Chapter 19 Now What?

ok-now-whatFrom my book Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure,rehab and victory.

The wheels of the Southwest 737 hit the runway at exactly 6:59 PM, a full six minutes ahead of schedule. As we taxied toward the gate, the captain said, “Welcome to Nashville. It is 74 degrees, partly cloudy skies and the wind is out of the southwest at 5-10 MPH”. I was home! Now what? That was a remarkably paradoxical moment in time for me. Over my lifetime, I had landed in Nashville perhaps a hundred or so other times. Each of those was accompanied with the classic feeling that it is nice to be home.  However, with this landing things were different. Part of me was indeed happier than ever before to be home; but there was another part that was terrified. In a sense I kind of longed to be back at the safety of Sierra-Tucson.  As the plane made its way across the tarmac, there was a battle raging inside my soul for which part of me was going to be in control of my life from that point.  Would it be faith or fear?

Making my way through the gate and into the terminal, I thought about what I was going to do with the rest of my life. The truth was I was clueless. Three months earlier, I had stood on the stage of our new building facing a roaring crowd of nearly 800 people, as we dedicated what turned out to be the grand climax for Cathy and me of a twelve year journey helping our incredible team to build Highland Park Church. I understood that chapter of our lives was now forever in our rear view mirrors. Life seemed very black and hopeless.  I was wallowing in a pigsty of largely self-imposed pity, doubt, hurt and shame. After nearly five weeks of intense therapy to peel back the layers of my life,  my emotions were raw and fragile as eggshells. Walking through the corridor with a carry on over my shoulder, I feared I was going to start crying. Approaching the unsecured area of BNA, I was finally able to catch a glimpse of Cathy and Michael.  My God what a beautiful sight they were! I recall thinking, “This must be how it feels to be released from prison”.  In a sense I had been — a prison of my own bad choices spread over many years of trying to cope with being me. Even thought I was a free man, I would choose to live in fear for a few more months.

No sooner had the car doors closed in the short term parking area, than the tears cascaded forth from the deepest recesses of my soul. I remember thinking, “What must Cathy and Michael be thinking?” Yet, I was powerless to stop them. I cried nearly all the way home. I had lost our church, a few people whom I had mistakenly thought were my friends, let down 800 or so other people who had trusted me to lead them and damaged my relationship with Cathy. I felt like a hybrid concoction of a sucker, a fool, a loser and a cry baby thrown into a blender and pureed at a super high speed.

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As best as they could, Cathy and Michael tried to support me. Michael stayed at the house until late that night fielding questions from me about how the betrayal had actually gone down. He related how Dave had told him a few weeks earlier, “Michael, I am between my best friend and my wife. If I choose my best friend, my wife will leave me”.  As much as I would like to believe that he was caught between a rock and a hard place, I knew that was not the case. His actions would later prove that his words were just so much “Robinson BS” and most likely an attempt to shift the blame for his betrayal to his wife.

The next day Lou Alvarez came to the house with even more bizarre and ominous details of what taken place. He told me how he and my sister, Kathy, had successfully pressured Dave to show him, Dave and Diana Mitchell, my sister and sister in law the security camera video of the alleged incident. As I already knew, it did not support the Robinsons’ specious claim that I had been in a rage or that there was any kind of violent argument between Kristen and me. It showed Kristen and me calmly talking and Glenn walking away from us without even glancing in our direction. Unfortunately for me, the camera angle did not show me put my arm around Kristen nor did it contain any sound. When church members later demanded to see the video at a church meeting, Dave refused and said it was “too graphic”. The truth was it graphically proved he was a liar.  When church folks started asking Dave tough questions, I was astounded to learn that he had ramped up into overdrive what I believe to be his narcissism – driven compulsive lying nature; albeit; I am no psychologist. For starters, he told some of the church people that I was a gay.  I was stupefied!  In Lou’s presence, I called Dave on his cell. When he answered I said, “Dave do you think I am a homosexual? He replied that he did not. When I asked, “Then why did you say that?” he blamed it on my sister, Kathy, for upsetting him in the meeting when the security camera video was shown. He said, “I just said it to get her to off my back”. I suppose that is a perfectly logical answer from a son of a father who taught him that he is to be both “sanctified” and “perfect”.

During our brief conversation, I told him that my phone had been ringing constantly and that the church that the two of us had helped build for the last twelve years was on the verge a total collapse. He asked two questions. “Who has called?” and “What can we do?”  I purposely ignored the first replying, “We tell the true story and let the chips fall as they will.”  Dave replied “We have to figure out how and what we are going to say, but I do not want to come to your house or you come here. Where can we meet?”  Lou and Ann were leaving town for a short holiday at first light, so Lou suggested that we meet at his pool house the following day. Dave and I agreed to meet at 11 AM. Frankly, I thought that just maybe we could still avoid a full split of Highland Park Church.

The following day Dave called me on my cell, as I drove on Woodlawn Drive, abruptly saying he was not going to meet with me. It seemed clear to me that Poppa George had used his family veto power to sabotage our meeting in order to maintain his new found control of Highland Park Church. Several months later, George would shamelessly brag to me that he is in control of his family. In our phone conservation, Dave said to me, “I do not want you to ever call me again, but it is OK for Michael to contact me”.  I thought that was a bit strange, but we were in strange times.

My phone continued ranging literally off the hook. Over the next couple of weeks, I got well over 250 phone calls and visits of support. At that time, I had two land lines at home. On several occasions both of those were in use or ringing while I talked on my cell or vice-versa.  Many of the calls and visits brought new revelations of additional lies (1). It soon became apparent that Dave was so compulsively lying to save his tail that he was unable to remember his last lie; because often he contradicted himself with the next.  That prompted my dear friend Jim Fyke, who at the time was Commissioner of Environment and Conservation for the State of Tennessee, to remark, “In time Dave would be exposed for what he is because he would be unable to remember what lie he had told to whom. We soon found that Jim, in addition to being an amazing public servant was also quite a prophet.

Sadly, I learned that Dave and his minions had told gay people that I was homophobic, straight people that I was gay and black people that I was a racist. Whatever lie would do the most damage to me with a particular individual was told. For instance on October 9, 2005 he told Lou Alvarez, Kathy Kirkham, Dave and Diana Mitchell that he caught me downloading porn on the church office computer and that “John and Cathy’s marriage is on the rocks”. He went so far as to say that I was sleeping at the church because of my “troubled marriage”.  He told Irene Lowe that I had physically abused both my son and wife. Wilma Cooper told me a heartbreaking story that brought more tears to my eyes. While I had been away she had gone to Dave’s office to give him several cards of encouragement that she had written to me. Wilma had asked Dave to get them to me; he promised her that he would. They never came. Wilma later called to tell me that George had called her and asked her to “misremember” another conversation she had had with Dave. Several other people told me that they had inquired to Dave where they could send cards while I was at Sierra Tucson. Dave told them I could not receive any mail whatsoever. People called to tell me that Dave had told them that I had lost my mind and that the doctors at Sierra Tucson had told him that I would never recover. Of course it would have been against the law for anyone at Sierra Tucson to talk to Dave about me. Clearly, any thinking person who had known me and without an agenda could see through the Robinsons’ deceit.

I am not capable of expressing the sick feelings I had when I learned of the wicked litany of spurious words coming from the mouth of a man whom I had loved like a brother, a man whom I had always put his welfare before my own, a man that Cathy and I had helped put through college and finally a man whom I had mentored from a clerk’s job with a highly perilous future at mom and dad’s family business to the co-pastor of one of the most successful churches in Nashville. At every opportunity, during our time together at HPC, I had gone out of my way to promote Dave to our congregation. That is an indisputable fact.

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However, the fact for me was at that moment in time, I was unable to process any of what I was hearing. To be betrayed and then lied about by someone you love has to be close to the top of the pain scale. I had not been prepared for what I was hearing from so many people. I became so depressed that I wanted to die. While still in Arizona, it had been easy to figure out that the Robinsons’ thrust for power and control, along with Dave’s need to please his dad and finally be number one at something — anything was behind the split. That was obvious, but never did I imagine the depths into their personal cesspool they would sink to try to not only take the church, but destroy me personally. Knowing the dysfunctional Robinson family dynamics, I could wrap my mind around them taking the church piece of the pie, but the concerted attempt to destroy me by lying as long as it would take, I could not deal with that. Now years down the road and with much more perspective, I am sure that was not their original plan, but when church people did not buy their highly fabricated allegations about the incident involving Kristen and me, which I was technically guilty (2), but certainly not morally or intentionally guilty. As those people demanded to hear from me, because of their character, the Robinsons were forced deeper into their family vault of lies, distortions, jealousy and highly fermented hate. I believe that their actions had their genesis in the pit of hell itself, but I might be giving the Devil too much credit.

Be that as it may, once again, real life had proven to me the unfathomable power of evilness in formally decent people, who I believe both surrendered their souls not only to the Devil, but also to the insatiable drive of their hyper inflated egos.  Their despicable lies were incalculably more painful than the loss of the church. Had it just been the brick, mortar and the note to the bank, I would have been wounded deeply, but not nearly destroyed.  Their focused attempt to annihilate me, my wife and my son,(5)  sent me into a chasm of total and complete despair and into a depression so deep and intense that I considered taking my life. I actually thought out how I might do that. I owned a handgun, a 32, but I was afraid that might just wound me without killing me.  One night I lay awake thinking about buying a shotgun. I kept coming back to the effect that taking my life would have on my family and that the Robinson’s would surely spin my suicide as a victory for them. By taking my life I would get them off the hook. When I figured that out I scratched that option.

I am confident I would never have done that, but I did have those thoughts. Those thoughts scared me greatly!  Thank God Parker Sherrill ignored Dave’s injunction prohibiting the sending of cards to me. Parker sent me a wonderful card of encouragement. I had called him on September 27 so he knew the truth. In the note Parker asked me call him when I got home. So the morning after thinking about buying the shotgun, not knowing what else to do, I reached out to Parker; we scheduled a meeting at his house for 8 AM the next morning.

Driving to Parker’s, my mind was thousands of miles away. As I was passing the Harpeth Hall School on Estes Road, I noticed a policeman on the roadside up ahead holding a radar gun pointed in my direction. I immediately glanced at my speed and thankfully I was doing 32. No problem I thought. It is funny now, but it never occurred to me that I was speeding through a 15 MPH school zone! The ticket brought me back to reality.

Parker was able to discern that I was in trouble both mentally and emotionally.  He had invited Steve Renner, a man whom I did not know at the time to join us. They jointly came to the conclusion that I was in need of immediate help and did not need to be left alone. That was a Friday morning; Parker suggested that, along with our wives, the three of us go to his lake house on Tims Ford Lake for the weekend. Both Steve and Parker agreed that I needed an attorney to address some of the most odious of the Robinson lies.  Steve made some phone calls and quickly put me in touch with Barbara Moss of Wyatt, Tarrant and Combs, LLP. Barbara is an amazingly compassionate woman, who immediately swung into action to warn both Dave and Glen of the consequences of any further lies.  Her letters got their attention as the most egregious of their cache of deceits came to a screeching halt at about the time Barbara’s courier hand delivered the two letters the following week. I have no doubt that God himself directed me to Barbara.

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We all agreed to meet at the lake house later that afternoon.  When I got home, I had eight or ten voice mails. As bad as I felt, God allowed me to begin to soak in the outpouring of love from so many people. Actually, many of them I really did not know except to say “hello” at church. A few I only knew from attendance cards and had never actually met. One of the early calls came from Matthew Marth our top singer at HPC. During the call he said, “John I do not know what to do”. I replied, “Matthew, you need to stay at HPC”.  As Cathy drove us to the lake house, my cell phone rang. Dave Robinson was calling. I answered by saying, “Dave I thought you did not want to ever talk to me again”.  He accused me of inciting church people against him. I retorted, “Dave, your own lies may be inciting folks, but I do not know what you are talking about. One of the reasons I have left town is I want this crap to cool down a bit”. I told him I was going to spend the weekend with Parker and Susan and would be away from my home phone on purpose.  He then asked specifically if I had heard from Peggy Sells. When I replied that I had not, like a child he claimed that she was on “Kristen and my side”. I did not believe that for even a millisecond.  Then the same Dave Robinson, who two days earlier made a great big production in telling me to never call him again said, “If you need to call me, only call my cell”. Bingo! Since at that point in time, Dave was only in his church office on Wednesdays and at the Robinson Insurance office at his parent’s house the other days of the week, it was clear Dave did not want his daddy to see any calls from me on the insurance office phone. It was also apparent to me that poppa George had most likely put him up to telling me to never call him.  In all probability, I expect he was in the room with Dave during our previous phone call.  It was amazing the power Dave had apparently surrendered to his dad. But I knew how much Dave longed to win his father’s approval. That is a need every man has to deal with and one he had acknowledged to me openly on previous occasions.  It is a need that I myself had struggled greatly.

Several years earlier Dave had come to my house quite upset because George had told him that he was going let Galen come into the insurance business. He claimed his dad had promised him years earlier that would never happen. Dave was in tears; he talked about taking his life. I was worried about his welfare. During the conversation he told me that George had always favored Galen and that this dad had never told him that he loved him. I explained that was the case for many people, but that I quite certain that George was proud of him in a big way. I encouraged him to sit down with his dad and be honest about his feelings. He came up with a plan where I would meet with his dad to tell him how upset he was. That night I met with George. The following day the three of us met for lunch at Shoney’s Restaurant in Bellevue and during the meal Dave finally heard the words he had longed to hear for 36 years. “Dave I love you”. The folks around us must have been taken aback to see three guys crying. It was a good cry and a special day. Galen never came into the insurance business.

When Cathy and I arrived at the lake house, Parker and Susan were there and Steve and his wife Donna arrived shortly. During dinner I learned that Donna was a therapist. She spent the entire weekend being there for me and Cathy. It was an incredible experience!  A perfect stranger, who undoubtedly had other things to do, gave up her weekend to help a man she did not know. Before Friday night was over, I felt like I had known Steve and Donna for years. Parker and Susan are the most giving folks I have ever known. I retrospect it was just like them to take me under their wings at a time of my greatest need. One of the joys of our lives  is that out of our relationship with Parker and Susan, since that evening Cathy and I have become much more generous people one on one with folks who are in need.

Saturday, morning I got a phone call from Peggy Sells. I told her that I was at Parker’s. She said, “I will be there tonight”. That was truly music to my ears, but I tried to talk her out of driving all that way, but she insisted. She was exactly what I needed. When she got there she said “We are going to kick Dave Robinson’s lying ass”.  When she said that it was like lighting a candle in the dark, for the first time in very long time, I was able to faintly see a future and even though did not know where the journey before us would lead,  Peggy’s kick ass statement gave me my first flicker of hope in a very long time.

Complete beta version of my book  for free Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure,rehab and victory. http://johngouldener.com/?page_id=3877

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