I can never find the quiet. I know that someday this will end and I will have plenty of quiet time, but right now I can’t imagine that being my reality. Someone always needs me.
Most days I just hope to survive until she falls asleep. I constantly ask God, the universe, whoever can hear my thoughts, to give me the strength to carry on. It’s the mantra that plays in my head all day long until she falls asleep at night, and then I say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you” with a huge sigh of relief. I survived another day.
I always wonder how I find the strength to keep going. Everyone in my family and inner circle are shocked that I keep doing what I’m doing. Some have begged me to stop, find another way, or have her placed outside the home, for they fear she will eventually kill me. I refuse to listen to them or entertain their suggestions, because I know in my heart, being her caretaker won’t last forever. I’m meant to be her caretaker for her entire life, and no one can stop me from doing otherwise.
I often wonder how I can love, more than life itself, the person who abuses me daily. Why do I crave her kisses, her bear hugs, and her contagious smiles, when I know she will suddenly lash out at me without any warning?
I would rather die taking care of her than give up on her. I am her mother, her voice, her strength, her advocate, and her biggest fan. I am also a wife and a mother to my two other beautiful girls. They all need me to be strong, so they can pretend our lives are “normal.” Even when I feel like dying inside, I carry on, because that is who I am. This is the story of loving Tiara.
Like most major decisions in my life, the decision to have a second child was made on a whim. One December morning in 1997, my four-year-old daughter, Tabitha, walked into the bathroom while I was getting ready for work and asked, “Mom, am I ever going to have a sister or a brother?”
“Well, I don’t know. I haven’t really ever thought about it. Do you want a little brother or sister?” I asked.
“Yes, yes! I want a little sister to play with,” Tabitha proclaimed with excitement.
“Hmm, let me talk to Dad and think about it, sweetie,” I said.
This was a shocker. I was twenty-seven years old, had been married for five years, and was working as a legal secretary while attending law school at night. My plate was full, and having another child right then wasn’t even a blip on my radar. I barely saw my husband, Lou, because we were both working full-time, trying to figure out how to make enough money so we could live in the community I grew up in, Newport Beach, California. Lou was working six days a week selling cars at Huntington Beach Jeep Eagle Hummer, and my mom was watching Tabitha when she wasn’t at preschool, which was a considerable chunk of time. We were just starting to recover emotionally and financially from the trauma we endured during the first two years of our marriage, and having another child didn’t seem like the wisest choice at the moment.
Lou and I had a storybook wedding, but the fairy tale had ended once we started our married life together. We both came from affluent families and assumed money was something we would always have. I had first spotted Lou standing next to his white convertible BMW, which was a few years newer than the white BMW I was driving at the time. Lou is six foot two, with dark curly hair; but he kept it short, so the curls weren’t evident until he needed a trim. His small nose, full lips, and large hooded hazel eyes contrasted his broad shoulders, bulging biceps, and long legs, which served him well as a defensive tackle football player in high school. Because his ears stuck out too far and his fitted Levi’s 501 jeans were out of style, his handsome features weren’t overly intimidating.
We met during a Friday afternoon party in September of 1989, in front of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) house, where he was a pledge. I lived next door in the Pi Beta Phi house, so when I wasn’t home, on campus, or at the gym, I was usually hanging out at the SAE house. All my male friends, past boyfriends, and current boyfriend were SAEs, so it was easy for me to insert myself into the conversation he was having with several people. He noticed me right away and introduced himself.
I was tall and thin like my mom but had fair skin and gray-blue eyes like my dad. I had naturally blonde hair, which I wore long, and an hourglass figure, with a butt my mom and I deemed too big. My physical features gave my mom a sense of pride because she didn’t consider herself pretty, despite always being dressed fabulously and put together from head to toe.
My parents gave me love, family vacations around the world, and new clothes and shoes every week. Often I came home from school to find a new outfit waiting for me on my bed. My mom didn’t like me wearing the same outfit more than a few times. I needed to be the best dressed and prettiest girl in school, or she would be disappointed. I feared failing her by not being pretty enough. At eleven years old, I had quit the swim team, the year after I had won “most valuable swimmer,” because my shoulders were becoming too broad. In elementary school, I didn’t allow myself to run during recess or PE, after discovering my face turned beet red when I overexerted myself. I took diet pills at thirteen, when my body started changing during puberty, but my mom found them and forbade me from ever taking them again. Being overweight wasn’t an option, so every day, my goal was to make it without food; but I always got too hungry and failed.
After being bullied by eighth graders because my clothes were too nice, during my first week of junior high, I knew something had to change.
My mom’s advice was to “ignore them all; they are just jealous.”
She had been giving me this advice my entire life, and it no longer felt right. After thinking about my predicament, I decided I would push aside my shy tendencies, which everyone interpreted as being stuck-up, and become the nicest person in the school. At twelve years old, I realized I wanted to be more than pretty; I wanted to be liked for my personality, not admired or hated for how I looked.
The next day I started using my smile to greet every person I encountered, and my life changed immediately. Being overly friendly and outgoing felt comfortable, like who I was meant to be. From that day on, I started on my quest to becoming the person I was meant to be, and I have never stopped striving to be the best possible human. Sophomore year in high school, a boy I was dating introduced me to Leo Buscaglia’s books, and my world opened further. Leo’s words in Living, Loving and Learning taught me I was worthy of love, even if I wasn’t perfect. I didn’t understand being perfect was impossible and only an attribute given to God, but at fifteen, my mind was expanding beyond what I had been taught at home or in school.
While talking to Lou for the first time, I learned he was from Northern California and a new pledge at twenty-two years old. He appeared to be shy or had difficulty making conversation—I wasn’t sure which. I could feel the immediate attraction between us as we stood talking together, long after everyone else in the group had walked away. He later confessed that he thought I was so pretty, he was overcome with nerves and couldn’t figure out what to say. An hour passed and then he said, “I’m so sorry, but I have to leave. I need to go pick up my mom at the airport, and I’m already late. She’s visiting for the weekend.”
“Oh my gosh, go. I don’t want you to be late for your mom,” I said.
He paused, took a breath, and then hesitantly said, “Come with me.”
“To pick up your mom at the airport?” I questioned.
“I’m pretty sure your mom wouldn’t appreciate that.”
“She won’t care, I promise. Come with me,” Lou urged.
“Hmmm, I don’t think it’s a good idea. But you should hurry; you don’t want to keep your mom waiting.”
“She doesn’t mind if I’m late. I’ll leave in a minute.”
“I’m going to go find Mara. It was great meeting you. Have a fun weekend with your mom. I’ll see you around,” I said as I walked away with my trademark big smile. I didn’t see him for a week.
When I finally saw him again, I was waiting in line at the SAE house, where we were to get our pictures taken for the composite. I was with one of my best friends, Mara, when I spotted him a few spaces in line ahead of us. I quietly pointed him out to her, and then she thought it would be a good idea to say in her loudest voice, “Tiffani, this line is taking forever!”
Everyone in front of us turned around, including Lou. He saw me, and his face flushed into a beaming smile. He gave me a slight wave and then turned back around. I was expecting a little more than just a wave and a smile from someone who had invited me to pick up his mom from the airport, but whatever. I started doubting my assessment of him. He had seemed so sweet and sincere, but maybe he was your standard frat boy, and I had misinterpreted his shyness. I decided I needed to find out the truth about this guy.
The next week we were picking SAE little brothers, and I told Mara I was going to put Lou down as my pick. Each big sister put down her first three choices, and the pledges did the same. My good friend Grant was in charge of matching up the pairs. A few days after we had made our picks, I asked Grant if he assigned Lou as my little brother.
He looked at me a little nervously and said, “Umm, he didn’t put you down as a choice, Tiff.”
“Well, that doesn’t matter, just give him to me anyways. He will be happy when he finds out it’s me,” I declared.
“Well, I can’t do that. It’s not fair, honey.”
Grant was one of my very best male friends, and he grew up in the same town as Lou, so he felt an obligation to us both.
I sweetly smiled at Grant and said, “I promise he will love having me as his big sister. I will give him the best presents during reveal week. Please,” I begged.
“This is what I’ll do. I’ll talk to Lou about it and see what he says when I mention your name.”
The next day, I went in search of Grant.
“Did you talk to him yet?” I asked.
“I did, and when I asked him if he wanted you as his big sister, he flat out said, ‘No! I don’t want Tiffani. She has a boyfriend.’ I’m sorry Tiff, but I can’t give him to you.”
I was super annoyed and decided to play hardball with Grant.
“Grant, you have to give him to me. You owe me,” I said threateningly. He didn’t owe me anything; I just said that.
He looked at me and saw I wasn’t going to back down. I could see him weighing who was more important to him. Lou, his friend from high school and a pledge in his fraternity or me, one of his best friends.
He sighed. “Fine, you win. I’ll give him to you, but if he is mad, it’s your fault.”
“Thank you, Grant! You won’t regret this, I promise.” I hugged him and ran off to prepare for little brother Reveal Week.
The short version: Lou received the best gifts of any pledge during Reveal Week, and when I revealed my identity to him, he picked me up, swung me around, and planted a big kiss on my lips. The next day he called to thank me for all the gifts and invited me to dinner as a thank-you. I immediately broke up with his pledge brother, who I had only been dating for about six weeks, just in case the night turned into a date; I refused to be a cheater. We fell in love on that date. When I came home from our date, I told Mara: “Oh my gosh, BF, he is totally into me!”
“How do you know he is so into you?
“Because I could tell. It’s obvious. He showed up with a bottle of champagne and took me to the beach.”
“Well, I’m worried he is a player. I know you like him, but you need to take it slow.”
“I’m not going to get hurt, don’t worry!”
“You know I worry. I just don’t want to see you sad when he breaks your heart.”
“He won’t! I’m leaving for Paris in four months, so it’s not like anything can really happen. I’m just having fun for once and not overthinking it,” I reassured her.
The landline started ringing and interrupted our conversation. I picked up the receiver and heard Lou’s voice. “Tiffani?”
“Hi, it’s me. You’re calling already?”
“I just got home—I miss you already. I needed to call and hear your voice,” Lou said.
“Really? You miss me?”
“Hmmm, I had so much fun tonight. Thank you,” I said swooningly as Mara stared at me.
“What are you doing tomorrow? I need to see you.”
“I have class all morning, and then I need to study.”
“I’ll pick you up after class.”
“Okay. I guess I can study later,” I said, then asked, “Do you have class tomorrow?”
“I only have water ski class, and then I’m free for the day. What time should I pick you up?”
“Come get me at two p.m., that should work.”
“I’m not sure I can wait until then—but I guess I have to. Sleep good,” he said.
I hung up and started jumping up and down in excitement as I said to Mara, “I told you he was into me!”
“Fine, you’re right, but I still don’t trust him. You need to be careful!” she warned.
Lou and I started spending all our free time together but decided to keep our relationship a secret from everyone, except our best friends. We didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by being together. Lou had a girlfriend who lived in Santa Barbara, but they had agreed to date other people while away at college. They had dated for years, and she wasn’t worried about him falling in love with someone else; so he didn’t want to tell her unless we had a future together. I had my own baggage with several SAE boys, and we knew everyone would think our relationship was another fling for us both. We didn’t think it was a fling, but because I was leaving to study abroad in Paris the next semester, we didn’t know what would happen.
After Christmas, I left for Paris, he stayed in San Diego, and we desperately missed each other. We didn’t make any promises to each other, but we ended up talking on the phone so frequently, Lou’s phone was disconnected at the end of the semester because he couldn’t afford to pay the exorbitant bill. When the semester ended, Lou came with my parents to pick me up from the airport. A few days later, we drove up north together so I could finally meet his family, and he broke the news to me: he wouldn’t be returning to school next semester. His dad was refusing to pay for school because he thought college was a waste. He wanted Lou back in Danville, working for the family business.
Despite being devastated, I returned to school and moved into a house on Baja Street with my four best friends, Mara, Laura, Beth, and Jen, and we dated long-distance for a year. At the end of the year, I moved up north for the summer to see if we would still get along while living under the same roof for two months. I was initially supposed to have my own room in his mom’s house, but plans changed, and we ended up moving into an apartment with a roommate. My parents were livid we were living together for the summer and made it clear it better not ever happen again until we were married, or else.
We loved being together all the time, and I needed to plan my future, so I gave him an ultimatum one morning at the end of the summer, while drinking coffee in our underwear: “I’m going back to college and graduating in four months. We need to be engaged before I graduate because my parents won’t tolerate us living together, and I’m not moving up north without a ring.”
“You know I want to get engaged, but I don’t have the money for a ring right now,” he said.
“I can wait for a ring. I just want to have a plan in place, so I will know we are getting married after I graduate in December,” I declared.
“Well, if you want to get engaged so bad, why don’t you just ask me to marry you then,” he challenged.
“Really? You want me to ask you?”
“Sure, why not?” he said.
“Fine!” I said as I bent down on one knee, with a pair of floral satin underwear as my only clothing. “Will you marry me?”
His eyes became the size of saucers as he looked at me and said: “Yes, I will marry you.”
“So, it’s official; we’re engaged?” I asked.
“Yes, we are engaged,” he said as he ran off to the bathroom and started dry heaving into the toilet.
I picked up the phone and called my mom. “Mom, we are engaged.”
“Well, it’s about time. Did you get a ring yet?” she asked.
“No, he doesn’t have money for one yet, but we can set the date,” I said.
“What month do you want to get married?” she asked.
“We thought February would be a good month. Next month is my twenty-second birthday, so I’ll be married at twenty-two, just like Dad. It’s perfect! We can plan the wedding during my last semester of college, and then I’ll only have two months at home with you guys before I move up north with Lou. I’m so excited!”
“I’ll call the church right now and call you back,” Mom said.
The phone rang five minutes later.
“Okay, the church has February 15 or February 29, 1992. We need to lock in one of those dates because it’s only six months away.”
I yelled into the bathroom, “Lou, come here, we need to pick a date. Do you want to get married on February 15th or 29th?” I asked him.
“Well, February 29 is a leap year, so we’ll only have an anniversary every four years, so I like that one.” He laughed, “I’ll only have to buy you a present every four years.” He laughed again, thinking he was funny.
“I like that date too. February 15 is too close to Valentine’s Day. I don’t care if it’s a leap year,” I said as he returned to the bathroom.
“Okay, Mom, reserve the church for February 29. We can figure out the reception location when I come home next weekend to start planning,” I said into the phone.
“Great, I’ll bring the check down to the church today. Love you. This is going to be so much fun to plan. I’ve needed a big project! I better tell Dad to make more money,” she said laughingly before hanging up the phone.
Lou disappeared for the rest of the day and kept avoiding my calls. I was so excited, and he seemed depressed. Lou finally came home later that night and told me why he was so sad. He had already started planning with my sister and Mara how he was going to ask me to marry him over Labor Day weekend before my birthday, and now he lost the chance.
“I’ll only ever have one chance to ask you to marry me, and I fucked it up. I missed my chance, and it’s my own fault. I dared you into asking me; I didn’t realize you would actually do it,” he said.
“I’m sorry, but you dared me. You want to marry me, right?”
“Yes! That’s why I have been making a plan. I love you more than life itself; you know that.”
“I thought so, but I got scared when you wouldn’t talk to me today,” I said.
“I’ll start working on getting you the best ring ever, and I’ll surprise you with that, so don’t ask when you are getting your ring. It will be a surprise,” he declared.
“Okay, deal. You know I want marquise- or emerald-cut diamond and not a round, right?” I said while smiling and laughing.
“I know what you want, Tiffani, now leave it alone.”
“Fine. Don’t get bossy with me, babe,” I said teasingly.
Four months later, he surprised me with a two-and-a-half-carat marquise diamond on his twenty-fifth birthday, December 6, 1991. I was shocked the diamond was so huge since he barely had enough money for a plane ticket to visit me in San Diego, but I wasn’t complaining. It was gorgeous!
“Lou, how much was this ring?”
“It’s none of your business.”
“I know, but you can’t afford a ring like this. You don’t have any money.”
“I hate when you say I don’t have any money.”
“I’m sorry, but you are always worried about money, and now you bought me this huge diamond ring. It doesn’t make sense.”
“Do you like it?”
“Yes, I love it! It’s absolutely gorgeous,” I responded.
“Well, then leave it alone. Be happy you got the ring you wanted.”
“You know I can’t leave it alone. Just tell me how you paid for it, and I’ll stop talking about it.”
“Fine, I’ll tell you the story if you promise to stop talking about it.”
“I went to the Jewelry Mart in San Francisco with my dad, and he helped me pick this out for you. He said to buy the biggest diamond I could afford now, so I wouldn’t have to upgrade it later. Your diamond looks like a three-carat, but it is only two and a half. It has a tiny flaw, but you can’t see it. Because of the flaw, it wasn’t as expensive.”
“But how did you pay for it?”
“I’m getting to that part.”
“Okay, I’m listening.”
“Well, after we picked this one out for you, we negotiated a deal with the guy.”
“And, you paid him with cash, a credit card, you financed it, what?”
“Be patient. I gave the jeweler two checks from the car wash and told him to hold the second one for a week.”
“Please tell me the check isn’t going to bounce.”
“I’ll make sure it doesn’t bounce.”
“This ring must have been almost ten thousand dollars. How can you afford that?”
“I’m not telling you how much it was, but it wasn’t that much. You promised to stop talking about it if I told you how I paid for it.”
“One last thing and I’ll stop talking about it. You need to promise me my ring will be paid for. I can’t walk around with this huge diamond and not own it. Promise.”
“I promise I won’t let that happen. Now stop. I love you, and I will make sure I get your ring paid for.”
We were married two months after my graduation, in my childhood Catholic church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach. Our reception was at the Surf & Sand Resort hotel, overlooking the ocean in Laguna Beach, and was an elaborate sorority/fraternity party with family. After the wedding, there was no honeymoon. We didn’t have the money to pay for one, and his dad wasn’t offering to pay. So the day after our wedding we drove a Ryder truck filled with my stuff, from Newport Beach to Alamo, a small town in Northern California, located a few miles from Danville.
We didn’t have money for a honeymoon, but we were moving into a six-thousand-square-foot home, situated on a hilltop with views of the town below. The house was too big, with dark wood floors, oak cabinets, and dark granite countertops, much like my childhood home. I liked everything white because I was never allowed to have it as a child. Mom deemed white furniture and cabinets cheap looking, and they accumulated dirt, so they weren’t allowed in my childhood home. Lou and I didn’t have enough furniture to fill the monstrosity, except a hand-me-down sectional couch and coffee table from his mom; a beautiful dining room set my parents gifted us for our wedding; and bedroom furniture. Lou loved watching TV, and luckily we were able to get a large television for the family room, on credit from Circuit City. I loved to read and didn’t enjoy watching much TV, but Lou never read books or magazines, so a big TV was practically a necessity. Lou worked with his dad in their family business, and this house was part of a business deal. I had no idea how we would pay the rent on a house valued over a million dollars, but Lou told me not to worry; it would all work out.
I was so in love with Lou and excited to start our life together, I just ignored the warning bells ringing in my ears about our finances and Lou’s job. I was raised to pay bills on time, never use credit cards unless it’s an emergency, and save plenty of money. Lou’s financial beliefs, learned from his dad, were the exact opposite of mine, which created friction. Lou’s job was to run the family business, a car wash and gas station. The once-flourishing business, which used to consist of numerous gas stations and a car wash, was failing. After Lou’s parents went through a nasty divorce that lasted for years, the family business did not provide enough money to support his dad and his new wife in their extravagant lifestyle, the employees, Lou’s mom, and us. There wasn’t enough money to go around, and before I totally realized the gravity of our situation, Lou and I thought it would be a great idea to get pregnant. We had been married for one month, and I didn’t know what to do with all my free time. Lou didn’t want me to get a job, so having a baby sounded like a great idea. Forget the fact that we didn’t have health insurance and lived off our credit card—but hey, let’s do it. I’m sure everyone reading this is cringing at our stupidity right about now. I’m embarrassed of myself as I write this, so I can only imagine what you are thinking.
I stopped taking my birth control pills and became pregnant the next month. We were into our third month of marriage, I was pregnant, and we only had one car because we sold mine to pay bills. Lou was gone all day chasing money to keep the business afloat while I sit at home bored out of my mind, with morning sickness. It was an El Niño winter, which means it never stops raining, so the car wash was continuously closed. We couldn’t pay the rent on the ridiculously large home, and after Lou gave the owners his coveted gold Rolex as payment for several months of past-due rent, we moved to a more reasonable home in San Ramon, two towns away from Alamo. I was happy about the move and liked our new home on the man-made lake overlooking the golf course. I was hoping we would be able to afford the rent. Of course, this house was also part of a business deal. Lou had horrible credit, which was the norm in his family because everyone overextended themselves on credit cards and always paid them late, if at all. My credit rating was in the process of being destroyed as well, so we lived at the mercy of business deals for our housing options.
We became so poor that I worried about buying food. I was always starving and often ate at McDonald’s, which wasn’t healthy for my unborn child, but it was all I could afford. One day I went to the grocery store and had to leave my overflowing cart at the check stand because they wouldn’t accept my check or any of my credit cards. I held back the tears and tried to hold my head up as I walked out of Safeway without any food. That was the final straw for me. The next day, I made Lou drive me to the mall, and I walked into the maternity store and asked for a job, despite being seven months pregnant. My aunt owned a very successful women’s boutique in Newport, and I had worked for her after school and during the summers, so I had lots of retail experience and knew I could get a job. The manager offered me the job on the spot, and I started right away. Lou was not happy I took a job, but after repeatedly begging him, he refused to leave his family business and get a real job, so I didn’t feel like I had a choice. He insisted things would get better.
Our credit cards were maxed out, and my once-perfect credit was destroyed because they used my credit to buy his dad a car, which was repossessed several times. We had fallen behind on our payments to the doctor, our rent was late, and the only car we had left was on the repossession list. My life was pathetic. Lou would drive me to and from work and do the vacuuming for me when I had to close the store at night. He felt guilty that I was lugging clothes for women who weren’t as pregnant as me, but he refused to get a real job with a paycheck. The stress was starting to form a severe wedge in our relationship. We were always fighting about money—or the lack of money—but Lou refused to make a change. He didn’t graduate college and had been told by his father his entire life, “Only losers have jobs and work for other people.” Have you ever heard anything so crazy?
His dad was the original entrepreneurial, white-collar criminal. The weird thing was his dad was always offering positive, inspirational advice to everyone, was very caring, and genuinely believed he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He had a way of talking people into using their credit to purchase cars, houses, businesses, and lines of credit for him and then never repaid the loans, even though he honestly acted as if he had every intention of always repaying them. He eventually went to prison for his business dealings, where he passed away from a heart attack when Lou was forty-eight years old. When I finally realized his sweet dad was an actual criminal, I knew I didn’t want that life for my family. We needed to make some serious changes. It was during this time that I had a vision that changed my life.
Tabitha was six months old, and we were driving home from the car wash in an old BMW given to my dad by a drug dealer, as payment for my dad’s criminal-defense attorney fee. It didn’t have air conditioning, it was ninety degrees outside, and my sweet baby was sweating in her car seat. Her blonde, curly Shirley Temple hair was stuck to her overheated forehead and red cheeks. A blinding ray of light suddenly shot through the windshield, and I heard a voice say everything I had been thinking for months:
“This is not how your life was meant to be, Tiffani. People hate you at the bank, your credit cards are maxed out, you are fearful the car will be repossessed, you haven’t paid your rent, and everyone thinks you are a scumbag because your payments are always late. Your perfect credit score is ruined, you don’t have a reliable car, and your life is a mess at twenty-three. You need to be a good role model for Tabitha, and you aren’t doing that right now. You need to change your life before it’s too late.”
It seemed as if God had spoken directly to me, and I heard him. I suddenly felt different and knew I had just received the strength I needed to change my life. The rest of the drive home, I formulated my plan. As I have already mentioned, I make major life decisions on a whim, and I wasn’t kidding. As soon as I got into the house, I called my mom. We spoke every day, and I knew both of my parents were worried about what had become of my life. As soon as she picked up the phone, I asked her: “Will you babysit Tabitha if I move home and get a job?”
Without a moment’s hesitation, she said, “Of course, I would love nothing better.”
Mom was only forty-three years old and had always wanted a third child. Sarah, my younger sister by four years, was a freshman at the junior college near our house and had been living with Lou and me but had recently moved out to her own apartment. Even though she was like my first child and Lou’s sister, the constant calls from creditors and fights about money caused her too much anxiety, so she needed to find her own place. From the moment Sarah was born, I had treated her like my baby, even though I was only four at the time. As she grew up, I brushed her hair each morning, helped her get dressed for school, and checked on her at recess when we were in elementary school. We slept in my double bed together each night until I was in junior high, when I decided I needed my own space, so Sarah started sleeping in her room for the first time since leaving her crib. She was devastated when Lou and I had moved away, so we invited her to come live with us after her high school graduation.
Because my sister was away at school and my mom didn’t work, except for one day a week in her sister’s store, she had plenty of free time on her hands and now could spend all of that time with Tabitha. She then asked, “Is Lou moving home with you?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t told him I’m leaving. I’ll let you know after I talk to him tonight.” I hung up and immediately started making a list of what needed to be done.
When Lou came home from work, I told him about the voice and the vision I had experienced earlier that day. Then I said, “I am leaving this weekend, and you are welcome to join us, but I can’t do this life anymore. I’m done with all this craziness; I am moving back to Newport. I need to be the person I was meant to be. I want to be a good person, a role model to our daughter, a person who pays her bills.”
Lou looked devastated but immediately said, “I am coming with you. I would never let you leave without me. You and Tabitha are my life.”
My parents arrived that weekend, helped us pack up the U-Haul they had rented, and off we went to start our lives over. Lou’s dad was furious with him for abandoning his family, but his mom was thrilled I was getting Lou out of the family business. I immediately got a job working as a secretary to the personal injury attorney who shared office space with my dad. I later started writing motions and filling in for my dad’s secretary until she quit, and then I worked for them both. Lou also got a job right away, selling Jeeps, and was successful right from the start. He was a born salesperson, and the customers loved him.
We moved in with my parents initially, but after three weeks, we had saved enough money to get an apartment in Westside Costa Mesa. It wasn’t the prettiest area and not a place I would have ever seen myself living, but it was our own. Westside Costa Mesa was considered dangerous and not a place someone from Newport would ever consider living, but it seemed safe enough to us. Most people who grow up in Newport either love it and never leave, or they can’t wait to get out because they hate the pressure of living in such a superficial community. The beautiful beaches and gorgeous bay, lined with multimillion-dollar homes, are irresistible to even the biggest critics but always trying to keep up with the Joneses in a community filled with trust-fund babies can be daunting. You never quite realize how much pressure it is to live in Newport until you move away and see how the rest of the world lives.
One day while helping my boss prepare for trial, I became frustrated because I did not think he was taking the right approach to the case. I walked out of his office thinking, “Why is he preparing his opening statement like that? Hmm, maybe I should be a lawyer, instead of working for one.” You can guess how the rest went. I immediately called Western State University law school in Fullerton, asked about the qualifications to get in, and found out that since I had graduated with over a 3.0 from college, I could be accepted immediately for the following semester, which started in two weeks.
I enrolled in the part-time law school program, which included taking one morning class and two evening classes while continuing to work full-time. It was a massive juggle for all of us, and I’m going to tell you Lou wasn’t thrilled with my choice. But like always, he gave me his full support. He truly is one of the kindest human beings I have ever known. When I told Lou my plan to become a lawyer, he grimaced, as if sucking on a lemon. He wasn’t a fan of lawyers, but he didn’t let that stop him from supporting me. So, for the next four years, we worked and raised Tabitha, with the constant help of my family, as I studied to become a lawyer in my free time.
It was at this point in our lives, when I was starting my final semester of law school, that Tabitha asked me about having another baby.
Wow, I had been so busy trying to survive, I never once thought about having another baby. I barely had time to sleep, study, or spend time with my only child, why would I want to add more chaos to my life? “But, on second thought, it would be nice for Tabitha to have a sibling, and I am getting older,” I thought to myself. Not that twenty-seven is old, but according to our biological clocks, I had already passed my prime baby-making age, and my eggs weren’t getting any younger. I thought about having a baby the whole next day, and by the end of the day, my decision was made.
“Let’s do it! Let’s have another baby and give Tabitha a brother or sister,” I told Lou that night after work. He was thrilled! I stopped taking my birth control pills and was planning on waiting three months to get pregnant so that they would be out of my system, but I didn’t last that long. I was pregnant by the second month, despite trying to be careful.
I finished my last semester of law school while working and enduring severe morning sickness. Luckily, my professors were extremely understanding of my morning sickness—or they didn’t want me vomiting during their lectures—so they let me miss more classes than allowed. I graduated and immediately started studying for the bar exam. It was a tough time in our lives because I couldn’t be the mother, the wife, the daughter, the granddaughter, or the student I needed to be. I felt like I was mediocre at everything. On top of it all, Popie, my mom’s mother, and one of my favorite people in the world, had a serious health problem.
On the first day of the bar exam review, I remember rushing to the pay phone before the review started to find out if she had gotten the results from her doctor yet. She had, and it was the worst possible news: pancreatic cancer. We buried her six months later on the exact day I found out I hadn’t passed the bar exam. I missed it by ten points, but looking back, I was never meant to be a lawyer. God had other plans for me. Two weeks before Popie passed away, Tiara made her entrance into this world on October 27, 1998. I had a textbook delivery, without any complications, and Tiara appeared to be a perfectly healthy baby. I took her to see Popie immediately after she was born. Popie was in the end stages of cancer, and when I placed Tiara in her arms as she lay in her hospital bed at home, she kept saying, “Who is the angel with the dark hair?”
At the time, I thought Popie was hallucinating from the morphine, but in retrospect, I believe Popie knew Tiara was an angel and different from other babies. Popie was very special, and people often considered her an angel because she never said a bad word about anyone. She was always kind, patient, and just plain lovely, despite enduring so many struggles throughout her life. I came to believe that as one angel was departing the universe, another had arrived to take her place and would continue to teach us all lessons.
After I found out I hadn’t passed the bar, everyone started urging me to retake it, but there was a problem. I had promised Tabitha that I would never retake the bar exam when she was a child if I didn’t pass the first time. It was a big promise, but I meant it!
Why would I make a promise of this magnitude to a six-year-old child when 50 percent of California bar applicants fail the first time? To find the time to study for the bar, I had to enroll Tabitha in multiple summer day camps. One such camp was a theatre, art, and singing program. Each week was a different theme, and we had signed Tabitha up for the Phantom of the Opera week. All week the kids worked on props, practiced a song from the musical, and acted out a scene. On the last day of camp, there was a performance during the last hour. Tabitha had participated in this camp before, so I knew what to expect. All week she was stressing out about her song because she chose to do a solo. We kept practicing at home after camp, but she was very nervous about singing her favorite Phantom of the Opera song. I dropped her off at camp on Friday morning and said I would be back at three o’clock for the show. I then rushed off to the library to study and returned to the camp at two forty-five and saw my dad waiting in the parking lot. Both of my parents and Lou were coming to watch her performance. We started talking about how weird it was that the parking lot was already full. As we waited for Lou and Mom to arrive, it was oddly quiet. All of a sudden, people were filing out of the camp front doors. What was going on? Why was everyone leaving instead of going in? Then I saw Tabitha emerge from the door with tears in her eyes.
“You missed my performance. I was looking for you, and no one was there. I was so scared, Mom, and you weren’t there!”
“I’m so sorry, honey! I’m not sure what happened. I thought it started in fifteen minutes.” I immediately turned into a hormonal sobbing mess and started begging her forgiveness. Then I got mad. I went in search of the director and demanded to know why they had changed the time of the performance without notice. She explained there was notice. She had written it on the huge sandwich-board sign that was at the entrance of the studio, two days before. I walked to the sign and saw the big words, alerting all parents to the change in schedule. In my haste that morning, I had failed to notice the sign indicating the performance had been moved up to two o’clock. I was the only loser parent who had screwed up the time. And why? Because I was so busy being pregnant and studying for the bar exam that I didn’t see it. After spending the rest of the day in a state of self-loathing, I came up with a plan. As I tucked Tabitha into bed that night, I said something like:
“Sweetie, I know how hard me going to law school has been on you. It was my choice to work full-time and go to school at night, and you didn’t have any say in the matter. I want to be a lawyer, but more than anything, I want to be the best mom in the world. If I don’t pass the bar exam, I won’t retake it, while you are a child. Your sister will be born by the time I receive the results, and I am going to figure out how to be a better mom.”
And now what? I had a law degree, but wasn’t a lawyer and had two girls to raise. What was I going to do? Go back on my promise to Tabitha or make a new plan? Lou and I decided to create a new plan.
Lou had succeeded as a car salesman and was close to reaching his goal of becoming a manager. His income had increased as mine had decreased because I couldn’t work as a law assistant and study for the bar exam. At this point, I was working part-time from home, writing motions for my dad, and we were still able to pay our bills. How could I break my promise to Tabitha and then expect my mom to watch both my children after her mother had just passed away? It didn’t seem fair to anyone, so I decided that was the end of my law career. It might seem insane to throw it all away after spending the last four years studying, but no education is ever a waste.
After thinking about my decision for a few days, I got up the nerve to talk to my dad.
“Dad, I need to talk to you.”
“Okay, I hope I’m not in trouble for something?” he responded jokingly.
“Of course not. I’m not going to retake the bar exam.”
“Why? Are you worried you won’t pass again?”
“No, I’ve just realized, I don’t want to be a lawyer, I want to be a mom." I said.
“Well, if you don’t want to be a lawyer anymore, then don’t take it. It’s your life and I want you to be happy,” he said.
“I don’t think I could defend your clients. I have gotten so conservative, I know I wouldn’t feel good doing your job. Plus, to be a great lawyer, it’s a full-time job. I can’t work part-time and be an amazing lawyer like you.”
“I’m not that great,” he said.
“Yes, you are! Everyone knows you are a great lawyer, and all your clients love you.
The whole reason I went to law school was so Lou and I would have enough money to survive. Lou is making good money selling cars, and mom can’t watch my kids forever, so it feels like I need to make a decision,” I declared.
“I’m a little disappointed, but I will support you whatever you decide. Of course, I wish your future was working with me and someday taking over my business, but you should do what is best for your family. I love you no matter what you do, as long as you continue to write my motions,” he said laughingly.
“Of course I’ll still write your motions.”
“I’m just kidding, but not really. I still need you to help with my motions,” he said.
“Don’t worry; I can still write them from home. Thanks for understanding. I love you.”
The more time I spent away from home, working and studying, I realized my priorities had gone astray. Society was always telling women to be smart, have a career, your children will be proud of your accomplishments, but in reality, it didn’t feel like that. I felt like I had been a crappy mom to Tabitha for the past four years, and it was time for a change. I knew in my gut my girls would be happier having me at home, hugging them and taking them to the park, rather than bragging to their friends that their mommy was a lawyer. Kids don’t care what we do for a living; they just want to feel loved and secure. I can thank Dr. Laura Schlessinger for this opinion. I used to listen to her on talk radio while driving, and the more I heard, the more I realized I had made some significant errors in judgment. So, with a law degree under my belt and $45,000 in student loan debt, I decided to become a full-time stay-at-home mom to Tabitha and Tiara. Are you wondering how Louie took the news? As in his typical fashion, he supported my decision and was thrilled I would be staying home to raise our kids. Despite the debt, my law school education would prove to benefit us all in ways we had yet to discover.
Tabitha (5 ¾) and Tiara (2 weeks)