The Road Trip
If someone wrote an instruction manual on how to live life and they separated the “what to do” from the “what not to do,” my life would be the model for the “what not to do” category. I have made a lot of dumb decisions and I have made a lot of mistakes, but there is one decision that turned out to be an exceptionally good decision, and I have had ten years to validate that fact. I don’t know if meeting Janeen was an accident or divine intervention, but I can’t take any of the credit.
I had been divorced from Nancy about seven months when I was given an ointment from my dermatologist to treat a mild itch on my back. Realizing I could not apply it to my back myself, I began to think I should maybe meet someone who could rub the ointment on my back. I was lonely, but I had not wanted to open up my life to the scrutiny of anyone else and face that much reality. The divorce had been devastating for me; I was not in love with Nancy, but I just did not believe in divorce. My father died when I was only seven, and I did not want my kids to grow up without a father. I also did not want to have some other guy raising my kids. That is why I remained married to Nancy for 36 years. Whenever I was asked why I had gotten a divorce after 36 years of marriage, I would respond with, “A serious case of procrastination.” Actually, the divorce was not my idea, but Nancy’s idea. I was the defendant and I gave her everything.
Nancy had controlled our social life, and our only friends were those who had allegiance to her. She had alienated my two sisters and she had been working successfully for years to turn my kids against me. I was totally alone. I was still an emotional wreck from my failed marriage and I had had little involvement with people since then. I had never been able to share my emotions with another person, and I did not know why I would ever want to, but I needed a friend and someone to love. Since my divorce, I had focused on healing mentally and physically, but primarily I had only worked on my physical health. I was either working out at the gym or taking long bike rides almost every day and trying to eat healthy food. I finally worked up enough courage to try and meet someone.
I was not into the bar scene, and church was the only place I really had contact with people. I was still attending the same ward I attended before my divorce, but my ex-wife had gone inactive so there did not seem to be a problem, and I had only been attending that ward for about a year before we split anyway. I had not been attending my ward long enough to distinguish between women who were sitting alone because they were single and those who were sitting alone because their husbands were “on the stand.” I had also never been in the habit of looking at women’s hands for wedding rings. On a Tuesday, in late July, I signed up with an Internet dating service called LDS Mingle. I filled out a long questionnaire about my outlook, objectives, likes, dislikes, and I even took an extensive personality profile test to determine my personality “color” within the criteria of the psychologist and author, Dr. Taylor Hartman. I turned out to be blue and white, which meant I was a do-gooder and a peacekeeper. These personality traits must have come from 36 years of trying to keep the peace and doing the best I could in a rancorous marriage. There are also red people, who are power brokers, and yellow people, who are fun loving. In the space for, “What I wanted in a companion,” I wrote, “I want to be with a woman who wants to be with me as much as I want to be with her.”
The site matched my criteria with potential candidates whose criteria matched mine. My profile was then sent to the potential candidates, and whoever was interested in me could respond. I received several responses from all over the U.S. and Canada, but one response from a woman who also lived in Sandy caught my eye. I emailed her back, saying we had a lot in common and should possibly meet.
She was very attractive and I could see she had great legs because one of her profile pictures showed her in a tennis outfit. Her legs were the first thing caught my attention.
The very next Sunday, for the first time I went to church with female companionship on my mind and I took notice of the organist. I had never really noticed her before, probably because I had not been looking before. I thought she was pretty cute except for the funny glasses she was wearing. That same afternoon, after church, I got an email response from the woman in Sandy I had noticed on LDS Mingle. She said:
“We do have a lot in common, more than just interests and outlook. In fact, I saw you at church today. I was playing the organ. I looked up and saw you in the congregation. I couldn’t believe it! I would love to chat with you. We can do it by e-mail or I’m on the ward list. Hope to talk to you soon.”
She had recognized me from my profile picture on LDS Mingle, but I did not recognize her—probably because women don’t go to church in tennis outfits, and even if they did, her legs were behind the organ. I replied six minutes later saying, “Oh my gosh! I saw you playing the organ. I was even thinking about you and how attractive you were. (I did not mention the glasses.) I definitely think we should meet.” I was surprised that of all the candidates from the Internet site, I would connect with someone in my same ward.
I called her immediately and we arranged to meet for lunch downtown at Market Street Grill the next day. We had a great conversation over lunch about life, kids, our exes and divorce, and I took in her beautiful eyes, her smile, her wit, and her cleavage. We ate salads and I left my avocados on my plate. She told me later that she loved avocados and really wanted mine, but she did not yet feel comfortable enough with me to ask for them, but since then, she gets all of my avocado slices. I felt some definite electricity between us when I put my hand on her back and she reached around and put her hand on my back as I walked her to her car.
Janeen had a pool in her back yard, and she asked me to come to her house the next Wednesday for a swim and I agreed. When I arrived at her home on Wednesday evening, there were several other people at her home including her daughter who lived there, her married son, his wife, and his wife’s father. The daughter was in the house and the rest were sitting in the hot tub as Janeen and I got into the pool. I do believe they were there to check me out and possibly to protect their mother in case I turned out to be the king of creep. We talked for a while in the pool and then, as we hung on the side in the deep end, I said, “I want to do something.” I leaned over, pulled her in close, and kissed her long and hard on the lips. Speaking of hard, she could tell from my swimming suit that I was attracted to her. She could not wait to tell all her single girlfriends about it the next day.
We got together several times a week after that, either for lunch, dinner, or hanging out in my apartment. Her daughter living with her made my place more private. She must have had some bad experiences with Internet dating because she asked to see my divorce decree to see if I was really single. There was one evening when she came over, and after we had been kissing on my bed, I reached over her and turned on the stereo. I had Johnny Mathis ready to go (I knew she loved Johnny Mathis). She got up, went into the kitchen, and without saying anything, grabbed a banana from a fruit bowl. She seductively peeled it and slowly put the banana into her mouth, bit off a little in a very sensual way and put the other half in my mouth. The symbolism was strong, and I was so aroused that I wanted to hold her and never let go. I was hooked, in love, and in her house a few months later, I said, “Why don’t we get married?” There was no ring, no kneeling, just an idea for consideration. She thought it was a good idea and did not say no, so did that make us engaged? I guess so.
* * *
It had been nearly a year for me and eight years for Janeen since our divorces from similarly abusive spouses. Since then, Janeen had tried dating a few guys, including some other guys she met on the Internet, but had never developed any lasting relationships, and Janeen was the first woman I had dated since my divorce.
Four months had passed since we had met. The Thanksgiving weekend was approaching, and Janeen suggested a road trip to St. George for the weekend. We had never been further than Park City together where one afternoon we did some shopping and visited the No Name Saloon on Main Street. The greeter asked us our names and gave us a temporary membership in the name of Don and Janeen Halverson. We got a kick out of the guy thinking we were married because we had only known each other for a month. That slip of paper ended up on the wall in my apartment until my ex-wife saw it and tore it down, but Janeen replaced it with a copy.
I was apprehensive about a road trip because for years, my ex-wife and I could not tolerate being together in a car for any extended period of time, nor did we ever go out to dinner together by ourselves. We always took separate vacations unless other people were included and she needed a husband along for window dressing. Most of my vacations were spent traveling around the country, and even Japan on one occasion, to attend BMX races with my two sons, which Nancy never attended.
Nancy’s took vacations to to Egypt, Hawaii, Scandinavian cruises, usually with with her friend Betty, from Japan, whom she met in Hawaii while attending a business development seminar. She did not say so, but I found out later that David Isom, her boss at the law firm where she was the administrator, accompanied her to the seminar, and “Betty” was an alias for David Isom.
Traveling to Southern Utah was commonplace for me as a child. Before freeways, there were only two routes to the south, U.S. Highway 89 and U.S. Highway 91, and they split at a town called Levan. Both routes were mostly two-lane roads passing through towns about every 20 miles because that was the normal distance a horse and buggy or wagon could travel in a day when those towns were established and travelers needed lodging. Highway 89 went on the east side of the mountains through Sanpete County where my father was born, and 91 went on the west side of the mountains through Iron County where my stepfather was born and raised, and where we went to several really boring family reunions in his home town, Parowan. Highway 91 became I-15 in the late 50s or early 60s. Southern Utah has some interesting scenery, but it can get tedious if you travel the same routes regularly. The worst part, however, is Utah County. I do not ever remember a time when I-15 through Utah County was not under construction. Either they just can’t get it right, or the Governor has too many friends in the road construction business.
Travel with Nancy had not been enjoyable, so I did not know what to expect when traveling with Janeen. Nonetheless, we left for St. George late morning on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
I was surprised to see how pleasant it was to be in the car with someone when there was not friction. There were no long periods of silence, no “constructive criticism,” and no complaining. (I have often said, “If I was alone in a forest and said something, and Nancy was not around to hear it, was I still wrong?”) We enjoyed the music and scenery and munched on some goodies we had packed in a cooler on the back seat, including cold turkey sandwiches with lots of cranberries and pieces of chocolate pie left over from Thanksgiving dinner. We had brought some CDs, and I discovered she and I liked a lot of the the same music, in particular The Carpenters. I love Karen Carpenter’s smooth alto voice, but my ex did not, and we could never listen to The Carpenters.
As we drove I began to realize that life could really be different from what I experience in my last marriage and that I could relax and be at ease with a woman and there was nothing wrong with seeking that kind of companionship. There was a moment in the car when Janeen sat back and put her foot on the dashboard in such a way that reminded me of another couple I had ridden with over 30 years before who were very much in love and the girl did the same thing. It was a small thing, but to me it was a sign of comfort, trust and love—a powerful sign. Not long afterward, I realized that Janeen enjoyed being with me as much as I enjoyed being with her as I had said I wanted in my profile on LDS Mingle. I had not experienced that for many years, if ever. My previous marriage was always a competition, never a partnership. There were too many hidden motives, manipulations, and never enough trust for such a comfort level as I was experiencing with Janeen. Janeen and I had both been co-dependent support for our sociopathic exes who were incapable of this kind of honesty and mutuality. It was a catharsis for me and a whole new way of thinking of what a relationship could be. Janeen’s “baggage” had cooled over the last eight years so we did not share the same level of apprehension.
I told Janeen about one trip to Southern Utah I took with my family when I was a child. We traveled Highway 89 one summer to the Grand Canyon and stopped to see the Glen Canyon Dam while it was being built. I was fascinated with the huge cement buckets that were being used to pour the cement for the dam. The guide said that the flow of cement was so fast that if a worker fell into the cement as it was being poured, they could not stop the operation soon enough to get him out. They just left him in the cement, and unfortunately, there were already several men buried in the dam. This and the scale of the construction process required to build the dam left a lasting impression on me as did the Grand Canyon.
In addition to the reunions in Parowan, we took several trips to California when I was a teenager. We usually spent the nights in tents in campgrounds, and we actually camped out on Doheny Beach one summer. That was significant to me since I was a fan of The Beach Boys, and they mentioned Doheny Beach in one of their songs. On each trip to California, we stopped to see Zion National Park and drove through the tunnel-like road with view ports that looked out on the beauty of the park.
Janeen and I stopped at Zion National Park, but we wanted to get to M & S Jewelry in St. George before it closed, so we could not spend a lot of time there. Many of our friends have condos in St. George, and Janeen had lived there as a child when her father owned a motel on St. George Boulevard for a few years. It was fun to see the familiar sites, including the motel where Janeen lived and made beds, and the rock on the top of the hill overlooking the town that she and her brothers would climb. We also made a point of stopping to see the St. George Temple that my great-grandfather helped build.
I bought Janeen a silver bracelet with an Amethyst stone at M & S Jewelry. After the jewelry store, we checked into the Fairfield Inn, had dinner at a Mexican restaurant, and went to the outlet mall to do a little shopping. Shopping was something we liked doing together. Janeen bought me a dark blue wool jacket and I bought her some sheets.
The next morning as we thought about what to do, we decided we had already seen everything in St. George of interest so we headed to Las Vegas. The canyon between St. George and Mesquite is always an interesting drive, especially with my lead foot. We tried to think of what it was that our friends liked about St. George, and to this day, have not come up with anything except warm weather in the winter and that jewelry store. We live six miles from Snowbird where I always have a season pass, so why would I want to spend my winters in St. George? Besides, the summers are way too hot.
We were almost to Las Vegas when nature called. I thought I could wait until we got there, but I was wrong. I got off the freeway at a convenience store and figured I would make it, but the restroom was occupied. The anticipation of relief that was not going to occur made it all that much worse. I waited for a while, but some guy must have been in there reading the morning newspaper. I went back out to the car to see if there was any other alternative, and from the look on my face and my body posture, Janeen knew I had a serious problem! She handed me a paper cup and said she would look the other way. We were engaged, but not familiar enough for that. I was utterly embarrassed, and Janeen was laughing hysterically and did not quit laughing for what seemed like forever.
Our next adventure was the Fashion Show Mall on the strip in Las Vegas, and we were delighted at the sales they were having that weekend, particularly at the high end stores we do not have in Salt Lake City such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. This was before the economy crashed, and they had a lot of good merchandise to clear out at 60-75 percent off. It also started a trend of me choosing Janeen’s wardrobe for her. She liked the clothes I select for her, so since then, I do most of her wardrobe shopping. I love it when I recommend something, she likes it, we buy it, and she wears it. We did some Christmas shopping, and we ate lunch at the California Pizza Kitchen, but I had to keep going back to the car to keep up with the BYU/Utah game that was being played and broadcast on KSL.
We drove back to our room in St. George for the night. (In case you are wondering, we behaved ourselves even though we shared a room.) We stopped at Bryce Canyon on the way home. I had not seen it since I was a kid, and Janeen had never seen it. We loved Bryce Canyon and thought it was an amazing experience. There was snow on the ground and no one else around as far aw we could see, which added to the mystery of this surreal experience. We have been back to Bryce Canyon during the summer with the crowds, which is wonderful, but entirely different.
I found I loved traveling with Janeen because I loved being with her. We enjoyed the road trip to Las Vegas so much that we repeated the Las Vegas buying spree for the following six or seven Thanksgiving weekends and began staying in Las Vegas instead of St. George. We did venture out to other malls in Las Vegas, but most of them were disappointing outlet malls with little we wanted to purchase. We only went to a few shows and I was never good at gambling. I would set a limit on how much I would lose and stop when the money was gone, and it did not take long. We basically went to Las Vegas to shop each Thanksgiving weekend until the economy tanked, and the clearance stock tanked along with it.
On one of those trips, we took a side trip to Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. The road to the dam was narrow and slow, but as we got close to the dam, we were able to see far above us the beginning of a huge suspension bridge being erected. I marveled again at the immensity of the project. We drove across and walked on that bridge a few years later. Walking along that bridge so far above the ground is both breathtaking and frightening. It reminded me of the time I visited Glen Canyon Dam when it was under construction. I think I was making a connection between the two times in my life when I was comfortable; when I was a child and now, bypassing that first marriage
The first road trip with Janeen was more to me than just a road trip. It was an awakening to a life I had always been denied. I had a glimpse into what freedom and comfort was available in a relationship where there was trust, honesty, and selfless love, a feeling with another adult that is similar to the feeling I have when my granddaughter falls asleep in my arms.