(The next part is my story in a nutshell. I was speaking to a large conference of women I hadn’t met yet so I had to preface my remarks with my story. Feel free to skip if you already know me!)
I had been a pretty good girl…raised on fairy tales. I believed in happily every after. I grew up Colorado. I graduated from high school, attended college and married a charming, romantic and “good” man who, ironically, and as part of his marriage proposal, pledged his loyalty to me and our future. The day of my college graduation we returned to Colorado and began our life. We began our careers, we began our family. I focused my efforts on our home and family, we eventually had four children, and life was good. SO GOOD.
It was a life of family and faith. We loved each other, we went to church together, we prayed together, we served in the community as well, and as my husband became more and more successful in his career, we upgraded our home, our cars and our lifestyle. We enjoyed making family memories and traveling together. We got along well, we laughed and had fun together, we served and helped others. I thought we were on track for eternity.
Believe it or not, I had watched our investments and savings grow over the 20 years we’d been married, working hard (I thought) and saving…and I also thought I had 10 MILLION DOLLARS–thanks to compounding interest:) So on March 17, 2009, St. Patrick’s Day, my biggest worry was making sure everyone wore green, felt festive (I’d tried to do my part to contribute to that with green breakfast and a green dinner) and I took pictures of everyone in their leprechaun finery. What I didn’t know, was that I was documenting my family and the life I’d dreamed of and had worked so hard to create during my 20-years-of-happy marriage, in photos, for the last time.
At the end of the day, we went to bed. I slept–the last night I slept without anything to haunt me or give my nightmares about. And the next day, my husband shattered my world. March 18, 2009. He asked to meet me, told me he’d hoped to spend time with me.
Then he sat across from me, folded his hands and paused. And then, in a voice as calm and unemotional as I’d ever witnessed–NOTHING about his performance tipped me off as to what was about to happen, said, “My company, Market Street Advisors, is a sham.” One simple sentence, and the complicated web of choices, actions, and decisions of ONE person, the man I’d known since 1988 but apparently hadn’t known at all, shattered my world.
My first thought (always a party or holiday thought at that stage of my life!) was, “Is this an early April Fool’s joke? Doesn’t he remember yesterday was only St. Patrick’s Day?” And suddenly, despite my education and knowledge of English and vocabulary, I didn’t understand the world “sham.” He explained, “My company isn’t real. It’s a sham and has been from the very beginning. I’ve been running a Ponzi scheme for the past 16 years.”
I’d heard the term Ponzi scheme, but I didn’t know what a Ponzi scheme actually was. I’d heard the name Bernie Madoff, I knew he had done something illegal and I knew a lot of people were mad at him, but I didn’t understand what it was that he, or my spouse, had done. I got the condensed version. What I was told left me in complete and utter shock. But it didn’t stop there.
My husband told me he had hired an attorney, that he had turned himself in to government authorities and to our church leaders, and that they had all given him until that morning to tell me. He told me he would be going to prison and getting excommunicated from our church. He told me everything had been seized. He told me I would be left alone to raise our children. And he told me I needed to hire an attorney right away–but he’d maxed out all of our credit cards paying for his.
I, who had never cheated in school; who had never stolen so much as a grape from the grocery store without paying for it; who had always tried to live a life of honesty and integrity–wouldn’t even let myself indulge in “white lies”…needed an attorney? I was completely innocent! Like his employees, clients, family, friends and our church leaders, I’d never had a clue that he was anything but the honest, upright, family man and successful businessman he had always portrayed himself to be.
I had NO IDEA he’d been living a secret and double life.
All I could think of was that my parents were dead, I was left with NOTHING (no house, no cars, no food, no life, no savings, no job, no husband–TOTALLY alone in the world), I had four children who needed to eat, and I couldn’t get that movie “The Fugitive” out of my mind: the innocent husband, a good man, a doctor, who was convicted of killing his wife and imprisoned for something he hadn’t done and that he had no knowledge of. HOW could this be happening to ME?
I was shocked. I was stunned. I was confused. I was scared. I was devastated. And at the same time, I didn’t know what I thought or felt. All I knew was that I had been thrown out of an airplane…without a parachute. And as shocked as I was, for some reason, I had the presence of mind to ask, “Is that everything?”
Yet despite everything, I was not prepared for his response: No. After which he disclosed he had also betrayed me in the most intimate ways as well. And with that admission, he began to sob. To cry harder than I’d ever seen any man cry. And that’s when I knew it was real. It wasn’t early April Fool’s. It was some sick joke that everyone but me found funny. It was real.
As wave after wave of shock and grief washed over me, I didn’t know what to do. He had become an instant and literal stranger, yet on the other hand, I was still the happily married wife who, as I rushed to get up and to get away from him, actually felt guilty that I was abandoning him in a time of need. Despite my shock, I actually had the presence of mind to apologize for leaving him: “I’m sorry, but I have to get out of here.”
And I left. I jumped in my car and drove away, not knowing where to go, knowing no one could help me. I made it about 1/10 of a mile before I was crying so hard I couldn’t see anything and had to pull over so I didn’t accidentally hurt someone or myself!
I called my best friend. She was stunned, crying, as well and advised me to go to the bank and try to get some money so I could at least feed my children. I raced to the banks, got some cash, and eventually returned home because I didn’t know what else to do or where to go.
My husband’s attorney called. He apologized for the day I was having (he’d known it was coming–seems like everyone but me knew it was coming!), told me, again, that I’d need an attorney, and then said, “And whatever you do, don’t go near a bank. Don’t touch any of your bank accounts. Don’t try to access any money!” he warned.
Are you starting to tell I just am not cut out for the criminal life? My instincts are all wrong! The very FIRST thing I had done, the only thing, was to go to a bank and touch some money!
I was going to prison for sure, wasn’t I?
“There are many times when a woman will ask another girl friend how she likes her new hat. She will reply, ‘Fine.’ but slap her hands to her forehead the minute the girl leaves to yipe, ‘What a horror!’” (Marilyn Monroe)
Yes, I wish that’s all my horror entailed. Tune in tomorrow for the rest of the condensed version of my horror.