Saturday, May 21, 2022 May 21, 2022
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Sometimes she has a daydream: Dale comes home and wants her back again; she stands there triumphantly and says ’No’
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A week after the hearing, she had a flat tire. The water heater broke. She had a wreck while car pooling. A woman who saw the accident rushed from her house and asked, “Do you need to call your husband?” Cynthia Miller, in tears, heard herself answer: “I just got a divorce.” The other woman started to turn away and said, “Well, then I guess you’re going to have to start handling things yourself.” But Cynthia didn’t want to, not when everything was falling apart.

It had not happened suddenly Dale and Cynthia Miller had been married more than 13 years when their life together slowly began to unravel. They were both 35 and had two children: a daughter and a son. Dale had a good education and a decent job. Cynthia had been his high school sweetheart and a university cheerleader. The marriage had not been unhappy: There had been no abuse. They didn’t throw things. They didn’t hate each other. There had been no affairs. Divorce is easier to explain when the husband or the wife is “no good.” With Cynthia and Dale, that is not the way it was. The forces were subtle: The marriage died for want of attention.

The end began on a Sunday in June of 1980, in an ivy-draped Fort Worth house that was a clone of any on the block. Cynthia headed straight for the kitchen to think about what they would have for lunch. The house seemed too quiet; the kids had gone swimming at her mother’s house. Nothing in the refrigerator was ready to eat. But it didn’t matter, Cynthia thought. She felt so good about losing 80 pounds, about being just 20 pounds from her weight goal, that she figured she might not eat anything at all.

At her heaviest, she had weighed 225 pounds. It had been ages since anyone had made a fuss over her -until today at church. She looked up when Dale came in.

“Would you come over here?” he said, his soft voice barely audible. “I’d like to talk to you.” He pushed his blond hair off his forehead as Cynthia sat beside him on the hearth. The living room clock clicked awkwardly and struck one time. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you for a long time,” Dale said. “Something’s wrong.” The words came out clearly. He had obviously rehearsed his lines. “I’m not sure I love you anymore.”

Cynthia cried out and turned her head toward him in disbelief. Tears flooded down her cheeks. “Oh, you’re wrong,” was all she was able to say.

“I’ve been unhappy for seven years,” Dale said. “I don’t know how I feel about you. But I promise I don’t want a divorce. And I won’t leave you. I promise to give us both time to work this out.” They went to bed very late that night. Dale did not want her to touch him.

Touching was one of the first things they had done. The first time Cynthia had gotten into his car, she had scooted up next to him. She didn’t know why, but they became instant friends. Dale had been impressed.

They had met in high school during Cynthia’s senior year. Dale had been captivated by her precise features and her hazel eyes. She was a band majorette and had been sports queen in her junior year. She was standing at her locker when a friend introduced her to Dale. He was shorter than average, but broad-shouldered, well-dressed, and known around school as a guy all the girls could talk to. He played football and basketball, and Cynthia knew of him, but she had never given him much thought. He was six months younger and a year behind her in school. They talked for a while at her locker, and finally he asked her if she wanted to go get a Coke at a drive-in restaurant.

By Thanksgiving of 1965, they were engaged and having a weekends-and-holi-days romance while attending colleges in separate states. Cynthia was in a sorority and was its sweetheart candidate. College was not working out for Dale; in fact he was flunking out. He gave her a ring one weekend. “1 wasn’t sure I wanted to quit dating other guys,” Cynthia recalls. “But I had two other friends who were engaged, and they were sitting it out. So I decided that I’d at least have some company.”

But she already knew she wanted to marry Dale. She had known since their third date in high school.

Dale was drafted into the army in 1966. He married Cynthia later that year in a formal church wedding with 200 guests. There were a dozen attendants, and all the principals wore white. Dale and Cynthia honeymooned in northern California, where Dale was stationed. The first year was idyllic: They were silly and very much in love.

“I was having such a good time,” Cynthia remembers. “Dale was loving, considerate, and fun. We were very close. I kept our little apartment clean. It was fun being out on our own. We hated being apart. One day before he was supposed to go out into the field for six weeks, we stayed up all night crying. I wanted to make everything so neat for him. I would fix strawberry waffles, and we drank grasshoppers every night. We tried all kinds of California wine. By the time we moved back to Texas, I had gone from a size eight to a size 12.”

In Texas, Dale went back to college. Cynthia taught at an elementary school. They began to settle in. They enjoyed eating out. They played bridge. They went dancing, and Dale would do the Push until he was soaking with sweat. He loved to hold her, hug her, and squeeze her, although she was embarrassed when he did it in public. She quit teaching when their first child, Debra, was born. Three years later, their second child, Ben, came. They bought the ivy-draped brick house. It was during this time, Dale thinks, that his problems began.

He had just finished his master’s degree in government. Now he loved college: He wanted to go to the University of California at Berkeley to get his PhD. Cynthia, who associated Berkeley with hippies and drugs, wouldn’t hear of it. Besides, she said, she was tired of school. Dale taught college for a while, but the money was so bad that he soon went to work for an engineering firm. The firm, however, had management problems. His job became a headache, and he hated it. He started screaming at the kids when they made too much noise. He reproved them harshly when they chewed too loudly at the table. He hardly ever took them anywhere, and Cynthia remembers that it became unclear whether or not he even enjoyed them. “It got to where I had to think before I said anything to him. I didn’t want to set him off.” Dale never told her what was bothering him. By now there was no real communication between them.

Meanwhile, Cynthia was having her own problems. She was overweight and had contemplated suicide. She and Dale rarely went out anymore, and she was certain it was because of her figure. “I was so ashamed of myself,” she says. Cynthia had only two friends, and Dale wasn’t one of them. She began to enjoy the times when he left town on business. She was sorry when he came home.

“I really felt 1 was sick,” she says. “I needed to talk to a psychiatrist, but I never did. 1 knew I had closed up, and I didn’t know how to get out. Dale and I talked, but I didn’t show any feeling. And I couldn’t be loving every time he touched me. When he did touch me, I thought, he just wants to go to bed. I would stiffen up and tell him to leave me alone, and he would just turn over. He never asked what was wrong.

“And I never sat down with him and said, ’Look, I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I’m going through something, and I need your understanding.’ “

So they were friendly to each other, but seldom intimate. Feelings had been dulled, but there was no sense of remorse. Cynthia was “committed” to marriage-for better or worse.

One day she showed Dale a brochure for a weekend marriage encounter group. She suggested it with no fear of impending loss. She still had no idea what lay ahead. Dale refused to go. He told her that he just couldn’t talk about something as personal as his marriage.

After Dale finally confessed that he had been unhappy for seven years, Cynthia changed -overnight. All he had said was that he wasn’t sure he loved her. Now she was in love with him all over again, which Dale couldn’t understand. Suddenly, she wanted to be with him constantly, to share, to make love. Nothing else mattered. She lost contact with friends, stopped playing bridge, and missed club meetings.

“I went overboard,” she says. “It was so strange.” Dale simply thought she was putting on a show. He said, “If you turned it on so fast, how do I know you won’t turn it off again?” “I don’t know,” she answered. “I only know that I don’t want to lose you.”

Now the summer was full of uncertainties. One minute Dale would say that he still felt something for her; the next minute he’d say he was staying only because of the children. He began drinking heavily and staying out all night. He needed time, he told her. Cynthia began to lock herself in her room and cry and smoke. Sometimes she got up at four in the morning and cleaned out drawers.

Her parents took Ben and Debra with them to Oklahoma over the Fourth of July weekend, leaving Cynthia and Dale with a few days to themselves. “At first,” she remembers, “it was wonderful. We saw a million shows, went out to eat whenever we wanted, and made mad, passionate love. We got along better than we ever had. Then, three nights later, Dale was gone all night. 1 was a nervous wreck.”

She kept a diary as their marriage dissolved:

June 29: Dale told me he didn’t know if he loved me anymore. We talked long and hard. I told him how much I loved him. We talked it all out. I thought everything would be okay.

July 9: Dale stopped for a drink on the way home from work and came home drunk at 9:30. I wrote him a letter asking him to quit drinking.

July 11: Dale is well, but went to a game with guys; he said he had a bunch of beer and took a friend home at 11:30. Said he was so drunk he didn’t want to face me. He drove around, went to a park, and fell asleep. Got home around 4 a.m. I had slept about an hour and was waiting for him. We talked a lot, and then everything was okay.

July 12: Dale yelled at the kids a lot. I felt that he was feeling low. He went later to hit golf balls. I still felt as if something was wrong.

July 13: Dale didn’t want to take Debra to camp. Said he needed time to be alone to think. I ended up crying, saying I was scared and not sure how he felt.

July 14: Thought of Dale all day. Went to the weight clinic. He didn’t get in until midnight. Said he was thinking about us. I asked what he was thinking, and he said he would talk tomorrow after work. He was tired. I was scared. We went to bed. I asked for a kiss and told him I loved him. He didn’t say anything. I couldn’t sleep.

July 16: Dale is out of town. Didn’t hear from him all day. I had a great dinner planned at 7 p.m. 1 was exhausted at 10:30 p.m. and went to bed. At midnight, I woke up with the the distinct feeling that he was with another woman. I wanted to call his friends. I wanted to call anybody to find out where he was. He finally called at 3 a.m. He was at the airport hotel, he said, and he couldn’t face me to tell me what he had to say. Then he said, “It isn’t there anymore,” and that he would be home in a few hours. I slept off and on. At 8:30, I took Ben to McDonald’s for breakfast.

July 17: Ben saw Dale pulling into a 7-Eleven. We drove over and got out of the car. Dale wouldn’t look at me or speak to me, only to Ben. When we got home, Dale was in the shower. I got Ben off to bed. Dale and I sat down across from each other in the den. He said he was worried about the kids, about the “important times” when they needed a father. Then he said he was hurting them each time he was around them, that when he yells and scares them, he makes them hate him. He’s against getting any counseling. He told me that he could always talk to Jennie Sloan, a girl with whom he had gone to school. He said that he had seen her three months ago in Arkansas, and that she immediately wanted to know what was wrong with him. I told him that 1 loved him and that I felt his job was rubbing off on our marriage. I cried as I spoke. I asked him to quit it. I said that we’d survive, that the trouble was mostly my fault, that I had been cold, unloving, and unsupportive for so long that it had killed the love he had for me. I told him I’d like to sit next to him and just touch him, but that I knew he wouldn’t like it. “That’s right,” he said. I showed him two prayers in our Bible – one about a happy marriage and one about a family. “There is still something there,” he said. I started to cry.

July 18: Dale’s going out job hunting. He said he would be home in time to go with me to bring Debra home from camp. I hadn’t heard from him by 5 p.m., so I went alone. Later, 1 went out behind the garage to think. He found me crying. I told him I could be a good wife and to please give me the time to be what he wants. He said he would give me forever.

July 21: We woke up late. I asked Dale how he felt about me. He said sometimes he felt he loved me more than ever. He left to help my dad with something. Later he called and said he’d be home in a while. He sounded good, so I didn’t worry. He didn’t come home. At 4 a.m., I got up and did some cleaning. I went back to bed about five, slept off and on until six, then ran up to the store to buy some cigarettes.

July 22: Dale called. He said he was north of town and wanted to talk when he got home. 1 sent the kids off to stay with friends. Dale’s mixed up. He wants to know why I’m suddenly so loving. I told him I really felt I had been sick during the last few years. I told him how much 1 loved him. He said that all these years 1 had never done things to show him 1 loved him, like pay the bills for him, wash and iron, and clean the house for him instead of just for company. He is so right. How could 1 have been like that? I told him those years were a blur to me, and that 1 would go to Berkeley with him. He said it was too late and that he had compromised his needs for a long time. He also said that he would try a counselor. We went to bed about 12:30. No touching, just a kiss. The next day, I told him that if he needed to talk to Jennie Sloan, 1 would understand. He played golf all day. I cleaned all day. I spent four hours just on the shower. He called and said he was going to see Jennie tonight. I told him I was afraid she would say that it’s not worth it, that he should leave me. I had bought two cards and left one on the sink in the bathroom and the other in his suitcase. One said: “With every smile and touch 1 am falling in love all over again.”

July 26: Dale played golf. Friends came over for hamburgers. Dale got pretty drunk. He touched my blouse opening, and then he stopped himself.

Cynthia had not let the children see her crying. She hadn’t told them anything, either, because she didn’t know what to say. But she figured they had been guessing. Dale had gotten the name of a counselor from the youth minister at church. The appointment was on the same day he was to return from visiting Jennie Sloan. He phoned Cynthia the night before the meeting and asked if she minded if they didn’t go. “Yes, I mind,” Cynthia replied. “You have to be here.” He drove up the next morning at 9:30, a half an hour before they were due at the counselor’s.

The meetings with the counselor were to be once a week for three months. Cynthia now believes Dale made up his mind to divorce her even before they got to the therapist’s door. The first session was uncomfortable for them, but not unpleasant. The therapist said she understood the pain they were going through. She asked them what they wanted from their relationship. Dale said he was confused, that he didn’t know if he wanted to be married. Cynthia, crying, said she wanted her marriage to work.

“What one thing do you want from each other this coming week?” the therapist asked.

“I want a touch,” Cynthia said.

Dale looked at her uncertainly. “I want you to get up with me in the morning, have coffee, and read the paper,” he said.

Late in the summer, Cynthia finally told a friend about her marital troubles. She was in bad shape by that time. For months she had been emotionally teetering, trying to read how Dale felt about her from day to day, from hour to hour. “Look,” the friend said one afternoon after Cynthia had poured out more of her woes. “You’ve been telling me this is all your fault. But it looks to me like he’s the bastard.”

On Cynthia’s birthday, Dale took her out for dinner and dancing. They had a wonderful time; they were learning to talk to one another. But when they got home, he said, “Cynthia, I don’t want you to think this changes anything. I want to leave.”

“Dale, you just can’t,” she said.

“I want to leave,” he repeated.

They separated in September.

The therapist had said that if they did, the children should be told a week before Dale moved out. They were playing in the yard when Cynthia called them in and made them sit in the den. “They instantly started crying,” she recalls. “They asked if we were getting a divorce, and Dale said, ’no.’ We all got on the same couch and cried and talked. Dale told them that he didn’t know if he loved me anymore and that he needed time to himself. He said he would see us and talk to us.”

The only thing Dale asked for was a chair from the bedroom. Cynthia refused, saying that she had bought the chair for their room and that it would stay there. If he wanted one, she added, he could go down to Pier One and buy it for $35.

“After Dale moved out,” she says, “I started letting the kids see me when I was crying, or when I was sad or mad. I made them talk about it. One of the few questions they had ever asked was, ’Where are we going to be this weekend?’ I began reading books on children and divorce and watching for things to pop out in them. Nothing did. Dale and I had agreed to never criticize each other in front of the kids. We didn’t want that to pull at them. We didn’t need to lie to them, either. They knew what was happening.”

Dale filed for the divorce. He had wanted Cynthia to do it, but she wouldn’t. “I don’t think he wanted it on his conscience,” she says. She refused to pay any of the legal fees. “1 immediately worried about friends -what they would say,” Cynthia says. “I didn’t want them to think, ’Cynthia, the divorcee, is out to get my husband now.’ People have this special category for divorced women -that all of them are horny and can be picked up anywhere. I’m friendly, but I began to change. 1 became much more guarded because I didn’t want anyone to take my friendliness the wrong way.”

Cynthia heard about an eight-week class, “Creative Divorce,” held at a downtown church, sponsored by the local mental health association. “Creative” seemed to her a stupid word choice -who wanted to be creative about a divorce? But she went anyway.

Dale and Cynthia wrote out their divorce settlement at the kitchen table. Dale said he was a simple person and wouldn’t need much. He promised to give her every cent he made over his own expenses. She could have the house, he added, but he wanted $30,000 from her as his share of the equity. “1 reminded him that the down payment had been my money,” Cynthia says. “I had cashed in an old insurance policy. I told him I was sorry to have to put it this way, but all he had done was make the payments.” Dale agreed to increase his child-support payments each year to keep pace with the cost of living. He refused to agree to pay half of the children’s college expenses.

“You have to trust me, Cynthia,” he said.

“How can I trust you?” she answered. “You said you wouldn’t leave. You won’t even know us by then.”

They divided the credit cards and split $2500 in savings. She got the car.

“It was congenial,” Cynthia says. “We wrote it up, and Dale took it to his lawyer, who threw a hissy fit. He said his client wasn’t getting a thing, and that they would have to do something about it.” Cynthia found herself an attorney through friends. She cried through the first meeting, but the lawyer said that was okay, he was used to it.

Cynthia got the house, under the condition that if she sells it, or if the children decide later to live with Dale, she has to pay him $15,000. Dale was instructed to pay $450 a month in child support -an amount that will not escalate. He took his bicycle, some books and pottery, and his golf clubs. He rented a one-bedroom apartment behind a shopping mall, and Cynthia bought him a skillet as a house-warming present.

When the divorce was final, Dale telephoned her. “It’s over,” he said. Cynthia responded, “Well, that’s wonderful. Congratulations.”

When Dale said nothing in reply, she knew she had taken the wrong attitude. She asked how the divorce hearing (which she had not attended) had gone. “It was terrible,” Dale replied. “As soon as the judge said, ’Divorce granted,’ I thought, ’What have 1 done?’ “

She told him that she had felt that way from the beginning – that he was making a mistake he would regret the rest of his life.

“It’s easier for a woman in a divorce,” Dale told her, “because she can come home to her house and her children. When 1 come home, it’s to the apartment, and nobody’s there.” This time, it was Cynthia who said nothing. But she was thinking: Dale, that’s what you wanted.

Now she began to worry about money and the children. She was unemployed, and she felt rejected and lonely. Going to church helped, but she only went on the weekends when she had the children. She didn’t want to run into Dale there on his weekends with Debra and Ben. It already had happened once, and it had been one of the worst moments of her life. He had sat in a back pew with the kids, while she sat in a front pew alone. Finally, her daughter had come up to her and asked, “Mommy, aren’t you going to sit with us?”

More divorce classes; she never missed a meeting. She took notes whenever she could make herself concentrate. So much was going on inside her head: There must be something wrong with her if Dale did not love her. She should have been warmer and more loving. She should have let him go to school. She should have…she should have. … If Dale couldn’t love her, how could anyone else? Questions followed doubts, and created more questions and doubts.

“There are stages in divorce,” the instructor lectured. “Everyone has to go through them.” Cynthia ran her finger down the list trying to see where she fit in. Guilt? Grief? Loneliness? Anger and hostility? Panic? Relief? The instructor kept saying, “You are not alone.” And she kept thinking, Yes, I am. Yes, I am.

She joined a Sunday school class of 600 single adults. She started taking dancing lessons. She went with new, single friends to drink, dance, and talk. “Never in my life had I sat at a bar and waited for someone to ask me to dance,” Cynthia says. “But I couldn’t stay in my room and cry all the time.” She began to go out two or three times a week, and, for a while, her life was full of late hours and drinking. Her parents kept the children sometimes, and sometimes she hired a sitter. She was “running”-passing through another stage of divorce. The “running” lasted about a month.

Cynthia doesn’t go out much now, unless it’s with the children. One of her hardest adjustments, she says, has been learning to tell the difference between loneliness and being alone. When she is alone, she often feels lonely, but she knows she doesn’t always have to be. “I have a friend down the street and another one next door,” she says. “I can talk to either of them about anything, day or night. I’ve been with them a lot, and their husbands don’t mind.”

She and Dale are still friends. He comes by to see her sometimes and phones often. In many ways, their relationship is stronger than ever. They talk to each other now. They sit on the same sofa and talk instead of sitting on separate sofas and watching TV. They wonder why things weren’t like this before, and they know that they want the same things from marriage-love, affection, sharing, fun.

“He thinks, to some extent, that he could get me back,” Cynthia says. “Maybe he could. I still wonder if there’s anyone else who could possibly be as close to what I need in a man as Dale was at some point. I just think it would be easier for me with him.” But the problem, they both know, is that he doesn’t want her -or the children – all the time. “He wants me only when he wants me,” Cynthia says. “When he comes over to the house, he feels very closed-in and always has an excuse to leave. When we were married, he wanted me to be more independent, he says. But what I think he really wanted was his own independence. I’d have dinner ready at six-thirty, and he’d get home at eight. I was still supposed to greet him with open arms and dinner on the table. And if he wasn’t hungry, I wasn’t supposed to offer him anything.”

Other people, she says, cannot understand how she and Dale can still be friends. Actually, they are much more than that -they have slept together numerous times since the divorce. The children do not know, because Dale arrives after they are asleep and leaves before they get up. “I don’t want them to know, because I am not married to him,” she says. “But it’s okay for me, because I was married to him.” Her most vulnerable times are when she has nothing to do, and that’s usually when he seems to call her.

Sometimes Cynthia has this daydream: Dale comes to the front door and says he wants her back. She stands there, skinny and arrogant, and says, “No, 1 don’t want you.”

She still needs to know that someone cares. She has not yet completely passed the stage called “learning to let go.” Cynthia flips through her notes from the divorce classes. The final stage on the list is “adjusting to divorce.” That’s when you bounce up one morning, notice the birds and the incredibly blue sky, and say to yourself: Well, it wasn’t all that bad.

Well, yes it was, Cynthia will still tellyou. But at least she didn’t die.