Longform

Old Wounds and Family Scars

Page 4 of 8

Curt and Diane bought a store in Aurora called the Art Clinic in an effort to be their own bosses, and for the next four years, it would be their second home. Money was tight, and nights would find them catching up on orders while the kids slept under workbenches or played in a back room of the shop.

Diane, who was 34, got pregnant with the only child they would have together, but when Travis was born, he had horrible digestive problems and severe Down's syndrome. The doctor said that a major operation could possibly save Travis's life, but there were no guarantees; the baby might still die or live a miserable life. "It was an emotional time," Curt explains. "I met with the doctors and my personal physician, and [Diane] and I made the decision when we weighed the effects of a child with those complications, the business and the high risk of the child even living."

They met with a judge, their lawyer, the hospitals lawyers and hospital representatives in the halls of Children's Hospital and made a decision right then and there not to go ahead with the operation. Two days later, Travis died. "We argued about whether to have more kids," Diane remembers. "In the end, my age was a concern, we already had kids at home, we were in business together and the timing was bad. I had also had miscarriages before Travis was conceived."

Curt went back to work for Hughes for a time after the couple's savings were depleted, and the weight of the business fell on Diane. Eventually they became disillusioned with the shop and wanted out. In 1981 they sold off all their stock in the business to pay off investors instead of filing for bankruptcy.

Arron was coming of age during this time, and he wasn't happy with what he saw. Although his father had taken coaching clinics so he could be involved with Arron's soccer teams, he was also working nonstop. "The only time I saw my dad was when he coached my soccer teams," Arron remembers. "[Curt] was always working, and I felt like I was left alone a lot of the time. I felt like from the age of two that I was responsible for taking care of my sister."

Diane legally adopted the kids in 1981, but Arron and Autumn had trouble accepting her as their mom. "She's always liked me a lot, loved me, but I don't know why," Arron says. "She really cares about me, so that means something, but for years, she was not 'Mom.'"

"There was a long time where my attitude was 'You're not my mom,'" Autumn adds. "It was not until my dad got sick that I finally accepted that she really did love us."

As result of this friction, the kids fell back on one another. "Arron was always protective of me," Autumn remembers. "My brother had taken on a father role with me. He always took care of me, especially in high school."

Other times, Arron would simply cover for his sister if she was in trouble. "I kept my eyes open and stood up for her when our folks would get on her. You know, if she 'lost' her report card, I would cover for her. It was so natural to stick up for her."

But Arron was vulnerable, too. When he was in fifth grade, one of his former teachers was murdered, and later his babysitter was killed in a skydiving accident. Three people in his life who had been close to him were dead before he even turned twelve. It was around then that Curt and Diane put him into therapy. "Arron was avoiding personal relationships with people," Diane says. "He was always very sweet with people, but he was afraid that people would leave him."

By the mid-'80s, Curt had moved the family around a lot -- to Florida, Japan and then to Libertyville, Illinois, an affluent semi-rural suburb north of Chicago, where he started up an engineering consulting business. The kids, feeling displaced, began fighting constantly with Curt, who was working twelve-hour days, and Diane.

But more than anything, they were still carrying feelings of abandonment and loss left over from their mother's death. "I resent him for not being there for us when we were kids," Arron explains. "I understand that that was what he had to do to deal with things, but what about us? I know he had to work and make a living, but we needed him, too."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sean Neumann