The year was 1973 and moving to Colorado seemed like the reasonable thing for my wife and me to do to save our floundering marriage. Colorado had become a destination for disenchanted young couples who no longer were satisfied with their careers, lifestyles and, especially, each other. I quit my lucrative job as a real estate salesman at a plush golf resort near Clearwater, Fla. We put the house on the market, sold all the furniture and the Cadillac, and traded the Lincoln Continental for a used Volkswagen bus. (We got money back.) We loaded up the boys, ages 2 and 3, and headed west — 1,942 miles to the small town of Durango. We’d heard that Colorado could save marriages. We decided to give it a try.
The Colorado marriage-saving theory was quite popular in those days and thousands of people bought into it. Influenced by John Denver’s hit song, “Rocky Mountain High,” we headed to the mountains leaving behind family, friends and all trappings of our previous lives. We would start afresh in the pure, crisp air of the Rockies unencumbered by our pasts and the baggage that went with them. My wife and I had come to realize that we’d been seduced by materialism and the acquisition of “things.” Things that played to our pride, were devoid of joy, and had gotten in the way of “us.” That life was now over. We would build a little cabin in a high valley and somehow eke out a living. We wouldn’t need much, the simple life was really what we craved. We were in complete agreement about this change and it was, in fact, the only thing we agreed on. Colorado would save our marriage.
I do not remember the trip to Colorado except for the crossing of Wolf Creek Pass, elevation 9,800 feet. On flat land the Volkswagen was a slow-moving vehicle, going uphill it went even slower, but going up a mountain the pace was excruciating. Fortunately, prior to ascending the pass a Colorado native told us, “Whatever you do, don’t stop. If you do you’re finished. You’ll never be able to get forward motion again.” This advice was invaluable and somehow we made it, reaching the summit going 3 mph — the Volkswagen screaming like a wounded fox. The vehicle would never be the same.
On top of the pass was a pullover area where we stopped to collect our nerves and allow the cars behind us to proceed normally. There must have been a hundred of them, the drivers and passengers glaring at us as they passed. Some gave us the finger.
In Durango we rented a nice, furnished apartment and began the search for our building site. We contacted a realtor and told her we wanted something remote, inexpensive and pretty. She gave us a knowing look and in no time at all she found it — two and one-half acres of land with a river on one side and a 500-acre cattle ranch on the other. It was in a high valley 10 miles north of Durango, and here’s the best part: It already had a log cabin on it! The rustic, rundown little building had been built before the turn of the century, and oozed with charm. We agreed it was perfect and bought it on the spot.
Before moving in we decided to expand it just a bit and hired a contractor. He was a very creative guy with lots of swell ideas. Plans were discussed and pored over and construction began. Six months later our little, rustic log cabin was now mostly inside of the house we built around it and on top of it. Our new home was beautiful, dramatic and had some very creative touches. It also cost a fortune. Meanwhile, the house in Florida remained unsold.
We traded the beat-up Volkswagen for a new, four-wheel-drive Chevy truck. The four-wheel drive would be necessary when the snow came. This vehicle also made economic sense. With a truck I could now buy feed in bulk for the 12 hogs, two steers and goat I had begun to raise, quite a savings over buying feed in sacks. New furniture was purchased for all the rooms in the house and Jenn-Air appliances for the kitchen. By now we had learned Durango was not the cow town we had envisioned. It had lots of classy, sophisticated people there — our kind of people — so to be sure we wouldn’t be mistaken for hippies we also bought a Buick.
It was early spring when we got settled into our new home. The valley and surrounding mountains were tranquil and beautiful. Golden and bald eagles frequently glided overhead. Deer and elk were in abundance. The creek sang to us as did the wind through the aspen. If there is such a thing as a therapeutic setting we had found it. Colorado was working its magic. We were doing great.
Originally I’d planned to start small as a farmer, buying just two pigs at the auction, but a neighboring farmer heard I liked pigs so he offered to sell me 10 of his young ones for a very good price. What I didn’t know (and never in a million years would have thought of) was because six of the 10 little pigs were males they would have to be “cut” to have any value. When I learned this gruesome fact I hired a professional cutter.
“You roll him on his back then sit on him and hold his hind legs apart,” he said. I had not intended to be part of the cutting procedure, but he said it was necessary so I did what I was told. The man then started slicing the little pig’s testicles off and you have never heard such screaming in your life! It was horrific and heart stopping and all the time my own testicles were within inches of the little pig’s teeth.
We eventually got all six of them cut and I vowed never to do that again. For many weeks afterwards I kept hearing a “snip” sound — like a scissors — in my mind. I thought I was going insane. I learned later I had suffered from castration anxiety.
As fall arrived and the aspen leaves turned we knew we’d settled in heaven. Huge swatches of the mountainsides were covered with brilliant gold, surrounded and interspersed with the deepest green of fir and spruce. Everywhere we looked we were awestruck by the beauty. If God made a quilt ... well ... He had.
When winter set in we thought we were in good shape because our new home had not one but three wood-burning fireplaces. We quickly learned that all three needed to be going all the time, however, to heat the incredible amount of air space we had created. (The living room ceiling was 23-feet high.) This was an all but impossible task and the wood, not cheap, had to be purchased. After a while, exhausted from hauling logs, we relied on the electric baseboard heaters to keep us from freezing. In January, as the temperature went below zero, the electric bill hit $750. You know that silver disc in the electric meter, with the black mark on it? You should have seen it spinning around and around inside the glass cover. Neeyow, neeyow, neeyow! Watching it made me sick.
Finally we got an offer on the house in Florida, for $4,000 less than what we paid for it, but no problem. Getting out from under that monthly payment would take a lot of pressure off our dwindling cash. But when the buyers returned for one last look, before closing, they discovered that the long-vacant house was now crawling with cockroaches. They quickly backed out of the deal. I flew to Florida to get the house professionally de-bugged. While there I also dropped the asking price, and after a year on the market the house finally sold for $12,000 less than we paid for it. We were going financially backwards at the speed of the electric meter and the relationship between my wife and me again turned sour.
It was now necessary to get a job. I found one selling condominiums — making about one-fourth what I made in Florida — and working six days a week from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Sayonara to the simple life. Things were not going as planned and divorce was discussed on a regular basis. It was one of the few topics we could discuss in a rational, civilized manner; it was making a lot of sense to both of us.
About this time we learned of an organization in Durango called “The Institute for Child Development and Family Guidance.” Marriage counseling was one of the services offered, and we signed on. We were given individual appointments; my wife’s on Monday, mine on Tuesday. We were told we would be seeing the same psychoanalyst, a woman, but we would not see her together. “It’s hard to be completely open and candid in front of your spouse when there are problems,” was the explanation given. This, we agreed, was reasonable.
I had had an encounter with a shrink once before. It was a brief interview with a U.S. Army psychiatrist, which was necessary to qualify for the Army’s flight program. But that wasn’t the same as seeing someone about personal problems. The Army psychiatrist (I figured out years later) was simply trying to determine if I was unstable enough to fly an airplane in combat. I passed his test. This encounter, however, would be very different. The sessions would last an hour, and there would be at least five of them. This concerned me. What could I possibly talk about for five hours? I was certain that 90 percent of our marriage problems were my wife’s. Even pointing out all of her faults, shouldn’t take more than an hour, and then there’d be four more hours of dead air. I became apprehensive.
When I came home from work on Monday night I noticed that my wife was in a great mood. I asked her if she’d seen the analyst and she said, “Did I ever!” I asked her what it was like and she said, all smiles, “We’re not supposed to talk about it. You’ll find out tomorrow.”
“Can’t you even give me a hint?”
I did not like the way this was shaping up. I quickly went over my wife’s faults, and my own, and was ready to concede that perhaps it was only 80 percent her fault that the marriage was a flop.
That night we had friends to our home for dinner. I made the announcement that this would be the last night of my life that I could say, “ I have never seen a shrink.” I said this to get a laugh, but I was really trying to cope with my nervousness. The concept of “seeing a shrink” was, to me, the most foreign of concepts. If a guy’s got problems, he tells them to a friend. If he’s got serious problems, he confides in his priest. If he’s really screwed up, he calls his mother.
The next day I told my boss I needed time off to see a professional about my marriage. He was sympathetic and encouraging. He told me I could have all the time I needed for this worthy endeavor then added that every marriage in the state of Colorado was on the rocks, his own included. He, too, had seen a shrink about his marriage problems but it didn’t do any good.
Armed with this mixed message I reported to “The Institute” for my appointment. At exactly 11 a.m. the door of the waiting room opened and an attractive woman came out and introduced herself as Veryl Rosenbaum. She shook my hand firmly and asked me to please follow her. We walked down a hallway past some closed office doors and I couldn’t help noticing that my psychoanalyst had a very pretty rear end. I was ashamed of myself and hoped she couldn’t read my mind. What if she asked if I was leering at her? As a Catholic I knew that lying to a priest in Confession would nullify it. I assumed the same would be true of psychoanalysis.
You can tell, by now, that I was really out of it. Why on earth would she ask if I noticed her butt? It embarrasses me to admit these thoughts and, of course, she didn’t.
In the room were two chairs facing each other and a black leather couch against a wall. She told me to have a seat and I leapt into one of the chairs. No way was I going near the couch.
Veryl began by asking me questions: my age, where I grew up, did I have brothers and sisters, were my parents still alive, how did I get along with my family — simple stuff. I began to relax. When I said something that I thought was humorous she thought so, too. She had an easy way about her and we chatted freely. I told her I’d grown up in a blue-collar neighborhood in Chicago and she told me she’d grown up in the same kind of neighborhood in Detroit. A camaraderie was building between us and before I knew it the hour was over and we hadn’t even mentioned the marriage.
I enjoyed my first session with a psychoanalyst and was looking forward to the next one. I felt I could say practically anything to this attentive, non-judgmental listener and she wouldn’t interrupt — as a friend, a priest or my mother would surely do.
My wife and I were told (warned) up front that marriage counseling by a psychoanalyst was not necessarily designed to save the marriage, however. It was stated that some marriages should not be saved as they were poisonous to the participants, including the children. The analysis was conducted to examine the marriage objectively so the two people could decide if it should continue. This came as disturbing, shocking news to us and we contemplated ending the therapy before it was too late. But too late for what? The marriage was already a wreck. We continued on.
Psychoanalysis is about individual emotional growth, and when married people begin to grow there is no guarantee they’ll grow closer together. It’s possible they’ll grow farther apart ,and that seems to be what happened to my wife and me. As months of analysis went by, our differences were magnified and we both agreed it was time to throw in the towel. So the marriage ended — the ending enhanced, paradoxically, by the isolation of Colorado and the bright light of psychoanalysis. The two things we’d hoped would save it.
When I began practicing, I saw numerous people like my ex-wife and I who’d fled to the mountains hoping a different and beautiful setting would solve their problems. They came from New York, California, the Midwest, Texas and everywhere else attempting to leave their problems behind. It never worked. Whether those problems were with spouses, or carried solely within, they re-emerged after a year or so of living in the beauty. We can’t escape our minds anymore than we can escape our hearts.
And guess who else got divorced after moving to Colorado? Our prime mover, Mr. Rocky Mountains himself — John Denver.
C’est la vie — at least we got points for trying.
Over the next several months, The Smoky Mountain News will publish Waynesville author Jim Joyce’s memoir about the years he spent as a psychoanalyst. Each week, we’ll begin a chapter in our Books section, and the chapter will be finished on our Web site, www.smokymountainnews.com. You’ll also be able to find the previous chapters in their entirety on the Web site. The book is now at the publishers and will be available in the coming weeks.