The moment was right. There was no doubt left in John Thurman's mind. He got down on one knee, reached for the hand of the woman he loved and gazed deeply into her expectant eyes.
("It was so romantic," she recalled months later. "I felt like I was at Disneyland.")
Then he spoke the words they both knew he would say.
"Cheryl, will you marry me?" he asked. "Again?"
The question was the answer to Cheryl Thurman's prayers. So she said yes, again, and now the Anaheim couple are busy making preparations for their second wedding next month.
So much for the "irreconcilable differences" over which they separated in 1983 and divorced in 1986. Never mind the bitter arguments they had--the time she threw his clothes out on the sidewalk and changed the locks on the doors, the court battles over the child support he wouldn't pay and the visits she wouldn't allow. Forget that John Thurman was practically engaged to another woman less than a year before.
Lightning, it is said, never strikes in the same place twice. The same cannot be said about love. What can be said is that happy endings--and new beginnings--like the Thurmans' don't happen often. Couples who split up and marry each other again are a rarity, Orange County marriage counselors and divorce lawyers said.
And those who are successful in staying married the second time around are rarer still, the lawyers said.
The Thurmans, however, are eager to point out that, in many ways, they are hardly the same two people who exchanged vows in a quick Lake Tahoe ceremony 8 years ago. They've both recently become "born-again" Christians, and they said that change has made all the difference.
"John and I don't understand what happened," Cheryl said. "We only believe it."
The same goes for their newfound religion. "Jesus doesn't ask us to understand," she said. "He only asks us to believe."
The Thurmans, both 36, can't talk about how they found love with each other again without talking about how they found salvation. It's all part of the same story, they said. "What has happened to us is a testimony to the power of God," Cheryl said.
The first time, it was August, 1980, when Cheryl, "out nightclubbing" with a couple of friends, spotted John across the room.
"I'm on the dance floor leaning over a counter and talking to the deejay, and all of a sudden these arms reach around me from behind," John recalls. "I turned around and thought I really did go to heaven. It more or less went from there."
"It was a whirlwind relationship," Cheryl said. "One night, John told me, 'I think I love you, and one day I'll ask you to marry me.'
" 'Why don't you ask me now?' I said. We got married in Tahoe that Thanksgiving, and our daughter was born the following year."
By then, John's small business was growing rapidly. He was making--and they were spending--more and more money. "As he got more involved with his job, I got more involved with shopping," Cheryl said.
"Instead of communicating, we were just getting further apart. There were times when we'd hardly ever talk at all. But as long as we were able to go where we wanted and buy what we wanted, we didn't worry about it.
Then John's business failed and "the bottom fell out," Cheryl said. "And when the money stopped, we stopped."
For the next two years, they seesawed back and forth. John moved out, then moved back in. They argued. They tried to work things out. John tried a couple of jobs, but he couldn't find anything to match his previous income.
"We were really terrible to each other," Cheryl said, turning to exchange an affectionate smile with her former and soon-to-be-again husband. "I nagged at him all the time. But all the criticizing, all the terrible things I did, did not make him different. And underlying all of it was still an emptiness for both of us. We weren't really getting anywhere."
"I had so many other things on my mind," John said. "I didn't take care of my family properly."
In 1983, when their son was 7 months old, John moved out for the last time. By then, Cheryl said, "we were bitter enemies."
"Getting back together was the furthest thing from my mind," John said.
In 1986, about the time their divorce was final, John met and fell in love with another woman, also divorced and the mother of two children.
A year later, he had begun to think seriously of marriage again--but not to Cheryl. About the same time, Cheryl called him out of the blue.
"I told him I was 'born again' and asked him to forgive me," Cheryl said. "Jesus says if you can't forgive your enemies their trespasses, how do you expect the Lord God to forgive you yours?"
The next time he came over to pick up the children, Cheryl greeted him with an enthusiastic hug and kiss. Shocked, he froze, arms stiff at his sides, fists clenched.
"I knew in my heart that we hadn't done everything that we should have to work things out," Cheryl said. "I wanted him to come back; I wanted the children to have their own father."