By Del Starr, a pseudymyn, all rights reserved.

Sleepin’ Single in a Double Bed

Dianne could not provide for the children by herself but she knew that Gary loved them and would help her. She applied for welfare assistance. Gary moved into a nearby motel and every other weekend he would take half the kids and the alternating weekends the other half. Though the children missed his being at home, they didn’t mind visiting with Gary at the motel and in fact, thought it a lot of fun.

Dianne continued attending church every Sabbath with the children. However, since the reasons for the divorce were not publicly revealed, the church body took a dim view of the divorce, knowing that it was Dianne who had obtained it. She was not allowed to drive school bus for the church school. Once more, she was a “fallen woman” in the eyes of the church. Dianne held her head high, though, and continued to attend.

Since she honestly believed that public school was of the devil, she could not allow herself to enter her children there. However, not having the job as bus driver, she could no longer afford church school for the children. Even if she could have driven bus, Janelle had now reached school age and the pay of the bus driver would not cover four children’s tuition.

Dianne applied to the state and received permission to teach her children at home. She purchased some of their textbooks but others would not arrive until October. School began. Dianne had gone to a teacher’s aide store and had found a book on phonics, which she used to teach Janelle. The regular schools had adopted sight-reading at this point, but Dianne was loyal to phonics and Janelle was reading at first-grade level by December.

The kitchen table became the group desk. There was a regular schedule with recesses included. The ceiling above the table became the children’s “award board” and stars and trinkets ornamented it. The children progressed well.

One day the phone rang. A psychiatrist from Portland Adventist Medical Center was calling to ask Dianne some questions. Was she at all interested in restoring her marriage? Dianne had to tell him, “No.” Too many times she had requested marital counseling, Gary had attended with her, and then he would stop. She did not wish to go through the ordeal again, and the latest events, which had opened her understanding as to the cloud that had hovered over them, were just too much.

The psychiatrist said that Gary had come to seek help for himself but all he was saying was “save my marriage.” Dianne suggested that if Gary wished to save his marriage, he should have worked on it many years ago. It had taken her a long time to reach the point of divorce and she was not going to change her mind now and subject the children to a repeat of everything that had led up to it.

The psychiatrist asked Dianne if she had noted any change in personality or if there had been any recent medical problems for Gary. She said that there had not, except that one time when they were arguing, Gary had gone out onto the front porch and when he had come back in the house, he had claimed that he had vomited blood. Dianne figured that he was only seeking attention, however, and ignored it. She also told the doctor that Gary seemed to have one eyelid drooping but she attributed it to the fact that they had been undergoing some very traumatic times and this was Gary’s physical reaction to it. The doctor listened and then said that he thought he would send Gary to a neurologist.

Another phone call. Gary was in the hospital. Dianne rushed to his side. She and the children were the only family he had in Portland. The rest of his family was in Iowa, since his parents had recently moved back there from Missouri to be near their daughter. The pronouncement was that Gary had an aneurysm in the brain. Emergency surgery was scheduled.

Concern for Gary and the impending surgery put a hold on the children’s schoolwork. No matter what their personal relationship, he was the children’s father. He had even adopted Janetta after they had arrived in Portland. They were all his children now.

Because of the children, Dianne could not be at the hospital as much as she wished, but she was there when Gary went to surgery and she stayed near the phone afterwards. She was relieved to hear that he had done well and was now in recovery. When he began to awaken, she was at his side. She soothed him and assured him that when he was released from the hospital, he would be able to come home with her.

True to her word, upon his release from the hospital, Dianne took Gary home. She could not feel for him as she should a spouse, though, and took every opportunity she could to be away from the house while he was there. She did take care of him but tried to leave personal feelings out of it. It really was not a good situation and Dianne wondered if she had made the right choice by having Gary at home but she also knew that he needed someone to care for him and that he was incapable of going to Iowa. They muddled through the best they could and when Gary was sufficiently recovered, Dianne asked him to leave the home again.

Gary swore undying love for Dianne and told her that he would never remarry. Dianne saw him only one time after that. His unemployment check had accidentally been sent to Dianne’s address, and he stopped by to pick it up. In the car with him were a woman and several children. Dianne scoffed at Gary’s avowal of love but she was glad for him that he had seemingly found someone to care for him.

Because of the surgery and the upheaval of the household schedule, Dianne had decided that she must give up her idea of teaching the children at home. With a very heavy heart, knowing that she was subjecting the children to the wiles of the devil but also knowing that by state law they must be educated, she led them up the steps of the public school and enrolled them there.

A knock sounded at the front door, and when Dianne answered, it was the local pastor, (not Elder Unterseher, who had been transferred by this time) and the head elder. Dianne had, they told her, been observed doing something that the church did not allow. Though she denied vociferously that it was true, she was told that her name would be removed from membership at the following board meeting the next Wednesday night. Dianne determined to be there.

When her name came up at the board meeting, the pastor said that this was the first time in his career that a person had attended a board meeting to oppose their name being taken from the roles. Though Dianne again denied that what they said was true, she was determined to be a fallen woman because of her divorce and she was put on six months of probation.

Dianne pulled back into her shell. She spent much time in contemplation of her probation. She was sick at heart. The first time her name had been removed was because she and her family had been serving her country overseas and she was not able to attend church and this time she had been accused of doing something she did not do. She began to question her reasons for attending church. She began to see God as some sort of tyrant, always demanding and always accusing. She knew in her heart that she was a sinner and certainly not perfect. But try as she might, she could never seem to live up to what she felt a Seventh-day Adventist should be. She felt that everyone else in the church was a much better Christian than she was.

At the end of the six-month probationary period the pastor and head elder once more appeared at her door, this time proclaiming congratulations, for Dianne had “passed” and could remain a member of the family of God. But Dianne had given up. She no longer wished to participate in the political games of the church and, knowing that she was not what she ought to be, she did not wish to be hypocritical. She also had come to the realization that it didn’t matter whether or not her name was on the books of the Seventh-day Adventist church but rather, whether or not they were on the books in heaven. At this time her prayer had become, “Lord, I know that I am not worthy to be there but look upon the hearts of my family and friends and especially upon the heart of my mother, Grace. I know that she has problems, but forgive her for what she has done, Lord, for she thought, in her own misguided way, that she was doing the right thing.” Dianne told the pastor and the head elder that she appreciated their call but she would also appreciate it if they would go ahead and remove her name from the books.

She now began to look for love in all the wrong places. She began to date a friend of hers, Leonard. During their time together, Leonard and Dianne were involved in a serious automobile accident. Though Leonard had not been staying with Dianne, he now came to be in her home so that they could try to work together to recover from their injuries and take care of the children.

A couple of ladies from the Seventh-day Adventist church came by to help but upon finding Leonard there, they told Dianne that as long as he was there, they would not help her. Leonard was to go wherever it was that he should go and then Dianne would be worthy of help. Dianne thanked them very kindly and told them that she and Leonard had determined to work together for the sake of the children and that Leonard was staying. Sniffing their pious noses, the ladies left in a huff and Dianne and Leonard did the best they could together to provide for the children.

Because of the seriousness of the accident and their working together, Dianne and Leonard’s relationship became more serious, and a pregnancy developed. Chad was born but his father eventually rejected him and walked out of Dianne’s life.

Gary too, had left the country and the children were now distraught. They would gather under the now untrimmed laurel bushes and weep together. Dianne was aware of this but as the children did not share their feelings with her and refused to talk of Gary, she was unable to reassure them. Gary never called and never wrote. It would be over 20 years before the children would hear of him again, though Dianne kept them in touch with Gary’s mother in Iowa so that if there were a possibility of contact, they would be the first to know. Gary had disappeared from his mother’s life also.

With seven children now, Dianne was not able to keep up the garden and much of the rest that Gary had done while he was still with them. Being on welfare, the children were not dressed in the latest fashion any longer. Dianne began to feel as if she was the local bag lady.

She had occasion to meet her former boss, Ted, from Portland Adventist Schools, and shared with him that she and Gary were now divorced. It wasn’t long until he began to stop by the home now and then, to see how Dianne was doing and not long after that, he and Dianne began a relationship.

Ted finally moved in with Dianne and Dianne once more began attending church. This time she chose a very large church a little farther away from her home but where she thought she had friends from the school. Because of their circumstances, her live-in lover refused to attend with her but Dianne went every week and sat on the front row. The members of the church however, were not real thrilled to have the local “bag lady” and her brood attending their church. They knew that Dianne was living with her former boss and some church members even refused to speak to her or acknowledge her presence. Dianne reached the point where she knew there was no reason to continue. She would never be able to live up to what God wanted… why try?

Dianne and Ted had two more children, adding Cynthia and Randy to the family. Dianne didn’t mind. She was proud to be able to give these children to their father. This was Ted’s first son and Dianne was excited for him. Storm clouds soon descended on this relationship too, however.

Ted was an alcoholic. He was recovered but one never loses the propensity for alcoholism. He had been the Sabbath School leader in his church but when he took up residence with Dianne, he dropped away from all church activities. Guilt set in and the relationship with Dianne deteriorated without God’s presence at its center.

Ted was able to obtain a contract to transport school buses for one of the local school districts and Dianne went with him. They would hire a babysitter for the children, fly out in the middle of the night, pick up two buses, and in three days’ time be back in Portland. The buses came out of varying places, Illinois, Iowa, Virginia, Georgia, and Arkansas. It was a good time in their lives. Transporting paid good money and once again Dianne was able to care for her children properly.

Soon Ted, however, would want a beer when he came in off the road. Dianne didn’t oppose him. She had never been a witness to alcoholism and did not know what the results would be. The single beer increased to a couple of beers and then a six-pack and soon Ted was a full-blown drinker again.

Dianne recalls an incident when Ted had placed a chair in the middle of the front room and was watching television as he drank his beer. He had finished a twelve-pack and sent Dianne for more. He could barely sit on the chair and the children were not happy. They picked up his can of beer from the floor, poured it down the drain and refilled the can with water. Ted was so drunk he didn’t even know the difference.

The new cat the family had brought home loved Ted, though Ted did not like cats. The cat would find any occasion possible to sit in his lap. On this occasion, true to form, the cat sat beside Ted as he drank. This infuriated Ted and he picked up Cynthia’s toy baton and struck the cat forcefully across the mouth with it. The children screamed and grabbed the cat but the damage was done. Ted had broken out all of the cat’s front teeth. Dianne was devastated. She had walked from the frying pan into the fire. She grabbed the toy baton and bent it double. Ted would never use that toy again, nor would Cynthia.

The contracts for transporting the school buses were each for about twelve buses annually and in the interim, Ted took up driving cab in Portland. His drinking increased and it came to a point that he would go to work and not return home for a couple of days. Dianne’s heart was broken. She had loved and trusted him so much. She began, when he would disappear, to pack the children in the car and travel around town looking for him. On the occasions that she found him, she would plead for him to come home but it was a rare time that he would.

One time he came home and the fenders of the car were mashed. When Dianne asked him what had happened, he said that he didn’t know but that he could drive drunk better than most people could when they were sober. He stumbled into the house and passed out on the bed. He and Dianne now began to argue daily.

When Dianne found Ted with another woman it was the end of the line, though Ted swore that the woman meant nothing to him. She had found him seated in a bar cozied up to the woman and when she leaned over to whisper in his ear that she was removing his clothing from her home, the woman stood up and began attacking Dianne. The police were called and Dianne was severely reprimanded, though she had not been drinking and did not fight back nor did she say a word to the other woman. That was the last straw for Dianne. There was no need to try to even be decent. She ordered Ted out of the house.

Dianne was now 36 years old and had nine babies to support and care for.

In relating this story Dianne tells of an evening when, with the older children at summer camp and the younger children in bed, she was sitting on the couch in the living room of her dilapidated home, watching a movie about wolves in Alaska. “The movie came to a really good part,” she says, “when there was a knock on the door.”

Dianne went to the door and called out, “Who is it?”

A male voice answered, “My car broke down and I need to use your phone.”

Dianne answered, “Just a minute,” went to the phone and dialed 911. Within two minutes there were patrol cars, which entered from both ends of her street, in front of her house. There was no broken-down car nor was there a man waiting to use Dianne’s phone.

Dianne became convinced of the protection of God for in the condition of her home, the front door neither latched nor locked. One push and the man could have walked right in on her but Dianne is convinced that angels held the door shut for her that evening.

Two days later a man was arrested in Portland for the killing of several women. In his possession was a list of women who lived alone.

In desperation, Dianne knew that her only way out now was to find a man to help her raise the nine babies. She didn’t know how she was going to do it but she knew she must. The house needed repairs, the septic tank had filled, and she could not afford to replace it or have it pumped. She made makeshift ways to survive. The toilet could only be flushed twice a day and a hole was dug under the kitchen window into which to drain the kitchen sink. Dianne had reached a low point in her life but it was to get worse before it would begin getting better.