Monthly Archives: May 2014

Black Widow

As we know, I’m quite the sleuth.  We also know that I’m a movie fanatic. Today’s tale originates where those two worlds collide. The first tale I related about research yielded an actual haunted house, this time it takes us to a place that I personally view as even more sinister.

Thanks to digital public records and the Freedom of Information Act, diggers and amateur sleuths like myself can find almost anything. Give me a name, general location and an idea of what to find, and odds are I’ll find more than even I bargained for.  Case in point, if you haven’t sampled my sleuthing skills, try looking back at “What ‘Lives’ In Houses.” The “Houses” piece was a fine piece of digging (if I do say so myself) because it saved a whole lot of money, trouble and unnecessary “nightmares.” (No kidding, right? That piece still gives me chills.)

Before we get into the particulars of this round of sleuthing, I need to put a few qualifiers on what I’m going to be relating. While I was working on my minor at UNLV, I was given the opportunity to learn about something called “Strengths-Based Leadership.” The Strengths-based theory basically says that when you identify a strength you personally possess, if you work on it, you become even better at it by leaps and bounds. When it comes to weaknesses, the same doesn’t apply. A weakness you can practice at, but you’re only going to get marginal results in contrast to working on your strengths. So strengths-based theory says it’s best to hone your strengths and surround yourself with people who have strengths that compliment your own, minimizing weaknesses for all involved.

So, with the strengths-based theory in tow, when I decide to dig into a research topic, I view it as taking my brain to the gym, a workout for my input strength. For those interested, my top five strengths in order are:

  1. Strategic
  2. Ideation
  3. Connectedness
  4. Input
  5. Restorative

 

(All links open in a new tab.  Don’t worry, I’ll still be here after you get done looking at those. If you want to find your own strengths, I suggest the Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath, it’s what we used at UNLV.)

Research is one of my passions because I view it as a personal challenge. I challenge myself to find things that no one else would put together; to find some sort of usable insight that I can file away for use later; or to help out on a project a friend might be working on. Mostly it’s the thrill of the hunt, to see what or how much I can find.

Today’s research project started as a lark, just to keep my digging skills sharp. For even more of a challenge, I chose an unorthodox research topic. What I ended up finding was eerily similar to the experience surrounding “What ‘Lives’ In Houses.” The difference is that this subject, that after I dug into it, I wish that I hadn’t because what I found was truly chilling, even more so than the details surrounding that haunted house.

Before I go further into today’s tale, let’s briefly visit a 1987 film starring Debra Winger and Theresa Russell, “Black Widow”:

With that film in mind, today’s research project is one where I guess you could say I took on Debra Winger’s role (gratefully without the green windows). As to the topic, my interest was piqued by the story of a woman who seemed to change husbands and names more often than she changed her underwear; in doing so, leaving a wake of destruction the likes of which I have heard stories of, but (thank heavens) never directly encountered.

On initial search, I found that the woman had at least five different aliases. Big deal right? Humdrum stuff, but then I discovered through public records that she has been winding her way through small midwestern towns targeting wealthy men since 1994. Out of the 20 years she has been victimizing men, she has had (count ’em!) FIVE husbands. (As a point of trivia, she’s two away from Liz Taylor’s record of seven.)

Here’s where it gets chilling. On looking at each of her five husbands, I found that just a short time before she married each one, each of the five divorced their existing wives to marry her sometimes a few short weeks to a month or so later. In each case, the public court documents show that she immediately has a baby with each new husband, then proceeds to divorce each one always less than two years later. The court records show that she always wins child support in an amount in excess of more than most folks can afford in a month and that she goes back repeatedly to court every opportunity she can seize to fleece more money from her victim, leaving them with massive debt, in excess of tens of thousands of dollars, forcing three of the five men directly into bankruptcy.

What’s worse is that along with the string of husbands I found, I also discovered that after each husband is discarded, she begins to run into legal and financial trouble with credit card companies, even the IRS. Then, by what seems like magic, her financial woes go away and the cases close at the same time as the arrival of a newly divorced new husband.

She’s up to five victims husbands already. I feel real sorry for number six because they won’t even see her coming.

Well, at least I have to give the woman props, she doesn’t go as far as Theresa Russell’s character in the film by murdering and burying each husband, thank goodness. What really bothers me are the five families she has basically destroyed for the sake of her insecurities and vanity.

I guess she looks at families and husbands the way I look at research, a challenge to keep her skills sharp. Between you and me, I’d rather be a digital sleuth, at least that’s just harmless curiosity that doesn’t hurt a fly.

It chills me to the bone to think that there are women out there who do things like this all the time and get away with it. And just think, I found that information all within a few hours just by searching through public records. What takes it from chilling to sinister is that she seems to precisely orchestrate her exit down to the month and day, carefully executing her plan in order to exact the maximum amount of financial gain and maximum emotional damage, leaving those poor men to pick up her extravagant tab. I’m serious, every two years she goes through another one.

I think this one hits me as even more sinister than the haunted house because of one simple fact: The house is stationary, we know where it is. With the Black Widow I dug up, she could be anywhere, and I think that’s what truly scares the willies out of me the worst.

Where’s a shoe or a huge bottle of bug spray when you need it?

Please, for me, be careful out there. Don’t let someone like that happen to you.

1,825

In any job interview, there is always one question that sticks out: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

When that question has come up for me in the past, I never really had an answer. Do any of us? We’re all so busy trying to survive, I don’t think a lot of us have the foresight to look that far down the road and think “THAT is where I want to be in five years.” It’s usually, “Am I going to be able to make rent next month?” or “I’m more worried about the next six months than I am the next five years. Who knows where I’ll be?”

1,825 days ago, a life-changing event happened to me that threatened to take me down for the count: I discovered my then-husband in bed with someone else.

I don’t care who you are, when you find the person you promised to love “until death do you part” inserting his Tab “A” into someone else’s Slot “B”, your mind will reel.  When it happened to me, I was decimated. My world as I had known it had crumbled and I was powerless to stop it or do anything about it.

When I asked him if he ever considered my feelings when I found out about his affair, all I received as an answer was a very icy, “No.” He could have cared less about how badly he had hurt me. As far as he was concerned, he didn’t want me anymore. He had found someone new and he was moving on, end of story. It became quite clear he had no ethical objections to abandoning me as he quickly left town to move across the country with his new whatever-she-is, only to impose on me to pay for storing his stuff until he was ready to come pick it up. He even left his car behind which I had to start once a week, a constant reminder of how little I meant to him, forced to care for someone’s things who could have cared less about me.

While the pain of the betrayal really rocked my world for the first couple of years after being left with almost nothing, I have given up on being bitter because it’s just a waste of time. Now, I just hope my ex-husband has found contentment with the choices he has made and now has to live with on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, every time I see a Basset Hound I quietly chuckle to myself along with Chihuahuas remaining  in my mind as footballs-on-feet just waiting to be punted through the uprights. I think of it this way: if I can embrace one of the darkest and most sinister betrayals I have ever encountered with that much of a sense of humor, I’m doing pretty good; it’s all that’s really left of the anger I have for my ex-husband. Oh, but that thing he ran off with? The only thing I have to say about that is that I’m really sorry no one ever told her that she came with a shelf life. Judging by his first two wives’ clocks, she’s only got a little bit of time left until she’s discarded for a newer model. I’m sorry if that disappoints anyone but just on principle there are some things I just haven’t had the ability to let go because no matter how hard anyone may try, there’s just no way to shove the manure back into the horse on that one. She asked for it, she got it.

In the aftermath, I immediately reached out to my friends for support. The very first person I reached out to was my close friend KP because he had gone through something eerily similar and I knew I could trust and rely on his wisdom.  As my voice trembled through relaying the events that had just transpired, KP did what he has always done for me, he ‘kept it real’. He told me that there was no time for a pity party, no time for blame, hatred or revenge, but that I had only one pressing task ahead of me: “to build a bridge and get over it.”

While KP and I spoke daily to help me get my bridge components together, my massive support structure, consisting of my virtual family from around the globe, immediately built a fortress of protection around me.  Their words of comfort  and encouragement became my strength as I endured the trauma that immediately occurs when you are forced to go through the process of marital demise, something I like to call “The Six Week Epic Suck”.

After that first six weeks and multiple discussions with family and friends, I realized that I was being faced with a character-defining moment: how I would handle the situation would define me and eventually tell me what kind of person I really was.  I had a choice to make: I could either ride the shame spiral forever and let what happened defeat me, or I could defiantly pick myself up by my bootstraps, keep on walking and build myself a new life while I worked with KP on the emotional blueprints of the bridge that would help me get over a marriage gone belly-up.

So, I broke out the metaphorical hammer and nails, requesting old transcripts and ACT scores. Then I did something completely nuts: deciding to build the remainder of my bridge out of education: I went back to school, gaining admission on appeal to UNLV.

With his long history in academia, I decided to speak with my ex-husband about what major I should choose. I relayed to him that I was at a crossroads between my two life long loves: advertising –  which was housed in the journalism school – or go with what I do effortlessly and naturally: teaching. He immediately suggested that I major in education, because it wouldn’t require the self-promotion that I would have to do to be successful in a career in advertising (that I had dreamed of since I was a little girl). At seeing first-hand how many times his decisions had landed him on the rocks by losing him more than a few jobs in the time I had known him, combined with his arrogant, condescending tone which had gained him more than a few political enemies and an evisceration by the local press, I thought it best not to follow his advice. I immediately majored in Journalism and Media Studies.

1,825 days later, I am surrounded by the souvenirs of a journey of self-discovery. I look on my shelves and see a collection of academic works that I have used to start my own home library; a pile of notebooks filled with hand-written class notes chronicling more credit hours than I can count; a drawer full of university t-shirts and baseball caps, and a collection of photos filled with memories. The most important thing that marks the closing of this cycle in my life is my new  academic degree, a Bachelor of Arts, in get this:

Journalism and Media Studies with a focus in Integrated Marketing Communications with a minor in Leadership and Civic Engagement.”

Could that degree title get any longer? It’s definitely a mouthful.

Allow me to translate: Journalism and Media Studies means that I’m a student of the mass media, that I’m also a critic of that same media and that simply, I can write news stories, feature stories and things you would find through any news outlet.

A focus in Integrated Marketing Communications means that simply, I know how to use social media effectively for marketing purposes. The fun part is that my AA in Graphic Design for the Web ties in nicely here. This also means I can help you choose the right social media channels and a pile of additional fancy stuff that if I kept writing about it, we’d be here all day.

A minor in Leadership and Civic Engagement means that I have learned the leadership techniques, methods and awareness that you would find in the skill-set of a really great CEO.

You know, I would have never guessed in a million years that when my ex-husband left that he would inspire an epic comeback. That five years later I’d be sitting here helping everyone figure out that even though I’ve got some fancy-schmantzy degree title, I’m still just me, only with a new skill-set in some cases, and an existing skill-set that I’ve just made even better. Not to sound prideful, but the things I was good at before have evolved into something more akin to a juggernaut.

I know lots of folks that have let the disintegration of their marriage destroy their lives. One of my friends drinks a lot and you can tell the experience left a hole where my vibrant, funny friend used to be. Another one of my friends nearly had a nervous breakdown because of their extremely messy divorce, only to have their finalized divorce papers act as Carte Blanche to immediately find a new spouse, then wondering why that marriage went down in flames too. Yet another friend is constantly terrorized by their ex, making them even afraid to leave the house or post on Facebook for fear of another round of cruel eviscerations on social media.

I see the aftermath of marital demise all around me every day. I’m no saint by a long shot because I’ve even been through a fiasco or two since my marriage fell from bliss and landed with a resounding THUD.  But what remains is one simple fact: When my ex hit the door, I went to work on myself. Kinda like the Six Million Dollar Man…”We can rebuild her…” because no one was going to do it for me, the only person that could do that rebuilding was myself – and I’m still not done.

Towards the end, there were moments where I thought I wouldn’t see graduation. There were days where people told me they seriously doubted I would succeed because of the massive setbacks I had endured on my journey. The most mortifying question came from someone extremely close who asked,

“Well, you are going to finish, aren’t you?”

When I heard that question come from the mouth of someone who is naturally expected to be supportive, I never came so close to decking someone I love in all my life. To me, that’s an insult because you can tell they really don’t know jack beans about me.

Case in point:

When I was a kid, a friend of mine found me crying after a really hard day of being viciously bullied. I had tried to hide somewhere where I thought no one would find me but he did. He looked down at me and said, “Sheri, are you okay?” He said that my response changed his life. He said my 15-year-old face just looked up at him, sniffled and said, “I’m not okay right now, but I’m going to be.”

That same friend used to watch helplessly as a pack of ignorant bullies made it their daily mission to viciously attack me, every chance they got, day in and day out for YEARS. I guess you could say they had refined their ignorance into a science, calling me all sorts of names, terrorizing my every breath, much less move, and overall making sure that they exploited every opportunity to make my life into a living hell. If you ever saw Pretty In Pink, think of the dynamic between Molly Ringwald’s character and James Spader’s, that’s basically it.

What astounded my friend the most is that those bullies, no matter how cruel they got, no matter how horrific their attempts, they never broke my spirit. Of course, the more those bullies failed in their attempts to break my spirit, the more vicious they would become; leaving my friend to remark that he had never in his life seen anyone take such vicious mental beatings over such a prolonged period and survive it.

Here’s the secret: the one thing I knew, which no one else seemed to catch on to, was the fact  that I had hope. I knew things in the future had a chance at becoming better, however unlikely it seemed at the time.  I knew, even then, that change is the one constant in the universe that descends on all of us, whether we like it or not. Like Doc Cat says: “Change isn’t always possible, it’s probable.”

Admittedly, the bullying I was forced to endure during my childhood was there for a reason. All of the pain, hurt and tragedy I have endured is all connected to this one beautiful moment. Without them I wouldn’t have the fortitude and heart that has inevitably carried me when I thought I couldn’t take another step.  When I set my mind to do something, I will never waiver, I will never quit, I will never fail.  God help the person who decides to pull the Darwin Award Winning move of telling me that they doubt my competence by stating I can’t do something, I’ll do it anyway just to prove I can.

If you push me down. I’ll get back up.

If you tear me apart, I’ll  put myself back together.

If you set me on fire and try to destroy me, I’ll just rise from the ashes.

1,825 days filled with love, hope and recovery – all mixed with a healthy dose of humor.

From Day 1, all the way to Graduation.

It’s me and Teddy, in the middle of the Mojave, dreaming of better days ahead.

I’m Sheri. I’m a wise fool. I’ve been through hell and back again, but I have persevered.