Sitting in the kitchen this morning in the Starting Over house is a dry erase board that says, “We’ll Miss U Denise!” How true. She was such a larger than life presence; I think we’ll all miss her.
First up for Denise on Graduation Day is her last chat w/ Dr. Stan. He asks about the most important things she learned while on Starting Over. She replies compassion, kindness, joy and peace. She feels she always had compassion, but it was hard to find, so buried beneath her anger. Asked what’s next for her, she believes she will work on finding a career, although when pressed, says she has no plan. She does know she would like to possibly find an agent or taking acting classes. Dr. Stan says those are great ideas, and a collection of great ideas is a plan. He starts to tell Denise how much he will miss her, then decides he will tell her tonight at graduation.
Iyanla meets up with Renee and remarks on how much she likes her green shoes. Renee admits to being nervous about her test today for a possible learning disability. Iyanla urges her to realize the more information she can give them during the testing process, the more it will help them figure out how to help her learn better. Iyanla changes the subject and asks if she has called her dad yet, and Renee admits she doesn’t even have her dad’s phone number. She has tried calling other family members to get it, but hasn’t gotten it yet. She doesn’t even know where he lives to call 411.
Rhonda wants to check in with Bethany and see how she is doing with her timeline, and asks what Bethany thinks actually happened on December eleventh four years ago to make her lose her memory. All Bethany can figure is there was too much pressure on her, making her sick and tired. Yet, she doesn’t understand why that would take her memory away. Rhonda asks if she has to understand why or if she has accepted what has happened to her. She says she keeps having memory flashes that don’t make sense, and she she can’t explain it to her dad or anybody else, but feels she has finally accepted her amnesia. Rhonda wants Bethany to make a chart of her values, and how they compare both before amnesia and after amnesia.
Renee meets with the neuropsychologist, and admits to being nervous about the assessment test. The neuropsychologist tells her not to be; it’s just testing her to see her learning patterns and learning style. I will say that my daughter went through this recently, and while hearing your child has a learning disability is not exactly what you want here, it’s a a relief to know what the answer is to the struggles she has had all her life. It’s a blessing that she is now being helped to overcome this.
Rhonda leads Group today to talk about Denise graduating. Denise’s old self portrait is shown, a B/W image of herself surrounded with clutter. She notes she was pretending to be happy before. She looked good, but inside was a complete mess. She never wants to be that person again. Her new portrait shows her standing alongside Ermanno and their pet – I couldn’t tell whether it was a dog or cat, and can’t remember from Denise’s introduction video which it was. It says “Welcome” on a clean house, as she won’t be embarrassed to have company now.
In Starting Over tradition, graduate Andy Paige arrives for a makeover. Her housemates give her some feedback on what they would like to see. Bethany wants her to keep her red hair as it befits her personality. For her makeup, Cassie would like to see some voluptuous lips. Rachael thinks green eye shadow would look great with her red hair, and Andy agrees. Clothing-wise, Candy would like to see less “boobage”, yet would like to see Denise in something clingy and sexy that moves with her.
Andy brings Denise to soap star Lisa Rinna’s upscale clothing store, Belle Gray. Andy tells Denise she bets she has a whole closetful of black dresses, and Denise has to admit that Denise is right. Hey, Andy, what’s wrong with that? It’s classic! Denise tries on a champagne colored dress and loves the color, but really doesn’t like the panty lines that show. They both settle on a red dress that goes unseen by us viewers, presumably to save suspense for the graduation later.
Dr. Stan meets with Renee after her testing, and she says she feels drained, and that she did good in some areas, and not so good in others. She admits to also being tired about her fears of making the phone call to her father. She hasn’t talked to him since 1997. She has always blamed her father spending her college money for her reason for not going to college, but realizes now it was to cover her fear of being stupid.
Dr. Stan says he doesn’t think she wants to heal the relationship, and Renee says she doesn’t think so either. She knows she has disappointed him and that she is not the daughter he expected. Sounds like her and Candy have more in common than they would have ever thought before. Renee says the worst case scenario would be for him to say screw you, and her dream is for him to say look what you have accomplished. Dr. Stan tell her that if he chooses not to reconnect with her, all she can have is pity for him, for wasting the opportunity.
Rhonda meets with Bethany to check on her placement of values before and after amnesia. They particularly look at her values of hard work. Before amnesia, she strived for A+ across the board on her report cards, and after, though she is plagued with headaches while she works at the bridal shop, she never gives up. The Starting Over house, too, represents her hard work value. Rhonda takes the separating line from between Before Amnesia and After Amnesia and shows her she still has the same value of hard work. She is the same person she was before, and there is only one Bethany, not two.
Denise is at the salon and they are discussing how her hair should look. They all agree to keep the red, and she says she is thirty-four years old. She doesn’t want to look like a kid, but doesn’t want to look like an old lady either. She wants to be balanced outside just like she feels she is inside. They will maintain her length, but add dimension.
Renee is sitting near the phone and nearly hyperventilating over calling her father. Bethany offers to get her a drink. Rachael comes in and kisses her, and one by one her other housemates arrive for support. Her father doesn’t answer and she leaves a message.
Denise is led into the house with a paper bag over her head so no one sees her makeover just yet. There is bright red yarn stringing out of it for hair and Denise thinks Carrot Top would be proud.
Starting Over graduates Kim and Towanda arrive to support Denise during her graduation. Both hug their former housemates and the ones that have arrived since their departures. They say it is fun to be back here again, and excited to be part of it.
Denise has seen others graduate, and now it’s finally her turn, making her very emotional. This is a side we don’t get to see of Denise very often. Denise makes her entrance and Rhonda says it’s an honor to host this graduation. She talks of the many memories of Denise’s time in the house – how her life was such a literal mess beforehand and how it was affecting her marriage. Rhonda discusses how they discovered her mess and her bullying were masks to hide her internal pain. Her biggest moments were forgiving her deceased father and finally finding herself after being locked in an all white room with nothing to occupy herself for an entire day. Rhonda has seen that she has a passion for helping others like Shirley, and that Denise has a willingness to persevere. Rhonda says this is an honor and joy. She has laughed and cried with Denise as Denise has resisted, whined, wanted, complained and loved. All along she was being Denise. Rhonda says she’s going to miss her and she loves her.
Dr. Stan comes to the podium and says he always gets sad at graduations, particularly this one. These women become part of his life, and when they leave, he loses a part of himself. Plus, he says, no one calls him Dr. Stan like Denise. And no one makes him laugh like Denise. That was very touching, nearly as much as when he offered to be Josie’s surrogate father should she ever need one.
Rachael wants to say that Denise is very notorious for being funny, but she will always remember Denise’s compassion. For nine years no one held her or cried with her. Denise was the first person to do that, and it means to much to her. Denise, for her part, says she will miss Rachael the most. She sees so much of herself in Rachael. I wish Candy would have spoken today of Denise leaving. We know she had way more special feelings for her than she ever let on.
Iyanla presents Denise with her graduation gifts. A $2000 gift certificate to Closet Storage and Concepts. She will also be visited by an organizational specialist. Denise issues her last joke in the Starting Over house as she asks if it will be Shirley visiting her. To honor Denise’s strong marriage, she and Ermanno will enjoy a romantic weekend at a spa in Mystic Connecticut.
At the podium, Denise tells Rhonda she knew they had a connection when she could see the compassion in her eyes. She is so thankful Rhonda came into her life. She wants to give Rhonda a report card like the one she received, and wants to give her all As. To Iyanla, Denise says she is truly delicious, and wants to eat her with a fork and knife. To Dr. Stan she says he set an example of what a kind, sensitive, understanding man could be. She tells the women they are all her sisters, and that sometimes you just gotta get out there sometimes.
The phone rings as the women are outside wishing Denise a fond farewell, and we hear, “Hello? Hello? Renee?” We know deep down in our hearts her father is calling for her, and hope someone will hear he’s trying to reach her.
Dr. Stan is right. These women not only become part of Rhonda, Iyanla and Dr. Stan’s and each other’s lives, they become part of this house, and I feel being involved in these women’s lives five days a week that they have become part of my life. But you just gotta get out there sometimes.
I welcome all questions and comments and LauraBelle@realityshack.com