Hi, my name is Catherine. Actually, the whole story is Catherine Bell, Ivett, Judson, Lemoine. I have always had one talent I was aware of, the one that allows me to be a chameleon. Not to say that I have always blended into the background, but to say I am adaptable. All my life I have known that God existed, that He was “there,” that He was with me and that I was not alone. I never sought to know more–that was enough.
I was baptized a Lutheran and raised in the Methodist Church. I was first married in Las Vegas, second in a chapel and third in the Penthouse suite of Caesar’s Tahoe. My two daughters were baptized Lutheran and sent to a Lutheran elementary school. I never felt I needed to go to church. God was always with me. Life was good, I was good. I was 37 at the time and was happy and “all was well.”
Then came the real test. For reasons still unknown to me today my life changed. Now I was dealing with betrayal, a sexually abused daughter, the agony of divorce, counseling for my child, and moving to a new location. I began to question my actions, or inactions. To freeze up as opposed to making another bad decision, to realize my failure to protect my child and to struggle with the responsibility of accepting that failure. It was at this low point that life had another blow.
My child of 14 was missing. She was gone. Perhaps she ran away, or was kidnapped, or dead somewhere. My tears lasted a very long time, living with not knowing what happened and being ineffective at everything. I no longer had strength inside me. I no longer thought about God, and I continued to make poor decisions. I left my other daughter with her father and I moved out. She was 16 and I left her. Just like that, and did not even give it a thought.
I had lost respect for myself completely. People would ask, “How are you?” “Fine,” I’d say, “Just fine.” “Have they found her yet?” I would answer no and look away. Inside my head was screaming, “her name is Joy, she is my daughter, I love her and Joy is gone… to somewhere…” I learned to live with that–looking away. I learned to live with the inner screaming and a blank spot in my head called “you’re never going to know.” “It was your fault, Cathy. You did not protect her.” It did not matter to me that I was told by many that I was a good Mom. I knew better–this did not happen to good Moms.
My oldest girl, De, was an excellent student and well liked. On a bright Sunday afternoon, I was visiting her and her dad. De was in the town parade. She was popular and riding on the back of a convertible holding a large bouquet of roses. She was first runner up in the Miss Crestline pageant, thus a Princess. Her academic accomplishments and beauty were a lot to be proud about. We had friends and family present. That same day, I received a phone call from the East Los Angeles Juvenile Detention Center. Joy was there. She had been there for awhile but would not give her real name to the authorities. De, her dad and I went to get her. Her name was now “Jouit,” pronounced “Shouu-ee.”
I wish I could tell you that I felt happy, astonished, or astounded–something, but I was numb. I know I spoke with God that night. I thanked Him for her return, for her life. I prayed for a chance to heal this huge scar in her life and mine. I prayed that I could learn to live with her “differences,” and love her more because of them. I prayed asking that He heal her inside.
In 1984, I was 40 years old and working three jobs, working in Property Management, working in the Health and Fitness Center and working weekends as a hair stylist. I “busied” myself. My daughter De was finishing high school and living with her dad. My other daughter Joy was on probation, living with her boyfriend and his family.
A lot took place between the years of 37 and 40. A month after my 40th birthday, a new man entered my life. He was different from the others. He was very sure of himself and I loved listening to him. He had dreams and plans and his whole life mapped out. He was 24 to my 40. This tells you something. By 1985, we had our first business together. He was one of the electronic whiz kids that helped to build and put computers in everyone’s home. We manufactured and sold his product internationally. Apple Computer had an interest in buying our company; but unfortunately before that could happen, the company fell into Federal Bankruptcy and began to run in Chapter 11. Then it was Chapter 13, over and out.
He and I had married in 1986, and he had won several gambling tournaments in Las Vegas and Tahoe, playing Baccarat. So my life took yet another path. I was working full time at whatever company we had running. I was in Las Vegas and gambling was a portion of my life with him. The next years were a series of businesses and corporations, of gambling and just working all the time.
Joy was staying with her boyfriend most of the time. She called me many times to get her out of jail, to come pick her up from here or there. She was addicted to heroin, but her boyfriend kept trying to keep her clean. Joy was in and out of every kind of rehab I could get for her. In 1990, she called and wanted to come home. She was 5’8” tall and 97 pounds. She was on crutches due to an injured knee and was trying to get clean–again. We started going to a methadone clinic. She could not go on her own, for all the reasons known to drug users. I started to get to know her again. Her highs and lows were apparent and she could not shake her addiction. Six months later, she died. She was handcuffed to a bed in General Hospital, her body so full of chemicals that she could no longer fight infections. She died of endocarditis, an infection of the heart caused by the use of dirty needles. She was 24, I was 49 and had failed yet another time.
The night before her death, I had prayed to God. I had prayed that if her whole life was going to be that of a drug addict and all that went with being an addict, that He take her home. That He not make her endure such an existence, such a suffering. Then, holding her dead body, I was numb when I should have been crying. I was happy God had heard me. I had no idea how to deal with this grief. I was numb when I should have been helping De and others to accept this loss. When I should have been thanking God and blessing Him for taking away her struggle, instead I was numb. I had no more emotion.
It was a week after her death that I had a dream. Upon awakening, I knew that she was with God, that I had been with God and He had shown me that she was safe now. If you have ever truly had God in your presence, you know that there is no mistaking the feeling, the warmth and joy of that moment. It is not forgettable. The colors are not of this world.
After the dream God gave me assuring me she was with Him, I wish I could tell you all was well, but it wasn’t. I was in a very difficult relationship. By that I mean, my husband was a very hard man to live with. He could be abusive and scary, but I got used to it. I got addicted to him. To his highs and his lows, to his gambling, and I lived my life vicariously through his. He was a risk taker and liked being “on the edge.” I got so I liked it too. Too much. I allowed him to change me, to make me everything he wanted, and then when he had me the way he thought he wanted it, he didn’t want it. He was good. I was always wrong. I was always to blame because I never understood. I came to believe this was real.
Our lifestyle was to be envied by others. We had two beautiful homes, money to spend, the Jaguar to drive, traveling throughout the world. Only those close to me could see the “bruises,” the bruises on my soul as well as my body. Only those who knew me well, knew I was someone else. I had literally sold out. I was tired of the struggle with him… so finally, I just did as I was told, knowing it was wrong, not caring that much.
In 1990, my husband was indicted by the DA’s office in Las Vegas for fraud. Then the DA’s office indicted me, but the charges were dismissed. A year later, a new DA superceded the indictment and my husband had to spend 18 months in a Correctional Facility. It was during this time that my daughter Joy died from the complications of heroin addiction.
It’s not hard to guess that shortly thereafter I was arrested. It was May of 2003. Now I was 59 and in a Federal Detention Center. So was he and was 43. Today, he is incarcerated and will be until 2009. I am out on bail and was released from jail in June of 2004. This is how long I’ve been “on bail.” The first thing I did after being arrested was to make a decision on my own. The first in many years of not making choices except what I wanted to order on the restaurant menu. My marriage had become my jail, and I lived in it without many privileges. Being arrested and taken to a real detention center had “set me free.” I could do what I wanted in jail. My time was my own. I had rules, but they were simple compared to what I had been living with.
It may sound odd, but I found my freedom to be myself in jail. God blessed me again when the attorney of my choice agreed to take my case. My family had to pay him, as I had no money at all. I cannot describe how bad this feeling was to me; I had had so much money for so many years, and now had none. What I did have was taken by the FBI. The charge on my indictment was that I “interrupted Interstate commerce,” a felony. I did not really care what the charge was, just how do I “do it and get it over with?” My decision to hire a man who has been willing to see me through to the end was a good one. A man who has gone above and beyond the normal representation. He is still my attorney and protecting my interests today.
In jail, I went to every type of church service offered at the detention center: Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, Islamic and Mormon. Eventually, I settled on Catholic.
So at 60 years old, I was released into the care of my family and mother, who is 91 this year. That’s when I was given a brochure about Captive Hearts from a new friend and neighbor. It took me another six months before I came into the office and met with Judy and Joan. It is because of them that I have learned to believe in myself again. Once again, I have the confidence and self-esteem needed to be me, Catherine, a whole person who no longer stands alone. God is with me. He always has been. But like so many, I had lost my way.
Today, I am free of my addiction to the highs and lows of risk taking, to the highs and lows of having and not having money. I have gone from having millions of dollars to having less than none. The “valley of death” stands before me every day but I fear no evil. Whatever the future has for me, is okay.
I am now a happy 63-year-old grandmother, who loves and cares for family and has dreams of being an artist. I have been a heathen but I am blessed and, through the grace of God, have found peace in my heart. I have a peace and harmony inside me that I will never give away or lose again. I am healed! I am blessed! I am loved!
UPDATE: Catherine now works for Captive Hearts as the office manager.