, knew and understood the circumstances of their case.  Plus the couple trusted his judgment and was comfortable confiding in him their most private thoughts and emotions.  

So Pres began weekly two hour sessions with Wayne during which Pres laid out all his feelings of guilt and sadness and hopelessness and worthlessness.

Wayne told Pres he could blame himself if he wanted, but the surprise wasn’t that Donna Theresa had left, rather it was that she hadn’t permanently departed during their first year of marriage.  It was, in Wayne’s considered opinion, a miracle the marriage had lasted 16 years.

Wayne told Pres, “The more you loved her, the greater grew her fear of abandonment.  Donna Theresa’s only salvation was to leave you first.”

And this she had done in dramatic fashion.

Since actually connecting with Donna wasn’t likely, Wayne suggested talking with her through letters as a substitute in the hopes that doing so might provide some emotional relief for Pres and possibly insight into the situation.

Virginia's Note:  Journaling, such as Pres writing unset letters to Donnas Theresa, helps us understand the past and come to terms with what has happened.  Journaling also helps us express feelings too raw and angry and despairing for most of our friends and family to handle.  When we write our words down in a journal, we can express ourselves without the fear of someone telling us to forgive, forget, and move on or just to simply get over it.  Writing down what happened helps us process and better understand what we went through.  Journaling also helps us examine what we can do to improve our situation and help us heal ourselves.  See past Compassionate Gathering Blogs on Journaling .

Thus Pres' one sided conversation with Donna Theresa, the writing of never-to-be-sent letters, began.  Every week Pres reviewed his letters with Wayne.  In the next 2 years he wrote hundreds of them -- 564 pages of honest, streaming confessions of his misery and anger at himself and his love for Donna Theresa.

Each letter began, “Dear Donna Theresa,” and was dated. The first was dated April 30, 1990. It read:

My home is empty. 

Still my heart is full of love for you; now, tomorrow and always.  I will be there for you…and no other.  
Do not be concerned.  I will not seek you out.  The distance you want I will respect, if only to prove my love, though I cry for you as only I can.  You see, my Love, we share a common bond unique to us.  Tragically, we are inescapable victims of our youth.   
Perhaps sometime, dear Donna Theresa, when you have finally put to rest those nightmares from so long ago, a whole new world will open up and you will be free to speak your mind and to love as I love you --- heart and soul and unafraid.
If that be the case or if that be not, who you are is clear to me now, and only just now, for sadly, insight follows no schedule.  It simply happens or does not.  
I see two children facing each other, both behind masks hiding who they are from the world.  Masks talking to masks and neither to each other.  I saw the mask and saw rejection, though beneath the cover it didn’t exist.  Then when all the emotions of the past, and jumbled messages came crashing in on the moment, two children hiding behind masks misunderstood what each spoke to each other.  
I was wrong.  I know that now.  I was aware of our problem with sexual intimacy and my feelings of rejection.  But I didn’t know how to use my awareness.  The knowledge was there, the insight was not.  My response, particularly the past year has been lousy.  For perceived rejections, I rejected, passively resisted…the child’s way.  
I apologize for my clumsy ways, my absences and for my reactions and rejections, but mostly, Donna Theresa, for an insensitivity that drove you out of our home before I heard anguish.  For all these things, I am sorry Love, and feel horrible … sick to the depths of my being … that it has taken me so long to understand, but in the same breath I thank God for the revelation, and now, for knowing me and you better than anyone has. 
The search has been long, sometimes trying, but mostly filled with the wonder of discovery and cuddly moments, and I, if given the chance, would happily start building, with all my love and devotion and newfound understanding.  When you are ready, please talk to me.

Years passed before these private pleas were answered.

May 1, 1990 - 2:00am    I do not know where you are.  You left no note.  I want to come to you, to comfort you.  I am scared. 
May 2, 1990 - What does your absence mean?  I’m scared for you, for me, for us both.  
May 3, 1990 - What would I do if tonight, while sleeping I felt the bed sag, a warm hand touch my shoulder, and heard your voice saying “Honey, I want to talk.” God, please make it happen.   
May 5, 1990 - Midnight.  Every night since you disappeared, as I rounded the corner coming home, I’ve looked to see if your car was in the driveway hoping you would be waiting for me.  But the driveway has always been as empty as my soul.  Come to think of it, I have done that every night for the past ten years worrying you might have left again.  I grew accustomed to the stab of pain I felt every night.  God, dear God please help me.  Please.  
May 8, 1990 - “I would go to pieces” you said one evening, hardly two months ago, “if ever we were separated.” Now we are … and I am suffering agonizing pain as though torn apart.   
I was touched, taken back, for it was the strongest affirmation of love you’ve ever shared with me.  
May 8, 1990 - I remember the first time you told me you loved me.  You were 24.  We had been dating six months.  I expressed my love within weeks of meeting you.  Then you told me, “Pres, you are the only person I told I love." 
  I found it hard to believe and responded, “Well surely you’ve told your parents you loved them.”   
“No,” you replied, “I haven’t.”   
May 8, 1990 - I miss feeling your fingertips holding mine beneath the pillow as we twine ourselves, putting the day to rest, covering ourselves with tender companionship.  I would never let you go to bed alone again.  What happened?   I would do anything, promise anything, to feel your hair brush my face, to absorb your warmth, to sense your closeness and feel you breathing next to me as I once did falling asleep.  Come to me.  I love you.   
May 15, 1990 10:30pm - I need to know something.  Am I being punished?  How long does this go on?  When is enough, enough?  Can I survive?  What will be left of me?  I am scared.  
I’m in a hotel room pacing … time drags.  No one to talk to.  Painful heart.  I do not understand.  Rejection.  So painful now.  I sit here afraid to use the phone.  No one calls.  No news.  A thousand  fears.  
Blessed death, relieve me of this broken heart.  This silence is killing me.  Terrible silence.  Fifteen years of rejection and “not tonights.”  I’ve done the best I could, to be patient, to endure.  I am now simply beaten into submission; the ultimate victim of your child abuse. 

Pres was caught in a vortex, his depression spiraled out of control.  His psychologist, Wayne, was aware and worried.  Pres often worked from five in the morning to twelve at night.  Sometimes, all night.  

Other times, days on end, he went without sleep, “exhausting” himself he remembers, “So I could keep my mind off the terrible pain.”

Then on May 21, 1990, he received Donna’s petition to the court to dissolve their marriage.  With the petition in hand he fainted, collapsing on the doorstep of his empty home.

Pres recounts that he visited, “Our, I mean, my psychologist, Wayne."

Wayne told Pres that it is neither surprising that Donna Theresa disappeared, nor that Pres is traumatized by the fact she did.

He explained, “Especially in a case where great progress has been made under hypnosis, then interrupted by the incredible assault on Donna Theresa’s recall memory, as brought upon by the return to her roots, family, and surroundings, the rage buried so long ago, the outrage of her mistreatment, all this was bound to vulcanize.  That was the reason I urged a return to therapy.  Something had to happen.”

Virginia’s Note: In my experience working with survivors and their families and friends, people often feel dissatisfied with the therapist’s advice and either do whatever they want or they do not go to therapy at all.  I, however, think my own greatest mistakes have come when I knew a therapist would tell me not to do something, and I did it anyway.  Therapists are not perfect and some are better than others, but the general field of therapy has accomplished many advances in the last 60 years or so including Non-Violent Communication and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy as well as Regression Therapy.  We are better off seeking the advice of therapists and following it than in rejecting it because the therapist may sometimes tell us something we don’t want to hear.  So take head:  Follow Pres’ example.  Go to therapy and follow the therapist’s advice.

Since Pres was the closest, most intimate person in Donna Theresa’s life, the person receiving her greatest trust, “her rage spilled over” and Pres, who was now viewed in a light similar to those who abandoned her as a toddler, was the casualty.

“Now,” explained Wayne, “she is asking you to leave her alone.  And unless you want to be viewed by Theresa in the same frame as those who abused her so terribly during her early years, you must honor her last request and never attempt to see her or talk to her again.”

Pres knew Wayne’s advice was correct, and he followed it. 

Since, for Donna’s sake and for his own sake, he could not talk to her, he could only write letters that he could never send to her.  And so he continued writing.

June 1, 1990, 7:00am - I don’t understand.  This guilt is killing me.  Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others.  I want a very permanent solution.   
June 1, 1990, 8:00pm – I want to die, Donna Theresa.  A couple days ago I didn’t want to live.  Now I want to die.      
 Like, “I want to die.”  It’s action oriented.  A solution.  Something I control.  Maybe the only thing in my control.  I make the decision on this one.  Yes.  No.   I alone hold the key to the future. 
People will say I was chicken-weak, trying to escape.  Bullshit.  What do they know?  It’s a solution.  It stops the pain, man.  It stops the pain.  Gotta think this out.  Find the best way.  
My friend, Bill, said,“Go ahead, Pres. But remember, death is a very permanent solution.”  
 Screw you, I thought.  Sounds good to me, pal. 

Virginia’s Note: I have two thoughts here.  This first is I think that the Five Stages of Dying that Elizabeth Kubler Ross described apply to all kinds of grief.  These stages include denial, anger bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  People often move back and forth across the spectrum of emotions.  Pres’ first response was denial.  He wandered around the house searching for answers when in his heart he already knew the answers.  And Pres also bought food and wine that Donna liked.  Later he moved between depression and anger and guilt even though he had tried very hard to support Donna over the years.  Look for examples of when Pres acts out his feelings in anger and for when he finally achieves acceptance.  My second thought is Pres almost killed himself, but he didn't.  Instead he founded a Theresa's Fund out of which has come  Think of the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" and the main character, George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart.  Can you imagine how much poorer the world would be if Pres had taken his life?  When you are going through hard times as Pres did after the departure of Donna Theresa, keep putting one foot in front of the other.  You will get through the bad times, and you may be able to use your misfortune to help others.  The world would have been much bleaker without George Bailey, and it would be much bleaker without Preston V. McMurry Jr..  It would also be much bleaker without you.

June 3, 1990, 11:20pm – The frigging shrink thinks I should write a book.  He says I have good insight.  Shit.  What a bunch of crap.  I know, I know, you asked me to write your story and I promised I would.  But honestly Honey, I don’t think I’ll ever get to it.  
June 4, 1990, 9:00am – A couple times today I caught myself thinking I can fool people into believing I’m okay by just acting normal.  But I’m not sure I’m convincing.

June 9, 1990, Pres woke feeling good for the first time in weeks.  Later that same day he visited his mother, but by then he had already skidded back into depression. 

He ranted, “I can’t do anything right,”

His mother told him, “You better pull yourself together.”

Afterwards, driving home, he received his third speeding ticket in as many days.
By evening, Pres was upbeat again.  He bought a lamp.

“Light for my darkness, in a lamp-less house,” he remembers thinking at the time.

But, once again, the good feeling did not last.  He was soon back in pain and overwhelmed with sadness over Donna’s loss.

On June 10, Pres spent the morning crying in church.

Finally, by the evening of June 10, he enjoyed his first real meal in a long time in the company of Katy, his daughter, and his friend, Bill.  He felt good.

Eating dinner was significant and the first positive sign that renewed health was a possibility.  In the 48 days since Donna Theresa disappeared Pres had lost 37 pounds.  His gums had receded dangerously, and he had become impotent.  But, as always, the good feelings did not last.  Depression followed.  Fortunately, Pres pursued Wayne’s advice and kept writing the never to be sent letters to Donna. 

June 11, 1990 – Monday.  They danced on the wind, deep in the Autumn sky, paused, swayed, then in graceful arcs across the sky above.   
Like cookie sprinkles dancing, the kites dipped and soared high above Central Park, lofting, shaking, straining against taut lines, threatening to destroy themselves, weaving and bounding, a circus of color.  Clowns playing with clouds.  
It was a memory, a trip you and I made long ago to New York.  We were dating then, in love --- as I am now.  I was courting you, my Love.  Pursuing love then, as I have for all these seventeen years.  You, the beautiful, soaring kite; me the clown always coming up with an armful of air.      

June 16, 1990, 9:00am – I am confused, but alive.  I think I’m happy about that.  I’ve stopped losing weight.  I love chocolate chip cookies.  I bought one and ate it.  
June 25, 1990, 11:00am – I am depressed today.  I spent the weekend with a beautiful, affectionate, so very affectionate lady.  It couldn’t have been more wonderful.  Yet, even while making love, my thoughts where of you.   
June 26, 1990 – I’m in L.A.  Business.  Visited with an incredibly gorgeous woman, a prospective client.  She asked about my depression and listened patiently to my story.  When I finished she told me she “understood completely".  I was incredulous until she explained she was a sexually abused child too.   
We shared the most personal confidences imaginable, detailing the lengths she had gone in an effort to sabotage both her life and her personal relationships, including her marriage.     

Virginia’s Note:  Pres makes this observation of the client who was sexually abused and who confides that she sabotaged her relationships and marriage.  This is a common problem for survivors.  We have been abused and used and so we don’t trust that people will be kind and good to us and stand by us.  Sabotaging relationships is actually an (unhealthy) coping strategy to stay safe emotionally.  Since have been abused by people we are supposed to be able to trust, we can’t trust relationships and life can be good for us.  We react to our damaged ability to trust by protecting ourselves in ways that prevent healthy relationships from forming.  Mike Lew, a therapist who has worked with male survivors of child sex abuse and incest, describes four examples of self sabotage:  Isolation:  The survivor isolates himself from relationships to protect himself from getting hurt.  Short lived and volatile relationships: Some survivors are able to develop relationships but are not able to maintain them for very long.  They do not trust their partner’s good intentions in resolving problems and react negatively and sometimes dramatically to attempts to discuss problems, which can push the partner to anger or drama too.  When their relationship is revealed to have problems, the survivor ends it and moves on to another relationship.  Abusive relationships:  The abusive relationship from the survivors’s childhood taught abuse as a relationships skill.  It is what the survivor knows so she or he repeats the pattern.   Settling for Crumbs:  The survivor does not believe that a better relationship is possible, so he or she accept mistreatment.  Another therapist who describes self sabotage by survivors is James Hillman, a Jungian psychologist and theologian, who describes 5 sterile choices people make when betrayed: Revenge, denial, cynicism, self betrayal, and paranoia.  Those who seek revenge do not believe they will get justice any other way for how they have been harmed.  However, the satisfaction that revenge offers tends to prove brief and the acts of revenge destroy our relationships with others.  Cynicism is exemplified when a survivor demonizes a whole group of people, but when someone does this, they deny their own responsibility for their own well being, and they give away the power to change their lives.  Self Betrayal is when a survivor stops trusting his or herself to make good decisions about his or her own life.  This is exemplified by women who dumb themselves down and don’t try to be all they can be.  Alcohol and drug used to numb the pain of the past is another way in which people betray themselves.  Paranoia is when a survivor places so many conditions on what constitutes a good relationship, that no one can ever be good enough.  The survivor assumes people will betray him or her and ultimately they do -- by not living up to his or her ultra high standards.

Fortunately, through ups and downs, insight and inspiration, and desperation, Pres kept journaling.

July 8, 1990,  Sunday – My warbling whistle sang Pachelbel in D flat, lifting my spirit, soaring high like a sailing gull above the Pacific.  I rejoiced.  

Thankfully Pres did not take his good days for granted and kept attending weekly therapy, seeking advice and insight from his therapist.

Over and over, Wayne assured Pres that, “This great sadness is not your fault.”

Pres remembers, looking back, that he, “Clawed, heaved, and scratched my way, bruised and broken from beneath an avalanche of guilt.”

Some days he made it a whole day without crippling depression.  Other days he slipped back into despair.   But slowly, through journaling and therapy and time, Pres began to heal.

In July 1990, nearly three months after Donna Theresa disappeared, Pres began to date again.  Like everything he did, he put a lot of time and energy into it.  Within a year a local Phoenix magazine selected him as their most eligible bachelor.

However, underneath the surface, all was not well.  He still longed for answers.  He still longed to hold Donna in his arms.  He still longed for her home cooked meals.  He still longed to hear her voice, even if only on the phone.  When he walked through their house, the place so full of precious memories was also so filled with her absence that it was no longer his home.  He knew that if Donna Theresa wanted to, she could break the painful silence, while he in turn, bound by his love and his promise, must keep his silence and distance.  He wondered if his hope she might someday return was simply lingering denial.

Despite episodic bipolar behavior, Pres tried to act happier.  But his facial expressions told another story.  His back, which had given him problems since his college days, had also become excruciatingly painful.  He could barely walk and had begun dragging his right leg. 

Sports medicine physicians diagnosed Pres’ back as a disaster.

Thirteen years of “high impact football has taken its toll” they said.

Often the pain was so overwhelming that he was unable to walk to the bathroom when morning came.  Upon waking each day he lay in bed mustering courage to get out.  Since sitting up was impossible, he gently rolled over the edge of the bed until his knees touched the floor.  Next he knelt on the floor while resting the weight of his upper body on the bed while he gathered courage for the next painful move.  Finally, he dropped his hands to the floor and inched along, dragging his body into the bathroom where he ran hot water and rolled into the tub.

Ultimately, it was determined in 1998 that Pres’ had been walking around for 40 plus years with a broken back.  In a series of procedures in which he was hospitalized for 34 days, five discs were removed.  The broken and infected L2 vertebra was removed and replaced with a cadaver leg bone, and his lower back was reinforced with 16 inches of surgical steel and eight screws.  Today, fortunately, he is nearly pain free.  
In the meantime, in 1990, as he struggled to cope with his emotional pain caused by losing Donna Theresa, his physical pain became overwhelming.  Each morning he rested in the steam and hot water for a half hour while the water loosened his tendons and muscles enough for him to move about ever so carefully.  Since he found merely sitting in the tub boring, he decided to read.  From his library he chose a book he had never read.   It was a common book, often given away free so he did not mind if the book fell into the water.  To his surprise he found the book interesting.  Thereafter he returned to read that same book each morning.  Soon he found himself making notes in the margins.  He began asking himself questions, questions about his life.

As the days went by, the process became a ritual.  But for the pain, he looked forward to his morning catharsis, sitting in the soothing hot water while reading the book.

On the morning of August 27, 1990, as Pres read, suddenly he cried out, “Jesus Christ, what do you want me to do?”

It was not a prayer.

In response, Pres heard a Voice say, “I want you to take 20% of everything you earn for the rest of your life and commit it to fighting child abuse.”

In utter disbelief, Pres said, “You say what?” 

The Voice repeated, “I want you to take 20% of everything you earn and commit it to fighting child abuse.”

Doubting what he heard, Pres said, “Let me get this straight. You want me to dump 20% of all my hard earned money into this bottomless pit?”

“Now,” answered The Voice, “you understand.”

“But,” Pres protested, “You mean, you want to take all the energy --- and the hundred hour work weeks --- my skills as a speaker, salesman, writer and sacrifice it all for this crazy idea?”

“These were gifts from Me,” answered The Voice. “Your work has just begun.”

Pres’ epiphany was not a hallelujah moment, and he certainly didn’t rush to tell others, for fear friends would say he had gone “bonkers” as his sister thought he had weeks before.  He thought of her words and wondered if she had been more right than not.  

The book that he read every day, the book he hadn’t cared about dropping into the bathtub was --- THE BIBLE.

Despite this epiphany about his purpose in life, Pres’ battle with depression was not over.  He still wrote the letters he would never send to Donna Theresa.  He still thought about suicide even if his only actions were to record his thoughts in his letters.

October 2, 1990 – Dear Donna Theresa, Pardon my intrusion.  I will not trouble you again.  I have come to give you one last gift: my life.  
Without another word, from behind my back, I draw my magnum357.  Feel its weight in my hand.  So there can be no accidents, no mistakes, no doubt about my intentions, I am armed with a single bullet.  
I know the scenario well.  It’s been in my mind for weeks.  I’ve reviewed my plan dozens of times.  It’s simple.  So clear.  
Still, sweat darkens my tee-shirt.  Fear runs down my spine in rivulets collecting at my belt and my loose hanging Levis.  
Without a word, I raise the revolver quickly.  I do not want to frighten you Honey.  I only want to end the pain.  To give you my life forever.  Now.  
I stick the barrel into my mouth.  The steel is cold.  My tongue pushes the muzzle upwards against the roof of my mouth, beneath my brains.  There’s no hesitation now.  No going back.  I pull the trigger.  I don’t hear the deafening boom.  I feel nothing.  In a thousandth of a second the impact of the expanding shell lifts brains and skull fragments in a mushrooming spray of smoke, blood and tears.  The top half of my head is gone, from eyebrows to ears.  
I am free.  My soul spills out as my tortured carcass crumples to the pavement at your feet.  I survey the scene, separated from my body looking back.  My spirit whirls away through a dark tunnel leading to eternity. 
I am free.  Free.  Free at last.  Finally.  A perfect solution.  No more pain.  No divorce.  Done---forever.  
For all eternity, Honey, I love you.     

Fortunately this letter was not a suicide note, but Pres dutifully read it to Wayne during therapy.  Wayne worried.  He recognized Pres was vulnerable and fragile and insisted that Pres continue journaling.  He told Pres he must use his letters and write a book so that others would benefit from his experience and insights.  Pres soldiered on, but all his letters remain undated until October 30, when he wrote:

These words, this song, remind me of you so much I can’t get it out of my mind.  I’m sure you know it.  It’s sung by Beth Midler.  It goes:   
“It must have been cold there in my shadow  
To never have sunlight on your face.   
You’ve been content to let me shine.   
You always walked a step behind.   
I was the one with all the glory’ 
While you were the one with all the strength.   
Beautiful face without a name.   
I never heard you once complain.   
Beautiful smile that hid the pain.   
Did you ever know that you’re my hero,   
Everything I would like to be.   
I could fly higher than an eagle,    
Cause you are the wind beneath my wings.   
It may have appeared to go unnoticed   
But I’ve got it all here in my heart.   
I want you to know I know the truth,   
I would be nothing without you…”

Throughout November Pres wrote about self-hatred, guilt and agony and thoughts of a less dramatic conclusion than a gun shot -- a simple belt made into a noose, knotted, then using a doorjamb, any doorjamb, as a gallows. He now knew he could end it, anytime, anywhere, even in the airplane’s restroom where the idea first dawned on him.

Fortunately Pres continued seeing Wayne in therapy, and Wayne continued trying to help Pres free himself from self-blame.

Wayne defined guilt, “In this case, as imploded anger, targeting self-esteem, creating depression”.

Guilt, in Pres’ case, was anger directed inwards instead of outwards, destroying Pres’ self-esteem.
Pres understood what his therapist was trying to tell him intellectually.  Emotionally it remained a different matter altogether.

On July 27, he stopped writing.  For several weeks Pres barely journaled.  He resumed in late August, but in late November he stopped again.  But by Christmas, when he was in the midst of divorce negotiations via his and Donna Theresa’s attorneys, he started journaling his pain again.  He knew he had to move on without Donna Theresa.

The day after Christmas, December 26, 1990, Pres finally started looking for furniture.  Eight months had passed since the night he walked into the house emptied of furniture and other possession.  
He roamed around the furniture store for half an hour before walking out of the store without making any purchases.

But it was a start.

The following day he tried again.  This time he placed orders for white oak furniture to replace the oak tables, chairs, and cabinets Donna Theresa had taken.  Ten days later he canceled the order except for the baby-grandfather clock, which still hangs in his office.

In the meantime, he spent New Year Eve in his office writing marketing proposals. 

At midnight, alone in his office, he wrote another letter to Donna Theresa,

“Yes, my Love, I am alone, that is -- almost alone.  He is with me this night, and I am okay and unafraid of the new year.  I hope, and I pray that you are well, I want nothing but happiness for you dear Donna Theresa.”

After writing, he reached across his desk to the place Donna Theresa’s photograph had occupied the past 16 years and lovingly looked into her eyes one more time.  He picked up the photo tenderly and whispered “farewell my sweet” and packed the picture away.  Inside he knew his memories of Donna Theresa would remain in his heart and his mind every day if not every moment.

January 2, 1991, he wrote:

“Yesterday was your birthday.  I was surprised it passed without my awareness.”

Several days later he received what was to be the final version of the divorce papers.  It cost him millions.  Reading the financial section of the divorce papers he felt angry, violated -- as though his home had been broken into and burglarized.  But he kept trying to remember Donna Theresa with love and compassion and forgiveness.

On January 5, 1991, he wrote:

Laying in my hot tub this morning, relaxed, my prayers and Bible reading done, very relaxed, drifting, no thought in mind other than awareness that I should be watchful of the time so as not to miss my flight, when the name I shall call His Foundation popped into mind.  I will call it Theresa’s Fund.”  

By the time February 1, 1991, rolled around, Pres had written 30 more letters -- a 39 page stream of bipolar consciousness; two steps forward, one back.  Sometimes the setbacks felt explosive.  In a single day he could still move from elated and happy to inert, on edge, and depressed.  He fought off the loneliness by trying to enjoy the attention of beautiful women.  During one eight night stretch of time, he spent time with eight different women.

Pres embraced dating as a defense against the pain of Donna’s loss.  He posted newspaper personals.  Some weeks he received 125 responses to an ad.  He was an ad guy after all.  He bought a new home in February.  This one was located in an exclusive, guard-gated community nestled beneath the cliffs of Camelback Mountain.  The house came complete with furniture making the move simple -- just clothes, books and tools.

“Everything else,” he recalls, "Was stripped away, gone when Donna Theresa “bailed."

The divorce was to be finalized on January 24, 1991, but wasn’t. The final, final, final document was covered with hand printed picayune inclusions prompted by his mother-in-law.  Pres and Donna’s attorneys were now negotiating, directly with Donna’s mother.  In the end, initials confirming agreement on changes, looked like buck shot through the once clean document. 

Pres’ attorney fretted, embarrassed because, “The original agreement now looks like it was written in kindergarten.”

February 3, 1991, Donna Theresa finally signed the divorce agreement.

“It felt like a cancelation,” sighed Pres.

Through it all Pres kept writing unsent letters.  February 25, 1991, Pres wrote three. 

In my dreams last night, the room was white: walls and ceiling. Three chairs, all white, surrounded a white table. In retrospect, it reminds me of our kitchen, the one we completely remodeled while living near the ocean, and did all the work ourselves.  I sobbed uncontrollably as we listened to your mother passing judgment upon our marriage, approving the idea you would leave forever.  
The rest of the dream was a replay of an actual event that took place ten years ago, around March 14, 1980.   
You came home from work and announced, word for word, “I Love you, but I’m leaving.” The exact same line we heard in a movie we attended together three days earlier.        
Remember, we went shopping for a bed and refrigerator at Sears? You and your mother wandered off.  I sat on the bed you purchased for your new apartment.  I was still there when you returned finding tears streaming down my checks.  In a lifetime I will never forget the surprise on your face.   
“What” you asked “is wrong?” 

The fact you didn’t understand that I was heartbroken overwhelmed me.  It hurt then.  It still does now ten years later.

From time to time Pres still dreamt about Donna, but those dreams became less frequent.  The weekly Friday two hour visits with Wayne, however, remained unabated.  Pres continued dating, trying to fill the emptiness he felt.  He was eating well and his company was flourishing.  Other parts of his life flourished too.  Katy, Pres’ daughter, was studying Spanish in Spain.  From her reports and from the monthly credit card statements Pres paid for, she was learning how to spend very well in Spanish. 

One night, Pres, a.k.a. Dad, received a phone call from Katy.  Her words were the invitation of a lifetime.

“Come to Spain between semesters and take me to Italy,” Katy offered.

Pres dropped everything and arrived in Seville on November 23, 1991.

While touring Spain and Italy, Pres wrote more unsent letters to Donna Theresa about ancient Moorish ramparts, about the comfortable mosaic of Barcelona cultures, and about the incomparable Sagrada Familia.  His letters also spoke of Rome, Pisa, and Venice and of his experiences of “painless memories filled with peace of mind.”

December 6, 1991 – Florence, Italy – The beautifully preserved Renaissance garden, The Boboli, rises high above the city’s magnificent cathedrals, cobbled streets, ancient bridges and red tiled roofs, and looks out to the haze shrouded mountains beyond. Along the pathway, I met you, or the memory of you, or was it your lingering presence.  I stopped.  Rooted  in place.  I turned, facing the city below.  I remembered the view, this spot.  Somewhere there is a picture of you and me, my arms wrapped around you, holding you close, nuzzling your ear, our backs to the scene to which I am now transfixed.  Stepping toward the railing we had once leaned against for balance.  I stopped, rejecting the impulse to reach out and touch my hand to the place you once rested upon, the stone balustrade.  

My heart sunk. I took a deep breath … paused, turned, then hurried after Katy disappearing in the distance, leaving the memory behind.  
Goodbye sweet memory.  Goodbye Donna Theresa.  
After the Grand Tour of Southern Latin Europe, Pres returned home and wrote some more.
 December 26, 1991 – Phoenix, Arizona – I’m down in the dumps, a little depressed I guess … I’m worried about slipping back into depression.  The shrink says it’s not unexpected.  Come hell or high water, I’m not going to let myself slip.  I’m going to act as though I love everything I’m doing; play, work, everything … look out world here I come. 
January 5, 1992 – Theresa’s Fund made its first contribution today.  Our board, at its first annual meeting, voted a $5,000 contribution to the East Valley Child Crisis Center to help build space for additional beds.  We also voted that the board would cover all fund raising and administrative costs.

When Pres’ personal life became more interesting, he shared that in unsent letters to Donna too.

January 10, 1992 – Who is this woman I met last night? I saw her the moment Bill and I walked into our favorite spot for Italian food.  It was interest at first sight … Andrea was breathtakingly beautiful.  
She was single I could see.  I remember thinking; she will walk out of my life unless I introduce myself.  
When the wine I ordered arrived at her table, she looked up, smiled and nodded her thanks.  As dinner ended, I gathered my courage to introduce myself and invited her and her friend to join Bill and me for coffee and dessert.  Holy Cow, they accepted.  Call it chemistry … we spent the rest of the evening dancing … then exchanged phone numbers. 

Virginia’s Note:  Pres’ determination to remain as active and positive as he can as well as his efforts to reach out and help other people are all very healing ways of coping with stress and pain.  Emulate him.  The more positively we think and act, the more positive our life becomes.  Sometimes our situation remains challenging, but if we can smile and have fun anyway....well, life is ever so much happier if you take the time to have fun whether it is watching a comedy show on television or visiting a park or being present for the sunrise and the sunset.

Fortunately Pres had good news to journal for a while.

January 15, 1992 – “Oh Pres,” said Char my secretary, “there is a sparkle in your eyes I haven’t seen in two years. You better tell me about this.”   
 January 17, 1992 – This is difficult and a private matter I want to discuss with you. The exciting truth is, as in the old days when we were together, Donna Theresa, I am again capable of … instantaneous rising to the occasion.   
God, you can’t imagine how exhilarating it is to feel like a man, a whole man again.  I’m vindicated!  Complete!  Whole!  A man again!    
Two days later Pres felt he was on top of the world again.  
January 19, 1992 – Tell me it’s not possible.  Among the people who know me, none would have believed I could have been so sick, so disturbingly depressed during the last 22 months.  Frankly, I find it hard to conceive someone viewed by others as so powerfully imposing, so in control, could have been brought down to such absolute depths of despair.  I just can’t imagine.  I really can’t.  Yet I know the truth. 

As Pres’ new found love blossomed, he continued feeling the need to share with Donna that he was doing well in spite of losing her.

January 20, 1992 – Last night, Andrea whispered, “You are the kindest man I have ever met, wonderful and caring.  I feel safe with you.”     
Oblivious of the other dinner guests, I leaned over and kissed her cheeks a dozen times.  We held hands, sitting close, sharing a glass of wine, telling our histories because we needed to. You see, Donna Theresa, more quickly than I would have thought possible, our relationship has grown quite tender.  Just seeing each other has become very exciting, very new, like the birth of emotions I had long since thought impossible.  
Andrea agrees, “It’s very scary.”  
Still, we’ve agreed, we want to pursue an even closer relationship.

Pres’ relationship with Andrea prompted him to re-examine his feelings for Donna.  He concluded it may be possible to love another woman.

Andrea, as has every woman I‘ve dated, asked if I was still in love with you Donna.  No, this time the question was a statement.   
She said, “You’re still very much in love with her.”  
Before responding, for the first time in twenty years, I had to think about how I felt about you.  Yes, while I still love you, Donna Theresa, I can honestly say I am no longer in love with you.   
Even at that, I was surprised hearing myself respond, “No, no I’m not in love with Donna Theresa.  Really I’m not.”   
Two weeks ago I could not have answered as I did.    
January 21, 1992 – This place, my new home, is the ultimate bachelor pad.  It radiates a commitment to remain single.  The whole arrangement is one giant conscious defense mechanism.  
So, I am surprised as I sit here thinking of ways in which I could rearrange my home to accommodate Andrea’s two teenage daughters.  My God.  I’ve only known her ten days.

Pres and Andrea spent every spare minute together.  They included Andrea’s teenage daughters in their activities together, introduced each other to their respective parents, and planned time together weeks in advance -- including making reservations for a trip to the Caribbean.  Pres and Andrea planned to fly to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands on April 24, where they would spend two days.  Then they would fly by float plane to Peter Island, a privately owned 1800 acre resort where they would spend two weeks. 

Andrea was also captivated by Pres’ stories about romantic Italy.  She talked about taking Italian lessons when they returned from their Caribbean vacation. 

Two days later after introducing Pres to her parents, Andrea called, sounding stressed.

She told Pres, “There’s something we’ve got to talk about.”

Pres thinks, pregnancy? AIDS?  It’s neither.  Andrea confesses she had just broken up with a guy she had been “madly in love with” a month before she met Pres.  She had dated the guy “exclusively for two years.”  She admitted she should have told Pres sooner, but had not expected “our relationship to develop so quickly” because she didn’t “expect to meet someone like Pres.”

The gentleman, an unemployed alcoholic, now wanted to marry Andrea.

Pres says, Andrea really sounded stressed … confused, “I think she thought I would lose my cool or explode.” 

Pres simply told Andrea, “Honey, that’s something you have to work out for yourself.”  
Pres canceled the Caribbean vacation, but three days later he journaled about what happened next    Andrea walked into his house.  Without a word she dropped her purse and threw her arms around him, and they spent the evening in a “wild, wonderful, loving embrace.”  

Andrea had chosen Pres.

By March 6, 1992,, they were living together.  The cancelled Caribbean vacation was on again. 

Andrea’s dad asked approvingly, “Honey, how is married life?”

Pres embraced domesticity, helping an appreciative Andrea wash dinner dishes.  He also embraced helping his stepdaughters with school activities.

Andrea acknowledged to others, “Pres spends more time with my daughters every week than my ex-boyfriend spent in two years.”

Andrea’s seventeen year old daughter told her mom, “I never thought I’d want to be married until I met Pres.”

Clearly, not only was Pres planning long term, but so were Andrea and her daughters and her parents.  That weekend, Andrea’s kids stayed with their happy grandparents, while the love birds camped out on Pres’ sail boat in the harbor at San Pedro, California. 

Pres felt gloriously happy. 

Sunday afternoon, Andrea took Pres in her arms and said, “Honey, I’ve had more “O’s” this weekend than I have had in the past seven years.”

Thinking it hard to believe, Pres asked why she thought that was.

“Because I love you so much … you’re so gentle and I feel comfortable and safe around you.”

Before the day was done Pres proposed marriage and Andrea accepted.  Returning home, they stopped by Andrea’s parent’s home to pick up the girls.  Giddy with happiness and excitement, they broke the news.  It was March 16th.  Everyone, kids and grandparents, Pres and Andrea, was giddy with happiness and excitement.

Less than 24 hours later, Andrea called Pres, “I just got married.”

Virginia's Notes:  Pres coped with the end of a significant relationship by dating many women and by rushing into a relationship when a really beautiful and charming woman comes along despite the clear evidence that the woman still has feelings for another man who, unlike Donna, was still hanging around.  It is very brave for Pres to show his vulnerabilities like this.  Unfortunately when we rush dating and relationships before we have done the hard work of healing ourselves, we become vulnerable to repeating bad patterns or making new ones.  After the end of a significant relationship, take time to heal yourself before venturing back into the world of dating and relationships.

Pres journaled, “How do you explain something like this? I’m so embarrassed and feel so badly for her kids. I feel like a fool.

Pres wished Andrea well, knowing she has committed herself to a nightmare.

Then he thought, Well at least she didn’t steal off in the dead of night. She called and explained as best she could.

Pres went back to writing letters as a way of coping with his feelings, but this time he had a friend hand deliver them to Andrea.

March 18, 1992 – Pres’  letter to Andrea began:

Ahhhh … Andrea, dear Andrea, you said you were “sorry.” I know you are.  Me, too. You’re a good person.  So I’m writing to make certain you know that you are forgiven. After all, and this is important, it is in forgiving that we are forgiven.We are just human, doing the best we can in our own way and bound to do those things we are bound to do.
As I think about our final phone conversation, it occurs to me, you might have wondered why I said I was “not surprised” by your marriage announcement.  Well it’s difficult to explain.   
Monday night, about ten o’clock, as I was enjoying a daydream about you, I was astonished to hear myself say, “Oh my God. She married that a$$hole.”   
Call it telepathic communication if you like, or a powerful sensation, or perhaps a special connection we shared. I suppose it’s not important anymore.  Thankfully, if only by a degree, it prepared me for the inevitable.  
Remember this: you are truly a wonderful person.  
Now be happy, enjoy life and accept my best wishes for a full and blessed future.  

Virginia's Note:  When Andrea ended their relationship, Pres took two very positive and healthy actions.  First, Pres’ diplomatic reaction to Andrea was respectful.  He could easily have responded with sarcasm and said something hurtful.  When you do that, you burn bridges and your satisfaction for telling the other person “like it is” is brief.  Second, Pres concentrated on the one positive he could find in the situation -- that Andrea had been brave enough and courteous enough to call him and tell him the truth herself.  It is easier to move forward when we acknowledge our pain and anger but don't allow ourselves to get dragged down by it.  We are much more likely to be dragged down by negative thoughts, words, and actions.  We are more likely to succeed by building ourselves up than by tearing other people.

Ten months later Pres learned through mutual friends that Andrea’s husband drank through her $10,000 college savings account for her daughter and totaled Andrea’s car.

When he journaled again, later in 1992, it was to Donna Theresa and not to Andrea.

Dear Donna Theresa, during these past 22 months I’ve traveled a long way, from the deep frightening impotent dark side of life on the edge to incremental renewed interest in living.  I feel invigorated and excited about the future; strong again and as healthy, mentally and physically as I have ever been.   
I have learned so much about myself, my childhood and how it affects my adult life, forgiveness, relationships, compassion, my patterns, mistakes I hope never to repeat and the importance of my spiritual existence.   
By the grace of God, at the very moment hopelessness was about to consume me I was rescued.  In the process I have put guilt aside and left a very sad chapter behind me forever.  
And so, dear Donna Theresa, I thank you for the most wonderful 19 years of my life; and dear Andrea, thank you for coming into my life when you did and for showing me what could be.  

Part Three:
Donna Theresa Resurfaces

No comments:

Post a Comment