Let me begin my story a couple of decades ago – the middle of my life up to now.
Once upon a time (though really, this is no fairy tale), when I was 27 and living in Los Angeles, I met the man of my dreams. He was charming, and good-looking and, yes, he swept me off my feet. He was spiritual and understood the greater concepts of life. He told me he had a big job: he said he worked directly with the president of a big entertainment management company. I thought I had hit the jackpot and I fell for him. Hard. But he had only one problem. He lied. (No, he wasn’t one of the men who knew what he wanted and focused – but I did learn from him, eventually.)
I didn’t know that at the time (life is a learning process).
And yes, reader: I married him.
Valentine’s Day, 1992, we tied the knot. That memorable year of riots, fires, floods, an eviction notice: uncertainty amid the bliss of motherhood. We moved one week before I was to give birth. Just as soon as we had found a place, my beautiful daughter Gina arrived.
America soon entered a long, tough recession, and problems were surfacing in my marriage, too. I was laid off a couple of months later. The owner of the company where I had worked was very gracious and explained that, due to the significant recession, he had to close the division I ran for him and focus on his core business. He encouraged me to take the division with me and set up my own business. With a six-month-old baby and a marriage that was deteriorating very quickly, I had to figure out what to do next.
So I started a business. The thing was, I had never run a business before. And, being an immigrant from Germany, I knew absolutely nothing about American business laws or any of the infinite details that you should know when you start your own business. I signed up for a few business classes at the now-defunct nonprofit organization called AWED (American Women’s Economic Development). After a few months, I hired my husband as my employee, which seemed to make sense at the time. He quit his job to work with me and to have more time to pursue his acting career.
The plan was that, as he won more and better roles and began to make money, I could hire a real assistant to work with me. Unfortunately, his acting never took off. He never really assisted in the business either. One day, in the middle of a huge project, I got so upset about his sudden disappearing acts that I fired him. That was the end of our work together. It was also the end of my marriage.
To take responsibility for the mess I was in was not easy. I certainly realized the extent of what I had done. I had taken on the entire financial and emotional responsibility for supporting a family consisting of my husband, his teenage son, our baby daughter and an au-pair. Then, early one morning, one major event shook me up – the big Northridge earthquake hit on January 17, 1994. I don’t think I have ever been so afraid in my life! I felt as if that earthquake was meant for me and pressed a very violent question on me: If this had been your last day, what would you have done differently?
The answer to that question became clear to me incredibly quickly. I had to change the path I was on. By now I had reached the point, mentally and physically, where having to take care of only my baby, the business, and myself sounded like a relief. Instead of the entire lot, I would only have to take care of two people. Once I made that decision, I swiftly proceeded to execute it.
My excuses were many. I had never been exposed to men who did not do what they said they would, so how could I see the warning signs? Love really does make you blind.
I walked out of my marriage with $300 in my bank account. The price of my blissful ignorance was that he kept everything he brought to the relationship – and took half of what I had. All I wanted was full custody of my child. My business was in bad shape. I ran a production company for still shoots and also represented a handful of photographers.
That short, three-year marriage cost me the next ten in recovery. One choice can change everything; sometimes, it changes things forever.