‘Foretold’ podcast Episode 4: ‘The Train Station’

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Now married, Paulina moves in with Bobby’s family in Orange County and is met with a host of expectations: cooking, cleaning, serving, working at the psychic shop and having children. This kind of family dynamic has helped keep the Romani culture alive across the centuries. But it still catches Paulina by surprise.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

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Faith E. Pinho: There’s this one freeway in Orange County, and when it ends in the middle of a big intersection, it sort of spits you right out in front of this old Spanish-style house on the side of the freeway. It’s got white stucco walls and a red tiled roof, and it’s framed with pretty bushes and greenery.

Faith E. Pinho: I’ve passed by this place I don’t even know how many times, and now I’m actually walking up to the place. It’s kind of crazy.

Faith E. Pinho: The most noticeable feature of this place is the big green sign out front. It shows a picture of a hand and the words, “Psychic, palm & card reader.”

Faith E. Pinho: The door’s still closed.

Faith E. Pinho: No one has ever let me in. But I could see through the glass front door. The waiting room had a couple of beautiful couches, glass tables and a couple of decadent, old-fashioned lamps.


Paulina Stevens: That’s one of the first things you see when you walk in and there’s this beautiful waiting room.

Faith E. Pinho: Paulina spent much of her childhood driving the five hours to get here, to this house by the side of the freeway. Because this house is the famous Train Station that was packed with people shuffling in and out all the time. The place where Bobby and his family had been living and hosting blowout parties for years.

Paulina Stevens: It was an old house. I remember the stained-glass windows. Almost all of them were broken or chipped, but they never wanted to replace them. There was this special lead design that no repair guy could redo, and so — it’s a pretty neat place. It really is.

Faith E. Pinho: Paulina had always had a soft spot for it. But visiting the Train Station and living there would turn out to be two very different experiences.

After their wedding, Paulina and Bobby moved into this house — specifically Bobby’s old bedroom, where they used to battle over video games as kids. Bobby’s family had spruced it up for them with a fresh coat of paint and a new carpet.

Paulina Stevens: They just kind of made it nice for us, and a lot of my stuff was already dropped off in there, so it was honestly a really smooth transition. It didn’t feel tough. We just spent so much time there, and I was so used to that house.


Faith E. Pinho: At first it all seemed really sweet and welcoming. But being there felt different than it had before. Now there was something new about it. About the house — and her husband.

Because, she said, Bobby’s family was treating her differently, starting on that very first day, when Paulina was just beginning to settle into her new bedroom. Ruby, her new mother-in-law, walked in the door.

Paulina Stevens: I’m 17. I’m sitting in my head covering. And she’s like, “I just want to tell you something. Just so you know, my son is gold.”

She’s like, “And he’s gold. And I could get any girl I want. So if you want to go, it’s just a snap of my fingers, and I can have another one of you right here. All the girls want my son.”

Faith E. Pinho: I sent Ruby a letter to respond to these claims and I didn’t hear back. But Paulina said in this interaction, she knew that something had changed dramatically. That practically overnight, her role in this family became different.

Paulina Stevens: It felt like my relationship started to shift from Day 1. Day 1, when she had that conversation with me, I viewed her differently. And from that moment, every day, it just kept getting weirder and weirder.


Faith E. Pinho: This is “Foretold.”

Paulina had spent most of her 17 years preparing for marriage. And now finally she had done the thing! She got engaged and had the elaborate three-day wedding. She knew what was expected of her next.

Paulina Stevens: The expectations in my mind weren’t too crazy. You know, just wake up and make sure everything’s cleaned. Serve your father-in-law coffee, and whoever else is at the house. Stand up if someone walks in the room. You’re cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner. Go to the market. And that’s how you make them proud.

Faith E. Pinho: Initially, her time as a newly married woman included more celebrating.

Paulina Stevens: Oh, the first, like, two months of marriage, I was going out places. We were doing that. We were going out, clubbing, dancing, traveling, partying. Not in a hardcore way. We’d go to piano bars and dance. Or we would go to hip-hop clubs. We were having fun. Street races. There was just all this fun stuff.

Faith E. Pinho: Finally, Paulina and Bobby lived in the same place. They could go to all the same parties, hang out with all the same people. And, at the end of the night, they could come home together.

Paulina Stevens: We were teenagers, it was like our first real dates where we didn’t have to hide things. It was more of that, just, kind of getting to know each other at that point.

Faith E. Pinho: Their families were getting to know them as a couple too. As Bobby and Paulina bounced from club to club and house party to house party, it was like this newlywed victory tour.


Paulina Stevens: The first year after we got married, everyone wanted to celebrate. So when there’d be Romani people from a different state, they’d stop by and congratulate us.

Faith E. Pinho: What I’ve learned in my reporting is that gatherings are kind of the heart of the Southern California Romani community, especially the Stevens family. If there isn’t much associating with outsiders, then you have to get together with people from inside the community. Friends. Cousins. Second cousins, even.

And since the population is pretty spread out, when people did make the trip to visit other families, it felt special. People relished the time together. Sometimes it was dinner. Sometimes it was a whole party.

Nasta Lee: The parties used to last for, sometimes, days.

Faith E. Pinho: We met Nasta Lee a couple episodes ago. She’s the one who talked about getting pulled out of school as a 9-year-old.

Nasta Lee: It was like one person was doing one deal and then the next person, “Oh, you come over now to my house.” So we’re kind of more like the — I don’t know if you know — like the Greek style, the Italian style. Our main thing is we want to feed you.


Faith E. Pinho: I love that. It reminds me of my Portuguese grandma, who never stops feeding me whenever I’m at her house. And it’s not like these parties were always ragers. People also enjoyed smaller shindigs and get-togethers.

Nasta Lee: Dancing, singing, hear a favorite song, and they’ll eat, drink and be happy. That’s all it takes.

Faith E. Pinho: The Spanish-style house on the side of the freeway was like the epicenter of Orange County’s Romani community, famous for raucous parties and celebrations. For Bobby’s parents, parties were the thing. They were generous hosts who kept the family and community together.

Nasta Lee: There was always something, some kind of function going on or something was going on, yeah.

Faith E. Pinho: Nasta is also related to Bobby’s side of the family. So, as Nasta told me and our senior producer, Asal Ehsanipour, she was once a frequent guest at these Train Station parties.

Nasta Lee: We would go to Orange County like every other day. “Oh, yeah. Come over.” It was huge in the backyard, from the front to the back, everywhere.


Asal Ehsanipour: How often would that happen?

Nasta Lee: I say every couple of days. Yeah. Because people used to just come over. Young, old, you name it.

Paulina Stevens: And it was 24 hours.

Faith E. Pinho: Paulina means that literally.

Paulina Stevens: One group of people were just getting awake, and the other group is just going to sleep. It’s 6 in the morning and they’re just going to sleep from the party. But now the people that have woken up are making the micheladas and the Bloody Marys. The first year was just party, party, party.

Faith E. Pinho: Which, honestly, sounds like a fun time. But maybe not all the time. Because now Paulina was seeing exactly what was involved in throwing these round-the-clock get-togethers.

Paulina Stevens: They had a huge commercial stove inside and outside. They had two or three fridges, a freezer.


Faith E. Pinho: Paulina now had to play hostess for this parade of visitors.

Paulina Stevens: It was just exhausting. Part of the cooking and the food, as great as it sounds, you guys are not scrubbing those pots with a water hose and a million f—ing Brillo pads all night and exhausted and dirty. I have to do this in a dress and heels.

Faith E. Pinho: Every single day, Paulina said, she dressed the part of the model housewife, complete with custom outfits.

Paulina Stevens: I had to just wear all these dresses. I had over 20 dresses that were specifically sewn to my measurements with a matching head covering.

Faith E. Pinho: Paulina said she had to meet higher expectations of modesty than her cousins and friends did.

Paulina Stevens: Those girls could wear, like, a ribbon just around their bun, and I had to wear the full headscarf down to my knees. There was just a higher level of respect that I needed to hold to represent the family.

Faith E. Pinho: And because this family would host endless parties, at home, Paulina and Bobby could barely find a moment alone together.


Paulina Stevens: Anybody could sleep in our room. Anybody could be in our space at any time, like drunk men in the middle of the night coming to use your bathroom. It was awkward.

Faith E. Pinho: And more than just awkward. In this sea of people, Paulina felt like she was drowning.

Paulina Stevens: It felt like there was no privacy. Like nobody had any privacy, period.

Ian Hancock: You’re never alone in the Romani world.

Faith E. Pinho: When I summarized Paulina’s newlywed situation for professor Ian Hancock, he wasn’t surprised.

Ian Hancock: There’s no room for the individual. Which is what happened with Paulina. If you try to be an individual, it brings problems.

Faith E. Pinho: Paulina was barely 18 years old. She wanted to travel abroad, but she said her in-laws wouldn’t let her. She wanted to learn how to drive, but she said they wouldn’t allow that either. And all that isn’t unusual.


When I asked John Paul and Ruby about this in a letter, they didn’t respond. But I have some court documents from Bobby’s perspective, and he wrote, “Women of our culture customarily do not drive.” Bobby said he drove Paulina around at her request.

But Paulina said she started to feel stuck at the Train Station, at the perpetual party by the side of the freeway. So even though Paulina was constantly surrounded by people, she was growing increasingly lonely.

Paulina Stevens: What was really difficult was letting go of my family. I was expected basically to not talk to my family.

Faith E. Pinho: Because after the wedding, Paulina’s mom and dad stopped coming to the Train Station. It was time for Paulina to acclimate to her new family.

Paulina Stevens: There was this weird dynamic with needing to keep me only dealing with them and their family. It would be like, “Oh, the girl’s always talking to her mom or always talking to her family. She needs to — we’re her new family.”

Faith E. Pinho: I mean, Paulina basically was Ruby’s family. She’d known Ruby her whole life.

Paulina Stevens: She really did make an impact on my life, just in the ways of being so emotionally strong. I have never met someone that — I don’t know. She was just bold and very precise and cold.

On the ‘Foretold’ podcast, Paulina Stevens’ mother-in-law may seem like a villain. But really, she might have been trying to help.

May 2, 2023

Faith E. Pinho: Ruby was in her late 30s at the time, and the matriarch of her family. Which made her the de facto conductor of the Train Station. Ruby was a woman who meant business, and the business was this:


Paulina Stevens: Impress everyone, make the men happy, cook, clean. And she wanted me to succeed in doing that. So the expectations of me to serve the men specifically were: clearing their ashtrays, making sure that they have a full cup of water and making sure they have fresh coffee or a fresh beer. Cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner. Do some dancing.

Faith E. Pinho: During those late-night parties, Paulina was serving and entertaining the men, of course. And Ruby was facilitating it all.

Paulina Stevens: It was usually my mother-in-law would be waking me up, and she felt bad. My mother-in-law would come in and say, “I know you’re tired. I know you’re exhausted, but your father-in-law really wants you to sing. Don’t worry about cleaning the kitchen. Please just perform and serve a little bit. He wants to see your face. He wants to make sure that you’re doing what you gotta do.”

Ruby considered us — she would say, “We’re on the same team.” And I believed that at the time. We both just wanted to make the men happy, I guess.

Faith E. Pinho: Now that Ruby had a daughter-in-law, the two of them shared the load.

Paulina Stevens: So her getting a daughter-in-law was a big relief. She was like, “Oh, finally.”

Faith E. Pinho: Paulina said they became almost like partners. Because Paulina wasn’t just helping Ruby with the cooking and cleaning and entertaining and coffeemaking and cocktail mixing and hosting. They both also ran the psychic shop in their house, giving readings to customers who stopped in. Paulina felt she had a lot to learn from Ruby.


Paulina Stevens: We were all sitting in a very close proximity to each other. She never really disagreed with anything I would do, you know what I mean? I think sometimes I would have questions for her, I would confide in her, because I was still learning. She would say just kind of the advice like, “Don’t say that.”

A lot of the stuff I learned from her was valuable, but at the same time our practices were different, and she could clearly see that.

Faith E. Pinho: From what Paulina tells me, Ruby’s style was different from what Paulina grew up doing.

Paulina Stevens: My mom was really progressive in her work. She did a lot of meditation and she would go to her clients at the beach. I felt like I’m going into one world, into a complete other.

Faith E. Pinho: Because Ruby’s style was not New Agey at all.

Paulina Stevens: Ruby’s routine was more spiritual.

We would have to open the doors by a certain time, the two big French doors, and we’d have to light incense and put it next to this Buddha statue. There’s this big Jesus crucifix and all these spiritual figures and these giant Catholic candles all over the walls.

It was a strong religious, superstitious kind of practice.


Faith E. Pinho: But in some ways, she couldn’t help but admire her new mother-in-law.

Paulina Stevens: I felt that working with her was cool because I got to see her little routine and her vibe and just the way she was with people.

But it was hard to separate the personal stuff and the business stuff. I was cooking all day, but I also have to run the office. And there was really no hours.

Faith E. Pinho: The house is across the street from a shopping plaza and a nightclub. Customers wandered in all throughout the day and sometimes late at night.

Paulina Stevens: We were just always open.

Faith E. Pinho: Paulina says some days they’d stay open until 2 in the morning, because people would wind up there when the nightclub closed. And sometimes Paulina and Ruby could make an impromptu couple hundred bucks in a night.

Paulina Stevens: If we were cooking or having a party night that night, we’d keep the office open. Why close it? You know what I mean? Like, we’re missing out on business when we’re already awake, so might as well open it.


Faith E. Pinho: Living at the Train Station full time, Paulina started to really, viscerally get how much responsibility Ruby was juggling.

Paulina Stevens: A part of me was like, “How do you even do it all? How are you happy like this?” I feel like she wanted me to be her. And to a certain degree, I felt like I was turning into her.

Faith E. Pinho: Day by day, Paulina began to settle into the relentless routine of daily life.

Paulina Stevens: You’d wake up, cook coffee, cook food. And then you’d wake up, cook coffee, cook food. You’d wake up, cook coffee, cook food. Wake up, cook coffee, cook food. If someone came for a reading, you’d give a palm reading and then you’d wake up, cook coffee, cook food. Just cook food and just eating and cleaning. Drinking sometimes. Smoking occasionally. Cook coffee. Cook food.

Those were our days. I remember just being tired of it.

Faith E. Pinho: Paulina had spent most of her 17 years preparing for married life. She thought she knew what to expect. But still, it was a massive adjustment.

Ian Hancock: That’s pretty much how it is.


Faith E. Pinho: Again, Professor Hancock didn’t bat an eye at Paulina’s story.

Ian Hancock: She will go off and live with her in-laws and become the daughter of her new family. The mother-in-law now takes over, and she will treat the new daughter-in-law — it depends on the personality, but she will get the best she can out of her and will criticize the way she was trained in her own home before getting married, “Oh, well, you mean to say your mother did it that way? We do it this way.”

Faith E. Pinho: Paulina said Ruby had specific rules and higher expectations. Paulina felt like she had to re-learn everything she thought she knew, even down to the way she put glasses on the shelf.

Paulina Stevens: I remember I put the cups in facing up instead of down. And it was this lecture of like, “You don’t understand, and the way that we do things in this house are different from the way that you do them at home.” Basically, I would have to have obvious things repeated to me of how I am not able to do anything, I have to scrap everything I’ve learned growing up and learn their way of life.

Ian Hancock: Her mother-in-law, her sukra, is going to be critical just because that’s how mothers-in-law behave.

Faith E. Pinho: Professor Hancock is talking about the relationship between the sukra and bori, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. This is the relationship that Paulina had truly married into. Or, as Paulina felt, she had been sold into.

Paulina Stevens: I think the dowry would have been fine if John Paul and Ruby didn’t always tell me, “Hey, we bought you. You belong to us. We’re your gazda,” which means landlord.


Faith E. Pinho: I never got a response from Ruby and John Paul when I asked them about this claim. But when I asked Professor Hancock what he thought, I could practically hear him shrugging through the phone.

Ian Hancock: Yeah.

Faith E. Pinho: That doesn’t surprise you at all?

Ian Hancock: It doesn’t surprise me that there are families who may say that sort of thing. It’s unkind. But there are boria

Faith E. Pinho: He’s talking about the daughters-in-law here.

Ian Hancock: — who could also be sort of rude and uncooperative and resent the whole setup, so there’s ill feeling there. This is not ideal, but we’re the same as anybody else on the planet where there’s tension between the daughter-in-law and the mother-in-law.

Faith E. Pinho: Mother-in-law tension is a trope in basically any culture. It’s certainly not just a Romani issue.


Ian Hancock: That’s why it’s impossible — dangerous, even — to generalize about what Gypsies do, what Romani Americans do, because you’re going to get a huge spectrum.

Faith E. Pinho: It’s just that this family was pretty far to one end of this spectrum. It bears repeating that Paulina’s subgroup, Machvaya, is particularly traditional. The Machvaya have carried their culture through 500 years of slavery, through the Holocaust, preserving their identity across the generations.

Ruby herself once had to do exactly what Paulina did. She was once a new daughter-in-law. She, too, had to move in with her in-laws and serve them and get used to their rules. In fact, Paulina said she remembered one time that Ruby seemed to understand exactly how she was feeling.

Paulina Stevens: She’d be like, “I hated my mother-in-law so much growing up, and now I’m just turning into her.”

Faith E. Pinho: As you know well by now, I haven’t been able to talk to Ruby. But I’ve been trying to put myself in her shoes here. Because the way Paulina describes it, Ruby had had a hard time acclimating to life under her own mother-in-law’s roof. Maybe Ruby wanted to help Paulina, to pass along the tools that she’d used. And one of those tools for acclimating was this:

Paulina Stevens: She has this saying where she’s like, “There’s a switch in your mind and you just have to turn it off.”


Faith E. Pinho: Paulina said that was Ruby’s advice: Shut off your emotions. Don’t even think about them.

Paulina Stevens: Block it out, block it out, block it out.

Faith E. Pinho: But that was not Paulina. She wanted to talk about how hard she was finding the pressures of marriage. She needed comfort and empathy and hope that things could change. But Bobby couldn’t give her that.

Paulina Stevens: He would just say, “Well, you know, it’s just my parents and blah, blah, blah.” He just tried to make excuses for them. His parents were just his life. It felt like he was married to them.

Faith E. Pinho: Sometimes Paulina barely felt married to Bobby. She said sometimes he would stay the night at a hotel down the street. I reached out to Bobby for comment, but he wouldn’t talk to me.

Again, Paulina said she was told not to think too hard about it.

Paulina Stevens: Block it out, block it out, block it out.

Faith E. Pinho: But she couldn’t.

Paulina Stevens: I told some of his cousins, the female cousins who I was very close to. And it was a competition of how bad the husbands are. It was like, “Oh, well, at least he didn’t do what my husband did.” You know, “Or at least he doesn’t do this,” or “At least he didn’t have a kid with someone else.” And so I was like, “OK, I’m not going to get through to anybody, really.”


Faith E. Pinho: Day by day, Paulina felt like she was sinking deeper into her loneliness, unable to take off her smile in the house full of people. She had no one to turn to for comfort.

Paulina Stevens: So if I wanted to cry, I’d have to literally lock myself in the bathroom. And even then I’d get people like — just, nobody had any privacy, period. So there was nowhere to go. It was just if I was crying, it would have to be probably in the shower, secretly.

Faith E. Pinho: But someone finally realized that something was off. Someone who could just tell from looking at Paulina that this wasn’t right for her.

Nasta Lee: She never looked that happy.

Faith E. Pinho: Nasta Lee.

Nasta Lee: She just went through a lot. A lot of stress.

Faith E. Pinho: Nasta said that whenever she stopped by the Train Station, she would always check on Paulina, who the family calls Nina.


Nasta Lee: I thought maybe Ruby was a little bit strict on Nina a little bit, but that’s the mother-in-law’s duty, to do what she needs to do for the daughter-in-law, to teach them, you know?

Faith E. Pinho: So Nasta would keep an eye out. Try to suss out the situation.

Nasta Lee: I would give her the eye. “Is everything OK? Do I need to tell your mom something?” Because if there was anything going on, by the time I got there, everything looked all too sweet and everything was OK. But when I’m out of the picture, that’s probably a totally different story.

Faith E. Pinho: Nasta could tell it was all getting a bit too much for Paulina. She recognized what Paulina was going through because she had experienced something eerily similar. Nasta knew there could be a way out of this situation. But she worried it wasn’t open to Paulina. That it was too late.

I know you’ve heard me mention a million times that I couldn’t reach Bobby and his family, but I wanted to know how these early years of Paulina’s marriage felt from their perspective — for a family that cared so much about tradition and community.

That’s how I found myself talking to Nick Wildwood. Although Wildwood is more like a nickname.

Nick Wildwood: Because the town I’m in is Wildwood, New Jersey.


Faith E. Pinho: Ah, OK.

Nick Wildwood: It’s almost kind of like Jesus of Nazareth.

Faith E. Pinho: I see. I see. OK. So Nick Wildwood of Wildwood, New Jersey.

Nick Wildwood: Yeah, the whole family has that last name.

Faith E. Pinho: Nick, who’s 71 years old, is a character. After that initial phone call, he let Asal and me interview him at a hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Nick arrived wearing a brown three-piece suit complete with a tan fedora and aviator glasses. And, like a true gentleman, he came bearing coffee and doughnuts.

Nick Wildwood: I got you the pink with the sprinkles.


Asal Ehsanipour: Oh, my favorite.

Nick Wildwood: I knew that. I’m a psychic. That’s why I knew that.

Faith E. Pinho: It won’t surprise you to know that Nick also comes from a family of psychics.

Nick Wildwood: My sister-in-laws had a place. My aunts had a place. My grandma had a place. My mom did it from her 20s to the last day she lived, 92, she was still telling palm readings.

Faith E. Pinho: Nick’s family had a pretty traditional Romani structure. The labor broke down along these classic gender lines.

Nick Wildwood: The guys learn how to work, whatever their family does, be it fix a roof, fix a driveway or work in an amusement park. The girls, we teach them how to cook, how to clean, how to sew, how to raise a family.

Faith E. Pinho: Nick is an activist. I found him through Professor Hancock. For a while, Nick raised money for Romani refugees who were fleeing Ukraine. He’s also spent time lobbying in Washington, D.C., for better Romani representation on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. So he’s driven by tradition and a sense of duty to his history and community.


Nick Wildwood: I love our culture. We’re unique. We’re different than anybody in the whole entire world. We have survived slavery and almost annihilated by the Holocaust. We shouldn’t even be here.

Faith E. Pinho: For Nick, part of being Romani means sacrificing some of your own desire. You have to give back. Your life does not only belong to you. You have to do what’s right for the sake of the culture. And it’s not just in terms of activism. It’s personal.

Nick Wildwood: You marry to make a family. You marry to make your family bigger. We don’t marry for love. Love grows, secondary, as time goes on. There’s different levels of love. First you just care for the person. Then you start to really like the person. Maybe after you have children, you start to realize you love this person. Then love becomes important, but not from the very beginning.

Faith E. Pinho: Nick is the father of three daughters. His hope for them, he said, was to get married to Romani men, have kids young, keep the family line going. Because it’s their responsibility — it’s everyone’s responsibility — to keep the culture intact.

Nick Wildwood: That is the purpose, the sole purpose, in our culture. We want to keep everybody close-knit. We want them to learn our ways so when they get older, they’ll be able to do it for their children who are now getting married in the same way.

Faith E. Pinho: But that labor of holding up tradition can be split a bit unequally along gender lines.

Nasta Lee: ’Cause they want to take your inside out and mold you into what they want to mold you, to be what they want you to be. To clean, cook, serve, make good money. Put the man on the pedestal. Come on, now. They can’t do that. It’s emotional abuse.


Faith E. Pinho: Paulina’s cousin Nasta said, in her own experience as a married woman, it was really hard to do so much domestic labor in the name of tradition and to be expected to want to pass it on.

Nasta Lee: It’s very hard for a woman, especially when you have kids because you don’t want to see your kids go through what you went through.

Faith E. Pinho: Because Nasta has a daughter who also had a hard time adjusting to married life.

Brenda Lee: I feel like all of us girls in this culture went through the same thing.

Faith E. Pinho: Brenda Lee sat on the couch beside her mother wearing a long, floral skirt. She had these beautiful, flashy nails with these little evil eyes on them.

Brenda is 24 years old and has already been married twice. Her second marriage had ended less than a year before we met. Brenda said both of her relationships came with similar expectations that faced Paulina. The endless cooking and cleaning. Helping the in-laws. And, for Brenda, she was also expected to learn the Romani language.

Brenda Lee: No one ever really taught me how to talk in Romanes, and they would tell me, “Why you don’t know that much words?” Well, because I never grew up around it. My mother never taught me. And that’s something I had a problem with them, because they would talk to me in Romanes and I wouldn’t understand them.


Faith E. Pinho: Like Paulina, Brenda also felt alone.

Brenda Lee: It felt like I was trapped.

Faith E. Pinho: Brenda said she wasn’t allowed to talk with her family about what was going on. Not even her mother.

Brenda Lee: I was feeling hurt because I’m close to my mother. Me and her are very close. It was the only friend I had growing up, to be honest with you. And I started getting real depressed because I — there’s only so long I can go without talking to my mother.

Nasta Lee: Yeah. It was hard. Yeah, because I knew that they didn’t want me to talk to her. But what else am I gonna do? If I was to call up or say anything or just to say hi, they would turn the words around. So that’s why we said, OK, we’re not going to call because we don’t want them to say that we broke up their marriage.

Faith E. Pinho: That’s probably exactly what they would say.

Nick Wildwood: A lot of our marriages are breaking up because the mother- and father-in-law meddle in their business.

Faith E. Pinho: Because Nick Wildwood believes that each Romani person must ensure that their culture survives, that responsibility comes down to every individual. Every husband and wife. Even every in-law.


Nick Wildwood: If I had a son, I’d be proud to have a daughter-in-law in my house. I’d actually treat her like she’s my real daughter. I’d have great respect for her, just like if she was my daughter.

Faith E. Pinho: But even Nick admits that sometimes, the relationship between parents- and daughters-in-law can become untenable.

Nick Wildwood: Some people, because they had to pay a dowry for her, now think she’s — “I own your body and I can do whatever I want.” That’s how you break up a marriage.

Faith E. Pinho: So according to Nick, yeah, some in-laws are doing it wrong. They’re not upholding the traditions properly. But Brenda says she did try to uphold the traditions, and after two failed marriages, she’s changed her mind about them. Now Brenda and Nasta think the fault might lie with the traditions themselves.

Brenda Lee: I don’t care for the traditions no more. I really don’t, because they’re stupid. To be honest with you, they’re stupid and it doesn’t make no sense. And I don’t really see what’s the point in it anymore.

Faith E. Pinho: Brenda said she and her husband and her in-laws were constantly fighting and she felt cut off from her whole life, totally isolated. Until finally, one day, she couldn’t take it anymore.


Brenda Lee: And I said, “You know what? That’s enough. Enough is enough. I can’t do this no more. You guys are arguing over the stupidest things.” And I told them, “Why am I here, then, if you don’t want to keep this going?”

Faith E. Pinho: Brenda mustered up her courage to leave it all behind and come home. She bought a ticket that same day and moved back in with her mom, Nasta.

Nasta Lee: And I said, “Wow, look at that.” I said, “Wow.” But I feel bad, you know, what am I going to do? She came home. Just thank God there was no kids involved.

Brenda Lee: Thank God.

Faith E. Pinho: Do you think about that sometimes, like oh my God, what if I had had kids?

Brenda Lee: Yeah. If I did, I would have stayed there.


Nasta Lee: The majority of women, they stay.

Faith E. Pinho: When you have kids, it’s harder to leave. This is true in any marriage but particularly Romani marriages. Kids are the beating heart of the Romani family. And that was the one duty Paulina had yet to complete. The one last thing she had to do to fulfill her ultimate expectation as a wife: She was supposed to have babies.

About a year and a half after her wedding, Paulina pulled a tarot card for herself, using one of those random online tarot card generators. That’s a thing, by the way. And the card that came up on the screen?

Paulina Stevens: The Empress, which is this pregnant woman. Literally the image is this pregnant woman. And I’m like, “That’s so crazy.” Everyone knows that’s the pregnancy/fertility card.

Faith E. Pinho: Paulina brushed it off. It was just a random online card generator, right?

Paulina Stevens: And then I pulled out the same card in my own tarot reading with my deck.

Faith E. Pinho: It was literally in the cards. And also verified by a pregnancy test. At 18, Paulina was expecting.


Paulina Stevens: I just had this flood of emotions. I was just, all these worries and thinking, “I’m too young.” But then I was also thinking, “But I also want this baby. I don’t want anything to happen to it.” I was instantly very — something just switched in my brain and I was very much like, “I need to protect this little fetus.”

Faith E. Pinho: All of the hard work Paulina had done to fit into her new family, all that patience and loyalty and housework, it all finally seemed to pay off once everyone found out she was pregnant.

Paulina Stevens: So right after I found out I was pregnant, I was definitely treated much better.

Faith E. Pinho: Paulina said Bobby’s family began to embrace her wholly and completely.

Paulina Stevens: I was not expected to do any of the normal things that I had to do previous to finding out. I didn’t have to wake up early and make breakfast and cook coffee, or I could rest if I wanted to rest. I think during morning sickness, my mother-in-law was doing my laundry. So it was very different than before.

Faith E. Pinho: She said Bobby pitched in too, bringing Paulina breakfast in bed. He vacuumed, did the dishes. And Paulina’s in-laws treated her like a porcelain doll. Anything to protect mother and baby.

Paulina Stevens: All the parents were like, “We know it’s a boy. And we can just tell and we know it’s a boy and it’s our grandson, and we’ve been wanting him.” And then I was like, “No, it’s a girl. It’s a girl. It’s a girl.” I was just so, so sure. And so I was so happy when I found out it was a girl, I felt relieved, almost. Like, “It was a girl, so it’s my child” or something, as weird as that sounds.


Faith E. Pinho: In the fall of 2014, Paulina gave birth to a baby girl.

Paulina Stevens: The moment she was born, it felt like someone poured warm liquid of love, just from the very top of my head. I just was in love. Complete. No drug will ever compare. It was just — I don’t know. It’s a pretty amazing thing, I guess.

Faith E. Pinho: And Bobby was right beside her. They were a perfectly happy little family. At least for a few hours.

Paulina Stevens: So then I wake up the next day, and the lady comes in and she wakes me up, so she’s like, “We need to name the baby.”

Faith E. Pinho: Paulina already had a name in mind, one that she and Bobby had chosen together. But Bobby wasn’t there. He was nowhere to be found.

Paulina Stevens: We couldn’t get a hold of him. We didn’t know where he was.

Faith E. Pinho: And Paulina needed Bobby’s help to announce the baby’s name. Because she needed him to stand up to his parents.


Paulina Stevens: His parents wanted to name her Diane, after the grandmother.

Faith E. Pinho: Bobby’s parents were going ahead with naming the baby what they wanted, and Paulina didn’t have any allies or advocates for the name she and Bobby had chosen.

Paulina Stevens: He wasn’t there. So I’m like, “What the hell?” I’m like, “Where is this guy?” So that whole night, he wasn’t there. That whole entire night. The next night he was completely gone, completely missing.

The next day, finally someone finds him and he’s sleeping in the hospital in one of the waiting rooms. And then on top of that, his parents wouldn’t let us name her the name we wanted to name her. They said, “You can do that for the middle name. We want her to be named Diane.”

So I was extremely upset with him and I had to sign the paper and I’m like, “I don’t agree with this.” And he’s like, “I do too, but I have to do what my parents say.” So then we signed the birth certificate and it says “Diane.”

Faith E. Pinho: You know the deal by now: Bobby and his parents didn’t respond to my questions about this story. This is all from Paulina’s perspective.


Paulina said she was determined she’d never call her baby Diane. To this day, everyone calls her by her middle name, the name Paulina and Bobby chose.

And on the day when Paulina and her daughter were released from the hospital and went back to the Train Station, there was a crowd of relatives waiting for them. Another party. But this was a different kind of party. One that was softer, more gentle.

Paulina Stevens: It was a beautiful little moment. We put on “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder. There was a lot of families. They decorated the house. So it was nice.

Faith E. Pinho: Paulina felt surrounded by people but, at last, in a good way. With her family.

Paulina Stevens: My parents were there, and everyone was together and happy. It was so amazing just having all my family there.

Faith E. Pinho: Once again, the Train Station felt different for Paulina. Different than when she was a kid, and different than when she was a new wife. Different because Paulina was a mother now.

This was the thing she was supposed to do. She had cooked, she had cleaned, she had run a business and, now, she had given birth. She had nothing left to prove.


Paulina Stevens: After my first daughter was born, I stopped doing things. I really just gave up.

Faith E. Pinho: Paulina had done everything right. And finally, now that she had seen it through, she wondered if she really wanted this life at all, and if this was the life she wanted for her baby.

Paulina Stevens: I felt like there’s no way that this life could be sustainable for me. Like, would I want them to live this life that I’m living? And then I was thinking, probably not.

Faith E. Pinho: But now it was too late. Her window for leaving was closed, shut by the very element that made her want to open it up: her daughter.

This is “Foretold.” Next week:

Paulina Stevens: That’s when I started feeling like I’m stuck and I’m trapped. And in so many ways, I feel like I was. It wasn’t just a feeling. I really was. And that’s the hard part. That’s where most of this began. It was a recent thing. I literally just woke up and it was like, “I can’t do this anymore.”

About 'Foretold'

“Foretold” is hosted and created by Faith E. Pinho, with senior producer Asal Ehsanipour and producer Alex Higgins, assistant editor Lauren Raab, editors Avery Trufelman and Sue Horton, executive producers Jazmín Aguilera and Heba Elorbany, Romani cultural consultant Dr. Ethel Brooks and audio engineer Mike Heflin.

Theme music by seven-string guitarist and composer Vadim Kolpakov and composer Alex PGSV. Additional original music by Vadim Kolpakov and Alex PGSV, as well as Alex Higgins. Fact checking by Helen Li, Lauren Raab, Asal Ehsanipour and Faith E. Pinho. Additional research by Scott Wilson.

Thanks to Shani Hilton, Kevin Merida, Brandon Sides, Dylan Harris, Carrie Shemanski, Kayla Bell, Kasia Broussalian and Nicolas Perez.