I was born in New Orleans in 1951—an unplanned pregnancy leading to an unwanted child. For as long as I can remember my mom told me my birth caused her to lose her figure, which would be followed by her going to get a drink to get over it. As I got older, she began to embellish the account of my birth, each time adding just a bit more, as if the previous words didn’t hurt or damage me as much as she wanted.
Whatever relationship I could have had with my mom disappeared one day in the summer of 1959 when I was eight years old. I went into the house to get something to eat and much to my surprise, I heard voices talking. My home never had voices in it, as I was an only child and my parents never seemed to say anything to me or to each other. I tiptoed closer so I could hear what was being said. What I overheard fractured my soul into hundreds of pieces. My mom told another woman in the room that she had tried to get rid of me when she found she was pregnant, but couldn’t find a doctor to do it. When the other woman didn’t respond, I guess my mom felt like she hadn’t said enough to garner a reaction, so I heard her go on to say she wished I was dead.
I stumbled away and headed to the door and completely forgot about how hungry I was. I told myself what I heard didn’t matter. But it did. It always mattered. I just refused to admit it. In my mind, I go back to that summer day as the beginning of my slow descent into self-loathing and later on in life, self-destructive behaviors that included attempted suicides and alcoholism. After that fateful summer day, I was never a child again.
Life did move forward and all through school, I kept my grades up so I could get a scholarship in case my parents wouldn’t pay for my college. I needn’t have worried. They were more than happy to pay for me to go to college because that meant I was getting out of the house and they wouldn’t have to put up with me anymore. My dad wasn’t as vocal about his loathing of me as my mom was, but he pretty much stayed away from both of us, and since he was a successful lawyer, he had no trouble coming up with the money or excuses to seldom be home.
In college, I dated a few guys but had no understanding of how relationships worked. I think deep down I wanted to believe there was some wonderful, handsome, and kind man out there who could love me, but I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t even sure what love was.
I charged through my education until I obtained an MBA the spring of 1975 and graduated with top honors. I had quit visiting home a long time before that, but I did send my graduation announcement to my parents and invited them to come. Neither showed up, but my dad did send me enough money to get an apartment and buy some furniture until I could find a job and start making my own money.
It was after I had my first job as a financial analyst for Tulane University’s Medical School that I met my future husband, Steve. Steve was a Resident Internist, and our paths crossed in various meetings and university functions for six months before he asked me out on a date. I remember thinking he was kind to me, handsome, would make great money for our future, and I should marry him. I never remember loving him.
We married in June of 1976, and my parents did show up for the wedding. My dad was happy I was marrying someone who would make money, so I wouldn’t need him anymore, and he liked having an Internist as a son-in-law so he could brag to his lawyer and golf friends. My mom never cared one way or the other and she drank so much during my wedding reception that my dad almost had to carry her home.
Steve took all the drama in but never asked what was wrong with my parents, and I never told him. Mainly we just left each other alone while we worked our respective careers. I started abusing alcohol almost the minute we got back from our honeymoon in Paris.
In our marriage, I did all the wife things I was supposed to do. We would throw great cookouts with our friends and attend many fun events together, but when we returned home, we went to separate areas of the house until we went to bed. We rarely made love, yet, one of those times was enough for me to get pregnant.
I had no idea what to expect, how to be a mom, or where to go to learn to be a mom, but I did love the little being growing in my belly, and I vowed to do a much better job than my mom. Steve was ecstatic about us having a baby, but I think mainly because it gave him some type of man award for knocking up his wife. When I went into labor in the middle of the night, Steve drove me to the hospital and that’s about it. He brought me some flowers the next day, held his brand-new son—whom we named Jeremy—for about two minutes, and left to go to work. I didn’t see him again until he came to take us home.
For the next 18 years, I raised Jeremy almost single-handedly, while I steadily got more and more drunk. I had lost my job when Jeremy was about five years old, as I could not stay awake through my workday. I drank so much that I would sneak out at night after Steve got home only to wake up with men I didn’t know or remember. Steve did his thing as well and we rarely saw each other except at random events—like Jeremy’s birthday or his high school football games. When Jeremy graduated high school and left for college, I filed for divorce. Steve was more than grateful that our marriage was finally over.
I told myself that I was going to try to be stronger and try to figure out what was wrong with me, so I joined AA and quit drinking. Divorced and sober, I found a job, and again, it was with Tulane University—but this time I was working as an account advisor for the Alumni Department. It was there I met Greg. Greg took my breath away and still does. He was an ex-SEAL military guy who had retired at 40 as a Colonel. He was divorced with two grown daughters and was on the Board of Trustees for the university, so I ran into him at various fundraisers.
We danced around each other for almost two years before he finally asked me out. I had never been with a man I liked so much; we talked for hours and hours on each date over the next year. Greg loved me and asked me to marry him, knowing all my history. I had no secrets from him or him from me.
But even that wasn’t enough to save me from myself.
Greg and I got married in a lovely ceremony in 2001, bought a huge 1918 house in the New Orleans historic area and renovated it top to bottom. We had a great life together. We were invited to all the university and New Orleans social parties. Yet, it wasn’t enough for me. I needed more. I needed more compliments, more parties to go to, more gifts to buy for our kids and grandkids. I needed family vacations for all so I could feel loved, and when my family thanked me for being so generous, well, I needed more of that, too.
Where did the money come for all those wonderful things? Sadly, it came from me stealing from my job. In seven years, I stole $600,000 by always making sure I was the one who tallied and figured out how much each fundraising event brought in and went to the bank. Finally, one of the funders went over my head to administration with some amounts he found not making sense with the hundreds of thousands he was donating. They turned to Greg, as he was on the Board of Trustees and had an exemplary reputation.
The day Greg confronted me I tried to kill myself with an overdose of pills. Greg found me in time; but when he visited me in the hospital, I saw my proud ex-SEAL military officer and university trustee sink to the floor with tears of hurt and despair over who I really was. Everything Greg believed about love, dignity and respect—I had burned it all to the ground.
I never could answer any of his questions about why I did it, as I wasn’t entirely sure myself. I just pleaded guilty to wire fraud and received five years of prison with three years of probation. My prison life began in 2013.
When I got home from prison to start my probation, our beautiful home had long been sold to pay the university back part of what I owed them, and Greg had rented a small apartment in another state. He had to resign as a trustee, not because they asked him to but because he couldn’t take the embarrassment and shame of what I had done. He let me live with him when I got home from prison. He still loves me, but he is angry with me and we go to marriage counseling every week. I am not sure if we can save our marriage, but I have to try. I owe him, our children, and grandchildren, the truth about who I am and why I did what I did. As soon as I find the answer myself, I shall let them know and maybe by that time they will be speaking to me again. Right now, my son, stepdaughters, and families haven’t spoken to me in five years.
Where’s my happy ending? There isn’t one. But there is a story about redemption. We all have loss, but I like to think I represent the phoenix who rises from the ashes of shattered dreams. I am still discovering myself as well as some of my mental health issues which I covered up with alcohol and stealing. I believe much of my life’s journey and my destructive decisions were made to prove to myself that I have worth. What I am concentrating on now is loving myself, because I do believe I am worth something. I will rise up because while I am broken and have scars from my past, I can be whole again. Finally, although I am haunted by the hurt I caused others, I reach inside myself to learn from it so I can rise empowered and worthy.
This is the story of Fiona Wilson
Fiona lives with her husband Greg in Austin, Texas where she is starting to believe in herself for the first time without any substance abuse or deceit. Growing up as an unloved child and enduring an unsuccessful marriage where alcohol became the escape, Fiona ended up committing a financial crime that put her into prison for five years. She is now rebuilding her life. Each morning when she gets up, she is thankful she still has Greg, her health, a home and the ability to continue to give back what she stole. The lost connection with the rest of her family is hard to bear but in the loss, she has found the strength to heal herself and the hope that what was lost can be found again with new, healthy boundaries and honesty.
This story first touched our hearts on October 12, 2018.