Harlan and I married on November 27, 2010. It has taken me four years to be able to find words to explain what was happening in our lives around that time and I feel a need to tell the story and be heard by my friends and family. Please stay with me to the end if you can, as the light does shine through, eventually.
It is so much like the words in “A Tale of Two Cities”.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
In June of 2010, we found out that Sierra had a massive stroke in-utero. They believed it had happened in the second trimester of Sierra and Chloe’s twin pregnancy. I still remember being in the doctor’s office with my sister, Cathy, and looking at Sierra’s brain MRI, as Dr. Nelson tried to explain. I didn’t really take it in at the time. I remember him saying, “The good news is, the damage is done, as if that should be a relief, as it was not a degenerative condition that would get worse over time. She was diagnosed with hemiplegic cerebral palsy and started speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy in the months following the diagnosis.
We decided on a budget for the wedding and moved forward. It was not a huge budget, only a few thousand dollars, so I did lots of bargain hunting and negotiating to put it all together.
I remember Harlan’s mother, Ruth, asking me why I wanted to have such an elaborate celebration for our wedding, and my response to her was that I wanted to give Harlan a fairy-tale wedding as my wedding gift to him. She is a frugal woman and I don’t think she saw the value in it and believed we should use that money for other things.
I found a lovely woman who had just graduated from pastry chef school and made our cake at her home. I still feel guilty for how little I paid her for that cake. It was really beautiful and delicious, and I know it was a lot of work to make. I brought her a case of homemade jam from an organic strawberry farm for the filling. I think she just really wanted to get her cake baking and decorating business off the ground and gain experience.
I bought my wedding dress from a local, family owned store. I had previously gone online and found the very same dress for several thousand dollars. I also found companies online who made knock-off copies of the dress, but did not trust their integrity. I found the genuine designer dress. It was on the sale rack, marked down to almost nothing, and three sizes too big, even with my post twin pregnancy body and had to be majorly altered. Fortunately, the seamstress at the shop is an artist and she re-built the dress for me. I could not believe how little she charged me to do it.
I asked many of our friends and family for help. Many of them met at our house the night before the wedding day and helped me with food preparation, and, Harlan’s longtime friend, a chef at a very large Bay Area hotel, cooked all of the food as his gift to us. Friends volunteered to plan and set up the reception, serve food and cake to the other guests, and clean up after the reception. A dear friend walked me down the isle, since my father could not attend, also helped me purchase and arranged all of the flowers for table centerpieces, bouquets and boutonnieres. The flowers were bought online at Costco and were absolutely stunning. Again, friends joined us on the night before the wedding to help with the flower arranging. He also provided two wonderful women who worked for him to serve wine and food and help clean up after wedding reception. Friends also helped with child care of our three young daughters during all of the preparation as well as on the wedding day.
In the months and weeks leading up to the wedding day, the real estate melt down really started to take a toll on our business. The phones stopped ringing and we were not making any money. All of our income came from our family owned real estate sales business. A couple of weeks before the wedding, Harlan and I had a heart to heart talk about whether or not to cancel the wedding and reception. We did not have money to pay our bills or buy food for our children. I was terrified and in total survival mode. We decided to proceed with our plans, as most of the money had been spent already, anyway. We moved forward.
On the day of the wedding it rained. I called my father and sadly told him it was raining. He said “Great! You know, Italians believe that rain on your wedding day is good luck!”
The day was a magical, beautiful blur of love, emotion and celebration that I will never forget. With most of our friends and family gathered in a beautiful chapel, Harlan and I became husband and wife. We both cried almost the entire ceremony. I think we were overwhelmed with our love for each other and all of the love that was felt from those who attended. I think we were also overwhelmed with the hardships we were experiencing.
In the couple of months that followed the wedding, I began writing thank you notes to everyone, in between therapy sessions for Sierra and taking care of our other two young daughters.
Two months after the wedding, Harlan was carrying Sierra down the front entry stairway to the car in the rain, when he slipped and fell down the entire long, very steep flight of stairs. He passed out, but somehow managed to keep Sierra from harm as he held her in his arms. When he awoke, he started shouting in pain, shock, anger…I can’t even imagine. It was the day we were moving our business office from Mare Island to Martinez. I ended up doing the move without him, as he lay in bed in terrible pain. It took him many months before he could get around and he has pain to this day.
Why do I tell you all of this. It’s because of a box I have in the closet. It is the thank you notes that were never sent, some addressed, some not. I occasionally come across the box and all of the many feelings come flooding back to me. I feel huge guilt and regret that I never sent those thank you notes to all of the people who so generously helped us at that time and have helped us so much in the years that followed. We lost our three rental homes and the home we lived in to foreclosures and short sales. We borrowed money from friends and family. We moved our home to Martinez. We slowly built a new business in a new place that was not as hard hit by the real estate melt down. It has been a long and painful journey, but many have been kind and generous with their money and time and and love and caring and we have gotten through those very difficult times.
I don’t need to tell you who your are. You know. You know what you did for me and my husband and my children. What you don’t know is how very grateful I am to have gone through that very hard time with all of you. I can never tell you what it means to me in my heart, but I hope you can understand why I never sent those notes, why I never called you back when you called me, why I stopped visiting you and going out with you and spending time with you. I was barely breathing.
Now, we are starting to come out of those difficult times. Our business is growing. Recently, we were able to purchase a home again. We are slowly paying back all of the debt. I am finally able to breath again.