In 1991, at 22, Jennifer Gilbert was the victim of a random and vicious stabbing that was widely reported. Her name was never released, however, and as she built her New York City-based event-planning company, Save the Date, into a $30 million business, she kept the attack a secret. Twenty years later, married and the mother of a daughter and two boys, she decided to write about it in a recently published memoir, I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag. As told to Burt Helm
Over the past 20 years, maybe 20 people knew the whole story. My clients didn't know. The girls in my office didn't know. I didn't want people to do business with me because they felt sorry for me.
I never thought, Oh, maybe one day I'll tell my story. I felt more like, Why would anybody care about my life?
It wasn't until my daughter came up to me crying and said, "Mommy, I'm so sorry. I forgot the rule!" She had a friend over. I said, "What rule, honey?" And she said, "The rule that we don't talk about Grey's hair."
The first time my son Grey's hair started falling out, he was a year old. I knew what alopecia was, because I'd once donated my hair. I thought, It's definitely not going to be that; that's a bad one.
The second time it happened, a year later--and it became clear he'd never have hair his whole life--that's when I started to feel the despair and the anger and this weird sense of shame. At my company, I'm the fix-it girl: You come to me with a crisis, and the worse things are, the calmer I get. But I couldn't think my way out of this for him.
The only time I had felt that was after the attack.
I looked at my daughter and said, "Honey, it's OK. There's no rule." But I realized I was doing what my parents did. I was denying and wishing away what was not going away.
I wanted to throw up. I had no plan. I just knew that not for one more second are we going to live in this darkness. We need to tell our stories.