Longform

Loved to Death

Page 3 of 15

With her father gone, there was little money. Dana's mother moved the three children into a small apartment. For years they lived practically on top of one another. All the kids worked to help make ends meet.

In 1972, with the children pitching in, Dana's mother finally was able to buy a home in a quiet neighborhood off East Hampden Avenue. After the cramped quarters of the rented apartment, the house was a dream come true--not only because it had more space, but because it was theirs. Each tree and bush they planted, every flower box they built, every curtain they sewed, was a labor of love.

But the house couldn't protect against heartache. Two years after they moved in, eighteen-year-old Dana was asleep in the house when the telephone rang at 3 a.m. It was her stepsister. "Your father's dead," the other girl said, then hung up.

The next day Dana went to her dad's house. His new family had already gotten rid of most of his belongings; all that was left was his motorcycle and an old pair of riding gloves. She could see how her father's hands had molded the gloves. Placing her hands in them, she could almost touch him again. There was nothing else--it was almost as if her father had never existed. She took the gloves with her.

Soon after her father's death, Dana went to work for a real estate company as a secretary. By buying and selling real estate herself, she did well enough to purchase her own home and a nice car and even put a little into an investment account. But what she really wanted was what had been taken when her father left. She wanted a family. She wanted a marriage that would last forever.

So a bar may not have been the best place to meet her first husband.
It was a country-Western place, and when the band took the stage, Dana found herself staring at the best-looking Irish-Native American guitar player she'd ever seen. He reminded her of a young Clint Eastwood, in both his looks and, when he came over to chat during a break, his laid-back manner.

When she brought him home after they'd been dating a few weeks, one of her admiring aunts asked, "Where'd you find this one?"

Dana just smiled. Like her father, Gene seemed to get along with everyone--except when he drank. And he drank far too much. The drinking changed him. Friendly and likable when sober, when he was drunk he got mean and ready to fight all comers.

He never hit Dana, though, and when he sobered up, he was always apologetic. She thought she could help him outgrow his dependence on the bottle and happily agreed to marry him. She was 21, in love, and making a mistake.

They moved into another house that Dana paid for; four years later they had a daughter, Ashley. It should have been the life Dana longed for, but she could not change Gene. His drinking had gotten worse, and he started verbally abusing her for every little thing. It didn't help that he'd begun a second career painting automobiles in the garage; the booze and the fumes just combined to make him angrier.

Several times, she had to call the police to intercede in their quarrels. They hauled Gene off to jail to dry out, but he was always back the next day.

One night they were fighting again about his drinking. Gene hit her for the first and last time.

Dana took Ashley and moved back in with her mother. Gene refused to leave the house. She asked the police to get him out, but an officer said there was nothing they could do. Gene had rights, too.

Fortunately, the house was in Dana's name. So she sold it out from under him and filed for divorce. She loved Gene, but she wasn't going to subject herself or Ashley to his abuse. She went to tell him that she and his child were gone for good. She didn't want child support or alimony; she just wanted him to leave them alone.

She found Gene at the bar in Cherry Creek where he was playing. She told him what she wanted. He nodded. It was his own fault, he said, and promised not to bother her anymore.

There was just one last thing. He wanted her to know that he still loved her and was sorry for how things had turned out. As Dana started to leave, he dedicated his next song to her, a Willie Nelson ballad that brought tears to her eyes.

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Steve Jackson

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