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Diane Ritchey Figley

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Michael Love By Michael Love

This article appears in the July issue of PDXScene Magazine. It is best viewed in that context but is also published here for your convenience. If you would like to see this article and others in their original magazine layouts you can find it here.

Fellow lifestyler and group organizer Diane Ritchie Figley has been a good friend of mine for almost as long as I’ve been in the lifestyle. She is an amazing woman who has gone through so much adversity. The struggles this woman has endured would break the strongest of people, yet she has emerged with her faith and her heart strong and loving.

We’d missed connections a couple of times for this interview, and literally wrapped it up post deadline for the magazine to bring it to you with the ink still fresh! Please forgive any typos or errors you might come across.

So let’s start at the beginning: How do you identify in the lifestyle?
I would say that we are open relationship and swinging.  

How did that start for you?
In 1999 I left my first marriage and I met Rob. Rob was supposed to be casual, no strings attached and all that. Very soon we realize that it was serious. I did everything I could to try to scare him away. I told him that I want to try new things sexually and things like that. Anything I said he said “I do too”. And I’m like “whoa!”

We explored the two of us together with different aspects of sex. We’ve heard about this place called the Ace of Hearts. It took us probably 5 drive-bys to actually get up the nerve to go in. Actually we didn’t go in alone. When we went the first time, we went in with a group of people… We had joined what, at that time, was a Yahoo group, and we did meet-and-greets and social gatherings. They were all going over there one night and we decided to go with them.
The strange thing was we that had dinner with a couple that we were going to go there with. Rob was a wedding minister and during the course of that dinner the woman said “my daughter is getting married this summer” and it just so happened to be that Rob was going to be the minister! We were both a little freaked out because we hadn’t told anybody in the lifestyle that we were wedding ministers. When that came out, we went back to the car and he says “oh my God can we actually do this?” and I’m like “I’m sure she’s not going to tell anybody you know.”

You know it’s kind of funny and we ended up going and had never been there before and the person at the door was like “Oh you must be the wedding minister…”

They already knew who you were…?
They did… everybody up there knew and it was like okay we’re just jumping in as who we are and it worked out for us. We communicated a lot… talking about everything beforehand what our boundaries and rules would be… what we didn’t want done. That’s how we got started.

So you said that you had left your previous marriage How long were you married prior to that?
I was with him 20 years.

So 20 years is a long time What would you say precipitated the end of that relationship?
{Long pause–deep breath} It was a very abusive relationship mentally and physically. Over time I realized it. A lot of my girlfriends realized it before we married and tried to talk me out of it. A lot of things happened that I can’t explain why I stayed with him. It was very painful but when my sister got married in 1999, I realized that what she had was love. Her husband-to-be and I were talking and I just realized how much he loved her. That wasn’t anything that I had. I talked about it with a counselor,  and my son was up to college at that time—and I made the choice to leave. It wasn’t easy… he tracked me down. I had to move three times within four months and I had to get a restraining order. It wasn’t pretty.

What a contrast to go from that 20 years of that abusive “monogamous” relationship to this fairytale relationship that you were in with Rob.
My first husband was not monogamous… he had many affairs. He made me feel so inadequate that I never even considered that anybody else would ever be attracted to me.

How long were you married to Rob?
14 years

14 years of being open… 14 years of being Mrs. Claus?
I didn’t embrace Mrs. Claus right away. When I first met Rob he was the mascot for the Portland Rockies AAA baseball team that used to play in the stadium where the Timbers now play. I was what they call a “handler”, because in that huge raccoon suit you don’t have any peripheral vision to the sides or up and down. We would run up and down the stadium and hand out prizes and talk to kids get pictures of kids, throw out baseballs, he always did something in the 7th inning stretch out on the field… it was magical.

When I called my girlfriend I told her I had my first date she said, “Well what is he like?”

I said well “He’s a raccoon AND he’s Santa!”.
She told me that she thought that sounded perfect for what I needed right then.

Nothing too serious
Right? I mean how can you be serious with a raccoon?

When did you start embracing your role as Mrs. Claus then?
Probably about 2005. I would go with him to Santa Claus things but I didn’t dress as Mrs. Claus. I dressed in holiday attire but I was never Mrs. Claus. Then it just kind of came naturally.

It was a lot of fun for awhile…we had elves and all kinds of helpers to help. The year that I got breast cancer was when we really relied heavily on elves because he needed someone to be with him and I wasn’t able to help much in late 2009-2010.

Let’s talk about breast cancer and how you dealt with it.
It was devastating. You see since my divorce, I felt my confidence had grown because I was large-breasted and I felt that was my greatest asset in the lifestyle. I’ve always been big.

So at first I thought it’s just going to be a little lumpectomy. Then they did the biopsy and she came back and she said “it is cancer and we didn’t get clear margins”. What that means is that they got the entire tumor but they didn’t get all the cancer cells around that tumor. So they had to go back in. Long story short, 17 surgeries within 18 months later and I had bilateral mastectomies and underwent chemo. Back then our team then was Holly and Charles and Paul Smith and Rob and myself. The five of us got me through it.

It’s almost a sin to say something like that as a long story short because it doesn’t do it justice and it’s an incredibly long journey…. It’s a journey you’re still on isn’t it?
It is actually. I recently had another lump in my left breast and I kind of freaked out and I went to my doctor and he did a scan. They think it’s a fatty tumor but I have to wait another 6 months to know for sure. Yeah that kind of stuff is weird because it seems like they took it all, what more can they take?

… And you get to go through the rest of your life living in fear of every single thing that comes along?
No I don’t live like that. I really don’t. Life has taught me many things and one of the most important lessons is “Whatever is meant to be, will be.”

So for a while there you were doing events for cancer and raising money for cancer, that sort of thing?Yes that was something Club Sesso did a lot of. Once a month they had a Pink Party and half the proceeds from the door fee and some of the bar sales went to local cancer charities. Over the course of 3 years Club Sesso donated over $15,000 to cancer treatments locally. Each year I was able to find partners that would match that donation so in essence all told we raised over $30,000 to help other women who might not have been able to afford treatment on their own.

Are you still actively involved in that?
No, I’m retired from that. In that I’m a Survivor I have a story to tell, but the difficulties that I’ve had on my journey, I feel for me to share it right off the bat with newly-diagnosed cancer patients would scare them to death, because mine wasn’t typical, if there is such a thing as typical. Most people don’t have to have the amount of surgeries that I did.

You’ve literally gone through a bit of a rollercoaster because you had the lows of your first marriage, the highs of your meeting and marrying Rob, having that fairy tale relationship with him, and then the lows through the cancer and then just as you beat cancer, we then lost Rob…
Yes that was incredibly tough and very unexpected. He had developed a growth on his pancreas. It was positioned in such a way that they could not get a biopsy on it to find out if it was cancerous. There were two options: One was to wait 6 months and see if it grew. The other option was to do a very difficult procedure called a Whipple procedure. The procedure involves taking out pretty much every organ in your body to get behind them to the pancreas. There were a number of things going on at that point that led us to the decision to do the procedure.

Because of my treatment with my cancer my memory wasn’t as good as it used to be and the company that I worked for for 35 years offered me a medical retirement. In 2012 I was retired and they let me keep the insurance portion for Rob for one year. So Rob was going to be losing his insurance as of January 2014. All of this was all going on in 2013. We didn’t know what we were going to do with Rob to get insurance. It was during this last year of insurance when they found this tumor. They discovered it while treating Rob’s kidney stones in January of 2013 and just from January 2013 to June it had grown and was starting to put pressure on his spine. So we felt it had to come out whatever it was, while he had the good insurance coverage, so we made the decision for him to have the procedure and got it scheduled.

He had the procedure done in August of 2013. The surgery itself went great, as great as it could be, but he developed infections. He came home twice in about six weeks, once for just 18 hours, and I had to take him back for infection and he went back into surgery that day.

Then he came home on September 14th because his birthday was September 15th. Rob’s big joke with the surgeon was that he wanted to be home for his birthday. Even though there had been several complications, the doctor said “I think he’s good to go you can take him home.” He stayed with us from Friday the 14th until Monday night or Tuesday morning early on the 17th. He needed to go back into the hospital he was very sick with infection. It got worse in the hospital…

On the 21st we had a meeting with the doctor and he gave us the bad news.. Rob wasn’t going to pull through it this time and if there were friends or family who wanted to say goodbye, that they should come as quickly as possible. My good friend posted that for me on Facebook while I tried to come to grips with the realization of what was happening.

That day was incredible The outpouring of people that came to the hospital to see him, there were over a hundred people that showed up at the hospital. You were one of them… We had brides and grooms that we had married. We were very active in the local Vancouver political scene so we had city council people stop by. We had so many people from the city come, we have so many people from the lifestyle come… It was incredible the amount of love he was shown. We had worked very hard that year on the R74 campaign to legalize same-sex marriage a lot of people from that campaign came. The real bearded Santa’s came… It was such an amazing hodgepodge of people.

I remember the day and at the same time it was such a blur that I don’t. Two or three people could go in at a time to see him but he wasn’t coherent because they had put him on a ventilator. He mentally couldn’t respond… he wasn’t there. The ICU Nurse said, “You know usually that many people don’t show up.” She said “I feel like I know him and I feel like he was a great man.” We decided around 11 p.m. to disconnect the ventilator and stop everything and he passed away peacefully at about 11:20 that evening.

Then you start another recovery process and going through the loss of your fairytale husband and now you are a single female in the lifestyle
That was up for debate. It took me about 18 months to come out of hiding. Our house was in escrow but got delayed when Rob passed. But it finally closed in January of 2014 year and I moved out of the house that we shared. It was very hard but also good because I think if I would have stayed there it would have become a monument and I probably would have never left.

I moved in with a friend and we rented a house together and I stayed in my room a lot. I went to a lot of counseling. Weekly sessions with my therapist trying to just figure out what was going on. My mother came at Thanksgiving and said you’re not staying this Christmas here and so I went home to be with her that year.

Rob’s death literally changed everything in my life. I had just retired. We had plans to travel. Everything that we had planned out was gone. At the time he was the president of IBRBS which is International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas. We would go to different states to meet different chapters. Everything I knew was over; I had no job because I’ve been retired.

I felt real close to Rob that he was with me and I still feel that he’s with me. We had a cat—“Mr. Katt” we called him. He was Rob’s cat because he was a feral cat and Rob had lured him in to become our cat. The evening I got home after Rob had passed, I’m in my bedroom crying on the bed and this cat jumped up on the bed. Me and the cat hadn’t gotten along real well and I looked at the cat and I looked up at the ceiling and said “you left me Mr. Katt.”

However as things work out I felt comfort from Mr. Katt. When things were the hardest for me the cat was always there kind of like Rob kneading on me the way that cats do, as if to calm me, and relax me.

At 18 months afterward, I felt Rob was telling me to get out. That he wanted to give me a swift kick in the rear and saying you can’t live in here, you can’t stay like this. So I slowly started going out again, and I met some people. Things were going fairly well—as it were a friend of ours had told someone about me, that he should meet me. I was at a party and happened to meet him. Our first encounter was not all that great. It was a play party and I was playing. I felt somebody tap my ankle and I looked up. He said, “Are you Diane?”

I said “Yes?”

“Hi I’m Russ, Marsha said we should meet. But my ride’s going, so I’ve got to go.”

I’m like “I don’t know who this guy is and Marsha hadn’t told me anything about him.” I was like “okay” {shrugs}. So he left and I continued on what I was doing.

Over the course of the month we met again, and we talked, and we ended up going out. He was looking for a partner in crime and he’s retired also. We had a lot of the same interests and desires to travel and different things we liked.

Next thing I knew we were in love and I fought it for a very long time—I felt I couldn’t offer Russ enough. I felt that Rob was still such a huge part of my life that it wouldn’t be fair to Russ and the guilt I felt for finding love again was huge.

Russ said to me when we first started, “I know you love Rob, and you’ll always love Rob, but I believe in time there’ll be a place in your heart for me as well.”

That just meant so much so we continue dating and loving. I start to realize that if Rob was here, I feel that he and Russ would be good friends.

That has to be hard for him. Because everyone talks about Rob, because he was larger than life. Russ must at times feel like he’s living in his shadow.
It is! It was always like “Oh here’s the Figleys” walking into wherever we’d be and and that is entirely part of the reason why we’re moving to Arizona.

To get your own start?
To get our own start, to find our own friends and to create our own memories.

So let’s talk about where the future is taking you
Russ and I got married on April 1st. Russ and I had been talking for probably 2 years about moving somewhere else. It’s awfully cold here, the winters are 9 months. Financially the cost of living here is has gotten tough for us. We’re both on fixed incomes, and the memories I have here, I literally cannot go anywhere and not have a memory of Rob. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, at the same time it’s not entirely good either.

In January we went on a vacation to Arizona. Of course January here is not the greatest, but January in Arizona is 80° and we found ourselves sitting out at night on a patio in the outdoor sections of restaurants, with no sweater on and watching the sunset. I think we kind of fell in love with the climate.

So while we were there that week, we looked around at a few places. Russ had lived in Tucson, so he’s familiar and Russ’s dog is from Arizona. We looked around and I looked on Craigslist and I was looking at different apartments and we drove by several and kind of thought about how affordable the cost of living is down there.

Another factor in our decision is that my mother lives in Long Beach, California. For me to drive down there from here is a long drive with an overnight stay somewhere in between. I used to be able to drive it in 15 hours flat but I’m not that person anymore, it’s just not possible. During the winter, you never know if you can make it through the ice and snow that’s up by Shasta Lake. So currently I fly a lot to go see her. I try and go down there every few months. From Arizona my drive is five and a half hours. I’ll be able to pick her up and bring her back with me, and then take her back home. I have two nieces that live in Arizona as well. One is about 15 minutes away the other is about an hour away. We’re excited to have family we’re going to get reunited with. Russ and I are going to be the crazy aunt and uncle. We’re very much looking forward to it—a fresh start.

I’m looking forward to meeting people who don’t know me as Rob’s wife or Mrs. Space Captain or mover-and-shaker of different things. We’re going to be able to create a new life for ourselves

So you’ll get to retire that part of your life and only live it on your terms?
Right! I will still have friends that are in the Santa community that we will keep in touch with as well as other people from other communities, but it won’t be an everyday thing where I drive down the street and think “oh Rob and I went there” or in the market somebody will come up to me “oh you were Mrs. Claus.”

When I think about all the family albums that Rob and I were in over the years… We got to where we were Santa for some of the kids of the kids we were Santa for. I’m honored for that, I’m honored for all the weddings that we did. Rob officiated over 1,100 weddings. He officiated the first same sex marriage in Vancouver at midnight on the night it was legal. The memories I have are fantastic and they’re good but I need to get beyond them. The memories are in my heart and in my mind but I don’t need to live them everyday for the rest of my life.

During the course of all this you brought back the Misfits and breathed some life back into that group. It was something you’d run before?
Yeah, when Rob passed I didn’t shut it down, I just wasn’t doing anything with it. I didn’t have the heart or the energy.

But now it’s kind of back What is the future of the Misfits with you leaving?
It is. I recently had dinner with several of the Misfits. They asked me what would become of the group? I told them that I wasn’t really sure, I didn’t feel right running it from Arizona. I wanted it to be active as a social group. The Misfits kind of came about when Rob and I were kicked out of a couple of groups. One time we were kicked out for planning a party at our house and posted it in the group before we consulted the organizer of that group to see if that was okay. We just announced it and they got all pissed, and they kicked us out.

I love to entertain, Rob and I loved to entertain, Russ and I love to entertain so we just started this group called the Misfits of Swing and we invited all of our friends that were kind of socially awkward or those who were the “round peg trying to fit in a square hole” people. We’re just people. We’re all just people, people… If you can’t just realize it’s not all about you then you’ve got problems.

I did bring the Misfits back. I think it’s a good group. We do trivia, we do dining out, we do parties, clubs etc.

I would like for somebody to step up and take it over but I don’t know who that would be.

I’m kind of particular whomever I decide to take it over would have to understand what the meaning behind the Misfits is. I don’t want just anybody to take it over.

It’s looking like there’s going to be as many as 6 people that are going to help run different events and do different things with it. I’ll still be there to start conversation and post threads to make sure the vision is kept alive, and keep contact with our friends of course.

Is there going to be a Misfits Arizona chapter?
No, we just want to be people… we don’t want to be organizers. We just want to have fun and relax. You know, do our thing.

Are you still open or are you going to seek out other people? Have you looked into the lifestyle scene down there?
We looked into it in January, and we met some people down there already and have been in constant contact with them. They’re really excited that we’re going to be down there. We’re already in some clubs on SLS. There’s actually a club in Phoenix that’s open 7 days a week so we’ll be actively pursuing… as we’re riding off into the sunset…

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