Kat: After the Report

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Kat grew up internalizing that it was her “responsibility” to be careful around men. But when a male friend sexually assaulted her after a frat party, Kat knew the burden wasn’t hers alone to bear. She needed to seek justice. In a deeply vulnerable and reflective conversation with Stephanie, Kat provides a glimpse into what happened after she filed a report against her assailant. She found herself in a struggle that consumed her entire college career — and that compromised who she’s able to be now.

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To follow along with a transcript, go to www.lemonadamedia.com/show/lastday shortly after the air date.



Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Alyssa Elliot

Alyssa Elliot  00:05

When that reality hit, it was like being dunked in ice water with a brick on top of your head.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  00:11

It’s 2009 Alyssa Elliot is sitting at her desk at work, absolutely drowning in anxiety. The mortgage company has been calling and calling the debts and bills are piling up. And this isn’t like Alyssa, who has always done everything by the book. But that doesn’t matter to the debt collectors, the courts, even the people she’s confiding in, someone has to be held responsible. Even if that person only had the best intentions.


Alyssa Elliot  00:44

You say things like I couldn’t have foreseen that this would happen, but like I really couldn’t. At the time I was in my early 20s I was young. I didn’t think that this would be what happens to me.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  01:05

This is Last Day, a show about the moments that change us. I’m your host Stephanie Wittels Wachs. Today, the story of a decision that became $100,000 mistake, and how to make peace with that once you’re finally able to come up for air.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  01:39

Alyssa grew up in Boise, Idaho with her mom, dad and sister and for all of you non Midwesterners,


Alyssa Elliot  01:45

That is with an S not a Z biggest pet peeve.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  01:49

Alyssa is childhood in Boise with an S not a , Z, those were the good days, at least in hindsight.


Alyssa Elliot  01:56

I had like what I think, or what I thought looking back was really great like early childhood, my parents were pretty cool and pretty creative. And my mom was one of those moms that everybody was jealous of and really loved. And that was like the coolest mom, she would, you know, bring treats to school and be really involved with like activities and crafts and fun stuff like that. And she was part of my girl scouts and you know, just the stuff that moms do when they’re really involved with their kids and it was off.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  02:27

She was like an early Pinterest mom before.


Alyssa Elliot  02:30

I think she would have been a front runner in the contest click yeah, for sure. But yeah, like one year for my birthday, she forgot my presents. And we would always go camping for my birthday. And she panicked. We were camping two and a half hours from home in the mountains in north central Idaho. So she went to the gift shop at the little campground. And she found all these little tchotchkes and little Bitsy things, and she scavenged her way through the campground and begged of these random strangers to hide some of these presents admits their belongings. So I get to roam around the campground with these little clues. And then every different campsite I came to had a different tiny present that my mom had thought of and I was so excited by the action and the process of the thing that I didn’t even realize these are like ridiculous and stupid presents, like not things that I would have normally expected for a birthday. But it was like the magic of the thing that she had thought to conceive of in this weird circumstance was the best was so great. So that was kind of my mom in a nutshell was awesome.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  03:37

In many ways, Alissa’s childhood in Idaho was awesome, but it wasn’t carefree. Alyssa is the eldest daughter, and she’s a straight laced as they come. She was the kind of kid who only broke the rules when she wanted to read under the covers at night with a flashlight. And those are the kinds of kids who tend to catch on when the adults around them are having big, scary conversations. As a kid, did you talk about money? Did you talk about finances? Did you have any awareness of that?


Alyssa Elliot  04:07

Yeah, I think I had more awareness than I should have had. I had asthma when I was little. And in the 80s, pre ACA, pre existing conditions were exempt from coverage for your health care plan. And so my asthma was never covered. And that meant like a trip to the ER would be exorbitant. And a nebulizer was like, out of the question. Like, there’s no way we could afford it. And inhalers, you know, like 50-60 bucks a pop. And so I was constantly like, fearful of having an asthma attack and being, you know, a problem and I could overhear the conversations about like medical bills and you know, this doctor, this doctor or they want to send her to pulmonologist or an allergy and asthma doc, and we just can’t swing it and there’s no way and if I think I don’t think they intended for me to hear as much of that as I did. But I was very alert. And like, I paid a lot of attention to things that adults said. And so I heard more than I probably should have.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  05:12

Like she said, Alyssa’s parents likely didn’t intend for her to overhear their arguments about her costly health condition. But it was no secret to the kids that their parents fought constantly.


Alyssa Elliot  05:25

Money was always like, at the heart of most of the conversations, my dad was in sales, and he had a huge territory of like, six western states. So he would always be on the road during the week, and then home on the weekends. And my mom was a stay at home mom until right about fourth grade. And she’d always baked cakes, baked cookies, made all kinds of stuff from scratch, and it was always perfect and amazing. So my entire life, we’d have these like, elaborate really cute birthday cakes, like Carebears, or Cabbage Patch Kids, you know, and they were always like, decorated, just adorable. And so she wanted to open a bakery, and she figured out how, and my dad was not really a part of that stuff. That was kind of an awkward, like, my mom’s just going to do this on her own kind of thing. And I don’t remember how they scraped up the money to like, make the bakery. I don’t remember how any of that stuff, like worked out but she started this bakery and it was wildly successful from the get go. And that took off in ways that I think neither of them had planned for or prepared for. And so we were kind of like latchkey kids at that point, which wasn’t, I think anticipated from either parent. But my dad was gone, he was working. And my mom was at the bakery.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  06:45

Alyssa’s mom continues to bake her incredible cakes now for paying customers. And the demand is up.


Alyssa Elliot  06:53

She had started doing like booking wedding cakes out almost like a year in advance because she was so popular. And her cakes were so good. Everything was from scratch. The frosting was amazing. And so she had booked this cake and it was the most expensive cake she’d done to date, I think it was 2500 bucks, which in the 80s holy shit, like who pays that? I don’t even know even today. I’m like, who are you people but and it had these white chocolate ribbons all around it that she’d had to make from scratch like by hand, you know, she’s like hand forming these ribbons around these like metal dowels and trying to get them to shape just right and everything. So it took her like three days to make this cake, it was unreal. And she was delivering it at this ballroom. And they had just wax the floor and they didn’t have a sign up. And she was carrying the bass, which was like over 50 pounds. It was huge. And she didn’t have anyone helping her. And she went to take a step in the ballroom to start crossing the floor and she like absolute acid over teakettle flipped up in the air. And she hit the ground with the full force like on her lower back. And she saved the cake. There were like two little thumb holes in either side of the base of the cake because she was so frantic about how much money that cake cost, what that would represent if she had to kind of give them a reimbursement or whatever. And also, she was, I think, heavily cognizant of this being someone’s special day and she didn’t want to ruin it, so she was like, oh, shit. So she predicted the cake at all costs and took the hit on her back and ended up severing a fusion that she’d had done a couple years prior in her lower back or lumbar spine. And then additionally, it broke her pelvis. But they didn’t identify that her pelvis was broken until a couple of months after, but she was in exorbitant pain the whole entire time and couldn’t figure out why. And so she went back in and they did I think get an MRI or whatever the hell they do, and they were like, oh, that’s less than ideal. And they had to go in and break it and refix it like reef, set it basically. So for about nine months, she was kind of, you know, at a commission and off her feet, and everybody else was still kind of working at the bakery, like the employees and the business partner that she had found. But they weren’t her. All the recipes were in her head. Like she knew how long to whip the butter before adding the sugar to make it really fluffy, you know, for the frosting. And so people didn’t know what she knew. And they weren’t able to keep up with the demand. She ended up having to sell her share of the bakery. And I don’t remember how much money it ended up being but it was like a pittance. But it was like nothing compared to what she’d put into it. And I remember that being like a sharp right turn of the before her and the after her. I think it like a level of bitterness was exposed that I hadn’t seen before.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  09:45

That bitterness piece that can really, really take a toll and I’m wondering how it kind of seeped into her personality, her parenting her relationship with you. How did that sort of unfold at home?


Alyssa Elliot  10:01

Yeah, I think the fights with my parents got a lot more aggressive, they got a lot more violent, they got a lot more frequent. There was this moment where my parents were fighting. And my mom was just absolutely badgering the shit out of my dad. And I was like, screaming at them to stop fighting. And she reached up to like, I don’t know what she was going to do to him. But she ended up climbing the whole side of his face. And it was like a plate open like a bear. Like it looked like a bear had gotten him. And I was like, what in the fuck just happened? I remember being so terrified. And I was so mad at my dad, because he didn’t stop it. Like, he was always taking it from her. And it was always one sided in terms of that level of aggression and like maliciousness, and I could never understand, like, what the hell was going on. And that day, my dad grabbed me by the arm, because I was in the hallway, like kind of causing a scene and trying to get them to stop and seeing if I could distract the action. And he grabbed the keys. And he just ran out the front door. And we left and we went to this little diner, like a half a mile from home, if we could have run into 80 million people that we knew, I don’t know why he picked that place, probably. His adrenaline was just dumping and we sat there and my dad said, you can’t be mad at your mom for this. You can’t be mad at her for this, you don’t know what she’s been through. And I remember just thinking, I don’t care what she’s been through. She doesn’t need to act like that you know, and he told me some stories about my mom’s childhood and what she had lived through and gone through and, and they were horrendous stories. I remember sitting there trying to eat my french toast and being like, it felt it felt like watching a TV show. Like it didn’t feel like this is my mom he’s talking about it felt like some weird like, person off in the distance. And you’re like watching this narrative. And you’re like, wow, that’s, I don’t even know how to take that in. So he was really trying to compensate for like the bullshit of how she was showing up. And I remember being irritated at him for like, excusing it. And part of that was like that innate like little justice seeker. I have like the righteousness like it doesn’t matter. Like it’s not right that she’s like that.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  12:17

Alyssa knew her parents marriage had always been rocky. But this feels like a real turning point because her mom and dad eventually do get a divorce. Meanwhile, her mom sinks deeper into the bitterness of losing her livelihood and suffering from chronic pain. She’s no longer acting like the amazingly capable and attentive mom Alyssa had come to know and love. Everything shifted.


Alyssa Elliot  12:41

We were in the car, I can vividly remember the day I can feel the sunlight, I can see where we were on the driveway. Like I know every second of the scene. And I saw a pack of cigarettes on the ground in the car. And I remember being like, why are there cigarettes in the car? Like I have asthma, I can’t be around any smoke of any kind. And so that doesn’t make any sense. And I looked at her and I was like, why are their cigarettes in the car? And she said, what I do with my life is none of your business. And I remember thinking, I’m sorry, what? Like, what just happened? What just happened? Are you essentially admitting that like, those are yours, and I leapt out of the car, I was furious. I was like, I don’t even know who this person is like, what a complete bitch. I was so angry. And that was kind of like, you know, the second of the dominoes to fall and then they started falling much more quickly in sequence. And it was like, here’s the order of things. It’s gone, like what you had before is gone. This is not the mom you thought you had.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  13:43

Alyssa is a […] childhood is shattered, and the pieces feel impossible to pick up. Her mom stops becoming someone to look up to. In fact, she starts morphing into the opposite of everything Alyssa wants to be. For one, her mom starts smoking pot. And to Alyssa this kind of behavior is inconceivable.


Alyssa Elliot  14:05

Oh, God, I just remember. I mean, I was a straight laced perfect kid, right? I did not break with asthma. Yeah, I was good. I didn’t break the rules. I you know, followed instructions and paid attention and so yeah, she started smoking pot. And I remember just being like ew, like my friends don’t even smoke pot, like who are you? And this was probably like eighth or ninth grade right about in there. And I was like, I gotta get out of here. And I went to live with my dad.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  14:35

The slow motion unraveling of like Pinterest mom is a lot. That’s a lot to have to acclimate to.


Alyssa Elliot  14:48

There was like a switch flipped for sure. And it felt like maybe I just didn’t see what was there the whole time. But I think the narrative that kind of became a red main theme throughout our life at that point was what a victim she was like how everything bad happened to her, like, you know, the bakery was taken from her. She didn’t get what she deserved. So it was like, her way of getting back at life, I guess was just to rebel and do whatever the hell she thought she wanted.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  15:17

Alyssa graduated high school and is determined to get away from her mom. She’s also acutely aware that her mom is moving on to harder drugs, and she’s completely fed up with her behavior. So Melissa moves to Washington State for college and the to stop talking.


Alyssa Elliot  15:35

When my graduation came around, my whole family drove up and they brought my mom and she looked decent. She looked okay, so I kind of thought, oh, wow, this is, you know, looking a little better. Well, that next that next summer, she met a man who would become my stepdad. And they had like an a fire and ice kind of relationship, like they were either really good or really bad. And I was accustomed to that with my mom. He had an anger disorder called intermittent explosive disorder. And he was violent and aggressive and really angry, and then he’d be awesome. And he’d be awesome for days, sometimes weeks, and then it would, there’d be an explosion and it was like this, you know, unsteady ground, you never knew what you’re gonna get. And I had stayed back in Washington, I was going to try and make it there. And I couldn’t make it work. I think I felt isolated and alone. And I kind of missed the idea of a community. I didn’t really feel rooted where I was. And so my mom and my stepdad drove up. And they brought me a car.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  16:40

Alyssa’s mom and stepdad, Rick, bring her a 1989 Toyota Camry. Now, Alyssa is considering her situation. She’s lonely in Washington and her mom who seems to be doing better, has literally brought her away out. So she decides to come back to Idaho and move in with them.


Alyssa Elliot  17:02

They had found this house in Meridian right outside Boise and it was rent to own. And I was like, Oh my God, how awesome and they pulled up to this house. And I remember just being like, what, like, this is way nicer than I expected you to have, you know, like moved into. It was so cute. It had a little front porch, and a big two car garage, an oversized two car garage, and it had a really cute front yard. I’d gotten a job at a hospital, I was making decent money considering you know, post 911 hardly anything you can, you’d be lucky if you could find a job and I had a college degree. And so I was considered overqualified for most of the things I wanted to apply for. I remember I came home one day and my mom, my stepdad were on the couch. They were side by side, and my stepdad said, we got a proposition for you, kiddo. And I was like, Oh, what’s that? And he’s like, we need your help financing this house. And I was like, what do you mean? And he’s like, well, we can’t get the loan. He’s like, I had a bankruptcy a couple years ago, my credit score is not high enough. I can’t get the loan, but you got a job. You got good credit. You can help us. You just need to cosign. And I was like, okay, I don’t know what any of that means. But I mean, this house is awesome. I loved it, it was beautiful. I was staying there, too it was like we’re all winning. So I did, I co signed the mortgage for my mom, my stepdad and I didn’t think anything of it. I there was no adult presence in my life going like, hey, maybe don’t do that. That might not be a presence.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  18:26

That’s the adult presence.


Alyssa Elliot  18:27

Right? Yeah, right I didn’t have that.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  18:30

Meanwhile, Alyssa’s is Mom is once again able to take what she’s gotten and turn it into something amazing. Instead of baking into cupcakes though, her mom and Rick said about renovating this adorable house. They put in hardwood floors, granite countertops, and a new garage door, basically turning it into an HGTV Dream Home.


Alyssa Elliot  18:51

They have this weird like corner pantry in the kitchen that was kind of blocking the view from the inside. This was before like open concept floor plans were a thing. And he was like if we take this pantry down, you know it’ll really open up the room. So maybe we take this pantry out and just like put a big island here. And so they did that and they put in granite countertops. Like they put all this work into the house. They painted it, he did a three color color scheme for the paint. There was like beige, this really pretty like ivory and then this neat foresty Green was like the accent color. Everything he’d done was top notch. It looked absolutely incredible, you’d never know they didn’t hire a contractor to do this work and I remember kind of thinking at the time, like how do I get the money to pay for this? Because my stepdad was on disability. My mom is on disability because of all the back stuff that she’d suffered her entire life. And she was never able to work again after the injuries that she sustained from delivering that wedding cake so I thought it was weird, but I didn’t really think anything of it at the time. And I was back in Washington I bought condo, a really cute little condo loved it. And I think it was, like $158,000 or something that is just obscene to think about these days but the problem was when I had gotten a loan for this condo it was it had an adjustable rate mortgage, I had an arm because I had the burden of my parents house hanging on my credit. And I still didn’t fully understand like the ramifications of what that meant but I was assured, like, if you make good payments, you have good payment history. If your parents keep making the payment in in Boise like, you’ll be fine, you’ll be able to refinance this adjustable rate. And when it’s ready, you’ll refinance, you’ll be good to go.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  20:38

To Alyssa, it really feels like all of her hard work has paid off. She checked all the boxes, did well in school, paid for college on her own, and then graduated and got a job, which let her buy her own place. In her mind, all she needs to do is follow the playbook and everything will be fine. Except her playbook. Like really all of ours to be frank didn’t take into account the inconceivable.


Alyssa Elliot  21:07

One day I was sitting on the couch in the living room, I was watching TV. And I got a phone call from my mom. And she said Rick’s gone. And I was like what? And she’s like he’s gone. And I’m like, where do you go? And she’s like, I don’t know. I can’t find him. He said he was going to Denny’s to get breakfast and bring it back. And he’s he’s not come back. I don’t know where he is. Maybe he got in a wreck or you know, so I’m trying to think of all these different things, and and so she ends up calling, you know, the hospitals later in the day and is like, do you have, you know, a person like this, she called the State Patrol. She called a bunch of different places trying to figure out like where he might be. But he had taken the car, so she didn’t have a way to like, get around and like go try to find him.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  21:52

You had been living with them. Were they getting along then was it like? I mean, you said he would explode every now and then but.


Alyssa Elliot  22:01

There was nothing to give me an indication that they would split the way that they did. Like, you know those hence, you have friends whose relationships are going downhill and you have signs like they say like, oh, he’s being a dick. Like, this is shitty, but like that didn’t happen. So it was kind of like out of the blue. Literally, he just disappeared. He literally left everything. He didn’t even pack a bag. She was on his body. And that’s it, it started to get weird when the next day came, and he wasn’t back and there’d been no word from him. And then the next day came and there was no word from him. And then like about a week, and I remember thinking he’s like, seriously gone, like he has really gone. And I knew that his disability was the bulk of the income because he had some military stuff, and then his disability so that was how they were paying the payment. And I was like, how are you going to be able to pay the mortgage if he’s gone? And my mom was like, well, I’ll figure it out. I’ll get a roommate or something. And I was like, okay, well, you should probably get working on that. Because the payments going to be due before you know it, and you should probably make sure you can pay it. And she’s like, yeah, I will. And I was like Mom, you have to because I have this mortgage up here and it’s going to adjust and I have to be able to refinance this house, I can’t lose it. This is where I live, like you’ve got to, you know, do the right thing. And she was like, okay, I’ll figure something out. And so she would have people come over and she’d be like, no, I can’t live with that person. Oh, that woman was trashy. Nope, I can’t live with her, okay and it was just one story after another about how the people that she kept finding were just unsavory, and I’m unworthy of sharing an abode with her. And I’m thinking, You know what? Desperate times mine just figure it out, get your shit together. And she didn’t, and she missed a payment. And I was the secondary on the loan. And I was like, well, no, it’s my mom, my stepdad. And like he left and like, I’m arguing with reality. Like, I think I knew what was happening, but I didn’t fully understand.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  23:53

At what point like when, when Rick leaves. Do you start to connect? I mean, you use this amazing phrase, which was arguing with reality. But what is the moment where you’re like, Oh, my God, where the floor drops out from underneath you. And you’re thinking, Rick’s leaving didn’t just impact my mom. This is now my issue, my problem.


Alyssa Elliot  24:17

I think like the first time my, my phone rang when I was sitting at my desk at work, and it was her mortgage company calling to tell me that the payment was late. I think that was the day where I was like, oh, fuck, you know, and I think it’s funny. Like, I swear, I told the people like, please don’t call me again. I remember just being like, don’t bug me while I’m at work. Like, don’t call me again. Like, oh, that’s so cute. No, they can call you whenever the hell they want they own you, yeah so it was. I think that moment was when I was like, oh shit, this is really real. I think until that first payment had been missed. It kind of felt like there was still some runway, but it was gone. It was gone.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  24:58

And then it must just felt like quicksand.


Alyssa Elliot  25:00

It did, it felt like quicksand and ice water and lava and all the shitty things that you can possibly dream up as like torture devices for, you know, to suck you under, it was, I think three or four months later, I got a phone call in the middle of nowhere from a number I did not recognize. And I answered the phone and it was Alyssa? And I was like, yeah, and he goes, I’m real sorry. And I was like, who is this? And he’s like, it’s Rick. And I was like, you better be sorry. Like, you’re, you’re fucking up my life. Like, why would you leave? What did you do? Where are you? Like, when are you coming back. And he was like, I’m not coming back. I can’t deal with your mom anymore. And then he hung up.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  25:54

We’re back, Rick’s phone call is the final nail in the coffin. He’s not coming back. And Alyssa’s mom can’t make the mortgage payments. So everything has fallen squarely on Alyssa’s shoulders.


Alyssa Elliot  26:10

I’ve started doing a ton of research to try and figure out like, what are my options? What can I do to get out from under the situation. And I had a friend from high school who became a realtor and I reached out to her and I was like, hey, so there’s this problem. And I explained to her what was happening. And she really kindly and compassionately explained to me like, what a big fucking deal this was, and how this was not going to end well. And she really carefully gave me a picture of what was to come. And she said, but I’ll do it, I’ll take it on, I’ll figure it out, we’ll do a short sale, we’ll make something work. And so she did. I was like, Oh, thank God, like there’s there’s an end in sight, there’s relief.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  26:52

Okay, let me attempt to explain what a short sale is, with the caveat that I am not a realtor, just a lady with a podcast and a lot of feelings who will give this her best shot. So a short sale is when a homeowner who finds themselves in dire straits like Alyssa and her mom decides to sell their home for less than what they owe on the mortgage, the mortgage lender benefits by getting all of the proceeds from the sale. And in turn, they forgive the difference altogether, or the homeowner has to pay what’s leftover, Alyssa has to do the latter. So she is still stuck paying some money. But it’s a way better deal than a straight up foreclosure. And at this point, Alyssa just wants an out. So it’s the best of some not great options.


Alyssa Elliot  27:39

We ended up selling the house for I think like $73,000, or something like that it was very low. Considering what the house was worth, I think the house was worth like, over 200 at the time, because they put so much into it and it had appreciated and it was such a good area. I mean, my God, if we had that house to this day, it would probably be worth like close to 600,000 for the location it is and and what it afforded but whatever. So short sale happens, new people take possession of the home, they move in. And I get a notification from the mortgage company as we’re finishing up all the paperwork, that there’s a big discrepancy in the value, because there had been a home equity line of credit attached to the property. And I was like, what is that? No, there wasn’t like, what are you talking about? And that through that process, I discovered that my mom had stolen my identity, used my social security number, and my date of birth and forged my signature and got a home equity line of credit for $75,000. And that was how they afforded the hardwood floors and the granite countertops and the paint and the new garage door. And like all the beautiful things that they did to the house was through the $75,000 loan that I didn’t know they’d acquired. And so I’m thinking the difference between the short sale and what the loan was for originally is this much not very much money, and then I find out oh no add 75,000 to that it is a lot of money and it ended up being well over $100,000 that the mortgage was shorted when the sale happened. And so the mortgage company filed that judgment against me for I think it was like $110,000 something obscene maybe more maybe like 117 and I mean literally like mental blackhole for these details because it was so fucking traumatizing. And I was so spun up with trying to figure out like, how am I going to save where I live? What am I going to do with my condo like I had no idea. And at that like moment in time hashtag 2008, the rate adjusted on my condo, and the payment almost doubled, and my income didn’t double but the payment doubled. And at that same time the short sale had finally been registered and there was literally nothing I could do to refinance my condo. So I was like, okay, I better figure out how to make that work. So I pulled myself up and found a realtor tried to sell it. Nothing, nothing, nothing. We ended up dropping the price to $53,000. And no offers no offers, no one would take it. And it went into full foreclosure. At the time, like I was making my car payment, I was making my credit card payment, like a cell phone payment utilities. And I, I knew like this is a steep cliff. And I don’t understand what’s on the other side of it. But I also remember just being like kind of disassociated from it, because how do you come back from this? What do you even do? Like, what is the next step? It was so terrifying and traumatic. My mom’s mortgage company filed a judgment against me for all that money than I had a full foreclosure on my credit, and I had no choice but to declare bankruptcy. And when that reality hit, it was like being dunked in ice water with a brick on top of your head, like there’s no way to come out. And I thought for sure my life was completely over. And clearly, like my mom is, is gone from my life again, like I was so furious that this circumstance was what was happening. And it it sucked, because I couldn’t talk about it with anyone. Because everyone would be pithy and judgmental with their shitty comments of well, yeah, that’s why you don’t ever use your credit for anyone else. Well, yeah, and that’s why you should never cosign a loan for anyone. Well, yeah, that’s why I mean, it was just this endless refrain of like, You’re a fucking idiot. Why’d you do that to begin with. And that’s not helpful. I mean, no one fully understood that frame of reference of having this awesome mom, that goes downhill, climbs back up, makes it up, gets better, seems like she’s doing okay. And then boom, right back down again. So, I mean, I thought I was doing the right thing, by pulling them up, and helping them be successful homeowners. And I don’t know, I think like you say things like, I couldn’t have foreseen that this would happen. But like, I really couldn’t, at the time I was in my early 20s, I was young, I didn’t think that this would be what happens to me.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  32:21

Listen, we all make mistakes when we’re young, and not a single one of us can predict the future. And really, more than that, whether young or old, we do what we can, at the time, with what we know, fresh out of college, what Alyssa knew was that she couldn’t let a chance at stability, pass her mom by. But now, for all of her good and true intentions, Alyssa is facing bankruptcy. And if you are someone who is not, say, a former US president, but instead an everyday taxpayer, this is a uniquely devastating experience.


Alyssa Elliot  33:00

And then from that moment forward, like everything you had to your name that revolved around your social security number is kind of like it either disappears, or, in some cases, like student loans don’t go away. That was a kindness, such a kindness, to get to keep all of those. So I kept my $55,000 in student loan debt. But other than my car, and my student loans, everything else disappeared. So I didn’t have a credit card to my name. Think about like the economic stability that a credit card affords you, like you have the ability to carry that buffer. And even though it’s gonna suck, and you’ll have to pay it back, you still at least know mentally, you’re secure in the knowledge that you’ve got away to carry yourself through a situation that could come up a car repair, something like that, or, you know, a medical bill, in my case, like needing a different inhaler, or whatever, like, how do you pay for this shit? And I had to recognize, what do you do when you have to live without that? And I felt so precariously at risk at all times? Because I’m constantly thinking, oh, my God, what if I need new tires, I have no way to pay for new tires. I had no savings, you’re not allowed to have savings. Because if you had savings, you needed to put it towards your debts. And so I had no backing for anything. Should anything pop up that I needed to like financially cover. I think my credit score dropped to 200. After the bankruptcy, it might even be lower than that. I mean, it was like, what is that? Is that a thing? How does that work? So I got approved for this unsecured like credit card. And the interest rate, I think I swear to God, it was like 35.8%. So if you use it like Jesus, a third of what you just spend is your next like interest bomb. So it was miserable but slowly, I had to incrementally kind of like find those little bitty footholds that could help me secure a little bit more credit bit by bit at a time. So I would use that ought to like buy gum. And then I would make the payment. And then like, just for the sake of like, I’m making payments, look at my payment history, I’m a good person. And it really was that I’m a good person that kind of pulled me through because I felt like such a shitty person for having to live like this and having to be this burden on society.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  35:25

When you’re in the deep suck, right, when something is pulling you down, but you still have to get up and go to work and like function in the world, especially if it’s a financial issue, like you can’t lose your job at this point. How are you managing, keeping on with your life?


Alyssa Elliot  35:43

I remember just an intense feeling of isolation, and feeling like completely alone, completely terrified. Feeling like showing up to work every day, I had to kind of turn that part of my brain off. Because I could feel like I could feel myself in meetings just like vibrating with anxiety and in fear and stress and like, waiting for my phone to ring, knowing it was going to be the mortgage company again, and just thinking, what do I do next? What do I do next? And there was this like, you know, survival instinct that kind of kicks in at the end of the day where it’s like, you just have to put one foot in front of the other. But it wasn’t cognizant of that. Because it didn’t feel like there was any other choice. Like, I just felt like it was existing just to exist, it didn’t feel like I had, you know, a purpose, or a thing that was within my control and my power to do or to fix about it.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  36:38

Do you remember like conversations with your mom at this time? Like, what? How were you talking to her? Were you just like, you are ruining my life? Like, were you keeping it at bay? Like what was what how?


Alyssa Elliot  36:50

Though, I was very clear that she was ruining my life. Yeah, I was like, abundantly clear with her that this is like the last straw like this is going to be it like you figure out how to fix this or like we’re done. And she just went straight back to that victim mode that my dad had warned me about, you know, things that happen to her when she was younger, are really bad. And you know, she can’t help the way she is. And he was, you know, he kind of would make excuses for her even then, about, you know, she’s not doing this to hurt you. She’s not doing this on purpose. She doesn’t know any better. She doesn’t have any, you know, skills to pull herself out of the slump. And I’m like, Oh, my God, where are you making excuses for her. But I think he was given visibility to like some of the past trauma that I was oblivious to. And so I’m hearing about it second and third hand and it it’s not registering with me because I’m an adult, I’m making choices. I’m doing things I’m taking care of myself, I went to school, I got student loans, I did this all on my own, I have not a penny of help from my family to make that work. And so I just remember thinking, if I can do it, like, what’s your excuse? Like you’re an adult, you could get your shit together. If you choose to you’re at this point, you’re choosing not to get your shit together. And I don’t respect that. And it was really, really hard for me to just not be a complete see you next Tuesday. Every time I talk to her because yeah, I just, I was so angry. And so mad.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  36:55

This is interesting, Alyssa, like, now I’m going to arm share you. The whole crux of your mom’s spiral downward was this bitterness that took hold, right? Because something happened out of her control. And here, you’re telling me this thing happens out of your control. And now you have to it’s like, literally, I did not do anything. They left the floor waxed and didn’t put up a sign. I co signed this thing, Rick leaves and now I’m fucked, right? Like, how do you not let bitterness start to color your heart and soul? I mean, it’s such a weird parallel story in a way.


Alyssa Elliot  39:08

Those parallels ate me alive, and I saw them objectively, I could see them. And I was like, curious, like, what a bizarre similarity to share with her, this person who I resent so much. And I remember thinking, I can’t do this to another human being I can’t do this. I can’t be like this to someone. And being so worried that because those parallels were so stark, that I would repeat exactly what she did to me if I had kids myself. And I knew like I can’t do it was never a conscious thought, like, I want to have a family or I don’t want to have a family, it was more just like that’s a thing that you do. And it’s what comes next and it’s like phased and I was confident that if I had kids, I would be just like she was was to me, and I wanted nothing to do with that. I couldn’t hold space for the idea that I would inflict on someone else what she had inflicted on me. And I didn’t have faith in my own ability to not fall right down that hole.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  40:16



Alyssa Elliot  40:16

So I made the choice. And now it’s too late. And I kind of think about that sometimes about how, you know, are you really destined to repeat the same shit that happened to you? And it’s like, I watched it. I was a part of it. I watched it, I participated. So I don’t know, it keeps me up at night, sometimes.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  40:38

I know, it’s big stuff. Did you recognize what you were sensing what you were feeling as bitterness, and resentment? Like, could you identify like, this feeling that that I’m having towards her is potentially disruptive? I mean, how did you not allow that to crystallize into the same bitterness that really destroyed your mom?


Alyssa Elliot  41:07

I think it did for a long time. I think it kind of took root and it. It was like, omnipresent, like, you know, bitterness and anxiety and frustration and fear. And it instilled in me this like chronic fear of like economic instability, and this chronic fear of, you know, if you miss a payment, then everything falls to shit in two seconds, so I’m like, hyper vigilant about financial things that most people don’t think twice about and aren’t concerned with and that has, you know, colored and peppered in my life in terms of like jobs where I’m miserable, like, I’ll stay, I’ll tough it out. I’ll try to be I’ll try to be a hero. I hate this place but I have to have a job, I have to have an income. I was that person. I was that bitter, I was like, I felt myself becoming like her. And I couldn’t handle it, I couldn’t take it, I mean, I had to get to a point where it was like you made choices. You signed that paperwork, you didn’t research in advance. And there’s this really fine line between like, holding yourself accountable and having compassion for the fact that you didn’t know any better, I didn’t know. So I’m like a chronic shudder. I’ll always like should myself to death. And that’s one of the things we’re working on, currently in therapy is don’t say that anymore. That’s looking in the past. And it’s thinking of things and wishing you could do them differently. It’s arguing with reality again, you can’t fix that part. You can only be where you are, which is right here right now. And that’s what you have to do is focus on that.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  42:41

We’re back, the bankruptcy and everything else left Alyssa with a deep sense of unease around all things related to money. And therapy has helped with that. But so has meeting the person who has become her rock through it all. Here’s what I need to know. Where did you meet this wonderful husband? What is the love story? Give me the story.


Alyssa Elliot  43:22

Oh my gosh, sorry. It’s borderline, it’s embarrassing. It’s I want to hear so we met during the peak of the pandemic. And I was due to my Asmar, very COVID freaked like absolutely panicked at every moment like yeah, another thing to be like hyper vigilant, scared about it was like groceries delivered or pickup never go in a store, like you’re not going to get new clothes ever again, like you just better deal with what you have.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  43:51

It’s while Alyssa is on lockdown, and furloughed, a COVID double whammy that she decides now is the time to get back into dating. She has been working on herself and honestly, there’s not much else to do at the moment. So she’s swiping through the apps when she comes across his profile. And while he does have the quintessential man holding a fish photo, everything else is giving green flags. In fact, he seems like he’s exactly what Alyssa is looking for. So they start chatting and he asks her out on a date.


Alyssa Elliot  44:25

So we met at a Starbucks and sat outside, six feet apart. And in the worst air quality ever, it was literally orange. The air was orange, it looked poopy, it was gross. And we sat there and we talked for hours. And the next thing I know he goes oh shit, and I was like, what? And he goes, I’m late for a Zoom meeting, I have to go, and he jumps on his phone and he starts running back to his car and he comes back and he grabs me by the arm and he’s like, come on, come on. I’m parked over here and I was like, okay, I don’t know what you think you’re doing. Like, I’m not gonna be this close to you. And we get back to his car and he’s like, I’m gonna give you a hug, and it’s going to be okay. And if that doesn’t sum that man up, I don’t know what does because it was like, devil may care, I’m going to hug you. It’ll be fine, we’re not going to die, everything will be okay. And he’s been my everything will be okay ever since


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  45:17

Oh, love this story. Oh, he’s exactly what you needed.


Alyssa Elliot  45:24

He literally is. And at the same time, like, I think it’s a blessing and a curse because he can’t understand the depth of this like trauma. And he has such an adorable obliviousness to like how fucking shitty the world can be that it’s sometimes like, I feel like I need to pull him under just so that he can experience what it feels like. And no, this is what it looks like from my side of the fence. But he refuses, he won’t be he won’t be pulled. He has relentless perpetual optimism.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  45:57

As a person who also leads with anxiety, and is married to someone who does not I completely get this. Oh my goodness, do I get this. And again, from personal experience, what a hashtag blessing, this kind of opposites attract magic this is I have just said countless times how much this person that I am married to has saved my soul, my life, my heart. So together with her husband, Alyssa has been able to build a new life for herself a new reality where money and debt are no longer the scary monster underneath the bed.


Alyssa Elliot  46:38

So in spite of that bankruptcy, I really did bust my ass to figure out how to get around and like how to make a life for myself and how to make financial decisions that would set me up in a way that was better than what I’d had before. And so in 2014, I found a house that was an absolutely unbelievable deal. And I didn’t think there was any way I’d be able to get a loan for it but I struggled through the process and and made it work. And we combined like I see our income on paper and I’m like, oh, like what, how is this real life? Like what is going on? But it’s like, it doesn’t feel like that because I still have these mental constraints in my mind. And so I struggle with, you know, like, just making a big decision about like, going somewhere or like going on vacation. But like, we’re fine, we’re not.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  47:32

You’re you’re still arguing with reality?


Alyssa Elliot  47:34

I am, absolutely, yeah.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  47:36

That’s a positive, now.


Alyssa Elliot  47:38

I don’t trust that bitch. I know she’s gonna come for me. And I have to.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  47:43

Sneaky bitch. And she’s come in and you better watch out.


Alyssa Elliot  47:47

Yeah, I get it.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  47:50

And when did the bankruptcy lift? What was the date?


Alyssa Elliot  47:55

It was 2020, and it was in November, I think November, December. And I remember because my now husband was sitting on the couch. And I got an email from Credit Karma. And it said, Congratulations, your scores increased. And I was like, well, that’s like a weird, like, what non sequitur kind of, you know, timing for your credit score to go up. So whatever, I opened the email, I log in, and I scroll down. And there’s always like the section where it’s like, here’s your green part, the good part, here’s your positive part, here’s your yellow part, yellow was always like your balances too high. We’ll think student loans, like my balance is always going to look too high but and then you scroll down to the bottom where the red is. And it’s like anything that’s delinquent or deficient and the bankruptcy had always been there. And so I like scroll scrolls, there’s no red. There was like, no red spot anymore on my Credit Karma profile. And I like screamed, and he was like, what is wrong? And I was like, oh, my God, oh, my God, look, and I like held the phone up to him. And he was like, what is that? And I was like, it’s gone. And he was like, I don’t know what’s gone. And I’m like, the bankruptcy is gone. Like, and it just felt like I like I’m almost crying because the moment that lifted, I was like, oh my god, new life. This is like a literal, new life. Like, I don’t have to see it anymore. I don’t have to feel it anymore. I don’t have to be shamed anymore. Holy fuck, I’m free, like, I’m free. Like, I’m done with this thing. It’s gone. And yet the remnants of the fear that instilled in me are still there to this day, and they still grind my husband.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  49:35

What do you I’d love to just dig into like, the parent thing. You sort of talked about it earlier, you know that you wonder if maybe you were wrong about that choice, and how do you sort of grapple with that? And, you know, I mean, I’m also one of certain age I understand like, I understand biology feasibility goes downhill. Yeah, I get that but how do you you know, it’s too late, you know, for another kind of way to become a parent or anything like that.


Alyssa Elliot  50:04

Oh, that’s so interesting. I don’t think I made space to consider that. I just assumed like the biological train has left the station. And it’s long gone. I think seeing how much of the trauma that was inflicted upon my mom was then inflicted upon me, that I then inflicted upon me and people around me, I just still really don’t have the confidence and belief that I wouldn’t do the same thing. And so I feel like, you know, it’s a kindness to the rest of the world to not bring that shit forward and carry it into a different generation but I think, well, he has a daughter and she’s amazing. I mean, I still kind of just feel like I’m practicing. Like, I don’t feel like a stepmom. I feel like we’re just buds. I mean, I cuz I’m like, hyper vigilant with my stepchild. And my husband’s like, we’re good, she can we can afford those Nikes, like, we don’t need to scrimp, like, she’s gonna be okay, and to my mind, I’m just like, Oh, my God, so spoiled, so entitled, you know, so much access to these things that I never had, and I had to struggle for and there’s bitterness there that comes in, and then I’m like, Oh, my God, don’t be like her. Don’t, don’t be like her. So there’s a perpetual like comparison that kind of goes on in the back of your mind where you’re like, oh, but that thought is reflective of this thing, and don’t don’t bring that in to the picture but.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  51:34

Yeah, I mean, all totally reasonable things that your brain is telling you. And also, I bet that your mom didn’t really do a ton of therapy. I’m just assuming.


Alyssa Elliot  51:47

Ever never, never, never. No yeah, no.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  51:51

I mean, yes, all of what you’re saying is true. And also, you are actively changing patterns. I know you’re probably not going to fully hear me but, but maybe you’ll listen back and hear me that you are you are changing it. You are stopping the future generations and the trauma because you’re dealing with your shit, which is a thing that she didn’t do. You have to stop arguing with reality. No, Alyssa, stop arguing with reality. Listen, I will record a voice memo for you. That says Alyssa stop arguing with reality. And then you can play it whenever you feel like you’re spiraling and then you can record one for me.


Alyssa Elliot  52:41

You better actually do that now because.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  52:43

I’m going to I’m a man of my word, okay?


Alyssa Elliot  52:46

I need it, I do need it. We gotta be there for each other.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  52:53

Alyssa, this is your friend Stephanie. I am here to tell you to stop arguing with reality. Stop arguing with reality. You are safe. You are good. The sidewalk isn’t opening up. There’s no quick stand. You’re all good. Stop arguing with reality, bye.


Alyssa Elliot  53:19

Instead of arguing with reality, Stephanie, I will harken back to Harris’s comedic roots and the improv principle of Yes, and and I will say yes and you cannot fight reality, you cannot argue with reality, because reality will always win that war. And the sooner you can learn that lesson and let go of the argument, and the need to be right. And the justification and the vindication of one upping reality, which you can never do. You just need to let it go. You need to let it go. And what has happened is done can’t be undone. And that is reality. So how you navigate the intricacies of that new reality is really what makes or breaks you. And I think that’s the biggest lesson and takeaway I’ve had in this experience.


CREDITS  54:30

There’s even more LAST DAY with Apple premium subscribers get exclusive access to content like behind the scenes chats with the producers of the show, diving deeper into episodes. Sign up now on Apple podcasts. LAST DAY is a production of Lemonada Media. The show is produced by Kegan Zema, Aria Bracci, and Tiffany Bui. Our engineer is Brian Castillo. Music is by Hannis Brown. Steve Nelson is our Vice President of weekly content and production and Jackie Danziger is our Vice President of narrative content and production. Executive Producers are Jessica Cordova Kramer and me Stephanie Wittels Wachs. If you’d like what you heard today, we have three other seasons that you can check out. Have a story you’d like to share, head to bit.ly/lastdaystories, or click the link in the show notes to fill out our confidential Google Form. follow and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership. You can find us online at @LemonadaMedia and you can find me at @WittelStephanie. Thank you for listening, we will see you next week.

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