“The ads all call me fearless, but that’s just publicity. Anyone who thinks I’m not scared out of my mind whenever I do one of my stunts, is crazier than I am.” ~Jackie Chan
My name is Andrea and I’m…fearless.
Let me explain. (This is REALLY going to make me look like a coward, but here goes!)
I realize, now, that I spent a large part of my childhood and life being afraid.
Afraid of basements, especially dark ones.
Afraid of the dark, I appreciated an open door and a light on in the hallway every night as I fell asleep.
Afraid of storms, thunder and lightning in the darkness of night sent me scurrying into my parents’ bed.
Afraid of getting in trouble, which helped me make good choices (most of the time).
Afraid of the school principal (ditto).
Afraid of policemen, or getting singled out by one for any reason.
Afraid of pain, I dreaded doctor visits, vaccinations and was careful to not indulge in risky activities that might result in a broken bone.
Afraid of fire, which kept me cautious around campfires and helped me avoid the temptation some children have to “play” with matches.
Afraid of criminals, including robbers and “bad guys”!
Afraid of “failing” or not being the best at something (which made me a pretty high achiever!)
Afraid of being financially responsible for someone other than myself (I was married and financially secure BEFORE I became a mother).
Afraid of feeling embarrassed (I still acutely remembered my embarrassing moment, IN 2ND GRADE, when the back of my dress accidentally got tucked into my white and pink flowered panties after I used the restroom).
Afraid of plane crashes, dying young or loss—financial or otherwise (not helped by the fact that my dad died in a plane crash when I was a teen, my family lost its wealth and had to move from our home as a result; and my mom died when I was in my 30s).
And many other similar fears.
(Ok, I was wrong. The above doesn’t make me look like a coward. It makes me look completely psycho! I promise I am not.)
In addition to the above-listed fears, one of the most disturbing movies I ever saw was “The Fugitive”, starring Harrison Ford. (You know, the movie where a happily married, successful doctor is wrongly accused of murdering his wife, loses everything, goes to prison, must rub shoulders with criminals and has to work incredibly hard, on the run, to prove his innocence.) I thought it was terribly unjust and wrong, rejoiced in the truth proved at the end of the movie and never forgot that plot—talk about a nightmare!
Fast forward to my 40's.
I was a wife and mother happily married for 20 years to a good man and living my personal “happily ever after” as a stay-at-home mom to my four children ages 3-15. My husband had worked hard for many years to establish and build his own investment firm and by that stage of our lives, we were enjoying significant prosperity from his efforts. (We had a nice home surrounded by beautiful landscaping, ponds and waterfalls (plural!), a swimming pool and sport court. We had a beautiful cabin near Yellowstone. We had a motor home, a boat, ATVs and many other toys. We traveled the world as a family. Everything was paid for, we were financially secure—and I envisioned that our children and grandchildren would be, as well. Over the years I had watched my investments and interest compound to the point I thought I had $10 million dollars in investments.) While I knew life was full of challenges, and although I’d experienced challenges and loss, infertility, medical emergencies and the “usual” adversities of life, I NEVER thought finances, or the lack thereof, would be a challenge for me and my family!
Until the day I discovered it was all a lie.
THAT EVERYTHING WAS A LIE.
That my husband had lived a double life of lies, betrayal and perpetrated a sham of epic proportions for most of our married life.
That life, as I knew it, was over.
And that I’d never ever even had a clue.
Here’s how it all went down. (Cue sounds of utter destruction.)
My children were at school and preschool. My husband said he needed to talk to me about something, I sat down across the table from him to chat, and without any warning, foreshadowing or emotion, he told me:
“My company, Market Street Advisors, is a sham.”
That while I (and everyone else—his business associates, his accountant, his employees, the federal government and IRS, his clients, our family, friends and neighbors—EVERYONE) had thought he was running an investment company for nearly two decades, he’d actually been running a Ponzi scheme.
Ponzi scheme? What is that?
He told me that two days before (when he’d told me he had a meeting with a client), he had actually hired an attorney to represent him as he prepared to turn himself in to federal authorities. That the day before that (when he’d told me he had another meeting with a client), he had actually turned himself in to federal authorities and confessed his crimes. And that the day before that (when he’d told me he had another meeting with a client), he had actually met with our church leaders, confessed his crimes and would shortly no longer be a member of our faith.
He told me that everything (our homes, our cars, our savings, our investments, our retirement, our assets and everything of value) was GONE and that all of our assets had been seized by the federal government.
He told me that he was headed to prison for 5-7 years and that I would be left alone to provide for and raise our four children.
And, oh yes, that I would need an attorney to defend myself (even though I had done nothing wrong and had no knowledge of any crimes)—but that he had maxed out all of our credit cards paying for his!
Apparently he had been given 48 hours to tell me of the demise of our family and life before federal authorities would come to our home to begin inventorying our possessions for seizure. (The wife is always the last to know, huh?) My husband had waited until the last possible moment—had even come home the night before, after confessing his crimes to the federal government and to our church leaders—and had sat down with the kids and I and watched an episode of the then-popular “American Idol” tv show…like everything was fine and normal.
And then he destroyed everything—everything I’d ever known, dreamed of, planned for and worked toward—destroyed my entire life, and our family, with one conversation.
I couldn’t wrap my head around any of it. I couldn’t comprehend the conversation. I kept thinking, “What in the world? This HAS to be a joke! Doesn’t he realize how not funny this prank is?” I kept waiting for a film crew with hidden cameras to pop out and yell, “Surprise!” But no one did. And then my husband started to cry…and I instantly realized it was REAL.
I have no words to describe that moment, or the roaring, terrible, overwhelming feelings that washed over me in waves.
I was drowning.
It was surreal. All of a sudden I don’t understand English anymore. Ponzi scheme? I don’t know what that is! Prison? NO! My husband? No way. Does he have his dates wrong—is this an early April Fool’s joke? It’s not funny!
It was shocking.
How can this be?
It was incomprehensible and unimaginable betrayal. Nearly two decades of lies—my husband revealed he hadn’t looked me in the eye IN YEARS, that he has looked only at the tip of my nose for as long as he can remember…and that the betrayals were numerous, FAR BEYOND “just” lies and crimes, betrayals of a personal nature, as well, all across the globe—New York City, London, AFRICA.
It was instantly and terribly lonely. My parents are dead. I’m alone in the world. Everything is gone, every asset has been frozen, and I’m a stay-at-home mother with four children to feed! WHAT AM I GOING TO DO? No one can help me. This is too big. (The only picture I could see in my mind at this point, was a large cardboard box under a viaduct somewhere, with me, my four children and our two dogs huddled together for warmth as we starved to death.)
It meant prison. Wait! I don’t need to worry about being homeless, I’m innocent, but headed to prison anyway, just like that guy in “The Fugitive”! My children will be orphaned! They will starve to death, be abused by strangers, be split up into foster care, they will never see or hear from each other, or me, again. My babies! And what will become of my three-year-old? I’m INNOCENT!
It was anguish, agony, woe and despair. Now I know what a broken heart feels like. It is literally a physical pain.
It was hell. Complete and utter hell.
It was darkness and devastation. The blackest, deepest pit of destruction. How will I ever climb out of it? How will I ever survive this? Our lives are ruined.
(*DISCLAIMER: Ok, I know all of the above really does give the impression that I am psycho. I have siblings—my children would not have ended up in foster care. It is just impossible to comprehend or describe the shock and terror of a moment like that. You literally are not rational. How could I be?)
In a moment, I got all of my fears and more handed to me at the same time on a platter of destruction prepared for me by the man I loved. The man I’d thought loved me, loved us and loved our family.
Legal trouble? Check.
Criminals? (I’m married to one!) Check.
Failure? Marriage fail? Life fail? Complete fail? Check. Check!
Solely responsible for someone other than myself? Yes! FOUR of them! Check.
Loss? Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check! Make that “check” into infinity.
I had to get away, yet the loving and dutiful wife that I was, I remember feeling guilty, as I got up and rushed to escape my instant-stranger-husband and the life he had handed me, for leaving him at such a difficult time! I jumped in my car, drove away and made it less than ¼ mile before tears were flooding my eyes to the point I couldn’t see a thing, so I quickly pulled over before I hurt myself or anyone else.
I cannot describe the sound of the wails that burst from my body. I didn’t know my body could make sounds like that. I sound like an animal.
I couldn’t think.
I couldn’t talk.
I didn’t know what to do.
All I could think about was that my parents were dead, I was alone in the world with four children to feed, and how was I going to do that? So I drove to a bank and withdrew some cash so I could feed my children for a little while longer. And then I eventually returned home. (Only because I didn’t know where else to go.) When I arrived home, my husband’s attorney called ME and said, “I am so sorry for the day you are having!” He added, “I know you have a lot to do—again, you’ll need to get an attorney right away—but whatever you do, DON’T TOUCH ANY MONEY!”
Don’t touch any money? That is the ONLY thing I HAD done! Clearly, I was not cut out to be a criminal. My instincts are all wrong! The one thing I should not have done is the ONLY thing I actually had done. I am headed to prison, for sure. But I’m innocent!
Throughout that terrible day, everyone (family, friends, my husband’s attorney, federal authorities, church leaders) wanted to know what I was going to do…and I didn’t have a clue! However, the worst was still to come: my unsuspecting children were living their last innocent and carefree day. They didn’t know anything—yet, and I had to destroy all of that with the day’s revelations! If I could have walked off into the sunset and dropped off the face of the earth, I would have. But I had children that I had to see through the experience successfully, so I couldn’t.
The coming days, weeks and months it was my privilege to live a nightmare, the worst version of the worst Hollywood movie you would never want to imagine. I learned a few things:
Yes, federal agents DO drive dark SUVs with tinted windows and caravan to crime scenes.
Yes, federal agents DO wear sunglasses, carry weapons, and have jackets emblazoned with “US MARSHALLS” on the back.
Yes, national media attention IS as terrible as it looks. (Thank goodness for those good neighbors who helped as much as they could—walked the media around our property to ensure they got the best camera angles, who volunteered every bit of speculation they could conjure to make sure the stories were as “informative”, make that juicy and entertaining, as they could be! Sorry, that is me dripping with sarcasm about this one, just in case you can’t tell.)
Yes, people really do go crazy in the face of crime—cars slowly drove past my home at all hours of the day just to be a part of the drama, to get an up-close look of the scene of a crime or one of our family members; one victim confessed he made it to the porch of our home with a loaded gun, ready to blow someone away before he had the good sense to turn around and go home without hurting anyone; angry neighbors yelled at me, yelled at my children, intentionally shoveled snow into piles in front of our driveway to block us in our home on snowy spring days after our snow removal equipment had been seized by the government, not to mention trespassed, entered our home and terrorized my teenage daughter when they thought no one was home; friends turned on us; strangers sought us out to persecute us; crowds even gathered in front of our house to talk about us and share their hatred of us.
Yes, in an asset forfeiture everything of material value really is seized by the federal government, including your wedding ring, if it has been paid for with “tainted” or “co-mingled” funds. (Which after 20 years of marriage, pretty much everything is!)
Yes, stress really does take a toll on your appearance. I looked haggard and terrible. (I looked as bad on the outside as I felt on the inside! My heart literally ached with endless grief and pain.)
Yes, you can not only survive trauma, you can triumph. I’m living proof that it is possible to overcome anything. We endured our nightmare, my divorce, the eventual sentencing and incarceration of my ex-husband (who got not just the 5-7 years he was expecting, but more than the max—12 ½ years! He will be in prison until 2020!)
And yes, in the midst of terrible challenge, there is also a lot of good. Things like:
Friends. Although some of my closest friends abandoned me, a lot of friends stepped forward and were there for me: close friends, acquaintances, and even strangers.
Vindication. I was investigated AND CLEARED of any wrongdoing by federal officials. (In fact, my attorney told she’d never seen a spouse in my situation cleared as quickly and completely as I was. They know, and I know, that I am absolutely innocent of any wrongdoing or crime.)
Good people in the world, including those who serve as US Marshalls, US attorneys, the legal system and in other official positions. (Yes, there was that one rude US Marshall who ripped a toy out of my three year old’s hands and threw it onto the pile of seized assets as my little son stood there, shocked and crying…but there was also that other US Marshall who saw that happen and without a word, walked to the asset pile, grabbed the toy, and returned it to my son to keep.) My children and I were treated with absolute kindness and respect by almost everyone we dealt with as a result of my husband’s crimes.
New dreams. I lost my old life—and every single dream I had for my future. I seriously felt that every good thing that would ever happen to me had already happened, that I’d had my chance. I also believed I’d never travel again, fly again, stay in a hotel again, eat in a restaurant again, go to the theater again, dance again, or wear nice clothes or jewelry again. (I guess that’s what happens when everything of value, including your wedding ring, is seized by the government due to crimes your husband commits!) I didn’t even move any of my nice clothes or evening wear to my new life. I knew every good thing or dream was gone forever.
But I was wrong.
It’s not easy to dream new dreams or build a new life, but it IS POSSIBLE. Here’s what happened.
We moved and began a new life.
A friend helped us with a home to live in.
I went to work.
At some point I realized I didn’t want my children to grow up in a home with a sad mother, so I made an effort to smile every day although I wondered if my smiles would ever be, or feel, “real” again. (Smile anyway, even if it’s forced, even if you don’t feel like it. It’s good for you, it’s good for your children…and eventually they DO become real again!)
We healed. (It IS possible to heal from every trauma. It isn’t easy, but it IS possible!)
I re-entered the singles scene after a 20-year hiatus. (But THAT is another story in itself! My name is Andrea and I’m…a survivor! Haha!)
Nothing embarrasses me or humiliates me anymore. (Not after what I’ve lived through!)
I’m not afraid of anything.
I fell in love. I got married. And I HAVE traveled, flown, stayed in a hotel, eaten at restaurants, gone to the theater (a lot, I married an actor/performer!), I have one nice piece of jewelry (my new wedding ring). And this year, I bought a black evening gown!
My name is Andrea. And I have become fearless.
Because I have learned there is no darkness that cannot be overcome, no grief that cannot be healed, no life that cannot be rebuilt, and that there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of.
“I think fearless is having fears, but jumping anyway.” ~Taylor Swift
*Please remember the purpose of this series is to open our hearts, to interact, to uplift, to support and to grow. Andrea will be reading the comments and I know she'd love to hear from you... please reach out and give her your love today!
She also has a BLOG you can follow called The Unexpected Life. Find it HERE.
*Andrea, when I first saw you on T.V. on American Greed, I was absolutely blown away by your resiliency and courage. So much so that I looked you up online, I emailed you, we ended up meeting up for lunch, you presented at The Togetherness Project's first event, and we've stayed in touch ever since. Thank you for being brave and for surviving. You've touched my life and the lives of so many. You're a shining star and I'm so grateful to know you!
(Read more stories of inspiring women in the "My Name is" series, HERE)
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