The Love Story
What was that? Tell the love story? Hey, you know I never get tired of telling it so sit down a spell, get comfortable. I won’t tell the long version so you won’t be up all night. Here it goes….
She was a young girl who needed to get away, to escape the home that seemed to strangle her as is often the case when you are approaching twenty years of age. She really didn’t know where she wanted to go just that she had to go. She had narrowed her options down to either New York, where she could pursue her love of theater and dance, hoping to audition for a Christian Theater Troup, or go to Bible College. She chose Bible College because that was the place her zealous Christian mom would give her the least amount of grief.
Now to the guy, he was a young man who had been through it. I tell you, he was only twenty but had already seen more than many of you will in your whole life. How this guy grew up is a story in itself. I’ll tell you about that later. He had just gotten out of prison and was trying to create a new life for himself.
In prison he had become a Christian and, like everything he did, he went all out. In Christianity he found a moral structure that would help him overcome his demons, a foundation he counted on not to crumble beneath him. So to follow his commitment he also went to Bible college. So here are the two main characters in this story. Obviously they are my wife and I.
That’s where we met, in bible college. Talk about two different people, we couldn’t be more opposite. We had nothing in common. Nothing….except this I guess. We were both lonely. The kind of loneliness that can bring despair as you jealously watch others who are obviously in love.
I had never been in love, not like I was fixing to be. Sure I had a grade school crush but I never even told the girl I liked her. Part of that was because I was the kid everyone picked on, the last one chosen for the team. Loneliness I had known all my life. Cherie had been hurt many times. These things made it hard to reach out or allow someone to get close.
The first memory I have of Cherie is when I saw her in the schools exercise area. I was struck by her smile and how proper she was. Her composure and the way she sat and placed her hands in her lap made me ask if she had been trained to model. It was her smile that helped me be brave enough to say “hi” to her. We talked and talked. There was a… a kind of connection. I don’t know how to describe it. Maybe we recognized each others need.
We became friends. She shared things with me that she had never told anyone else. She trusted me and felt I wouldn’t hurt her. I had never really been trusted before. Sure my grandmother trusted me but that was about it. For me being trusted was a novel experience. I was in a world that was new to me. A world very different from the life of drugs and crime that I had come from. I didn’t tell Cherie everything about me. I didn’t want to scare her. I wanted her to like me. We shared several classes together. One of the classes was the guitar class where I learned how to play. Cherie already knew how to play and helped me learn as we practiced together.
We spent more and more time with each other. We got more comfortable. We learned who we were, we dated, we held hands, and eventually we had our first kiss. That was scary… Hey! Wait! We’re in Bible College, we are not supposed to feel this way. Isn’t that some sort of sin? We had already fallen in love but didn’t really know it yet.
I would always look forward to seeing her in class and she did to. . I began to think about what it would be like to spend the rest of my life with her. I liked these thoughts but they were scary. We would sit around dreaming, talking about what if’s. It wasn’t long before “What if God wants us to be together?” came up. That one we danced around as we grew ever closer. We would talk about marriage a little more, you know, just touched on it to see how it felt. It felt good. We would touch on it more and more and it began to be clear. I was in love and so was Cherie.
I asked her to marry me and she said yes. We were both scared and excited. Oh, I mean EXCITED. We were looking forward to building a life together. All the dreams, all the hopes, all the visions of a bright life were in front of us. They seemed possible. The world was ours. I was going to be a minister and together we were going to save the world. Life now had more value and purpose, a future to look forward to. For the first time in our lives we were not alone, we had each other. Nothing could stop us now.
Cherie’s parents weren’t exactly thrilled. Think about it. How would you feel if you sent your daughter to Bible College thinking she’s going to be safe and secure and that if she did fall in love it would be with a nice respectable preacher. Instead she falls in love with an ex con only a year out of prison.
I went to Toledo so Cherie’s parents could meet me and learn who I was. It was a bit strained. I had a lot of strikes against me. On top of me being an ex con I was going to take their little girl away. I was from out of town. No, not just out of town, I was from Texas. That’s 2000 miles away. I can only imagine what was going through their heads. They didn’t even tell part of the family that Cherie was getting married until the last minute.
On my families side it was a little different. My father didn’t have much to do with me. I had disgraced the family name starting when I left home at fourteen. I had been kicked out of the Air Force, where he had been a decorated fighter pilot, and then I ended up in prison. He was glad for me in a very reserved way. I don’t have a clue what my dad thought because we really didn’t talk much. I suppose he thought I was finally straightening up and becoming a man.
My grandmother was happy and supportive as she always was with me. This was good news to her. She had watched me grow up and she was the closest thing I had to a mother. Now her baby had straightened up and was “following the Lord”. Things couldn’t look better and my joy was her joy.
We had a big wedding with all the frills. Cherie had a beautiful dress made and I wore a white tux. All of my side of the family came up from Texas with the exception of my dad. He wouldn’t come because my mother, his ex-wife, would be there. They didn’t just have a bad marriage, it was vicious. They divorced, remarried, then they divorced again. I don’t know all the details but it was mean. There was drinking, fighting, screwing around, and everything else you can think of. Enough of that, let me get back to the wedding.
It was grand. I had never been to a wedding before in my life. All I knew about a wedding was from TV shows. For our marriage I just went where I was told and did what I was told. I was happy. There was some…I guess you would call it political tension, but I stayed out of it. Her mom expressed her dissatisfaction through her “The Lord told me” thing. This kind of thing would come out more later in our marriage.
After the wedding we returned to college. Cherie no longer attended class because of financial constraints. She dropped out to help me make it through. It was hard and I sometimes worked three jobs while attending class to make ends meet. Cherie would go to class with me and keep me awake by jabbing me with an elbow as well as taking notes for me.
We had our firsts, our first thanksgiving, our first Christmas, our first everything. Life was new and everything was fresh. We’re in love. Things would get tough but with each other by golly we’re going to make it. We are dreaming, planning, fantasizing about how things will turn out. I was going to be a minister and she would be the minister’s wife helping me serve the church. It was a time of wonder. It was a time of learning how to live with each other, and adjusting because we were so different.
I graduated. Now what do we do. We prayed, we thought, and, because Cherie’s mom told us she found a church that would have me as a youth pastor, we moved to Toledo. At first we lived in the basement at her folk’s house. NOT a good idea. The church position we were led to believe was ours turned out to be just a job interview. Toledo was a depressed area who’s economy is dependent on the automotive industry so work was hard to find.
I’ve heard that every good story has a tragedy in it and this is no exception. The next couple of years I took whatever jobs I could find, motivated by the desire to get the hell out of mom in law’s house. I knew that to remain there would be the death of our marriage. We got an apartment in Sylvania but, discoraged had decided to try to go back to Texas. We moved into Cherie’s grandparent’s home where we planned to only stay a few weeks while we saved up for the trip. I had worked for a tree service company so volunteered to do some work on the trees at the grandparents place. As I climbed the first tree I slipped and fell about thirty feet.
I landed on my head and my chain saw underneath the small of my back. I broke my back, neck, and sustained a concussion. You can imagine how this tore Cherie up. She stayed by me in the hospital and had to care for me when I was released. Eventually I was able to go back to work though I lost all interest in climbing trees. Cherie’s grandparents decided we could no longer stay there so we had to move. I was still in a neck brace and recovering. To say it made things hard would be an understatement. I managed to find some work despite my condition. The first job I got wasn’t one to be proud of. I hustled laser photographs going door to door to businesses, walking in with an armful of these cheap framed pictures and setting them up in the middle of their store while running a spiel about how they were left over from a remodeling job. It wasn’t pretty but it paid some bills.
Then I landed a job at a radio station. It played primarily African American music but with my Texas accent the listeners didn’t have a clue I was white till I was D.J.ing a live remote broadcast. It caused a stir with one of the guys wanting to kick my ass.
The stress level was incredible for Cherie. I had gone through a complete personality change when I fell out of the tree. Now I would get angry at the drop of a hat and exhibited other kinds of problems like being picky about everything. Cherie was falling apart, unable to handle how the man she fell in love with had changed. Her parents, also not understanding this encouraged her to get a divorce. That is a natural response, to protect their daughter. One day I came home to find her with her parents packing all of her things into garbage bags. For me this came as a shock because I had no warning. Actually there were probably many warnings but I was blind to them.
For a year I tried to reconcile our marriage and she stayed in her parent’s home. They “protected” her from me and short circuited any chance of us getting back together. This turned into a horrible zoo as factions developed between her family and the church we were involved in. After a year she filed for divorce on the grounds we had been separated for that long. In the last throes of this divorce I promised Cherie that I would never bother her again. When the divorce was finalized we both died inside.
The next twenty years we each lived our own private hells. Cherie left Toledo and its memories. She traveled the country and would only come back to help out with the family and take care of her parents, who’s health was (and is) failing. She got married once to a guy who was extremely abusive. Getting out of that fast she tried another relationship that wasn’t any better. Even the churches she attended hurt her.
I jumped into a relationship with a married woman who seduced me during my divorce with Cherie. I was making good money by then and suspect that was part of her motive. She divorced her husband and convinced me to marry her. Her two boys, aged three and four, were the only good that came out of that. I had removed myself from all positions in the church because I was in this adulterous relationship and without the moral foundation church supplied I slowly drifted back into the drugs and drinking of my youth. She whored around on me and I whored around on her. I left her several times, only to return because of the boys who called me dad.
Things were falling apart in my second marriage again. I had a girlfriend on the side and Barb (the second wife) was increasingly distant. Then, after catching Barb having sex with a co worker in the parking lot of the mall she worked at, I left her. Despite my hypocrisy this flung me into a deep depression. I moved into my warehouse and tried to hide from my pain with drugs and alcohol. During this period I had another fall that broke two ribs. It also brought a drastic personality change, a sure sign of another brain injury.
I destroyed the three companies I had built from scratch. I did this partly to keep Barb from getting anything in the divorce but also because I no longer cared about anything. The drugs and drinking enhanced my depression and hastened my demise. I again had trouble with the law. This time it came from employees who were taking advantage of my condition and were stealing from me. They set me up to escape prosecution when I caught them stealing, resulting in my being convicted of receiving stolen goods. Finally I left for my home state of Texas, running from the law and my problems. In Oklahoma I fell asleep at the wheel and ran off the road. I didn’t wake up for a month. Waking up I was quite confused. I was tied down in the bed with a neck brace on. Didn’t know where I was or how I got there. Then it slowly came back to me. I had partial amnesia, another broken neck, and another traumatic brain injury.
The story of how I made it back to Toledo and the things I experienced I will write about latter because I want to keep this short. I was extradited back to Toledo in chains because I violated probation by being in a coma and not reporting. I had violated it anyway so that probably isn’t relevant. When the judge saw what kind of shape I was in he reinstated my probation and tried to find a place for me to be kept. They knew that if I remained in custody they would have to pay for the medical attention I needed so I was kicked out to the streets.
Now I begin to understand how much memory was lost. I didn’t recognize the streets I had driven for decades and would get lost as I wandered searching for anything I could remember. I went to the library and researched who I was, finding articles in the paper that had photographs of me when I opened my third company. I would walk miles looking for anything that was familiar. With each discovery memories would return. The local ABC television station learned of this and featured me as Toledo’s John Doe on the news. Now the miracle begins.
Cherie had come back to Toledo to again help her parents. Her mom had been in a car wreck. A job opportunity in Columbus fell through to her disappointment because it would have been a ticket out of this city of sad memories. Turning on the TV she heard a promo of the upcoming story on me. They only showed my eyes and played a short clip of my voice. This struck a chord. We hadn’t seen or talked with each other for twenty years but there was a recognition, something achingly familiar here. “Could it be?’” Cherie thought with a touch of emotion welling up from deep inside. She wasn’t sure and was afraid to find out who this “John Doe” was. Cherie made sure to watch the news when the story was run.
Shock! “Oh my God, it’s him!! What do I do!?”. Thoughts ran through Cherie’s head as her phone began to ring. Family and friends were calling. “Did you see the news?” her mom asked. Now there was internal debate as family members would give her advice, mostly to not get involved. Cherie ignored that advice called in to say she knew me and to offer help.
Help I needed. At this time the stress of being homeless, carrying all my worldly possessions in a garbage bag, and wandering debilitated me. I was unable to really function well and handle the dangers that come with living on the street. Confusion reigned and making basic decisions was a chore. My hope with the television story was that friends I knew I had but couldn’t remember would come forward and help me. Not give me assistance financially because I refused to be a beggar. I never imagined that Cherie would be one of those who responded.
During this period Christine Veronie of the Brain Injury Association of Ohio had been providing invaluable assistance, getting me into a homeless shelter and guiding my confused self in many areas. Channel 13 funneled all the responses to her. Friends I had known for years came forward to help. With each one came a return of memories. An old friend, Sonny, let me move into his house where I could sleep on the couch. Life just got a whole lot better. I was safe now and didn’t have to worry about being assaulted. Hell someone had stolen my dirty underwear at the homeless shelter.
Christine called me and said that my ex wife, Cherie, had E mailed her. Cherie had been tentative about getting involved and Christine was protective of me so she asked if I wanted to talk with Cherie. What? Cherie? My first love? Thoughts race through my damaged brain, confusion, debate, what will this mean. I haven’t seen or heard about Cherie in twenty years and all the pain and heartbreak returned. My older memories were more intact and less affected by the brain damage. The one thing that stuck out the most was my promise to Cherie that I would not bother her ever again. I remembered how she hurt and the last thing I wanted was to cause more pain. I still loved her and always had. I talked to the former girlfriend I had during my divorce with the second wife. She was one of the people I had been able to find as I wandered. She said that when we were together I had talked about Cherie, telling her that Cherie was my first love and I would never love anyone like that again.
I asked Christine to give me Cherie’s E mail address so we could begin to talk from the safety that E mail provides. This way I could make sure I would not cause pain. These E mails tell this part of the story well. Here is the earliest E mail I can find. It is from Cherie to me.
I still have not talked to Christine, but will try to get
her today. I did get an email from her, and I don't have any objections in
emailing you and trying to help you with remembering things.
A couple things she asked me in the email, I'll answer for
you - we were married in June of 1979, separated in 1983, and divorced
in September of 1984. I think you re-married 2 weeks after that. I talked
to someone recently who said it was 2 days after the divorce, but I
didn't know about it myself until a year later, so I'm not sure on that one.
You broke your neck in 1981 - I told Christine it was 1982 - but that was a
goof on my part. You fell out of a tree that you were trimming and
landed on your upper back and head and suffered a serious concussion.
You were in the hospital for about two weeks and had to wear a neck
brace for about 2 or 3 months. I don't know what else you need to know -
I just hope I can remember enough to help you.
Please use this email address - CherClev5@hotmail.com or you
can just reply to this message.
God bless you Rob,
Thank you for communicating. Life has been so strange lately.
Many people think that when someone loses his memory it is
like his mind has become a blank slate. With me I have many
old memories but because they are often only fragments and I
no longer know the proper sequence, it is like pieces of a
puzzle that I must sort.
Often with these fragments there are attached emotions.
With you there was joy but great sadness. I know that we met
and fell in love at CFNI. That is still there but what is not
what happened after my fall. I remember you as a delicate
flower and understand that many of our memories will be
painful. I don't want to cause you more pain but simply want
to know the truth good or bad. If it causes too much
discomfort simply let me know.
This was the start . The first communication we have had in twenty years. Now we would carefully get to know each other. We talked through E mail for the next two months.
Cherie, I hope you are OK. I don't want to cause problems.
Did I have a drastic personality change after the fall?
Hi Rob -
Yes, I'm OK........ I'm working on an answer to rebuild some of your
history, but I don't want it to overwhelm you either. It's not real
great, and I have a hard time keeping my emotions out of it. (Example-when I
saw the I-Team reports, I cried for 2 weeks).
You had a very drastic personality change after the fall, but I don't
think I or anybody else connected that to the fall at the time. I do know
you're anger problem got worse after that. A couple times I thought you were
going to beat me up, but you didn't. I used to pray allot!!!! It became
impossible to live with you because I never knew if I would do or say the right
thing - it was like walking on eggshells all the time, and I finally had to
leave.............I'm sorry. There's allot that happened both before and
after that - with both of us.
You're not causing problems - it's just me and the flood of memories
and attached emotions - some of which are unresolved, that I'm sorting
through. I will get my act together to give you some better answers very
After two months of E mails and then a few phone conversations we felt secure enough in each other to meet in person for the first time. We arranged with Christine to meet at her office. I was a nervous wreck and arrived an hour early, staying across the street worrying. “Would I recognize her? Will I be able to talk?” These questions ran through my mind. I had met many people as I wandered around who knew me but I didn’t recognize any of them. As far as being able to talk that was a real concern because stress would reduce me to a stuttering fool who could not convey his thoughts.
Finally I went into the building and sat in a chair in the reception area. I kept my eyes on the floor as I tried to focus and stay composed, listening as people came in and out. My emotions were all over the place and I was afraid things would not go well. Then I saw two feet stop in front of me and looked up. It was Cherie. She hadn’t changed much in twenty years. “Robbie?” she said as she stretched out her hand. I stood up and looking into those eyes I had fallen in love with twenty five years prior to this moment didn’t say a word. I just started crying. And crying. I was afraid to hug her but found her in my arms. I never let go of her hand, savoring even that. Finally I regained my composure and realized there were several people around us watching.
We went into Christine’s office and talked, moving forward in hesitant steps. From that point on we talked everyday and saw each other almost that much. Cherie bought me some badly needed clothes and basic needs. We spent lots of time together but would get scared and back off. There was much hurt but there was more love. Things were moving so fast it was dizzying. I remember when we first dared to kiss. We didn’t want to stop. There was so much coming back. All the emotions of when we first fell in love, all the feelings were there again and on top of that the sense that we completed each other, that we never should have parted.
It was only a few weeks later that, as we sat in Arby’s enjoying lunch together, I asked her to marry me again. I hadn’t planned on it, it just came out. Cherie looked at me with those lovely eyes and said “yes” with little hesitation. We were still afraid of causing each other pain and wondered if this was wise but we couldn’t deny the strong love and sense of destiny we had. It was settled. Now we…I don’t know how to explain it but everything shifted for us both. What was important before didn’t seem to matter anymore. We looked forward, life had new meaning, there was a hope for the future, we were happy. Man were we happy.
So what do we tell the parents? My family wasn’t an issue as my dad wanted nothing to do with me but Cherie’s parents were a different matter. They played a big part in our divorce twenty years earlier and distrust and bitterness were still deeply ingrained in them, especially with her dad. It was hard but that was too bad cause we were going to be together no matter who thought what.
On fathers’ day, June 20, 2004 we were married in a pastors office. It wasn’t planned at all. We had gotten a marriage license but had yet to decide how and where we would get married. There was not going to be a big wedding, that was already decided. We weren’t sure what to do regarding Cherie’s family because they weren’t sure if they wanted this or not.
We had gone to the pastors office for the standard counseling they required of anyone getting married there. I had already told them how bad our finances were. I was unable to work and Cherie didn’t make a whole lot with her job. After a few minutes with the pastor he realized that this wasn’t a standard marriage, it was a rejoining of two people who never should have been divorced in the first place. Learning we already had a marriage license he asked if we would like to be married right then.
Wow!! Goose bumps rose as it sank in. “Yes. We want to get married” was our reply. He said the words in some book and pronounced us husband and wife. Wow! Again, Wow!!.
It was fathers’ day and we were to meet with Cherie’s parents and her moms sister, who was visiting from Florida, at a restaurant so we rushed to get there in time. Walking in we couldn’t keep it in long. “We just got married” we pronounced. After the shock set in it was time for hugs all around. Cherie’s dad wasn’t too happy, in fact he looked like someone had slapped him in the face, but he congratulated us, telling me I better not hurt his daughter again.
That was two years ago. We are complete, we are happy, we are one. God how I am still amazed at the wonder of it all. Every day we look at each other and get teary eyed. That which was wrong has been made right. I am blessed beyond measure.
Now we are working on building our home, creating our homestead on my grandmother’s farm that I inherited in Texas. There is much work but it is joyous work. I have never been so happy working before in my life. Life has become significantly more meaningful. It is good to have a purpose and a goal.
We share our dreams and work together to achieve them. Every day is a good day even when things don’t go well. That is because we hold each other up and when all is said and done having everything go right is not as important as being with each other. Together we can endure almost anything because of the strength our union gives us.