The Voice

Dana Simmons will tell you herself, she chooses happiness. More than 30 years ago she also made a choice to marry a man from Alabama. That choice would change her life.

In fact the choice ultimately led to the voice, the voice talking to her inside her head, as she lie there in her own backyard, staring up at the trees and hoping to stay alive.

“The voice told me to make sure I love myself. As I lay there, I said, ‘I love you Dana. You did a good job.’ I said I love myself, cause I didn’t have anyone else in that moment to say I love you. I didn’t die. I just said, ‘I’m not going to die. I’m going to get up. I’m going to live.”

Thirteen years before that moment Dana said, “I do”, and was wed to a minister, a man who performed his own service. A man Dana describes as, “very good-looking, very well-educated, with big dimples, movie-star looks like Richard Chamberlain.” But what Dana didn’t know then, looks can be deceiving.

It was Dana’s mom who encouraged her to go meet the man from Birmingham. Dana had just finished serving as maid-of-honor at her sister’s wedding, a wedding performed by this same minister. After the wedding Dana went to her mom feeling confused and wondering what to do about her own life – her mom told her to make an appointment with the nice man who conducted the ceremony.

That appointment carried forward, as the minister took a liking to Dana and the two started dating. Dana was impressed with his credentials. “Jim explained to me he spoke several languages,” says Dana. “He graduated magna cum laude, had a masters in English and a doctorate in Theology. We talked for a while in that first appointment and he asked me if I wanted to go out to dinner the next week.”

Dana says she felt safe and secure with Jim, thought he was honest and she looked up to him. She says he was greatly admired by the church and the parishioners, so when Jim asked Dana to marry, she said yes. The wedding was performed by Minister Jim, in the same backyard where Dana grew up.

It was a good life. “Jim ended up working at a small church in Colorado,” says Dana. “We (Dana and her young daughter Ashley, from a previous marriage), would attend Sunday church with him. He would give his sermons, they were very interesting. He was well-respected and loved and I was very proud to be his wife.”

When the position of pastor for the church became available, Jim believed he would get the job. A vote was held and the decision was made to give the position to someone else. “Jim was outraged,” says Dana. “He couldn’t accept it, he was so upset.”

Dana made the suggestion that Jim enter into real estate, an industry where Dana had connections from her work a few years back. It ended up being a good idea for her husband, as he partnered up with a well-known restaurantor in the Denver area and the two became very successful in commercial real estate.

But success in business, doesn’t always translate to success at home. It was around the same time…the trouble began.

“We moved into a new six-thousand square foot home in an affluent neighborhood,” says Dana. “We had lots of parties, we entertained, commissioners and mayors and other politicians attended because they wanted to do business with Jim and his partner. Around the same time Dana and Jim learned they would be expecting their first child together.

“When I was pregnant with John, I would wait for Jim to come home each evening. He would call and say he was on his way, then he wouldn’t show up for hours. I would make a steak dinner for the two of us, and wait for him and he would show up at like 10-pm. I would get very angry. There would always be an excuse. A flat tire, a late meeting with his partner, or something going on at one of the restaurants.”

It was then Dana started seeing things in the car…earrings, hair ribbons and knew Jim must be seeing someone else. She turned to her mom for help and guidance. Dana said she was distraught and just wanted “to die”. Her mother told her to keep it together. But while still pregnant with John, Dana’s mom passed away after a battle with cancer.

Distraught over her mom’s death Dana went into premature labor, but the doctors managed to stop it and John was born full-term. But the trouble at home continued. Dana says, “things started happening to me in the big house. Jim would come home at noon, rush to get the mail, then take the phone off the hook so nobody could call. I would have people in my home looking at me while I made breakfast. Eventually someone knocked on the door and delivered a subpoena. Jim said it was because of the tax reform act of 1986, it impacted the real estate market and many of the properties he and his partner had for sale went into foreclosure. He had borrowed money from family and friends. He started drinking more, became more violent…not against me, but he refused to tell me what was really going on, his partner wouldn’t talk either.”

Eventually they were going to take our house, but Jim said he had an idea to move the family to another state. He said he had a plan to start up a business. So we made the move. He got our friends, the commissioners, a senator and others to give him money to invest in this new venture. We got a nice house, I decorated it beautifully and all was going to be fine.”

Except Jim couldn’t secure the seed money for the new business. Because he owed money Jim couldn’t get a necessary loan for his new venture. “He had all these great plans,” says Dana. “We were going to make a lot of money. But he couldn’t get funded and then he couldn’t pay back the money he borrowed for us to live on.”

Jim decided it was best to go back to his home state pf Alabama and convinced Dana to make the move with the family, consisting now of three children, Ashley, John and Ben. The family rented two Ryder trucks and headed to a hotel in Birmingham.  Dana says her husband told her he was going to take one of the trucks and put the furniture into a storage unit. So he left to make the drop.

It’s been said the meaning of love is giving another human being the power to destroy you…and then hoping they won’t use it. Until they do.

Jim left that night, and never came back.

“We had no money, no cash, nothing,” says Dana. “I didn’t know what to do. I had never been in such a shock in my whole life. I contacted a friend in Colorado who loved the furniture I had and told her I would sell it to her. I asked her to send the money to buy it. She did. I had a baby grand piano and I called all these churches and got one to buy it for $5,000. They gave me $2,500 up-front and told me they would pay me the rest in a month. I got the cash, loaded the furniture and our clothing into the one Ryder truck and started to drive myself and my kids back home.”

Dana tearfully remembers that long ride back to Colorado. “I had everything loaded up in that truck,” says Dana, describing her experience through her tears. “But I forgot to lock the back latch and it all came out on the highway. It was a mess. I just wanted to get myself and my three kids back home.”

Dana eventually got her family back home, found a townhouse, got a job as a pharmacy technician at a local hospital, managed to get her kids back in school and did the best she could.

But Dana says Jim found his way back there too. Dana says Jim managed to maintain his relationship with the kids through phone calls and ended up staying in a house down the street from the one she purchased. She says he would regularly sneak in and steal money, basically finding a way in while she was at work.

She says she went to friends, co-workers, churches, even the police, because she believed her ex-husband was stalking her and was going to kill her. She says no one would help. Most didn’t believe her, until that day in 1996.

It was May 24th and after agreeing to meet Jim in her kitchen to discuss child support, Dana says she found herself running through her backyard, trying to escape from her ex-husband, who was chasing her…with a gun.

“I heard the voice,” remembers Dana. “It told me to zig and zag. Jim had already fired once and hit me in the arm. I tried to get out, but the fence to the backyard had a padlock on it.” The same lock meant to keep Jim out. Dana says, “the voice told me don’t run in a straight line, so Jim can’t take aim and hit me again. But he eventually caught up to me. He threw me down, stepped on me and put the gun to the back of my neck and pushed it hard. I heard the voice again. It told me to jerk my head and as I did Jim fired the gun. I thought I was going to die. Jim stood up and walked back toward the house. The same voice told me to play dead and not move. I saw him go into the house and heard one more shot. I thought for sure he had shot my son Ben who was the only other person inside the house.”

That’s when the voice also told Dana to turn over and stare up at the trees, focus on something pretty. She says should could taste metal in her mouth and expected to suffocate, for her lungs to fill up with blood, but it didn’t happen and Dana didn’t die.

As she would soon come to learn, the shot she heard inside the home was the single gunshot of Jim taking his own life. The bullet he fired into Dana’s neck had somehow found itself lodged in a spot where the skull meets the spine, just two centimeters from the c-2 vertebrae. The doctors said it was a “God thing” that Dana wasn’t killed and there was nothing they could do right now to get the bullet out.

Eventually the bullet was removed, but Dana says the experience with her ex-husband was so traumatic, it led to post-traumatic stress disorder for her and serious life challenges for her children, sending one to an institution and another into a life of alcoholism and depression.

But the power of the human spirit is limitless and from any situation, there is a chance to find a way back. Those who ignored her cries for help have since come to apologize. Dana immersed herself in her work – first at the pharmacy, a bank, then in service to others suffering through domestic violence and eventually in the insurance industry. In 2012 she found a home and what she calls her “second family” at USHEALTH Advisors.

“I am so blessed to have my friends at USHA,” says Dana. “I adore this place and I am dedicated to the company and to our President, Troy McQuagge. Troy has made it clear this is all about the agents and our customers. My life is my career and I have chosen that over everything else.  I understand what an incredible opportunity this is and I get it. We serve. It’s helping other people everyday. This company gives me the opportunity to make as much money as I want to make. I have fought like a dog in life and I’m used to working hard, I have a great work ethic and I know I have to provide for my family.”

Dana continues, “I also do believe I now speak for the women who have died because of domestic violence. God let me live. I was basically murdered, but I didn’t die. If anyone can learn something from this story, it is when somebody says they need help, they really need help. You don’t turn the other cheek. You do something.”

It’s now Dana’s voice others are hearing to make sure they know how grateful she is. “I want everyone to know that I appreciate every minute God has given me. This is my second chance at life and I’m going to make the most of it.”

Until next time thanks for taking the time.

Your Storyteller,
Mark Brodinsky