Not Nearly Enough

The following is what I wrote and read at Cindy's memorial service. It was not nearly enough; we always want more. It's hard to honor a life with words alone. These words are not a testament to anything but my desire to publicly honor my wife at her memorial. My hope is that our love and our life together was testimony enough.

For 15 months, since we learned the cancer metastasized, I've had a recurring nightmare. I’m supposed to be giving this speech, this actual speech, but in the dream I can't find something I need - the church, my notes, my glasses. The words. I still don’t have the words, but I do have some stories.

It was our first day in Atlanta, just two days after the wedding and we were cooking dinner. I was cutting something and turned to ask Cindy a question, knife in hand. She screamed. She dropped what she was holding, grabbed me, buried her face in my chest and sobbed "You scared me! I don't even know who you are and I've left my home to be with you!" My first thought was "Great. What have I gotten myself into?"

Later I casually mentioned "Hey, we're almost out of toilet paper." She replied "If you think I'm going to be responsible for buying toilet paper in this house you’re wrong! We're doing this together, or your doing this on your own!" My first thought was, "Yep. That's more like what I was expecting."

You may have seen toilet paper Cindy. I was lucky to be who she turned to when she was uncertain or scared.

About 10 years into our marriage we had a rough patch. She was traveling a lot with work; I was feeling neglected. To make it up to me she planned a Texas Hill Country vacation for just the two of us. I thought it would be a nice, romantic trip. Anyone who has vacationed with Cindy will know that I was mistaken. There would be planned activities. We would execute said planned activities, as scheduled, and enjoy them! And take pictures!

There was also the Cindy who re-scheduled business trips to attend a funeral with me because she knew I couldn't do it on my own. And the Cindy who dropped everything, even dates with her husband, to go shopping because "Good Lord, Dexter, we can't send that child to [whatever it was] without new shoes!"

Everyone recognizes planning Cindy and giving Cindy. I hope they know it was all for love and service.

Cindy and I were the quintessential “opposites attract” couple, and she was definitely the social one in our partnership. Early on I would go to parties and such with her simply to be with her, but I typically wasn’t interested in the party. The longer we were married the easier it was for me to say no to dressing up for a Halloween party or attending some company outing, but she never stopped seeking out and planning social opportunities. She learned that cajoling me to go didn’t work well. I’d go, but be miserable company. But she just kept doing her thing … seeking, suggesting, inviting … and over time I learned to trust her. She never pushed me beyond what she thought I could handle.

This is how we ended up back at this church. Cindy made friends with the Whitson’s. That friendship led to others and over time she carefully insisted and invited and baby-stepped me all the way back to church.

Many people know decisive Cindy, but she was also compassionate and patient. I like to think my obsintance taught her patience, but it could be she was just waiting me out, knowing she’d get her way eventually.

She was the driving force behind all our house purchases. We bought the house on Celadine in 2003 but for what seemed like a year we drove neighborhoods, picked up flyers, went to open houses. This was torture for 6 year old Griffin, but he soon latched on to his role of hopping out of the car to retrieve the flyers. One day Griffin and I were running errands in Cindy's car. As some of you know, Griffin is prone to sleeping in any sort of vehicle. There was a stop sign right in front of a house for sale and sure enough, while I waited for traffic to clear, Griffin jumped up, hopped out, fetched the flyer and climbed back in. I don't think he even woke up.

Once Cindy took on a project, whether it was buying a house, partnering with me, caring for her parents or raising a son, she was tenacious. The houses became homes, the partnership grew strong, the parents were comforted, and the son became a man, who was truly her pride and joy. 

I tell these stories to give you a glimpse of the Cindy I knew, but stories are not enough. That's tough for me to admit, because I know the power of stories, stories like the Gospel. More powerful, however, are real relationships. If you had one with Cindy, you have been blessed. If you didn’t, then come talk to me, I've at least got stories to tell.


The In Between Time

The Next Great Adventure: A True Story

The In Between Time

Cindy at Fleetwood Mac - Sept 1982
The summer of 1982 was wonderfully confusing. I was making a real salary with a real company, but my responsibilities were vague and money was still tight. I had developed a new group of friends in Denton and Garland, but could feel my old Pampa friendships beginning to fray and dreaded losing them. Most importantly, I was free to spend time, openly, with Cindy, but never without knowing it was complicated.

By July we knew I was moving to Atlanta. I had flown out to interview for a supervisor opening and the promotion was approved. Cindy was separated and living at home, which meant her parents were involved and they were not happy with our relationship. I was consumed with moving and career plans and spending enough time with Cindy to build a romantic relationship. Cindy was overwhelmed with housing and money and family and what to do about Ricky. He was still very much a part of her life in small town Rowlett where everyone knew them as a couple, and divorce is never a quick, easy or painless thing. We were living in two places emotionally, the comfort of our relationship and the chaos of personal lives, and soon to be living in two places physically.

It was wonderful because we had each other and together we saw nothing but hope and potential. It was confusing because in our separate lives there was chaos, and we knew that too many things could go wrong to ruin that hope.

Towards the end of July my office buddies decided to throw a going away party for me at some club that was famous for fruity drinks and fifties music. It was a Friday night and the next day I was to fly to Amarillo to see my family before moving far, far away to Atlanta. I've told the story here before but the short of it was that I was hungover and Cindy took care of me, getting me on the plane and on time. That was the first time I asked her to marry me. She was not impressed.

I moved to Atlanta and Cindy stayed in Dallas. I spent a lot of time finding a beer I could tolerate from the convenience store across the street, and Cindy got a part time job at Tom Thumb, checking groceries, to pay for long distance phone charges and plane tickets. I wrote a lot of letters. She sent me a lot of cards. Without Cindy my social life was non-existent; I couldn't hang out with co-workers and didn't know anyone in the city. Without me Cindy had plenty of time to wonder about where things were going with me and with Ricky.

In those first few weeks apart it was obvious that Cindy was struggling. Aside from the financial and what-to-do-about-her-marriage stress, I could tell she was concerned about me, that she was unsure of how serious I was, how committed I might be. I tried to convince her to move to Atlanta, to just move in with me and let me prove how serious I was. She declined. She said she wouldn't move without a real commitment and that paralyzed me. She had no desire to move to Atlanta for some sort of test run and I had no confidence in marriage. It was something I never envisioned for myself, something that had always seemed less than ideal. I had been observing marriages for a long time, and I was unimpressed.

With letters and cards we reassurred each other of how much we missed being together. With late night phone calls we talked about the divorce and finances and love and the weather. We were absolutely miserable being apart, but we were utterly frightened about what it would take to be together permanently.

Cindy came to Atlanta Labor Day weekend. I don't know that I've ever been more excited to see someone. I'm always early to the airport, but this time I got there extra early and decided to kill time in an airport bar. I wrote two letters to her sitting at that bar, waiting for her to arrive. I met her at the gate and held her hand or hugged her close until I had to let go to carry her luggage. We drove straight to my apartment. I told her I had a surprise for her there. She read my bar letters on the way.

The apartment was woefully underfurnished, but before I left for the airport I put a blanket on the floor of the dining room, along with roses, some sort of sparkling wine on ice, and a basket with some sandwiches, cheese, crackers, chocolates. In front of all this was a handwritten note which she apparently saved because I found it just the other day ...

After reading it she looked at me and said "Your eyes are doing that sparkle thing again" and I asked her to marry me, and this time she said yes.

The wedding was planned for January and there was, of course, lots to do. Chief among them was getting the divorce finalized! We determined to do the wedding on a shoestring and pay for it ourselves since her parents had already paid for one big wedding. We spent the next few months making plans. The tone of our conversations changed. I stopped trying to sell her on what a wonderful person I was and began trying to help Cindy get past all of the practical and emotional hurdles, while convincing myself this was the right thing to do.

Is it wise to get married so soon after a divorce is final? Her parents were concerned for many reasons. My parents were unconcerned and completely unexcited. How much would we be able to see each other before the wedding since we had to pinch pennies? How much was this going to cost and where could we have it?  Cindy was concerned about bringing baggage from her first marriage into a second one. I was concerned about Ricky; they had been together for years and he was very close with the Calhouns. Money. Moving. Arranging time off from work. Was this meant to be? Could we make this work? It seemed there was no end to the questions or the doubt.

When the thing that convinces you that you are in love is the delicious ache in your heart when the other is away, and the joy and excitement when they are near, it makes you wonder what always being together will do to you. I was 23, and thought I knew everything. She was 21, and thought she had enough experience to make a good decision. We struggled in this time between adventures, this time apart, but we struggled together and it made us stronger and more confident in ourselves and our love.

From the outside looking in I'm sure there was lots of head-shaking and questioning. It had to have seemed rash to others, but there was no other way. I knew I needed her, and I think she needed me. She was adamant that she would not move forward without a real commitment from me. I don't blame her for insisting, and honestly I think more people should. I knew she had to make the decision to end her first marriage on her own. She knew I had to make the commitment to marry her on my own, with eyes wide open. It was the right thing to do. She helped me see it. I have never regretted that decision.

Cindy visited again in October and at Thanksgiving, much to the dismay of her family. We had Stouffer's frozen lasagna for Thanksgiving dinner because it's what I had and the stores were closed. I came to Texas for Christmas and Cindy flew to Amarillo to meet my family. Just a few weeks later I was back. We were married on Saturday, January 15th, 1983, in the chapel of the First Methodist Church in Denton, TX by Rev. John Mollet. On Sunday, we loaded her things in a U-Haul trailer and headed to Atlanta to for the next adventure.

One final note to close this chapter. The Calhoun family does a pretty good job of remembering that January 15th is our anniversary, but they have a truly remarkable ability to recall the events of the following day, January 16th. It was the day that Granny Pearly cooked fried chicken for us and cussed me, threatening me if I didn't bring Cindy home, back to Texas, and soon. It was also the day I stuck Cassey's head in the ceiling fan. Now that I look back, January 16th, 1983 pretty much set the tone for how awkward and tense my relationship with my in-laws would be for the next few years.


An Interlude

The Next Great Adventure: A True Story

An Interlude

The months that followed my move to Atlanta in the summer of 1982 were filled with many things - a new job, a new city, a new apartment - but mostly they were filled with missing Cindy. Then, as now, I did a lot of thinking by writing. Unlike now, writing then required a pen and paper, and a postage stamp if you wanted someone else to read it. I wrote many letters to Cindy in those months and she kept them all. I found them the other day and spent a night and a bottle of wine reading through them. They weren't exactly great literature, but they brought back all of those fresh, new love feelings. I could feel it like I was 23 again ... powerful stuff for a grieving husband.

Among the letters was one that I wrote to her much later, in March, 2000. I'm including it here even though it is out of sequence for the story I'm telling because, well, I think it's a good foreshadowing of what this relationship would ultimately become. That, and it's something I feel compelled to share ... maybe it will be helpful to someone.

Here are a few things you need to know before reading the letter, besides the fact that I am not proud of the handwriting.

I wrote this on a Sunday night at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Portland, Oregon. For six weeks my schedule was to fly in Sunday night for an early Monday start on a project at Electric Lightwave. I would then fly home late Friday, which made for very short weekends. Cindy had a knack for filling up my Saturday with things she needed or wanted me to get done. We had just started going back to church so Sunday morning was blocked out. Cindy was working full time and Griffin was in daycare. Normally the who is taking/who is picking up duties were traded off as needed, but it had all been on Cindy for several weeks. Even without the project I traveled probably 50% of the time. It was stressful on everyone, but we were pushing our way through as most everyone does.

Aside from the general situation, I remember the specifics that prompted the letter. Before I left for the airport that Sunday we had a "discussion" about needing to get organized and get some tax related finances squared away, which eventually ended in me agreeing to take a day off to help get it done. I typically booked the latest flight possible on Sunday evening, putting me in Portland about 10PM, midnight in Plano. I always called when I got to the hotel, just to let her know I'd made it safely and to say good night. This particular night the good night call picked up where the earlier "discussion" left off. I was pretty much done talking about it. Cindy obviously wasn't. I wasn't really listening to her and she knew it, prompting her to say "I don't even know why you called if you won't talk to me" and she hung up, leaving me room to rethink my choices, as she knew I would.

Finally, I often re-read things I've written to see if they hold up, to see if they are still "true," if they still have that sort of sincere/meaningful/intentional/"I really meant to say that" thing. This does, which may be why I feel the need to share it.


The Adventure Begins

The Next Great Adventure: A True Story

The Adventure Begins

Cindy and I met in June of 1981 when I went to work in the Southwest Regional Accounting Center for Kraft Foods in Garland, TX just after graduating from North Texas State University. She was an Accounts Payable clerk there. I was a shy kid and my boss, Quinn Hunter, decided that I was not interacting enough with the other employees. I was a supervisor trainee and all I wanted to do was figure out how the 'things' worked, to become an expert at 'things.' Quinn thought I needed to work on people skills and his solution was to move me to the desk behind Cindy. He was not match-making, he just sincerely thought Cindy could help me socially and besides, it was perfectly safe because Cindy was married; when I first met her she was Cindy Garza.

We became friends, and it was strictly friends. I started going out to lunch with the gang of accounting clerks ... Belinda and Gloria and Monette and Tracy and Laney and Brenda and Lola and others I can't recall by name. Lunches led to happy hours. Happy hours led to parties and concerts and soon enough the shy Texas Panhandle kid became friends with this group of suburban Dallas women. Cindy fixed me up with her friend Nancy and so it went.

In late January of 1982 the hated San Francisco 49ers, who had defeated our heroes the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship game that year, were playing the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl. I was invited to a Super Bowl party at the Garza's and went with the expectation that it would be awkward. Though I had met Cindy's husband, Ricky, I knew that me being friends with Cindy was an issue for him, and this would be the first time we spent any significant time together. And, there would be alcohol. I did not want to be the source of any discord, and frankly, I was pretty sure Ricky would kick my ass or kill me if he thought I was interfering. I brought Tracy from the office to the party. It was a long, awkward night. I felt very out of place and unwelcome. We left the party before the game ended. There were the usual group of guys smoking pot outside, which didn't bother me too much, but when the cocaine came out, I started planning my exit. It was the 80's so I had some experience with cocaine and parties; none of it was good. I think Cindy was aware of the pot. I'd be surprised if she knew about the coke.

After the party, things changed. Seeing Cindy and Ricky interact in their home, I knew she wasn't happy despite putting on a good face for everyone. I also knew that any encouragement from me to make a change would be a bad thing for both of us. Cindy knew that I knew her marriage wasn't working, which led to some deep conversations on love and life and committment and responsibility. At the time, Cindy was taking night classes at Richland Jr. College. Sometimes, before or after class, we would meet up and talk. Just us. Talk was all it was, though there was an ease about our being together, despite both of us being acutely aware she was married. We learned a lot about each other - just talking about work and family and growing up and how we pictured our life unfolding. She was trying to sort out what to do with her marriage and school and work, and I was doing my best to be a good listener and to play Switzerland and, I suspect, failing badly at both.

Cindy & Dexter - Garland - 1982
Neither of us said anything about starting a relationship at the time, but later she told me she knew we were meant-to-be because my face would light up and my eyes would sparkle when I saw her. It was true. I remember that feeling, and I remember seeing her response of just melting and relaxing, completely comfortable with me, just glad to be with me. At one point I took a trip up to Weatherford, OK to hang out with my friend Eddie. I confessed to him that I was falling in love with a married woman, and struggling to not be an instigator. He advised what I knew all along, what I had been trying to convince myself of, that Cindy needed to make her own decision and that regardless of what it was, I would need to live with it. I had to trust in the meant-to-be because I could see no other way to make it work in the long run.

Eddie, Gloria & Cindy
Dallas Zoo - Summer 1982
It was Easter weekend when Cindy came by my apartment and announced that she had left Ricky. All she said was that something had happened to make her choose, and she chose to leave. She never said what it was, and she never said anything bad about Ricky. When asked by friends what happened and what went wrong she would simply say they were too young when they made their commitment to each other, and later found out they wanted different things. I accepted that explanation because I respected the difficulty of her decision, and their privacy. We never really talked about Ricky and her first marriage again. We saw him at the funeral of a mutual friend, James Lee, and that was cordial. We saw him again at her father Darvis' funeral, though that time we made a point to tell our son, Griffin, that Mom had been married before and he would likely be meeting her ex-husband. We explained that it had never seemed important to let him know, since we were married 13 years before Griffin was born and it wasn't something that was part of our lives. Like most things, Griffin was okay with it.

It was 1982. She was 20; I was 22. We knew all we thought we needed to know. We started officially dating that spring, though it was much frowned upon by Quinn, who lectured me about it in early July when I was being promoted and transferred to Atlanta, GA. He reminded me that there I would be a supervisor, not just a trainee, and it was inappropriate for management to date the staff. I told him it wouldn't be a problem. I don't think he knew how serious I was about Cindy, and that soon one of his staff would be moving to Atlanta for the next great adventure.


X Marks the Spot

I did not go to kindergarten, however, my older sisters, wise in the ways of elementary school, provided me all the preparation I needed to survive and thrive. I knew the alphabet and how to print my first name. I could count to one hundred. They taught me how to tie my shoes and my right hand from my left, and I also learned bonus insider information about which teachers were mean or nice, and that the boys' slide on the playground was on the right, proving that it was indeed helpful to know your right hand from your left one.

I did have an advantage when it came to the whole right/left issue. On the back of my hand, just above the wrist, on the thumb side, was a mole. It was my biological cheat sheet and I constantly referred to it to validate my right/left choices. Instead of an ace up my sleeve, I had a mole on my wrist, and it turned out to be even more special than that.

When your name is Dexter, and you grow up in small town Texas with a class full of Tammys, Gregs, Davids and Belindas, a name like Dexter stands out, and I was not someone who craved that attention. Again, fortunately for me, my sisters had some experience in that area. Nelda and Loretta weren't run-of-the-mill names either and they passed on to me their coping mechanism which was simply to know the meaning of your name so that when someone makes fun of it you can educate them and, in the process, let them know that you are proud of your name (or at least pretending to be).

Dexter is from the Latin, meaning 'on the right' or 'right-handed,' and so I took my right hand mole as some sort of validation that the name fit. I also learned that the opposite of dexter in Latin, 'on the left' or 'left-handed,' was sinister. This knowledge led to some interesting discussions with classmates over some popular cartoon characters ... Simon Bar Sinister from Underdog and Poindexter from Felix the Cat.

All of the above is necessary background for what is apparently going to be a major change in the direction of this post, because I can't figure out a way to make a smooth transition from cute little Dexter from elementary school to crazy old man Dexter just trying to sort it all out, so here goes. Within the past week my wife Cindy passed away from breast cancer and the next day I got a tattoo. There. I've just executed the equivalent of a handbrake turn within a blog post. I hope it all makes sense in the end, but you'll need to bear with me.

One winter, while living in Victoria, Cindy and I took a ski trip with a group of 4 other couples. We all stayed in one big condo and one night it was decided that the guys and the girls would go their separate ways for a night on the town. We joked all day about what the evenings activities would be and the guys all settled on the story that we were all going to go drinking and get tattoos, which was exactly half true. This was the 80's, well before tattoos became trendy, and our plan was to go buy some temporary tattoos, put them on a discrete body location, and surprise our wives. This worked to a large degree and a good time was had by all.

This prank became one of those running jokes that couples fall back on throughout their marriage.

Cindy: Where have you been?
Dexter: The tattoo parlor.

Dexter: The blue tie or the green tie?
Cindy: The blue one matches your tattoo better.

Cindy: What do you want for your birthday?
Dexter: A winning lottery ticket and a new tattoo.

Neither of us actually ever got a tattoo. For me, even though I secretly wanted to get a yin/yang or lightning bolt on my butt on the ski trip, the attraction wore off once tramp stamps and tribal bands became popular, and besides that, permanent body art is not something to undertake lightly. Cindy did, eventually, get a tattoo, or rather a couple of permanent dots on her chest, back and sides so that they could line up the radiation treatments consistently. She said in the grand scheme of things it was no big deal, but she wasn't planning on connecting the dots.

And so, you see, the idea of actually getting a tattoo has been on my mind a long time. I even drew up a custom geometric design for a small one a few years ago. And this week, on Monday, one day afer Cindy passed away, I took my design down to Imperial Tattoo here in Sugar Land and a young tattoo artist named Cristyan inked my first, and maybe last, tattoo. Here is why and what the design means to me.

Many years ago, in my late 20s, I had a malignant melanoma removed. I went for follow up visits monthly, then quarterly, then semi-annually, and now annually. At some point in that first year of check ups they removed the mole on my right hand. It was a bit of an adjustment, and I had to actually start thinking about right and left without my cheat sheet, but I eventually adapted.

This week, on Monday, I woke up and realized that I had lost my right hand. She was literally gone. There was this missing part of me and I know from seeing others deal with this sort of loss that it can be disorienting and dangerous. I know that many people are concerned about me, about how I am handling this change, this stress, and that getting a tattoo for the first time ever might indicate some sort of crack in my mental health, but I want to assure anyone who is concerned that this is not me jumping off the deep end. It's me doing something tangible to remind me of Cindy, my missing piece. It's an odd place to be, but everyone throughout humanity's existence has muddled their way through this sort of loss. I intend to at least muddle through, but I don't want to forget that once upon a time I had a perfect right hand.

As for the design, it's a simple cross, or it could be seen as an 'X' ... my favorite letter, of course. The long part of the cross points to my heart. It covers the scar from my trusty old mole. There's a gap in the cross, an empty space between the Up & Down part, which symbolizes our relationship with God, and the Back & Forth part, which symbolizes our relationships with each other. I didn't make that up ... that's something that has long been a part of Christian thought, the symbolism of The Cross. In my cross, the gap represents the place I want to be, the nexus, with one part of me focused on my God relationship, and the other part focused on my relationship with people. It's the sweet spot and it's empty because try as I might, it's hard to stay in that space, perfectly balanced between this world and the Kingdom of God.

And yes, I realize that most of the above might be concerning if you are monitoring my mental health, however, I think, for this week at least, I'm allowed.