Gilligan's Dreams: The Other Side of the Island

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and producer of the three “Gilligan’s Island” movies

“This book takes the avid ‘Gilligan’ fan down memory lane, but also gives insight to Bob Denver and Dreama Peery Denver’s life was like away from the spotlight. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will not want to put down Gilligan’s Dreams when you start reading it. — K E VIN SIZEMORE, Actor/Producer “Though I met Bob in 1963, when I was 7, I really got to know him through this amazing book! Dreama Denver has accomplished something extraordinary in Gilligan’s Dreams, this is a heart-warming and heart-wrenching glimpse deep inside a marriage.” — H O P E JUBER, Writer/Producer and the daughter of Sherwood Schwartz


DR E AMA DE NVE R is an actress and a multi-award winning author. Her children’s book, Four Bears in a Box, won a Gold Mom’s Choice Award, Next Generation Indie Book Award, Reader’s Favorite International Book Award, Creative Child Magazine Preferred Choice Award, Book Excellence Award, and Honorable Mentions at the Paris and Hollywood Book Festivals. As president of the Denver Foundation, she carries on the dream of helping special needs families. As the owner of the nonprofit radio station, Little Buddy Radio, she continues to bring listeners the best in music, acting as program director and general manager. As founder of Always Free Honor Flight, Dreama expanded the foundation’s mission to include honoring our veterans, the men and women who preserve the blanket of freedom we sleep under every night.


“If you think you know Maynard....if you think you know Gilligan... Gilligan’s Dreams isn’t just the life of one of America’s favorite comedy actors. This is truly a side of Bob Denver you never knew as Dreama lets you in on their incredible life together. It is a well-told, often humorous story, but have some have some Kleenex ready since Gilligan’s Dreams will also bring you to tears. I highly recommend it.” — LLOYD J. SCH WARTZ, Sherwood Schwartz’s son

Second Edition

What People Say... If you think you know Maynard....if you think you know Gilligan... Gilligan’s Dreams isn’t just the life of one of America’s favorite comedy actors. Yes, it is filled with anecdotes, but there is so much more to the story. It is romantic, funny, touching, dramatic, and gripping as Bob Denver’s wife takes you through their story. First, as co-stars, then husband and wife, and then parents who dedicate their lives to their autistic son. This is truly a side of Bob Denver you never knew as Dreama lets you in on their incredible life together. —Lloyd J. Schwartz—Sherwood Schwartz’s son and producer of “Rescue from Gilligan’s island,” “The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island,” “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island” Gilligan’s Dreams is a story of great emotions, of excruciating choices, of the terrors life can bring as well as the fundamental joys. It is also a story that everyone touched by autism must read, and everyone interested in the important truths brought forth by both painful and joyful experience should read. In short, it is the very human story of a man, woman, and child who endured and ultimately triumphed by finding, giving, and fighting for that most tender and often elusive of human emotions: Love. —Homer Hickam Gilligan’s Dreams is a beautiful story that shows the true meaning of love between people who met by chance….or did they? This book takes the avid “Gilligan” fan down memory lane, but also gives you insight to what Bob Denver and Dreama Peery Denver’s life was like away from the spotlight. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will not want to put down Gilligan’s Dreams when you start reading it. Well done Dreama and I love you! —Kevin Sizemore, Actor / Producer Though I met Bob in 1963, when I was 7, I really got to know him through this amazing book! Dreama Denver has accomplished something extraordinary in Gilligan’s Dreams, this is a heart-warming and heart-wrenching glimpse deep inside a marriage. Filled with truth, pain, love and devotion, if you are a Gilligan fan, this is a must read! If you are a human with a heart, this is a should read! —Hope Juber - Writer/Producer and the daughter of Sherwood Schwartz

There’s something about this picture I love. Maybe the High Class Cat on the left?

A little show called “Murder at the Howard Johnson’s.”

“Catch Me If You Can” where Bob (for the first time) played the bad guy

Gilligan’s Dreams: The Other Side of the Island

Dreama Denver

Headline Books, Inc. Terra Alta, WV

Gilligan’s Dreams: The Other Side of the Island by Dreama Denver copyright ©2021 Dreama Denver All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any other form or for any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage system, without written permission from Headline Books, Inc. To order additional copies of this book or for book publishing information, or to contact the author: Headline Books, Inc. P.O. Box 52 Terra Alta, WV 26764 Tel: 304-789-3001 Email: . ISBN 13: 9781951556532 Library of Congress Control Number: 2020950006 P R I N T E D I N T H E U N I T E D STAT E S O F A M E R ICA

Dedication To Bob My North Star

Foreword Sometimes, there are people who enter our lives and, almost instantly, it seems we have known them forever. Such a person for me is Dreama Peery Denver. Although I first met Dreama in 2008, there is the possibility that we at least saw each other at a much earlier time because she grew up not far from my hometown of Coalwood, West Virginia. Since the towns in our area are so small, I like to think maybe I saw her at a dance or a party in those youthful days. If so, I’m certain she was the center of every boy’s attention, including my own, even though I did not know her name. Our official meeting came years later when I heard from a mutual friend that the widow of Bob Denver was interested in writing a memoir. Since I am best known for writing memoirs, he wondered if I might help her. Of course, I knew very well who Bob Denver was. As a lad in Coalwood, I had watched him perform on our black and white television as Maynard G. Krebs, the beatnik in the comedy series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Maynard was famous for running away when he heard the word “work” which, as a teenager, I thought was pretty funny. I’m not sure my mom thought it was all that funny since it seemed as if I turned into Maynard every time she had a chore for me to do, but I still heard her often giggle whenever Bob was on. His name became even more familiar during the run and reruns of the fabulous Gilligan’s Island where Bob played the sweet but bumbling titular character. After that, I kind of lost track of him although I was vaguely aware that he was in various movies and television series. Whenever I saw him, I mostly recalled Maynard the beatnik and the fun and laughs he gave me when I was in high school. Still later, I heard he had retired to West Virginia, although why he was there wasn’t clear. As I was to learn, the reason he had adopted my home state had nothing to do with retirement and everything to do with a noble struggle for the life of his son. Dreama Denver and I officially met at the Hearthside Bookstore in Bluefield, West Virginia, when I was on book tour for a novel titled Red Helmet. Although she was obviously a lovely woman, my initial impression of her was that she was a bit forlorn. Although I had no 6

real idea of her past, her eyes were luminous with heartbreak and pain but I also saw in those crystal blue eyes a great deal of determination and purpose. Here, I thought, was a woman of courage and character who had a marvelous story to tell. And I was right. I shook her hand and there was an instant connection between us that remains today, friends who have always been friends even when we didn’t know it. Dreama believes that if her husband and I had met, we would have also been instant pals. I think she is right and I am honored by it. Dreama told me a little part of her story that evening and through emails and phone calls, I gradually began to learn the rest of it. When she allowed me to read a few things she had written, I recognized that she also had a great talent for writing and if anyone was to write her story, she was the person to do it. My part was only to encourage her as she worked through the manuscript. Memoirs are not easy things to write, especially great ones. To write this one meant Dreama had to relive all the heartbreak and pain I had seen in her eyes the first time we met and to also use every ounce of the courage and character I had also seen there. Happily, Dreama’s memoir of her life and times is now written and it is indeed great. As might be expected, Bob Denver is at the center of her story but Gilligan’s Dreams is vastly more than a tale of an actor caught up in the glamorous world of Hollywood. It is a story of a man, known for his ability to make people laugh, who found nobility in tragedy while keeping his sense of humor to his last, labored breath. It is a story of a strong and beautiful woman who was knocked down many times by events but picked herself up and kept on trying. It is a story of great emotions, of excruciating choices, of the terrors life can bring as well as the fundamental joys. It is also a story that everyone touched by autism must read, and everyone interested in the important truths brought forth by both painful and joyful experience should read. In short, it is the very human story of a man, woman, and child who endured and ultimately triumphed by finding, giving, and fighting for that tenderest and most often elusive of human emotions: Love. — Homer Hickam, author of Rocket Boys/October Sky


Prologue The only thing certain in life is change. Sometimes change is subtle, skimming the surface of your life in ways that cause the tiniest of ripples, barely noticeable to the naked eye. Other times change is a gentle wave that moves you forward, lifts you upward and caresses your life with a lover’s gentle touch. But there are those times when change arrives at your doorstep with hurricane force, ripping away foundations, uprooting what has been planted and nourished lovingly and tenderly throughout a lifetime. Hurricane-force change laughs in your face as it slams you into the unknown, its head to your gut, pounding you harder and harder, determined to make you break, daring you not to cower, begging you to feel the fear. It’s merciless. When the winds of change gust through our lives, their velocity more than we can bear, we’re faced with a choice. Do we tremble at their fury and run for cover, or do we allow even the most powerful of winds to lift us up to heights we never imagined and carry us to unfamiliar places that fill our hearts with dread? On a gut-wrenching day in 1986, Bob and I chose the latter; and nineteen years later, left alone, I chose the same. September 2, 2005 I was hanging on for dear life, watching the monitors beside the hospital bed - so many monitors, tubes attached to every part of his body, endless blips and beeps, a cacophony of sounds I had been listening to for 6 long months, telling myself that these were the sounds of a life being saved, hopeful sounds; assuring myself that every blip, every beep I heard brought Bob one step closer to home. But now the sounds were growing fainter, diminishing right along with the hope I’d been clinging to for all these months as I fought alongside the man I loved, determined that he would live. Their faintness told me the end was near. Bob was dying. I looked at the face I had loved for the last 28 years, the face that greeted me every morning when I woke up, the mouth I kissed every day for all that time, the eyes, closed now, that had looked at me for most of my adult life with such tenderness it took my breath 8

away, the earlobes I had nibbled, the nose that was uniquely Bob’s, the dimples. It was 6:45 in the morning as I stood there facing the reality that my life as I knew it was changing with every shallow breath he took. I looked at his peaceful face and tried to imagine this was the last time I would see it. I ran my hand down his arm realizing I would never again find comfort there. I put my face close to his, feeling the softness of his cheek for the last time. After a lifetime of firsts together, I was experiencing my first last with Bob. Other than the machines, the room was quiet for the most part. Nurses who had cared for Bob and grown to love him in the last six months of his life dabbed their eyes as they watched the end of his life unfolding. My stepdaughters were with me, each one holding one of their dad’s hands. I rather awkwardly had my arms wrapped around Bob’s head, my mouth close to his right ear. Nothing had been left unsaid between Bob and me, but even so, I wanted him to leave this world believing I would be okay. He had been extremely worried about me, knowing what I was up against, and I didn’t want those worries to be part of his passing. I wanted him to know that his Dreams would somehow find her way in the world without him. It was 6:55. My lips close to his ear, I began to whisper. “I love you, Bob. Everything good in my life is a result of loving you. Thank you for finding me, thank you for loving me. Thank you for making my life more than I ever dreamed possible.” I continued to whisper a little more frantically, feeling the urgency of time. “Thank you for Colin. Please don’t worry about him. I’ll take care of him, Darlin’, I promise. He can’t be here, but you know how much he loves you; his spirit is right here with you.” Then as the sounds of the machines grew fainter and his breathing even more shallow, I held him closer and made a last promise, “I promise I will honor your memory every day of my life. I will live my life to make you proud. I love you, Bob Denver.” And only in my heart did I hear his usual answer, “I love you, Dreama Denver.” It was 6:58 AM and he was gone. 9

There, there, Felix. By Act III, we’ll have this all worked out.

Our first show together: Bogie, Allan and Linda in “Play It Again, Sam.” 10

Chapter 1 Fortune and fame’s such a curious game. Perfect strangers can call you by name.-“That’s Why I’m Here” ~ James Taylor Bob Denver was familiar to most of you as Gilligan, the gentle, well-meaning, bumbling character from his hit show, Gilligan’s Island. Most fans think Bob was Gilligan and those fans are partially right. Bob embodied many of Gilligan’s best qualities; after all, he created that character and drew from his own experiences in the process. He had a three-year-old son when he first started the show, so he studied him to capture the wonder and curiosity of a child with the character of Gilligan. He wanted kids the world over to identify with Gilligan. And to understand they could mess up and still have everything come out all right in the end, with the people who loved them still loving them, and maybe more importantly, forgiving them when they felt small and insignificant. No child was insignificant to Bob and the magic he had with every child he came in contact with was a sight to behold. Children adored him. My theory on this was that he never talked down to them; he always treated children with respect and was honestly interested in everything they had to say. He took the time to stop whatever he was doing and look each child right in the eye as he asked him or her questions and listened intently to each answer. Children felt important in his presence and I credit this to the fact that Bob never lost touch with the child inside himself. We had been married probably twenty years when one day, Bob asked me this question, “Do you ever think of the little girl you used to be?” I looked at him, uncertain, “I suppose so,” I answered, but then after a little more thought, “Honestly? I guess I don’t really think of her all that much.” 11

Bob smiled, “You should, you know. You are who you are because of her.” My look of confusion spurred him on. “Just sit down one day, get really quiet with yourself and remember little Dreama. Remember how she looked, what she liked. Think of her when she was confident and happy. Think of her when she felt insecure and sad. Remember how she felt outside playing in the sunshine. What games did she like best? Who were her best friends? How did she feel when she got tucked into bed at night? Did she feel loved and safe? When she woke up in the morning, was she a happy kid who raced into the day, ready to conquer it head-on? What made her cry, and when she felt very sad, what made her feel better?” “Wow,” I thought as I listened to him. Obviously, little Dreama had been left behind somewhere along the way, lost in the daily grind of living life. I said as much. “Dreams,” Bob said to me, “remember the child you were and give her a hug. Tell her how much you thank her for all the experiences you went through together. Let her know she did good.” I blinked back tears, “Do you do that?” I asked him. “I do,” he answered, “not every day, but often. I take time to give little Bobby a hug and make sure he knows he’s loved.” For me, this story speaks volumes about the man Bob was and has stayed with me since the moment it happened, and I do try with regularity to love the little girl I used to be. So, for those of you who think of Bob and Gilligan as one and the same, you’re partially right, but Bob was so much more than a character on a TV sitcom. Bob was a man, first and foremost, a man with strengths and weaknesses like every other human being on the planet. Like all of us, he had days when his decision making was faultless and other days when his decisions were questionable. He could be stubborn as a mule one minute and totally bending the next. His very strong opinions on a variety of subjects sometimes made the process of trying to get him to see something from another point of view pretty challenging. Since men are from Mars and women are from Venus, we occasionally didn’t see eye-to-eye, and the times I was actually able to sway him to my way of thinking was a pretty heady experience.


Before we met, Bob had been married three times, with one stepson and three biological children being the product of those unions. I was wife number four, who came along at a time when Bob was a little bit older and longing for the love of a woman he could imagine growing old with. “Lucky number four,” Bob always said to me, “I finally found my lucky number four.” I was content to be his lucky number four, though many, many times I wished we had met years before because no matter how many years we had together, I knew, we both knew, it would never be enough. Being fallible is what makes us all human and Bob was no exception. He spent years careening down Hollywood’s fast lane, sometimes drinking a little too much, always smoking a little too much and possibly burning some bridges in the process. He was the man who left Hollywood because he felt it was eating him alive. He was a young man searching for stability, looking for true love, and as he would find out years later, searching for a greater purpose. Bob was not perfect, but he was perfect for me. This is our story with all of its ups and downs. It’s the story of our love for not only each other, but for our autistic son. This is the story of Bob’s courage in the face of his illness and death. This is the story of Bob finally finding his greater purpose. Where to begin? That’s the question I’ve asked myself from the moment I entertained the idea of writing this book. Do you begin at the very beginning? Do you talk about the connection you felt when you met? Do you describe how it was electric and somehow almost spiritual? Do you start with the fact that the minute you shook hands and introduced yourself, you knew? Yes, I think you do. So let’s start at the very beginning.


Chapter Two August 1977 Your kiss, your kiss is on my list Your kiss is on my list of the best things in life.-“Kiss on My List” ~ Hall and Oates I was an actress. Not a famous actress, but steadily employed, which by any creative person’s measure is an accomplishment. My goal was not necessarily to be famous but to make a living doing something I loved. To that end, I worked regional theater, dinner theater, which was in its heyday in the 70s, and musical road companies. I had worked on stage opposite Academy Award-nominated Sal Mineo and Golden Globe winner, Broadway star Harve Presnell; I had played the onstage daughter of Gale Gordon from The Lucy Show, Robert Cummings from Love That Bob, and the wonderful Hans Conried, who I would later discover was one of Bob’s favorite guest stars on Gilligan’s Island. I had smooched on stage with Doug McClure, the handsome hunk who played Trampas on The Virginian and Ted Shackelford of Knot’s Landing fame. Al Lewis, best known as Grandpa Munster, Bill and Susan Seaforth Hayes from Days of Our Lives, and Broadway’s Ian Sullivan were talented names with whom I had shared the stage. I’m sure you recognize some of these names, so just sit back and let me tell you a little about my experiences working with a few of my favorites. First, because I adored him - Sal Mineo - Rebel Without a Cause, Exodus, The King and I on Broadway. My first Equity show, the one that earned me my Actors Equity card, was Sunday in New York, starring Sal Mineo. I wasn’t the female lead opposite him. No, my part was basically a bit part called ‘Woman’ and as I remember, ‘Woman’ was every female in the play who wasn’t the leading lady. So I was ‘woman on bus,’ ‘woman in 14

restaurant,’ ‘woman walking by,’ etc. What a great introduction to professional theater! I mean that sincerely. I was able to observe actors, who knew far more than I, honing their craft. Like a sponge, I soaked up their process, learned Sal Mineo and yours truly in Sunday in New theater terms that were York new to me, watched as they and the director worked out blocking, intently listened as they talked about motivation. Every single second of the rehearsal process was thrilling to me! I couldn’t wait to get to work every day. Heck, how could I even call it work when I was having this much fun? I mean, seriously, I was getting paid to do this! Apparently, my enthusiasm was something Sal appreciated. One day when we broke for lunch, he came up to me and asked if I might want to run lines with him later. Would I ever! I was beside myself. We ran lines in his dressing room that day and every day after until opening night. And, no, don’t even go there! If you know anything about Sal, you know he had no romantic interest in me at all. Immensely talented and generous to a fault as an actor, I think he saw my eagerness, my inexperience, and thought of me as a protege. And, I found out later, during the times we ran lines, I was unwittingly auditioning for him. Running lines with Sal meant I was reading the part of his leading lady, and the significance of that would be evident in a few months’ time when I was in Canada singing in the chorus of Oklahoma. A few weeks into the run of Oklahoma, the producer/ director called me to tell me he was releasing me from my contract. Oh, no! I wasn’t that bad, was I? A little green maybe, but an actor had to start somewhere, right? I soon found out it wasn’t my lack of talent that prompted his call; just the opposite. He was calling to tell me that Sal Mineo’s agent had contacted him, looking for me. Dreama, the girl who had no agent, had been just a little difficult to track down. 15

Sal was getting ready to take Sunday in New York on the road and wanted me for the female lead! We’d be playing Dallas, Houston, and Phoenix; the tour would last four months. Sal didn’t want anyone else for the part, so his agent wanted to know if I could be made available. I could and I was. I’ll be forever grateful to Oklahoma’s producer, the indomitable Bob Turoff, for insisting I leave the chorus of Oklahoma for the wide-open opportunities that awaited me in Texas. Playing opposite Sal Mineo was a real learning experience for me. Onstage, occasionally, he would ad lib, staying within the parameters of the script while at the same time, going completely off script. The first time he pulled this little trick out of his hat, I was completely thrown as I struggled to keep up with him. Knowing when and how he was going to try to throw me a curve, Sal was also prepared to save me when he saw my blank expression and knew I was lost. I cannot tell you how invaluable this experience was to me. In the months we worked together, I had no choice but to learn to think on my feet. I also learned to listen, really listen, rather than recite everything by rote. I discovered that acting was about reacting and what it meant to genuinely be in the moment. A few years after our tour ended, I was living in Sarasota and on this particular February day, getting ready to head to the Golden Apple Theater for rehearsal. I was grabbing some breakfast before I left, half-listening to the news on TV while I ate. Almost peripherally, I heard the newscaster’s voice saying words my brain couldn’t quite absorb, “Actor Sal Mineo was found dead today in the alley behind his West Hollywood apartment in Los Angeles.” My brain went numb . . . what? Sal was dead? Murdered, they were saying . . . stabbed . . . is that what they said? Sal was only 37 years old. Sal had become such a good friend to me. Only two weeks before, we had met in St. Petersburg for dinner. We’d spent a nice, quiet evening together. I had introduced him to the man I was dating at the time and Sal had given his approval. His last words to me had been, “We’ll get together again very soon.” Now, this newscaster was telling me that Sal was dead?!? I stared blankly at the television, trying to make sense of what I was seeing . . . Sal’s body lying lifeless in an alley . . . they were saying it was murder! Soft, kind, gentle Sal had been murdered! 16

This tender, talented man had died a violent death at the hand of an unknown assailant? Stabbed . . . WHY? Do you know how it is when the blood rushes to your head and you can feel and hear what sounds like the roar of the ocean in your ears? That’s how it was for me. It’s been over 40 years and a very long time since I’ve thought about Sal’s death, but writing this part of my book brings it all back and I’m finding, to this very day, it hurts. Gale Gordon – Here’s Lucy, The Lucy Show, Dennis the Menace What do I say about Gale Gordon, one of Lucille Ball’s best friends and the only actor to have co-starred or guest-starred in every weekly radio or television series she ever did? Hearing his Lucy stories over dinner during the course of our time together made it evident how much he loved and respected her. Here’s a little tidbit you may know . . . or then again, you may not. Gale was Lucy’s original choice to play Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy, but he was forced to turn down the part due to his commitment to the series, Our Miss Brooks. Gale was an unparalleled funny man, master of the ‘slow-burn’ and to be the recipient of that extremely famous ‘slow-burn’ onstage was almost surreal. Our show was playing in a mid-70s Atlanta, and if I remember correctly, the theater was called The Peachtree Theater, located right downtown. The show was called Never Too Late, and, for a while, I made a career of playing the daughter Kate in that play, working opposite Bob Cummings, Hans Conried, and, of course, in this production, Gale Gordon. Unlike my experiences in the other productions, my onstage father/daughter relationship with Gale spilled over into real life. Or maybe I should call it our grandfather/ granddaughter relationship because Gale and his lovely wife Virginia became surrogate grandparents to me during the run of the show. We all had apartments in the same building and I can’t count the times the two of them invited me up for a Virginia homecooked dinner, so appreciated by any actor on the road away from home. Gale 17

worried about a young 24-year-old like me walking the few blocks to and from the theater through downtown Atlanta alone at night, so it was decided he and I would always walk there and back together. During the two month run of the show, I remember getting sick – the ‘I’m so stuffed up I can’t breathe, running-a-high-fever, oh, no, I might throw up, down-a-hole’ kind of sick. Gale and I walked to the theater earlier than usual that night because, and I’m guessing here, he was probably worried he might have to pick me up and carry me there. When we got backstage, he deposited me in my dressing room and told me to stay put, and he’d be right back. Chances were pretty slim I’d be going anywhere. I was just praying to be able to make it through that night’s performance. About half an hour later, he was back, knocking on the dressing room door, and when I staggered over to open it, he presented me with a gigantic, steaming container of chicken broth. The only thing bigger than that container was the mile-wide smile on his face. “Nothing better than chicken broth, Dreama,” Gale said to me. “I called around until I found a place downtown that carried the fresh, homemade kind. No medicine will fix you up faster than this, so drink up! I want you to finish it before we leave here tonight!” Always good at following directions, I did what I was told and, honestly, started feeling better almost right away. Of course, the love and attention from this dearest of men might have had more than a little to do with my quick recovery. Yes, this was the Mr. Mooney I knew, not irascible or cantankerous at all, and to this day, more than forty years later, Gale Gordon still owns a special piece of my heart. Doug McClure – Trampas on The Virginian, Shenandoah As I was Googling Doug’s credits (and he has many more than the two I’ve listed here), I came upon an interesting fact I didn’t know at the time we worked together. His full name was Douglas Osborne McClure. What’s so interesting about that, you may be wondering. Well . . . my husband’s name was Robert Osborne Denver and my son’s name is Colin Osborne Denver. Osborne isn’t a name you see very often and, in our case, it was a family name on Bob’s side of the family. I’d be curious to know how Doug came to be an 18

Osborne, but unfortunately, I guess I’ll never know. Ladies of a certain age will definitely remember Doug McClure, the handsome hunk (yes, he was most definitely a hunk) who played Trampas for the entirety of the long-running television series, The Virginian, from 1962 to 1971. I worked with Doug in 1975, so he was hot off that successful show and looked exactly like the Trampas we all loved. We were in Dallas doing the Neil Simon show, “Come Blow Your Horn,” starring not only Doug, but also Al Lewis from The Munsters as Doug’s father. You can imagine, right? With these two, especially Grandpa Munster, among us, rehearsals were crazy fun, full of laughter, high jinks, and often, total nonsense. It’s a miracle we got anything done. When I look back on this particular production, that’s what I remember – outrageous fun! Being on the road creates an instant feeling of family among the cast and that closeness means when you’re not working, you’re often playing together. I spent a great deal of time hanging out with Doug, who seemed to know some pretty impressive people in Dallas. I remember he had some very wealthy friends who owned a huge ranch outside the city. Once in a while, these friends would send a helicopter to the theater after the show to pick up Doug (and anyone else in the cast who wanted to go) and fly them to the ranch for what appeared to be a perpetual party. I went a couple of times and I have to admit, flying in a helicopter for the first time and being in the company of this kind of wealth was totally new to me and just a bit overwhelming. I remember meeting Cyd Charisse and her husband, actor/singer Tony Martin, at one of these forays. I remember Mr. Martin, whose career ended up spanning seven decades, six of which he was married to Miss Charisse, sitting at the piano, singing big band for us. Maybe that was the beginning of my love for the American Songbook. My last stand-out memory of Dallas and Doug was his friendship with some of the Dallas Cowboys, who in those days were truly America’s team. What a kick it was every time Doug pulled me aside before curtain to tell me that some of the Cowboys were in the audience that night. Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, who had just joined the Cowboys as a linebacker, came to the show quite a few times, I remember. He went on to play for the 49ers, the Oilers and the Dolphins and . . . are you ready for this? Researching this book, 19

I found out he won the 28-milliondollar Lotto Texas jackpot in 2000!! I haven’t said much about Al, only because he was older than the rest of us and didn’t really go out after the show as much as we did, Grandpa Munster was a good hugger! but I will say, “Come Blow Your Horn” wasn’t my only Al Lewis experience. In 1976, he requested me for a musical he was doing called “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” so I worked with him again in Virginia Beach, playing Philia the Virgin in this Stephen Sondheim show. As I write all of this, I’m reminded once again of how blessed I was in my acting life. The stars liked me and thought I was talented enough to request me for shows after our initial work experience. Because of this, I worked steadily, with very little time off between productions. But it was during one of those times off when my biggest blessing, the one that changed my life, took place. So let’s fast forward a year or so to 1977. I was on my way to St Petersburg, FL, to work with Bob Denver, and life was pretty exciting for Dreama Peery. Cruising down Florida’s I-4 in my pale gold 1972 Satellite Sebring, which I still have, by the way. I was all smiles. A young woman with her bags in the trunk, music blaring on the radio, and a job waiting for her at the end of the line. All thanks to a good friend who had called me during a visit with my family in Orlando to tell me that The Country Dinner Playhouse in St Pete was casting for the Woody Allen show Play It Again, Sam. You’d be perfect for the lead, she told me, so get over there and audition. I did, and I got the part. Cranking up the radio, I belted out Best of My Love right along with the Emotions as I tried to imagine what it would be like working 20

with the show’s star, Bob Denver. Being cast opposite a celebrity was always a little nerve-wracking because you never knew what to expect. My experiences, like the ones I mentioned earlier, had been mostly good ones, but even so, I definitely ran into my share of peculiarities in some of the stars I played opposite. But I had high hopes for working with Bob, who had played the part of Allan Felix many times, beginning with his Broadway run as Woody Allen’s handpicked replacement when Woody left the show in New York. I knew he’d been touring “Sam” all over the country, and from everything I had heard, he was a nice guy. I had read the script and was having a little trouble, however, imagining getting all romantic with Gilligan in the scenes our characters had together. He didn’t strike me as the romantic type. Gilligan, I thought to myself with a giggle, I’m going to be kissing and hugging on Gilligan. I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around that. I mean, c’mon, Gilligan was . . . well . . . Gilligan, not the kind of character one imagined making love scenes soar, and we had love scenes in “Sam” that needed to do just that. Well, it didn’t really matter, I had signed a contract, and that meant working with Bob no matter what kind of person he turned out to be. Yes, I was nervous. The first day of rehearsals always made me a little apprehensive, but I was one of those actors who loved the rehearsal process, so, nerves or no nerves, I was looking forward to it. I had worked with ‘stars’ who didn’t like to rehearse, and I prayed Bob wouldn’t be one of those. A few months earlier, I had been in Canada doing the show Never Too Late with Bob Cummings, who wasn’t all that crazy about rehearsals. So, in his absence, the stage manager read his lines from offstage and tried to give the rest of the cast some indication of where Bob might be during each of the scenes. This was totally weird to me and to all the other cast members as we stood there, speaking our lines into thin air. I mentioned before that my experience with Sal taught me that acting is all about reacting and with nothing and no one to react to— it was pretty difficult to get a feel for the pace of the show under those circumstances. Bob Cummings finally showed up for dress rehearsal, but even then, refused to participate fully – he basically walked through the part, which meant, yes, we had a body 21

there, but still no idea of the performance he’d deliver the next night. His high energy, jumping-over-the-ottoman (ala Dick Van Dyke) Harry Lambert of opening night took every member of the cast by surprise! Give me generous actors who are right there with you from the get-go any day! I never understood the stars who felt their performance looked better if they made the cast supporting them look worse. Hopefully, Bob Denver wouldn’t be one of those. I pulled into the parking lot of the Country Dinner Playhouse and was greeted by a marquee that took me totally by surprise. It read: Bob Denver starring in ‘Play It Again, Sam’ Also starring Dreamer Peery I did a double-take and burst out laughing. No doubt, my first name had been mangled many times in my life, but not once had I ever been referred to as Dreamer. Obviously, I was going to have to talk to the theater owner, the producer, somebody, and get that changed, but right now, I had to show up for my first rehearsal, so I got out of the car, took a deep breath and headed for the door. Inside I found most of the cast gathered onstage. Everyone looked up expectantly as I walked in. Nope, I wasn’t Bob Denver. The star had not yet arrived, so the rest of us introduced ourselves and stood together onstage exchanging pleasantries, making actors’ small talk. It wasn’t long before we heard a voice, a very familiar voice calling out at the top of his lungs, “What the hell is a Dreamer?” And there he was. Bob Denver, aka Maynard G. Krebs, aka Gilligan heading straight for the producer asking for the third time, “What is a Dreamer? I’m going to be working with a Dreamer?!?” I’m sure I was blushing as I stepped forward and offered my hand. “Hi Bob, the Dreamer you’ll be working with is me.” Lifting an eyebrow, he looked me over from head to toe, “Your name is Dreamer?” he asked incredulously. “No, no, actually the marquee has it wrong. My name is Dreama, Dreama Peery,” I answered. “Beautiful name,” he said, smiling. “Nice to meet you, Dreama Peery.”


He took my hand and all I can tell you is this, sparks flew. Later the other cast members confided to me that even they could feel it. However, at that moment, as we stood there shaking hands, which turned into holding hands, smiling into each other’s eyes, I knew that this man was my destiny. I don’t know how I knew it; I just did. Rehearsals were underway. We arrived every morning around 9:00 a.m. and worked until 6:00 or so with an hour break for lunch. I was one happy camper, spending my days rehearsing with Bob. Perks were built right into the job, and the best perk, in my opinion, was the excuse to kiss and cuddle numerous times throughout the day with the man who had made me giggle at the thought only days before. My assumption that the love scenes with Bob would be difficult because of the Gilligan persona proved to be totally wrong. Bob Denver, the man, was sexy, and Dreama Peery, the woman, was insanely attracted to him. It was obvious Bob felt the same way because he would insist on rehearsing the love scenes again and again and again, always winking at me, saying it was important that we get them just right. Heck, I thought we were spot on, but who was I to argue with the star of the show? Of course, all of this kissing and cuddling was not without complications. Much to my dismay, in light of my attraction to him, Bob had arrived in St Pete with a woman in tow. He had just finished a show in Chicago where he had picked himself up a little ‘huggy’ (his description) and there she was at every rehearsal shooting daggers through me every time I looked her way. I tried to stay oblivious, but it wasn’t easy. Her dislike for me was hard to ignore. Wishing her away wasn’t working either – believe me, I tried. But there she sat every day in the empty theater with her long blonde hair, her big breasts, and her come-hither look directed at Bob, who basically seemed not to notice. All these years later, I don’t remember her name, but I do remember she was attractive, and I do remember the insecurity I felt when I compared my somewhat small chest to her much larger one. If breasts ended up being the deciding factor, I was definitely out-cupped! Along with Miss D-Cup, Bob had his mother, Marion, his 16year-old son, and his 13-year-old daughter with him on this trip. 23

Since school was almost ready to start, the kids would be leaving before opening night, with Marion planning to leave at the same time. I loved Marion. I would come to know her as Gran, but at this point, she was Mrs. Denver, 75 years old and a pistol. During one of our conversations, she told me outright that she didn’t like the woman Bob had brought along from Chicago. She thought she was with him for all the wrong reasons, and Marion, being a woman whose faculties were in excellent working order, could see the attraction between Bob and me and wanted me to know I had her wholehearted approval. It was up to us, she told me, to move this woman out in order to move me in. I had no idea how we were supposed to make this happen, but Marion was determined, and I was happy to have her on my side. I remember one night in particular; Marion and I were sitting in the theater’s empty bar during off hours. Bob’s ‘huggy’ was the topic of conversation. It seemed no one in the Denver family was very fond of her, so Marion devised a plan. She wrote down her telephone number and handed it to me. “I want you to use this, Dreama, if you need any advice at all. Call me day or night.” She gave me a conspiratorial wink, “We need to get you and Bob alone together, so I think you should pretend to have car trouble. Call Bob and tell him you need a ride to the theater.” She wrote down his number and handed it to me. “I know for a fact he’s smitten with you. He’ll be more than happy to pick you up and then you can make your move.” My eyes must have been the size of 50 cent pieces. I had no moves! She was expecting me to make a move? I had no comehither looks, no va va va voom. I was just a young woman with a huge crush and no idea how to get rid of the competition in question. My face must have said it all because Marion patted my hand and said, “Don’t worry; all you have to do is call him for a ride. Bob will do the rest.” I sighed, “But what about . . .” I began. But was interrupted by Marion’s, “Don’t worry about her either. She has children at home and Bob’s been offering to fly her back to Chicago for days. School’s getting ready to start. She may be stubborn, but she can’t stay here forever.” 24

Hallelujah! I had no idea she had children. Maybe she really would have no choice but to leave St Pete in short order. I put Marion’s number in my purse, “Thank you, Mrs. Denver.” I gave her a hug. We smiled at each other. The plan was in place. Now all I had to do was make that phone call. ————————— Bob’s kids left to go back to school, his mother left to go back to LA, and miraculously, the blonde finally left for Chicago. There was nothing standing between me and my destiny except the telephone, which I picked up and put down I don’t know how many times. Tonight was opening night, and Bob was throwing a cast party at his apartment after the show. Our apartments were in the same complex, which made this a perfect opportunity to put the plan in motion, but I couldn’t lie to him. How could I start what I hoped would become a relationship, with a falsehood, no matter how wellintended it might be? So, I came up with Part 2 of The Plan. I would send him an opening night telegram saying something to make my interest clear, just in case he’d been in some kind of fog for the last eight days. Had it been only eight days? I called Western Union. I wish I still had the telegram; I don’t. I wish I could remember exactly what it said; I can’t. But I do remember that it was short, sweet, and as clever as I could make it, and as it ended up, served its purpose quite well. The telegram was ordered – whew - now all that was left was to call Bob. Once again, for what was probably ten minutes, I played my ‘yes I can,’ ‘no, I can’t’ game with the telephone. Finally, holding my breath, I jerked up the receiver and called Bob’s number before I could chicken out again. He answered, sounding a little bit groggy as though he’s been in the middle of a pre-opening night nap. Ignoring the sleepy sound in his voice and wondering how anyone could sleep with opening night in the offing, I plunged ahead. “Bob, it’s Dreama. Listen, I was just thinking . . . why don’t we ride to the theater together tonight. We could run lines, maybe?” I hesitated slightly. I could hear the smile that replaced the sleep in his voice. “Sounds good to me,” he said, “What time do you need to be there?” 25

When I told him I wanted to get there a tiny bit early to keep from feeling rushed and to hold the opening night jitters at bay, he agreed readily, saying he’d pick me up around 7:00. I laid the receiver back in the cradle while butterflies played tag all over my insides. There! I had done it! No imaginary car trouble, no falsehoods of any kind, just a straightforward request. I was sure Marion would be proud. As I remember, opening night went off without a hitch. Bob got my telegram, and when I say got it, I mean, not only did he have physical possession of it, but he immediately got the intention behind it. My heart melted when there was a knock at my dressing room door and the stage manager handed me an amazing bouquet of flowers with a note from Bob. No matter this was more or less standard procedure from the star to his leading lady. I knew Bob sent the flowers to Dreama, not just his leading lady. The card read, “To many more opening nights together. Love, Bob” I floated through the rest of the evening.

Dress rehearsal for “Play It Again, Sam” 26

For most actors, performing live is their first love and opening night brings with it an unbelievable high. The show is finally on its feet, the first night is behind you and it’s time to party! For all the years I knew him, Bob never failed to show his appreciation to the cast and crew, always finding ways to reward their hard work and dedication. This opening night was no exception. Everyone wanted a party and Bob was making sure they got one. Cast and crew

poured out of the theater heading for Bob’s apartment jazzed up and ready for some fun. As we crammed into Bob’s place, I marveled at the closeness actors and crew feel after only a short time together. On the road, your familiarity is magnified by the fact that you’re away from home, away from loved ones, spending every waking moment working as a unit to bring, in this case, laughter to the masses. It was a great feeling, and to this day, I miss the camaraderie that exists among creative people. The party was in full force as drinks flowed, music played, people danced, and most of the actresses in the show spent the majority of their time flirting with Bob. I watched. I’ve never been much of a drinker, but as an actress, I always tried to be an observer, and observing the antics going on around me as these women competed for Bob’s attention was pretty humorous, a little bit like watching “The Bachelor” minus all the catfighting. I worked hard at biding my time, feeling certain none of these women would get very far, knowing that Bob and I had a ‘thing’ going on. At least, that was my hope. After a few hours the party started thinning out, but not before some industrious person sneaked out and came back bearing newspapers with our first reviews. We all gathered round to hear what Jim Moorehead, of the St Petersburg Independent, had to say. “Doubtless Denver has had stronger supporting casts . . . But he hardly could have a Linda more proficient than Peery, and their several scenes together – as they realize they are in love, but futilely – are most satisfying to watch. The lady is just right and it is these scenes in which Denver excels.” Apparently, our chemistry was evident even to the reviewer. Exhaustion replaced the adrenaline rush as sleepy-eyed crew members began to file out. Sleep deprivation is a matter of course leading up to opening night and actors and crew members alike were beginning to feel the effects of the long hours and sleepless nights required to mount the production. As people said their good-byes, I lingered, figuring this was my chance to make that move Bob’s mom had talked about. I still wasn’t sure exactly what that move was going 27

to be, but if there was a move to be made, I didn’t want to be missing in action. Looking around at the mess the guys were leaving behind, I decided cleaning up would be an excellent excuse for hanging around a little longer, so I cleaned. It wasn’t long before the most die-hard of the persistent gave up and headed home. Bob and I were alone. I was in the kitchen, pretending to be very busy with my cleaning detail when in walked Bob. “You don’t have to do that,” he said as he turned me around. “I don’t mi -,” I tried to say, but his kiss stopped me mid-sentence. You ladies will know what I’m talking about when I say my toes tingled, every nerve ending in my body jumped and my heart slammed against my chest until I thought I might faint. I could barely breathe as I wrapped my arms around his neck, returning his kiss full force. This wasn’t a stage kiss, an Allan and Linda kiss, as good as those were. This was a Bob and Dreama kiss. This kiss came from a place so deep inside each of us that we were both caught off guard completely. In retrospect, I think we were probably holding each other up from the force of it. Had I really not thought of Bob Denver as sexy? Really? Maybe Gilligan hadn’t seemed sexy to me, but Bob Denver? Bob Denver was very, very sexy! Pulling my face away just a little, I began backing toward the front door of the apartment. Bob’s arms stayed around me as I backed up, his lips covering my face with tiny kisses. Quite frankly, this was a little bit more than I had bargained for. Spending the last eight days titillating each other during rehearsals basically added up to over a week of foreplay. Is it any wonder I was weak in the knees? I tried to speak as my back made contact with the front door frame. “Ma-Maybe I should go,” I stammered, only to be stopped once again by a kiss so delicious adjectives escaped me. Bob placed his lips, amazing lips, I might add, close to my ear, “I’ve wanted you all to myself since the minute I laid eyes on you,” he whispered. My heart pounded as I removed my arm from around his neck and reached for the doorknob behind me. I wasn’t at all sure this was a good idea. Don’t get me wrong, the desire to explore this man was overwhelming, but what would he think of me? I definitely didn’t


want to be considered ‘easy’ and end up just another notch on his bedpost. But for the life of me, I couldn’t think straight. Taking my hand very gently and placing my arm back around his neck where he wanted it, Bob placed his lips on the soft spot just underneath my earlobe and whispered his question, “I just need to know one thing.” He paused, lips close to my ear as he whispered. “Do you do this sitting down?” Did I do this sitting down? Apparently, I did. As we made full-body contact and sank onto the sofa, I knew I was down for the count.


Chapter 3 And it’s so hard to do And so easy to say But sometimes, sometimes, you just have to walk away. “Walk Away” ~ Ben Harper Suppose in this lifetime, you are lucky enough to meet someone who believes in you more than you believe in yourself – well, in my book, that makes you one lucky woman, and in my opinion, I was the luckiest of the lucky to have found a man who was fifteen years older, fifteen years smarter and who thought I was the best thing since sliced bread. A lot can be learned under the tutelage of a man like that. Picking Bob’s brain was one of my greatest pleasures, and I considered him not only the smartest man I had ever known, but my greatest teacher. However, relationships rarely come in the perfect little package tied up with the perfect little bow. Relationships are often messy and complicated, requiring the couple in question to work through a period of adjustment. We were no different. At 27 years of age, I didn’t come into the relationship with much baggage. I had been married briefly before I met Bob, but no children had resulted from my shortlived union, which meant my ex and I had no reason to be in contact. Yes, my heart had been broken numerous times – at least I thought it had been broken, but in reality, I had led a pretty charmed life. On the other hand, Bob had three ex-wives, four great kids, a career that had certainly seen its ups and downs and years’ worth of hurt to contend with. He was a little gun-shy and not totally trusting. I imagine most relationships go through a period of adjustment. First, there’s the exhilarating adjustment of coming together physically, exploring each other in a romantic sense, discovering likes and dislikes. I don’t think I’d be going out on a limb if I said most couples find this 30

adjustment very rewarding, and that in the early stages, the intoxication of the physical adjustment can usurp almost any and everything else. Then there’s the adjustment that comes with occupying the same space, trying to make room for the other’s idiosyncrasies and habits, good and bad. This one can be a bit more challenging, but no less enjoyable as you move another person into your life, making it far more satisfying than a life of going it alone. I think the intellectual adjustment might be the most fun – okay, you’re right, second most fun – but discovering what makes the other person tick, what his or her feelings are about the world, love, marriage, politics, religion, and family or any variety of subjects can be very educational, especially when you’re paired with someone who thinks ‘outside the box.’ Interviewers used to ask me what made me fall in love with Bob and I never hesitated to answer, “I fell in love with his brain.” It was an amazing brain, unlike any I had ever run across. Bob’s Jesuit education resulted in making him a thinker, and I don’t mean just a thinker, but the kind of independent thinker who looked at problems or situations in a way that was completely foreign to me. He was never someone to ‘go-along,’ preferring instead to roll up his sleeves and delve in, deciding for himself, regardless of what was in vogue, how he felt about different subjects. Rarely were things black and white for Bob, and in our years together, he taught me to look at problems on my own and draw my own conclusions. He never failed to caution me, “Just because that’s the way your parents did it, just because that’s the way you grew up and learned to think, doesn’t mean you can’t look at all the pieces and put them together for yourself. I’m not saying your family was wrong; I’m only saying you need to decide how you feel and not react automatically because you think that’s what’s expected. Standing before me is a smart woman and I want you to realize your potential to be the best you possible.” Bob challenged me and I found that I loved being challenged. He taught me to become a problem-solver and, goodness knows, at the beginning of our relationship, I had one helluva problem to solve. Early in relationships, the two parties involved sometimes push the envelope to discover the limits, to find out what is and isn’t okay. 31

For instance, is it okay to flirt? Let me check out your jealousy quotient and see what I can get by with. Or - Do you mind if I tell you what to do, control your every move, will that be okay? And what if I want to go out with my buddies four nights a week? Will you put up with that? What if I think my life and my job are much more important than yours and I want you to give yours up? Will that work for you? And . . . (the big one for me) what if I like to drink? Not just an occasional drink, mind you, but drink after drink until I become a completely different person than the one you think you know. You love me, so that will be okay, right? WRONG! The last red flag is the only red flag waved at me in those early days with Bob, but it was a red flag of huge proportions and a definite deal-breaker for me. In my defense, I had never dated anyone who drank to excess, so I wasn’t totally aware of what I was up against, but the enormity became clear pretty quickly. My first warning sign came very early on. On our day off, Bob got up, went to the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of vodka out of the freezer. As I watched, wondering what he was going to do with it, he tipped it up and began drinking straight from the bottle. My eyes widened. This can’t be good, I thought to myself (an understatement if ever I had made one), and as the day wore on, it became crystal clear that this wasn’t good at all. I watched in silence as my intelligent, clever, funny Bob turned into a sloppy, slightly belligerent stranger. Trying to talk to him did no good whatsoever. His glazed eyes told me he’d remember little of a conversation even if I bothered trying to have one. So, I waited. The next morning when he woke up, I had my bags packed, ready to leave the apartment, and before he could navigate his way to the freezer, I made my position clear. “Listen to me,” I said to him, “there will never be a time or a place when this will be okay with me. I can’t watch you do this. I can’t watch the man I love disintegrate into this sloppy, slurring mess I saw last night. I love you, but I won’t do it. I can’t.” I turned to pick up my suitcase and he grabbed my arm. “Look,” his eyes held mine, “I don’t have a drinking problem. I’m a grown man and I can have a drink if I want to.” His look dared me to argue the point. I stood there in silence, staring right back at him. “Look, 32

Dreama, I love you. I don’t want you to leave, but you can’t tell me what to do.” Sighing, I began lugging my suitcases to the front door. “Bob, no one is telling you what to do. You can drink yourself into oblivion for all I care, but you’ll have to do it alone.” My eyes filled with tears, “I love you too much, and I don’t care if you’ve spent your entire adult life and every moment with every woman you’ve ever known doing this, you won’t do it with me because I won’t be hanging around to see it. I can’t. It hurts too much.” I stood there, weighing the words I had just spoken, uncertain about the choice I was making. I loved Bob and felt, without qualification, that we were destined to be together. Leaving him was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to help him with this problem, and the only way I knew to do that was to hope he loved me enough to rethink his priorities and decide that we were more important than a vodka bottle. Sadly, we looked at each other, “So you’re really going to leave?” he asked. Gathering my resolve, I stared at the floor before answering. “Yes, I’m leaving. I’ll see you at the theater tomorrow.” We were in the middle of a production so I couldn’t avoid him completely. “I don’t want you to leave,” he told me again, his eyes begging me to change my mind. “And I don’t want to. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.” I held his gaze for a minute longer, “When you decide we’re more important than ‘that’,” I said, pointing in the direction of the kitchen, “just let me know.” I left without looking back. Okay, I peeped, but I did leave. Sitting in my apartment alone and lonely, I prayed, I pleaded for some kind of intervention; I pictured Bob alone in his apartment and wondered if there was any way his misery matched mine. I cried copious amounts of tears. But even though in the early stages of our relationship, I was already having trouble imagining life without him. I knew I had to stick to my guns. If we managed to stay together, I had no idea what the future might have in store for us, yet I was pretty certain any difficulty life handed us would only be magnified if drinking remained his escape. Bob had to decide to choose a life with me, 33

forfeiting what had become a crutch for something real and honest and true. Most of me believed this would happen, but part of me was terrified it wouldn’t. After using ice, cucumbers, everything I could think of to reduce the swelling in eyes that had been on a crying jag for the last 10 hours, I arrived backstage to find Bob waiting, full of apologies and promises. He led me into our dressing room, a private place where we could talk undisturbed – at least until the stage manager called half hour. I sat down at the dressing table while Bob stood behind me, each of us staring at the other’s reflections in the mirror. “I love you, Dreama,” he stood above me, his hands squeezing my shoulders. “I want you with me.” His gaze held mine, ‘I’m not an alcoholic, you have to know that, but I do sometimes drink too much. I’ve been drinking a little too much for a lot of years, and I can’t just stop cold turkey. I need you to stick by me while I work through this. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. You have to believe in me. No more hard booze, I promise.” That’s what he said, but what I heard was, “No more booze.” Wrapping his arms around me from behind, he studied my reflection and asked, “Are you with me? Will you hang in there with me while I do this? I can’t do it alone. I especially can’t do it if you leave.” I swiveled around, pulling his face close to mine, “I’ll never leave you, Bob Denver. Never. Whatever happens, we’ll get through it together.” And I meant it. We both did. We proved it many times throughout our marriage. However, we weren’t married yet, and that first year together saw us butting heads many times over Bob’s affinity for alcohol. He gave up hard booze as promised, but imagine my surprise when naïve little me found out that you could get just as loaded on beer if you drank enough of it. No doubt about it, we had knockdown, drag outs that saw me, more than once, packing my bags to leave, only to have Bob pay the taxi driver to go away the minute he showed up. And then there was the time I decided ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’. Maybe if he saw me sloppy and disgusting, he’d realize how embarrassing and disappointing it was. 34

We were in Amarillo, Texas, rehearsing a new show, so in the privacy of our hotel room, we ordered room service and I made sure I ordered exactly what he ordered, promising myself I’d match him drink for drink. The trouble was, I didn’t enjoy drinking, never really had, and as I looked at glass after glass of vodka on the room service table, the only thing I felt was nauseous. I couldn’t do it. So, of course, this left Bob with double the intake and caused what ended up being the biggest fight we had in all our years together. Thinking of it now, knowing how things ultimately turned out, I can laugh, but at the time, it wasn’t so funny and there’s a little part of me that can’t believe I’m going to tell you this story. Bob was rarin’ to go as he grabbed the first vodka and downed it. I grabbed one and sat there, staring at it feeling sicker. I realized right then and there that even if I could match him drink for drink, even if I got sloppy, even if I was the most disgusting drunk woman who ever walked the face of the earth, it wouldn’t matter; he probably wouldn’t even notice. So, there I sat holding my vodka, wishing I could find a way to pour every single one of them, mine and his, down the toilet. “You gonna drink that.” Already Bob’s eyes were glazing over. I sighed, “Nope. I thought I could do this, but I can’t.” Bob took the drink, looking for all the world like a kid at Christmas. Standing up, I started pacing the room, “Dammit, Bob, why do you do this?” A better question might have been, why was I putting up with it? My only excuse was I loved him and when he was sober, which was most of the time, he was the best human being I had ever known. There had to be a way to bring the wonderful man I knew him to be to the forefront while burying the man standing in front of me, drink in hand, smiling a lopsided boozy smile. I planted my feet firmly and confronted him, “I am such an idiot. I keep telling you I won’t put up with this and yet I keep coming back every time you promise to stop. This is becoming as much my problem as it is yours. I can’t keep doing this, not if I have one iota of selfrespect.” Bob’s bleary eyes looked at me as if to say he’d heard it all before. And he had – why should he think this time would be any 35

different? He picked up another vodka, this time sipping it while he studied me. Totally defeated, I lay down on the bed, hoping to avoid a confrontation that would only add fuel to the fire. “I’m going to sleep now because I’m exhausted. We have rehearsal tomorrow and I need to get some rest, so leave me alone, please. Tomorrow I’ll figure out what I’m going to do, but right now I just want you to leave me the hell alone.” Anyone who’s ever spent time with a drinker knows that a statement like that is never taken at face value. No, it becomes a challenge and, in this case, Bob considered it an invitation to climb aboard. Suddenly he was looming over me, shirtless and slurring, “Hey,” he said rather loudly, “What’s your problem? It’s just booze. I can drink if I want to. You can’t tell me what to do. No woman tells me what to do.” Placing an arm on either side of my head and leaning in close to my face, Bob turned up his volume. “You’re just like all the others, you know that? You’re no different than any other woman I’ve ever known. You’re all alike. What can you get from me? What can you take from me? I didn’t trust them and I don’t trust you.” Measuring my words, I stared him down, “I’m nothing like the other women, Bob, NOTHING! And if you’d stay sober and see the reality of you and me, you’d see that. I’m not in this because you’re Gilligan. I could care less that you’re famous. I’m in this because I love you, period. That’s the reason I’m here and the only reason I’m here.” “You’re nothing but a little chick I picked up along the way - just a little huggy. I don’t need you and I don’t need your crap!” I couldn’t believe my ears. Never had he spoken to me like that. I didn’t know whether to cry or scream, so I did a little of both as I tried to push him away. He wasn’t budging. “Get off me,” I hissed between clenched teeth. He didn’t move a muscle. So, I tried again, “You’re drunk, damn it, get away from me,” I yelled at him as I continued to push. He leaned back slightly and suddenly I was overcome with a tunnel vision so complete I couldn’t see anything else around me, only his bare torso inches away from my face. It drew me like a magnet. He wouldn’t budge. No matter how hard I pushed he 36

wouldn’t budge, so without thinking about it, hardly even knowing I was doing it, I bared my teeth and bit him. No one was more surprised than I when I bit him right in the soft area just below his ribcage. And I bit hard, hard enough to leave teeth marks. I didn’t draw blood, but you could almost count the number of teeth I sunk into his flesh as my anger got the better of me. Bob moved and he moved fast. Jumping off the bed, he looked at his stomach, dazed and confused. “You bit me. Dammit, you bit me.” I’d never seen him this angry. He was pulling at his skin, trying to get a look at his stomach. Okay, since I had never in my life bitten anyone, I was pretty scared and just a little stunned, but I managed to scream back at him, “Yes, and I’ll do it again if you come anywhere near me.” Throwing the door open, Bob bellowed, “Get the hell out of here. I mean it. GET OUT NOW!” I scrambled off the bed, thankful I was still dressed in my clothes because it looked like I would definitely be getting the hell out of there. Grabbing my purse (yes, we ladies never forget our purses), I stormed to the door, yelling over my shoulder, “Gladly. Nothing would make me happier.” As I stormed down the hall, I heard the door slam. I was shaking, unable to believe what I had just done. I stood there waiting for the elevator to take me to the lobby where . . . where what? Where was I going to go? As luck, all bad in this case, would have it every hotel in town was full to capacity that night. All I could think to do was call the producer of our show to ask if I could stay at her house for a while – at least until she could find me a room somewhere. And then I remembered . . . I had nothing with me. All of my bags were still in our room. I had no clothes, no toothpaste, no shampoo, no make-up, no nothing. The tears came. I would have to go back and get my things, but no way would I go back there alone. The elevator stopped in the lobby and I got off searching for a sign of a friendly bellman. I’ll never forget this sweet little guy. He was all of 19 years old and his face lit up when he saw me because, like everyone else at the hotel, he was a huge Bob fan and really excited we were staying there. Without filling him in on the details, I explained I needed help with my bags 37

upstairs. He politely ignored my tear smudged face and said he’d be happy to help me. Bless him, he even seemed eager. I, on the other hand, was not the least bit eager to find out what would happen when we knocked on the door to the room. As it ended up, I worried for nothing. We got nowhere near the room. The minute we got off the elevator, we were greeted by the sound of bumps in the night. Turning the corner, we stood in embarrassed silence as my bags came flying through the air, landing with loud thuds the entire length of the hallway. Still shirtless and angrier than I had ever seen him, Bob heaved my suitcases, one after the other. My clothes were scattering everywhere. The least he could have done was close them, I thought to myself as I watched, mortified. The bellman stood there next to me, mouth agape. Poor kid, he didn’t know where to look, had no idea what to say. Neither did I, so we continued to stand there in complete silence as Bob caught sight of us and began yelling for me to get the hell out of there. Yes, I was mortified, totally humiliated. Up and down the hallway doors began to open as guests peeped out timidly to see what all the ruckus was about, making my embarrassment complete. I was having a difficult time believing I was part of this mess, but here I was. Bob slammed the door to the room and the sweet little bellman and I scurried up and down the hallway, gathering up my clothing, stuffing it helter-skelter back into the almost empty suitcases. I noticed he was moving like greased lightning, no doubt wanting out of there before he found himself on the receiving end of Bob’s wrath. That night I did end up at the producer’s house, and this time, I stayed there. Bob and I had to rehearse together, but that was the only time I saw him. Yes, I received the obligatory flowers; yes, he apologized over and over; yes, he swore he’d stop drinking and yes, it goes without saying, the day finally came when I went back. But there is a final yes that completes this story. Yes, Bob did finally stop drinking. Something about this night and this fight forced him to see the light where we were concerned. He made me a promise, and this time he kept it, swearing to me later the teeth marks I left on him that night made an impression on something besides his torso, and after a year together, he finally looked at me one day and said, “You know what, Dreams . . . I was sure you were going to be like all 38

the others, but you’re not. No, you’re different. You love me for me . . . and you’ve proven it by sticking with me through all of this. I’m one lucky man.” “And don’t you forget it,” I teased him. Hallelujah! It might have taken a year or so, but I finally made Bob a believer.


Chapter Four You’re a shining star, no matter who you are Shining bright to see what you can truly be. “Shining Star”— Earth, Wind and Fire Not long after the teeth-in-the-torso incident, Bob and I had our first occasion to go to Hollywood together. Second nature to him, this was a first for me, and I had no idea what to expect and had I assumed I knew what to expect, I would have been wrong, wrong, wrong! Nothing could have prepared me for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of being part of the CBS 50th Anniversary Special. In its heyday back in the 70s (in my opinion anyway), television was populated by actors who knew their craft and refined it to perfection. These actors weren’t flash-in-the-pan actors, looking for their fifteen minutes of fame, but actors of considerable skill, who carried weight in the business. Maybe I’m partial, but in those days, CBS had the best of the best and I was going to see all of them under one roof at CBS Studio City. Before our actual arrival, I really had no idea what I was in for, but believe me, it was pretty amazing stuff for a little girl from the hills of West Virginia. The day before the taping of the special, Bob let me loose in Beverly Hills in search of the perfect dress for the occasion. The man had the patience of a saint, waiting hour after hour while I tried on and modeled, for his stamp of approval, what seemed to be every dress in the store. I mean, seriously, this was my very first Hollywood event and I’m sure it goes without saying that my primary goal was to look as good as possible so Bob would be proud to have me on his arm. When I think back on it, the whole day was just a little bit like Pretty Woman, a movie that hadn’t come out at that time, but a movie that brought back those memories when I saw it years later. We were staying at the Beverly Garland Hotel, the exterior of which was used for the tryst between Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in the 40

film, and just like the concierge in the film, Bob saw to it that I had Rodeo Drive at my disposal – most of it anyway. I knew I was living the life as sales ladies made suggestions and I vanished into the dressing room time after time, trying on every style of clothing in every hue of the rainbow, ending up in an off-white cocktail length dress that not only put a huge smile on Bob’s face, but was understated, feminine and perfect for me. When a woman has the perfect dress, the perfect man and the perfect occasion to show both off, chances are better than good she’ll feel perfectly pleased, and I did. Nerves aside, I was beyond excited about my first Hollywood-type shindig. Never in all my 28 years had I imagined being part of such an auspicious occasion, and the fact I was sharing this experience with Bob, whose pride in me was obvious every time he looked at me – well, what more could a girl want? This girl couldn’t think of one other thing. Early the next afternoon, I fussed with my makeup, spent far too long getting my hair just right, donned the ‘just right’ dress and walked through the Beverly Garland lobby hand in hand with Bob, handsome and resplendent in his black tux, to the long white stretch limo that awaited us. Talk about feeling like Cinderella . . . mentally I added ‘one limo ride’ to the list of firsts this day was presenting me. Ah, but the firsts weren’t finished with me yet. Leaning back in the cushy luxury of our white stretch limo, I marveled at the sumptuousness of it. Every inch of it was scrumptious – champagne glasses sparkled like diamonds on the wet bar, the tinted windows coupled with the mood lighting around the ceiling made you feel like you were ensconced in your own private little world, especially when the driver closed the partition between him and us, giving us total privacy. The choice of television or soft music was a hard one, so Bob gave me a little of both, turning on the television so I could marvel at the technology that allowed us to watch TV in a moving vehicle, something unheard of in those days. Eschewing network television in favor of the soft music that completed the opulent feel of this particular mode of transportation, Bob settled back, a satisfied look on his face. Taking my hand, he pressed my fingers to his lips. “Nothing but the best for my darlin’,” he whispered, “so . . . what do you think?” 41

What did I think? Wow! On the one hand, this was the most amazing experience of my life; on the other, I actually felt a few pangs of guilt that I was getting this royal treatment, and I couldn’t help but wonder at the price of all this extravagance. I said as much. Grinning, Bob held the tip of my finger between his teeth, “Don’t worry about the cost of this, Missy.” He talked around my finger, “I’ll take it out in trade later.” I laughed. “Is that a promise, Mr. Denver?” He tucked my hand between his knees and pulled me close. “You betcha. Don’t think this isn’t a debt I won’t make you pay back over and over and over.” Kissing him soundly, I answered, “And don’t you think I won’t enjoy every second of it. If you play your cards right, you just might get paid back with interest.” With a laugh that was purely Bob, he teased back, “My plan precisely. In this case, interest is good. Interest is very, very good.” The limo crept slowly toward CBS Studio City. I say slowly because the line of limos making their way to CBS was totally mindboggling. To me, it seemed the line stretched for miles, but finally, ours made it to the front and the limo driver came around to open the door for me. I took the hand he extended and made sure my legs appeared first, feet settling on the ground the way I had seen it done by ladies I had watched in movies all my life. Bob followed, lightly touching my back to move me forward. Walking into Studio City that day required an attitude I wasn’t sure I possessed, a ‘been there, done that’ attitude that was pretty foreign to me since I had never been there or done that, but giving the appearance that I had what was necessary in order not to look like a star-struck fan and embarrass Bob because, truly, everywhere I looked there was a famous face. Not only a famous face, but faces of television icons, actors I had grown up watching for as long as I could remember. They filled the corridors of CBS to overflowing. They themselves seemed a little star-struck if you want to know the truth. People assume if you’re famous, then that means you’re friends with every other famous person on the planet. Not true. As Bob explained to me later, most of these stars had never met. Most of them saw each other on TV just 42

the way you and I do. Most of them did their work twelve hours a day, spending the bulk of their time in the studio with their castmates, rarely getting out to mix and mingle with the stars of other CBS series. Some, like Bob, weren’t currently in a series, and many who weren’t didn’t actually live in Hollywood, making this chance to meet and greet other actors they admired a pretty big deal for everyone involved. One of the first stars I saw was Sally Struthers, hotter than hot at that time due to the success of All in the Family. There she was, a tiny little thing, all blonde and beautiful, dressed in a black tux that made her so adorable she took your breath away. Making a mad dash down the hallway, squealing all the way, she threw herself into the arms of someone – Ted Knight, I think it was – introducing herself and declaring her fandom. Dragging my eyes away from two of the most well-known actors on TV, I perused the area to see what other faces I could spot. To my eye, I was surrounded on all sides by celebrities, past and present. It looked as though every famous person who ever lived was taking part in this CBS celebration. I sneaked a glance at Bob, who held my hand tightly and seemed to be taking it all in stride. Try to imagine this scenario – there you are, your first time in Hollywood at your first Hollywood event. You’re making a gargantuan effort to be oh-so-cool as you take in the action around you. As is true in any party atmosphere, people are slapping each other on the back, sharing jokes, meeting each other for the first time, renewing friendships that, even though they exist, have been neglected for one reason or another. Tight little groups disperse and rearrange themselves into other tight little groups. Men share work stories, but unlike most of us, their work stories involve ‘gags’ and ‘takes’ and ‘looping’ and ‘dailies.’ Women size each other up as they discuss ‘Neilson’s’ and ‘fashion,’ ‘auditions’ and ‘makeup’. The din of voices is impenetrable, punctuated by the occasional “Meathead’ or ‘John Boy’ or ‘Dynooooomite’, catch phrases you’ve heard in your living room, week after week, year after year. Then imagine you focus closely on the folks to whom these voices belong, and your eyes settle on Alfred Hitchcock, Bob Newhart, Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, Mary Tyler Moore, Ed Asner, Valerie Harper, Carol Burnett, Red Skelton, Allan Funt, Lucille Ball, Betty White, Dick Van Dyke, 43

A sea of famous faces. How many do you recognize?


Danny Thomas, the Smothers Brothers, Telly Savales, Roy and Dale Rogers, Jimmy “JJ” Walker, Tony Randall, Jack Lord, Art Linkletter, the cast of the Waltons, Don Knotts, Danny Kaye, Dwayne Hickman, Andy Griffith, Zsa Zsa Gabor, June Lockhart with Lassie, John Forsythe, Buddy Ebsen, Lynda Carter, James Arness, Steve Allen, and Walter Cronkite to name just a few. Yes, folks, in the words of the most trusted man in America, that’s the way it was for this small-town girl on a sunny southern California afternoon back in November of 1978.


Chapter Five Goin’ to the chapel and we’re gonna get married. Goin’ to the Chapel of Love. “Chapel of Love” ~ The Dixie Cups I was transfixed. Bob and I stood in front of a woman with an ordinary face topped by an extraordinary hairdo that defied description. The time and precision it must have taken to pile that dark brown hair on top of her head to such dizzying heights boggled the mind. What really held my attention, what had me biting the inside of my cheeks to stifle the giggles that threatened to mar an otherwise meaningful occasion, was the three-inch-wide peroxide streak running from the front to the back of her head. This ‘do was a throwback to a time when the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly ruled the charts, let me tell you. I suppose it might have been the height of fashion back in 1955, but these were the 70s and for the life of me, I couldn’t remember seeing a hairdo quite like this one in the last two decades. But this was Las Vegas. As a matter-of-fact, this was my first time in Las Vegas, and I imagined if I really took the time to focus on what was going on around me, the woman in front of me might have been a mere footnote. But as it was, I only had eyes for Bob, who stood beside me, squeezing my hand, daring me to giggle. The night before, we had checked into the Sahara Hotel and Casino on Las Vegas Boulevard. With its tradition of excellence, the Sahara played host to some of the biggest names in show business. The Rat Pack, Johnny Carson, Tina Turner, and the Beatles had appeared on Sahara stages. On this night, however, I had no idea who was playing there. I only knew Bob and I had come to ‘Sin City’ to legalize what we had considered a marriage from the moment we met. With three marriages behind him, I’ll admit Bob didn’t have the best track record. I told myself there should be red flags fluttering in my face, more than one when you got right down to it, warning me to 46

take a breath, think twice, and proceed with caution before jumping into a state of holy matrimony with a man whose success at marriage was, at best, questionable. But even though my brain knew the reality of Bob’s marital history, even though our first year together had included some knockdown, drag-out fights as Bob came to realize that no matter how much I loved him, the booze he was so fond of was not and would never be acceptable to me. Even though the pragmatic part of me knew these things, it had yet to tell it to my heart. We had come to Vegas during the one tiny break in Bob’s shooting schedule for “The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island.” Most of the cast and crew assumed we were already married since we referred to each other as husband and wife, but coming to Vegas to make it official was part of our plan the minute shooting began. Every week, we scoured the schedule to see if Bob, who was in practically every scene of the movie, had an extra day off. Finally, at the end of March, we saw a free Monday when, not only did Bob have the day off, but he wasn’t even on call. In our anticipation, we had my ’72 Satellite Sebring, affectionately called Bessie Mae, packed up and ready to go the minute we heard the words, “That’s a wrap” at the end of shooting on Friday. We made the roughly four-hour trip late on Friday night, passing through the Mojave Desert in total blackness, save the few twinkling lights that announced the arrival of Barstow, CA, and restrooms should one be needed. It takes some time, but finally, the monotony of a nighttime drive to Las Vegas is broken when in the distance, you begin to see the colorful glow of the world-renowned Las Vegas Strip. The impact of the Strip comes on you gradually as I-15 bores its way through the outskirts of the city. Once you exit I-15 somewhere around E. Tropicana Ave, the blinding neon that sets Las Vegas apart begins to cast rainbow reflections on everything around you, and, of course, once you’re in the thick of it, those neon reflections skitter unchecked across every surface. If you’re a first-timer like I was, your head darts left to right, trying to take it all in. At least that’s the way it was back in 1979. To get to the Sahara, we had to pass landmark Las Vegas hotels 47

like Caesar’s Palace, the Flamingo, the Stardust, and Circus Circus – one miracle mile of such sensory overload my head was spinning. After checking in, we were shown to our room, a tiny room as I remember because the town was full to capacity (yes, this happened to us a lot), making us lucky to get a room at all, which in my mind, was a good omen. In Vegas terms, the night was young, so we deposited our bags on the floor and turned right around to make a beeline for the casino. Now, this was my first time, remember, and I was doing my very best not to look like the novice I was, but the noise struck me immediately. Talk about auditory overload – the whir of slot machines, the clank and clinking of money dropping into the trays of the slot machines, poker machines, and blackjack machines all around us was overwhelming. Raucous sounds of chatter punctuated by huge bursts of laughter from gamblers whose inhibitions had been loosened by too much drink and too little sleep made the Las Vegas auditory assault complete. The first feeling of doubt nibbled at the edge of my consciousness. Until this point, I hadn’t allowed myself to entertain the possibility of Bob drinking, not when we had battled it out verbally and endlessly for the first year. Surely, he wouldn’t. After all, he hadn’t had more than a single beer in months, and as I mentioned before, he knew without a doubt, this topic was a deal-breaker for me. As we stood there knee-deep in vices that could easily turn the tide if one reared its ugly head in our direction, I leaned close to Bob and tried to whisper above the din, “Bob, please don’t drink, please. Don’t ruin this. Don’t make me have second thoughts.” He gave me a look, a look that basically said words he had said to me earlier, “You’ll just have to trust me.” I decided I would, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t uneasy about it. Once you’ve dealt with a drinker, the possibility of a relapse is never far from your mind. Bob grabbed my hand and led me around the casino, explaining as we walked what each machine was and how to play it. I knew next to nothing about poker, so I eschewed the poker machine without a backward glance. Same thing with blackjack – yes, I could definitely count to 21, but hit, stand and double down were as foreign to me at this point as a complicated mathematical equation. We moved on to 48

the slots. I grinned. Okay, this I might be able to handle. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to feed coins into the machine, pull a lever and hope that three 7s lined up, across, up and down or diagonally. Bob gave me a kiss, along with roll of quarters, and took off in the direction of the nearest blackjack table. I wandered up and down the aisles, looking for a slot machine that appealed to me or maybe I was hoping for one that would speak to me. In any case, the one I found and wanted was occupied by an older lady who looked as though she had taken up residence there. Her bottom was firmly planted in the seat; her eyes had the glassy look that comes from trying to stare money out of an uncooperative machine and much to my astonishment, her right hand was black – black! How many times did a gambler have to pull the lever to change the color of her skin, I wondered? I wasn’t sure, but I suspected it had to take hours. I meandered through the rows of slot machines, hoping to find another one that spoke to me, but none did, so I kept drifting back to the original ‘come to me, I’ll give you all my money’ machine. Nope, she was still there. I waited, drifting away, but always drifting back again. Now I realize I was what’s referred to as a lurker, but in 1979, I just wanted the machine that was calling my name. My friend with the black hand was leaving. YES, she was actually getting up from the chair, peeling her skirt away from the seat. She was picking up her almost empty change cup and vacating the premises. This was my chance! I held myself back, waiting for her to disappear, not wanting her to realize I had been breathing down her neck, so to speak, for the last 45 minutes. My eyes scanned the room, looking for Bob. They found him still playing blackjack with a serious yet sober look on his face. And when I say sober, I mean sober as in not inebriated. He must have felt my gaze on him because he glanced my way and gave me his sweet smile, a wink, and a little wave. I blew him a kiss as I moved to sit down. The seat was still warm. I clutched the lever, also warm to the touch. I checked my hand – nope, no black. I grinned. Obviously, no one could call me a serious gambler yet. I fed four quarters into the change slot and pulled the lever. Nothing! I tried again, four more quarters and again nothing! I picked up four more quarters and blew 49

on them, wishing for luck. After all, didn’t they always say the third time was the charm? Feeding the quarters into the machine one by one, I waited to hear the satisfying clunk as each coin dropped to its resting place. I pulled the lever and watched as cherries, dollar signs, and black rectangles with the word ‘bar’ whirled around at a dizzying pace. Out of nowhere, it seemed lights began flashing, bells began ringing, and people crowded around me on all sides. How did they get there so quickly? All of this had just started, and yet here I was smothered instantly in body parts, stale perfume, and the smell of sweat. Getting up from my seat was almost impossible with the crush of people barring my way, but suddenly I felt hands on my shoulders, turning me around and breaking me free. I felt Bob’s arms pull me close as he lifted me and swung me around. “Dreams, look what you did. Look what you did.” He was beside himself. I wasn’t sure . . . I hadn’t had time to look, so I swiveled my head and craned my neck to see what the heck Bob was talking about. Right there on the slot machine as bells continued to go off and lights strobed all around us, I saw the focus of everyone’s attention, the reason for all the thumbs up directed my way from spectators who slapped each other on the back as if they themselves had won the lottery. Straight across the middle, lined up like little soldiers marching their way to victory, I saw 777! I was a winner! Smiling from ear to ear, I stood there while the change girl counted out seven one-hundred-dollar bills, two twenties, and one ten, placing them in my palm triumphantly. In 1979, $750 felt like a fortune to me. I was a rich woman, and this clearly was another good omen for what would take place tomorrow. “So, what do you want to play now?” Bob asked me. “Are you kidding? I’m not giving my money back.” I answered, shocked. “You’re having a run of luck,” he told me, “You might want to cash in on it.” Reluctantly, I handed him one of my twenty-dollar bills, “Okay, here’s $20 for you and $20 for me. You choose the game and I’ll play, but when the $40 is gone, so am I.” 50

After a couple of spins of the roulette wheel, which didn’t cooperate on any level, we were outta there. No way was I giving this money back to the casino, no way! Years later, when Bob told this story, and it was a story he told frequently, he never failed to mention that even though he had loved me and would have married me anyway, in reality, the choice hadn’t been his. Nope, he had been forced to marry me for my money. Now we stood at the altar of the Candlelight Chapel looking at the minister with the skunk inspired hairdo, promising to love and honor one another through all of life’s trials and tribulations. I have a cassette tape of our wedding ceremony, and when I listen to it today, I’m amazed at the quiet little voice that belonged to me then. I hear the giggle that finally escaped and I have to smile. I hear Bob’s voice, strong and sure, pledging to love me ‘til death us do part,’ and I remember how we looked - young and in love. Bob was wearing his usual cords and his Topsider tennis shoes and me in wrap-around jeans and a blue button-up blouse. No wedding gown, no tux, no flowers – just the two of us with fake gold wedding bands, the kind that turns your fingers green, purchased right there at the chapel. A no-frills wedding as far as weddings go, but one steeped in a deep commitment to face together whatever life had in store for us, to cling to each other above all others. Little did I know on that sun-soaked day, March 26, 1979, the part Las Vegas would play in our lives seven years down the road. Had I known, had I any inkling of what was to come, would I have made a different choice? No, absolutely not. Bob was my first and only choice always. But the innocent side of me, the side that thought I had experienced heartbreak when in fact I hadn’t; the side of me that had no idea what strength I possessed when it came to the ones I loved, the side of me I had yet to meet – well, that side of me would have told you in no uncertain terms that the upcoming challenge should be given to someone else because, quite frankly, I wasn’t the girl for the job. I would have told you that, and I would have been wrong. The commitment Bob and I made to each other on that long-ago day in March, we also made to our son years later. For the next twentyeight years until Bob’s death, our loyalty to each other and our devotion to our child never wavered. 51

Chapter Six I don’t worry Whenever skies are gray above Got a pocketful of rainbows Got a heart full of love. “Pocketful of Rainbows” ~ Elvis Presley We were married! I was Mrs. Bob Denver, and I loved being Mrs. Bob Denver. Maybe I was the fourth Mrs. Bob Denver, but that didn’t bother me one tiny bit because I knew I’d be the fourth and final Mrs. Bob Denver. After all, four was Bob’s lucky number. This union would be a lasting one, of that I had no doubt. We were committed to each other for better or worse and right now, we were definitely living the ‘better’ part of our vows. During the early years of our marriage, the years that saw us in and out of Hollywood regularly, there were other celebrity encounters that astound me as I look back. I wish I had photos with every actor I met, but, of course, there were no smartphones to pull out at the drop of a hat in those days, and, quite honestly, it just wasn’t done. Bob discouraged taking a camera onto any set except the Gilligan sets. Therefore, I have no photos of the Fantasy Island cast or the Love Boat cast or any other cast he worked with during our years together. But going through old photos, I did run across one that triggered a long-forgotten memory that brought a huge smile to my face. I’ve mentioned my love for Gran and the fact that she lived in the Pacific Palisades back in the late 70s. Well, I was fairly new to the family then and didn’t know all the ins and outs of their daily lives, so one day, while we were in LA, Bob informed me we needed to pick Gran up from work. I was surprised. “Gran works?” I asked incredulously. “Gran is 75 years old and still works?” “Part-time,” he answered, looking for all the world like the cat that swallowed the canary, “Kind of a cushy job, perfect for her.” “What does she do? She’s never mentioned anything about having a job.” 52

“You’ll see when we get there.” Ah, the mystery of it all! Being new to L.A. meant I couldn’t watch for landmarks, hoping to figure out where we were going because I didn’t have a clue, so I decided to lean back and enjoy the ride. It wasn’t long before I saw the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel come into view and it looked like we were heading straight for it. Gran couldn’t possibly work there, could she? Nope, we were turning onto a street that was taking us up behind the Beverly Hills Hotel, then into a driveway where I think we stopped at a gate. Whether we stopped at a gate or not, we ended up on the property, pulling up to what I later discovered was a guest house. It was stunning! “Where are we? Who lives here?” I inquired, craning my neck in every direction, hoping to see . . . what? A name on a mailbox or something? “C’mon,” Bob opened the car door, “Let’s go get Gran, let her know we’re here.” I followed close behind, “But who lives here?” I was itching to know because this place was unbelievable! I’d never seen a home like it and as it ended up, this was just a tiny portion of the main attraction. Bob knocked on the door and Gran answered, motioning for us to come in. There sat an older lady, a lovely older lady. “Mrs. Ford, it’s good to see you,” Bob extended his hand. “I’d like you to meet my wife, Dreama.” “Likewise, Bob,” Mrs. Ford said, holding onto his hand for a minute. “It’s lovely to meet you, Dreama. I want you both to know how grateful I am to have Marion here with me. She’s wonderful company for an old lady like me.” Then almost as an afterthought, “I’m sure Glenn would like to say hello. Marion, please call the main house and let Glenn know Sadly, we didn’t get a photo of us with Glenn, but we sure got one of Gran and Glenn. 53

that Bob . . . (searching for my name, not finding it) . . . and his wife are here.” The next thing I knew Bob and I were at the main house being welcomed through the front door by none other than Glenn Ford, one of the biggest stars of Hollywood’s Golden Era - star of Blackboard Jungle, Gilda with Rita Hayworth, The Teahouse of the August Moon, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, 3:10 to Yuma and Superman! Yes, that Glenn Ford!! The one who was married for 16 years to actress/dancer Eleanor Powell. Miss Powell, who danced with Fred Astaire to Cole Porter’s Begin the Beguine in the film Broadway Melody of 1940, thereby committing to film what has come to be considered the greatest tap-dancing sequence in movie history. The Glenn Ford who had been close friends with William Holden, John Wayne, James Stewart (my personal favorite), Henry Fonda and so many others. Looking around me, all I could think was, Boy, if these walls could talk! Glenn led us over to a table, asking if we’d like a cup of coffee. Of course, we said we’d love a cup and when it was served, we sat there talking for quite a while, but . . . for the life of me, for the life of me, I can’t remember anything we talked about, not one single thing. I must have been in some kind of Ford fog. The one thing I do remember is Glenn calling upstairs to ask his new wife to come down and meet us. She was gorgeous, about my age, a tall brunette with model good looks, an actress, I think. Her name was Cynthia and she, along with Glenn, couldn’t have been more welcoming. So . . . bottom line . . . thanks to 75-year-old Gran being a part time companion to 90-year-old Mrs. Ford. Bob and I spent an hour in Glenn’s breathtaking mid-century modern home, chatting and drinking coffee and I, all these years later, remember next to nothing about it. What I wouldn’t give for a do-over on that one! Contrary to popular belief, rarely do you have a celebrity sighting while visiting Los Angeles. When you’re working on a studio lot, you obviously pass some very famous faces, but out on the streets of L.A., it’s a rare occurrence, so it’s fun to remember how taken aback I was to lay eyes on these recognizable faces as they did everyday things just like the rest of us – Lorenzo Lamas and I shopping in the same drugstore on Ventura Blvd. once upon a time; Cecily Tyson 54

and I standing together at the make-up counter in Neiman Marcus on Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills one Saturday afternoon; Dorothy Hamill giving me a big smile one day at a store in the Valley; Angie Dickenson having lunch across from Bob and me in a Hamburger Hamlet; having dinner with Caesar Romero and an agent he and Bob shared. Fun times, no doubt, but being on the road together, working, was our greatest joy as our work took us all over the U.S. and Canada. During these years we had no home base. I had no nesting instinct whatsoever, a fact that never failed to fill Bob with wonder. Arriving at a destination, whether work-related or fun-driven, Bob would say to me, “How about here? Would you like to look at houses here? This might be a good home base, a nice place to live.” My emphatic, no, never ceased to amaze him. In retrospect, I have to wonder why I had such an aversion to settling down. Did I fear life becoming mundane if we stayed in one spot? Maybe, but knowing what I know now, I’m grateful I was the woman who preferred living out of suitcases, who loved the fact I was seeing this great country courtesy of jobs that took us to almost every state, and who appreciated the blessing of doing all these things with the man I loved. Between jobs, we spent most of our time in either Hawaii or the Rockies, depending on our mood and the time of year. If we were in the mood for fall, we’d get Bessie Mae out of storage in L.A., pack her up and head for the hills, usually choosing the San Juan Mountains high up in the Rockies. Our town of choice was a little place called Lake City about an hour south of Gunnison, CO. I’ll never forget our first trip to Lake City. In Colorado, the valleys are huge, sometimes taking a full day to get from one pass to the next. I remember driving through a pass on our first trip and Bob asking me, as the pass opened up to what looked like an endless valley, “How long do you think it will take us to get to that pass in the distance?” I looked. Hmmm, asking a girl who grew up in the hills of West Virginia wasn’t fair. We didn’t really have valleys; we had small hollows, referred to as ‘hollers’ by any West Virginian worth his salt. So, I took a wild guess, “Four hours!” Bob checked his watch, grinning, “Okay, let’s time it.” Four hours later, we were maybe halfway across and my mind was blown. But something truly magical happened. About an hour 55

into our crossing, a rainbow appeared overhead. One end of it was on Bob’s side of the car, the other end was on mine. We drove underneath that rainbow for HOURS! It didn’t dissipate; it didn’t lessen in intensity; it didn’t move away from us, to the side of us and was never behind us, but always over top of us. To this day, I connect rainbows and Bob because this rainbow was the first of many we experienced together, and that always felt significant to me. Back to Lake City, which was, and still is, I imagine, a little western town that time forgot. With an elevation of close to 9000 feet, this quaint little town was nestled among mountain peaks known as the Fourteeners - fourteen thousand feet of Rocky Mountain grandeur in every direction as far as the eye could see. The population at that time couldn’t have been more than a couple of hundred people, making the town the perfect place to get away and just be. Lake City also had a claim to fame in the person of one Alferd Packer, the suspected Colorado Cannibal. Accounts of Packer’s tale vary, but basically, it came down to this. In 1873 a 31-year-old Alferd Packer left Bingham Canyon, Utah with twenty other prospectors, heading for the San Juan Mountains in search of gold. In January of 1874, they arrived at a Ute camp near Montrose, CO, where they were urged to remain until the spring thaw, but a few of these men, as crazy as it might seem to anyone who’s experienced a Colorado winter at high elevations, insisted on forging ahead, afraid that other prospectors would beat them to the mines. Their journey was long; their food supply short, and, of course, men died along the way due to starvation in the harsh Colorado winter. For the handful of men who were still alive, eating their dead friends was the only path to survival and according to legend, that’s exactly what they did, with Packer ultimately being the lone survivor. In 1874 the remains of 5 men were found at the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River only two miles away from what is now known as Lake City, and that’s where the Alferd Packer Memorial stands today. The truth of what happened to this party of men – murder or mealtime – may never be known, but when you visit Lake City, the story of Alfred Packer is a tourist’s delight. Bob and I spent many adventurous months among the golden aspens of Lake City, Colorado. We explored the mountains, old 56

mines, and even ghost towns, the most amazing was Carson. I’ve read that Carson is one of the most inaccessible mining camps in all of Colorado and I don’t doubt it for a minute. Sitting atop the Continental Divide at an elevation of 12,000 ft, Carson is right at the Timberline with air so thin you can barely walk twenty steps without losing your breath, making it almost impossible to believe there was a time in the 1890s and the early 1900s when 400-500 men worked this mine. Getting there is an adventure all its own. Needless to say, you have to have a four-wheel drive vehicle, but even that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to find a road. Feeling adventurous and possibly a little foolhardy, Bob and I rented a four-wheeler, with no idea what we were about to confront in terms of accessibility. Map in hand, we turned off the main road and started our journey to Carson. What appeared to be a road on the map was actually a path, most of which you made yourself as you dodged tree limbs and overgrown brush in your attempt to reach your destination. We drove across ruts so deep they almost swallowed up the four-wheeler and everything in it. I was adventurous to a point, but maybe halfway there, I was afraid my limit had been reached. To tell you the truth, this odyssey was a little bit scary and I only hoped the end result would be worth it. Was it ever! When my brother Eddie, Bob’s daughter Emily, Bob, and I finally reached Carson, we sat there almost speechless. The town had been preserved to such a degree you almost expected to see men pouring out of the buildings, picks, and shovels in hand, on their way to find gold in ‘them thar hills.’ All together, there were six or seven buildings, preserved almost to perfection. The largest building in the Carson Town site was the boarding house. We walked in, going from room to room, feeling the secrets kept within the walls of this old building. In what must have been the kitchen back in the days when Carson was a booming mining town, we found a little door that opened onto a running creek and assumed this had been their form of refrigeration. Perishables set in those icy waters would surely have retained their freshness long enough to feed hundreds of hungry miners. We found names carved in the wood of different rooms, a testament to the fact that real flesh-and-blood human beings had lived 57

and worked there, and to our estimation, they must have been the heartiest human beings on the planet. I particularly remember the names Keven and Mike. Above the name Keven was a number which looked to be 87 or maybe 89 – it was hard to tell, but this was 1980, so the number, which we assumed to be the year, had been carved there close to a hundred years before. The name Mike was carved to the right of a doorframe, up high near the top of the wall, leaving the impression that Mike had been not only a hearty fellow, but possibly a man of Paul Bunyon-like proportions. It was fascinating to imagine these miners, living and working at an elevation of 12,000 feet right at the timberline, wondering about the circumstances of their lives. Exploring further, we found an old outhouse, which looked to be a two-seater; we saw cabins, some preserved in an almost pristine

Picture proof that we actually made it to Carson.

condition, some in ruins, and we found the Carson Barn with stables still intact. The day spent in Carson, CO, is still one for the Bob and Dreama memories book. We loved Lake City and felt very grateful to have stumbled upon it during one of our many car trips through Colorado. Bob and I were lucky to have time between jobs to explore this country of ours, and we would pull out a map and peruse it, looking for dotted lines that indicated tiny roads, often dirt roads, that wound their way 58

through the backcountry of whatever state we were exploring. It was a freedom we relished and never took for granted, knowing that few families were able to travel around the country in such a laid-back fashion. Lake City would have been lost to us had we not had the luxury of time and the courage to tackle those tiny dotted lines. But as much as we loved this little mountain town, there was no place on earth for us like the paradise we found on Kauai. Bob had known and loved Hawaii since filming the pilot for Gilligan’s Island on the island of Kauai back in 1963. The minute we met, he talked about taking me there. However, our first trip to Kauai wouldn’t take place until after we were married and Bob had finished shooting ‘Castaways on Gilligan’s Island.’ Our arrival at the Honolulu International Airport exceeded every expectation I had ever had of the islands. A beautiful Polynesian girl covered us with plumeria leis, their fragrance so potent I was sure heaven must smell exactly this way. As we walked through the openair airport, Bob watched me closely for any and all reactions, and I didn’t disappoint him. His wish for me to love the islands as much as he did was granted the moment I set foot on the rich Hawaiian soil. I might have been a little girl from the hills of West Virginia, but Hawaii spoke to me like no place ever had before, or ever has since. I felt like I had come home. We spent the first night in Honolulu at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, but early the next morning it was back to the airport to catch an island-to-island flight that would deposit us on the island of Kauai. I thought I was in love with Hawaii already, but what did I know? I had no idea what love was until I arrived on Kauai, in much the same way I had no idea what love was until I met Bob Denver. Kauai is geologically the oldest of the islands in the Hawaiian chain and like the other Hawaiian Islands, sits atop a volcanic dome rising from the Pacific Ocean floor. Only thirty miles in diameter with 553 square miles of undulating sugar cane fields, pristine beaches, soaring mountains, and in its center, the wettest place on earth, Waialeale Crater on Kauai is as diverse as she is breathtaking. With a coastline of ninety miles, you can travel its perimeter from one extreme to the other, the contrast almost unimaginable. On the west coast of Kauai, the leeward side of the island, you marvel at the parched look of this tropical paradise. Sunny and dry, 59

this side of the island is home to the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon, measuring ten miles in length, one mile in width, with a depth of 3500 feet. Formed thousands of years before by rivers and floods that flowed down from Waialeale Crater, the canyon may not be as impressively large as the Grand Canyon, but its beauty rivals the Arizona landmark. There’s a saying on Kauai that always made us laugh, If you don’t like the weather, drive ten miles. How true this is. In the space of ten miles, you can drive from rain and rainbows into sunshine that sparkles on the water like so many diamonds. Not only that, but you can experience a temperature variation of ten degrees from one spot to the other. No one could ever accuse Kauai of being boring in a weather sense. No one could accuse Kauai of being boring in any sense! When you leave the leeward, arid side of the island heading for the windward, wetter side, the distinguishing characteristics change dramatically. The windward side is all about vegetation – towering coco palms, plumeria, hibiscus, bamboo, guava trees, papaya trees, banana trees, sugar cane, and if you’re there during the Christmas season, hillsides covered in the glorious red of poinsettia plants. The emerald greens of the mountains and the deep turquoise of the ocean divided by the brilliant white of the sand beaches leaves you breathless with every corner

Who wouldn’t love living in the shadow of South Pacific’s Bali Hai? 60

you turn. And just when you think it can’t possibly get any better, it does. Kauai captured my heart immediately with her lushness, her vibrancy, her sexiness. Yes, you read that correctly. Kauai was a very sexy island. Wrapped in her warm moistness, kissed by the sun spackling the mountains and valleys of her surface, lulled by her sleepy contentment, one felt simultaneously unsatisfied and satiated. The first came from a desire to explore every inch of her until you knew every part of her anatomy intimately; the second came from a deeply satisfying feeling of contentment that you had found her in the first place. For Bob and me, Kauai was the perfect place to fall more deeply in love. Every day on Kauai brought us closer together. There seemed to be a parallel to exploring the island and each other. We rented a little house on the North Shore between Hanalei Bay and the end of the road that marked the beginning of the uninhabited and truly magnificent Napali Coast. The house was in a little community called Haena. At that time, there were very few houses on this part of the island, making our privacy complete just the way we liked it. Imagine waking up whenever you felt like it and walking outside to the outdoor shower where you could lather up, naked, in the warm Kauai sunshine. Imagine feeling squeaky clean from head to toe as you turned the shower off and walked twenty feet to the nearest banana tree, guava tree or papaya tree, where you’d pick fresh fruit for the breakfast you’d enjoy as you listened to the tropical winds blowing through the sixty foot pine trees on the edge of the beach. Imagine the sound of the ocean tumbling across the huge coral reef as it made its way up the beach to tickle your toes as you searched for shells deposited from the depths of the Pacific. Imagine no clocks and not caring about time, measuring your days only by the sun coming up in the east and setting in the west. Imagine the absence of television, leaving only the sounds of the island and each other to fill your days. Imagine the sexiness of lounging on the beach close to the person you loved, not another soul around, bodies hot from the sun and the desire you felt each time you reached over, making contact with skin, warm and salty to the touch. Kauai was definitely a place for lovers.


I’m not sure I have a vocabulary eloquent enough to describe our feelings about Kauai back in 1979, so I’ll rely on a cliché – Kauai was paradise, plain and simple. The joy we found on her beaches, in her mountains, in every nook and cranny of her form resides in my heart, filling it to the brim every time I remember her. I’m sure when Bob saw heaven, it looked like Kauai. From everything I’ve said, you might get the impression that Kauai is the most perfect place on earth and in my opinion, it’s about as close as you’ll ever get, but the rainy season on the North Shore of Kauai can get you down. I would never have believed it, but it’s a fact. Kauai isn’t called the Garden Isle for nothing. There’s a reason for all that lushness and part of that reason hinges on the fact that Kauai is home to Waialeale Crater, as I’ve mentioned, the wettest place on earth. Swathed in clouds year-round, Waialeale Crater’s annual rainfall is 460 inches! That’s a lot of rain! Mount Waialeale is rarely visible, so the opportunity to see it involves either a treacherous hike to the top of the mountain or a soaring helicopter ride, accompanied by classical music that punctuates the most momentous climbs over mountain peaks that take your breath away as you skim the top before dipping into the valleys below. So, which one do you think we chose? You got it! Flying over Waialeale Crater was a little like traveling back to the beginning of time. It looks positively prehistoric, everything shrouded in a mist that conjured up images of dinosaurs lumbering their way through the jungles, flattening trees as they went. This primitive beauty goes a long way in making the rainy season on Kauai a little easier to handle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get cabin fever after being housebound for weeks at a time. When you were stuck indoors, there was no T.V. to speak of in those days. CBS was the only network that made it to the North Shore, but with its horrible connection, all snowy with a lot of white noise – the strain of trying to make out the picture made the effort way more trouble than it was worth, so we were forced to find other ways to occupy our time. And we definitely did. Bob and I made the most of any housebound moment we had, if - in the words of Maynard - you get my drift. 62

Being housebound had an upside without question, but leaving the house for a Hawaiian Air flight to Oahu from Kauai, especially given our destination, was a little bit dreamlike. How many of you remember Magnum P.I.? In my mind’s eye, I see many of your hands high in the air. In 1980, Magnum P.I. was one of the most popular shows on television, ranking in the top twenty every week during the first five years of its eight-year run. You can attribute the show’s success to a number of things, starting with location, location, location! They say location is everything, right? So I ask you; what viewer, young or old, wouldn’t want to escape to a tropical island paradise every week? You can give credit to its premise - a handsome private eye solves crimes while driving a red Ferrari and living a luxurious lifestyle on a beautiful private estate in Hawaii. You can acknowledge the well written scripts and the talented supporting cast, which included John Hillerman, Larry Manetti and Roger E. Mosley. Or you can lay the credit right where it belongs . . . at the feet of Tom Selleck. I’ll admit that I, along with scores and scores of females across this country and around the world, found Tom Selleck to be the epitome of manhood. I mean, c’mon, what was there not to like? Do you remember that good looking, tall drink of water, all 6 feet four inches of him? And here Bob and I were on our way to the Magnum studios in Honolulu. A few weeks before, Bob had finished shooting an episode of Fantasy Island and when it wrapped, we had flown straight back to Kauai. There we were, minding our own business when Bob got a call from his agent. CBS needed Bob to come back to L.A. for looping. Some of the outdoor scenes he had filmed were marred by traffic noise and airplanes flying overhead, and, of course, on Fantasy Island, you would never have that kind of racket, so looping in the quiet of the studio was necessary. I could hear Bob’s end of the conversation where he said something like, they want to pay to fly me back to L.A. when there’s a perfectly good studio in Honolulu? Why can’t I loop here? Two tickets to Oahu would cost them way less than two tickets to Los Angeles. CBS agreed and arrangements were made. We were on our way to the Magnum P.I. studios! I don’t mind telling you, for me, this occasion was so momentous, I remember exactly what I wore, exactly how I felt and how relentlessly 63

Bob teased me about my excitement at the possibility of seeing – forget meeting – just seeing Tom Selleck. When we arrived at the studio, it felt like a family reunion. Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island was in post-production during this time and the number of crew members who had finished up that T.V. movie with us and moved on to Magnum was surprising. What a gig, right? One studio tropical paradise to a real-life tropical paradise. Tough work, as the old saying goes, but somebody had to do it. Catching up with everyone was fun, but . . . I kept looking out of the corner of my eye . . . where was Tom??? Bob asked. When they answered that he was out on location and no one had any idea if or when he’d come back to the studio, I felt myself deflate. Bob glanced over at me, giving my hand a squeeze. “Well, we tried,” he said, “sometimes things just don’t work out the way we hope.” True, but this was more than likely our one and only chance to ever meet him, so my disappointment was real. Bob finished up and they sent a driver to take us back to the airport. We climbed into the van, where I ended up sitting right behind our driver. The studio gate was in sight; we were maybe ten yards away from it when a jeep pulled up to the gate, heading onto the lot and right toward us. Bob poked me, I looked up and there he was, all arms and legs, tan and taut, spilling out of the jeep that appeared almost too small to hold all 6’4" of him. As the jeep and van pulled up alongside each other, our driver rolled his window down and yelled across, “Hey, Tom, I’ve got some passengers in here I’m sure you’d like to say hello to.” I could have kissed him! Bob leaned across me, “Tom,” he said, “Bob Denver.” Tom grinned, “Hey, Bob, good to see you! What are you doing here in Honolulu?” Pushing me closer to the window, Bob leaned in. “My wife and I . . . by the way, this is my wife, Dreama . . . are staying on Kauai and I had to do some looping for Fantasy Island, so we took advantage of your studio. Thankin’ you for that!” Tom sat up straighter, looking even taller, “Hey, I’m sure everyone enjoyed having Gilligan on the lot.” Then he looked right at me, “I’m sorry. What was your name again?”


Without stammering even a tiny bit, I told him my name. “I’ve never heard that name before.” His eyes twinkled, “Lovely wife, Bob. Great to meet you both!” And with that, he waved, put his foot on the gas and drove away. Enjoying me relishing our encounter, Bob called up to the driver, “You heard that, right? Tom Selleck said I have a lovely wife.” “I sure did,” was the driver’s answer. Placing his arm around my shoulders, Bob pulled me close, “Now can we go back to Kauai?” Oh, yeh, we could go back to Kauai, but I wouldn’t be flying; I’d be floating. So many beautiful memories of our time on the island and all these years later, those memories feel like a dream to me. But there was one special Christmas that I want to be sure to celebrate in this book because it was exceptional in every way and very ‘Kauai.’ It was late afternoon and the earlier part of the day had seen rain on and off, not unusual for the island in December. Because of the average annual rainfall on the island, Kauai is known for its rainbows especially on a day like this one, but when we walked onto the front porch to breathe in the ocean air, we were met with a sight like nothing we had ever seen before. Rainbows, multiple rainbows, more rainbows than I had ever seen if you added up every single rainbow I had gazed upon in my entire lifetime littered the sky. Some of them stretched from end to end, creating huge, colorful arcs over the ocean; others were half rainbows, losing themselves in the clouds as they reached toward heaven. Rainbows were everywhere! There was no way to resist the beckoning of ocean and rainbows as the full force of all that beauty pulled us off the front porch, down the beach to the water’s edge and finally into the ocean. Wading in, clothes and all, I squealed with delight every time a wave knocked me over. Bob watched from the shore. Oh, how I wish smartphones had existed in those days, giving us the ability to record this unbelievably magical Christmas Eve – a Kauai Christmas unlike any Christmas I ever experienced. A white Christmas might be the dream for Bing and countless others when the holidays roll around, but rainbows, fields of poinsettias, the ocean and the aloha spirit were a Christmas dream come true for Bob and me.


Chapter Seven Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale . . . Gilligan’s Island Theme Song So, I’ve covered some of the fun, carefree times we had during our first six years of marriage, but the truth is we worked as much as we played . . . or maybe in our case, work was play – sometimes it was hard to tell the difference. Bob filmed all three Gilligan madefor-television movies during our first six years together. The first movie, The Rescue from Gilligan’s Island, filmed 15 years after the original series ended, was a ratings bonanza, garnering a 52 share, almost unheard of in today’s television market, and paving the way for the next two Gilligan movies. As the cast came together to film the Rescue movie, the Castaways, who picked up right where they had left off 15 years before, were all smiles and love and joy. Because the original series was canceled while the cast was on hiatus, they never had the chance to say good-bye when the series ended, and each of them savored this opportunity to be together again.

The cast aboard the ‘hut boat’ that finally gets them off the island


I can’t say enough about the cast of Gilligan’s Island. They were exactly what you hope they would be. Alan Hale, Jr. was a big bear of a man, quiet and introspective at times; boisterous and fun-loving at others. The thing that sticks out in my mind about Alan is the fold-up picnic table contraption that he set up and used for his private space on the soundstage when he wanted to be by himself. I’m not sure why that visual stays with me – maybe because he was the only actor I ever saw who created his own private little oasis on a Hollywood sound stage. Oh, and one more endearing thing about Alan – his bear hugs. No one could give a bear hug like Alan Hale, Jr. Once he enveloped you, you were lost in the sheer size of him. Jim Backus was a little awe-inspiring, not only for his background in television and his appearances in landmark movies like Rebel Without a Cause with Natalie Wood, James Dean and my friend Sal Mineo, but he was Mr. Magoo, for heaven’s sake, and anyone from that generation couldn’t mistake his very distinctive Mr. Magoo voice. Jim was also an exceptionally funny man with an endless stream of Hollywood stories and a treasure trove of jokes, many of them bawdy, and every one of them hilarious. Natalie Shafer was exactly like Mrs. Howell, lorgnettes and all. I adored Natalie, who also had quite a resume on Broadway, movies, and television. During the scenes she was in, Natalie was never quite sure if they were rehearsing or actually filming, which meant Lovey was there in all her glory regardless. She was the one who impressed upon me that a lady never tells her age, and she lived by that motto. No one in the cast knew her real age until she passed away. After working with her and knowing her for close to 30 years, Bob was stunned to find out she was 90 at the time of her death! During the filming of Rescue, Tina was the only original cast member I didn’t meet. She chose not to take part in the reunion movie and was replaced by actress Judith Baldwin, who did good work as Ginger. At the time, I felt for Judy, coming into a well-established cast replacing a TV icon like Tina, but she rallied and made Ginger her own. Another 18 years would pass before I actually met Tina Louise during a cast trip to the White House, and I have to say, she couldn’t have been nicer to me. We talked a lot as we toured the White House 67

and two things stood out for me – she was soft-spoken and she has the most porcelain skin I’ve ever seen, protected throughout her lifetime. Bob once told me the story about Tina always using a parasol when they were filming on the backlot of CBS, so when we were touring the West Wing and left the Oval Office to walk through the Rose Garden, I wasn’t the least bit surprised when a parasol magically appeared. The sun worshipper in me wished I had utilized a parasol myself if beautiful skin like Tina’s was the result. Russell Johnson became a very good friend to me during the filming of the Gilligan movies, especially the movie I was in. I can’t count the hours he and I spent on the sidelines, talking about everything under the sun. Men don’t come more gentlemanly than RJ and having the chance to spend time with him every day on the set was something I looked forward to with great anticipation. Being in almost every scene meant Bob was busy working nonstop, so Russell and I had unlimited time to spend together and, happily, he seemed to enjoy our conversations as much as I did. Did you know that Russ was a WWII hero, shot down over the Pacific in 1945, breaking both ankles when he landed and receiving a Purple Heart for his injuries? Neither did I until we spent so many hours together on set. During those days and weeks, we formed a respect for each other that stood the test of time until his death in 2014. Russell was and always will be one of my favorite people in the entire world, and when he married Connie, he brought another favorite person into my life. Their love and support have meant everything to me over the years. Beautiful inside and out, Dawn Wells was the girl every man wanted to take home to mother, the one who claimed victory in all the ‘Ginger or Mary Ann’ polls that became part of American Pop Culture. As caretaker to the character of Mary Ann, Dawn treated her with TLC, realizing that little girls everywhere considered her a role model, something she took seriously. The minute I met her, I knew Dawn and I were meant to meet and become friends in this lifetime. It would have happened one way or the other. If it hadn’t happened via Bob, it would have happened through theater because I’m positive somewhere along the way we would have been cast in a play together since we worked the same circuit. Dawn and I had an 68

occasion to spend time together recently and I introduced her onstage as one of my oldest friends. ‘Them’s’ dangerous words at our age, so I had to laugh when she teasingly corrected me that we were longtime friends, not old friends. Over forty years of friendship qualifies us as long-time, don’t you think? And we’ll remain friends for life, of that I have no doubt.

When it comes to friends, Dawn and I were meant-to-be.

Dawn is the hardest working woman I know; also, the most well-traveled. The woman’s travels have taken her to every part of the globe and her stories regarding the popularity of Gilligan’s Island in faraway places are amazing. I especially love the one about her trip to the Solomon Islands. The island she visited was so tiny she had to take a canoe to her destination. When she disembarked and began walking up the path to the Chief’s hut, the Chief and his wife came out, took one look and the Chief’s wife started screaming, Mary Ann, Mary Ann, much to Dawn’s surprise. It just goes to show that the reach of Gilligan’s Island encompasses not only decades, but tiny little specks of land barely visible to the naked eye on a map of the world. The first day Bob and I walked through the gates of Paramount Studios and onto the set of Rescue, I immediately picked Sherwood Schwartz out of the crowd of unfamiliar faces. I had never seen a 69

picture of Sherwood at that time, but I knew who he was right away because he looked exactly like the Sherwood Schwartz of my imagination. From craft services all the way up to the creator/producer, Gilligan’s Island was a show crammed full of amazing people and Sherwood was one of the finest. He was also instrumental in creating a character for me in the third and final Gilligan movie The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island. The press surrounding the Rescue movie was insane, and the fact that Tina got more press for not being part of this reunion than she would have had she actually appeared in the movie never ceased to amaze Bob. Media swarmed the location like little armies of ants as one media outlet after another vied for interviews and time with the six original castaways - one of the first questions out of their mouths – why did Tina choose not to be part of this? The second most remarkable thing to Bob was how the cast picked up right where they left off the instant they got back together. It was like no time at all had passed, and believe it or not, the producers brought back many of the original crew members for the Rescue movie. Whenever Bob talked about the series, a huge point of pride for him was the fact that the same crew had stayed with the show for its entire 3-year run, so the fact that so many of them came back fifteen years later to work together once again was a thing of joy for Bob. During the second movie, The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island, the castaways found themselves once again shipwrecked on the same South Pacific Island. However, in this movie, they set up shop, with Mr. Mr. Howell builds a hotel on the island in The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island.


Howell building a hotel called The Castaways. Each Gilligan movie was a pilot for a series, and the huge success of Love Boat and Fantasy Island gave birth to the idea of having a series along the same lines. With a hotel as the setting, guest stars could show up every week to participate in the antics of Gilligan and the crew. The guest stars on the second movie included Tom Bosley and Marcia Cross as well as Bob’s friend and fellow Dobie Gillis star, Dwayne Hickman’s wife, Joan Roberts. I’m not sure I realized Joan was Dwayne’s wife at the time. It’s possible they hadn’t met then, now that I think about it. Everything and everyone was new to me, and the experience was quite heady. But years later, when we compared notes, Joan and I realized that I actually met Dwayne before she did when I worked with Sal Mineo in the show Sunday in New York. And, oddly enough, Joan met Bob somewhere along the way before I did. Bob had great love and respect for Dwayne Hickman. His tenure as Maynard on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis was his first taste of network television, and he considered Dwayne, who knew the ins and outs of the biz after starring in Love That Bob with Bob Cummings, an exemplary teacher. Talking about the chemistry between Dwayne and himself, as well as Dwayne’s generosity toward him when Maynard became the breakout character on their series, Bob reminisced, “No actor could have been more generous than Dwayne. I was the new kid on the block. I didn’t have Dwayne’s experience, but I was allowed to shine, thanks to him. Without his set-ups, Maynard’s punch lines would have fallen flat. He was the perfect straight man. Another thing – Dwayne taught me how to be the star of a show, how to run a set, how to set an example for everyone else. The set of Gilligan’s Island was a pretty happy place because of the lessons I learned from Dwayne.” Bob always felt he had the best of both worlds in the two series for which he was most famous. In Dobie, he was lucky enough to do word comedy written by one of the most respected, prolific writers in Hollywood at the time, Max Schulman. In Gilligan, he was able to do the physical comedy he loved so much, thanks to Sherwood Schwartz. Except for the absence of residuals for both shows, especially Gilligan’s Island, Bob always felt he was one lucky actor. 71

I’m on my tippy-toes and still barely reach Jimmy’s shoulder.

Obviously, you can look at the title of the third movie, The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island and know the Harlem Globetrotters were the guest stars - the original, and to my mind, and with all due respect to the existing Globetrotters, the real Globetrotters including Geese, Curly, Meadowlark, Sweet Lou Dunbar, Jimmy Blacklock (pictured with me) and Twiggy in those days. I know it sounds like I remember all of this wearing rose-colored glasses, but I swear, these experiences were built around some pretty remarkable people – every guest star, every cast member, every crew member, every teamster – every person involved in the Gilligan projects was topnotch. Along with the Globetrotters, the movie also guest-starred 72

Scatman Crothers, Barbara Bain and Martin Landau and, filling in for an ailing Jim Backus, a terrific young actor named David Ruprecht, who played Thurston Howell IV. Betcha didn’t know the Howells had a son, did you? Well, neither did anyone else until Jim’s illness prevented him from filming the 2-hour TV movie whose plot revolved totally around his character. David did a phenomenal job in mimicking Jim’s Thurston and the storyline of Thurston Howell IV, stepping up to the plate to save the Howell name in a bet against JJ Peterson, played by Martin Landau, carried on, but Jim Backus was sorely missed. Happily, on the last day of the shoot, Jim was able to make an appearance to film one scene. Playing the Howells social secretary Lucinda, I had the unbelievable good fortune to share this last scene with Jim, to my knowledge, the last one he ever shot. The scene was short due to Jim’s health, but it was memorable for me and everyone else on the set that day. As Jim said his last line and turned slowly to leave the sound stage, everyone, cast and crew alike, stood up to give Jim a standing ovation. Trust me when I tell you, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I should also point out that I wasn’t given the part of Lucinda just because I was married to the star of the show. By this time, I had been acting for ten years and had paid some of the nec- Barbara Bain, Martin Landau, Bob, and me in essary dues. I had "The Harlem Globetrotters on GI” 73

also been given an unexpected chance to show them my stuff the year before when I filled in for an absent cast member during the table reading of Castaways on Gilligan’s Island. I guess I must have done okay because the following year Sherwood, bless him, wrote a part in the Globetrotter movie with me in mind, but that didn’t mean I didn’t have to prove myself on some level. I distinctly remember the nerves I felt the day I joined Sherwood and Bob in the office of an NBC ‘suit’ – not Brandon Tartikoff, who at the time was the youngest president of NBC’s Entertainment Division and the man who would be responsible for the ‘Must See TV’ Thursday night line-up that ultimately gave NBC its first number one primetime ranking in 30 years - but someone in a position of programming power. I’m guessing that ‘someone’ wanted to get a look at me to make sure I was presentable. I’m guessing he wanted to see if I could string three words together, and I’m guessing he wanted to make sure the wife was an honest-to-goodness actress before giving the network’s blessing to this casting choice. Considering I was at Universal Studios for wardrobe fittings a few days later, I guess I passed the test. And that was it for the Gilligan movies, but that wasn’t the end of work for us. Interspersed with Hollywood, Bob and I spent plenty of time on the road, working all over the US and Canada, performing in

The two of us together on Gilligan’s Island


some really good plays as well as a few that left a lot to be desired. Our favorite production, the one Bob referred to when he laughingly said, “Just give us a stage and we’ll open our trunk, ready to go,” was The Owl and the Pussycat, a twoperson production, requiring nothing but the two of us, our aforementioned trunk and a place Doris and Felix in The Owl and the Pussycat, to perform. Alour favorite show. ways cast as the female love interest, the sweet young thing, I loved The Owl and the Pussycat because it gave me the chance to play a hooker. A hooker with a heart of gold, you understand, but the character was the fiery driving force behind the plot. She gave as good as she got, and I adored having the chance to play against type. I remember being on Kauai and receiving a call from Bob’s agent. Scottsdale, Arizona, needed us. Mickey Rooney had been scheduled for a 6-week run at the theater there, but was going to have to cancel due to illness. Was there any chance the Denvers might be able to get The Owl and the Pussycat on its feet rather quickly? Sure, no problem, we could do that, so we left the island, grabbed our trunk out of storage in LA and headed to Arizona. Since our show was coming in at the last minute, there was a flurry of press.


Bob and I did interviews for days during every rehearsal break, but one interview was extra special to me and I’ve hung onto it all these years. We did this interview with Kyle H. Lawson of the Scottsdale Daily Progress and this is what he wrote: “Romance isn’t dead in Hollywood. It’s alive and thriving in the person of Bob Denver. The popular comic, renowned for his goofy antics as Maynard G. Krebs in TV’s “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” and Gilligan in “Gilligan’s Island,” is hardly known as a great lover. But then, most fans haven’t had the chance to watch Denver stroll across the Windmill Theater parking lot, arm-in-arm, headto-head with his beautiful wife of three years, Dreama Denver. Or watch the way he looks at her when he’s talking about her . . . or see the look in his eyes when she talks about him. If they could see that side of Bob Denver, I’m afraid Gilligan might have a few million gals clamoring for a chance to get lost on his island.” See? What did I tell you a few chapters ago? If every woman could have seen this side of Bob, the interviewer was right; I would have had my hands full.


Chapter Eight You are my soulmate now and forever. I can feel two hearts beating as one. “Soulmate” ~ Joey Lawrence In 1982 Bob and I were back in Hollywood at Universal Studios, filming a pilot for a TV series called Scamps. Thank goodness, Bob loved children because, in this pilot, he had to work with nine of them, all between the ages of 5 and 9 years old. Latchkey kids were a hot topic in the early 1980s and Sherwood wanted to create a series based on kids whose parents worked 9:00 to 5:00, leaving them on their own after school until Mom or Dad got home. The series was originally called 3 to 6, but the Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin movie 9 to 5 hit theaters, and the general consensus of opinion was the title needed to be changed. I can’t remember how many hundreds, maybe thousands, of children auditioned for the parts, but I do know that Sherwood Schwartz and his son Lloyd were angels in dealing with the kids who didn’t win parts, as well as the kids who did. Each of the final group was called into Sherwood’s office and told in gentle and encouraging terms why they hadn’t been cast. These talks were done in a way that left each child and the parent accompanying that child feeling like winners. In the sometimes cold and calculating movie business, this gesture from Sherwood and Lloyd set them apart in my opinion and is deserving of mention. In the pilot for Scamps, Bob played Oliver, a stay-at-home writer who supplemented his rather meager writing income by taking care of the neighborhood latchkey kids until 6 o’clock when their parents came home from work. I played his mail lady, Mandy, who continually delivered the rejection letters that kept his income meager. Playing the not-so-nice next-door neighbor, Miss Pitts, who was none too happy with Oliver’s second profession as a caretaker of little 77

Bob and I on an outing with the final nine ‘scamps’ who would live in Oliver’s neighborhood.

children who destroyed her rosebushes, was Dena Deitrich. If you don’t recognize her name right off, I bet you’ll recognize her most famous line, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!” As I’m sure you can imagine, working with nine children required multiple takes on nearly every scene. Bob was usually referred to as “one-take Denver,” but in this show, it wasn’t the least bit unusual to hear, “Take 26” as the director Harry Harris tried to keep kids with short attention spans focused on the work at hand. That’s not to say every kid required extra attention. A couple of them memorized their lines, hit their marks, and acted their little hearts out exactly like seasoned pros. First and foremost, among these pint-sized pros was Joey Lawrence, a five and ¾-year-old dynamo who knocked our socks off. With talent oozing from every pore, Joey could sing, he could dance, he could act - he could do it all. And on top of that, he was a real charmer. From the minute the cast sat around the table for the script’s first read-through, Joey had me hook, line and sinker. Due largely to his parents Donna and Joe, he was an amazing kid who found ways to nurture his talent while keeping him a carefree, downto-earth kid at heart. 78

Joey and I had a ‘thing’ going on. I smile as I write this because we really were very taken with each other. I loved being around him and vice versa. He sang to me and danced for me and even told Johnny Carson about me when he appeared on The Tonight Show during the filming of the pilot. Joey admitted his five and ¾-year-old crush on me, telling Johnny that Dreama Denver gave him skyrockets, and I was smitten. I pretty much had his undivided attention every single day, and I’ll admit I was basking in the glow of his adoration until the fateful day when Maureen McCormack visited the set. Talk about getting dumped and dumped fast. Without a backward glance, Joey left my side and took right up with Marcia, Marcia, Marcia. Even at 5 3/ 4, the young man had good taste! As you probably know, Joey fulfilled Bob’s prediction that, “This kid has it. He’s Bob’s only competition in our entire going on to bigger and marriage. I adored this little guy. better things.” After Scamps, Joey went on to star in Gimme a Break with Nell Carter and Blossom with Miam Bialik. With his younger brothers Matthew and Andrew, he made movies and a TV series called Brotherly Love. He had a successful singing career in the 90s. He appeared on Broadway in the musical Chicago. He’s been a producer, a director, and danced his way into the top three on Dancing with the Stars. No doubt about it, this kid had IT. 79

The joy I found hanging out with Joey soon had me thinking about having a baby. At 32, my biological clock was ticking and being around nine adorable kids every day on the set wasn’t helping. Bob had been ready from the moment we met, had talked about having a child together from the outset. He was just waiting for his wife, the one with no nesting instinct, to decide the time had finally come to add to the Denver brood. As it ended up, Scamps didn’t sell, although it was a hit with test audiences all over Los Angeles. We had filmed the pilot for NBC right when Grant Tinker took over as chairman of the network. The fall schedule had to meet with his approval, and for whatever reason, he just didn’t ‘get’ Scamps, which was on and off the fall schedule more times than we could count. Brandon Tartikoff, who had taken over programming duties from Fred Silverman in 1980, championed the show, sure it would be a hit, but in the end, he couldn’t sway Grant Tinker, so Scamps aired one time and one time only. Bob had been in the business long enough to take the whole thing in stride. For me, it was a huge disappointment, but always looking for that silver lining, I realized that not making the fall schedule paved the way for the baby I was craving, so Bob and I decided to try. He had one more television movie to go – The Invisible Woman in 1983 – and then we got down to business. They say practice makes perfect, and Bob and I had been practicing making babies for five years. I mentioned earlier how much I enjoyed rehearsals, didn’t I? Well, let me tell you just how much I enjoyed these rehearsals. They took place in almost every state of the union, in parts of Canada and of course in the Rockies and on Kauai, which meant we practiced at high elevations and at sea level, increasing our stamina at those high elevations where the air is thin, making it hard to breathe. We rehearsed in the daylight and by moonlight; we rehearsed indoors and out; we rehearsed in every room of the house as well as hotel rooms all over the country; we rehearsed until we thought we’d never be able to rehearse again, and then we rehearsed some more. We were very attentive to our craft, honing every detail of the blocking, perfecting our actions and reactions to the dialogue that 80

accompanied the joining of not only our bodies but our souls. Forget that Bob and I were 48 and 33, respectively, and felt sure that our ages would make conceiving a long process. When the time came to put the production on its feet, our dedication to the rehearsal process paid off tenfold. We got pregnant on our first serious try! It’s funny how you can rehearse hundreds of times and still know exactly where you were when sperm and egg joined together to create a life. For us it happened in Orlando, FL during a visit to see my family. We were staying at the Grand Cypress in Lake Buena Vista, and somehow, we knew, we just knew, the night had been magical and a child had been conceived.


Chapter Nine Colin, Colin, Bo-Bolin Banana Fanna Fo Folin Fe Fi Mo Molin Colin “The Name Game” – Shirley Ellis We left Orlando and headed up the road to Lake Norman just outside of Charlotte, NC. There, we rented a nice little house on the lake and spent the first few weeks motoring all around the 520 miles of shoreline that stretched across 4 North Carolina counties. Those days on the water were carefree and fun, but they came to an end when one day I woke up feeling nauseous, with a tiredness that sent me back to the sofa for a nap only a couple of hours after making an effort to get myself in gear, and when I tried situating myself on the sofa, no way could I get comfortable due to the tenderness in my breasts. Hmmmm, I wondered. Could it be true? Was I really pregnant? An EPT purchased on Mother’s Day, fittingly enough, confirmed our suspicions, but of course, we needed a doctor’s confirmation to make it official. In those days, the EPT wasn’t quite as reliable as it is now. Since we were basically gypsies, we had a decision to make. Where would we have our baby? It’s an interesting dilemma when you have no home, and making that kind of choice isn’t as easy as it might sound. There’s something about having the whole country available to you that makes choosing one little piece of it, especially when money is a factor, a little bit difficult. Debating the pros and cons of Florida vs. California, North Carolina vs. Hawaii, we realized that even though Hawaii was our first choice, it wasn’t really practical if we wanted our child to know his siblings and grandparents. So, after much deliberation, we settled on Santa Barbara, deciding its close proximity to Los Angeles and possible work for Bob would be a plus. When all those job offers came pouring in, Bob would only be 82

90 miles away from the action. Trouble is, they didn’t. Once again, we packed up our three suitcases containing everything we had in the world and took off on our cross-country jaunt to beautiful Santa Barbara, CA. I don’t know if other women feel this way, I have to assume some do, but I felt both elated and apprehensive at the thought of having a baby. I was elated for all the obvious reasons, but once I knew positively that I was pregnant, apprehension set in. I loved our gypsy lifestyle and didn’t want it to change. Remember, I was the woman with no nesting instinct and the thought of settling down made me feel a little sad. Traveling was in my blood, our blood. I couldn’t imagine not picking up whenever the spirit moved us to set sail for parts unknown. I mean, we hadn’t made it to French Polynesia yet and we had always planned to go there, had almost made it there once. Would a baby make that trip impossible? How about something as simple as the car trips we loved? Would those be a thing of the past once we had a little one along for the ride? I said as much to Bob as the miles flew by and we got closer to our destination. “Honey, you know I’m excited about this baby, I really am, but have you thought about how our life is going to change once the baby gets here?” “It doesn’t have to.” “How can it not?” I asked, wanting to be reassured that at least for a while, things would remain the same. I wasn’t quite ready to lead a ‘normal’ life. “Look, Dreams, babies are very adaptable. Like right now, we could have a baby in the back seat and be doing exactly what we’re doing. We can still make our cross-country trips; we can go to Hawaii and the Rockies; we can do everything we enjoy just the way we’re doing it now. The only difference is we’ll have a little person to share it with us.” Okay, that sounded good to me, but I still had questions, “So what about school? He or she will have to go to school someday.” “Darlin’, we won’t have to worry about school for at least 5 or 6 years. By then, we might be ready to settle down,” Bob grinned at my look of uncertainty, “And let’s not forget the benefits of homeschooling. We’ll make great teachers.” 83

“What about acting?” I still needed reassurance, “Will we still be able to act, or more specifically, will I still be able to? Obviously, you’re famous and there’s no doubt that you’ll keep acting, that’s what you do, but maybe I won’t, and I don’t think I’m ready to give it up.” For someone who really wanted a baby, I know I sounded a bit selfish and I hated that I did, but seriously, changing our way of life, a life I loved, for a life I had yet to know had its scary aspects. A long sigh escaped me and Bob reached across the front seat to hold my hand, “Everything’s gonna be okay, Dreams. Your emotions are running amuck right about now, lots of changes going on inside that body of yours. You’ll see. Nothing’s going to change. We’ll still act together. We’ll take the kid to rehearsals with us; we’ll have him or her backstage with us when we perform. We’ve had my other kids backstage with us how many times? Bob went on, “A baby will change our lives for the better, Dreams, and not really all that much when you get right down to it.” I shoved aside the doubts inside my head and chose instead to believe Bob was right. He had been a dad three times over; I had been a bio mom, never. If he said we’d still act and travel and go on with life as usual, only now, with a son or daughter to share our adventures, then I believed we’d make it happen. In spite of any concerns I might have, Baby Denver was growing beneath my heart, the heart where Bob had taken up residence years Dreaming about Baby Denver in Santa Barbara before. Yes, I 84

wanted this baby - the one conceived in love, the one who would be 50% his dad, 50% his mom and hopefully, 100% the best parts of both of us. I wanted this baby and couldn’t wait to meet him or her. I wanted to see what our child would look like; I wanted to hear what our child would sound like; I wanted to see if our baby would be smart and creative like the other Denver kids. Every romantic notion a couple has when expecting a baby would come true for us in the person of this child who would be the littlest Denver, the fourth child created with the fourth wife, Bob’s lucky number. Like all new parents, I knew we would count fingers and toes when our child was born, but I also knew we would count our blessings for the perfect baby we would have. That was my dream. We arrived in Santa Barbara, met with a realtor and found a perfect house in the Montecito area. I know what you’re thinking – Montecito? Isn’t that the really ritzy area where all the rich people live? Yes, you’re right, that’s where the rich folks reside and, heaven knows we weren’t in that category, but we had saved some money from the TV movies Bob had filmed and felt we could make it the nine months to a year we’d need to be there. Besides, we were close to LA and work. Bob’s mother (Gran to me at this point) assured us that babies brought luck, part of which was money. While we floated around on Cloud 9, waiting for our baby to come, we decided to heed Gran’s advice and not worry about money and where it would come from. In my 8th month of pregnancy, our biggest concern was finding a name for our little guy. During my 6th month, an ultrasound had confirmed with 98% certainty that we were going to have a boy, so I was in the process of giving up thoughts of a daughter and finding a boy’s name to replace the Hannah we had chosen for a girl. We had a list a mile long, but none of the names grabbed me. I wanted something different, something unique. Leave it to Bob to come up with a name just a little too unique for my taste. “Dreams, I think I’ve got one. What do you think of Rafferty?” All expression, save a horrified one, left my face as I contemplated his suggestion. “You’re kidding, right? Rafferty? You want to name our son Rafferty?” My voice literally squeaked. “Hey, Rafferty’s a great name. We can call him Rafe for short.” 85

Not for one minute did I believe he was serious. He was. I’d never heard the name Rafferty - this was many years before Jude Law and his adorable, curly-haired Rafferty came along, which goes to show Bob was ahead of his time! “Bob, there is no way on earth that I’m going to okay a name like Rafferty.” He opened his mouth to object, but I was a step ahead of him this time. “No, no Rafe either. You’re seriously telling me you like Rafe?” I couldn’t believe it! But he was. He was seriously telling me that. I patted my belly. “I have a good one, though; we’ll agree on this one . . . Chance! I love the name Chance,” I proclaimed, certain Chance would get a thumbs up from Rafferty-loving Bob. “When I worked for Disney, I had a friend who named her son Chance. I’ve always loved that name.” Bob’s eyes nearly popped out of his head at that suggestion. “Not a CHANCE,” he said vehemently. “Chance Denver – nope, never gonna happen.” I sighed. Okay, obviously, we had a difference of opinion here. No chance for Chance and no raves for Rafe. Hopefully, Baby Denver wouldn’t be starting school before we found a name we could agree on. “Bob, what if we give him a name, a name we think we like, what if it’s all legal, a done deal and then we decide we don’t like it after all,” I asked worriedly. That thought had just occurred to me. Naming your child was a pretty big deal when you got right down to it. I remembered my mom telling me the story of how she got the name Ruby, which she never liked that much. She always lamented the fact that her teenage mother had allowed a 90-year-old woman to name her. “Honey, once we name him whatever we name him, that will be his name. It’ll just fit.” Hoping he was right, I ventured ahead with an idea that had been brewing while we debated the baby name issue. “Why don’t we get the baby name book out and see what Baby Denver likes. We can read through all the names and see if he responds to any of them.” 86

Bob’s look was skeptical as he said okay and got up to find the book in question. “This oughta be good. I’ve never done it this way before. Of course, you know we might be here all night reading every single name in the book.” I laughed. “We’ll skip the ones we know have no chance at all.” “Then we’ll definitely be skipping Chance,” Bob laughed as he handed the book to me. “And Rafe,” I replied, trying to make sure he understood there was no possibility of Rafferty or any of its derivatives making the cut. For the next half hour, we sat there reading the names aloud with no response from Baby Denver, who was being exceptionally quiet during this process – no kicking, no rolling. “Maybe he’s sleeping and we’ll have to try another time,” I said quietly. “Maybe he likes Rafferty and doesn’t want to hear any other names,” Bob suggested. I teasingly popped him with the book. “You just won’t give up, will you? No Rafferty, no Rafe, bottom line.” We continued on. We were up to the N’s – Nathan, Nathaniel, Nelson, Nicholas – there was a stirring inside my tum. He liked Nicholas? We had never even considered Nicholas, so I started reading the derivatives just to see. “You like Nicholas, Baby Denver?” I asked as Bob and I rubbed our hands across my ever-expanding belly. No response. “Okay, let’s keep going here – Nicky, Nick, Colin . . .” The kick I received took my breath. Bob and I looked at each other in amazement. “I think he likes Colin,” Bob said in wonder. “Try that again.” “Okay, Baby Denver, here’s your chance, little guy.” I looked at Bob sheepishly. “Didn’t mean that the way it sounded. I’m not pushing Chance.” Bob’s eyes had that ‘yeh, right’ look in them. “Okay, when you hear a name you really like, let me have it. Make it clear it’s the name you want.” I started through the list again and, lo and behold, when I got to Colin, the baby went crazy, kicking and tumbling for all he was worth. May I tell you how exciting this was for me? Colin was a name I could definitely live with and since Bob was nodding his agreement, he obviously felt the same way. Placing his lips on my belly, Bob 87

talked to our son one-on-one. “So, you like Colin? That’s the name you choose for yourself?” One more powerful kick to my mid-section and we had our answer. Taking the book from my lap, Bob closed it, a satisfied look on his face. Pulling me close, as close as my bowling ball belly would allow, Bob kissed me. “Well, I guess that settles that.” And it did. Colin Osborne Denver had named himself.


Chapter Ten There’s no greater love than what you gave A brand new baby on the way “The Day You Gave Me a Son” ~ Babyface “Mrs. Denver, do your best not to push, okay,” the nurse gave me an encouraging smile. I tried to smile back, but my lips couldn’t quite make the transition from agony to pretended ecstasy. The urge to push was so great I could hardly restrain myself. During our at-home Lamaze classes, the instructor had assured me that I would feel nothing but relief when finally, I was able to push; of course, she was also the one who told me not to think of labor as pain. What alternate universe did she live in anyway? If this wasn’t pain, then why did my body feel like it was tearing apart at the seams? And why was it shaking as though the epicenter of an earthquake was located somewhere in the vicinity of my uterus? “How much longer do I have to wait?” I gasped, digging my fingers into her arms. “It should be soon,” she replied, prying my fingers loose and moving away to let Bob back into my field of vision. “Dreams, are you okay, honey?” Bob’s look of respect told me that my womanly strength wasn’t going unnoticed. “You’re doing great, babe. Damn, you are something else!” I wanted to reassure him that I was fine, I really did, but just at that moment another contraction hit, leaving me gasping for air, unable to form words. So far, I hadn’t given Bob one dirty look for getting me into this mess. When you’re pregnant, friends who have been there – well, not just friends, really, but almost every woman who sees you following your belly around as you waddle your way through your day - eagerly relay their labor horror stories. They do this with unbelievable attention to detail, as well as a not-so-easy-to-hide glee that it’s 89

you and not them getting ready to take the plunge with Mother Nature. These stories almost always conclude with something humorous about how they yelled, screamed, or berated their husbands for getting them into this mess. I hadn’t done any of those things, and to be quite honest, I was a very quiet laborer – so far anyway. For some reason, it was important to me that Bob know I was made of sturdy pioneer stock. After all, I was a West Virginia girl, a coal miner’s granddaughter. Sucking it up and getting on with it was in my genes. Earlier in the evening, I had been hooked up to a fetal monitor the nurses called Samantha. Even though Baby Denver wasn’t due for another two weeks, I had been admitted to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital for observation. The baby’s heart rate had been low during my doctor’s visit earlier in the day, and Dr. Herrald wanted to make sure all was well. Prior to labor being induced, I had suffered the indignity of being asked to get up on all fours on the hospital bed in hopes of rolling the baby off the umbilical cord, the suspected culprit in the low heart rate problem. Okay, this wasn’t quite the way I had imagined it; it was however, the way the birth was playing itself out. On all fours, being examined from every angle, I marveled at the thought that women chose to go through this more than once, deciding then and there that child #4 from wife #4 was going to be IT! Samantha and I getting ready to labor.

Hours later with Samantha revealing what seemed to be distress on the baby’s part, the decision was made to induce labor. Bob and I had been all geared up for games of cribbage, quiet talks and time as we waited for Baby Denver’s arrival, but no . . . the inducement of labor resulted in me skipping all 90

the early stages, meaning, of course, there was no time for much of anything except getting on with it. We were off and running with the very first contraction, thrown unceremoniously right into the transition stage, the hardest part of bringing a baby into the world, or so I had been told. Bob was studying the information belched out by Samantha intently. “Whoa, that one went off the charts. Seriously, it went over the top of the graph. What does that feel like?” Bob wanted to know. I ignored the question as I focused on my Lamaze breathing. How could a woman attempt to answer that question for a man? If I could have gotten the words out, I would have asked Bob what it felt like to have the family jewels roughed up. No doubt that was a question he wouldn’t be able to answer for me either. OMG, I wasn’t sure how much more I could take. Baby Denver better make his appearance and soon. My husband had been wonderful all evening, doing everything he could to make this process as easy as possible. At the end of every contraction, as I called out desperately for an orange popsicle, Bob made a beeline for the refrigerator near the nurse’s station, only to arrive back in the room to find me in the midst of another whopping contraction. After a while, I lost count of the number of popsicles left melting in the sink. When a tiny window of opportunity presented itself between contractions, Bob rubbed my shoulders, my back, my belly and my legs. He talked soothingly and lovingly of the son we were having and the wonderful life we would give him. As my contraction subsided, Bob wiped the sweat from my brow. “This is gonna be one lucky baby, Dreams. He’ll have the best mom in the world, and he’s going to have the best life. He’ll know nothing but love from the second he gets here. Wait until you see how much you’re going to love him, Dreams.” I opened my mouth to say I was pretty certain I knew how much I’d love my son, but Bob stopped me with a finger to my lips. “I know you think you can imagine what it’s going to feel like, but trust me, it’s bigger than anything you’ve experienced so far, even the love you have for me. It’s gonna knock your socks off, woman, just you wait and see.” He kissed my parched lips, “I have never loved you more than I love you right this minute.” 91

Tiredly lifting my hand to touch his cheek, I opened my mouth to proclaim my love for him just as the nurse’s face came into view, smiling as she said the words I had been longing to hear. “Okay, Mrs. Denver, we’re almost ready to begin pushing.” “YES!” I took a deep breath. “No, no, no, not quite yet,” she cautioned me, “I’ll let you know when, okay? We’re going to bring Baby Denver into the world in short order. We’re going to push, push, push so that boy of ours can make an appearance and meet his parents. Just hang in there for a little bit longer.” I rolled my eyes at Bob. This nurse was way too bright and chipper for my taste, and what was all this ‘we’ stuff? I didn’t see her lying here, quaking from head to toe. ‘We’ were not going to push this baby into the world, I was – just me and no way did I plan for her to take credit for one second of this labor. Okay, maybe I was a little cranky, but I was desperate to feel the relief of pushing. That would mean the end was near. After nine long months, Bob and I would be seeing our son. Also pushing was supposed to be a piece of cake compared to everything else, and right now I was more than ready for a little dessert. The nurse - let’s call her Sandy because all these years later I can’t remember her name – Sandy’s voice interrupted my reverie once again. “Mr. Denver, get behind your wife and support her shoulders.” Bob moved to the spot indicated, as Sandy chirped her instructions my way. “Alrighty, Mrs. Denver, I think we’re ready.” There was that we again, and did she really just say alrighty? “When I say push, give it all you’ve got. Push like you’ve never pushed before. Okay, here we go . . . are you ready?” Yes, yes, I was ready. I was more than ready. “Okay, 1-2-3, PUSH!” I pushed like there was no tomorrow. I pushed until my face turned magenta. I grunted, I groaned. OMG, where was the relief? I had been lied to; most definitely sold a bill of goods. This was the easy part? What demented little mind considered this the easy part? Not only was it not easy in the least, but it was the most excruciating pain I had felt up to this point. Think of your worst constipation ever, multiply it by a thousand and maybe, just maybe you’ll get a feel for the humongous lie that had been perpetrated to take away my fear of 92

the unknown. Sandy’s cheery Snow-White voice became edgy as she yelled at me, “Stop!” I stopped, boy, did I stop. Rivers of sweat ran down my face, my body trembled from head to toe. I took great heaving breaths from the effort of it, certain I was depleting the room of all available oxygen. Bob’s face was close to mine, telling me how strong I was, how brave. I saw his lips moving and heard the words, but none of them registered as once again, I was overcome with the need to push. Oh God, no, pushing was the last thing I wanted to do, but at this point, the disconnect between my body and my brain saw to it that I had no control. Snow White was back, “Here we go again, Mrs. Denver, PUSH!” The loud, uncontrollable grunts and groans accompanying this attempt to push Baby Denver into the world were interrupted by a very unsympathetic Sandy, not a trace of Snow White in this admonishment. “You’re wasting a lot of valuable energy with all the grunting and groaning. You need every ounce of energy you can muster to do this job, Mrs. Denver. You might want to stop the histrionics and just push. That’s all. Just push!” Excuse me? My eyes were huge. Could I slap her silly now? Where did she get off talking to me like that? If Snow White thought this was so easy, then maybe we could trade places and she could lie here wearing a muzzle, not making a peep. Seriously, Sandy was working my last nerve. Who WAS this woman anyway? Obviously one who had never had the delightful experience summed up so beautifully by Carol Burnett who once said, “Giving birth is like taking your lower lip and forcing it over your head.” Thankfully, I was distracted from my annoyance by a quiet voice near my feet. “Dreama, I can see the hair on the little guy’s head. We’re almost there. Do you think you have one more good push in you?” This was music to my ears and the tune was being played by my third favorite man in the world at the moment, Dr. Herrald. I wanted to kiss him for letting me know the end was near. If you discount my much-maligned grunts and groans, I hadn’t said very 93

much in the last hour or so, but I did manage to gasp out one word to Dr. Herrald, “Mirror.” Knowing exactly what I wanted, he placed a mirror strategically at my feet so that I, along with everyone else, could watch our son as he made his debut. Bob held my shoulders cheering me on as I prepared to push. Determined to make this one count, I made a Herculean effort to avoid any grunting or groaning and concentrated solely on the task at hand, hoping against hope that this would be the last time I would ever, ever have to hear the word, push. I’ve no idea how long this went on, but suddenly I saw Bob standing at my feet grinning from ear to ear, “Here he comes, honey. His head is almost out. Keep pushing.” I pushed harder. Bob’s voice was full of emotion, “Before you know it, Dreams, you’re going to be holding him, so keep it up. Just a little bit more, push a little bit harder.” I wasn’t sure I could push any harder, but I gave it everything I had left in me. Bob’s face broke into a huge smile. His voice went up an octave with each play-by-play, “The head’s out . . . I can see his shoulders . . . here they come . . . and . . . it’s a boy, honey, definitely a boy . . . he’s here, Dreams. Our little guy is here.” Breathing heavily, I laughed through my tears, “Let me see him, let me see him.” I had done it! I had joined the ranks of this elite club, whose members numbered in the trillions and could be traced back to the beginning of human history. With those numbers and that time span, the club probably doesn’t sound all that exclusive, but I’m guessing any woman who’s ever had a baby will know exactly what I’m talking about – that feeling of finally knowing what it’s all about after nine months of sharing your body with another human being, providing him a home in which to take shape—the mystery of imagining who this little person might be and then realizing he’s not a figment of your imagination, he’s real. This was astonishing to me on some level, the magic of knowing you’ve actually pushed a baby into this world and seeing him for the first time is going to be all the reward you’ll ever need for the effort you put forth. But wait . . . I hadn’t seen him yet, not even through the mirror at my feet. I had been far too preoccupied to watch as Baby Denver slipped into the world. Where was he? I had to see him. 94

“Bob, I want our baby,” I struggled to raise myself up on my elbows. Ignoring my pleas for the moment, I saw Bob’s smile fade. That’s when I saw Baby Denver for the first time. He was blue, our baby was completely blue and it didn’t look as though he was breathing. I knew for certain he wasn’t crying, “Oh, God, Bob. Dr. Herrald, is he okay?” I could barely form the words, and as the thought in my head became the words that left my mouth, I wanted to take them back more than anything in the world. Even so, they just kept coming. “Why is he blue? Why isn’t he crying, Dr. Herrald? Is . . . is . . . Oh, God, he’s not dead, is he?” The answer to my question was silence as Dr. Herrald unwrapped the umbilical cord from around his neck, once, twice . . . for what felt like eons, but was only moments I’m sure. Nothing happened, then suddenly, as if to protest his removal from the warmth of my womb and his entry into a cold unfamiliar world, Baby Denver turned bright red and let out a cry that let us know in no uncertain terms he was definitely alive, breathing, and not the least bit happy. With relief, Bob hugged me and I collapsed against the pillow behind me, watching as Bob followed the doctor to another part of the delivery room, staying close to his baby as they suctioned him, washed him up and administered his first APGAR test. He scored a 7, not bad for a Lamaze baby. In a few minutes, he was given a second APGAR and scored a 9, which was considered very good for a Lamaze baby. Dr. Herrald turned, handing Baby Denver to Bob, who gently kissed his new son, Be still my heart whispering his love before placing him on my chest where he immediately began rooting for a nipple. Mesmerized, we watched as instinct took over, showing Baby Denver the way to unadulterated newborn happiness. Counting fingers and toes, Bob and I checked for any signs of imperfection 95

and found none. He was perfect. Our breath mingled as we sighed our way into our first kiss as a new Mom and Dad. We looked at our new son and quietly whispered, “Happy Birthday, Colin Osborne Denver. Welcome to the world!”


Chapter Eleven Welcome to your life, There’s no turning back “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” ~ Tears for Fears We were home. After two months of bed rest at the end of my pregnancy, after a short but complicated labor, I had given birth naturally to Colin Osborne Denver, who weighed in at 7 lbs. 14 oz, measured 20 inches in length and who, to our ears, had the lung capacity of a 20-year-old. I was exhausted. Not only had I been on a high that kept me awake and exhilarated for 60 hours after giving birth, but even if sleep had been my aim, Colin’s arrival into the world pretty much squelched any possibility of that. From the sound of it, we might never sleep again. Thank God I didn’t know the truth of that last statement on January 11, 1984. I won’t lead you through every single sleepless night we suffered during the next three months. I won’t go into details about walking the floors day and night and how Bob and I traded off every 20 minutes because that seemed to be the auditory limit with a baby screaming in your ear. Suffice it to say, this was not what I imagined when I imagined having a baby. I knew sleep would be hard to come by with a newborn, but I sure didn’t realize it would be nonexistent. Nothing in Bob’s experience with his older children had prepared him for this turn of events either. We were flailing around in a world of sleep deprivation accompanied by a never-ending soundtrack of despair. We only knew what the pediatrician was telling us, “What we have here is a case of colic. Give him three months and he’ll be right as rain.” Bob pulled out a calendar and we began marking the days. Like all responsible new parents, Bob and I made the trek to the pediatrician’s office for the required well-baby visits right after Colin’s birth. I didn’t think of them as well-baby visits at the time, but in truth, 97

that’s what they are. Even though your baby isn’t sick, you are required to take your baby to the doctor to have him checked, and you’re supposed to do this with regularity.

And baby makes three.

Along with the well-baby visits come immunizations and back in 1984, as, I’m sure is true today, if you questioned a vaccine, you were made to feel like a lousy parent with no regard for your child’s safety and welfare. Quite honestly, Bob and I didn’t think to question the immunizations at the time, which in retrospect, is odd to me because Bob was a person who questioned everything. Regardless, at six weeks, we took Colin in for his oral polio vaccine and his first shot, the DPT vaccination. Like any baby, Colin protested mightily when poked with the needle. Trouble was, from that day forward, the protesting never stopped and what had been a fussy, supposedly colicky baby, became a completely inconsolable one. The day after Colin’s first DPT vaccination, we received a call from Bob’s brother Dick, an attorney in LA, who at the time was going head to head with the AMA, trying to prosecute DPT cases for families who were certain this vaccine had hurt their child. “Has Colin had the DPT yet?” Dick came right to the point as soon as Bob answered the phone. 98

“Yeh, he got it yesterday. Why?” Bob wondered. “Look Bob, I’m prosecuting these cases right now; at least, I’m trying to. It’s almost impossible to go up against the AMA and their legions of attorneys, but in my heart, I believe these moms and dads when they tell me that they had a child who was a certain way one day, then changed either gradually or quickly after getting these shots. If you decide to have the DPT, get only and D & T skip the pertussis. The pertussis seems to be the culprit in this.” I watched Bob’s face cloud over as he listened intently to what Dick was telling him, and hearing his end of the conversation, I knew it wasn’t good. He hung up the phone and stared at me for a minute before filling me in on everything Dick had told him. “There’s something inherently wrong with giving tiny babies, whose immune systems aren’t close to being fully developed, all of these vaccines,” Bob said. “I only hope we haven’t made a choice that’s going to hurt Colin.” My eyes filled with tears, as they were inclined to do over anything concerning Colin and his well-being. “Surely, if there was something wrong with the shot, the doctors would know and give parents an option. I can’t stand the thought that we made a choice that might cause Colin problems.” My tears spilled over. Yes, I was hormonal. Yes, my body was going through huge changes once again. Yes, the lack of sleep was compounding the issue. BUT something was wrong with Colin and had been since that first DPT. My mother’s gut knew that – it’s that invisible umbilical cord. Mothers know and any mother reading this book will back me up on this. Money was becoming an issue, which meant living the good life in Santa Barbara was suddenly out of the question. The dream of having our baby there had been fulfilled, but the dream of staying there with him was little more than a pipe dream. Unless you’re an actor on a regular series or a movie star able to pick and choose, an actor’s life is uncertain at best and, the luck Gran had predicted didn’t materialize, as expenses increased and the work in Hollywood dried up. People assume if they’ve seen your face on their TV screens for the last 20 years, you must be rich. People make this assumption about anyone who works in the industry. After all, don’t residuals set 99

you up for life? Every time you open your mailbox, don’t you find a residual check worth thousands of dollars? Don’t TV stars go to bed nightly and roll around on the 100-dollar bills scattered all over their beds amongst the champagne glasses and rose petals? Maybe if you’re Jerry Seinfeld or one of the Friends or any one of the more recent stars who made a million dollars an episode, but the fact is, Bob never saw a penny from Gilligan’s Island. He was paid off after two runs back in the 60s, and I think his weekly salary for the show never exceeded 1500 dollars. In 1984 GI had been in constant reruns for 20 years, often running as many as seven times a day in certain markets, but neither Bob nor any of the cast members saw a dime for their work. Bob always said, laughingly, that if he had known about mass syndication, video, DVDs, the internet, and these days, streaming, something he didn’t live to see, he would definitely have made a better deal, but no one saw any of these things coming back in 1963 when he signed his contract for Gilligan’s Island. And, of course, there was the problem of type casting. When you’ve created a character as well-known as Gilligan, you end up pigeon-holed. A lack of imagination on the part of the ‘suits’ often leaves an actor yearning for parts he’ll never play due to the decision-makers’ short-sightedness. That was the case with the Castaways. Each of them fought the good fight, but not one of them enjoyed the success they’d experienced with Gilligan’s Island after the show ended. With no work available in Hollywood, Bob and I knew it was time to take 4-month-old Colin and move to a less expensive city, but where would we go? As luck would have it, and just in the nick of time, Bob was offered the lead in a play at the Union Plaza Hotel in Vegas, so we packed our few suitcases, loaded mostly with baby paraphernalia at this point, and made the trip to the Strip. This trip was nothing like the trips we had made in the past. No, frivolity, no looking forward to a few days of relaxation and play; this trip saw us at the edge of sanity as Colin screamed his way to ‘Sin City.’ We checked into the Union Plaza and Bob started rehearsals. I can’t tell you the fear I felt every time Bob left the suite and I was left alone to console an inconsolable child. Colin never slept, and when 100

he did, it was in tiny little spurts, maybe two hours here or 5 minutes there. The odd thing was how he could sleep for 5 minutes and then carry on screaming for the next 18 hours. I’m not exaggerating. Colin could scream endlessly and he could do it on no sleep whatsoever. Being solely responsible for keeping him quiet, being the one who had to see to it that he didn’t bother the other guests in the hotel, kept my heart in my throat most of the time. I was a nervous wreck. Bob wasn’t faring much better. He hated leaving me alone, and with no sleep, he had the challenge of trying to learn lines in between Colin’s outbursts, not to mention, once the show opened, performing on little or no sleep. I did my best to stay up nights with Colin in order for Bob to get the rest he needed, but working the day shift as well as the night shift was too much for one person and as we all know, lack of sleep is a form of torture. Exhaustion exacerbates everything. Being torn was becoming a way of life for the two of us. From the moment we met, we had been together 24/7, had worked together nonstop, which meant I had my own issues about not being part of this production. I felt very left out. Reading this now, it sounds so childish, but as I’ve said, my love for acting was even greater than Bob’s, and to feel excluded was foreign to me, but to be excluded from working while trying to placate our son night and day was almost more than I could handle. I would love to say I never once made Bob feel guilty, but if he were here, I’m sure he would say I did. I didn’t mean to; it was just that every part of me wanted to be with him on that stage, and this adjustment from actress to the mom of an endlessly screaming child was proving to be a difficult one for me. Even though I tried mightily, and with some success, to slap a smile on my face as Bob left for the theater every night, his guilt at leaving me, my guilt for not wanting him to and the misery that both of us felt because we weren’t working together caused the occasional confrontation. I suppose I had conditioned him early on by not hiding my unhappiness very well. Grabbing the room key on the off-chance Colin and I might be sleeping when he got back, Bob snipped at me, “Don’t be ticked off, okay?”


“I’m not,” I replied curtly as I bounced Colin on my knee, trying to keep him quiet. “I know you are. It doesn’t matter what you say, I can feel it.” I decided silence might be my best answer at this point, so I remained quiet. “You think this isn’t hard for me?” he went on, building up steam. “Do you think I don’t miss you out there? You think I enjoy the thought that you’re stuck here while I’m on stage trying not to worry about what’s happening here in this room. Do you think this is fun for me, Dreama, because if you do, then think again.” Even though I was Dreams most of the time, when Bob was upset, I became Dreama once again. And, yeah, it did seem to me that it had to be fun to get a break from the craziness that permeated this suite day and night. “Bob, I’m trying my best, okay? I’m sorry if I’m making you feel guilty. I don’t mean to, but pulling the night shift and the day shift isn’t easy.” Then rather snidely, “I thought a baby wasn’t going to change anything. I thought we’d take the baby to rehearsals with us, backstage with us, and continue doing what we loved to do. I thought I’d still be able to work. Looks like it’s not working out that way.” “Great, just great!” Bob snapped. “Throw that up at me why don’t you? I’m doing the best I can. I don’t know what the hell you expect of me, but someone has to bring in the money. We don’t get residuals; we don’t have a big bank account. Hell, we don’t have any bank account. I have to make some kind of living.” I wanted to swallow the words I had just said, wanted to take them all back, but I couldn’t. Deep down, I knew he didn’t like this any more than I did, but our frustrations had to come out somewhere. I tried to make amends. “Honey, I know. I’m sorry. I’m being childish and I apologize. If we can just get through the colic, I know everything will work out the way we thought.” Colic . . . we both knew this wasn’t colic. Colic was supposed to end after three months and we were four months into Colin’s little life. But we could pretend. Until Bob finished the run of this show, we could pretend things would someday be normal again.


I stood up to follow Bob to the door for a kiss, Colin wailing all the way. Bob’s kiss was quick. I could tell he still wasn’t happy with me and I didn’t blame him. His kiss for Colin was much more heartfelt. “Hey, little guy, try not to give your mom too much trouble while I’m gone, okay? Take it easy on her. She’s the best mom you’ll ever have, so show a little appreciation, would ya?” Colin’s defiant scream was Bob’s answer. “Sorry, Babe, but I’ve got to go.” One more kiss and he was out the door. I stood there for a few minutes, feeling completely alone as I focused on Colin’s screams. There’s a good chance, I reasoned to myself, that having an argument with me makes it easier for Bob to leave us and do what he has to do. Yeah, that made sense; I hated it, but it made sense. Looking at Colin’s scarlet face, I moved to the sofa to calm him in the only way that seemed to work without fail. I nursed him. During these times when his eyes were closed in ecstasy and his little fists kneaded my breast furiously, I could pretend that my baby was like every other baby. He was so beautiful, and I was positive the minute the colic passed (hope springs eternal, right?), it would be a whole new world, the world we had anticipated and looked forward to. Four months of sleeplessness and constant agitation was long enough, wasn’t it? Whatever this was couldn’t last forever. I kissed the fuzz on top of Colin’s head. “Don’t worry, sweetie. It’s gonna be okay. Just hang in there. Your world is going to improve, I promise. Mommy and Daddy will see to it.” His answer was a burp and, for the moment, a contented smile.


Chapter 12 I said, Doctor, ain’t there nothin’ I can take? I said, Doctor, to relieve this bellyache. “Coconut” ~ Harry Nillson At the end of Bob’s 12 week run at the Union Plaza Hotel, we decided to stay in Vegas, where the cost of living better suited our pocketbook. We found a small 2-bedroom apartment on West Sahara Blvd. and at this point in our story, we had been living there for months. Not the kind of apartment you’d expect to find the star of one of the most rerun television shows in history living in, but a very typical apartment. The kind I had lived in during my single days—the kind of apartment most of us live in when we first strike out on our own, trying to find our way. At 16 months, Colin still wasn’t walking or talking or feeding himself or sleeping on any kind of schedule. We were worried sick, and we were tired to the point of collapse. It wasn’t that he had never done any of these things – he had – he had smiled on time, rolled over on time. He had pulled up on furniture and even started cruising a tiny bit. But these landmark events that most parents take for granted never lasted. He would hit a milestone just long enough to give us hope and then lose it completely. He wasn’t a mimic like most babies. A good game of patty-cake or peek-a-boo was completely out of the question. He had no interest in other children, no interest in toys unless they were right in front of him; if they disappeared, he seemed not to notice or care. Colin was over a year old before he could sit on his own. His circadian rhythms were nonexistent, resulting in no sleep cycle whatsoever, which meant Bob and I were working on 16 months of no sleep and, believe me, those 16 months felt more like 16 years. If only we had known . . .


When the opportunity for work presented itself, we left Las Vegas, with me more accustomed to Bob leaving for the theater without me. I still missed it, but I had bigger fish to fry. Like it or not, I had to grow up sometime. The actress in me had to take a back seat to the mom I had become. In May of ’85, when Colin was 16 months old, we packed up for four and a half months on the road. Our travels would take us to Florida, then onto Chicago, where we would have one of the few red-letter days in Colin’s development. It was in Chicago that Colin first crept on his hands and knees. We were watching the Tonight Show when suddenly, without any forewarning, Colin took off and crept across the room, at lightning speed no less, pointing to Johnny Carson with a big grin on his face. See? These were the things that kept hope alive. After Chicago, we headed back to Florida and then to New York City, where Bob rehearsed a new show he would be starring in on the New England Theater Circuit. The play was called The Foreigner and it would open at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey before moving on to Maine and Cape Cod. By the time Bob’s show arrived in Cape Cod, we had come up with what we hoped would be an answer for our son. I was a huge fan of Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, America’s guru of pediatricians in those days. Libraries were full of countless books Dr. Brazelton had written on child development, and I was pretty sure I had read every single one of them. I was also a devoted watcher of his hit Lifetime show What Every Baby Knows. With every pediatrician we visited telling us to take it easy and let Colin develop at his own pace, it was becoming imperative that someone in a position of authority listen to us and tell us what was going on with our son. Dr. Brazelton practiced in Cambridge, Massachusetts and since we were right there on Cape Cod, it seemed a no-brainer that we should try to get Colin in to see him. One afternoon as Bob left for a matinee performance, we decided I would try to call the doctor’s office and get an appointment for Colin. Bob didn’t think the chances were very good, but we decided it couldn’t hurt to try. Shaking off the worry that Dr. Brazelton would be booked up, I told Bob I would do my best to make him understand he had to see us. He just had to, 105

that’s all there was to it. I could be a pretty persuasive person when I wanted to be, and I planned to use every power of persuasion I possessed to convince him. The minute Colin quieted down – and he did quiet down on occasion – I picked up the phone to make the call. Yes, I was really nervous. I’ve never been a pushy person, but in this instance, I had to be. This was our son and his future, our future – it felt like our entire life was riding on this phone call. “Dr. Brazelton’s Office.” It was a man’s voice. Interesting, I thought, that he would have a male receptionist. “Hi, my name is Dreama Denver and I’m calling to see about getting an appointment with Dr. Brazelton for my son.” I hurried on, trying to avoid anything that might indicate a negative response. “My husband Bob Denver of Gilligan’s Island (yes, I used Bob’s celebrity, something I rarely did, but would do again for the sake of Colin) is doing a show here on Cape Cod and since we’re so close, I thought it couldn’t hurt to see if there were any appointments available.” “So, this is Mrs. Denver?” the voice on the other end asked. “Yes, it is,” I replied. “Well, Mrs. Denver, this is Dr. Brazelton. I’m a big fan of your husband’s.” I almost dropped the receiver. He answered his own phone? I was talking to the man himself? He continued, “What seems to be the problem with your son?” “Dr. Brazelton, it’s a pleasure to talk to you. My son’s name is Colin. He’s 18 months old and behind on everything. He doesn’t walk or talk or feed himself; he never sleeps. My husband and I have taken him to pediatricians all over the country and each one says the same thing, “He’s on his own schedule. He’ll develop when the time is right for him. Don’t compare him to other babies. There’s nothing to worry about,” but our gut tells us that’s not true. Something is wrong with him and we’re at our wit’s end trying to get to the bottom of it.” After asking a few more questions about Colin’s development, Dr. Brazelton wanted to know what our schedule was, so I told him the end date of the show and asked if there was any way possible that he could work us in when we were ready to leave Cape Cod.


He graciously gave me a date and time and asked if that would work for us. Would that work for us? Would that work for us? Yes! I was beside myself with relief and couldn’t wait to give Bob the good news as soon as he got home. The doctor who wrote the books was going to see our son, and at that moment, I believed in my heart that everything would be okay. We drove into a lovely neighborhood in Cambridge, found the address, and looked for a parking spot. Dr. Brazelton’s office was in the basement of his home, something we had never run into before, and something we found very comforting. As we walked up the sidewalk, Bob cautioned me, “Dreams, try not to get your hopes up. Maybe the other doctors are right. Maybe Colin’s just behind and will catch up.” Even though I knew Bob didn’t believe a word he was saying and was just saying it to comfort me, I assured him, “Honey, it’s okay. I’ll be fine. If nothing else, we’ll get a diagnosis from a doctor we trust. I’m just glad we’re here.” Dr. Brazelton met us at the door and I was immediately starstruck. Bob was cool as always, but for me, this was better than meeting Tom Selleck or Glenn Ford or any other celebrity I could imagine. I was immediately struck by Dr. Brazelton’s smile, the most dazzling smile set in the kindest face I had ever seen. And his voice – the most gentle, soothing voice, a voice that eased your worries and left you with the feeling everything would be okay. One look at his face and you had complete trust. After a bit of small talk, he took us into an examining room and placed Colin on the table. He checked for hearing problems, which we knew didn’t exist unless they existed with the two of us due to 18 months of walking the floor with nonstop screaming in our ears. He checked for vision problems and object placement. Colin responded well to Dr. Brazelton, staying calm and even verbalizing a little – ma ma ma ma, ba ba ba ba, he said to him over and over. At the end of the examination and without scaring us silly, Dr. Brazelton began talking in the gentlest way about early intervention and the need to have Colin tested, possibly at UCLA if that was convenient for us. We’d make it convenient for us. We explained that we had a job coming up 107

in Calgary, Canada, but as soon as that was over in January, we’d take Colin to UCLA immediately. We left Dr. Brazelton’s office feeling more positive than we had in months. Finally, someone was listening to us. Finally, someone was agreeing that all was not well in Colin’s world. Even if there was something wrong with our son, Dr. Brazelton had given us hope that it could be managed. That day, he was my hero, and for many years after, he stayed in touch by mail, always interested in Colin’s progress and always concerned about our well-being, and on behalf of my husband, who’s no longer here and my son for whom he showed such TLC, I thank him.


Chapter 13 We look for love, no time for tears Wasted water’s all that is And it don’t make no flowers grow “Just the Two of Us” ~ Bill Withers Located in what is known as the transition zone between the Canadian Rockies and the Canadian prairies, Calgary was a hilly and beautiful boomtown that came into its own when a huge reserve of oil was discovered there in 1947. Almost 40 years later, it still had a frontier feel and the people there, actors and regular folks alike, were a happy lot, proud of their city and very welcoming to a ‘mighty sailin’ man’ and his family. I’m not sure how Bob and I always managed to work in Canada during the winter months, but after working in Regina and Winnipeg during January and February years before, here we were again in Canada during December and slated to be there through the first two weeks of January. Thank goodness for the Chinook winds, prevalent in Alberta, Canada, that can melt a foot of snow in one day and make winter feel like a distant memory. The minute the Chinooks kicked in, Canadians everywhere started running around in nothing but T-shirts, and some even went so far as to talk about sunbathing in swimsuits during the Chinooks. A hearty bunch, those Canadians! Bob and I were pretty psyched to be working together again for the first time in almost two years, but working as the mom and dad of a difficult child was a very different experience from our years on the road, just the two of us. Colin might have become a rehearsal/backstage kid, but not in the way we imagined. Rehearsals were hard to focus on while keeping a watchful eye on our little guy, and working to placate him during the show was nothing short of a nightmare. The actors working with us stepped up to the plate when they were offstage, trying to keep Colin entertained, but for the most part, he was 109

having none of it. At least most of the time. There were times when he was charming and funny in his special Colin way, but the fact that he was a nonverbal almost two-year-old, who crept rather than walked and still had to be fed by either Bob or me was not going unnoticed. Being in diapers didn’t raise an eyebrow, but almost everything else about him screamed problem. As we got to know the other actors better, they very gently voiced their concerns, and we explained time and again about the appointment at UCLA on January 29th. And even as this satisfied them, it filled me with fear. What if we found out he had some kind of degenerative muscle disease? What if we found out he would never walk or talk? What if, what if, what if . . . the ‘what ifs’ ran through my mind at warp speed, making it hard to concentrate on anything except the dread of what might be coming. Being the stoic, pragmatic person he was, Bob tried not to let me see his fear, knowing that any sign of fear from him would send my terror right off the Richter scale. But I knew it was there. I could feel it. I could see it during his unguarded moments when he looked at Colin with such concentration it was as if he could make Colin better by the sheer force of his will. And when we talked about it, which was often and in depth, we talked about the hope we clung to that all the pediatricians were right and that maybe even Dr. Brazelton was wrong and one day out of the blue, Colin would have a conversation with us, that he would initiate a game of peek-a-boo, or that he would stand up and run to us, arms outstretched, happily yelling our names. In our most hopeful moments, we chose all of the above. On closing night, we stood before an enthusiastic audience in Calgary, taking our last curtain call. Tomorrow we’d be heading back to Vegas, tired and worried about the upcoming UCLA visit. Two actors might have been taking their bows on that stage that night, but two worried parents were moving to the forefront as those bows ended. I didn’t know it at the time, but the curtain call in Calgary would be my last. Dreama Denver, actress, was now a thing of the past. January in Vegas can be pretty terrific, not too hot, and not too cold; actually, just right if the winds aren’t gusting at 60 miles an hour. January 28th was a glorious Las Vegas day, but I had yet to see it 110

since I had worked the Colin night shift the night before. Whoever worked the night shift, usually me since I’ve always been a night owl, had the pleasure of sleeping in the following morning while the person who slept during actual sleep hours, usually Bob, roused himself for the morning shift that included Colin’s bath and breakfast routine. Quite frankly, I would have been happy to sleep for a week, not only because I needed it, but to avoid facing the dreaded appointment scheduled for the next day, January 29, 1986 and its equally dreaded results. If sleep was a form of escape, it was one I was more than willing to utilize. I know Bob felt the same way, but as usual, he was doing his best to calm my fears, telling me that we would find the answers and do whatever it took to make Colin whole. I was happily in dreamland, no worries, no cares, when Bob’s voice reached my subconscious. “Dreams, wake up,” he touched my shoulder. “Honey, wake up.” I peeled one eye open and looked at Bob. “What?” I asked a little crossly. I didn’t want to come back to reality. I didn’t want my escape hatch closed, and then I remembered Colin and sat up quickly. “What’s wrong? Is Colin okay?” “He had his bath, ate breakfast, and he’s sleeping, he’s fine,” Bob replied. Colin was actually sleeping and Bob was waking me up? Why wasn’t he climbing in beside me for a little shut-eye? I fell back against the pillows, pulling the covers back over my head with a groan, but Bob wasn’t finished. “Do you remember what you said a couple of days ago about the teacher going into space?” Looking at him blearily, I remembered. As NASA prepared to send America’s first teacher, Christine McAuliffe, into space aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger, I had wondered out loud about the possibility of something happening. Wouldn’t it be horrible, I had commented to Bob, if something happened to her on this flight? Recalling my words, I sat straight up, my heart pounding in my chest. “I remember. Oh, no, did something happen? Please tell me nothing happened.” “The shuttle exploded shortly after liftoff. They’re pretty sure no one survived,” Bob answered as I scrambled out from under the covers. Together we raced into the living room to watch the news cover111

age. As the scene of the explosion played out again and again on TV screens around the world, the initial numbness wore off, replaced by an overwhelming sadness for NASA and the families of the lost astronauts. The magnitude of this tragedy seemed unthinkable, and I have to admit, in a selfish sense, made me fear the worst. Why I felt this way, I can’t really explain, but deep inside, I knew this was a premonition for our visit to the neurology department at UCLA. The prognosis tomorrow would not be good. It wasn’t. Stop the world, I want to get off, ricocheted through my brain as Bob and I stood in the UCLA Medical Center next to the crib in which Colin had been placed. We watched as the doctor ran Colin through the developmental paces, much the same as Dr. Brazelton had, but without the gentle smile and kind words. A team of invisible doctors observed from behind a two-way mirror, adding to our nervousness and discomfort. Mentally I urged Colin to follow directions. I prayed for a miracle that would see Colin pull himself up and cruise the crib, but no such miracle happened. According to the doctors at UCLA, Colin was severely retarded, a word we came to loathe due to its inaccurate implication. We stood in stunned silence. The doctor was brusque and to the point. “Your son is severely retarded, Mr. and Mrs. Denver. If you’re lucky, he’ll be half of what he should be for the rest of his life.” I stood there, tears running down my face, trying to take in these nonsensical words that threatened to tear our life apart. I looked at Colin, who was beautiful and physically perfect. Didn’t retarded people look retarded? Could retarded people look perfectly normal? Our son looked like an angel, and that wasn’t just the mother in me talking. Colin was a handsome boy. How could these words, words that knocked the breath out of me, apply in any way to the blonde, blue-eyed child sitting in the crib unaware of the sentence he had just been handed? How was this possible? My sobs were quiet, but my brain screamed inside my head – NO! NOOOOOOOOOO! Ignoring the havoc being wreaked by his words, the doctor 112

continued, “Would you like my best advice?” NO! No, I didn’t want his best advice. What I wanted was to cover my ears and run screaming from the room, but I stood there, rooted to the spot, waves of dread washing over me as I waited for him to continue. I looked over at Bob. The blood had drained from his face, leaving him as white as chalk, and looking like he had taken a punch to his midsection. Bob’s sad eyes stared at me, telling me he was sorry, telling me he was helpless to say anything to right this terrible wrong. I wanted to feel his arms around me, but I couldn’t move. The doctor’s voice droned on, speaking words that had no place in the life of Bob, Dreama and Colin Denver. “Place him somewhere; don’t let him ruin your life.” No, No, NO! Was this man insane? How could Colin ever ruin our life? He was still talking, void of any bedside manner whatsoever, “Institutionalize him where they’ll know how to take care of him. You have a life to live and you won’t be able to live it with the burden of a retarded child.” Seemingly devoid of any feeling, the doctor showed no compassion; he was brusque to the point of rudeness as he droned on about the negatives of having Colin in our life. I stared at him, wondering if it was necessary to give advice in such a hurtful way. Maybe this was the only way he knew to do it after years of telling parents that their child was basically a useless human being, one that didn’t count, one that would never be a productive member of society - for that was exactly what he was saying. Was he a parent? Didn’t he realize how harsh his approach was? Don’t ask me why, but suddenly I was overcome with pity for this doctor who had to dole out such hideous news to parents who found themselves in this position. I felt sorry for this man, who either had no feelings or had been forced out of necessity to squelch any feelings he might have possessed the day he took the Hippocratic Oath. My feet moved, and I walked, not to Bob, but to the doctor, my tears flowing freely. “I’m so sorry.” I said to him. His baffled look told me he wasn’t sure how to take that simple statement. “It must be so hard to deliver news like this. I can’t imagine being the one to tell parents the things 113

you’re telling us, things that will change their lives forever. I can’t fathom looking at a toddler like Colin and encouraging the parents to put him away.” I gave him a quick hug, hoping he would understand the empathy I felt for his situation. But as he backed away from me slightly and began to speak once again, I moved to Bob, looking for the comfort I knew I would find with him as the doctor’s words assaulted my brain for the second time. “I’m only speaking the truth, Mrs. Denver. It’s my job and my duty to make parents of retarded children realize what they’re up against. If you and your husband want to have a life, then institutionalize your son. Put him away where they know how to take care of him. You won’t be the first parents to follow this advice and you won’t be the last.” Holding me up as much as holding me, Bob walked us over to the doctor and looked him straight in the eye. “I know you feel you’re giving us the best advice you have to offer, doctor, and I’d like to say, thanks, but no thanks. You think it’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’? Well, it doesn’t work that way. You say Colin’s retarded and I don’t doubt your diagnosis, but that word implies that our son is an imbecile, a moron, a retard, or any number of unflattering terms used to describe this affliction. Colin is none of these things and I can say that with certainty because we have something that no doctor on earth will ever have and that’s an up close and personal knowledge of our son.” The doctor opened his mouth to interrupt, but Bob held up his hand as he built up steam. “You look at him and see a retarded child. We look at him and see, not just a child who’s fussy and developmentally behind other kids his age, but a kid who’s bright and funny, a kid with a savvy sense of humor. I don’t know the proper term to describe Colin yet, but retarded isn’t it, that much I do know. The next time you have to deliver a diagnosis like this one, try to remember you’re talking to parents who know the patient better than you do and find a way to deliver your conclusion with a little compassion. This may be old hat for you, but for those of us hearing it for the first time, the words you choose are life-changing and have an impact you may not understand.” Bob picked Colin up and held him close. “Our son will never see the inside of an institution. We’ll move heaven and earth to keep that from happening, and if that’s the best advice you 114

have to offer, I pity the parents who follow us here.” We left. We left with a diagnosis that was our worst nightmare. Colin was retarded. We were the parents of a retarded child. Remember your beautiful 2-year-old or look at the precious 2-year-old you have now and imagine someone saying these words to you about him or her. Try that for something to turn your world upside down. On this day Bob and I had a lot to learn about what we would come to know as brain-injury, but there was one thing we knew for certain on January 29, 1986. Hell would freeze over and pigs would fly long before our son ever saw the inside of an institution. The search was on. We left UCLA enroute to Gran’s apartment in Pacific Palisades. There were no cell phones in those days, so we weren’t able to share the news with her until we arrived at her place. As soon as we walked through the door, Gran took one look at my face and wrapped me in a huge hug, asking what had happened. “Gr-Gran, the doctor said Colin’s severely retarded.” I broke down completely, “Not just retarded, but severely retarded.” She looked to Bob for confirmation and he nodded yes. Her hug tightened. “Shhhh, shhhh, Dreama, it’s going to be okay.” “How can anything ever be okay again? How?” I wailed. “Listen to me. Colin is still Colin, the same boy you’ve loved for the last two years. That doesn’t change. He needs you now and you’ve got to stay strong. He’s counting on you and Bob to care for him and love him and see to it that he’s safe. You can’t let him down now when he needs you most. Besides, God never gives us more than we can handle.” I looked at her, wondering how God could do this to a little guy who had never done anything to anyone. All he had done was be born and he hadn’t even asked for that. And I wasn’t at all sure God hadn’t given me more than I could handle because I honestly felt there was no way I could handle this. During the ride from UCLA to Gran’s apartment, I had mentally gone over my entire pregnancy, certain this had to be my fault, but I was 33 when I got pregnant, not a child, but a grown woman who knew how to take care of herself and her baby. I read every book. I 115

hadn’t smoked, I didn’t drink, I exercised regularly, working my way up to 70 laps a day in the pool of our Santa Barbara rental house. My diet was good, and when my doctor called for bed rest, I stayed put and did exactly as I was told. I had given birth naturally, so exactly what had I done wrong? Was Colin hurt because of the one time I got into a hot tub while I was pregnant? Or the day we had the pregnancy confirmed by Dr. Herrald and I drank half a glass of wine to celebrate – had that done it? Was it because I was in my 30s and my eggs were older? Was it the DPT shot Dick had warned us about? Was it because I had worried about our life changing? Was it my selfishness? Was it because I didn’t want to give up acting? Had I been a bad stepmother and this was my punishment? There had to be a reason for this. It couldn’t just be the luck of the draw, could it? Realistically, I knew it was nothing I had done, but like any mom, I also knew that Colin had lived inside me for nine months and I couldn’t help but wonder if those nine months had set us on this course. We spent a few more hours with Gran before heading back to LAX for our flight to Vegas. I remember very little of the flight except that I was trying my hardest not to have a complete breakdown in front of the crew and the other passengers. And I remember Bob and I were lost in our own thoughts, still trying to reconcile the beautiful child we saw in front of us with the retarded son they said we had. I remember that on this flight for once, Colin was quiet. It was as if he felt the fragility of my mental state and decided to give Mom and Dad a break. When we got back to our apartment, I remember being afraid to go to sleep, knowing that when I woke up the next morning, it would all be fresh as if I was hearing the news for the first time. We climbed into bed and Bob held me close. He made me feel so safe. Just feeling his arms around me, knowing I had a partner who loved Colin as much as I did, who cared as deeply, knowing that I had a man who loved me in all the ways I had dreamed made me certain that together we could weather anything. Finally, we went to sleep, all three of us for a change, but when I woke up the next morning, it was just as I feared, and the grieving started anew. 116

Chapter 14 Don’t stop thinkin’ about tomorrow Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here It’ll be, better than before Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone “Don’t Stop” ~ Fleetwood Mac The minute we drove onto the grounds of The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential in Philadelphia, PA, the picturesque setting of old stone buildings and pathways that wound their way up and down the hilly terrain lulled me into a sense of peace that had been missing from my life for the last two years. The drive from Vegas with our brain-injured child had been long and strenuous, but finally, here we were; we had reached our destination. In our quest to find answers for Colin, Bob discovered the book What To Do About Your Brain-Injured Child written by a man named Glenn Doman, who had founded The Institutes in 1955, working mainly with victims of stroke in those days. His most high-profile patient at that time was Joseph Kennedy, father to nine children including President John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Edward “Teddy” Kennedy. After Mr. Kennedy’s stroke in 1961, his two younger sons, Bobby and Teddy, were searching for answers to relieve their father’s extreme frustration. It seemed that nurses, therapists and the like believed his stroke had resulted in the complete erasure of any knowledge he’d ever had, therefore, they would come into his room with picture cards and proceed to show him the cards while saying something along the lines of, “Ambassador Kennedy, this is a duck!” “Ambassador Kennedy, this is the picture of a train!” “Ambassador Kennedy, can you say cat?” What did they get for their trouble? Flying ashtrays, plates, cups, anything he could get his hands on to throw at them. 117

The two younger Kennedy brothers heard about the Institute’s work and placed a call to Glenn Doman, explaining the direness of their situation, wanting to know if he believed there was anything in his work that would help their father. Explaining that he’d have to meet the ambassador first to make an evaluation, Glenn agreed to a meeting at Mr. Kennedy’s Central Park South residence. Arriving with one member of his staff, he was ushered into Joseph Kennedy’s room where he was met by a bed-bound ambassador whose steady stare basically told him to back off! This is the way I remember his story: Glenn stood his ground, staring right back at the ambassador, but his voice was gentle and kind as he spoke, “Ambassador Kennedy, my name is Glenn Doman. I run the Institutes for Human Potential in Philadelphia. We work with stroke patients on a daily basis and I have something to say that I’m sure you’ll be happy to hear. I understand your right side has been paralyzed by this stroke, and I understand this stroke left you unable to speak. But . . . I also know you’re mentally alert, as smart as you’ve always been, knowing the things you’ve always known. It’s your brain’s outgoing pathways that aren’t allowing you to communicate with all of us and I believe we can work with you to help you regain some of your speech and possibly reclaim at least some of your mobility. How does that sound, sir?” Mr. Kennedy sank back into his pillows and let out a huge sigh. What a relief it must have been for him to have someone understand that even though he was locked inside a body that couldn’t function as it always had, HE was still in there! Through therapy, the ambassador did regain certain functions and began walking with a cane. So, Glenn’s reasoning was, if a stroke victim’s lack of oxygen to the brain resulted in brain-injury that could be treated, then certainly his treatment for stroke victims could also be applied to children, who due to a lack of oxygen either in utero, at birth or by some accident after birth, had become brain-injured. Lack of oxygen was the leading factor in brain-injury according to Doman’s theories, and with total dedication to his process, or Program as it was more popularly known, this lack of oxygen could be remedied, giving parents who were hungry for hope, a way to ‘fix’ their kids.


Acceptance into the Institutes and a place on their Intensive Program was not easy to come by. In the 80s, only 500 families from around the world were on the Institute’s Intensive Program at any given time. To become one of those families was an arduous process, requiring the submission of extensive and detailed reports on your pregnancy, your child’s birth and every aspect of his or her development afterwards, along with medical records of the same. Not only that, but once you were accepted into the Program, you were required to visit a family already on Program, spending the day participating fully in the techniques being applied to their child. You were encouraged to ask questions of these families in order to realize fully exactly what you were getting into. And, it didn’t matter who you were, famous or not, every step of the admission process had to be followed. The day we spent with a family in New Jersey was a real eyeopener for us. The Program wasn’t called intensive for nothing. Believing that intensity, frequency, and duration held the answers for brain-injured children everywhere, regardless of the degree of braininjury or its origin, the Institutes’ program was all consuming. Every minute of your day was spent working with your child. Holidays were not allowed – not birthdays, Easter, Christmas – every minute you weren’t working to make your child better, he was getting worse, so the expectations that parents work constantly, endlessly on behalf of the child they loved, were not to be questioned. Do the Program fully or move over to make way for another of the thousands of families waiting for a coveted spot and the chance to ‘fix’ their kid. More than anything in life, Bob and I wanted to ‘fix’ Colin and deep in our hearts we believed we would. Even if that meant working every waking minute for the rest of our lives, then that’s what we would do. Colin deserved no less from us. He hadn’t asked for any of this. The responsibility we felt to ‘fix’ him was huge. After all, isn’t that what parents do? Your child gets a boo-boo and Mommy and Daddy make it all better. He or she scrapes a knee, and Mommy kisses the boo-boo to make it go away. Unfortunately, some things in life don’t work that way. Sometimes the boo-boo is too big, but every time we looked at our gorgeous two-year old, we knew we had to do everything in our power to right this horrible wrong; any119

thing less than that would never be acceptable to either of us. And those were the reasons we found ourselves pulling onto the grounds of IAHP. Bob found a parking space and pulled in. Grinning from ear to ear, he leaned over to kiss me. “We’re here, darlin’. We made it.” He turned to look at Colin in the back of our van, bought from my car dealership-managing dad, solely for the purpose of transporting Colin from Vegas to Philly every four months. “Hey, little guy, we’re here. Remember what Mom and I told you about a place where we’d find everything we need to help you and make you better? Well, this is it, Colin O.” Yes, Colin O or CO had become the favored nicknames for Colin Osborne over the last few years. Walking around to the van’s big sliding door, Bob opened it and picked Colin up, lifting him high in the air. “Don’t you worry, buddy, pretty soon Mommy and I will have you walking and talking. Yeh, we’ll get you potty-trained too. Not only that, but we’ll have you feeding yourself before too long and you won’t need either of us anymore. You’ll be a big guy, doing all the things a kid your age oughta be doing. It’ll be great, just you wait.” After two years of overwhelming hopelessness, Bob’s feeling of optimism was infectious, and our little family floated through the doors of the Institutes, hearts light and smiles intact. The week at the Institutes flew by. Every visit and revisit required a full week on the premises, with the first few days dedicated to evaluating your child and his problems. Attending two days of lectures was also obligatory, and the knowledge gained from Glenn Doman’s lectures on the workings of the brain and the central nervous system were invaluable. Believe me; we learned more about the brain than we ever wanted to know. On the last day of the visit, families were given their customized program to take home and implement to the exclusion of everything else, and that included any life one might hope to have outside of Program. You were expected to make whatever arrangements necessary in order to have the help you needed to fulfill each of the program’s requirements. For most families, this meant the complete disruption of their household as family members and neighbors lovingly volunteered to work in shifts, rotating in and out of the program family’s life on a daily 120

basis, bringing with them compassion for the situation and a willingness to help, but leaving in their wake an absolute absence of privacy and a total lack of anything resembling normalcy. With its mantra of Intensity, Frequency and Duration, the program became your life, immersing you in its complications, holding you hostage to timers, CO2 masks, patterning tables, crawl boxes, overhead ladders, antisit packs, word cards, bits-of-intelligence and endless monotony. There was nothing else. Program consumed you, and you suffered it gladly - any chance to make your child better was worth being taken hostage, and any possibility of making your child well was worth, not only your hostage status, but the torture that followed. So . . . you might be asking yourself exactly what the last paragraph meant. Well, for one thing it meant that we needed a place to live with more room than the tiny Vegas apartment we were renting, so we found a little house out in the desert far away from the lights of the Strip and rented that. It also meant that we needed help for the patterning part of the program, which required three people, and with Bob being the most private person I’ve ever known, it meant finding that help hopefully within the family. In truth, we didn’t know anyone in Vegas and somehow we didn’t think the checker at our local Albertson’s, with whom we had a nodding acquaintance, would be up for the challenge, so after going through our family options, Bob’s oldest daughter, who was just out of college, agreed to live with us and become part of our ‘Let’s fix Colin’ team. It also meant that for the next 4-5 years, we would have no life, working with Colin Sleeping right where they were. every waking moment of the day, and since he had no sleep pattern, it meant working any time he was awake, day or night. It meant dropping to the floor in exhaustion, sleeping right where we were the instant he closed his eyes, for we never knew if he’d sleep for 5 minutes or five hours. It 121

meant rarely having a moment to read a good book or go for a Sunday drive or take in the latest movie or celebrate a birthday or Christmas. It meant traveling was also out of the question except for the long and arduous trips from Vegas to Philly and back three times a year. Program meant Bob and I had to become master motivators in our attempt to encourage a child with no incentive to do anything on his own. In our attempt to get the creeping and crawling he needed in order to organize his brain, Bob and I had to creep and crawl long distances right alongside him, cheering him on all the way. Just try getting a two-year-old, who has no interest in moving from the spot he’s in, to creep even ten feet. It was madness. Here in the United States, what we call crawling is actually creeping. Crawling is what soldiers do on their bellies, moving their legs and arms in a cross pattern, bellies to the ground, pushing themselves forward; in a perfect world, creeping on all fours follows crawling on the belly, but since Colin’s world was anything but perfect, he had never crawled and according to the Institutes’ theory, developmental steps couldn’t be missed, which meant forcing Colin to crawl even though he was already a creeper and had been for a few months. As you can imagine, forcing a child who is already up on all fours to get down on his belly and push himself forward is almost impossible, so to achieve this goal, my sister-in-law Kathy’s father, who lived in Vegas, built us what the Institutes called a crawl box. This wooden box was ten feet long and as I remember, about 18 inches high. The point of such a low height was to make it impossible for Colin to get up on all fours and resort to creeping. In order to crawl, he had to stay close to the ground. May I tell you how it broke our hearts every time we had to position Colin in one end of the box and listen as our tiny little twoyear-old screamed bloody murder while we did everything in our power to encourage him to crawl to the other end? This was part of the torture I mentioned earlier. Thankfully, we had a trap door in the center of our crawl box, which allowed us to get to him and get him out if he made it that far, but would go no further. Usually, it took close to an hour to achieve one crawl through the dreaded crawl box, and that was just one of the numerous crawls required in our daily program, not to mention a very tiny portion of the program’s 122

aspects that we were required to accomplish on a daily basis. Another program technique, the one touted by the Institutes as most valuable, their key technique, was patterning. In the words of IAHP, if we have to put everything we do on one hook, patterning is really not a bad place to hang our hat. Ah, patterning . . . in the beginning we were expected to pattern our son for five minutes 16 times a day. So, for those of you who’ve never been on the Institutes program, and I imagine that would be most of you, what the heck is patterning? Well, first, patterning required a patterning table, which Bob built for Colin. I suppose the best way to describe it is to liken it to a massage table – if only it had been used for that purpose. Anyway, we had to place Colin on the table on his stomach. Bob stood at the head of the table, Colin’s head in his hands, turning his head from side to side while his daughter and I stood on either side of the table, one of Colin’s arms in one hand, his leg in the other, moving all his parts in a rhythmic cross pattern motion. We had to do this for five minutes at a time, sixteen times a day. The screaming and crying that accompanied patterning was enough to make our heads explode, and it felt like it might deafen us for life – more torture. The first time my mom visited while we were on program, she stood and cried as she watched us patterning, and my mom was not and had never been a crier, but it broke her heart to see what we were going through, not to mention what Colin was being put through in the name of getting him fixed. There were some humorous patterning moments, however. A puppy we rescued from the local animal shelter, hoping that Colin would find an attachment to a little furry friend, gave us some laughs, bless her. We named her Thika (pronounced Theeka), and she was an amazing dog, so smart and so trainable and such a happy distraction from the rigors of Program. I laugh as I type the word distraction because Thika was smart enough to understand exactly when we were the most distracted. Yes, she figured out very quickly that patterning meant we were tied up and unable to correct her for a full five minutes, and she took this opportunity as her personal invitation to do her business right there in front of us. The three of us would watch as Thika hunched up and let ‘er rip, staring at us the entire time, as if 123

to say, I double dog dare you to stop me. All we could do was yell the word, NO, and laugh! It became a running gag at patterning time, with the three of us waiting for the inevitable mess we’d have to clean up as soon as the timer rang, letting us know the five minutes were up. Next on our Program list was a little thing called masking. Actually, not all that little when you take into consideration we were expected to mask our child 118 times a day when we first started working with him. Masking is a technique used by the Institutes to increase blood flow to the brain by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide inhaled and decreasing the amount of oxygen exhaled. This is accomplished by breathing into a rebreathing mask, which looked a little like a baggie with a flexible ridge that fit tight around the nose, elastic that fit around the head to hold it in place and a straw-like tube on the end. Masking opened the valves allowing oxygen and nutrients to flood the brain. This may sound hazardous to your health, but masking has been used by millions of people on Program and to great effect. So . . . for one minute 118 times a day, we masked Colin. He wasn’t happy about it, but he learned to live with it, continuing whatever he was doing, mask in place, and, strangely enough, the sight of Colin breathing through the CO2 mask became the ‘norm’ in the Denver household. In addition to the dreaded crawl box, creeping was part of our program, and as I mentioned, it required Bob and me to creep right alongside Colin. I guess we were getting our brains organized in the process of trying to organize Colin’s, but I have to tell you, my brain didn’t feel organized; it felt overwhelmed, but that didn’t keep either of us from approaching Program with great enthusiasm. So, we crept, back and forth through the house, one of us in front of Colin leading the way, the other right behind him forcing him forward whether he liked it or not. And he definitely didn’t like it. Basically, he didn’t like any part of the program, and didn’t hesitate to let us know it. But thinking back on it, I wonder how we could blame him. If I had an anti-sit pack on my butt at all times, I’m pretty sure my protests would be just as loud and every bit as long.


The anti-sit pack was designed to keep the brain-injured child out of what the Institutes called the god-awful position, and Colin like many, if not most, brain-injured kids was in the god-awful position any time he was sitting. When a child’s bottom is on the floor and his legs are bent at the knees, splayed out on either side of him, creating a W, well, that’s what the Institutes called the god-awful position. To avoid this position, which you know can’t be good just from the looks of it, Colin had to wear his anti-sit pack, made for him by his Aunt Kathy, who did her best to make it as attractive as possible so we could tolerate it. Colin’s pack was denim with the letters of his name across the back in beautiful patchwork fabric. We loved the looks of it when it was lying next to him, but when he was wearing it, it appeared to be some kind of torture device. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t hurt him in any way, but it looked so unbelievably uncomfortable, and I’m sure was so unbelievably uncomfortable, that both Bob and I felt like torturers even if we were doing all of this in the name of making Colin well. Oh, how it wreaked havoc with our insides every time we put it on him. Imagine something like a pillowcase, but one that zips closed on the end. Let your mind’s eye see it lying in front of you long ways, then imagine ties at the top and bottom corners, ties at the top that go around your waist and two on each bottom corner that go around your legs. Then – are you ready? Imagine filling that pillowcase-like thing with empty cola cans, filling it full, cramming them in until there’s not one inch of space left over. Got that part? Okay, good. Now imagine tying this contraption around your sweet little two-year-old. Imagine that he tries to sit back, but can’t because of the lumpy, noisy thing attached to him. And, while you’re at it, try to imagine the noise created every time he moves. Try to imagine his frustration every time he wants to sit down and the pain you feel as he’s forced to stay on all fours endlessly, in hopes that he’ll keep moving forward adding to the 50 yards he’s expected to creep every day in order to organize his injured and disorganized brain. Our advocate at the Institutes would have been very unhappy with us had we fessed up, but the truth is, we ditched the anti-sit pack after a month. We just couldn’t take it. As a human being, there’s 125

only so much screaming and crying you can tolerate, and fighting Colin tooth and nail over every single part of the program left our nerves raw and our tempers short. So, the anti-sit pack was outta there, and our hearts felt the better for it.


Chapter 15 ‘Til we find our place on the path unwinding In the circle, the circle of life. “Circle of Life” ~ Elton John “I think we’ve done this long enough.” Bob looked at me seriously, his eyes telling me that in his opinion, the Program wasn’t working. “Honey, look, we’ve been at this for four years now. You’re falling apart; I’m falling apart. It’s too much – I’m not sure we can afford the emotional toll of battling Colin over every single thing we have to do; we don’t have a life, Dreama, the only break we get is the trips we make to Philly and how much of a break is that? We drive for four days with Colin in the back of the van screaming his guts out the entire time. What kind of life is this, Dreama? Our sanity has to count for something. We’ll be no good to Colin at all if we’re hauled off to the loony bin.” Deep in my heart, I knew he was right, but how could we stop? I thought about the trips to Philly and what we gave up emotionally making these trips three times a year. Just figuring out where to stay en route was problem enough. We had to choose motels with parking right outside the room because every time we took Colin into a strange room, he’d creep over to the door and scream incessantly, wanting out, wanting to go home. To keep him from disturbing the other guests who were staying on either side of us or above us, or even at the other end of the building given his lung capacity, we had to work in shifts, taking Colin out to the van where we tried to get him to sleep on the bed in the back. Relieving each other every 2030 minutes, we forfeited any sleep we hoped to get. The auditory toll was unbelievable. When I say Colin screamed, that doesn’t begin to describe the reality of living it. He screamed at the top of his lungs, nonstop, rarely taking a breath, and this could, and did, go on for hours. It was pure madness. 127

Regardless of how little sleep we managed to get, we had to be up and rolling at the crack of dawn to try to make it to Philly on time. We’d drive 12-14 hours straight, then stop for the night and live this insanity all over again. And God forbid if we needed something to eat or had to stop for gas along the way, which obviously, we did. The van rocked and rolled while Colin pitched fits, throwing himself all over the back of the van, rocking it from side to side and up and down. Nothing we did helped because Colin was inconsolable and our nerves were frayed. One huge negative about Program, at least for the Denver family, was their insistence that records be kept for all parts of Program. Not that we didn’t agree and understand the need for a recorded history of how far we had come and how far we needed to go, but recording time and distance each time Colin crawled, crept or walked, with the objective of getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible, left no time ever to stop and smell the roses. Unhappily for us, our ‘no, no, no, don’t stop Colin, keep moving’ approach resulted in just that. Any time he was traveling, whether on his knees, his feet or in a vehicle, his brain told him there could be no stopping for anything, ever. To this day and for every day since we were on the Program, being stationary when you should be moving is unacceptable to Colin. In Colin’s world, there is no picnicking, no taking a walk and sitting on a hillside to enjoy the view; no sitting at all unless it’s in his room in front of his TV. Before Program, Colin loved car rides, but once we started with our ‘keep moving’ mantra, car rides became impossible, even more so as he got older. Anytime we went for a ride, we were literally taking our life in our hands. The minute we stopped for a red light, or even slowed down for an upcoming turn or slow-moving traffic, Colin would work his way out of his seatbelt in the back and come over the driver’s seat, grabbing for the steering wheel or gearshift, whichever he reached first. When that didn’t get the car moving, he’d come after us, pulling at us, grabbing at us, screaming and crying. It was terrifying! Both Colin and I ended up in tears more often than not, and soon the car rides had to stop. Trust me, we tried everything we could think of to break him of this horrible habit that began when he 128

was three and continues to this day, but nothing worked. Being a rule follower much more so than Bob, I took it upon myself to fill out the endless reports that had to be sent back to the Institutes regularly between revisits. I recorded the time and distance of all creeping, crawling, and walking that had to be measured daily, including the time spent on the overhead ladder. I recorded the number of times we patterned and masked, the number of times we did the vestibular activities and for how long. I kept track of the extensive intelligence program we presented to Colin daily. I made the intelligence program, for heaven’s sake, and did it to the exclusion of sleep quite frankly. When Colin was awake, we were working, so the only time I had to make the word cards, the couplet cards, the books, and the bits-of-intelligence was when he was sleeping. I remember one day right before Christmas when we had been working with Colin all day, and for whatever reason, he absolutely refused to creep even one inch of the hundred yards he needed to creep that day. Bob and I turned ourselves inside out, trying to motivate him to get on all fours and creep back and forth through the house, but to no avail. Reports were due shortly after, and I was honest in saying that on this particular day, there had been no creeping at all. A few days later, after the report arrived at the Institutes, our phone rang, and when I answered, our advocate was on the other end asking about the absence of creeping this ONE day. I explained to her what had happened, how we had tried our hardest with no success, and her answer to me was short and to the point. “Mrs. Denver, if you’re going to be on this Program, you have to do every part of it, every day, no excuses. Were you taking time off for Christmas, is that what happened?” “No, absolutely not,” I protested mightily, highly offended, “since we started this, we’ve not taken any time off for anything. I promise you, we tried everything we could think of and he just wouldn’t creep.” “Well, we don’t want to see this happen again. If you can’t do the Program, there are thousands of families ready to take your spot.” Then to soften the blow, “I know you’re working hard and I know how much you love and want to help Colin, but you’re going to have to work harder and complete every part of the program every day.” I hung up and sat there, deflated, unable to believe that after 129

years on this Program, I’d been taken to task for this one omission. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know how we could work any harder and, of course, I started to cry, feeling that I had somehow let Colin down. Bob walked into the room, wanting to know who had been on the phone and what was said that reduced me to tears. I told him, and he held me, assuring me that I was the hardest working mom he had ever known, that I hadn’t done anything wrong, that we were working harder and longer than any parents we knew, and that I needed to ease up on myself. What else could we do except the best we could do? How right he was! No way was I going to allow anyone to throw my son off the Program. I was his mother and I would do whatever it took to retain his spot. We were working the hardest we had ever worked in our lives, doing the best we could and that was going to have to be enough! So . . . I lied! I’m not proud of it, but I did it. Yes, from that day forward, if we tried our hardest and still, Colin balked at any part of his schedule, I lied. I filled out reports, saying we had done at least some of whatever it was Colin had refused to do. This seemed to be okay with the IAHP – not the lying part because, as far as I know, they were unaware, but it seemed that as long as you did at least some of the required techniques, they left you alone, and you retained your spot. An honest person by nature, I can’t tell you how deceitful I felt and, of course, I was being deceitful, but I was his mother, what choice did I have? Interestingly enough, during a revisit to the Institutes, I spoke with another mom I had gotten to know quite well, and to try to lessen my guilty conscience, I suppose, confided in her about what I was doing. She didn’t even blink. Ends up, she was doing the exact same thing, and when we started comparing notes with other moms, we found out they were as well. I have no idea if the Institutes were aware of this. They didn’t seem to be, but the bottom line was this - in a family’s determination to stay on this Program, parents would say whatever they thought the staff wanted to hear. The other moms and I weren’t the only ones saying whatever needed to be said back in the 80s, so my guess would be it still goes on today. Due to Bob’s skepticism about the benefits of the Program, we were beginning to butt heads almost daily. Everything was such a 130

struggle with Colin. Four years into it and he still fought us every step of the way. If we had ever thought we could break him, we knew better now. Colin could fight endlessly, never tiring and never giving in - not for one second. Bob and I were completely used up, with very little left to give. As two intelligent adults, we couldn’t understand how we were being outwitted and outsmarted by a brain-injured six-year-old on a daily basis. It left us weary and perplexed. Nothing in either of our lives had prepared us for the challenge of Colin Denver. But I didn’t see how we could stop. How could we fix him if we stopped? Looking at my dejected husband made me sad, but the fear that filled my heart at the thought of stopping Program spurred me on. “Bob, I know what you’re saying is true, but how can we stop? What will happen to Colin if we stop? How will we fix him?” “Dreams, don’t you see that we’re not going to fix him?” I literally wanted to put my fingers in my ears and shout I can’t hear you over and over like a five-year-old - anything to block out the words Bob was saying. “But we got him walking, Bob. That counts for something.” “Yeh, we got him walking, but you know what I think? I think he would have walked anyway.” “No, no he wouldn‘t have, or at the very least, it would have taken years longer.” Bob shook his head, “Darlin’, look what we had to go through to get him upright. You don’t think he would have gotten there sooner or later without all the lunacy we’ve gone through?” “Honestly? I don’t know, but I have to think that we had something to do with it. Otherwise, why are we doing all of this?” “My point exactly.” I pressed on. “Bob, I know this seems futile at times. It’s so hard, so all-consuming. We put everything we have into it for what seems like a small return, but I have to believe; otherwise, I can’t do it.” He raised an eyebrow. “What about the family we met who’s been on Program for ten years and all they’ve gotten for their enormous effort is eye contact?” This family’s story had really gotten to me. Their daughter had 131

been profoundly brain-injured after her first birthday when she’d accidentally hung herself on a Venetian blind cord. By the time we met the family, the young daughter was 12 and they had been on Program 10 years, and in all those years and after so much hard work, they were rewarded with their daughter making eye contact for the first time since her injury. As I had listened to the mom and saw her excitement, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have the intestinal fortitude to do what she had done, what we were doing now, with nothing but eye contact to show for ten years’ worth of effort. Somehow, I didn’t think I would. I admired that family so much. There were countless families to admire at the Institutes, all with heartbreaking stories, and feeling humbled in the presence of their devotion to their children wasn’t difficult. Though I never got to know them well, I remember a family who arrived with their strapping 17year-old football player son. He was a big, handsome kid . . . and he was a vegetable. Injured during a football game, he had gone from a handsome jock, full of life and love, to a handsome young man lying flat on his back, unable to speak or crawl or creep or walk or move at all. This family brought me to tears because I couldn’t imagine knowing this son as a walking, talking person with hopes and dreams; a son whose presence must have filled the household; a son who probably had girlfriends and buddies filling his days with all the things teenagers do; a son who went to school, had homework and brought home report cards; a son who had been looking forward to graduation, prom night and possibly college; a son with his whole happy life ahead of him; a son who could hug and kiss his mom and tell her he loved her. I had never had that and couldn’t imagine the pain of having that son taken away in the blink of an eye. A ragged sigh escaped me. “I know, I know. It’s impossible to imagine doing the work with so little reward, but, Bob, we did get Colin walking. That’s huge! Look how much luckier we’ve been than those parents who’ve worked as hard as we have and can’t even contemplate their child walking.” Colin had begun walking eighteen months after we started Program. He was 3 ½ years old. Getting him to that point had been an uphill battle, but we had fought the good fight, survived, and gotten Colin upright. 132

Our enthusiasm was still very high 18 months into the Program and when we had gone back to Philly for a revisit and were told we needed an overhead ladder to get Colin walking, Bob had bought the lumber and built the ladder himself with boundless enthusiasm. An overhead ladder is exactly like the monkey bars we used to have on the playground in elementary school. The only differences were that it was made of wood and the actual ladder that runs from end to end had to be adjustable, starting in a low position if your child was small, moving up notches as your child grew. Our ladder was beautiful; Bob did an amazing job. His love for Colin and his dreams for Colin’s future lived in every inch of that ladder. The point of the overhead ladder was to get your child walking. This would be accomplished in tiny steps, none of which you could miss. The first step was to get your child to stand under the ladder, holding on to the rungs up above. At first, he only needed to hold on for a couple of seconds. Once he had done that, you added seconds until he could stand underneath for a full minute. Simple enough, right? Wrong! Nothing was simple in Colin’s life, nothing. We explained what we wanted and placed him under the ladder, one of us in front holding him up, the other behind him wrapping his fingers around the rung. The minute we let go, he plopped down. We put him back on his feet, holding onto him, and explained once again exactly what he needed to do. We let go. He plopped down. This went on for at least an hour until he became furious with us. Not that he had been happy with us to begin with, but with each try, his fury escalated ten-fold. “Okay, Colin, listen up.” Bob sat in front of Colin, looking him in the eye. “You have to do this. You want to walk, don’t you?” To tell you the truth, we didn’t think Colin much cared. “Okay, let’s go with a yes answer on that. Colin-O, Mom and I can’t keep carrying you everywhere. You’re a big 3-year-old now. You have to learn to walk and the only way you’re going to do that is by working with us here.” I turned Colin to face me. “CO, look – you have to hold on to the ladder. You have to do it, so here’s the deal – we’re going to stay under this ladder until you hold on for 5 seconds, just 5 seconds, that’s all, 5 measly seconds. We’re going to eat under the ladder; we’re going to change diapers under the ladder; we’re going to stay in this spot until you hold on and stay upright no matter how long it 133

takes. We’ll sleep under here if we have to, but the bottom line is we’re not moving until you stand here and hold on like we’ve said you have to.” Our answer was a piercing scream. Bob got up and brought in a box of Kleenex. “You can scream, Colin; you can cry, you can pitch an unholy fit, but you have to listen to Mommy and me and do what we’re telling you.” Two boxes of Kleenex, four diaper changes, three meals, 24twenty-minute shift changes and 8 hours later, our son stood upright for the first time, holding onto the rungs of the overhead ladder for 5 seconds. Once your child was able to stand upright for a full minute, the objective of the overhead ladder was to get him moving forward by holding onto the rungs, reaching one arm forward to the next rung as the opposite foot stepped forward in a cross-pattern motion. This was a whole other ball of wax and for us, another fight to the finish. Trying to figure out how to motivate this move stymied us for a time, but it was clear Colin wasn’t going to do it just for the sake of doing it, which meant we had to come up with something he wanted badly, something he would reach for, something that would fit above the rungs of the ladder. One day it came to us out of the blue. Small TVs were a novelty in those days, but my parents had given us a little black and white set that was long and low and fit above the bars perfectly. Colin’s love for changing the channels on a TV set worked in our favor. We set the television on top of the rungs just out of reach and told him if he wanted to change those channels, he’d have to make an effort to reach for it. As with everything else, this took a lot of time and a great deal of patience on all our parts, but finally, the day came when he reached out to grab the knob and found himself gripping the next rung of the ladder instead. Inch by inch we moved the TV back and away from him, and inch by inch in an attempt to get to it, he grabbed onto the next rung. Slowly, very slowly, he finally walked the length of the ladder. His reward at the end was sitting on his butt changing channels until his little heart was content.


After months of tears, a triumphant smile when he finally walked the length of the ladder.

Months later, after many trips back and forth on the ladder, Bob and I were able to convince him to do what almost every kid in the world has done in the process of becoming independent – we finally convinced him that it would be okay to walk, unassisted, the 5 steps it would take to get from his dad to me as we sat in the middle of the floor. I was there and even so, I’m not a good judge. Would Colin have walked anyway, Program or no Program, as Bob believed? Maybe . . . but after the untold hours we invested in making Colin mobile, a part of me still needs to believe that our effort and the years on Program made it happen.


Chapter 16 There’s a party goin’ on right here A celebration to last throughout the years. Celebrate good times, c’mon! “Celebrate” ~ Kool and the Gang I would love to be able to talk about the fun times we had on Program, but in truth, fun times were few and far between. Spending time at Floyd Lamb State Park in northwest Las Vegas was always a treat, even if we were there in the name of Colin’s walking program. Over 2,000 acres of ponds, cottonwood trees, grassy lawns, and wildlife made this park a true oasis in the middle of the desert. When we were walking its pathways, we could forget for a time that barren desert surrounded us, so we went to the park almost every day and walked every inch of it, never stopping to smell the roses, you understand, but enjoying it all the same. Hey, I think I’m getting the hang of this walking thing!

Colin’s walking improved tremendously in the process of walking up and down its hills, and the day finally came when he took off running. Can you imagine what a happy day that was for our little family? It didn’t matter that his running was awkward, forcing us to run right next to him for fear he’d fall – he was still running, and the joy we felt at the sight of that was immeasurable. 136

There were other red-letter days in our household, days that saw us celebrating accomplishments that most parents take for granted. I’ll never forget the day Colin first learned to turn a doorknob and open a door. You would have thought he’d stuck a landing at the Olympics. That entire day was devoted to running around the house, cheering him on as he opened and closed door after door. We did this ALL day, throwing confetti each time he opened a door to find his dad or me hiding behind it, which led to our first game of hide and seek. Now that he could open doors, we could hide anywhere and Colin could find us. Then there was the day that Colin and I were left alone while Bob, in an attempt to bring home a little bacon, was gone for the night, making a personal appearance. Colin had never stood up alone, and by that, I mean, even though he could walk, he had never come to an upright position from the middle of the floor without pulling up on something. Determined to make this happen before Bob got home, Colin and I worked at it all day and all evening, every waking minute. We had our moments as he tried to pull himself up by holding onto me, the wall, the sofa, the coffee table, anything he could get his hands on, and needless to say, he was not a happy camper each time I told him no, but the end result was, he did it! He stood up in the middle of the floor with no help, and we celebrated! Out came the confetti; out came the noisemakers as the two of us ran around the house, practicing this new feat. We laughed, I cried, we opened more doors just because we could, and when his dad came home the next day, he was greeted by two victorious, albeit tired individuals, and the celebration started all over again. At the time, Bob told me it was the best gift I’d ever given him. Imagine for a second that your child can’t talk. Imagine the frustration of never knowing what he feels or thinks; never knowing how he views the world; never hearing the words I love you; never having a conversation of any kind. A nonverbal child, through no fault of his own, takes away so much of what parenting is all about. The inability to talk takes away your ability to reason with; it takes away the joy of exchanging ideas. There are no quiet conversations about dreams and hurts. There are no conversations of any kind regarding friends and crushes. Instead, there is an emptiness that’s hard to describe, a 137

void in your heart where your child’s voice should be. When Colin was little, Bob and I never dreamed that a conversation with him would never be possible, but that was, and is, the case with Colin. Only once did Colin say anything intelligible, and as luck would have it, we caught it on video. It was Halloween of 1988; Colin was four years old. Even though he couldn’t eat the candy and couldn’t say the words ‘trick or treat’, Halloween 1988: the one and only we went through the motions time Colin said I love you. of dressing him up for the occasion anyway. I bought him the cutest mouse costume I’d ever seen; not a Mickey Mouse costume, but a beautifully made little number that was different and special. Naturally, Colin balked at the getting dressed part, so he and I danced back and forth through the house from the bedroom, where I would put one piece of the costume on at a time, to the family room, where Bob played cameraman, taping us every time we sashayed in. Finally, after 6 or 7 trips back and forth, our little mouse was all dressed up and utterly adorable. To get the completed version of Colin-the-mouse on tape, he and I danced back into the family room one final time, and when we got there, for no reason in particular and expecting nothing in return, I looked down at him and asked, “Can you say I love you, Mom?” Eyes wide, Colin looked at me with a tiny smile on his face and for the first time, and only time in his life, parroted me by saying, “I uv oooooo, Mum.” I have the tape to prove it and that, my friends, is the best gift my son ever gave me. As any parent of a nonverbal child knows, you end up finding 138

other ways to communicate, partly through gestures, but also through a connection you have as parent and child. The search for ways to take a habitual gesture and turn it into something understandable between the two of you never stops. During this time in Colin’s life, he had a habit of coming up to Bob or me and putting his forehead right against one of ours. He’d squeeze his eyes shut really tight for indefinite lengths of time. Sometimes it was really quick; other times he’d hold that pose endlessly, and heaven help you if you moved, breaking the pose, because that meant starting from square one. Regardless of the length of time, at the end, his big blue eyes would open wide and stare right into ours as he smiled at us lovingly. After much discussion, Bob and I decided we needed to give this gesture meaning. When we asked Colin about it, asked if this was his way of telling us he loved us, his answer was umma, which in Colin-speak means yes. So, taking his big blue eyes into consideration, along with the gesture itself, we began telling Colin that “a shot of blue means I love you,” and that’s what the gesture became and what it’s meant to Colin his entire life. He uses it as a greeting to someone he likes; he uses it as a thank you when something makes him happy, and he uses it to tell me he loves me. Bob and I turned Colin’s shot of blue into something meaningful – trust me, it’s the small things that make life bearable. When the shot of blue lasts for minutes on end, my heart melts because I know this is Colin’s way of telling me the depth of love he’s feeling at that moment and what mother doesn’t need to know that?


Chapter 17 Country Roads, take me home, To the place I belong: West Virginia, mountain momma, Take me home, country roads. “Country Roads” ~ John Denver We had victories while on the Institutes’ Program, and we savored each one, but we were exhausted. After years of having our life ruled by timers, reports, cross-country revisits, word cards, and endless battles of will, we longed for peace. We wanted to get back to the basics; we yearned to have a life again, time for each other and time for Colin that didn’t include constant fighting. Craving a touch of normalcy might have been pointless, but we dreamed about it anyway. Making the decision to give up Program and move on with our life was a difficult one, but after five years, we’d had enough and were coming to the conclusion that we loved Colin exactly as he was. Maybe it sounds like giving up and maybe we were in some sense, but we were fighters, which meant we would continue to fight for Colin, just on our own terms, not the Institutes’. In our discussions leading up to our decision, we reasoned that Colin lived in a world very different from the world we knew. To him, his world was normal. He didn’t know about girlfriends, proms, graduation, marriage, and children. Bob and I were the ones with those expectations. The most important factors, we concluded, at least for us, were that Colin feel safe and loved and live a life devoid of ridicule. Our main focus became giving Colin a sense of self. We wanted him to be surrounded by people who loved him, people who had only his best interest at heart. We hoped to make his life as full as possible and to that end, we quietly vowed to take care of him ourselves with no outside help. We didn’t say those words out loud, you understand. It was just a given. 140

When you’re faced with something like brain-injury, I don’t think right or wrong choices come into play – only choices that have to be determined by each family. Because family dynamics are different for all of us, the decision about what will and won’t work for any family is a private one. I would hope never to judge another family for choices made with the best interests of their loved one at heart. The journey is too personal to be held up for public consumption and picked apart. Bob and I made the choices that seemed right for us, given Bob’s celebrity, the options available at the time, and the knowledge we had of our son and our family. Years later, it’s easy to sit back and second guess, but at the time, our choice was to give up Program and leave Las Vegas in search of a home off the beaten path – a quiet place where we could get back to the basics and devote ourselves to the son we loved. The hunt for the perfect place to call home was on, and it led us to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Driving the length of I-81 from Roanoke to Winchester, Bob and I marveled at the Allegheny Mountains to the west and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east. After years in the desert, confined to the house almost 100% of the time due to Program and the scorching 115-degree temperatures of a Las Vegas summer, the scenery of the Shenandoah Valley was almost blinding in its brilliance. We drove Skyline Drive, the construction of which began during the Great Depression and ended in 1939. Winding our way through the mountaintops of the Blue Ridge Mountains at a top speed of 35 MPH, we knew without a doubt we were in God’s country. Taking in the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley below and to the west of us, we began to feel that maybe some part of this beautiful valley, which had inspired songs, TV shows, and even a Broadway musical, one of our favorites as a matter-of-fact, could become our home. We had pretty much settled on Lexington, VA, home to Natural Bridge, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Purchased by Thomas Jefferson from King George III in 1774, Natural Bridge was alluded to by literary figures like Herman Melville in Moby Dick and William Cullen Bryant, who described Natural Bridge and Niagra Falls as the ‘two most remarkable features of North America.’ 141

Lexington was small and quiet, just what we were looking for - perfect in my eyes, but I noticed Bob’s eyes kept wandering to the mountains west of us, the mountains I had called home until high school graduation, the ‘almost heaven’ mountains of West Virginia. “Didn’t you grow up near here?” he asked me one day as we were leaving the Lexington Holiday Inn for one more trip up and down I-81. Climbing into the van as Bob took his place in the driver’s seat, I hoisted Colin onto the bed in the back as I answered. “I think Bluefield is probably 3-4 hours from here, give or take.” The map came out as Bob perused the lay of the land between where we were and where he wanted to go. “Honey, we can take US 60 right through White Sulphur Springs and Lewisburg all the way to Beckley before heading south on I-77 straight into Bluefield. I say, let’s do it.” “Seriously? You want to look at the mountains? You’d like to consider living in West Virginia?” Going back to West Virginia had never occurred to me even during our many trips from Vegas to Philly where we drove through the northern panhandle of the state numerous times. But thinking back, I remembered that every time we drove through West Virginia, Bob always remarked on its beauty, always talked about the emptiness of the state with a longing of someone who had never lived there. Don’t get me wrong, WV is a beautiful place, but it’s a much-maligned beautiful place. Forget the geography that makes the state ‘almost heaven.’ If you’re a West Virginia native, being teased is part of the package. When I graduated from Bluefield High School, my family moved to Orlando, Florida, a big city to me at that time, but in actuality, a sleepy little place by today’s standards. I went to college in Orlando, and then along came Disney World to shake things up! I was one of the first 40 employees at Disney, quite an honor at the time, seeing as how every college kid for miles wanted to don the ears and work for the Mouse. Part of the Disney way in those days was introducing yourself to guests by saying your name and where you hailed from. So when I would say, “Hi, my name is Dreama and I’m originally from West Virginia.’ eyebrows would raise and the jokes would start 142

– ‘so . . . that’s why one of your legs is shorter than the other’ or ‘it’s amazing, you talk real good for a hillbilly’ and the inevitable ‘look at you wearing shoes – we thought West Virginia girls spent all their time barefoot and pregnant – and on and on and on. I know now it was all in fun, but when it was happening to me at a young, impressionable age, I began to feel embarrassed to say I was a West Virginian. That changed when I met Bob, who taught me to take pride in my heritage. He considered West Virginians the salt of the earth, decent, hard-working people who stood for everything good and right. They were people who taught their children right from wrong and expected their kids to make their way in the world through hard work and perseverance. Bob always told me I was sturdy pioneer stock, and his conclusion was that every man on earth should marry himself a West Virginia girl. Of course, in my heart of hearts, I knew all of this, but having a husband who loved my heritage and never missed an opportunity to talk about the positive aspects of West Virginia and its people in every interview he did during the last 15 years of his life was definitely a plus. I hope my fellow West Virginians won’t hold this lapse in judgment during my youth against me. I couldn’t be prouder to count myself among your ranks, knowing that we have a secret the rest of the world has yet to discover. They don’t call it ‘Almost Heaven’ for nothing. Realizing Bob was serious about checking out West Virginia, I suggested driving to Bluefield by way of Roanoke, heading west on I-81, making a right in Wytheville and moseying on up I-77 through the Big Walker and East River Mountain tunnels. This route would take us through Bland County Virginia, a picturesque drive that wound its way through some of the prettiest rolling hills imaginable, finally depositing you on the other side of East River Mountain right at the state line that marked the beginning of West ‘by God’ Virginia. Right there, we would find the exit for Bluefield. As we drove, Bob’s spirits lifted right along with the elevation, and as we made our way through Bland County, mesmerized by the mountains in the distance, Bob spoke in a quiet almost reverent voice. “Why are we looking in the valley when these beautiful mountains are 143

right here calling our names?” I smiled to myself, knowing the chances were pretty darned good I was about to become a resident once again of a state I had exited 22 years before. We were touring my hometown, where I was born and reared, the scene of my first kiss, my first date, and my first serious love, all the rights of passage of my formative years. Strolling down memory lane with every corner we turned, I was mesmerized by the sameness. With few exceptions, nothing had changed. Bluefield, WV seemed to have been caught in a time warp that left it as picturesque and charming as it had been over two decades before. Not as isolated as it had been then, thanks to I-77, which cut through two mountains giving travelers a more direct shot at this dot on the map, it remained small-town America at its best. In the residential areas, which included College Ave. where I had lived during high school, there was a Washington monument shaped marker on every corner, naming the tree-lined streets that wound their way through the town. Stores where I had shopped for the first day of school, the Christmas formal and my senior prom remained. The Bluefield Auditorium, the setting for countless Friday night dances and where my boyfriend and I had seen James Brown perform back in his heyday, was still there. Though I didn’t mention it to Bob, the nooks and crannies where my first boyfriend and I parked while he gave me kissing lessons were there too. The beautiful East River Mountain Overlook where Bob and I took in the breathtaking scene below us, being one of those. Memories bombarded me as we drove around, nice memories of a time gone by when the livin’ hadn’t been quite so complicated as it was now. The charm of my little hometown wasn’t lost on my husband, who was driving and loving every millimeter of it as we made our way from one end to the other. “Dreams, this would be the perfect spot for us to live.” he told me, “We could find us a house, grow us a garden, take care of Colin and be off the beaten path. We could hide out here, just the three of us. It’s peaceful. Life will be easier here. No traffic, no 115-degree temps, no humidity (a big thing to Bob), just beautiful mountains everywhere we look. I say, let’s do it.” I couldn’t really argue any of those points. My 40-year-old-self 144

felt the need to get back to my roots. At 40, it seemed a good idea to be in the bosom of my family once again, and later when I thought about it, I realized settling near my family had been part of Bob’s strategy. He was older than I, and if and when something happened to him, I would have aunts and uncles and cousins to help me through it. And, yes, life, on the surface at least, would be easier than it had been living in the desert looking at a brown yard, surrounded by brown mountains with the lack of color alleviated only by the blue of the Las Vegas sky. Bob being Bob, he wanted to know some of the history of my little mountain town and what he found when he read up on it was pretty amazing stuff. Having my memory jogged when it came to its colorful past was fun for me too. Bluefield got its start back in the 1700s when two families settled in what was then a rugged and remote part of the state. Chicory flowers gave Bluefield its name. I remember my dad driving down North Street and telling me as we came to the intersection at Bland St. that straight ahead there had once been a field of blue flowers, giving the pioneers inspiration when it came to naming their little corner of the world. But their little corner didn’t remain little for long. In the late 1800s Bluefield experienced a growth that was off the charts, thanks to coal and the railroad. In one short year, rail passengers increased over 300%, putting Bluefield on the map. Given the nickname Little New York, Bluefield, WV boasted a skyline to rival any skyline on the east coast during that time and when the 12-story West Virginia Hotel in the downtown area was built in the 1920s, it was considered one of the country’s largest skyscrapers. The coal and railroad boom saw millionaires flooding the area, with most of them settling in a tiny town called Bramwell just north of Bluefield. At the turn of the century, Bramwell, WV had more millionaires per capita than any other town in the entire United States. Bluefield’s boom lasted through the coal rush years until around 1960. During that time, not only did the area have the most millionaires of any place in the country, but believe it or not, it also had the most automobiles, resulting in the first 5 o’clock traffic jams in the nation even before New York City. Bluefield was the site of the first prima145

rily black college in the country, then called Bluefield Colored Institute, now called Bluefield State College. I’ve even read that the importance of Bluefield in the 40s was enough to catch Adolph Hitler’s attention, causing him to include my hometown in his reputed list of German air raid targets during World War II. Nobel Prize-winning economist John Forbes Nash, the subject of the film A Beautiful Mind was born in Bluefield. Another World soap opera star Anna Stuart was born in Bluefield. John S. Knight, 1968 Pulitzer Prize winner and developer of Knight Ridder Newspapers was born in Bluefield. Country singer Mel Street was born in Bluefield. Stan Sweet, a good friend and the World’s Fast Draw Champion several times over was born in Bluefield. Bill Withers, a legend in music with hits like “Lean On Me,” “Use Me,” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” was born 40 minutes up the road, and last but never least, my close friend and mentor, New York Times bestselling author and leader of the original Rocket Boys, Homer Hickam, was born and reared an hour north of Bluefield, WV, in the little coalmining town of Coalwood. And now, Bob Denver, star of that perennial rerun-er Gilligan’s Island, was looking to become an adopted West Virginian by making Bluefield his home. As it ended up, the realtors weren’t able to find a house for us in Bluefield, but they did find one nine miles away in the county seat of Princeton, which was fine with Bob who was never caught up in the rivalry between the two cities. As far as he was concerned, the two cities were one and the same, which is how I view it myself these days. Bluefield might have possession of my heart, but Princeton has possession of my body and at this moment, the Bluefield-Princeton area has possession of all of me.


Chapter 18 Come to me now and rest your head for just five minutes Everything is done. “Our House” ~ Crosby, Stills and Nash We were back in Las Vegas, which looked all the browner and more barren after two weeks in the green lushness of the West Virginia hills. Yes, we were in Vegas, but not for long. My brother Eddie was with us, helping pack up a U-Haul truck with what little we owned. For a ‘Hollywood’ couple, our lack of worldly possessions was slightly embarrassing. As I remember, we had a sofa, a 13-inch television (yes, you read that right), a table to put the television on, a coffee table, something that passed itself off as a dining room table, a few chairs, a king-size mattress and frame, a dresser, Colin’s waterbed and a twin bed mattress we set on cinderblocks to get it off the floor. Oh, and I think we might have had a chair, mismatched to be sure, that was part of the family room décor. And you thought TV stars, each and every one, were rich beyond man’s wildest dreams, didn’t you? Not so if you starred in a series from the early days of television, even if that series had been rerunning nonstop since its cancellation over 20 years before. Eddie, the best brother a girl could ever hope to have, offered to drive the U-Haul to West Virginia for us, while we packed up Colin and all his paraphernalia in our van to scream our way east. We had driven this route many times as we made revisits over the years to the Institutes, so we had the trip down pat, knowing exactly which motels we could stay in, where parking right outside the room was an option. We always tried to keep Colin in the room, but inevitably the screaming would start and we’d end up taking turns with Colin on the bed in the back of the van. I realize I’ve said this before, but it


bears repeating. Twenty-minute shifts seemed to be our maximum as one of us sat in the van trying to calm him while the other person lay on the bed in the motel room worrying about the person outside with Colin. Needless to say, these trips didn’t make for a very rested Mom and Dad. All these years later, thinking back, I truly wonder how we maintained any sanity at all, but somehow, we did. As luck or divine intervention would have it, one of us always seemed to handle it. When Bob was at the end of his rope, unable to tolerate the insanity for another second, I stepped up to the plate and vice versa. We worked well as a team and happily, few and far between were the times when we both wanted to stop the world and get off. We arrived in West Virginia full of hope for a brighter future. A picture of the house we were moving to had been faxed to us. Can you imagine? Looking at a fax was like looking at a negative. So, who really knew what the house would be like? As we wound our way up a mountain road through woods in the most picturesque of neighborhoods, we were almost giddy with excitement. And as the road continued past homes scattered haphazardly through these woods on the mountainside, becoming more and more deserted as we drove along, it felt like we were heading to the end of the earth, especially after living in the congestion that had become Vegas during our years there. We came around the last bend and there she was. For my money, the most beautiful house I had ever seen, a rambling two-story structure sitting all by itself at the top of the mountain. Bob’s one request of the realtor had been that he wanted to look out his window and see nothing but nature, no neighbors, no buildings of any kind. In truth, Bob could easily have led a hermit’s existence, and when you get right down to it, came very close to doing just that after we moved to the mountains. Pulling into the driveway, we sat and stared for a long time, unable to believe this lovely home might be ours. For the first year, we were renting with an option to buy, having no idea how we might ever afford to call this house our own, but we hoped against hope there would be a way to make that happen when the first year was up. It did happen, thanks to personal appearances and guest spots on shows like Roseanne, Alf, Evening Shade, and Baywatch, and I sit writ148

ing this book today in that very house, the one that Bob and I only hoped we could own someday, the house Bob and I made a home over a period of 15 years until his death. Our first walk-through was pretty phenomenal. We walked into a living room that stretched from one side of the house to the other. We made our way to a kitchen where I saw the refrigerator of my dreams. This might seem like a very small thing, but I had salivated over this refrigerator in magazines – Southern Living, Good Housekeeping – had dreamed of having one just like it, but never thought I would see in reality. Half of the kitchen, the eat-in half, had a soaring ceiling, while the other half had top-of-the-line everything. From the kitchen, we moved into the family room, the most architecturally interesting room in the house, with a wet bar, soaring ceilings again in half the room, windows from floor to ceiling and an odd shape that was all angles. We checked out the master bedroom downstairs, then moved on to the second floor, which was unlike any second floor I had ever seen. I’m sure this is par for the course these days, but in 1990 when we toured the house we would live in, in my case, for who-knewhow-many years, the upstairs was not in the least run-of-the-mill. At the top of the stairs, you didn’t end up in a hallway. No, you walked into a large room we called the lounge. Yes, the upstairs had its own living room and off that large room, which stretched from the front to the back of the house, were the doorways to three more bedrooms, two baths and a laundry room. Wow - pretty exciting stuff for a family that had just left the most modest of houses in Vegas. Bob took Colin’s hand and led him from room to room, showing him each bedroom. “CO, it’s your choice, buddy. Whatever room you want is yours, so just show Dad which one you like most and we’ll get you all set up.” Without a moment’s hesitation, Colin pulled Bob’s hand and took him to the front bedroom, the one that overlooked the pond and the gazebo out front, the brightest room with skylights, floor to ceiling windows and a walk-in closet, proving to us beyond a shadow of a doubt that being brain-injured in no way meant a lack of good taste. Colin had chosen the best bedroom in the house. 149

Chapter 19 Now I’m going ‘round, going ‘round Going ‘round, going around One more time “Going Around One More Time “~ James Taylor How to write about this part of our lives has stymied me. I’ve actually dreaded getting to this part of the book and taking on the task of explaining our West Virginia years. There was no program to describe to you, no racing from one doctor to another for answers, no trips to the Institutes . . . there was only sameness. One day melded into the next with a monotony that’s almost impossible to describe, but I’m going to give it my best shot. Here we go – a day in the life of the Denvers as they spent the next twenty years caring for their braininjured son day in and day out, month after month, year after year. Bob and I could never sleep together. Actually, from the moment Colin came into our lives, we slept in shifts, rarely finding ourselves in the same bed at the same time. If you don’t think this wreaks havoc with a couple’s sex life, think again. Not only is there no opportunity, but there’s no energy and, at some point along the way, no interest due to physical and mental exhaustion. The couple who loved ‘rehearsals’, loved each other; the couple who thought their physical intimacy would never end because they both reveled in it – well, that couple found that even without the physical, the love never wavered. However, I was only I my 30s when this started and by the time we moved to the mountains, I was in my 40s and missed the intimacy of our first six years together, actually longed for it, but what could we do? Colin took up every second of our existence and there was no extra money to hire help. Bob was also adamant about his privacy, which meant going through any government program to get financial help didn’t sit well with him, so we trudged on, trying our hardest to make the best of a difficult situation. 150

Since I was usually up until dawn with Colin, fearing for his physical well-being should a seizure hit him out of the blue, Bob continued to take the morning shift. I would stagger into bed after the sun came up, give Bob a poke to let him know it was his turn and he would drag out of bed, bleary-eyed, to begin the morning routine. First, he headed to the kitchen to make Colin’s breakfast, either oatmeal, a favorite, or Bob’s famous Denver Cookie Eggs, as he called them, a breakfast his dad had made for him when he was growing up. Breakfast in hand, he would head upstairs to find Colin usually awake and covered in poop. As hard as we tried, potty-training hadn’t taken with Colin, so poop baths were the norm each and every morning and often numerous times throughout the day. Amid Colin’s screams of protest, Bob would run the bathwater, then fight the battle of trying to get Colin undressed and into the tub. As this was happening, I was downstairs, having been up all night, with ear plugs in my ears, trying not to hear the furor taking place on the floor above me. Things usually quieted down during the bath itself as Colin settled in and sometimes played in the water for as long as 45 minutes. Then came ‘getting out of the tub’ time and the havoc began once again as Bob dried him off and got him dressed. Breakfast followed this uproar. Since Colin couldn’t chew, his meals had to be pureed or at the very least, cut into small enough pieces to keep him from choking when he swallowed. The kid is built exactly like his dad and even at his current age of 36, weighs in at around only 130 pounds, but even so, he put away more food than Bob and I combined on any given day, still does. And his strength is not to be believed. I’ve seen him topple one of his 250-pound caregivers in the years since Bob died, which just goes to show what Bob and I were up against as Colin grew older and harder to handle. We never considered him violent, but in his frustration and impatience, he would grapple with us nonstop all day long. When he wanted something, he wanted it yesterday and had no patience whatsoever for waiting, regardless of what we were doing. If his VCR, his lifeline, let me tell you, broke or the tape got lodged, all hell would break loose. And heaven forbid if we lost power and nothing worked. Our explanations fell on deaf ears as he howled and pounded his hands on the floor or his feet against the walls in protest of not being able to 151

watch his videos or sit at his computer. He would tear through the house, upstairs and downstairs, trying every light switch he came across in hopes of finding one that worked. When not one light switch cooperated with him, Colin made certain we were aware of his complete and total displeasure. When his displeasure got totally out of hand, Bob and I would do our best to restrain him. If you don’t think this took its toll, think again. I remember one time in particular when Colin was pitching an almighty fit and in order to keep him safe, Bob held his shoulders and I held his legs from 9 o’clock at night until 4 o’clock in the morning – nonstop, mind you. Colin would settle down momentarily, and Bob and I would breathe a sigh of relief, lightening our grip. That was all it took for Colin to rev up again with as much energy as he had shown us hours before. As I’ve mentioned previously, he slept very little, so these incidences could go on endlessly and did. Colin was stubborn to a fault, and no matter what we did, his fits ended when he was ready for them to end and not a second before. All the reasoning, placating, and bargaining in the world amounted to nothing in Colin’s world. He stopped when he was ready to stop and that was that. During what ended up being the last five years of Bob’s life, our relationship with Colin became more combative as he became more aggressive. When he was somewhere around 15 or 16 years old, Colin decided he had little or no desire to look at our faces anymore. Now, I found this rather insulting since I thought we both had nice enough faces, certainly faces full of love for this son of ours, but apparently, Colin was pretty sick of them. In order to avoid looking at us at all, Colin decided we should be locked in our office at all times. Our office was upstairs right off the lounge, and we spent lots of time there in order to keep an eye on Colin, and his seizure disorder. Seizures have to be one of the most horrendous occurrences a parent can witness. Colin began having petit mal seizures when he was around nine years old. Strangely enough, I had always known to be very grateful that seizures weren’t part of our lives, and when the petit mals began, I was smart enough to be grateful we didn’t have to deal with grand mals. To this day, if I could have anything I wanted for Colin, and that includes talking, potty training, the ability to so152

cialize in a more normal way – if I could have any of these wishes granted, my first wish would be for his seizures to go away. I remember the first grand mal as if it were yesterday. As luck would have it, I was standing right next to Colin, helping him with his computer. I was staring him right in the face. Suddenly, out of nowhere, it looked to me as if someone had gotten hold of the hair on the back of his head and jerked him back with all their might. As he began falling backward, I screamed for Bob with a terror that must have made the hairs on the back of Bob’s neck stand at attention. I could hear the pounding of Bob’s feet on the carpet as he ran through the downstairs, trying to get to us. As if it was happening in slow motion, I saw myself grab for Colin to keep him from hitting the ground full force. I managed to soften his landing, but I couldn’t take away the tautness of his body as it seized. I couldn’t take away the uncontrollable jerking as his arms and legs flailed uncontrollably in every direction. I could only drop to my knees and watch helplessly as tears streamed down my face and Bob’s hands rested on my shoulders. Never having seen a grand mal, both Bob and I were mesmerized as we watched what happens when the brain misfires and the body goes completely out of control. I was rocking back and forth on my knees, crying for my baby and the fact I could do nothing to help him at this point. I remember asking Bob to grab a pillow, which we placed under Colin’s head, and as his breathing became labored and difficult, we turned him (with some difficulty) on his side, which seemed to help. This seizure, as most, lasted about five minutes, the longest five minutes of my life. When the seizing finally slowed down, Colin fell asleep. Bob raced right to the computer to google info on seizures to make sure sleeping afterward was normal. It was. I lay down next to Colin on the floor and spooned with him, pulling him as close as I could, murmuring words that told him how sorry I was and how I would take away the hurt if I could. I cried tears full of pain that day and thought I would never get the picture of what had happened out of my head. Truth is, I never have. Seizures are horrifying to me, but now I know to be grateful that with medication, they only rear their ugly heads maybe once every six weeks or so, longer if we’re lucky. 153

So . . . back in the office . . . there Bob and I were, prisoners in our own home, our office filling in as a prison cell, with nothing but two desks, two computers and each other to keep ourselves entertained. God forbid one of us dared poke a head outside the office door; Colin would come running, awkwardly to be sure, but running nonetheless. He would drop to his knees, wrapping his arms around our legs, shaking us back and forth, to what purpose I’m not sure, but more than once he toppled me, with one of these run-ins resulting in a doctor visit for me to have my knee drained. I think he may have broken a bone in my foot once too. The lump on the ball of my right foot is evidence of something, that’s for sure. Describing the feeling of being a full-grown, intelligent adult, unable to negotiate a peace treaty with your brain-injured son at whatever age, is almost impossible for me. Bob and I marveled at our inability to make any headway where Colin was concerned. We felt mystified by the fact that we couldn’t outwit, outsmart, outthink him, but the truth is, we couldn’t. He ruled the roost completely and totally. More than once, Bob and I tried to dissect exactly where we went wrong, how we lost control, but in the intervening years, I’ve found this isn’t an unusual thing to have happen. After all, each of us is only human, we each have our limits, and when those limits are reached, we’ll do almost anything to keep the peace, especially when peace is so hard to come by. Obviously, I had to leave the office now and then even if it meant risking Colin’s wrath. I was the mom, for goodness sake, I had to do laundry, make Colin’s meals, cook dinner, clean house, grocery shop, run errands, vacuum, change CO’s bed umpteen times a day. One might think escaping the house for a few hours to do the things I just mentioned would be some kind of respite, but one would be wrong. I was usually the errand runner who escaped our prison camp and the warden who watched our every move, and every time I did, my heart was in my throat, worrying about Bob and what might be going on back at the ranch. A little voice inside me always worried that he and Colin would get into one of the scuffles that always accompanied a Colin fit and Bob would have a heart attack. If I called home and no one answered, I dropped whatever I was doing and raced home with my heart pounding so hard in my chest, I was sure it would burst 154

through. Never once was there an emergency, but had there been, I was using the only car we had, and Bob would have been stuck. When I returned home, groceries ready to unload, Bob would come to help, and right behind him was Colin insisting through gestures and vocal sounds that we get back to the office where he wanted us. Somehow amid much confusion and aggravation and on more than one occasion, tears, I managed to make dinner, but trust me when I tell you that Bob and I usually ate whatever dinner I served right there in our cell, sitting at our desks. Typical days with Colin consisted of everything I’ve mentioned, as well as at least one, but usually more, poop baths. Not fun changing the pull-ups of a grown person as I’m sure you can imagine and through my 20 years of doing this daily, I learned to have the utmost respect for caregivers and healthcare workers who find themselves doing this work on a daily basis. However, the big difference between a caregiver and a healthcare worker is that the healthcare worker gets to go home at the end of the day, which wasn’t the case for us and I’m sure isn’t the case with many caregivers who take care of loved ones. I’ve mentioned Colin’s nonexistent (to us anyway) circadian rhythms, which made sure regular sleep wasn’t part of his daily routine. Bob read up on that and came to a conclusion that pretty much summed up our boy. Bob walked into the kitchen one night as I was fixing dinner. “Well, I think I’ve figured out Colin’s sleep problem,” he said to me. “Great,” I replied, “does that mean you’re gonna fix it?” I grinned at him. Raising an eyebrow to let me know that would never happen, Bob continued, “I’m reading about this primitive tribe and believe it or not, it sounds exactly like CO. They just go with the flow, the rhythm of life. They sleep when they’re tired and often that means a little sleep here and a little sleep there. They wake up with the sun; go to bed when it’s dark. The tribesmen and women make love in the wee hours when the children around them are still asleep . . . “ I couldn’t help the sigh that escaped me. “I just wish we could make love period - day, night, the wee hours, a noon-er. I’d take anything at this point. I just want to be with 155

you and I’m pretty sure you get my drift.” Arms encircled me and held me close. “I know, Dreams, this can’t be easy for you.” “For you, either,” I hastened to add. “Yeh, but I’m an old guy. You’re still young and deserve to have a little sex in your life.” “Only a little,” I teased as I kissed him soundly, “I’m young enough to need more than a little, but right now I’d go for any at all.” I thought back to our sex-filled days and nights with more than a little longing. If I had known the last time would be the last time, would I have savored it more? Actually, I don’t know how I could have savored it more. When a man’s goal is wrapped up in pleasing you more than himself and when that man loves you to distraction, savoring is mighty easy, so, no, I couldn’t have savored it more, but, oh, how I missed it. It’s hard to explain how Colin took over our lives to the point we really had no life except the one that revolved around him and his needs, but he did. Every waking moment was devoted to his care, and sleep was such a scarce commodity it trumped sex every time. I took in the sad look on Bob’s face and hastened to reassure him. “Honey, it’s okay, really it is. Sex isn’t everything. The fact that we still love each other after all these years, that we’ve stuck together through thick and thin, that’s what matters. Besides, remember what you used to tell me back in the days when we had sex, well and often?” I was rewarded with the grin that lit up Bob’s face. “Oh, you mean that old line about if we keep it up to this degree, sex is gonna kill us? Nobody can keep going at this rate and live to talk about it?” “That’s the one,” I grinned back, “at least we know for sure we’ll live to be 100 at the rate we’re going now.” Pulling me close, Bob’s lips moved in my hair, “I miss you, Dreams.” We kissed. I felt the old stirrings, but only for a moment. Guttural noises preceded the appearance of Colin, who pushed his way between us and grabbed his dad’s hand to drag him upstairs, away from the memory of what used to be and back to the reality of what was. 156

Chapter 20 One step forward, two steps back, a crazy dance. Darlin’ do you think that there’s a chance for our romance. “One Step Forward” ~ John Sebastian So . . . that was a typical day. Now, your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to take that one day and multiply it by 365, then take the 365 and multiply that by 21, the number of years we spent as caregivers to Colin. The grand total will be 7,665. Imagine the sameness; imagine the total number of poopy diapers; imagine the total number of fits, which had to measure in the thousands if not more, given we dealt with multiple fits daily; imagine the number of grand mal seizures we had to witness as our son jerked and convulsed on the floor of every room in the house at one time or another; imagine the hours of lost sleep; imagine the oceans of tears cried during these stressful years. But also imagine having a partner to help shoulder the burden; someone who would never, ever leave you alone to face this challenge on your own. That’s what Bob and I were to each other. We met each challenge side by side, never entertaining the thought of jumping ship. Our vows were meant from the heart the day we made them, and over the years, we proved endlessly that real love for each other, and for our son, could help us get through anything. These 7,665 days were not totally uneventful. True, most days melded one into the next, making it difficult to differentiate, but there were red-letter days, good and bad, that gave us milestones to break up the monotony. During the twenty plus years we took care of our son, Bob and I had maybe four occasions where we actually left the house to do something special together. The first I remember was one Christmas in Vegas when Bob’s daughters were with us. Colin was just a toddler in those days, and because he was little and not as hard to handle, 157

we were thankful when the girls offered to watch him one evening so that Bob and I could go gambling. Going out together was special enough that I remember exactly what we both wore and that we spent the entire night at Caesar’s Palace playing blackjack. The feeling of normalcy was overwhelming for the few hours we experienced it, but the very next day, it was back to the grind, which didn’t really seem all that grind-y in the early days, the days when we were on Program and positive we were going to ‘fix’ our son. The next opportunity to cut loose and have some fun came probably eight years later when we were invited to the White House. It was 1995, and we were living here in West Virginia, only a 5-hour drive from DC. A couple we were close friends with at the time offered to stay overnight with Colin. With more than a little trepidation, we took them up on their generous offer, praying that an 11-year-old Colin would behave himself enough to make their overnight stay at the Denver house tolerable. We left for Washington in great spirits. Bob had a personal appearance there on Saturday night, but Saturday afternoon we would get a Secret Service tour of the White House and, from all indications, would meet President Clinton. When we arrived at the hotel in Williamsburg, we were informed that Bob was expected to show up for a dinner that night with the organizers of the event. Okay, I’ll admit this was unexpected and for me, not a happy turn of events. I mentioned much earlier in this book that when you’re with someone who has had a drinking problem in the past, you never quite shake the feeling of fear you felt in the beginning when the problem first made itself known. My stomach clenched as I looked to see Bob’s reaction. He seemed fine, but looks can definitely be deceiving. Dinner with strangers was never Bob’s favorite thing, and, of course, dinner out made booze readily available, but we had to go, so I put on my bravest face and tried to convince myself everything would be fine. I mean, c’mon, this was a very special occasion, and Bob knew with certainty how I felt about his drinking, so surely, he wouldn’t spoil this trip by getting snockered. I couldn’t have been more wrong! I was busy shining it on for the table of ten, watching out of the corner of my eye as Bob ordered pre-dinner drinks, wine during dinner, and amaretto after dinner. I nudged him under the table as he ordered glass after glass of wine. 158

He shot me a look that spoke volumes and ignored me as he kept right on drinking. Plastering a smile on my face, making what I hoped was intelligent conversation; I tried to disregard my sinking heart and the knot in the pit of my stomach. I couldn’t believe this was happening, couldn’t believe Bob would ruin this trip, but it seemed it was and he would. Finally, dinner was over and we were leaving for the hotel. Thank God! The evening had been interminable as far as I was concerned. I watched in horror as Bob stood up, stumbling and weaving his way to the door of the restaurant. I wanted to die right there on the spot. How could he do this? A slap in the face would have hurt less. I barely remember the ride to the hotel; barely remember getting through the lobby and up to our room. All I remember is the anger I felt, the crushing disappointment, the overwhelming sense of dread, knowing there would probably be no sleep this night. There wasn’t. I went straight to bed, hoping against hope that Bob would do the same as long as he had no one to fight with. Remembering another hotel room eighteen years before where this behavior had culminated in tooth marks on Bob’s stomach, I promised myself there would be no repeat of this incident. I was older and way too tired to take part in a repeat performance. As expected, Bob picked on me, tried his best to get a rise out of me, but I lay there in silence, refusing to add fuel to this already burning flame. Without participation from me, Bob had only himself to talk to, so that’s exactly what he did. Much to my dismay, he spent the entire night talking out loud to himself, and it wasn’t drunken happy talk. The night went on endlessly. Try as I might, there was no sleep to be had that night. We were meeting the President the next afternoon, and I would meet the leader of the free world on no sleep and angry as hell. Dawn broke, and I dragged myself out of bed, weary to the bone. Showering didn’t help wash away the ache that filled my heart and as I sat in front of the mirror trying to make-up a face that looked haggard and worn, I could barely focus my tired eyes on my reflection. Forgiving Bob for ruining this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity wasn’t going to be easy and I wasn’t at all sure I’d be able to do it. The ride to the White House was quiet except for the conversa159

tion we made with our driver. We arrived, met our Secret Service agent, and were shown to a White House reception room where we signed the guest book and awaited President Clinton’s arrival, who, we were told, was in the White House Theater, watching a movie with Chelsea. Before too long, the door to the reception room opened, and in walked the President. Even though this Bill Clinton looked totally familiar, tall and charismatic as all get out, he also looked totally unfamiliar, wearing jeans and a blue flannel shirt, completely casual, and with a 4-month-old baby on his shoulder. He strode into the room with his hand outstretched, his eyes finding Bob instantly, “Maynard G. Krebs. I just had to meet you.” I had to smile to myself. In our conversation on the drive to DC, Bob and I guessed, and rightly, that Bill Clinton would be more of a Maynard fan than a Gilligan fan. I don’t mind telling you I had practiced saying, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. President.’ ad nauseam, praying I wouldn’t trip over my tongue. I didn’t; and, of course, as one might expect, Bob was totally cool, talking to the President as if they were old and dear friends. We presented President Clinton with the leather Gilligan’s Island jackets we had brought for Hillary, Chelsea and him; I played with the baby on his shoulder, his brother Roger’s new son, and we made small talk for 20 minutes or so. How can I describe being in the presence of the most powerful man on earth? Whether or not you like the leader of the free world, it’s an honor, one that Bob nor I ever expected in our life together. The 20 minutes we spent with the President is a bit of a blur, but it was definitely a highlight of my life and almost made me forget the disappointment I felt in my husband’s bad behavior the night before - almost, but not quite. Before heading to the Oval Office, Clinton spoke to the Secret Service, shook Bob’s hand, gave me a hug and took his leave. Along with our Secret Service agent, we were ready for our private White House tour and what a tour it was! As we walked the halls of the West Wing, as we walked through the Rose Garden, White House employees and government officials alike, became kids again as they realized Gilligan was in their midst. Just like every Gilligan fan in America, they found their way to Bob, telling him their personal stories of running home from school every single day to watch Gilligan’s 160

Island, hoping this episode would be the one where the castaways were finally rescued. Among the males there was also an unofficial poll of the Ultimate Dilemma question – Ginger or Mary Ann – and as always, Mary Ann won hands down. That day, I concluded that everyone, even the people who spend their days seeing to the business of running our country, is a kid again when it comes to Gilligan’s Island. This White House trip was the closest Bob and I ever came to divorce. Not that either of us saw an attorney or filed papers of any kind, but for the first time in our marriage, we purposely slept apart – for two entire weeks. We fought it out, each of us laying out our feelings in no uncertain terms. Bob’s bottom line was that he was 60 years old and could drink if he wanted to, that I could not tell him what to do. How many of you ladies have heard something similar? And do you agree with me that it’s akin to trying to reason with a child? My explanation that I wasn’t trying to tell him what to do fell on deaf ears, but in my heart, I wasn’t. I just wanted him to respect my feelings and not ruin the few special occasions we had together. I was tired of wanting to crawl into a hole the few times we were out in public. The Bob I knew at home was intelligent and funny, a gentleman, quiet and introspective - the sloppy, slurring, staggering soul whose public face belied the man I knew made me nauseous, and every time we were reintroduced, it broke my heart.


Chapter 21 Grazin’ in the grass is a gas, baby, can you dig it? “Grazin’ in the Grass” ~ The Friends of Distinction When I decided to write this book, I was fully aware that people would probably expect me to say something about our bust in 1998 and the thought of writing about that day filled me with dread. In 1998, the story was a newsmaker worldwide, but 22 years later, with marijuana legalized in 11 states as of this writing, it seems almost nonsensical to have gone through it. Bob never talked about the bust, never made a statement, never acknowledged it publicly. But in light of his always encouraging me to write a book after he was gone and his admonition to tell it exactly like it was with no sugarcoating, I’ve decided to include that part of our story. Bob was a smoker and, like almost everyone else in Hollywood and America, tried pot. And, yes, he did inhale, and, yes, he enjoyed smoking grass and yes, being around a smoker rather than a drinker was my personal choice any day of the week. Smokers aren’t belligerent the way drinkers are. Give me mellow any day of the week! Our stress level was off the charts and if grass relaxed him, I had no objection to it. The year was 1998, the month was June. Bob and I were at home in the middle of the daily routine I described to you in a previous chapter. I had been pruning my front flower garden an hour or so before, which meant I was wearing a bathing suit top with little boy shorts. Thank goodness it wasn’t an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny bikini. When the doorbell rang, I was upstairs feeding Colin; Bob was on the computer in the office off the lounge. At the sound of the bell, Bob hopped up and headed down the stairs to answer it. I peeped out the upstairs window and saw that it was a FedEx delivery. Thinking nothing of it, I sat back down to finish lunch with Colin. I heard Bob talking, being charming, and funny with the delivery guy. When he came back upstairs, I asked what had come and he told me it was 162

a package from Colorado, guessing it was from a fan. It wasn’t unusual for fans to send Bob all sorts of strange and assorted gifts, but the fact was, before coming back upstairs, he had laid the package down without opening it, so we had no idea what was inside. However, it wouldn’t be long before we found out. Maybe the moral of this part of our story - especially if you were famous back in 1998 would be never to accept a package from an unknown sender to find out later that it contained marijuana. That’s right! It contained marijuana and the sting operation was about to go down. Totally unaware of what was coming, we settled back into our routine only to have the doorbell ring again. A surprised look on his face, Bob once again got up to head downstairs, throwing a “Wonder what they forgot” over his shoulder. Everything becomes a bit of a blur at this point, but I do remember hearing lots of men’s voices and wondering what was going on. I found out in short order when I looked over to see a strange man appear on the stairs. His hand was in the air and he was saying something in a loud, commanding voice, something about being drug enforcement and having a search warrant to search the premises. I thought I might faint right then and there, but Colin was looking at me and I needed to stay as calm as possible. The detective, who appeared massive to me, finally reached the top of the stairs and headed straight for me, explaining who he was and telling me to stay put. Stay put? Where would I go? Sensing my fear, our Golden Retriever, Sophie, moved in front of me, putting herself between me and the detective, whose name I don’t remember, and don’t care to remember. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a baggie with the tiniest bit of grass in it beside me on the sofa. My first instinct was to try hiding it, but of course, that was impossible with – what shall we call him, Sherlock? Okay, we’ll refer to my detective as Sherlock from this moment forward – hiding it was impossible with Sherlock breathing down my neck. So, I decided to face the music and with hands shaking like a leaf, held up the baggie. He was a bit surprised, I think, but asked me right away if I smoked. Well, I wasn’t going to let Bob take the rap all by himself and the truth was, I did, not to the extent Bob did, but late at night when things settled down with Colin, I would sometimes have a hit to 163

take the edge off, to help me sleep, just the way people have drinks at the end of a hard day for the same purpose. Sherlock began peppering me with questions at that point. I don’t remember any of them as my brain had shut down completely and all I could think about was the fact I was sitting in front of this strange and scary man in a two-piece bathing suit. Gathering my courage, I asked in a quiet, terrified voice if it would be okay for me to change clothes. “Yes, Ma’am, you can change, but I’ll have to go with you.” Leaving Sophie guarding Colin, Sherlock and I headed to my bedroom only to be met by the sight of detectives rifling through our desk and all our drawers. I could barely breathe as I stood in our walk-in closet trying to decide what to change into. My brain hitched as I realized I would have to undress with three members of the mod squad watching my every move and I was feeling naked enough as it was, so I opted for a big baggy t-shirt to go over the little boy shorts I was wearing. Slipping it over my head, feeling invisible in that moment, I allowed tears to fill my ears. How would I ever explain this to my mother, who had moved to West Virginia from Florida only a month before? What were our kids going to think, and how totally would we be shunned by the community we lived in? How would kind, law-abiding West Virginians react to the furor that would certainly result when the press got hold of this and invaded their small, laid back little town? My brain shut down. I just couldn’t think about all of that right now. Trouble was, I couldn’t not think about it either. Sherlock interrupted my thoughts. “Ready to go back upstairs, Mrs. Denver?” No, I wanted to scream at him, I want all of you out of my house right this minute, but of course, I didn’t say exactly what I was thinking. Instead I made a request. “Actually, I need to get Colin’s medication,” I said instead. “Where is that located?” he asked me. “It’s in the kitchen. Am I allowed to go into the kitchen?” I knew Bob was in the kitchen and I wanted so badly to see what was going on and make sure he was okay. “As long as I’m with you, you can.” was his answer. We headed down the hall and as we came closer to the kitchen 164

entry, I could hear Bob’s voice. Walking in, I wanted to cry. Bob was sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by five humongous detectives. He looked so small in comparison. Not only that, but even though the bust had started only an hour or so before, in that short length of time, Bob suddenly looked frail, much older than his 63 years. My tears threatened to spill over as he looked up and saw me there, his eyes saying how sorry he was this was happening to us. “Mrs. Denver . . . the medication . . .” Sherlock gave me a look that told me to move. So, I did. I moved slowly to be sure, trying my best to take my time to hear what the other detectives were saying to Bob, but in truth, there’s only so much time one can waste with drug enforcement breathing down one’s neck. I grabbed the meds, and Sherlock and I headed back upstairs to Sophie and Colin. The minute Sherlock saw Sophie he stopped me. “Is there any place you can lock your dog up?” he asked me. Perplexed, I questioned him. “Why do we need to lock her up?’ “We’re bringing our dog in to search the premises and I’m afraid for your dog’s safety when we do.” What? They were going to search the premises? What did that mean? Was their drug-sniffing dog going to search our home, our property? I soon found out. We shut Sophie into an upstairs bedroom as a vicious looking (at least to me) German shepherd was given the run of our home. After he had been taken from room to room, the shepherd was led outside where he did indeed search our property. I couldn’t believe it. We were being treated like common criminals, drug-pushers. They actually thought we were growing marijuana??? To what purpose? To sell it? Right, like Gilligan could push drugs and keep it on the down low. Obviously, they found no plants growing anywhere in the vicinity of our house, but they did find way less than an ounce under a sofa cushion in Bob’s TV room. The search went on for four hours, the longest four hours of my life. Bob’s life, too, I’m sure. When it finally looked like they might be wrapping up, I wanted to go hysterical with relief, but that feeling was short-lived the minute the lead detective opened his mouth. “The two of you will be expected to come down to the station to turn yourselves in at 10:30 tomorrow morning. At that time, you’ll be 165

photographed and fingerprinted.” He had more to say, and I saw his mouth moving, but I could make no sense whatsoever of the words coming out of his mouth. It felt like I was underwater, trying as hard as I could to come up for air, but try as I might, I couldn’t breathe. My brain couldn’t stop looping these thoughts – you’re being arrested tomorrow. Tomorrow morning you have to get up knowing you’re being arrested for drug possession. You, Dreama Denver, along with your husband, are being arrested tomorrow morning . . . Arrested . . . tomorrow . . . you’ll have a record . . . you’ll be a felon. Bob and I walked the detectives, all seven of them, to the front door. Yep, just like they were invited guests that we wanted to say a proper good-bye to. How insane was this? What was wrong with this picture? Actually, the scene became even more surreal only minutes later when one of the detectives pulled a stack of 8X10s from behind his back. “Mr. Denver, we found these Gilligan photos as we were searching your house and wondered if you would autograph them for our families?” Part of me wanted to laugh hysterically; part of me wanted to run screaming from the room. They invaded our home, treated us like criminals and now expected autographs, and from the looks of the stack of photos he was holding, plenty of them? I sneaked a peek at Bob, who sighed, then made a joke along the lines of exactly what I was thinking. But this was Bob - he sat down on the sofa, took the stack of 8 X 10s and quietly asked what names each detective wanted on his photos. As I remember, every single one got a photo for himself, his kids, his nieces and nephews, his mom and dad and more than likely cousins twice removed. The autograph session went on forever or so it seemed, but finally, the drug enforcement team was gone, and we were alone again. There was no sleep to be had the night of the bust. Oh, Bob pretended he was sleeping, but I knew better because I was doing the same thing. Earlier in the evening, we had tried discussing what might be coming our way when it came to the press, our families’ reactions, our kids, and the community, but talking about it was difficult. More than anything, Bob was worried about my arrest. Before the detectives left, he hadn’t missed the chance to ask them to please 166

leave me out of it, but the lead detective told him in no uncertain terms that I was guilty too and would have to turn myself in right alongside Bob. Truthfully, my devotion to Bob was so complete I didn’t want him to go through it alone. If he was going down, then I was going down right beside him. The light that seeped through the skylights above our heads found us both wide awake, lying on our backs, staring at the ceiling, each of us lost in our own thoughts. Bob’s voice broke the silence. “Dreams, I am so sorry about this.” My hand trailed across the space between us to find his. Entwining my fingers with his, I let out a long, deep sigh. “I’m scared silly, Bob, but I smoked it too, and I guess I deserve this as much as you do. Just another challenge we have to go through together, another first.” I tried to laugh. In all our years together, Bob and I had always counted and made a big deal out of our ‘firsts’ together. This was some first. “Do you remember a conversation we had a couple of months ago?” Bob looked at me, waiting. “You know . . . we were talking about how happy we were that we led a tranquil life here on top of our mountain never bothering anyone, never giving the very intrusive press any reason to be interested in us?” A pained grin was my answer. The phone rang. I leaned over, kissed him, and dragged my body, which felt like dead weight at this point, out of bed, heading to the kitchen and the phone. All innocence, I answered and was thrown completely when the person on the other end identified himself as a reporter from Star magazine, wanting a statement about the bust. I managed to sputter out a ‘no comment’ and nice person that I am, a ‘Thank you for calling’ before I slammed the phone back into the cradle. Not quite 8 o’clock in the morning, no official arrests, and already it was beginning. I had no more than hung up before the phone and the doorbell rang simultaneously. I ran back to the bedroom, grabbing my robe, answering Bob’s ‘who was that’ question over my shoulder as I headed for the front door. Thankfully, when I opened the door, I saw the face of a friend who had kindly agreed to take care of Colin while Bob and I were arrested. I just typed the last sentence and did a double take when I read it. All these years later it still looks 167

preposterous to me. I gave him a hug and made my apologies as I headed back to the kitchen to answer a phone that was ringing nonstop. The calls were coming fast and furiously from every news organization in existence, reputable and not so reputable. I remember The Enquirer, Star, the New York Post, People, US, Time, Newsweek, Inside Edition, The Globe, Hard Copy, our local NBC affiliate WVVA, and those are only the ones I can remember off the top of my head. What I do remember clearly is that the phone started ringing incessantly on Thursday morning before any arrest had been made and didn’t stop, not once, until Monday morning, the deadline for all the publications. Always protective of Bob and his celebrity, I took it upon myself to answer each call. I was polite to a fault as I continued to repeat, ‘we have no comment’ over and over again. I knew if Bob answered these calls, there was a chance he’d be pushed harder than I was being pushed. Also being on edge over the search the day before and up to our ears with the Colin routine that continued no matter what was going on in our lives, I felt he might lose his temper especially due to his concern for me and the fact that I was going to be arrested too. Better for me to answer and not allow the press to hear even the sound of his voice. As hard as it might be to believe, we didn’t have an answering machine because one or both of us was always home; however, we got one shortly after the official arrest and, yes, messages, some nice and some not-so-nice, filled the machine to capacity in very short order. Feeling the weight of the disappointment and disapproval that would surely come our way as soon as the news hit the airwaves and the print media, I shuffled slowly back to our bedroom. I had to get dressed. The phone could go unanswered for a while. From the sound of it, they were doing nothing but hitting redial, so as far as I was concerned, they could keep hitting redial until I managed to get myself together for my arrest. “Omigod, my arrest . . . our arrest. This really couldn’t be happening to us, could it?” I found Bob in our walk-in closet, dressing. I stood there for a full five minutes, staring at the clothes hanging there – brightly colored tops, black tops, pants, jeans, dresses – seeing but not seeing. Finally, looking up at Bob with tears in my eyes, I asked in the tiniest 168

voice imaginable. “Honey, what does a person wear to be arrested?” The tears flowed. His arms wrapped around me as he whispered endearments into my hair. Holding me close, Bob let me cry it out until I couldn’t cry any more. Knowing I was making him feel worse, I made a huge effort to get myself together. “I think maybe jeans and a t-shirt for the arrest?? What do you think?” Bob was saved from answering as our friend knocked on the bedroom door to tell us there was a call from the detective that Bob needed to take. He left the closet and I stood there rooted to the spot, staring at my reflection, wondering how this little West Virginia girl had found herself on the wrong side of the law. I pulled on my jeans and t-shirt, took a deep breath to shake away as much as possible the memories from the day before and walked into the bathroom to throw cold water on my swollen, tear-stained face. Hearing Bob’s voice as he came down the hallway shouting for me, I ran to meet him. Oh, God, what had happened now? From the sound of it, something was definitely up. Grabbing me up into a huge bear hug, Bob gave me the news. “Dreams, they’re letting you off, they’re letting you off.” He was smiling, but his words made no sense to my muddled brain. “Who’s letting me off? What are you talking about, Bob?” “Darlin’, they’re not going to arrest you. Seems the detective who was with you all afternoon pleaded your case after watching you with Colin. He said he watched you changing a 14-year old’s diapers, watched how you took care of Colin during the whole bust, and took pity on you. You’re not going to be arrested after all.” I slid to the ground with relief as the dam inside me broke and my shoulders shook with sobs of release. Bob slid to the floor beside me and gathered me up as the tears flowed. “Damn, Dreams, I don’t care about me. I’m just so damned glad you’re not going to be involved. My arrest I can handle, but the thought of you being arrested was killing me.” That brought me up short and the tears stopped. “You’re not getting off too?” I wailed. “Bob, I can’t let you go through this alone, I can’t.” “You can and you will. Look, this is a very good thing, Dreams. I’ll be arrested, the press will have a field day for a while and then it 169

will all blow over. I can handle that. What I can’t handle is the thought of you going through all of this. It will be okay. I can handle anything as long as it doesn’t involve you.” I sobbed in his arms for a full five minutes until our friend came to the hallway to let us know the car had arrived to take Bob to the courthouse, where, he told us, the press had already arrived. Rumor had it that helicopters were circling the courthouse and, yes, the phone was still ringing off the hook. Feeling 80 years old, I got to my feet and held Bob’s hand as I walked him to the front door. Watching as he walked down the front walk, his head held high, but with his shoulders stooped, I leaned against the doorframe for support. I wanted to be with Bob. Yes, my relief at not being arrested was palpable, but Bob and I had gone through everything together and I couldn’t imagine he would go through this alone. I watched as the car disappeared around the bend in front of our house, then with a sigh, I made my way back to Colin and the never-ending ringing of the phone.


Chapter 22 I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone. “My Life” ~ Billy Joel The aftermath of our bust - after the official arrest, the press had a field day as I‘m sure you can imagine or maybe even remember. Today I can laugh and find the humor, but in 1998 being the butt of the Leno and Letterman monologues wasn’t so funny; having our local NBC affiliate lead with our story every night for two weeks, long after there was anything new to report, wasn’t so funny; being confined indoors because there were tabloid reporters camped outside our house wasn’t so funny; watching the CNN crawl with news of Bob’s arrest wasn’t so funny; taking care of Colin in the midst of all the insanity wasn’t so funny. But there was some humor even at the time and it came in the form of Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, a show we rarely missed when it aired on ABC. This particular night Bob and I were sitting in bed (yes, together at the same time), trying to zone out from the craziness that had taken over our lives a couple of days before. Politically Incorrect was just coming back from a commercial break and during the audience applause, there was a shot of Bill Maher, who had Star magazine lying on his lap. My immediate thought was ‘uh-oh’ because I knew there had been a full-page story on us that week. And what a story it was. I’ll bet you guys didn’t know this - Bob Denver star of Gilligan’s Island lived on a mountaintop in West Virginia where he was a crazy loon who raised goldfish in his slimy green pond. Okay, I took exception to this. We spent good money on an environmentally friendly additive that turned our pond a beautiful blue color, and yes, we had goldfish that had multiplied from the original seven my brother Ron had given us as a housewarming gift to hundreds; however, Bob didn’t raise goldfish or sell goldfish or do anything except feed the goldfish. 171

I held my breath as Bill Maher began to talk. Yes, he began with something like, “Well, folks, it looks like everybody’s Little Buddy got busted for marijuana possession a couple of days ago.” But from there, he did nothing but defend us, repeating the Star’s report that the bust had involved Bob and his wife and had taken place in front of their 14-year-old son. Bill went on to say that this should never have happened when we were in the privacy of our own home, not hurting anyone, not selling it. Needless to say, Bob and I couldn’t have agreed more. Naturally, there were those on the panel that night that had something to say about the fact that Bob’s most famous character was known for his innocence and that he was a role model to kids everywhere and that under no circumstances should he have been smoking grass to begin with. Well, that right there is a pipe dream. In all my years in theater, with and without Bob, and certainly in all our years in and out of Hollywood, I knew very few people who hadn’t smoked grass or worse. Bob and I never did the ‘or worse,’ not in the years I was with him. Quite honestly, even in our ‘real’ life there were many people who smoked, so I don’t think it was that outlandish to assume that a man who had two extremely successful series under his belt and had traveled on Hollywood’s fast lane for at least ten years might have smoked a joint now and then. But apparently, some on the panel didn’t see it that way, and, of course, the point of the show was to discuss both sides of any given situation. Our situation was no different. However, the best part and the part that made Bob and me laugh out loud was a comment made by Marilu Henner that night. She hit the nail on the head when she turned to Bill and said, “You know, I’m guessing this whole thing went down because drug enforcement in WV was alerted about the package and decided it would be a really good way to actually meet Gilligan and maybe score an autographed photo.” Seeing as how that’s exactly what happened, I have to give Marilu credit, not only for getting it right, but also for bringing levity to Bob and me when it was pretty hard to come by. I’ve always wished I could thank her personally, and I’ve always wished I could give Bill Maher a hug for coming to our defense when no one else on TV did. There was never the possibility for me to do either of those things, so 172

maybe this book is my chance to thank both of them on Bob’s behalf. The years between the bust in 1998 and Bob’s diagnosis in 2005 saw the two of us hands-on with Colin just the way we had been for 14 years. However, there were two huge differences - Colin was getting older and harder to handle, and Bob and I were getting older and wearier. The sameness, the lack of sleep, the inability to break the cycle we found ourselves in was making life pretty difficult, but we couldn’t stop. We had to keep going, and steeped in Colin’s care as we were, we couldn’t see a way out. Looking back now, I wonder why we couldn’t see an alternative, but the fact is, while we were up to our ears in it, we just couldn’t see any solution other than to keep on keepin’ on. So that’s what we did. A couple of highlights made those intervening seven years bearable on some level. Four months after the bust, we were invited to the White House for the second time in three years. Accepting a second invitation to the White House four months after being busted was not Bob’s idea of a good time. Not that any invitation to the White House wasn’t thrilling, but this trip would include the castaways receiving the first-ever American Icon Award from Women in Film and Video. That, of course, would include press and nonstop interviews aboard the boat we’d be sailing down the Potomac for this event, not a pleasant prospect given the circumstances. As it ended up, the press respected Bob’s wish not to make any statements on the subject. Pretty shocking, huh? I wonder if that would be possible in today’s climate. I’m surprised it was possible in 1998. Another Secret Service tour was part of this DC weekend package, but this time, we’d be touring along with Russell Johnson and his wife Connie, Tina Louise, and Joanne Worley and her then-husband Roger Perry. Being in the company of old friends like Connie and Russell made this particular tour extra special, meeting the delightful Joanne Worley and her husband Roger upped it another notch. Bob and I adored Joanne. Her wacky Laugh-In persona showed itself every once in a while, but the thoughtful, intelligent, beautiful inside and out Joanne was on display, along with her gams, some of the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen, during most of the tour. Yep, that woman has legs that would be the envy of almost any woman on the planet wow! 173

The Oval Office: Roger Perry, Joanne Worley, Tina Louise, Dreama, Bob, Connie and Russell Johnson

I have to laugh when I remember Joanne at her wackiest. We were touring the second floor, trying to take in the grandeur of the East Room, my favorite room in the White House as I stood there remembering myself as a child watching the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination and seeing JFK‘s body lying in state right where I was standing. Talk about awe-inspiring. We passed through the Red Room and the State Dining Room, a room much smaller than one might imagine. But it was the Blue Room where we had the opportunity to come in contact with greatness. In the Blue Room we were fortunate beyond belief to run into Annie Lebovitz, one of the most celebrated photographers in this country. She was setting up for a photo session with Hillary Clinton as we strolled through. This brown-haired, bespectacled woman worked quietly near a sofa at the side of the room, drawing no attention to herself at all, but then it seemed that almost simultaneously, she looked over and spotted Bob and we looked over and spotted her. I’m not sure if Annie was more excited to meet Gilligan or if Gilligan was more excited to meet Annie, but there was a mutual respect that was lovely to see. Annie Lebovitz was a highlight of our second White House tour. After a quick conversation with Annie, we followed our secret 174

service escort to a stairway leading to the first floor. But this wasn’t just any stairway, no. This was what I think of as a ‘backstage’ stairway. Behind the public rooms of the White House, there’s an area used by the President and his staff as they make their way from one part of the structure to the other. During the Clinton administration, the most striking thing about backstage was the huge and personal The girls with Jacqueline Kennedy’s official photos of the portrait. Clinton family during their private moments. Photos exactly like you and I would have in our homes, except much, much larger, professionally taken and framed beautifully. The smiling faces of Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea greeted us at every turn and I found myself wanting to linger, wanting to spend time gazing at the faces of the leader of the free word and his family as they picnicked, clowned around and made funny faces into the camera. The photos were stunning, absolutely breathtaking. But lingering wasn’t an option, so we headed toward the stairway that would take us back to the first floor and the end of our Secret Service Tour. I was walking down the staircase, talking to Connie Johnson, when suddenly the mischievous tones of a playful Joanne Worley grabbed our attention. “Do you remember doing this 175

as a kid,” she quipped. In unison we all turned to see what she was referring to and there she was, Laugh-In’s Joanne Worley, hopping aboard the wide and sturdy banister, butt planted firmly, arms in the air akimbo, sliding from top to bottom, whooping it up all the way down. When she came flying off the end, landing on her feet like a gymnast, we all broke up. Joanne had most definitely nailed the landing! Bob’s last public appearance, though we were unaware of it at the time, took place at the second annual TV Land Awards in 2004. Taped at the Hollywood Palladium, these awards celebrated the best in classic TV. Once again, we sat among a sea of famous faces as The Mary Tyler Moore Show was presented the Ground Breaking Award, The Andy Griffith Show was presented the Legend Award and Gilligan’s Island was presented the Pop Culture Award. Our table at the event was reserved for the cast of Gilligan’s Island. For the first time in more years than I cared to remember, we were enjoying the company of Russell and Connie, Dawn, Tina Louise, Sherwood and his wife Mildred, Lloyd Schwartz and his wife Barbara. At the table to the left front of us was the entire cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, to the right of us the Andy Griffith cast, directly to my left was Lynda Carter and the cast of Wonder Woman, and not far from us sat the totally gorgeous and forever young Farrah Fawcett. As the lights dimmed and taping began, we were entertained by an opening medley, which included Cybill Shepherd singing the theme from Moonlighting, Tony Orlando and Dawn performing their famous Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and Charlotte Rae and Lisa Welchel duetting on their theme song from The Facts of Life. Eric McCormack from Will and Grace had the crowd on its feet with his tribute song sung directly to Mary Tyler Moore. It was an evening to remember, made all the more special in retrospect. One year later, almost to the day, this award show and everything connected to Bob’s celebrity would take a backseat to Bob’s diagnosis. Looking back, I think he may have known even then he wasn’t well. I know he didn’t look well, but when he took the stage with the rest of the cast to accept the Pop Culture Award on behalf of the show and spoke the words, “I would like to thank my 176

wife of 27 years for putting up with me. I love you, Dreams,” proclaiming his love for me in front of God and everyone – well, in that moment, he was the ageless keeper of my heart. Probably the biggest and most exciting thing to happen during those last seven years of Bob’s life was the launch of Little Buddy Radio. Years before, around 1993, Bob set up the Denver Foundation in honor of Colin, hoping to find a way to help families like ours. With no money and no savings and a child needing full-time care, Bob, Colin, and I were like any other family in America going through something similar. So, we understood in a very non-Hollywood way the challenges and the expense, not to mention the emotional toll, families experienced while trying to find a bit of normalcy in a completely abnormal situation. We knew firsthand how hard it was, how heartbreaking, how it took everything you had and more, just to put one foot in front of the other and stumble your way through a day. We wanted to help. A friend advised us the government was opening a window for regular folks to own and operate radio stations in their communities, Bob and I jumped on this idea. These stations would be called LPFMs (low power FMs) and had to be nonprofit, which was perfect for us since our nonprofit was in place and ready to rumble. We applied for our FCC license in 2000 and then began the waiting game, which lasted for four years as the FCC went through the fifty states alphabetically. Our timing was stellar in this instance because, finally, after over 20 years of caring for Colin sans help of any kind, we were able to bring on a caregiver, freeing us up to work on all the necessary elements of owning and operating a low power FM. David Haynes became part of our lives in October of 2003 and continues to be one of the most special parts of my life and Colin’s life today. Not only did he come on board as Colin’s caregiver, but he immediately became Colin’s best friend. And the best part at that time was this - he could handle Colin. Where Bob and I had ceased to be effective years before, David was brand new blood, young, strong, low-key and no nonsense. Unable to get the best of David, Colin began to settle down. Don’t get me wrong, David was tested daily; Colin pulled out every trick in his endless bag of tricks, trying to get the upper hand, trying to get David under his control, but none 177

of his machinations worked. David remained steadfast in his commitment never to give Colin the upper hand. Bob and I watched in amazement, and I have to say, there was a bit of glee involved as we watched Colin fail miserably at getting a rise out of his new best buddy. For what was left of 2003, David worked for us part-time, coming in at 4:00 when he finished work at VOCA and leaving at 10:00 at night. He had weekends off. Thinking we could handle the weekends; Bob and I didn’t even consider hiring a second person initially. But it’s amazing how quickly a mom and dad can become accustomed to this new sense of freedom even after years of feeling a responsibility that allowed them no freedom at all. By the time Christmas rolled around, Bob and I were talking to David about working for us full-time. We were picking his brain, wondering about other young men he worked with who might be interested in caring for Colin. Before long, we had another new friend for Colin, a friend who, along with David, picked up where Bob and I had left off. Shawn Blevins joined David in making our lives livable, giving us a freedom we hadn’t experienced in over twenty years. Amazingly, giving up total control of Colin was much easier than we had imagined. What Bob and I didn’t know at the time became clear about eight months after launching Little Buddy Radio. Events in our life fell into place, paving the way for all hell to break loose, and break loose it did. On March 15, 2005, life as we knew it changed. The first signs of that hurricane-force wind I spoke of at the beginning of this book made themselves known for the second time in our lives. The eight months of peace we had just experienced ended up being the eye of the storm.


Chapter 23 Oh, yes, I’m the great pretender. Pretending that I’m doing well. “The Great Pretender” ~ The Platters It was November of 2004, and Bob was hoarse - just a little hoarse, nothing to worry about, or so we thought. I was up to my ears getting the radio station’s playlist built, adding new music daily, and loving every second. I taught myself how to lay tracks and mix tracks, which meant I had my hands full of something besides poopy diapers for a change. After 20 + years of living, breathing, and eating brain-injury, it was a joy, a pure joy, to immerse myself in music every waking hour. So, my focus was elsewhere, and to tell you the truth, thinking back, I realize there were warning signs, but I chose to ignore them. The thought of anything being wrong with Bob was too much to even contemplate now that we were unshackled. The idea that we could finally afford help for Colin only to have the freedom of that snatched away by something as ugly as cancer wouldn’t even compute in my brain. So . . . I didn’t allow myself to go there. Like an ostrich, I stuck my head in the sand and just kept playing in the music. We went through Christmas, had our annual Christmas party for family and friends, as Bob became more and more hoarse. We spent what would be our last New Year’s together quietly, ringing in 2005 with Dick Clark’s ‘Rockin’ New Year’s Eve’ the way we had throughout our entire marriage, and still, Bob’s hoarseness didn’t go away. The holidays ended, the decorations came down and I continued to ignore the warning signs. They were there; I saw them, but I pretended for my sanity as well as Bob’s that everything was perfectly fine until finally one day in late February, early March I spoke up. “Bob, don’t you think you should go to the doctor to have this hoarseness checked?” 179

He squirmed in his seat a bit as I stared him down, but his answer was direct. “It’s laryngitis, Dreams, nothing to worry about. It’ll go away.” “Darlin’, it hasn’t gone away for months and doesn’t seem to be getting any better. I know you’ve never been a doctor person, but just this once, I think you need to see what’s going on.” One thing about Bob, he was stubborn and hard-headed (okay, two things) to a fault. Until and if he decided he was going to have it checked out, I could just as easily talk to the walls. Never a doctor person, he wasn’t going to change at 70 years old no matter how much I pleaded with him. He’d tune me out and keep on going, which is exactly what he did. Another sign that something was wrong - little by little Bob stopped coming upstairs to the office. In order to be close to Colin and because Colin locked us in there a great deal of the time, we spent the bulk of our time in the office with me working on the websites or production for LBR and Bob playing computer games. At first, I didn’t notice, but as weeks went by and I was in the office alone more and more often, I finally asked what was up. His answer was that he was pretty much burned out on computer games. He’d rather stay downstairs and read. I believed him. He was an avid reader, so I believed him. I wanted so badly to believe him. Any answer other than the one he gave me would turn our world upside down, so I chose to believe. I made that choice knowing that Bob would never tell me if something was wrong, not until he had absolutely no other choice. He wouldn’t want to scare me, he wouldn’t want to worry me, he wouldn’t want to face it himself, and so together we pretended . . . We pretended everything was normal. We pretended nothing out of the ordinary was going on. We pretended. Yes, we pretended until pretending was no longer an option. The kids were calling. The kids were calling and asking questions. As he was prone to do, Bob always handed the phone to me. Not much of a phone talker, Bob usually talked for maybe five minutes and then said, “Here’s Dreams,” and handed the phone off to me. So, I was the one getting the hard questions. Questions I wasn’t sure how to answer. Yes, he seemed to be eating okay. No, he swore 180

it was nothing but laryngitis. Yes, I had encouraged him to go to the doctor, but no, I couldn’t force him to go if he absolutely refused. Yes, I would keep trying, but no, I couldn’t guarantee success. They knew their father, maybe not as well as I did, but they knew his stubbornness and his distaste at being told what to do. One day early in March, Bob asked me if I would drive him to his dentist in Raleigh. This was unusual. I had never actually made the trip with him because obviously by now, you know that one of us always had to be with Colin, so Bob drove to Raleigh alone whenever he needed to see Dr. Don. Of course, now we had help and could make the trip together. Bob had a habit in those last months of going to bed with his clothes on. I didn’t think too much about that because in our years of taking care of Colin, our Colin who never slept, it wasn’t unusual for either of us to fall into bed wearing whatever was on our backs when Colin finally nodded off. So, the night before we were planning our drive to Raleigh, Bob came to bed as usual, and I suppose forgetting for a moment, sat on the edge of his side of the bed and took his shirt off. I glanced over and stifled a scream. His bones were sticking out. To my eye it looked as though each one could tear right through his skin. Weighing in at probably 145 soaking wet during all of the years we’d been together, Bob looked as though he’d in all probability lost 20 pounds, maybe 30. My heart was so tight in my chest I could barely breathe and tears streamed down my face, unheeded. And yet, as hard as it is for me to admit this, I said nothing. Maybe I had imagined it, but if I hadn’t, how had I missed such a weight loss? He wore big baggy shirts, true, and cords that hung on his tiny butt even when he was at his fighting weight, but how could I have been so blind that I hadn’t seen him reduced to skin and bones? I guess the truth is I didn’t want to see it. After years of so much heartache and stress, my mind shut down completely at the thought of this happening. I was blind to it, refused to see what was right in front of my eyes, and, of course, even though Bob had to know, his choice so far had been to ignore it too. A fine pair we were, huh? The next morning, we walked to the car and silently got in to make the trip to Raleigh, Bob in the driver’s seat, me on the passenger side. I could barely look at him without wanting to die. My fear 181

left me mute to expressing my concerns because the answers I might get would surely spin my world right off its axis. We made it about an hour and a half down the road when Bob pulled the car over. As traffic whizzed by us, the cars’ occupants totally unaware that Gilligan was standing at the side of the road, I watched as Bob bent over and vomited what looked to be blood. I tried to convince myself it was the coffee he had had before we left, the colors were similar, but deep inside my gut, I knew it had to be blood. Oh, God, I could feel myself wanting to blackout, but I couldn’t. I had to hang in there. Shuffling to my side of the car, Bob opened the door and asked me if I would drive. Dear God, I wasn’t sure I could, but what choice did I have. I got out. He wouldn’t look at me. I walked around the car, not sure I could remember the way home, assuming correctly there was no way we were going to continue the two and a half hours it would take us to get to Raleigh. Bob sank so low in the seat he looked like a child. We sat there for a moment, both of us trying to gather ourselves. Bob’s head fell back against the seat. He looked defeated. He knew the time had come to be straight with me, but all he said was, “I’m going to have to go to the doctor to find out what’s wrong with me.” Simple words, but huge in Bob Denver’s world. In all the years I had known him, Bob had gone to the doctor one time, only once. My stomach turned over as I fought the urge to throw up. No more pretending . . . I had seen his skeletal body; I had watched as he threw up blood on the side of the road. No longer could I pretend nothing was wrong. The two of us were going to have to face the scariest scenario imaginable to me. Even Colin’s diagnosis hadn’t terrified me as much because Bob and I fought alongside each other through all of the Colin years. We would still fight together, but this time I had a feeling the stakes would be life or death. I pulled the car onto I-81 and at the first opportunity, found a place to turn around and head back into the mountains. I was sure this would be the longest drive of my life, and it was. As I write, I’m trying my best to remember the next hour and a half, but I can’t. No memories whatsoever of anything we talked about, which makes me believe we didn’t talk. I drove - that was all I could manage - and in the end, against all odds, I got us home.


Everything after this point is nothing but a blur. It’s hard to describe how your brain and your body shut down. I think it’s a form of self-defense, a way for your body to protect itself. You remember and you don’t remember if you know what I mean. I remember going to the ear, nose, and throat specialist with Bob. I remember the doctor threading something through Bob’s nostrils down into his throat, then using the word ‘tumor’ in an off-handed way. I remember I couldn’t breathe. I remember being given directions to the MRI place over in Bluefield. I remember I had to drive once again, but I have no memory of the drive itself. I remember watching as Bob was sucked into the MRI machine, looking so small to me, appearing so brave. I remember waiting for the results of the tests - was it days or was it just hours? I think it was hours because I remember the doctor called our house late at night asking us to come to his office the next day. I remember walking into the doctor’s office, having someone bring us lattes . . . or were they cappuccinos . . . or maybe just plain coffee? Whatever it was, it stuck in my throat. We must have looked zombie-like as we waited to hear what our future together held. Much too quickly, we were assaulted with phrase after phrase - ‘the news isn’t good’, ‘radical neck surgery’, ‘complete laryngectomy’, ‘breathing through your neck’, ‘stoma’ - words and phrases that made no sense to me, words that made Bob look as though he had taken a big one to the solar plexus. I remember leaving the office, walking to the car where Bob once again asked me to drive. I remember both of us getting into the car, me on the driver’s side, Bob on the passenger’s side, and just sitting there, unable to move or speak or look at each other. I remember wanting to pound my fists against the windshield until it and I shattered into a million pieces. I remember wanting to crawl into Bob’s lap like a child so he could hold me and assure me everything was going to be alright. I remember thinking he had nothing to give me right now, that I would have to be strong on my own. I remember turning the key in the ignition and then with no memory of the next 20 minutes, we were home.


Chapter 24 Hang on, help is on its way I’ll be there as fast as I can. “Help Is On Its Way” ~ Little River Band Hurricane-force winds have a way of ripping everything apart. In emergencies, we see the best and the worst people have to offer. Anyone who’s gone through a life-altering experience knows the truth of these words. Sometimes the most surprising people rise to the occasion and sometimes the most surprising people don’t. Our family was no different. I called the kids. God knows I didn’t want to be the one to make these calls, but what choice did I have? Bob could barely talk, but even if that hadn’t been the case, he would have wanted me to do it. So, I did it. Their reactions were exactly what one would expect. They cried, their anguish evident in every word they spoke, they questioned, and they were on their way. It was Friday. By Monday, they would all be here for our trip to Winston-Salem. My relief was obvious. Now I would have support, thank God. Now there would be four of us supporting Bob through the darkest time in his life, and selfishly perhaps, there would be three other people who loved us both, supporting me as I tried my best to be strong for the man whose strength I had relied on for close to 30 years. Our little caravan was on its way to Winston-Salem, NC. It was Easter Sunday. Bob and I were riding in a motor home supplied by and driven by a friend of ours, with Bob on the queen-size bed in the back, his nose buried in a book as always. Understanding how Bob could know what was coming and still choose reading above talking to us, possibly saying his good-byes to each of us, made no sense on the surface, but I understood. Reading was Bob’s escape, always had been. More than likely, given his druthers, he would have gone on a binge-to-end-all-binges in order to escape his fear, which I’m 184

convinced was more for me than for himself. I sat near the front of the motor home, watching him. To my eyes, he looked so feeble, so small and very alone, no matter how many of us were involved in this odyssey. How must he feel knowing he’d never talk again? How was his brain wrapping itself around the image of having his throat cut open from ear to ear? I shuddered. There was no way to imagine what he was going through. I moved to the back of the motor home and crawled up onto the bed, sliding over next to him as gently as possible. “Hey Darlin’,” I kissed his cheek, “are you hanging in there?” Knowing what to say in these situations is so difficult. I had run into the same problem when my brother Ron, only 31 years old at the time, had been told by his doctor there was nothing else they could do to help him. I watched the hope fade from his eyes as the tears streamed down his face, and in that moment, I watched Ron give up his 8-year battle against AIDS. Ron lived only one more week after this pronouncement, and during that week, I tried my best to find words of comfort, but there was nothing I could say, no words that would change the outcome, and so there I stood with my mom and my brother Eddie, holding Ron’s hand as he took his last breath and Mom closed his eyes. I felt so much the same in this situation, but I had to be there for this man whose connection to me made his pain my pain. I lay my head on his bony shoulder and felt the warmth of his breath as he kissed my hair. “I’m okay.” I could barely hear him. Taking care not to hurt him, I scooted closer. “I wish I could crawl inside you, Bob.” I wanted to be physically closer. I wanted us to fuse into one. “If I could take all of this away, you know I would. I’d do anything. This feeling of helplessness is crippling.” His fingers touched mine. “You’re helping, Dreams. Just being with me, loving me, not falling apart, being strong, fighting beside me, that’s enough.” Coughs wracked his body as he fought to say what he wanted to say. “It’s okay, Bob, don’t try to talk.” I willed the tears away as I kissed the fingers that held mine. “I love you, Bob Denver.” “And I love you, Dreama Denver.” He kissed my forehead before going back to his world of fiction and the only escape he knew. 185

We were at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and this was Take-Two, our second visit to anesthesia holding. Only days before, the family had geared up to wait the ten long hours Bob’s radical neck surgery would take, only to have the doctors discover an unbelievably serious heart problem, unknown to us before that moment, while we were waiting in anesthesia holding. I’m not sure how many of you know about a heart’s ejection fraction. I’ll be the first to admit I knew next to nothing about it until the term was brought to my attention during Take One in anesthesia holding. As we stood rather somberly waiting for the orderlies to come and take Bob away to the operating room, the quiet of the anesthesia room suddenly became frenzied as doctors and nurses pulled back the curtain around Bob’s bed that afforded us at least the semblance of privacy. They scurried around the room, heads together, whispering frantically amongst themselves, or so it seemed to me. Separating my brain from the malaise I was feeling took some effort as the tempo in the room picked up and I realized something was wrong. What? Oh, God, what now, I thought to myself as I tried to focus on the huge apparatus they were wheeling into the room. Ejection fraction refers to the heart and the fraction of blood that is pumped out of a ventricle with each heartbeat. If you take your hand and ball it into a fist, then quickly open it wide, fingers splayed, that represents the heart muscle beating properly. A normal person’s ejection fraction is around 65 and a nicely conditioned athlete’s ejection fraction might be around 85. Bob’s? Bob’s ejection fraction was 16, which means his heart was barely beating. I was stunned, totally stunned. This must be the reason he had stopped coming upstairs months ago. Climbing the stairs with a barely beating heart must have taken everything he had. How had I not seen this? Because Bob hadn’t wanted me to, that’s how, and because I hadn’t wanted to, I suppose. There are times I feel that I failed Bob miserably by not badgering him about his hoarseness, by not leaning on him to tell me why he wasn’t coming up to the office like he always had, but every time I feel that way, I have to remind myself that I could have badgered him from dawn until dusk and in the end, we’d have ended up right where we were this minute. 186

In order for Bob to survive surgery, the doctors told us, he would have to be placed on heart medications for at least 3 days, hopefully making his heart strong enough to endure the rigors of this radical surgery. So that’s what had happened. And now, days later, we were back in the same place facing the same monster we’d come up against initially, only this time, the original monster had teamed up with a brand spankin’ new monster, both of them determined to make us crawl on our bellies, begging and pleading for mercy. We were begging, we were pleading, but so far, there was no mercy to be found. I stood close to Bob’s bed as they readied him for surgery. He was groggy, yes, but not completely out of it. The final anesthesia would be administered when they arrived in the operating room, so his eyes were still open and he could whisper if he wanted to. I held his hand, my eyes closed momentarily. Of course, I could tell him I loved him, of course I could and would say those words to him before he was wheeled away, but what could I say to make him know he was absolutely everything to me, that nothing in life would matter one whit if we weren’t together? But wait, should I be saying anything that came across the least bit hopeless? I didn’t want him to give up. We had a huge battle to fight. The war had just begun. There was no way I could ever let him think I felt any hopelessness at all, so I opened my eyes, trying to feel the words that would let him know how much I believed, in the deepest recesses of my heart, my heart with a much better ejection fraction than his, how much I believed all the way to my soul that he and I would get through this just the way we had gotten through Colin’s diagnosis and everything that followed. Bob was staring at me. It was as though he was drinking me in, that’s the only way I can describe it. I made an effort to smile and leaned in close to his left ear. “I love you, Bob Denver. You know that, right?” His eyes moved to indicate that I should put my right ear close to his mouth. “I know that, darlin’,” he said in barely a whisper, “I love you, Dreama Denver.” I kissed his lips, a bit parched now, but oh so soft and oh so mine. His beautiful long fingers grazed my left cheek as he held my gaze and spoke the last words I would ever hear him say. “You’re my everything, Dreams. I’ll see you on the other side.” 187

Chapter 25 I memorize every line And I kiss the name that you sign “Love Letters” ~ Ketty Lester After ten long, excruciating hours, one heart attack in the first hour, the removal of most of his esophagus and all of his voice box in the next few hours and the creation of a stoma in the hours after that, Bob’s surgery was over. And he had survived! The good and caring staff at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center had very kindly offered our family a special room to stay in while we waited that long and endless day. The room, called The Hawthorne Room, was beautifully decorated with overstuffed sofas, pillows and blankets; there was a television, a kitchen stocked with water and sodas, private bathrooms, and a telephone room separate from the main room. As much as I appreciated our beautiful surroundings during such an ugly time, the telephone room struck terror in my heart. Every hour on the hour, someone from the surgical team called us to report on what was happening during Bob’s surgery. There was no way I could answer that phone. Every time it rang, my heart stopped and being the one to answer, afraid that at any given hour, they would call to say Bob had died, almost made me sick to my stomach. So, Bob’s son offered to answer. For that, I will always be grateful. At least ten times that day, at the first shrill sound of a phone heralding another call that struck terror in the heart of each of us, he jumped up to take it. Afterward, he came out and quietly gave us whatever news there was, and every single time, he did it calmly and succinctly. The kids took care of me all day, bringing me meals, holding my hand, keeping me together when I thought all the waiting might cause me to shatter into a million pieces. I can’t imagine what I would have 188

done without them. For now, we were all in this together with Bob’s survival our sole focus. The surgery was over and Bob had survived it. As I remember, it was early evening when they took him to the ICU and encouraged us to go back to our hotels to get some rest. I couldn’t leave the hospital. I needed to be close to Bob, but the kids convinced me that going back to the hotel was the smart thing to do, and some part of me knew they were right. There had been very little sleep since his diagnosis a couple of weeks before, and the doctors were telling me I wouldn’t be able to see him that night anyway. He’d be out until morning, they said, and I could come back the instant visiting hours started – 6:00 a.m. as I recall. I remember so little of that night, but I do remember that sometime during the night someone from the hospital called me to tell me that as heavily sedated as he was, Bob had indeed awakened long before they expected him to and he had been asking for me. I shot out of bed like a cannon, throwing on my clothes from the night before, talking to the nurse the entire time, lamenting the fact that I had left the hospital in the first place. He needed me and I wasn’t there. Oh, God, how could I not be there when he so clearly expected me to be? Her reassurance that he was heavily drugged and not really aware fell on deaf ears. He had asked for me, hadn’t he? In whatever state of consciousness he found himself, his first thought had been of me, his first question had been about my whereabouts. I had to get there. Visiting hours be damned. My husband needed me and I had to get to him. I called Emily’s room and without hesitation, she agreed to drive me to the hospital. Arriving at Wake Forest, we took the elevator down to the ICU. When I say it was akin to descending into the pits of hell, I’m not exaggerating one bit. I have a feeling anyone who spent any time in this ICU would have to agree with me. Maybe it’s true of all ICUs, I don’t know, but the hallways leading to the doors of this ICU were like dungeons. The elevator doors opened and I took my first steps into this nightmarish hell hole. This is not meant to reflect badly on the courageous folks who worked this ICU. They have my utmost admiration, for there is no part of me, not even the smallest molecule of Dreama Denver that can begin to understand how anyone works in a 189

place like this. No light, save for stark fluorescent overheads that garishly lit up row after row of bodies, all lying on metal tables, all pale and otherworldly looking due in part to the surroundings, I’m sure; every one of those bodies draped in sheets, every sheet covering the places where tubes and wires entered these bodies in what seemed to be every orifice. No one moved, no one groaned. As I remember, there was no sound at all except for the dissonance of beeps and whirs and hums. Threading our way through the ICU, my mind found it next to impossible to believe I would find Bob at the end of this maze. I mean, we were talking about Bob – full of life Bob, funny Bob, intelligent Bob. Bob who told a story like no one I had ever known, supplying the necessary sound effects to make the story come alive. Bob with his amazing laugh, a laugh that burst from somewhere deep inside of him when something really tickled his funny bone. Bob, whose eyes sparkled, Bob, gentle Bob, whose touch was all it took to make everything right with the world again. Everything inside me shut down as I followed the nurse to the glass partition that separated the main room from the room where I would find Bob. Nothing and no one had prepared me for what I was about to see as I stepped through the doorway that led to the other half of my heart. I sucked in air as my eyes took in the scene before me, finally resting on my husband, lying pale and still amidst the huge apparatus that surrounded his bed. Had I been left to my own devices, had I wandered into this room by myself, I wouldn’t have known him. The man whose every feature was as familiar to me as my own was unrecognizable to me as I slowly approached his bedside. I stood there for minutes, trying to find something that resembled my Bob in the man lying in front of me. He was huge. Never more than 150 pounds in all the years I had known him, Bob now appeared to be at least 50 pounds heavier. Actually, he looked like he had been inflated – his face was large and round, his body was bloated beyond recognition, even his fingers were three times their normal size. I swallowed the moan that gathered in my throat, using every ounce of willpower I possessed to move forward, taking care not to bump into any of the equipment that had become Bob’s lifeline to his earthly existence. Searching Bob’s face, I finally allowed my eyes to move down to 190

the scar on his neck. The surgeon had made the incision in what I knew would be the fold in Bob’s neck once he was back to his normal size, but for now, the cut went from ear to ear in sort of a U shape and was an ugly red, raw and prominent. I tried to imagine making that cut, tried to imagine the nerve it took to open up the neck of a human being, removing his ability to communicate verbally, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t fathom separating myself from the intimacy of it all. Because of the swelling, Bob’s face was as smooth as glass, free of wrinkles, free of crevices, free of laugh lines and frown lines. He was pale. His eyes were closed. My eyes moved down and my heart filled with more love than I ever thought possible as I watched the rise and fall of his chest. He was breathing. He was alive, and in the end, that was all that mattered, wasn’t it? His arms lay on top of the blanket covering him and I stood there immobile, save for my right hand, which felt its way across the blanket, finding his swollen fingers and lacing mine through them gently so as not to disturb him. Bob’s eyes opened immediately. With effort, he turned his head in my direction, his eyes searching my face. I smiled my bravest, most optimistic smile. “Hey Darlin,” my voice was barely a whisper. I pushed his gray hair back from his forehead. “You made it. You’re here with me.” Everything he couldn’t say to me with words, he said to me with his eyes. His love for me was right there, front and center, taking precedence over tubes and wires, stark surroundings and swollen bodies. His eyes held onto mine with an intensity that wouldn’t allow me to look away. I didn’t. I couldn’t. Our laced fingers squeezed tighter. I kept expecting him to say something, but, of course, he couldn’t and wouldn’t, not now, not ever again. Taking great care to form the words properly, Bob’s eyes bore into me as he mouthed the words, Are you okay? How like Bob to be worried about my wellbeing rather than his own. “You’re here, aren’t you?” I touched his swollen face. “As long as you’re still here with me, how could I be anything but okay?” I was rewarded with a smile that touched my heart. Slowly, Bob extricated his hand from mine, leaving me untethered and a bit off-balance. Raising his left hand, leaving the palm open and 191

flat, he pantomimed writing on it with his right hand. “You want to write something?” I asked him. He nodded yes with some effort. I looked desperately to Emily, our youngest daughter (mine by marriage, but the daughter of my heart), who was already rifling through her purse in search of paper and pen. Triumphantly, she produced both and handed them to her dad, who gave her a smile that spoke volumes about his love for her. With slow deliberation, Bob concentrated hard as he wrote. At the end, he held the paper up as far as he could and I took it, curious to read what he had written. Tears spilled over as I read the words he had painstakingly printed for me – I love you. When my eyes looked up from the most significant love letter he had ever written and found his eyes waiting for mine, I saw his mouth form the words, You’re my everything. “And you’re mine.” I answered around the lump in my throat. Crooking his finger, Bob gestured for me to lean in closer. My immediate thought was that he wanted to tell me something, but then I remembered as I would many times over the next six months, that he would never ‘tell’ me anything ever again. He must have noticed the uncertainty on my face because he took the finger he had crooked and placed it on his lips. Ahhhhh, maybe this form of communication would work for us after all. I grinned as I teased him. “So . . . you want a kiss, do you?” His smile was my answer. The fingers he lifted one at a time to indicate he wanted more than one kiss, well, those were my digital sources of joy in that bare, poorly lit room the morning after Bob’s surgery. Stretching my upper body across the bed railing in order for our lips to meet, I reveled in the soft warmth of Bob as he peppered my mouth with one kiss after another. Dawn was breaking as Emily and I pulled into the parking spot on the top of the Wake Forest Medical Center’s parking garage. Already it felt like I had been repeating this routine for a lifetime, but in fact, Bob had been moved to the CCU and had been fighting for his life for ten days. His recovery from the neck surgery was going well, amazingly enough. He was no longer swollen and the scar that ran from one ear to the other was disappearing into the fold of his neck so beautifully it was almost impossible to believe it had been 192

there. But his heart, his beautiful heart, was making it almost impossible to bring him out of the heavy sedation that kept his body regulated and made him unaware. Every time the medical team tried lessening the sedation drip that kept his body on an even keel, Bob’s heart would go haywire. He had come close to death more than once in the last ten days and every time he did, a little piece of me died too. Gathering up my purse and cell phone, I was almost out of the car when my cell rang and I looked down to see Steve Coleman’s number displayed on the caller ID. I’ve not mentioned Steve up until now, so I should explain that Steve was and is one of my closest friends. Bob and I brought him on board right after the launch of Little Buddy Radio as our one and only sales rep, for lack of a better description. It was his job to call on local businesses, encouraging them to become sponsors of Little Buddy Radio and the Denver Foundation’s mission to assist and enrich the lives of families dealing with special needs individuals. Steve was keeping an eye on things back at the ranch while we were in Winston-Salem. Not only was he holding down the fort by staying in contact with Colin’s caregivers, making sure things ran smoothly with our son while we were away, but as it ended up, he made the trip from Princeton to WinstonSalem every Friday to bring me our bills and help me pay them, and he did this for the entire six months we were there. I have no idea what I would have done without Steve’s help. Naively, I expected nothing dire when I answered his call. After all, there was no way things could be worse than they were right now, was there? Oh yes, things could definitely get worse and I was about to find out exactly how. “Dreama, this is Steve.” I heard him say, “Before I tell you why I called you, I want you to know everything is okay.” My breath hitched. “Dreama, look, I’m here with David and we have Colin in the emergency room . . .” Oh, God, I was blacking out. No, no, no, not my baby. Not while Bob was so sick. Not while I couldn’t be with him. Oh, God. “Dreama, are you there?” Steve asked. I mumbled that I was and he went on, “Everything is okay. Try to calm down.” I realized I was moaning into the telephone, making guttural noises full of disbelief and pain. “Colin’s okay. He broke his arm this morning and David 193

called me. We’re waiting in the ER right now.” “Oh, God, Steve, are you sure he’s okay?” Words stuck in my throat as my mind tried to wrap itself around the fact that two of my biggest fears, something being seriously wrong with Bob and Colin breaking something, anything, were happening within days of each other.” “If you want to know the truth, I think he’s in shock. He’s fairly quiet under the circumstances. We’re waiting for the doctor to get here to set his arm.” “Where did he break it? HOW did he break it?” “He was running into his room and tripped over a big toy on the floor. David heard him hit the floor and when he went in to check him, he realized his arm was hanging at a funny angle. He broke it at the top between his elbow and his shoulder.” As I write this, my eyes are full of tears remembering how my heart broke, knowing my son was hurt and I couldn’t be there for him. Even now, I remember visualizing Colin standing up with his arm hanging at a weird angle. I remember aching at the thought that even if he couldn’t verbalize it, he must have wanted his mom. The pain is still there all these years later. On the verge of hysterics, not knowing what to do or how to transport myself to West Virginia from a parking garage in WinstonSalem in the blink of a ‘Jeannie’ eye, I felt my heart rip in two. How could I leave Bob? But how could I not be there for our son? I spent the rest of the day in the CCU with Bob, but I barely remember anything that happened that day. The fog that enveloped me was so complete I hardly knew where I was. All I could think of was Colin with a bone snapped in his upper arm, his arm hanging at a weird angle. My baby was hurt and I wasn’t with him; my husband was dying and even though I was with him, there was nothing I could do to help him. Conflicting emotions raged through me, threatening to strangle the life out of me. To this day, my breath quickens, my heart pounds, and nausea takes up residence every time I think about it.


Chapter 26 Please help me mend my broken heart And let me live again. “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” ~ The Bee Gees Emily and I rounded the bend and there it was - Home. Our green and cedar house, tucked away at the top of this West Virginia hill, blending into the mountain behind it just the way Bob had imagined when we chose the color. Would he ever see this place again? I prayed he would. Even though everything looked normal from the outside, I knew full well that what I found on the inside would crush another little piece of my heart, but I had no choice other than to walk in that front door with as brave a face as I could muster and get on with it – the story of my life for the last twenty years, which meant I had plenty of practice and knew exactly how to do it. Feeling ancient far beyond my years, I dragged my leaden body out of the car and walked toward the front door. Opening the door, I was greeted by ‘home,’ our house, so familiar and yet so foreign. I breathed in the smell of home, feasted my eyes on the visual of home, walked through the door touching surfaces that felt soft and welcoming after the sterility of the ICU and the CCU. I wanted to make a run for it. Couldn’t I wrap myself in the cocoon of our bedroom, crawl under the covers and hide myself away from the world, resurfacing only when all of this was over, when both my guys were healthy and whole again, not broken and battered? I was tired of being strong. For 20 years, I had sucked it up and been strong 98% of the time. I wanted to scream my frustration. Kicking in a wall or two might have felt nice. Anything to relieve the pressure that was building up inside me, but I didn’t have that luxury. Nope, I had to climb the flight of stairs in front of me. I had to walk across the lounge to Colin’s room and see this man-child that I loved more than life hurt for the very first time. 195

Peripherally, I saw David standing there as I walked toward Colin’s room. I don’t think I talked to him. I remember I felt I couldn’t at that moment. I opened Colin’s door, and there he sat, looking a little dopey from the pain medication. His eyes lit up the minute he saw me and a grin spread across his sweet little face. “Hey, CO.” I ran my fingers through his hair. “Are you okay?” He answered with an ‘umma’, his version of yes. “Mommy’s here, sweetie. I’m so sorry I wasn’t with you when you got hurt. Was it awful?” His umma made my eyes fill with tears, but I couldn’t break down and cry. I couldn’t fall apart and scare him. Colin had always been totally in tune with my moods. “It’s going to be okay, baby. Your arm will get better and you’ll be as good as new. It might take a while, but David and Shawn will be with you and you’ll be fine. I’m only here for one night, then I have to leave to be with Dad. He’s very sick and needs me, but I’ll call every day to check on you, okay?” A dopey smile was his answer. I turned my head away from him as I fought to control the tears. When I did, I saw David standing in the doorway, his eyes sparkling with his own unshed tears. Pushing myself up from Colin’s mattress on the floor, I walked over to David and wrapped him in a hug. “I don’t blame you, David. I know how much you care about Colin. Something like this could so easily have happened while Bob and I were in charge. It’s a miracle it didn’t with all the fits and all the craziness. Please don’t feel bad.” David hugged me tight, and I thought I detected some relief in that hug. However, no matter what I said, I was sure nothing would alleviate the guilt he felt. The times Colin had gotten a bruise or even a scratch during one of his numerous fits or a grand mal seizure throughout the years, my guilt had been huge, suffocating, but I knew no matter how diligently you tried to protect another person in this situation, accidents happened. After talking to David about the whys and hows of CO’s broken arm, after hearing David’s reaction to the sight of his arm hanging oddly from the point of the break, I had to stop talking and thinking about it, so I settled myself on the mattress beside my son and lay there with him until he went to sleep. I stayed right there all night holding him, startling with each and every sound or movement he 196

made, getting my fill of him before I had to leave him once again. I wasn’t sure how I could survive the conflict inside myself, but I had no choice but to try. Bob had always teased that I was made of hearty pioneer stock, that I was the strongest woman he had ever known, that I could do anything I set my mind to do. Maybe so, but I sure wished I wasn’t given so many opportunities to prove him right. I was back in the CCU early the next morning and the minute I arrived, the memory of the emergency trip back to West Virginia began to fade. I was finding that I could only take so much. I had to focus on the task at hand, and right now, fighting alongside Bob for his life and our life together was first and foremost. Colin needed both of us, so I had to know in my heart he was in good hands, his arm would heal, and hopefully, when I saw him again, it would be a triumphant return with his dad. I was aware when that happened, the three of us would be adjusting to our new normal, whatever that ended up being. We had been a tight unit for 20 years and I was sure if any three people could make that adjustment, it would be us. I would do anything in my power to take care of both of them if Bob could survive this and go home. At this point, I honestly believed that was possible. I did. I could visualize it. I knew we had David and Shawn to pitch in for Colin, which would leave me free to care for Bob. In no way had the enormity of what we faced hit me. I was living in a world where Bob might not be able to talk, but where he’d be physically whole again. To make myself believe the unbelievable, I dreamed of the love notes we’d share. I fantasized about how we’d communicate without words. The connection between us was so strong I had no doubt we’d be able to overcome all obstacles. We didn’t need words; we only needed each other. I think my fantasies would have been realized if losing his voice box had been the only obstacle we faced, but in the end, that wasn’t all we were up against. His heart – that beautiful, loving, generous heart, the one that was barely beating, was working against us. Bob’s huge heart, the one so full of love for me, would be our undoing. But I didn’t know that then, so I chose to live in my dream world full of love notes and meaningful glances; a world where Colin would still 197

have both his mom and his dad; a world where I wouldn’t be left alone to make decisions on Colin’s behalf by myself; a world where the man I loved would be there beside me, loving me, believing in me, supporting me even if he had to do it in silence. I loved that world and didn’t plan to give it up without a fight. If I had had the presence of mind to write this book right after Bob died, details would have been so much clearer. There was a time when I had total recall about every medication he was on, every single event that led to his death, but you have to let go to heal somewhere along the way. You have to stop the second-guessing about the choices you made. You have to know in your heart you made every choice out of love, that you did the best you knew how at the moment with the information available to you. And of course, even as his body shut down, Bob’s brain stayed sharp. He was part of this medical journey almost to the very end, which meant he was able to weigh in with a clear mind when his cardiologist Dr. Sane (an ironic name given the insane situation we found ourselves in) came into the room to inform us that a quadruple by-pass was being advised, one month to the day after Bob had gone through radical neck surgery. As I mentioned before, regardless of how horrifying it looked, Bob’s recovery from the neck surgery was going well. In a short amount of time, he was able to use a walker and walk the length of the CCU without too much trouble, and his strength was pretty amazing for a man who was nothing but skin and bones. Only a few weeks before, I would never have dreamed it possible he would be up and walking around this way. Not long after I returned from our emergency trip to WV, Bob’s prognosis had been dire. He was kept heavily sedated because of his heart. Every time they tried to lessen the sedation drip he was on, his heart would go haywire, making it almost impossible to bring him back to consciousness and therefore allow him to be part of his recovery. But even amid the complete wretchedness, there were funny moments, usually supplied by one of the kids, but very, very often supplied by Bob himself, who never once lost his sense of humor. To this day, it amazes me to think about how funny he was . . . and funny without the benefit of a voice or words. Bottom line, Bob was a man who loved humor and understood


its power. That fact saved the sanity of each of us at one time or another. Not long after his voice box was removed, Bob was given a Servox, a handheld device that with much therapy allowed a person to have a voice, a mechanical voice to be sure, but a voice nonetheless. If you’ve never seen one, it’s about six inches long with a wandish apparatus on the end. The wand part is placed on the side of the tongue and with practice, the patient is supposed to learn how to move his mouth in order to create sounds that sooner or later resemble words, giving the patient a ‘voice.’ We all tried it and, trust me, making discernible sounds even with your voice box intact was a challenge. Without a voice box, with no ability to make even one sound, it was impossible to believe the Servox would ever work, but Bob was willing to give it his best shot. Not long after receiving the Servox, Bob had to be taken down for tests. They encouraged me to wait in his room and at this point, I was willing to do just that. For what seemed like hours, I waited, watching the second hand of my watch creep by . . . 30 minutes . . . an hour . . . an hour and a half . . . Finally, his arrival back to his room was heralded by a very mechanical sounding and distant ‘Beep, Beep.’ As they rolled the gurney through the CCU, I could hear nurses and orderlies laughing as Bob’s ‘beep beeps,’ the one clear sound he had learned to make thus far, cleared a path from the entry of the CCU to the other end where his room was located. When the gurney appeared in the doorway to his room, his eyes found me, and a huge smile spread across his face. “There you are . . . finally.” I smiled right back at him. “Heck, I would have known that voice anywhere.” Making Bob laugh had always been one of my greatest joys, but probably never more than making him laugh at this particular moment. However, this time was different. This time when Bob threw his head back and opened his mouth, his shoulders shaking with laughter, there was no sound. Visually, all the pieces were there, but the sound of silence was deafening.


Chapter 27 Worlds are turning and we’re just hanging on Facing our fears and standing out there alone “Higher Love” ~ Steve Winwood The next few months became an exercise in monotony, broken up only by one emergency after another. I arrived at the hospital every morning at 8:00. Bob would have had me sitting in a chair right beside his bed, showering in the bathroom where he could hear me, and eating every meal in his room where he could see me. If it had been Bob’s choice, I would never have left his side because, quite honestly, I was his lifeline. He had no voice, no ability to call for help or verbally tell anyone what was wrong when he felt pain or needed something. More than anything, I wanted to be there for him every second, but I couldn’t. I was running on fumes as it was. I often didn’t leave until 10:00 p.m. Bob didn’t want me to leave until his sleeping pills kicked in, so I stayed with him until he went to sleep. When I knew he was out for the night, I made the short drive to the hotel, staggered bleary-eyed to my room, made a phone call most nights to check on Colin and then took my own sleeping pill and fell onto the bed in exhaustion. When my alarm went off every morning at 6:30, I lay there for a few minutes, overcome by thoughts and visuals of the past, rapidly replaced by thoughts and visuals of the present. When those thoughts threatened to break me, I dragged myself out of bed and to the shower where the hot water washed away the aches that stiffened my body, but did nothing for the aches that froze my soul. Leaving the room, I made my way to the dining room where I grabbed a banana to eat as I made the quick trip to the medical center. The grayness began the minute I pulled into the parking garage and didn’t lessen until I left the premises late at night when the gray turned to black. I longed for color – the gold of the sun, the green of the trees, the blue of the sky, 200

but most days, I only got glimpses of these hues through the hospital window. A few weeks earlier, Bob’s heart had been in the hands of a highly-skilled heart surgeon, but his recovery from the quadruple bypass wasn’t going well. Initially, things looked like they might be on an upswing – Bob seemed alert as he laughed his soundless laugh and even joked with us in the ICU - but that didn’t last, not even for a full day. After the torture of waiting to see if he would even survive the heart surgery, there was more torture in store for us as we were told he would have to be opened up yet again late that same night. Even though he survived both heart surgeries, Bob was never quite the same after the second one. His body was used up, and I think mentally and emotionally, he was spent. So was I as I pondered the advice I was receiving from everyone involved in his care. I should take him home for a while, they were telling me. The worry was that he would get a hospital induced infection, so common in long-term patients. If his numerous other ailments didn’t kill him first, the doctors were afraid an infection might, so the advice I had been given was to take him home for a few weeks before his radiation treatments began. Radiation – yes, we still had to go through six weeks of radiation and I had no idea how Bob would ever survive it. As I said, no good choices, not in all the time he was hospitalized, not once. To anyone who witnessed our devotion to each other during Bob’s six-month hospital stay, Bob and I made some history at Wake Forest. I can’t count the times I was told by doctors, nurses, orderlies, technicians, lab workers, cafeteria workers, hospital administrators, and everyone in between how they could feel the love between the two of us. How much they admired my commitment to him, how they knew he would never give up his fight as long as more time with me was his reward. They were all right. For one more second together, Bob and I would have gone to hell and back. Home, we were almost home! I had finally been convinced by Bob’s doctors that I needed to get him away from the hospital for a few weeks before radiation began. No matter that he was on oxygen and a respirator, no matter that he had to use a walker and had trouble walking even with that, 201

no matter that I wouldn’t have a professional staff to help care for him. I would hire nurses to be with us from 7:00 in the morning until 6:00 at night. I would get him out of bed and force him to walk on his walker even if it was just down the hall and back. I would deal with the sound of a respirator in our bedroom even as it shattered the silence. I would sleep right beside him every night, even if it meant no sleep at all when his respirator popped out, setting off alarms that were loud enough to wake the dead. I would even suction his stoma if I had to as long as that meant we could be home together, in our bed together, with Colin upstairs breathing the same air. As long as we were home, I could do anything. Home would be our Shangri-La; home would be our salvation; home would be our panacea. If we were home together with Colin, life would be livable again. Little did I know . . . I suppose it’s true on some level that ignorance is bliss because in this case, my education on the matter came close to doing me in. Home was anything but Shangri-La. Home was hard. Home was painful. Home wasn’t home at all. Home was hell. We arrived late, much later than we anticipated, due to the late arrival of friends who had volunteered to come to Winston-Salem to bring us home. Because of that, the entire schedule with the company supplying the respirator was thrown off. The scheduling conflict meant they weren’t able to get to our house until 10:30 at night, and after everyone else was gone, there I was bleary-eyed to the point of exhaustion, listening to the kind man explain how to work the respirator, how to regulate the oxygen flow on the oxygen tank and how to make it mobile when Bob got out of bed, so much information that my brain could barely handle in its weary state. I’ll confess I was tired and just a bit testy with him, but he seemed to overlook it as he went on endlessly with his instructions. FINALLY, he was gone, and Bob and I were left alone except for Colin and either David or Shawn upstairs. The minute we were left alone in our bedroom, I was struck with an overpowering terror. If we had an emergency, what would I do? The respirator was so loud I couldn’t hear myself think. I shook my head, trying to clear it. No other sound could penetrate the sound of the respirator. If I felt this terror, what must Bob be feeling, knowing 202

the only thing between him and death might be a wife whose auditory overload was so complete she couldn’t think straight. What if he needed to go to the bathroom? No way would I ever get him out of bed and onto the bathroom chair. Yes, David or Shawn could help with that, but how would Bob feel about something so personal being on display outside the hospital room? Bob had a way of sliding down in the bed when he was in a sitting position and as tiny as he was after his illness, I was still tinier and not strong enough to put my hands under his armpits to scoot him back up. Nurses were scheduled to begin first thing the next morning and I was sure they could handle it, but until then? Until then, I had David and Shawn who’d be willing to help, I reminded myself in relief. Maybe this could work. After all, Bob had been given his sleeping pills, which would keep him out for 4 hours. I would get at least that much sleep before he needed another dose, so I climbed into the bed, telling myself to settle down and take advantage of this respite. Trouble was I couldn’t. The respirator, with its constant whooshing sound, wouldn’t allow it. In Winston-Salem, I went home every night to a quiet hotel room where I was able to take a sleeping pill and drift off to the blessed sounds of silence. Now I was afraid to take any kind of sleep aid because Bob might need me during the night. I lay there counting sheep, doing multiplication tables, reciting every lyric I’d ever learned trying to bore myself to sleep. Nothing worked. Every time Bob moved, I startled. Every gurgling sound made me sit straight up in the bed, worried that he needed to be suctioned. If he groaned, my heart stopped. If he coughed, I held my breath until the coughing subsided. In this case, there was no rest for the weary, and I was as weary as I had ever been in my life. Hours later, I finally dozed off just a little and just in time to feel a hand pounding the pillow beside my head. What the . . .? I think I said as much as I bolted to a sitting position and looked at Bob to the left of me. He pantomimed needing meds. His eyes wide as if he were frightened, he looked at me beseechingly. Bone weary, I tumbled out of bed, got the meds, and helped him take them. This scenario would be repeated every night for the three weeks we were home. Somewhere along the way, I lost it and yelled at him for pounding the pillow, trying to explain that all he had to do was poke me and I’d be 203

awake instantly and at his service. The guilt I felt for yelling at him was almost unbearable, but he seemed to take it in stride, seemed to understand that I was running on empty. Colin had been sound asleep by the time we arrived the night before, and though I had gone upstairs to see with my own eyes that he was recovering from his broken arm, Bob had yet to see him. I lay in bed that first morning listening to the screaming fit he was throwing as David ran his bathwater and prepared him for his poop bath, marveling at the fact that the only sound on earth that could possibly penetrate the incessant whooshing of the respirator was the sound of Colin’s hysteria. Welcome home, Mom, I thought to myself. Some things never change. If only Colin had a clue about what we were going through, surely, he’d make allowances and behave himself, wouldn’t he? Maybe, but the fact was Colin lived in a world far removed from ours. He had no idea about cancer, radiation, respirators, barely beating hearts, stomas, and laryngectomies. He only knew that he hated bath time, having his hair washed, and getting his butt cleaned before breakfast. He had no idea how many times his dad had been at death’s door in the last three months; he had no idea that the man who had been a staple in his life for all these years might soon not be part of his life at all. He had no idea. Not long before his diagnosis, maybe a year before, Bob had looked at me one day and said in all seriousness, “Dreams, if one of us died tomorrow, Colin wouldn’t even notice.” I can’t remember the gist of that particular conversation or how it led to Colin and the subject of one of us dying, but I do remember my vehement and long protestation. “Bob, how can you say that? We’ve been all he’s known for the last 20 years. We’ve been part of every second of his life. He loves us, he needs us, he counts on us. Of course, he’d notice if one of us wasn’t there. He’d miss us. He couldn’t get through a day without us.” Then trying for levity, I joked, “You know he’d notice if he didn’t have anyone to give him a new video or change his computer game. You know that.” Looking at me with eyes full of sadness, Bob went on, “Darlin’, I’m not trying to be cruel. I’m not trying to hurt you. I’m just telling it like it is. Colin would be just as happy or unhappy no matter who was taking care of him. As long as he had someone to do those things 204

you mentioned, he wouldn’t care.” I couldn’t give in. I had to believe it would matter – not only matter, but matter a lot. “If what you’re saying is true, Bob, then everything we’ve done has been for nothing. Every moment we’ve spent means nothing. Every sacrifice we’ve made, every tear we’ve shed, every seizure we’ve witnessed, every moment of all these years with Colin means nothing. I can’t believe that. I won’t believe that. He loves us. He’d care. He’d notice. He would!” “Dreams, we did all of that because we loved him. We feel the love. We know why we sacrificed. Because of us, Colin feels safe and loved. All the time we devoted to him wasn’t for nothing, not when it gave him a sense of self. But I still believe in my heart that Colin would be fine without us, and that’s not necessarily such a bad thing. Think about it.” Oh, I thought about it and what I can understand now made no sense at all to me at the time. At the time, it felt like the most depressing thing Bob had ever said to me, but now I wonder. I wonder if Bob had an inkling of what was coming. I wonder if his hope was that Colin wouldn’t notice the absence of one or both of the people who placed his needs above any and everything else should they be whisked out of his life suddenly. I wonder if thinking Colin wouldn’t notice made it easier for Bob. Worrying about my ability to handle his illness might have been all he could handle himself. Thinking Colin wouldn’t care might have been Bob’s way of protecting his own emotions because like it or not, the three of us were inextricably tied together. Distance, whether geographical or spiritual, would never disentangle the ties that bound us.


Chapter 28 Whenever you call me, I’ll be there Whenever you need me, I’ll be there I’ll be around. “I’ll Be Around” ~ The Spinners After Bob died, David and Shawn told me how day after day Colin had walked from room to room looking for us when we first left for North Carolina, how he had cried when he couldn’t find us, how they tried to explain and how he didn’t understand. I’m glad I didn’t know that then because the thought of him missing us would have been my undoing. At the time, it was better to believe he was oblivious to the dramatic changes in his life. And now he was going to see his dad for the first time in three months and he was going to see him with his arm in a sling, something I had yet to share with Bob. Recognizing the sounds of an almost finished bath, I knew I needed to tell Bob about Colin’s broken arm before Colin came walking through the door. So, I told him and his eyes widened and the look on his face was one of the saddest I’d ever seen from Bob, but I watched as he accepted it as a fact and let it go. Curling up as close to him as I could while assuring him that CO was okay, we waited for David and Colin to make their appearance. I saw our son pause outside the bedroom door as if he was hesitant to look inside only to be disappointed at finding it empty once again. Then he saw me and a grin spread across his face. When he walked through the door and saw his dad, the Colin-speak began – the umma, ubba, ummas went on endlessly, turning into a long paragraph full of inflection and excitement. The words may not have been there, but the feelings behind everything he was trying to say sure were. Watching my two men, neither of whom could talk to me any longer, elicited such a happy/sad reaction from me I wasn’t sure exactly how I felt. For the first time, it hit me that I would be the only verbal member of our little family from this day forward. Having no clue that anything was amiss, in spite of the ventilator 206

and all the other medical paraphernalia that filled our bedroom, Colin made a beeline for his dad, ‘talking’ nonstop as he covered the distance between them. My joy turned to sadness, however, when I saw what happened next. Colin came right up to Bob’s side of the bed and leaned in like he normally would to give his dad ‘a shot of blue’. Not known for his physical prowess, Colin was awkward and jerky in his movements, something that had never been an issue before, but was definitely an issue now as I watched Bob drawback with a ‘be careful, Colin, don’t hurt me’ expression on his face. David intervened, pulling Colin away from his close proximity to his dad. I tried to cover the discomfort with inane conversation, but Colin wasn’t interested in any of that – he wanted to hear his dad. There were certain sounds he made that guaranteed certain responses from us and he was determined to hear those responses from Bob. With a lack of patience so typical of CO, he strained against David trying his best to get Bob’s undivided attention. His voice became louder in his mission to get his answer from his dad. Bob was trying his best to smile through his fear as his mouth moved in his soundless answer. Frustrated, Colin strained harder, talked louder and before we knew it, a full-blown fit ensued, forcing David to take Colin from the room. Looking at me with ‘I’m so sorry, Dreams’ written all over his face, Bob shrank into the pillows behind him, beaten and sad. I hadn’t thought about the complications Bob’s illness would cause in his relationship to the son he loved so much. Anytime Colin got near him, I knew now that Bob would worry about what might find its way into the hole in his throat. He’d worry about Colin’s awkwardness, his inability to take no for an answer. He’d even worry about our animals, I realized, most specifically his favorite cat jumped up on the bed, causing Bob to draw back in fear. Yes, cat dander might find its way into his stoma. Like it or not, I was discovering all the elements that would come together to create what was going to be our new ‘normal.’ Life would never be the same in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Over the next three weeks, five private nurses rotated in and out of our home and our lives – beautiful women, real Florence Nightingales whose very presence gave me a calm that escaped me when they were absent. One might think their presence would save a wife from, for lack of a better word, the grunt work, but one would be 207

wrong. Bob wanted me with him at all times. If I left the room to go upstairs to hang out with Colin or to work on the website or to get away from the sound of the respirator and the crushing feeling of gloom that enveloped me every minute of the day, it wasn’t long before the nurse was at the bottom of the stairs, calling my name, explaining apologetically that Bob had mouthed, Where is my wife I want my wife, over and over. Feeling burdened and at the same time feeling guilty for feeling burdened, I would head back to our bedroom where he could see me and feel a sense of peace that I was right there. Happily, the nurses were there for much of the grunt work. They were there to give Bob his bath; they were there to sit at the desk in our room while I crawled back into bed with Bob almost as soon as they arrived, hoping for the sleep that eluded me nightly. It’s amazing how easy it was to acclimate to sleeping with someone 10 feet away from you, someone you had never laid eyes on, not caring if you snored, not caring what you did as long as you managed to score some precious Zs while she was there to keep an ever-watchful eye on the patient. Having these ladies help me get Bob out of bed regularly, dispense the meds, clean him up, suction him if need be was a Godsend, but what is it that Murphy’s law dictates? “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” Yes, and it did regularly. Nurses were present in our home from six in the morning until seven at night. I was writing checks to them round the clock it seemed to me, but even so, the minute they left the premises, all hell broke loose. I remember more than one occasion when Bob was constipated, impacted from the combination of meds, and given yet another medication to try to relieve the problem. I remember sitting with the nurses, making conversation for hours on end while we waited for the new med to do its thing, work its magic. I even remember nurses staying a little past quitting time, hoping against hope for Bob to find relief with them rather than with me. But as luck (or the lack of) would have it, it never seemed to work out the way they planned. Whether they left here at 7:05, 7:10 or 7:30, the meds hung in there, waiting patiently for their cars to disappear around the bend. Like little snipers, they kept themselves hidden away until there was absolutely no chance I could charge down the driveway pleading for help. When it was a certainty that I’d have no reinforcements whatsoever, 208

no one to back me up and take them on, that’s when they struck. I’d find my husband wanting to get out of bed to use the bathroom chair or worse, in a situation where that was no longer necessary, and together, he and I would work as a team the way we always had. I wish I could say I cleaned him up with a Florence Nightingale smile while I made clever conversation to distract us both, but I would be lying if I said that. In truth, most times, I cried. Tears streaming down my face, I’d go through the motions and in the end, get it done with love in my heart, but I wish I had been able to keep my frustration to a minimum for Bob’s sake. He never held it against me, not even a little. Pragmatic man that he was, he always seemed to understand my dilemma, never making me feel guilty, always letting me know through his facial expressions how much he wished he could spare me this. When the work was done and my tears dried up, I always kissed him, held him as best I could and told him that regardless of my reactions and how it might look, being there for him was an honor, and it was. No matter how difficult it was in the moment, loving Bob through the end of his life was something I’ll never regret. When I recited the words “in sickness and in health,” I meant just that. Interestingly enough, I found out you don’t have to be a trained nurse to play one in real life. I watched countless times as nurses at Wake Forest suctioned Bob’s stoma and every time I did, it was with horrified fascination that they could stick a tube down a hole in a man’s throat far enough to make him gag, turn red in the face and finally choke until he loosened all the phlegm that had collected there. Watching this was like watching a wreck – you didn’t want to see it, but somehow you couldn’t drag your eyes away. Never in my wildest imagination did I ever dream I could do such a thing. But once again, we have no idea what we’re capable of until we are put to the test. It was one of those Murphy’s Law situations again. The nurse on duty had gone home and Bob and I were alone in the bedroom. Sitting in the bed beside him, thumbing through a magazine, trying to pretend the respirator was the whooshing sound of ocean waves lapping the shoreline, I was lost in my own little world when suddenly Bob’s hand reached out for me. One look at his face and I knew he 209

was having trouble breathing through the phlegm in his throat and I knew what that meant. “Honey, I can’t,” I told him. No way could I unwrap that long thin tube and stick it in the hole in his throat, watching as it disappeared inside of him inch by terrifying inch. No way could I jiggle it around, push it down his throat so far it made his face turn red and forced him to gag. No way could I perform the necessary machinations to pull the mucus up into the tube and dispose of it. When you’re no longer breathing through your mouth and nose, you can no longer get rid of mucus by blowing your nose or coughing it up and spitting it out. Someone has to do it for you, and I was sure beyond a shadow of a doubt I wasn’t that someone. The very fact that I loved him so much meant I could never hurt him that way because I knew, whether or not he could tell me, I knew it had to be painful or, at the very least, petrifying. Bob looked at me with huge eyes and nodded, yes, you can. Oh, God! “Bob, I’ll hurt you. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m not a nurse. I’ve never wanted to be a nurse. Maybe I can call Barbara (one of the nurses) and get her to run up here. I don’t think she lives that far away.” Looking around the room, I spotted my cell phone and moved to get out of bed. Bob’s hand grabbed me and held on with a steel grip. You can do this, he mouthed to me. “No, no, I can’t, Bob. I know you think I can do anything, but you’re wrong. I can’t stick that thing down your throat. I can’t do it, Bob, please don’t ask me to.” Then a light bulb moment. “Let me get David. Maybe David can do it. He’s a caregiver. Maybe he’s done this before.” Short sporadic breaths made my sentences choppy. “Please, Bob, I’ll get David.” His red face stopped me. His coughing stopped me. The sound of mucus rattling around in his chest stopped me. The look on his face as he mouthed, You. I want you. You have to do this, Dreams, stopped me. I had to do this. I had no choice. Making my way around the bed, I stopped at the hand sanitizer on the bedroom wall before picking up the suction catheter and unwrapping it. Pointing it at the hole in his throat, I gingerly began to 210

lower the catheter in until 5 inches of it disappeared into Bob’s stoma. He gagged. My heart pounded. Placing my thumb on the suction port, I locked eyes with Bob, never letting my eyes leave his for a second. Rolling the catheter between my thumb and forefinger as I pulled back, I held my breath. Bob’s eyes encouraged me as I worked to get the mucus up. He even tried to smile through this torture to let me know I was doing just fine precisely like he knew I would. Finally, his face returned to its normal color and the rattling stopped. Bob’s eyes focused on mine once again and I knew I had succeeded in doing what I never thought I could do. For the last 20 years of my life, I had been proving to myself that I could do what I thought I couldn’t, so why was it so hard for me to admit my strength? Bob knew my strength long before I did and it was getting to the point that I could no longer deny it. I was a damned strong woman when I needed to be – the men in my life were making sure I knew it and embraced it.


Chapter 29 Somebody shake me, wake me when it’s over Somebody tell me that I’m dreaming And wake me when it’s over. “Shake Me, Wake Me” ~ The Four Tops Strength: the state or quality of being physically or mentally strong. Add emotionally strong to that definition and we’ve got something. I’m not sure where the strength was coming from, but somehow after 20 years of digging down deep to find the strength to deal with Colin, Bob and I were digging even deeper to find the strength to face this enemy called cancer. We were back in Winston-Salem, which was something of a relief to me, and Bob too, I’m sure, after the trials and tribulations of being home alone. Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center Part Two was completely different from Part One of our medical odyssey. During the first go-round, Bob had been ensconced in the Cardiac Care Unit most of the time with professional nurses who not only knew and loved him, but were properly trained to care for him. They had emergency equipment at the ready and, most importantly, with the sense of peace that comes from feeling safe and protected in your surroundings. Now, he was considered an outpatient, which didn’t make any sense on any level. How could a man who was on a respirator . . . on oxygen . . . who had a hole in his throat the size of a silver dollar . . . who could no longer breathe through his mouth and nose . . . who had undergone a quadruple by-pass and radical neck surgery only months before . . . who needed a wheelchair . . . who was unable to get out of bed unassisted, much less walk any distance . . . who was terrified at the thought of solid foods making the trip from his mouth to his stomach by way of his rebuilt esophagus . . . 212

who no longer had a voice to communicate his needs or fears . . . who was getting ready in his weakened condition to undergo 6 weeks of radiation for the cancer they suspected had returned to his throat . . . how could this man, this gentle, kind, excellent patient of a man be considered by anyone’s standards an outpatient?? HOW was this possible? Just as puzzling - how could his family, none of whom were medical professionals . . . who had no emergency medical equipment of any kind available to them . . . who were staying on the 7th floor of the hospital-run hotel without benefit of a proper hospital bed or any of the other accouterments necessary to the care of a seriously ill patient . . . who were emotionally shattered, physically drained and mentally spent . . . how could they be expected to provide the appropriate care for a patient in that condition? One thing I’ll say for our little family – we never lost our sense of humor. No matter how dire the situation, our humor prevailed, more than likely saving what little sanity we had left. Wake Forest Take Two found us staying on the 7th floor of a hospital-run hotel called The Hawthorne Inn, with an elevator barely big enough to accommodate Bob’s wheelchair. As we crowded into the elevator, maneuvering Bob’s chair around to have him facing front when we reached our 7th floor destination, we bumped and banged him into every square inch of the tiny box. No matter how hard we tried to avoid these collisions, they happened each and every time, week in and week out. Looking at us with amusement, Bob seemed to enjoy our predicament as we stepped on each other’s toes while pressing our backs against the elevator walls, trying to make ourselves as small as possible while we rotated him. He would mime being dizzy; he would feign frustration; he would break into applause when we bumped him particularly hard against the elevator’s back, front, or side. Then he would soundlessly scold us, his lips moving a mile a minute, before breaking into the silent laugh that I had learned to love because it meant my Bob was still inside that broken-down body. Is it any wonder we loved him? This man, who had made the world laugh since he was 24 years old, was doing whatever he could to keep the family he loved and relied on laughing on the outside regardless of what they were feeling on the inside. He knew in his heart of hearts that 213

against all odds, we were doing the best we could to forge ahead despite the terror and dread that filled our every waking moment. He delighted in us; there was no doubt of that, and the looks of love and appreciation he sent our way during the most difficult parts of the caregiving process made us want to work harder, do better, appear stronger, love deeper, whatever it took to have that look directed at us one more time. Arriving at the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Wake Forest, I found myself hoping against hope their comprehensiveness was as complete as the name of the building suggested. We were fighting this enemy in a weakened condition, depleted of most of our resources – that’s what I comprehended. Beyond that, it was getting harder to comprehend much of anything except the fear I felt in the pit of my stomach the instant my eyes opened every morning. Living life with that knot in my stomach and my heart somewhere in the vicinity of my throat was becoming the norm for me. I guess when you got right down to it, this feeling had been the norm for most of the last 20 years, from the minute I knew something was wrong with Colin and it was a feeling I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Grateful for the staff that gathered to assist us in getting Bob out of the car, I sent up a little prayer that having help with Bob might be a good omen. Sound silly? Trust me; it wasn’t. At this point, grasping at straws, turning any little thing into something positive made all the sense in the world to me. I could turn the most mundane part of my day into a positive omen. I was becoming an expert at it. Once inside, I studied the surroundings that would become home to us during the next six weeks – anything to keep my mind off the actual reason we were there. More modern and inviting than any other public part of the hospital we had been in, and we had covered every inch of the facility by this time, the Comprehensive Cancer Center had a large waiting room that boasted high ceilings and a wall of windows at one end, as well as groupings of roomier-than-normal chairs placed around large coffee tables loaded with magazines. Unlike other areas in the hospital, this area was colorful and at least on the surface, inviting. However, I wished we had never received and been forced to RSVP to this particular invitation.


They came for Bob. We watched as he was transferred from his wheelchair onto a gurney. Once he was situated, I leaned in close. “Darlin’, it’s going to be okay,” I said it, but I wasn’t feeling it, and Bob’s eyes told me he knew it. “If you need me, if you want me, I’ll be right here. I won’t budge an inch, I promise. I’ll be right here when you’re finished, okay?” He stared at me, his eyes trying to belie the fear he must have been feeling. I’m not even sure he blinked. I turned to the technician, my own eyes begging her for something she couldn’t give me. “If he needs me, you’ll come and get me, won’t you?” Her reassuring yes made me feel a tiny bit better. I watched as they rolled him away into the bleakness of the room where the radiation would take place and waited. I watched the hands of the clock as the minutes trudged by. What was he going through in there, I wondered? How was he handling it? “Mrs. Denver.” The tech’s voice caused me to startle. It took me a minute to focus on her face. “Your husband is asking for you.” Hastily, I stood up, almost losing my balance. My vestibular was out of whack, I realized, as I touched the back of my chair to steady myself. “Is he okay?” Steadying my body might be possible, but nothing was going to calm the heart that was slamming against my chest. Motioning for me to follow her, she reassured me. “He’s fine, just a little nervous. All of this is new to him and we feel he’ll settle in better if he can see you and hear your voice.” I nodded my acquiescence as I followed her into the radiation room. How does a person give the appearance of calm under these circumstances I wondered to myself as I entered the room only to be stopped short? On the cold metal table lay my darlin’, looking small and vulnerable. Radiation equipment surrounded him, huge futuristic looking machines whose arms could be rotated and raised and lowered. Feeling faint, I walked over to Bob and took his hand, forcing a smile that couldn’t quite make it to my eyes. His eyes begged me to get him out of this and his hand squeezed mine so tightly I thought my fingers might break. Even so, I barely felt it. As I had done so many times before, during this medical nightmare, I placed my lips near his ear and murmured words of love and encouragement. I have no idea what I said precisely. I only know there was nothing I could have said to alleviate his fear; no 215

utterances I could have made to assuage the isolation he must have felt, but I do know that every touch, every word showed him in no uncertain terms the depth of the love I felt for him. He seemed to relax just a little with each stroke of my hand. Finally, when he seemed calmer, the time for procrastination came to an end. Reluctantly, I left the room only to be stopped by one of the technicians. “Mrs. Denver, would you like to watch the procedure?” Uncertain, I paused to collect my thoughts. Bob and I had always been practical. Never burying our heads in the sand, we felt it was better to face things head-on to know what we were up against, so didn’t it stand to reason that if Bob had to go through this hell, I should at least know what he was up against for the next six weeks? The pragmatic part of me reasoned yes even as my heart screamed no. My heart lost. Standing behind a glass partition, I watched as they covered Bob’s upper body with a lead apron. With more distance between us than before, he looked even smaller, and I knew when the two people administering to him vacated the room, Bob’s isolation would be complete. I looked away. It was hard to watch this. I exchanged words with the techs nearby as an excuse to keep my eyes averted. They must have known what was coming, but if they did, I have no recollection of them warning me. All I know is, I looked back through the glass partition and the world stopped. Quiet voices cautioned Bob not to move as the technicians brought out his face mask. I remembered he had been measured for his mask not long before I took him home, but little had I known what the reality of that mask would be. Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs was all I could think of as I watched the Hannibal Lecterlike mask being placed over Bob’s face. There were two holes for his eyes and that was it. An opening for his mouth was pointless since he no longer breathed from his mouth. The bottom of the mask fit tight under his chin, leaving room for the respirator that went into his stoma. This visual was bad enough, almost more than I could take, but it didn’t stop there. I stifled the scream that caught in my throat as the technicians pressed the mask tightly against Bob’s face and BOLTED the back edge of it to the table. They bolted it! He couldn’t move. He couldn’t run. He couldn’t hide. He could only lie there flat 216

on his back, bedsores inflamed, staring at the machines hovering above him through two eye holes in his radiation mask. Don’t ask me how I remained upright. I honestly have no idea. Don’t ask me how the scream that filled my throat didn’t escape to fill the room and shatter the glass partition that separated me from my husband. I have no idea. Don’t ask me how Bob survived this torture. He just did. Even if I had asked, he wouldn’t have been able to tell me. I can only try to imagine the claustrophobia he must have felt, the sense of aloneness that must have permeated every cell of his being. It felt like I could reach out and touch his fear, the room was so thick with it. And yet, his fear didn’t stop him. He never asked for a reprieve, never asked for anything that I’m aware of. I’ve read other accounts of brave people who’ve gone through this type of radiation and the words most often used in their descriptions are confinement, anxiety, terror, isolation, inability to breathe, freaking out. I assume Bob felt all of those things and more. One patient talked about visualizing places and things that gave him pleasure as a way to make it through the terror. I’ve no doubt Bob visualized the young ‘us’ walking the beaches of Kauai to make his escape from the situations he no longer controlled. Trying to imagine what it was like for him as he lay there for an hour with nothing but the thoughts in his head is almost impossible for me. I can barely breathe when I think of his fear, how alone he must have felt. All I know for certain is how I felt. Even though I stayed with him until the treatment started every time, I watched the procedure itself once, only once because once was all I could take.


Chapter 30 I’ve got all my life to live I’ve got all my love to give and I’ll survive I will survive. “I Will Survive” ~ Gloria Gaynor Back at the hotel, sitting on my bed thumbing through a magazine as I did most every night after spending the day by Bob’s side – was my meager attempt to escape the drudgery of the never-ending days in the hospital— especially the Cancer Comprehensive Center— which had seen us there daily for the last two weeks or so. Happily, the hospital staff had recognized the error of their ways and admitted Bob back into the CCU, making him once again an inpatient. Of course, this wasn’t accomplished without plenty of drama that finally proved definitively the point I made in the last chapter. Bob was much too sick, and I much too inexperienced to have him remain on an outpatient status for long. It was Friday, July 2, the beginning of the fourth of July weekend, a day like any other day in the recent life of the Denvers . . . or so I thought. I had been exceptionally tired all week, but wasn’t that expected under the circumstances? I had also noticed a tingling in my fingers of my right hand for the last two weeks, but I assumed that was due to my computer obsession. The nursing staff had generously supplied me with a laptop to use during my long hours at Bob’s bedside, and the edge of the little table it sat on cut right into my wrist when I used the mouse. To tell you the truth, I hadn’t thought much more about it except to notice my tingling fingers every once in a while. I turned the page of the magazine I was reading, and then stopped – wait, what was that - some kind of odd sensation in my chest. I rubbed the palm of my hand across my sternum. That usually fixed the problem. I went back to reading. No . . . there it was again. How 218

many times in the last few days had I run my hand across my sternum? Quite a few, now that I thought about it. Hmmmm, what was going on? A couple of minutes passed and suddenly there it was, that sensation again, only longer and stronger. I got off the bed and went to the door that connected my room to Emily’s. Looking at her, I tried to smile through my obvious discomfort. “I’m having chest pains. I think I might be having a heart attack.” Shooting of her bed, she grabbed her purse, handed me an aspirin and we were out the door on our way to the ER. As she practically flew across the parking lot to get the car, I stood there alone, thinking about this heart of mine that had been broken so many times in the past years, this heart of mine around which every ounce of pain centered, and not the physical pain I was experiencing now, but pain for the ones I loved. I wanted to apologize to it, as silly as that may sound. I wanted to tell my heart that if it would just calm down and keep beating, I would do my best never to abuse it again. But those thoughts flashed in and out so quickly they barely had time to register before nausea overcame me. I threw up on the sidewalk, alone, and heaving. Just hold on, I told myself. You won’t be alone much longer. Keep breathing. I gasped as another wave of nausea washed over me, bending me double once again. Hands on my knees, I stayed in that position with my eyes closed, unable, or maybe unwilling, to straighten up and have the pain pummel me one more time. Suddenly Emily’s hands were on me helping me to the car. I got in the passenger’s side and breathed a sigh of relief. I wasn’t going to die alone after all. The next thing I knew, I was in the ER surrounded by machines and hooked up to IVs. Nurses scurried in and out, anxious looks on their faces. I lay there no longer feeling any pain, thanks to the drugs, mainly morphine, coursing through my body. I tried to talk, but it was hard to form words. I sounded drunk, all slurry and unable to keep a straight thought in my head, but that didn’t keep me from trying. With great effort, my brow wrinkled in concentration while I struggled to put my lips together in different shapes, hoping the words would leave my mouth sounding the way I heard them in my head. It wasn’t working. But the pain was lessening, thank God. As much as the drugs would allow, I was finally able to think beyond working my way 219

through this heart attack and coming out the other end alive. As was true with all patients in the ER, a curtain had been pulled around me to afford me the privacy in which to slur my words uncontrollably. An ECHO had been wheeled in and in my drug-induced state, I’ve been told, believe it or not, I was funny, cracking jokes at least some of the time and getting the hoped-for laughs for my effort. A sense of humor is a very good thing. Getting laughs has always been important to me, so when I hear that I was funniest in the face of tragedy, it makes me smile, but then we all know that some of the best comedy is born of tragedy and heartbreak, or in this case, heart attack. A slit in the curtain that surrounded me parted and I looked up to see Dr. Sane’s head poking in. I remember feeling relieved because I loved Bob’s cardiologist and felt comforted by his presence. “Dreama, what are you doing in here, young lady?” He had tears in his eyes. I couldn’t believe it. This wonderful man for whom I had the greatest respect, the one who had gotten to know and respect me during the last four months, actually was moved to tears seeing me in the ER. “Dr. Sane,” I slurred at him, “Look at me. I think I had a heart attack.” I waved my hand in the direction of the ECHO. Looking at me sadly, he answered. “I’m going to check the test results to see if that’s really what happened. As soon as I know for sure, I’ll be back, okay? You hang in there.” “I’m hangin’. I’ll be right here when you get back.” I smiled goofily. I’m not sure he understood a word I slurred at him since I seemed to have no control over the formation of what came out of my mouth, but he smiled graciously before the curtain closed and he was gone. Minutes passed . . . maybe hours for all I know, but in whatever time it took for him to look at the test results and get back to the ER, there he was with the pronouncement that I had indeed had a heart attack, stress-induced, they believed; however, my right coronary artery was 100% blocked, which meant I needed a stent and would be having surgery ASAP. I didn’t even bat an eye as I listened to what he had to say. Whatever, I thought to myself, just keep the drugs coming. Lying in the OR a couple of hours later being prepped for the procedure, I felt as though unfamiliar faces were bombarding me as 220

each member of the team came into my line of vision to introduce him or herself. Not quite up for small talk, I did my very best to smile and nod to each one. My upbringing required being gracious and polite under any circumstance and nothing medical was going to keep me from being as cordial as possible whatever situation I found myself in. After the pleasantries, it was down to business. I don’t remember much after they knocked me out. I remember calling out that I felt sick and someone coming to the rescue needlessly when I didn’t throw up. I remember calling out again further into the procedure and someone making it to my side just in time to save the day, not to mention the operating room floor. It wasn’t long before I was back in my hospital room in the CCU with my nurse buddies approaching my bedside looking sadder than sad, murmuring their disbelief that I, who had been there hours on end every day for months, was now there as a patient. They teased me about going overboard with my devotion to Bob, after which they spoke seriously about that devotion landing me in a hospital bed in the room right next door to his. This kind of togetherness was just a little too much, they told me. Worried about the long hours I kept, the stress I had been under, they were surprised, yet not surprised to see me lying in this bed with electrodes all over my chest. I felt the same way, quite honestly, but lying there I was, and as long as I was lying there hooked up to IVs, electrodes, heart monitors, and such, I couldn’t be with Bob and what would he think when he didn’t see me? He was much sicker than I was and he depended on me. I asked to get up to go see him and was met with looks of disbelief that I would even make such a suggestion. For the moment, I relented and lay back against my pillow. The moment he opened his eyes the morning of July 2, Emily was there to tell her dad about the heart attack. After his shock wore off a bit, he let it be known without speaking a word that he wanted to see me the minute I was brought back to the room. You might be thinking, well, of course he would, but as sick as he was and with everything he had to have attached to him when he was mobile, this was a big undertaking, something that required quite a bit of effort from everyone involved, but especially from Bob, and it required the same amount of preparation whether he was going to another floor in 221

the hospital or as in this case, just to the room next door. I saw his wheelchair turn the corner as they wheeled him into my room and was struck soundly by how sick he looked, how deflated, how sad. I, who had never seen Bob cry – not when his mother died, not when Colin was diagnosed, not when his brother or my brother died – now saw tears in his eyes. They didn’t fall, but they were there. “Honey, listen to me, this is not a big deal.” I looked him straight in the eye, daring myself to let him see any fear. Staring right back, his eyes glistened. “Bob, it’s just a heart attack, a stress-induced heart attack. No biggie, nothing for you to worry about, do you hear me?” He rolled his eyes heavenward, shaking his head from side to side. “What’s going on with you is so much more serious. This thing with me is just a tiny set back. I’ll be out of here before you know it, back in the room with you and I’ll be as good as new.” His frail hand reached up for mine. We held hands while we stared at each other, neither of us so much as blinking. His eyes told me he was sorry, so sorry. “This is not your fault, Bob, not for one second. Don’t even go there. Promise me you won’t go there.” His hand squeezed mine and he mouthed the words, I love you. “And, I love you.” I replied. Pausing for a moment, he collected himself then mouthed the words, you’re my everything, words he had said to me every day of his illness, and when I saw them coming from this defeated looking man, my wounded heart melted. “Bob, it’s going to be okay. I promise you; I’ll be just fine.” Watching as they wheeled him out of my room and back to his, I vowed that I would show him the truth of those words the minute I got the opportunity and the opportunity came the very next morning. The bleeding on the inside of my left thigh where they had made an incision for the catheter that made its trip to my heart finally subsided, so I wasted no time in telling the nurse on duty that I wanted to shower and blow my hair dry so I could go into Bob’s room and show him that I was okay. Don’t think she didn’t argue the point with me because she most certainly did, but by now, the nursing staff knew me well and I’m guessing she recognized determination when she saw it. Once I told her she could get into the shower with me if she wanted or that she could wait right outside the stall, outside the bathroom door, whatever made her comfy with the situation, she reluc222

tantly relented. Staying close by while I maneuvered my way around the gauze on my thigh in an attempt to wash my hair, she was right there to help as I fought for the strength to lift the dryer to blow my wet hair dry. It took some time, but finally, I was squeaky clean and ready to show Bob that this West Virginia girl was made of sturdy stuff and no heart attack or anything else was going to get her down and keep her there. As she hooked the electrodes to my chest, my partner-in-crime admonished me. “Dreama, you can only be in there for a minute. You can’t stay with Bob all day. You need your rest.” “A minute is all I’ll need,” I assured her. “I just want him to see that I’m okay, that’s all.” Try to picture this if you will – one woman in a hospital gown leading the way; one woman in a nurse’s uniform following close behind; wires attached to a box carried by the second woman stretching from that box to the chest of the woman in the lead, monitoring her heart as they walk. As they come to the doorway of Bob’s room, the woman in the lead stops to get her smile in place and her dancing feet ready. Waiting and wondering, the second woman has no idea what to expect next, but what she doesn’t expect is a little song and dance routine. Are you ready? After pulling myself together and slapping my smile into place, I took a deep breath and soft-shoed my way into Bob’s room, singing. The surprise in his eyes made the effort worth it and the amused look on his face as I sang the lyrics to one of his favorite songs, John Sebastian’s One Step Forward, Two Steps Back while doing the time step made the old ticker pick up its pace, which might have been not-such-a-good-idea as far as my partner-in-crime was concerned, but even though she cautioned me to take it easy in her sternest nurse’s voice, she couldn’t help but smile. My song-and-dance ended with the best lunge I could manage under the circumstances and jazz hands splayed, waving in the air for all they were worth. Resigned, Bob applauded my effort and gave me a thumb’s up. Taking a deep bow – well, again, considering the paraphernalia attached to me – I smiled brightly, ignoring whatever discomfort I felt. “What did I tell you, honey? I’m practically back to normal, 223

don’t you worry. I’ll be back here right beside you, fighting the good fight in no time.” And three days later, I was. Later that day, I lay in my bed exhausted from my performance, but satisfied I got my point across to Bob. Dr. Sane had come and gone, informing me that if all went well, I would be released on Wednesday . . . only three days and I’d be back in business. My mom was on her way down from West Virginia to see for herself that I was still alive and kicking. I was informed my brother Eddie was driving in from Memphis to see his sis, which made my heart smile. Emily and I were sitting together, watching something on the television when she turned to me. “Mom, do you remember what you said to me right after your surgery?” I wasn’t sure what I might have said in my drugged state, so I shook my head no. “Well, right after your surgery, you looked me square in the eye and said as clearly as a person could ever say it, ‘I want to live. No matter what happens with Bob, I want to have a life and live it to the fullest.’” Ah, I remembered. And I knew it was true. No matter what the future held, I wanted to honor our love and our life together by living. Yes, it was true; given a choice, I chose life!


Chapter 31 Someone like you makes it all worthwhile Someone like you keeps me satisfied Someone exactly like you “Someone Like You” ~ Van Morrison The days droned on. The only variant in my pre-heart attack and post-heart attack routine was the doctor’s insistence that I leave Winston-Salem to go home for a couple of days every ten days, and as difficult as it was to leave Bob alone, I followed Dr. Sane’s orders. Bob continued radiation, and it was taking everything out of him. Some days he refused. On those days, they implored me to talk him into it. Most days, I could. Some days I couldn’t. On no day did I want to talk him into this madness, and being forced to come up with convincing reasons why he should put himself through this agony when I could see him failing daily, weekly, monthly was becoming harder. One had only to look at him to see his quality of life would never be the same. One had only to spend minutes with him to realize that with no voice, no ability to walk, no capacity to breathe on his own and even his eyesight affected, life was going to mean being bedridden and during our marriage, we had talked often about never wanting to live in that condition. For me, M*A*S*H* was the gauge. During the beginning of his hospitalization, Bob watched the reruns back to back every single day, silently laughing, always attentive, but as the months passed and his condition worsened, his interest waned and M*A*S*H* ceased to be a distraction. As his body failed, so did M*A*S*H*. And then came the day in August when I walked into his room to find Bob the most agitated I had ever seen him. His face a thundercloud. He smacked the bed with his palm to get my attention as I sanitized my hands. I moved toward the bed with great trepidation, worried that I wouldn’t be able to decipher his mouthed words or his actions, 225

knowing without a doubt that whatever was causing this anxiety had to be something I’d want to avoid knowing about at all costs. Problem was, in this situation, avoidance wasn’t an option. “What, honey, what do you need? What’s wrong?” Pointing to his left ear, he took my hand and placed it there. His ear was hot. “Are you running a fever?” I felt his head. No, he felt fairly normal, but it was warmer around his ear. Impatiently, he placed my hand on his ear once again and shook his head no. “No, you don’t have a fever?” Bob pointed to his ear again and mouthed words that unfortunately, I was able to decipher right away – I can’t hear. I’m deaf. Deaf . . . deaf . . . deaf . . . deaf . . . deaf . . . an ocean roared in my ears. On top of everything else, Bob was now deaf? His arms fell heavily to his sides from the effort and he lay there, beaten. My heart slammed against my chest as I watched him give up. I could see it. He was crying ‘uncle.’ This last indignity was all he could take; I could feel it. I was standing on his left side, so I moved around the bed and placed my lips next to his right ear. “Bob, I am so sorry. I don’t know what else to say. I’m just so sorry.” I lay my head on the pillow next to his and cried. I think the deafness was the beginning of the end, at least from Bob’s point of view. His diagnosis was the real beginning of the end, but for months against every odd imaginable, I somehow convinced myself that Bob would live. I was wrong. But somewhere during that last month of his life, I found myself accepting the inevitable. I was home. It was August, a beautiful warm mountain day, and I was following Dr. Sane’s orders to leave North Carolina every ten days for the peace of my mountain home. If only peace were that easy to come by. I was sitting on my front steps, thinking about Bob alone in Winston-Salem, probably wondering where I was, and Colin upstairs with no idea that chances were better than good he’d never see his father again. Taking in the beauty, feeling the sun on my face and the breeze in my hair, I thought about the possibility of being left alone— the one in charge, the one responsible for the upkeep, car repairs, bills, taxes, all the things Bob had taken care of for close to 30 years, all the things I never had to give a second thought because he was there to handle them. It was unbelievable to me that I was 226

going to be the cliché widow if the worst happened, but there it was. In addition to all of those things, I’d be running Little Buddy Radio, as well as the Denver Foundation, without the benefit of Bob’s good sense and intelligence. I’d be responsible for Colin’s caregivers and Colin himself. Every decision made on his behalf would be mine to make, and mine alone. My husband was dying, I knew that now. No more playing ostrich, no more pretending we’d have a new normal, no more convincing myself Bob could be fixed. Years before, we had dreamed together that Colin could be fixed and that hadn’t happened. I had finally found my peace with that. Couldn’t I also find my peace with this? And what about Bob’s peace? What he was going through is impossible to describe even in the pages of this book. He put his body through hell with no good choices anywhere along the way, not one. He did it for me. We all knew that. He did it because no price was too high to pay if it meant more time with me. But is that what I wanted from the man I loved? My whole life, I had heard about loving someone enough to be willing to let him go. Was I ready to do that? Did I love Bob enough to wish him peace, whatever form that might take? I knew now that I did. Even if it meant losing him, living the rest of my life alone, never knowing this kind of love again, I was willing to let him go. As I realized how deeply I wanted peace for this good, decent man who had loved me for most of my adult life, the demons inside me were released. I lay my forehead on my knees as the tears came. The tears became heaving sobs and my body began to rock. My sobs turned into moans. I was going to lose Bob and somehow, I had to survive that. Scared by the force of my reaction, I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and called Steve, who had been right there for me all along. He’d be right over he told me. Sitting with me on my front steps for hours, he comforted me as I accepted what I knew I couldn’t change. Spent, I finally raised my head and turned my face to Steve. “I have to let him go, Steve. I want Bob to have peace. I don’t want him to suffer any more. Oh, God, no more suffering. My prayer is for him to have peace, however that happens, whatever that means.”


I was leaving the hospital cafeteria, latte in hand, heading for the first floor elevators that would take me back to Bob when I ran into Dr. Brown, the kind and brilliant surgeon who opened my husband’s throat, ridding him of his cancerous voice box, but who also been the one to hear the last words he ever spoke. “Dreama.” Deep in thought, I looked up when I heard my name. A smile lit my face as I saw who it was. “Dr. Brown. How are you?” I gave him a hug and we exchanged small talk for a minute or two before he asked the obvious question about Bob and how he was doing. My answer that he wasn’t doing well seemed not to surprise him. He kept up with Bob’s progress, he told me and knew the prognosis wasn’t a good one. Expressing his sympathy, he shifted his weight, settling in to talk to me. “I’ve been hoping to run into you, to tell you the truth. I have a story I want to share with you, but I want to make sure it’s okay. It concerns Bob and the last thing he said to me before I removed his voice box if you think that’s something you could handle hearing.” Was it? Wondering what he had said to his surgeon, who was the last one to hear him speak, had never occurred to me. His last words to me were etched in my brain, but of course those couldn’t have been the last words he ever spoke and of course, I wanted to know what those last words were. Whether or not I could handle them, I wanted, no needed, to hear what they were. I said as much. “Let me preface this by saying your husband is a remarkable man. I’ve never met anyone like him. I’ve never had another patient like him, and I thought you might like to know that.” “I’ve always known how special he is, but it’s wonderful to hear it from you.” I smiled my encouragement and he continued. “I want you to know his humor never left him, not even when we were giving him the anesthesia that finally put him out. I was standing a few feet away from him in the OR when he motioned me over so he could talk to me. I leaned in and asked if he was okay and his next words startled me. He said to me, ‘Doc, I wanna thank you for saying you’ll be able to save my voice box. I knew if anyone could do it, 228

you would be the one.’ I was taken aback and immediately corrected him, telling him, no, no, no, Bob, I’m not going to be able to save your voice box. I don’t know where you got that idea, but I won’t be able to save your voice box. Bob’s face clouded over and he looked at me like he couldn’t believe his ears, like I had let him down and landed a blow that was completely unexpected to him. I had no idea what to do, so I hastened to confirm what I had just said. Bob, I’m . . . I’m sorry. I truly am, but your . . . your voice box has to be removed. There’s no way I can save it. While we looked at each other, I watched his face settle into a smile . . . his eyes twinkled . . . he lifted his arm . . . pointed his forefinger at me and said, ‘Gotcha.’ Then he winked.” That was Bob. Keep ‘em laughing, make ‘em smile. His last words didn’t surprise me in the least. After all, Bob had always believed laughter was the best medicine. My latte sat on the desk untouched and forgotten as I consulted with the head of hospital security. A couple of months prior to this, events had conspired to bring security and me together. I had been sitting in Bob’s room when my cell phone rang. Having no desire to talk to anyone, especially when I didn’t recognize the caller’s number, I asked Emily if she would mind answering for me. Taking my phone, she slipped into the bathroom in order not to disturb her dad. I listened, trying to ascertain who might be calling. It was quiet for a minute as the person on the other end did all the talking, but it wasn’t long before I heard her saying, No, NO we have nothing to say. My radar went up immediately. Glancing over at her dad as she came back into the room, she very quietly called his name to see if there was any reaction. There wasn’t. Good, he must be sleeping. She leaned in close to me and whispered, “That was the Enquirer.” My look of shock had her placing her finger to her lips, cautioning me to keep my voice down just in case. “They know about Dad. The guy was asking all kinds of questions.” “How did they get our cell phone number?” I asked her, feeling panicky. 229

“I have no idea, but they’ve got it and they know it’s you. When I answered, the guy on the other end asked if this was Dreama.” I sighed. We had managed to keep Bob’s hospitalization on the downlow by signing him in under an assumed name. With the hospital’s cooperation, we tried to make sure as few hospital workers as possible came into contact with him, not very successful as it ended up due to his numerous ailments, but we tried our best. At Bob’s request, we told no one other than the closest family and friends, meaning only a handful of trusted people knew about his illness. I could probably tick them off on my fingers - my mom, my brother, Steve, David, and Shawn initially. Then a couple of months into it, Russell and Connie, Dawn, and two close friends of mine, Sally Burns, who came down from Tennessee to help me a couple of times when I was alone, and Pam Tyree, my hairdresser at the time who made the trip to Winston-Salem with her husband Harry to do what she could to make a disheveled me look somewhat presentable. I knew as well as anyone else the gossip mags had their ways when it came to getting whatever info they wanted, and after consulting with security, the conclusion was reached that someone from the hospital, possibly an orderly or someone with limited contact with Bob had tipped off the Enquirer. Now they knew we were here, and precautions had to be taken to make sure no stringer found his way into the hospital by posing as a hospital worker and possibly getting a photograph of Bob. Remembering shock photos of the past, I felt a huge responsibility to protect Bob, who was no longer able to protect himself, so I met with security, and after much discussion, they graciously agreed to lock down the CCU, making it impossible for anyone to access that floor without proper ID. That was the horrendous part of this. In the midst our mad, mad, mad, mad world where making it from day to day was the most we could hope for, interest from the tabloids felt unbelievably invasive. Even without a comment from me, the National Enquirer ran the story anyway, and in their defense, I have to say they got almost every detail right. Notice I said almost every detail. There were inaccuracies to be sure, probably 4 or 5, but all in all, their contact had 230

given them the skinny on Bob. And the story had been very kind, especially to me, talking about my devotion to him with such detail about my comings and goings that it boggled the mind and had me looking over my shoulder to see who might be watching my every move. When the story came out, the only thing I took exception to was the headline on the front page, which read Bob Denver Dying of Cancer. I hadn’t believed it then, but I knew differently now. After the shutdown of Bob’s area of the CCU, I was given the room next door to his. Yes, the same room I had occupied after my heart attack. On the other side of Bob’s room was an empty patient room the hospital used for storage. That room would be given to Emily and Megan. I want to take this opportunity to give credit to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. The TLC they extended us during our time there was above and beyond, and the family’s appreciation was and is heartfelt. Like most of the world, the staff there had been huge Gilligan fans their entire lives and sharing the intimacy of the end of his life was almost spiritual for them. Bob might have gotten the shaft when it came to the residuals he so rightly deserved; other people involved in the production of Gilligan’s Island might have made out like bandits and gotten wealthy off the work of Bob and the other castaways, but Bob’s riches were evident in the love of his fans. For that, I will always be grateful.


Chapter 32 Photographs and memories All the love you gave to me Somehow it just can’t be true That’s all I’ve left . . . “Photographs and Memories” ~ Jim Croce During my years with Bob, I was an intricate part of three significant deaths– first, Bob’s mother in 1989, my father in 1993, and my baby brother Ron in 1997. The first two had been sad, but also nature’s way. We grow up with the knowledge we’ll lose our parents someday and regardless of how heartbreaking the death might be, the fact remains, nature is taking its proper course. Ron’s death from AIDS was a little different. After untold suffering, he passed away at the young age of 31 and his death hit me hard. I remember thinking at the time that if my brother’s death sent to me to my knees, how would I ever survive losing Bob. I was about to find out. For all the pain of the last six months, for every choice we had to make with not one hopeful one in the mix, for every tear we shed and every heart that protested long and loud during this process, Bob’s death was somehow beautiful. Elements came together in a way that made me feel he orchestrated his passing from this life to the next. Private, non-publicity seeker that he was, he saw to it that the media hype surrounding his death was kept to a minimum by dying at the height of the Katrina disaster. For all of our married life, he told me that he wanted a party when he died, with my response being what I considered normal for any wife. “Bob, there is no way, absolutely NO way I’ll throw a party when you die, so don’t even ask me to. How could I throw a party when I’ll be devastated?” His response was always, Just a little party with the people I love most. You can celebrate my life and not mourn my death, to which I always replied, “Darlin’ it ain’t gonna happen, period.” 232

It happened. Bob had his party and even better he was there for it. During the last week of Bob’s life, he basically checked out and by that, I mean he became totally non-responsive. The fact was he finished his last radiation treatment on a Friday amid many congratulations from those of us who were present. His torture finally over, we mistakenly thought he’d now be able to concentrate on nothing but recovering from its rigors, but we were wrong. He was done. His reaction to the end of radiation was minimal at best and somewhere deep inside myself, I knew he was finally ready to move on. His body was a shell with nothing working properly any longer. This house he had lived in during his earthly existence was run down, dilapidated, needing more repairs than he had the energy or strength to make. Regardless of how hard he fought to have one more second with me, he knew that any seconds we might have together from this day forward would be marred by deafness, muteness, and at least a degree of blindness, all housed in a body that could no longer function. He would never want that for his Dreams and he was ready to let go. As I recognized all of this, I also acknowledged a truth that had eluded me for all of our marriage. When Bob and I talked about one of us dying and I allowed myself to go down that road just a little ways, I always imagined, or tried to, what it would be like to be the one left behind, but never, not once did I ever give any conscious thought to what it would be like to be the one leaving. Before he became non-responsive, I could see the dread for me in Bob’s eyes every time he looked at me and though he couldn’t talk or write to me any longer, I knew his head was filled with concerns about how I would manage without him. Losing him and trying to survive would be close to insurmountable for me, he knew, but it was the responsibilities I would be forced to shoulder alone, the primary one being Colin, that tortured his soul as he thought about leaving me for good. The recognition of that had me doing everything I could to reassure him that I would be fine. No matter I didn’t believe it for one millisecond. The important thing was that he believed it. The important thing was for him to leave me believing all the way down to his toes that I would be okay. The week before, on end-of-radiation Friday, when 233

I came back to Bob’s room after one of my Friday check writing sessions with Steve and told him that for the first time I had written all the checks and paid all the bills without crying, I saw his sense of relief that maybe, just maybe I would be okay. That was the day he ‘checked out,’ the day the vigil began. When death enters the room, you feel him. At least I did. The Grim Reaper entered Bob’s room numerous times that last week, not caring about the havoc he was going to wreak, giving no thought, to my mind anyway, to the anguish he’d leave in his wake. Sometimes I was right at Bob’s bedside, looking death in the eye, daring him to take me on. Didn’t he know I was not a woman to be messed with? I had, after all, cheated him when he poked his nose through an ER curtain looking for me. Did he really think I’d roll over like a lap dog and play this game with him? It didn’t matter that I understood death was going to win in the end. Faced with his realness, the instinct was to tell him to go to hell and leave us alone. So, I was there right beside Bob to meet him head-on many times; other times, I had to be awakened by Bob’s night nurse, Mary’s voice in my ear telling me Bob’s vital signs were dropping and I should come. Death was hovering. I’d jump out of my bed, make a mad dash to Bob’s room next door, take his hand in mine and watch the monitors as every single one of his vital signs made a comeback. Ha, I would declare to death, take that you SOB. Just my touch will keep Bob out of your clutches. But no matter how victorious I felt each time we gave death the slip, I realized it was just a reprieve. Death had no intention of taking no for an answer. I was sitting in the room with Bob, who hadn’t opened his eyes or so much as moved a muscle in the last six days. We were alone. My gaze was drawn to the window and I sighed heavily as I looked at the glorious weather that seemed to be accompanying September 1, 2005. In 5 days, it would be our anniversary, our 28th anniversary. Yes, we had officially married in March, but no matter, we always counted the day when we had first come together as our anniversary. I had to smile as I remembered September 6, 1977. My prayer then had been that we’d still be together for Christmas. We had been, and now many Christmases later, I felt overwhelmingly grateful that I’d 234

been lucky enough to have so many years with this man. Tough years most of them, but not one of them regretted. My eyes traveled to his face. More than likely, I would be alone for our 28th anniversary. I wasn’t sure precisely when the end would come, but it would be soon, of that I had no doubt. The end of life as I knew it, but Bob would be at peace and ultimately, that was what mattered most. Movement . . . My eyes focused on Bob as his eyes opened wide, staring straight at me. Oh my God! “Bob . . . hey darlin’.” I sat rooted to the spot. For some reason, I couldn’t move. “You’re back,” I whispered. “I’ve missed you so much . . . Bob . . .” His gaze didn’t leave mine and I searched it for some sort of recognition, but there was none. Bob was looking straight at me with eyes so dead my brain could barely comprehend it. They were eyes that saw nothing even as they bore into me. I shook my head, thinking maybe I was hallucinating, but, no, his deader-thandead eyes were boring holes all the way to the back of my skull. I could barely breathe. He held my gaze for a minute or more and then as suddenly as it started, it ended as Bob’s eyes closed. Heart pounding, I tried to understand what had just happened. That wasn’t Bob, not the Bob I knew. The absence of life in his eyes screamed at me. I tried yoga breathing to calm myself. In through the nose . . . out through the nose . . . in through the nose . . . out through the nose. I could feel my pulse rate slowing down. And just when I felt a calm settle over me, it happened again! Bob’s eyes opened and this time without thinking, I moved nearer, hoping a closer proximity would actually force him to focus on me. “Bob . . .” I stopped. I stared into those deadest of eyes, trying my best to see the gold flecks around his irises, the flecks that gave his eyes an extra dimension and brought them to life, but the flecks were missing and his eyes were empty. I studied him, searching his face for something I wasn’t finding. He never flinched; he never blinked; he only stared and I began to squirm as I recognized an accusation in the intensity of his look. And suddenly I knew . . . whether or not anyone else ever understands this, I knew . . . He was speaking to me the only way he could, and what he was telling me was evidenced in the lifeless eyes that continued to hold me in their gaze. Dreams, look at me, his eyes were saying. Look at me. I’m gone. You can 235

see that, can’t you? My body may be here, but I’m not. His eyes closed for a second time. I felt behind me, hoping to find the chair before I collapsed onto the floor. I knew, had known all week that the respirator was the only thing standing between Bob and death. I knew, had always known that our promise to each other had been no lifesaving heroics. Yes, I knew these things. Big cleansing breath . . . in and out. I stared at Bob’s still form lying there as it had been for days. Hard to admit this, but I looked around the room, wondering if his spirit had left his body already, thinking that maybe our connection would give me an inkling of where it might be if it was in the vicinity of this hospital room. Try as I might, I couldn’t sense it. Then it happened again for the third and last time. Bob’s eyes opened and he looked into my eyes – he never blinked and his gaze never strayed from mine. This time I got up and moved to the left of his bed, keeping eye contact the entire way. I knew what he expected of me. Placing my face right in front of his, looking into those eyes that held no recognition of me whatsoever after a lifetime together, I whispered these words to him. “Honey, I understand. You aren’t in there anymore. I can see you aren’t. I haven’t kept you here selfishly. I swear that. I’ve done it for the kids, but I’m going to let you go. I’ll talk to the doctors tonight and let them know the respirator goes tomorrow morning. You have my word, Bob.” His eyes blinked once and for the last time, he closed them. I spoke with Bob’s doctors and the decision was made to discontinue the respirator the next morning. For whatever reason, I didn’t think of it as pulling the plug; I only thought of it as relieving him of the ties that bound him to his earthly existence and setting him free. Granted, given a choice, I would have wanted him to make his last exit of his own accord, but he would never get that chance as long as a machine breathed for him.


Chapter 33 Any day now I will hear you say “Goodbye, my love” And you’ll be on your way “Any Day Now” ~ Luther Vandross There are parties and then there are parties. Usually, parties are large gatherings filled with friends and acquaintances, emphasis on the latter. It’s not that I can’t enjoy that kind of get-together because I can, but I’ve always found those social occasions to be slightly forced and just a bit phony. More to my taste are the intimate gatherings comprised of mainly close friends who know each other in a more real way. Do you agree with me on that because in my head the majority of people most enjoy the intimacy of good friends and family? The evening of September 1st found four like-minded women who by now knew each other in a very real way sharing Chinese take-out in a room occupied by one of the most well-known faces on the planet. Bob’s favorite night nurse Mary had ordered in for us and she, Megan, Emily, and I were chowing down on egg rolls, fried rice, moo goo gai pan, crispy lemon chicken, and fortune cookies, grateful for this tiny bit of normalcy in this totally abnormal situation. I glanced over at Bob, lying quietly, and wished with all my might he could sit up and ask me to pass an egg roll. He didn’t. Talking around the egg roll she was devouring, Mary turned to me, “Dreama, I don’t think you’ve ever told us - how did you and Bob meet?” Launching into the story of our first rehearsal day meeting, taking care to include the details that made the story funny as well as extraordinary, at least to me, I talked about the connection we felt instantly, how it was electric, how everyone around us felt it and how by the end of that brief bit of time together both Bob and I knew we had finally found what we had been searching for all along.


Mary sighed, “Love at first sight then?” I laughingly told her it had been either love at first sight or lust at first sight or maybe when you got right down to it, a little bit of both, with love trumping lust big-time in the end. “Okay” she continued, “so how long before you got married?” Eager to talk about Bob, the young man I had fallen hard for, I described our Las Vegas wedding in minute detail, recounting our rush to get a marriage license in the wee hours of the morning in a Vegas that allowed that sort of thing 24 hours a day. I painted a picture of the minister’s hairdo, the Candlelight Chapel, the rings that turned our fingers green bought right there in the chapel lobby. I felt myself turning back the clock as I told her about our return to LA afterward and how we headed to Tiffany’s on Rodeo Drive and scoured the selection of rings until we found a modest one by Tiffany standards that was perfect for me. Her questions about Colin and his birth had us all talking on top of each other, recounting the rigors of Program, the effect of autism on every family member and the toll it had taken on all of us, Bob in particular in this instance. And, of course, that led to the girls sharing touching, and sometimes funny stories about Bob as a father. The four of us sat quietly for a moment as the memories washed over us. Mary spoke first. “You’ve had a beautiful life with him, Dreama, even the hard parts because he was there for you, always with you, never let you down. I’m not sure how many people can say that, but I don’t think many have a love story like yours. What memories you’ll have to fortify you after he’s gone.” “Mary, I don’t think he’s going anywhere.” I teased sadly. “He keeps scaring us, but he’s still here.” The stories continued. We talked about road trips we had shared, days we had spent on Kauai, excursions in the Rockies – story after story, many of which I’ve shared with you in this book. The girls shared stories of their childhoods and as they reminisced, we found ourselves laughing. We found ourselves crying. We found ourselves laughing until we cried. I smiled as I realized how much Bob would love this, every single second of it. He would be our greatest audience, cheering and applauding. And then it hit me – he was having his party. Bob was having the party he’d always wanted. The party he told me he wanted with the people he loved most celebrat238

ing his life, telling funny stories about him, reveling in the fact he graced this earth and been part of our lives – that’s what was happening and not only was he having this party he always insisted upon, but he was here for it! I couldn’t stop grinning. Tears filled my eyes. Nothing, not even death, could mar the joy I felt. Bob Denver, my husband, my lover, my friend, managed to have his way with me one last time. September 2, 2005 Mary’s voice interrupted my slumber. “Dreama, it’s time. You need to come. Bob’s vitals are failing. He’s dying.” I shook myself awake, grinding the palms of my hands into my eyes. “No, he isn’t. He’s done this all week.” I looked at my watch. It was 6:30 a.m. Bob’s party had broken up only hours before. “He’s not leaving me; he’s made that clear.” Tumbling out of my hospital bed, I smoothed my wrinkled T-shirt and straightened my pajama bottoms as I followed Mary from my room as fast as I could. “Has anyone told the girls?” “Someone’s getting them now. Hurry, Dreama. You’ve been with him through all of this. You have to be there when he passes.” Oh God, he was going to pass. I could tell by the urgency in Mary’s voice that this was it. Bob was going to die. After months of torment, peace was finally at hand. Part of me rejoiced at the thought while the other part of me wanted nothing more than to die with him. I reached his bedside, hanging on for dear life. I watched the monitors emitting their cacophony of sounds and this time I could hear the difference. No longer were these the sounds of a life being saved, no longer were they hopeful. This time their diminished volume told me that hope was a thing of the past. Their faintness told me the end had finally come. Bob was exiting this world of his own accord just the way I had prayed he would. The girls came into the room, joining me at his bedside, one beside me and one across from me, and I knew without a doubt this was the way Bob would have wanted it. I looked at the face I loved, ran my hands down the arms in which I had found so much comfort, placed my cheek on his, feeling its softness and for the moment, its 239

warmth. This is my last first with you, Darlin’, I thought to myself, and I am honored beyond belief to have shared this last journey with you. I heard the sounds of sniffling and glanced around quickly to see the faces of so many of the nurses who had cared for Bob – Mary, Millie, Crystal, Sandy, faces I loved. He was dying during shift change, making it possible for most of them to be here in his last moments. My heart smiled as that realization hit me - how like him to choose to do it just this way. I wanted to comfort them, but there was no time. Later there would be nothing but time for us to share our grief; nothing but empty seconds, minutes, and hours for us to say our goodbyes. Right now, there was only Bob and my last moments with him. There were so many things I wanted to say, and I said them even though in my soul I knew there was no need. Bob knew I loved him, had always known it, never for one second doubted it. His success as my husband was unmistakable and our success as a couple was apparent to anyone who ever had the opportunity to be in our orbit. His success as a father, especially to the son whose very existence depended on his devotion and love was a thing of beauty. No matter that he wasn’t perfect. In his life with Colin and me, Bob had found his greater purpose. He knew it. I knew it. And now you know it. My touch and my voice would send him on his way to whatever comes after this life, and he would leave this earth knowing his life counted for much more than the characters he played. For in the end, it was the character of the man himself that counted most.


Chapter 34 One is the loneliest number One is the loneliest number One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do. “One” ~ Three Dog Night I released the news of Bob’s death on Labor Day, September 6 four days after he passed away and on our 28th anniversary. I was criticized by a few Gilligan fan sites online for not releasing the news when it happened. I apologize to the fans who took exception to that, but what our family had gone through felt private and personal, every part of me was raw and I needed a few days to digest what had happened before the retrospectives started on television and the magazines started running their Bob Denver, star of Gilligan’s Island, dead at 70, stories. I needed to mourn Bob Denver, the man before the world collectively mourned Bob Denver, the television icon. I also felt a need to get home before the news broke, home to my son, who had no idea he just lost his father, home where I’d feel sheltered and safe. Steve came to Winston-Salem to pick me up the day after Bob died. As we turned into my neighborhood, memories washed over me – the first time Bob and I had made that turn, excited beyond belief to see our new home and start our new life in West Virginia. As we rounded the bend and my house came into view, I remembered Bob in the captain’s seat of our van, rounding that same bend 15 years before, exclaiming to me, there it is, Dreams, our new house, our new life. Now it was my new life, my house, my car, my son, my responsibility, all of it. I felt the weight as if an anvil had been tied to my chest. “You okay, Dreams?” Steve asked as we pulled into the driveway. Nodding my acquiescence, I got out of the car and began the walk to my front door. Behind that door, I would find a son who was th,


oblivious to the changes happening in his life and somehow, I had to find a way to take an abstract concept like death and explain it in a way that would make sense to him. I didn’t relish the thought. Walking through the door much as I had after my heart attack, I found my eyes sweeping the room searching for the comfort of home, but strangely enough, home looked foreign to me, leaving me with the feeling I was walking through the front door of someone else’s life. This couldn’t be my life, could it? I couldn’t possibly be a widow, could I? The word ricocheted around my brain. Oh my God, I was a widow . . . a widow . . . a word that throughout my life I had applied to older women, little gray-haired ladies in the sunset of their lives. How could the word widow have anything to do with me? I was only in my fifties with so much life ahead of me, and now I would live that life alone, a widow, the Widow Denver, Bob Denver’s widow . . . widow, widow, widow, widow. Oh God! Zombie-like, I walked through the downstairs of my house with Steve following close behind, worried, I’m sure, that I might not remain upright. Shawn was working with Colin that Saturday and I vaguely remember him coming down the stairs, not knowing what to say, but wanting to offer me the comfort of a hug, which he gave and I accepted gratefully because at that moment, I wanted nothing more than to be wrapped in huge arms that could hold me up and make all of this go away. But it wasn’t going to go away. This was my new reality and somehow, I had to survive it. Walking through the kitchen, I glanced around and saw Bob’s big stainless-steel coffee mug sitting on the counter. No one had moved it, not even I on my respites home all these months. For 15 years, I had seen his hand wrapped around that mug as he drank his coffee throughout the day and sometimes well into the sleepless nights with Colin. There it sat, taunting me, and my first thought was that I would use it. Yes, it would become an extension of me. My lips would rest on it just the way Bob’s had, and by making that gesture, he would stay alive for me in some strange way. Whether or not anyone else understood it, I understood it, and in my grief, that was all that mattered. I used Bob’s mug for the next three years. My eyes traveled through the doorway to Bob’s TV room. Without thinking, I looked for his white head above the sofa where he always sat, but it wasn’t 242

there. Making my way into the room, I sighed heavily as I saw the last book he’d been reading lying there, bookmarker in place. Bob never dog-eared books, not even paperbacks. I opened it to the marked page, my eyes too watery to see the words. It was enough just knowing his eyes had been the last to rest on the words, blurry and indecipherable, that swam before my eyes. Hugging his book to my chest, I wandered down the hall. Our bedroom door beckoned me even as I dreaded seeing the room itself, and as I walked through, it felt as though someone had knocked the breath from me. The hand sanitizer on the wall was the first thing that caught my attention, followed by all the paraphernalia from our final three weeks at home – rubber gloves, medicine cups, gauze, hospital-issued washcloths, his walker, and his toilet chair. I rubbed the heels of my hands into my eyes and looked again, but none of it went away. Even our bed was turned down just the way we had left it. Nothing had changed. Everything had changed. Steve, close behind me, kept watch as I staggered into our walkin closet where seven years before I had stood with Bob, wondering what I should wear to be arrested. Sinking to my knees, I frantically grabbed his shirts, one at a time, burying my face in each one, sucking in air, desperate to breathe in Bob’s very distinctive scent. There had been a time long ago when I had laughingly said to Bob. “If you blindfolded me and stood me in front of a thousand men and allowed me to sniff each one, I’d know you instantly just by the scent of you.” Fraught, I pulled shirts off their hangers, burying myself in them, breathing so deeply I thought I might black out, but the only reward for my effort, the only aroma to make its way from my nostrils to my brain was the musty smell of disuse. I cried. When I was spent from tears that continued to flow long after I imagined a body could maintain their production, Steve reluctantly asked if I would be okay alone. I assured him I would. I would have to be, wouldn’t I? The way I saw it, this was the inauguration of a lifetime of nights I would be spending alone from this night forward. Three days passed with me in such a fog, I could barely differentiate day from night. Nights alone, days alone, what difference did it make? Alone was the operative word, and Colin being upstairs with his caregivers didn’t make one iota of difference – never in my life 243

had I felt more alone. After my heart attack, Colin became accustomed to Mom coming home for a couple of days every couple of weeks, and every time I did, I reassured him I’d be coming home with his dad one day soon. Now I had to try to find a way to explain the unexplainable. The moment was here. Sitting in the living room with Colin beside me on the sofa, David across from us in a chair, I struggled to find words that might make sense to my son. “Colin,” I took his hand, “Mom needs to talk to you, sweetie. I need to talk to you about Dad.” Having no idea what words I’d use, I studied Colin’s blank face and wondered how to proceed. Taking a deep breath, I plunged ahead. “CO, for months I’ve been telling you that one day I’d bring Dad home. Well . . . that’s not going to happen. Dad died, Colin. He didn’t want to. He tried really hard to live for you . . . he tried really hard to live for me. He didn’t want to leave us, but he had no choice.” Eyes stared into mine, eyes devoid of any understanding. Yes, this was going to be every bit as hard as I had anticipated. I looked to David, who smiled his support. “I don’t know how to explain this, David.” “You’re doing fine.” He encouraged me. “Colin, the bottom line is this – we won’t be seeing Dad again, not physically. We won’t hear his laugh; he won’t walk into a room to give you hugs and kisses, you won’t be able to give him shots-ofblue anymore. He won’t be making your breakfast or helping you on your computer – Dad won’t be living with us. We’ll never be able to see him again, not the way we’re used to, but, Colin, even if we can’t see him, Dad still loves you and he’ll always be with you.” How could this be so difficult? How could I reach this son whose father had been an intricate and always-present part of his life? “CO, Dad loves you and even though you can’t see him, he’ll be watching over you. He might not live with us here in this house, but do you know what? He’ll always live right here.” I placed my hand over Colin’s heart. “For the rest of your life, Dad will be right here. He’ll be right here in your heart, loving you like he always has. Can you feel Dad there in your heart, CO?”


I watched as Colin’s eyes focused on mine, letting me know he was in there paying attention. I held my breath, wondering if there might be some response, and for the first time in his life, Colin looked me square in the eye and nodded his head up and down. “Yes . . . Yes? Yes, you can feel Dad right there, Colin? You can feel Dad in your heart?” And again, with eyes focused on mine and a smile that made my broken heart sing, Colin nodded his head up and down. “He’ll always be there, sweetie. Whenever you miss Dad, whenever you need him, just think about him and you’ll feel him deep in your heart, loving you like always, missing you like crazy.” Colin’s smile was my answer. As he stood up, seemingly satisfied that our talk had reached its conclusion, and took David’s hand to go back upstairs, I leaned back in relief, closing my eyes. “Thank you, Bob,” I whispered. “Thank you.”


Epilogue Live your life with arms wide open Today is where your book begins The rest is still unwritten “Unwritten” ~ Natasha Bedingfield My journey through grief has been a difficult one, but it’s also been one of the most victorious parts of my life. During the first few years after Bob’s death, close family and friends had every reason to worry about me. More often than not I was in a fetal position on my sofa, not caring if I lived or died, cutting myself off from almost everyone and feeling paralyzed by the responsibilities I was left to handle. Mourning Bob was bad enough, but the grief didn’t end there. It’s true what they say about difficult times bringing out the best and worst in people. The people who rallied, the ones who were there for me, came in the most unexpected, beautifully wrapped packages. The flip side of that coin was the people I fully expected would be there to help me through the worst time in my life, who weren’t, and that was a whole grief journey in and of itself. Those folks will, of course, remain nameless. Then there were the angels I had yet to meet in my life, angels sent to me by Bob. You might scoff at that notion, but trust me, I could feel Bob’s hand in the orchestration of the changes in my life the minute I met New York Times bestselling author Homer Hickam, without whom this book would never have been possible. Bob was an avid reader and a huge Homer Hickam fan. One of his all-time favorite books was Rocket Boys, which was adapted to the screen as the movie “October Sky.” Trust me, if you’ve seen and loved the movie, you’ll love the much more detailed, straight-from-the-author’sheart book even more. When I met Homer, his kindness and generosity with his fans reminded me so much of Bob that I felt a kinship with him right away and feel certain my husband would have too. Despite the celebrity status of Bob and Homer and the idea that all celebrities know each other, in reality the two never got the chance to 246

My mentor and treasured friend, Homer Hickam

meet. I’m the lucky one who became friends with Homer, the one who will treasure that friendship for the rest of my days. Homer was the first new angel in my life and through him, I became acquainted with his PR man extraordinaire, Burke Allen, who took me on as a client and in turn became my manager and one of my very closest friends. Bob would have admired Burke so much, not only for his decency, but for his undeniable skills as a media man. His company, Allen Media Strategies in Washington, DC., handles Homer, Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr, season 6 winner of America’s Got Talent and the legendary Voices of Classic Soul, consisting of Joe Coleman (The Platters), Joe Blunt (The Drifters) and Theo Peoples (The Temptations and The Four Tops) to name just a few. Burke has been a major part of my life for well over a decade. Most of the time it feels like everything good that’s happened to me is a direct result of 247

Me with Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. and Burke Allen at the Governor’s Mansion

knowing him. When I count my best friends, Burke Allen holds a top spot! Launched only eight months before Bob’s diagnosis, Little Buddy Radio became my lifeline as I began my new life. Being immersed in music on a daily basis wasn’t a bad way to spend my day and my passion for the artists who make our lives richer by setting the feelings of our common experience to music ended up being my salvation. Because Bob had expressed his desire that the station reach as many of his fans as possible, my first mission in his memory was to make that dream a reality. To that end, long before streaming was commonplace, I launched LBR Online, which now has listeners all 248

over the world. Over fifteen years later, LBR is still rockin’ the airwaves, so I guess I’m safe in saying, Mission Accomplished! As I mentioned earlier in this book, Little Buddy Radio is owned and operated by The Denver Foundation and supports its mission to enrich the lives of individuals with special needs. Running the foundation was a huge challenge for me and something I fought tooth and nail during my first years alone. No way did I feel capable of fundraising, given my reluctance to ask anyone for money even in the name of a worthy cause. Again, angels to the rescue in the persons of Pam Coulbourne (my friend and now executive assistant), Pam’s husband Giff, Steve Coleman, Paul Dorsey and Marie Blackwell, who, along with me, became Team Denver and were responsible for the success of Always Free Honor Flight and the Always Free Walk of Honor.

Team Denver: Steve Coleman, Paul Dorsey, Pam Coulbourne, and yours truly.


Always Free Honor Flight In 2010, I became aware of a national program called Honor Flight, which had been established in 2005, the year Bob passed away. The mission of Honor Flight was to transport America’s veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials dedicated to honoring those who have served and sacrificed for our country. Pam and I did our research and found that, even though West Virginia had more veterans per capita than any other state in the union, there was no Honor Flight program to honor them. We decided to right that wrong! In 2011, Always Free Honor Flight (a name we chose from West Virginia’s state motto, “Mountaineers Always Free”) was founded and sanctioned. On June 6, 2012, we made West Virginia history as we traveled to the nation’s capital with 12 WWII veterans, 3 Korean veterans, 16 Vietnam veterans, 12 veteran escorts, 5 members of the press and Team Denver. It’s really difficult to describe the emotional impact of Honor Flight on all of us, veterans, escorts and team members alike. Initially, I knew I would love the program, but in reality, I had no idea how intensely it would affect me. Every trip has its own personality, due to the combination of the people involved; therefore, each Honor Flight is distinctly different and special in its own way. However, two trips stand out for me. The first was in 2013. We were home from our regularly scheduled May trip, had been back for maybe a month, when I got a call from Honor Flight’s national office, wondering if we could make a TLC trip as soon as possible. I had no idea what that was and said as much. TLC, they told me, stands for Their Last Chance. The national office had gotten a call from a hospice in Beckley, WV, where three WWII veterans and one Vietnam veteran were coming to the end of their earthly lives and the dying wish for each of them was to see the memorials built to honor their service to this country. Even though we had just made a trip and expenses were always a factor, saying no to this request was not an option, so, of course, I said we’d be honored to make this 250

TLC trip with four of West Virginia’s brave heroes. Unlike every other trip before and every trip since, this trip was small, consisting of our four vets, all in wheelchairs, 4 nurses, one for each veteran, one son of a WWII veteran and 3 Team Denver members. Because there were so few of us, we stuck together at each stop. On our regular trips, people scatter, heading in the direction of whatever they want

WV heroes on the TLC Honor Flight

to see most, but this time we were a tight unit, sharing every moment of this experience. The intimacy was a thing of beauty and the respect we felt for all four of these men was almost indescribable. What a privilege to spend this day with them, to share this, their dying wish, with them. In my life, I never imagined being part of anything as poignant as Honor Flight and I know with certainty that this day, these men and this moment in time will be with me always. I thank God for the blessing of Honor Flight every day. The second stand-out trip took place in 2015. A newspaper reporter called me a couple of weeks before our trip was scheduled to tell me she had just interviewed a WWII veteran named Sgt. John Watson, who was excited to be making the 251

upcoming trip with us. Did I know, she asked, that he was a Tuskegee airman, part of the first all-black combat flying unit in WWII? No, I didn’t! He hadn’t included that vital piece of information on his application. She continued by telling me of his overwhelming desire to have one of the red jackets the Bush administration had awarded these incredible airmen in 2007. More than anything else in the world, he wanted that red jacket. I hung up the phone and immediately called Paul Dorsey, vice president of AFHF and my go-to military man, who knew the steps to take to verify that Sgt. Watson was indeed a Tuskegee airman. Paul’s confirmation was all it took to get the ball rolling. I called Senator Joe Manchin’s office, explaining our situation, asking, begging, and pleading for the possibility of having a red jacket for Sgt. Watson when we arrived in D.C. in two weeks’ time. Senator Manchin has been part of every Honor Flight trip we’ve made and I’ve come to realize over all these years that he’ll do any and everything he can to help a WV veteran. His staff got right on it and do you want to know the most amazing part of this story? Not only was John Watson entitled to the red jacket he wanted so badly, but he was also entitled to a Congressional Gold Medal he had never received and knew nothing about! To this day, I have no idea how Senator Manchin made happen in two weeks what would normally take six months, but he did! 96-year-old Sgt. John Watson stood in the United States Capitol surrounded by the entire WV delegation on Capitol Hill as Senator Manchin helped him into the Tuskegee airmen red jacket, then stood in stunned silence as he was presented a Congressional Gold Medal. Can you imagine being part of this trip and witnessing something this momentous? Not a dry eye in the house. FOX News was there to record this amazing event, which meant John Watson was able to see himself on national television and share the experience with family who couldn’t be there. And what a blessing that turned out to be. Three months after we returned from Washington, I received a call from Sgt. Watson’s daughter informing me he had passed away. For all of us at Always Free Honor Flight, it was unbelievably moving to know we had, with the help of Senator Manchin and his staff, been able to help make Sgt. Watson’s dream come true. Godspeed, John Watson, thank you for your service. 252

Our Tuskegee Airman, Sgt. John Watson, with Landau Murphy, Senator Joe Manchin and me

To Senator Joe Manchin, who’s never missed one of our trips or the chance to spend time with and thank each of our veterans; who gives a speech on the Senate Floor prior to our arrival each time, recognizing Bob, thanking The Denver Foundation, Little Buddy Radio and Team Denver for bringing Always Free Honor Flight to West Virginia, thank you! We’ll be making our 11th trip in 2020 and that means AFHF has been part of the Congressional Record 10 times so far and will be part of that record for all time! The joy of being founder and president of AFHF is an honor I’ll never take for granted. Every trip is a red -letter day in my life, but I have one more, huge red-letter day to tell you about, one that affected not only my team and me, but every West Virginian who loves and considers our state Almost Heaven. In 2014 I had a morning show called Sunny Side Up on Little Buddy Radio. One morning, I played the song “Take Me Home Country Roads” by John Denver (no relation) and a listener called in to ask if “Country Roads” was West Virginia’s state song. It wasn’t. But the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced it should be. After all, it was treated like a state song, beloved by every West 253

Virginian I knew and as I began putting together a campaign to have the song adopted, West Virginians began writing me, stopping me on the street, calling and emailing me to tell me where all over the world the song had been sung to them the minute that corner of the world found out they were from West Virginia – “Country Roads” is a staple in every pub in Ireland from the sound of it; it had been sung to friends of mine on the Great Wall of China; in the United Arab Emirates; in Mongolia of all places; and in every country in Europe. Senator Joe Manchin told me that as governor of West Virginia, he had made an official trip to Thailand and when he was introduced to the Prime Minister of Thailand as West Virginia’s Governor, the Prime Minister started singing, “Almost heaven, West Virginia.” These stories were enough for me. I contacted my friend Marty Gearhart, who was a state delegate at the time, and he was more than happy to sponsor the resolution to adopt Country Roads as an official state song. The first time the resolution came to the floor for a vote, it passed the House, but not the Senate, and that meant there was work to do before the 2014 session. Interviews with newspapers, television, magazines and radio were at the top of my to-do list. I called my Little Buddy Radio listeners to action, giving them phone numbers for our legislators, encouraging them to call and express their support for the resolution. Team Denver sprang into action, rallying the troops by getting the word out. In 2014, House Concurrent Resolution 40 once again passed the House and was heading for the Senate. This time failure was not an option, so I wrote each and every senator, explaining everything I told you in the previous paragraph. I was rewarded with a call from Governor Earl Ray Tomblin on a Tuesday afternoon. “Dreama,” he said, “Congratulations! I’m calling to let you know we’re now positive we have the votes in the Senate to adopt Resolution 40 and we’d like you to be on the Senate floor on Friday when the vote is taken. Bring anyone you’d like to bring with you. We’ll have a celebration in the Capitol’s Rotunda afterwards.” “Thank you, Governor Tomblin,” my heart was pounding in my chest. “My team and I will be there with bells on!” And we were! Burke flew in from D.C. Pam, Paul, Steve and Marie met me at the Capitol at the appointed time and we were 254

ushered into a holding area to wait for the vote to be called. Then, like in the best dream imaginable, we were escorted into the Senate to observe the vote being taken. Senate President Bill Cole made some lovely remarks about me, including a reference to knowing me way back when. Yes, when Senator Cole was just a little guy, he and my brother Eddie were good friends. They were maybe ten years old and I was a teenager. With Governor Earl Ray Tomblin on that As kids, they liked historic day! nothing better than to hide in the bushes when a date picked me up, then tattle to Mom and Dad if we held hands or if it even looked like there might be a chance my date had a fleeting thought about kissing me. Who could have imagined that one day in the future that little boy and I would be all grown up, standing in the WV Senate Chambers, finalizing something that had been attempted unsuccessfully three times since the release of “Country Roads” in 1971? After the unanimous – yes, you read that right, unanimous vote, I was called to the front of the Senate Chamber. As I walked forward, and I mean this with every fiber of my being, all I wanted to do was crumble to the floor and cry my eyes out. I kept imagining Bob’s reaction, how proud he would have been. Back at the hotel after the vote, after the celebration with Governor Tomblin, Major General James Hoyer (WV’s Adjutant General), the Appalachian Children’s Chorus who sang a beautiful rendition of our new state 255

Speaking in the Capitol Rotunda after the unanimous adoption of "Country Roads” as our new state song

song, Marty Gearhart, my team and hundreds of others, the tears finally came. March 7, 2014 will always rank as one of the very best days of my life! 2014 saw another honor come my way, an honor so unexpected that I still have trouble believing it’s real. West Virginia Focus magazine (now called West Virginia Living) contacted me to let me know I had been chosen, along with U.S. Senator Shelley Capito, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and eleven other remarkable females, as one of the first group of West Virginia’s Wonder Women! What a humbling experience to be in the company of these powerful go-getters from every corner of this state. If I didn’t have the magazine cover as proof, I’m not sure I’d believe it even now! As blessed as I am by everything that’s gone right in the years since Bob’s death, I am most blessed by Colin and the peace he has found in his own life. The news regarding him couldn’t be better. In April of 2009 Colin moved across the road with his caregivers to a house Bob and I bought years earlier for that very purpose. He still has David, his best friend for lo these many years and David’s wife Sarah, a beautiful soul who brings nurturing, female-style to the table, 256

providing one-on-one care. He also has great, lifelong friends in their daughters, Elei and Ariel, who genuinely love him and treat him with such respect and kindness it fills my heart. Two sweeter, more loving girls would be hard to come by. Shawn moved on to other things about ten years ago and our newest caregiver, Alvin Fleischaker came on board with enthusiasm to spare. He cares for Colin as if he’s been with him from day one. And, of course, Colin has me a hop, skip and a jump away, cooking ‘Mom’ meals and hanging out with him at least 3 days a week. His independence from me has been one of the greatest gifts of his life and mine. Crying many tears prior to his move, I found myself the happiest I had been in a very long time when the move finally happened and he acclimated easily to his new surroundings. The fact that he seemed not to miss me had no negative impact on me at all as I felt the weight lifted from my shoulders and saw how happy he was in his new life. Don’t get me wrong, giving up control wasn’t easy, but I knew in my heart of hearts it was good and it was right. He was, after all, a man, autistic or not, and like any young man needed to live his life separate from the mom who had reared him. I never dreamed I would get to this place, but I have. The shots-ofblue are all the sweeter and our time together that much more precious. My only regret is that Bob never lived to see the day we had dreamed of for most of Colin’s life. The journey through grief has been challenging, but coming out the other end joyful, productive, finding my place in the world as Dreama Denver, singular, has been exhilarating. Rediscovering pieces of the Dreama I knew long ago, pieces lost due to circumstances beyond my control, has been a real eye-opener. The first time I did something the younger, more carefree Dreama would have done, I was alone in my house and I remember smiling and saying out loud, “There you are! Boy, have I missed you. Welcome back!” The joy I felt in that moment was a joy I wanted to hang onto. For me, it’s about life-force. Over the years, I’ve been told by friends, old and new, that I have a tremendous life force, something Bob saw in me. That life force lives inside me and refuses to let me give up. That life force has opened my eyes to endless possibilities and has shown me that I’m open to everything life has to offer.


Bob left me better equipped to make my own way than I imagined. He left me 28 years of love to draw from, but his gift of Colin is what changed my life. It took me decades to understand that my son’s diagnosis had set me on a path. Years after Bob’s passing, that path became clearer. Colin’s diagnosis and Bob’s death were the hurricane-force winds of change I talked about in the opening of this book. Yes, they made me cower; yes, they filled me with dread, and unbeknownst to me, one more tsunami was heading my way. In 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, something I am talking about publicly for the very first time. Since there was no history in my family of any kind of cancer, breast cancer was something I never worried about. Heart disease, yes; cancer, no. Imagine my surprise when the doctors told me that 80% of breast cancer is spontaneous, having nothing to do with family history. Just a heads up to all the beautiful ladies out there who feel the way I did. I found the lump quite by accident. I was sitting at the console in LBR’s studio right after finishing my morning show and for some reason, took my left hand and put it on my right breast. Whoa! What was that? Something definitely didn’t feel right. I made an appointment with my gynecologist, who examined me, then told me she thought it was nothing more than a cyst. I wanted to believe her. Oh, how I wanted to believe her, but something told me to keep going. And I did. I went straight to the hospital for a mammogram. While I was holding my breath, waiting to go in, my phone rang. It was my buddy Dawn. With a small, shaky voice, I answered, which, of course, immediately prompted her to ask what was wrong. When I told her, she made me promise to call her back the minute I knew something. The mammogram was inconclusive, which meant I had to be scheduled for an ultrasound. So, armed with this tiny bit of information, I returned Dawn’s call. Apparently, she had been doing some serious thinking while she waited. “Dreams, before you say anything else, I want you to hear me out. I have a doctor I want you to see. His name is Dr. David Strahle. He’s the man who developed the 4-D Breast MRI. I’ve spent time with him and he’s wonderful, really knowledgeable. This MRI will show him everything we need to know about your breast and what he finds will answer all of our questions. His office is in Flint, Michi258

gan. I want you to go there. I’ve talked to him, he’s willing to see you, so call him and set up an appointment.” A week later I was sitting in Dr. Strahle’s office, processing words I never expected to hear, do you want the good news or the bad news first? The bad news, surprisingly to me, was that I did indeed have breast cancer. The good news? It wasn’t aggressive, we had caught it early and the prognosis was good. At the end of our visit, as we were saying good-bye, Dr. Strahle’s exact words to me were, “Dreama, by sending you to me right away, your friend, Dawn Wells, just saved your life.” Now I ask you - How’s that for friendship?” As it ended up, the 10th anniversary of Bob’s death found me sitting at Vanderbilt Breast Center in Nashville, getting ready to become part of their clinical trials. My brother Ed, whom I love so much I can barely put it into words, and my much-loved sister-inlaw, Kathy, the one who went to every doctor’s appointment with me for years and took care of me after both surgeries, were right there beside me.

(Family) From L to R: Natalie, nephew Michael, Wendy, nephew Brian, our beautiful Kathy, Eddie and me.

I can’t finish this book without taking a moment to write a love note to our beautiful Kathy. In the summer of 2018, the wittiest, most loving and generous woman you would ever hope to meet, only 62 259

years old, passed away. Her death from pancreatic cancer was quick and unexpected. She was my rock, the rock of our entire family really. Over the 35 years Kathy was my sister-in-law, I thanked my brother more times than I can count for bringing this unbelievable force of nature into our family. Wickedly funny, she kept us in stitches most of the time, bringing levity into every situation. At the same time, she was a highly intelligent counselor, a friend you could count on through thick and thin, an incredible mom to her two sons and a woman who loved my brother the way you dream of being loved in your lifetime. I couldn’t have made it through breast cancer without her love and support. I thank God for her every day and pray she knew how much I loved her and how much I miss her. The world just isn’t the same for Ed, my nephews Brian and Michael, their wives Wendy and Natalie and me without her in it, and when she passed, she took a huge piece of my heart with her. I love you, Kathy. Always have, always will. I don’t know what I would have done without Kathy and Eddie, but, even so, I missed my partner, my best friend. Every time I came home from Nashville, the house echoed its emptiness and, honestly, I had never felt so alone. That’s not meant to take anything away from Pam, my friend and assistant, who put herself on call for me and was there if I needed her. But I wanted to feel Bob’s arms around me, telling me it would be okay, that we’d get through this together. Of course, that wasn’t going to happen in a physical sense. It was something I was going to have to do for myself, and I have to be truthful with you, I found it a huge challenge. For a year and a half, I was back and forth to Nashville, much of that time sick as a dog from the clinical trials, but through it all seeing the blessing. Again, I had found the lump early and the cancer (I dislike even typing that word) wasn’t aggressive. From the very beginning, my surgeon at Vanderbilt had suggested a mastectomy to get rid of this invader, but it took me a year and a half to relent. I’ve always been a pragmatic person who understood that losing a breast wasn’t the end of the world. I mean, for heaven’s sake, I work with veterans who’ve persevered after losing arms and legs. A breast couldn’t begin to compare with that kind of loss. But it was hard. 260

And after my reconstruction surgery, something happened that I never saw coming. I re-grieved everything! Things I had come to terms with years before resurfaced. I grieved for my son and all the ‘firsts’ we had never had and would never have together. I grieved for the part of my body that was no longer there. But mostly I grieved for my husband. Day after day, week after week, month after month the pain felt fresh, raw, new. This tsunami was drowning me and for the first time in my life, I went down a black hole. After my initial diagnosis in 2015, I was out walking my dog Zen one day. I had been practicing gratitude for about a year. You know what I’m talking about, right? The kind of gratitude where you thank the Universe for all the good things in your life – the mountain breeze, the warm sunshine, my best friend Zen, the most perfect dog this girl has ever had, my family and friends, the ability to walk and talk and feel. I even thanked the Universe for the bills I had to pay every month because those bills meant I had running water for a hot shower, heat during the frigid winter months, food on my table and clothes on my back. Gratitude had become a daily ritual in my life and I have to say, focusing on the positive made a huge difference in how I approached each day. But this day . . . this day was different and totally unforeseen. I was doing my gratitude thing when out of nowhere, with no forethought whatsoever I fell to my knees on the side of my road. Tears filled my eyes, then spilled over fast and furiously, and I found myself there on my knees thanking God, not the Universe, for every hard part, every challenge of my life. I thanked Him for Colin’s diagnosis because I suddenly saw clearly how life with Colin had set me on a path that led me to this moment, this surrender. I thanked Him for Bob’s death, which I realize might sound very strange in light of missing Bob as much as I did and wanting him with me more than anything, but the truth is, I was crying for the 28 years we shared, the blessing of having had a great love in my life, the gift of having a husband who loved me and our son with an unwavering devotion, for Colin having a father who set aside Hollywood, fame and monetary gain to make sure his son had the care and attention he needed. Yes, he might be gone from our lives physically, but everything he had given us remained. This remarkable man and the son we made to261

gether had forced me to become a woman of strength. For the first time, I understood. The woman I was that day on my knees was a direct result of the valleys in my life, not the peaks, and with that knowledge, something deep inside me changed and a woman of faith was born. You can say those words, but the actual process takes time. As I went through treatment, I began studying God’s word and with my studies came clarity. Things I had considered cop-outs, crutches, things like, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” (there was a time I really disliked hearing that one), “It’s God’s plan,” “God’s will,” “God’s timing is perfect,” “Your rewards are in heaven,” - all of these and more gradually began to make sense to me. The emptiness I’d been feeling since Bob’s passing, an emptiness I tried to fill with worldly pursuits, began to dissipate. Even so, even with so many facets of my life coming into focus, I continued to feel adrift. So, I relied on my new relationship with Him and I prayed. Everyday. I prayed for direction, purpose, a passion for something, anything, and all the while I continued to study. Do you know how we sometimes call out to God in desperation? Often that’s the only time we call out to Him and when we do, there’s a part of us that expects an immediate response. Well, I found out it doesn’t always work that way. I talked to Him daily for a couple of years, asking for direction, and all the while nothing seemed to be happening. Inch by inch, I was pulling myself up out of my black hole, carrying on with my life, working on Honor Flight and the Walk of Honor, two things for which I still felt great passion, but other than those two things, I continued to feel rudderless. Then one day . . . Ladies, I don’t know about the rest of you, but as I’ve gotten older the urge to purge has become an almost daily desire. When I look around and find myself wanting to get rid of almost everything I own because I’m feeling smothered by ‘stuff’, I head for a closet, a cabinet or a drawer. I mean, seriously, emptying my house of every possession I own doesn’t make much sense, does it? Closets and drawers are safe spaces where you can purge just enough to alleviate that urge; at least, for a while. So that’s where I found myself last spring, going through desk drawers, hoping to unload anything unnecessary. I picked up a manila envelope, thinking it must be 8 X 10 262

photos of Bob, but, no . . . it was too light to be photos, so I held it, trying to imagine what was inside. Contracts, maybe; paperwork of some kind? Laughing to myself, I realized the best way to find out what was in the envelope was to open the envelope. What I found inside brought back the memory of a conversation Bob and I had way back in 1998. Walking into our kitchen with a huge grin on his face one day, Bob said to me, “Honey, I think you should write a children’s book!” Me: “You can’t be serious. A children’s book?” Bob: “Yes! You’ve read Dr. Seuss to Colin tens of thousands of times. You’ve got the rhyme thing down, so why not?” Me: “I suppose it couldn’t hurt to give it a try, but I’d need to come up with a clever premise, something little ones would like.” Bob: “I already have a title! I think you should call it Four Bears in a Bag. Me (a little bit confused): What in the world would four bears be doing in a bag?” Bob (grinning from ear to ear): “That’s what you’ve got to figure out!” I smiled, remembering. Thumbing through the pages, I found that, not only were the pages of the story there, but Bob’s original pencil sketches of how he envisioned the bears were tucked away between the title page and the beginning of the story. I read it. I still liked it! And now I had a manager, so I called Burke. In no time he found an independent publishing house, Headline Books, run by Cathy Teets, who saw potential in my children’s book and wanted to publish it. Since I have zero aptitude for art, I needed an illustrator, and along came the exquisitely talented Ashley Belote, whose wonderful imagination brought my bears to life in ways I never imagined. See? Again, thanks to Burke, there were two more angels making an appearance in my life, giving me direction and purpose. My prayers were finally being answered. Since the day my book was accepted by Headline, my life has been on the upswing. Not only do I have these two beautiful ladies, plus Cathy’s sister Patti, in my life, but Four Bears in a Box has become an award-winning children’s book, receiving a five-star Readers’ Favorite award, a Book Excellence award, a Hollywood Book Festival award, a San Fran263

cisco Book Festival award, an Indie Book award, a Creative Child Magazine award, a Gold Mom’s Choice Award and most recently, runner-up for Best Children’s Book at the Paris Book Festival. Yes, my bears went international! A little side note here: The title of my book did change by just a couple of letters – Bag to Box. The reason being, these days, 20 years later, kids have no idea what a brown paper bag is and, of course, we don’t want to encourage children to run around putting bags over their heads. That two-letter change made a huge difference in the story, which required revisions - revisions that made it more creative, more fun and just all-around better! I’m now a children’s book author (Bob, can you believe it?) with an idea for a second Bears book in what I hope will become a series. Headline is also republishing this book, which is allowing me to update my epilogue to include everything you’ve just read, something I’ve longed to do for the last few years. This epilogue is about my journey, no one else’s. It’s about experiencing the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and finding peace and purpose in my life because of those peaks and valleys. It’s about my realization this earthly existence is temporary and, like it or not, we’re just passing through. It’s about the hope I now have for Colin, whose life has always been limited by mental and physical boundaries. I used to wonder, as I’m sure many mothers in a similar situation have, “Is this all he gets?” The answer is a resounding NO. My son is the purest soul I’ve ever known and as the person who loves him more than anyone else on this earth, I choose to believe wholeness will be his after his life here on earth. I choose to believe that he and I still have great conversations and endless adventures in our future. I choose to believe, because truly, what is life without hope? As much as we like to deny it, as much as we want to believe it will always happen to the other guy and never us, a heart attack and breast cancer have made it crystal clear to me – I am finite. We all are, and as we get older, that fact becomes extremely difficult to deny. We see it when we look in a mirror; we feel it when our bodies don’t allow us to do things that once came easily; we know it as we experience the loss of family and friends. Somewhere along the way, 264

reality sets in and what seemed abstract in our younger years becomes very concrete. None of us is promised tomorrow and understanding the truth of that statement changed my life. Understanding the truth of that statement is the reason I keep looking up! My original epilogue ended with the words I choose life. I’ll end this version with those same three words, plus three more: I choose life. I choose hope.


Look at those smiles! So much fun working together.

“The Owl and the Pussycat.”

I don’t remember which show this was, but I love this picture.

The days of Farrah Fawcett. Can you tell?

Falling in love during “Sam.”

With Parker Jacobs & Dena Dietrich of “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature” fame.

Bob and the Scamps.

One of Bob’s favorite photos of me.

Joey, my Bob-approved boyfriend.

With the Clintons newest addition, Buddy.

The West Wing on the day John Podesta was made Chief of Staff.

Gran, Bob, Gran’s friend and me aboard The Love Boat.

In our motorhome at the studio.

On the Universal lot.

My brother Eddie, my hero and best friend.

Walking in the sand for the first time at New Smyrna Beach.

Livin’ in Almost Heaven West Virginia.

and producer of the three “Gilligan’s Island” movies

“This book takes the avid ‘Gilligan’ fan down memory lane, but also gives insight to Bob Denver and Dreama Peery Denver’s life was like away from the spotlight. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will not want to put down Gilligan’s Dreams when you start reading it. — K E VIN SIZEMORE, Actor/Producer “Though I met Bob in 1963, when I was 7, I really got to know him through this amazing book! Dreama Denver has accomplished something extraordinary in Gilligan’s Dreams, this is a heart-warming and heart-wrenching glimpse deep inside a marriage.” — H O P E JUBER, Writer/Producer and the daughter of Sherwood Schwartz


DR E AMA DE NVE R is an actress and a multi-award winning author. Her children’s book, Four Bears in a Box, won a Gold Mom’s Choice Award, Next Generation Indie Book Award, Reader’s Favorite International Book Award, Creative Child Magazine Preferred Choice Award, Book Excellence Award, and Honorable Mentions at the Paris and Hollywood Book Festivals. As president of the Denver Foundation, she carries on the dream of helping special needs families. As the owner of the nonprofit radio station, Little Buddy Radio, she continues to bring listeners the best in music, acting as program director and general manager. As founder of Always Free Honor Flight, Dreama expanded the foundation’s mission to include honoring our veterans, the men and women who preserve the blanket of freedom we sleep under every night.


“If you think you know Maynard....if you think you know Gilligan... Gilligan’s Dreams isn’t just the life of one of America’s favorite comedy actors. This is truly a side of Bob Denver you never knew as Dreama lets you in on their incredible life together. It is a well-told, often humorous story, but have some have some Kleenex ready since Gilligan’s Dreams will also bring you to tears. I highly recommend it.” — LLOYD J. SCH WARTZ, Sherwood Schwartz’s son

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