Sometimes when he's by himself and staring out at Puget Sound, Vili Fualaau says he thinks about the big "What if's." "I think, what would my life have been like if I had never made a move on Mary?" says Fualaau, 22, of his wife of one year, Mary Kay Letourneau, 44. "What if I had kept it as a crush and left it at that? Where would I be and where would she be—what would life be like?" But no matter how hard he stares at the water, he says, "I can never see more than the question."
It was 10 years ago that Fualaau, then a sixth grader in suburban Seattle, became involved with Letourneau, his 34-year-old teacher and a married mother of four. The affair became public after she became pregnant, sparking headlines, public revulsion and a national scandal—particularly after she defied a court order to stay away from Fualaau and became pregnant a second time. Although she spent seven years in prison for second-degree rape of a child, the couple continued to profess their love. Last May, nine months after her release, they were married at a Seattle-area winery.
One year later, what is their life like? Outwardly it's a life many Americans would recognize. "We do normal things," says Letourneau, who sometimes has all four of her children staying with her and Fualaau and their daughters at the three-bedroom beachside house they rent in Normandy Park, Wash. Recently "we all went out to dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant, then over to Blockbuster to get a movie."
And, obviously, there is lots of history still to be dealt with. Letourneau, who lost her teaching license, and Fualaau, who hopes to become a tattoo artist (they rely on the substantial six-figure fee they received for the TV rights to their wedding), are focused on getting full custody of their daughters Audrey, 8, and Alexis, 7. For now Fualaau's mother, Soona, who raised the girls while Letourneau was in prison, has custody of them. "We are grateful for all she's done," says Letourneau, "and we all worked really hard to stay focused on what's best for the girls." This June Letourneau and Fualaau hope a Seattle court will give them custody. "It'll be nice to take the girls to Disneyland and not have to ask the state or notify Vili's mom," says Letourneau.
Her four other kids are slowly re-entering her life after losing her for a huge chunk of their childhoods. Last October Steve Jr., 21, her oldest son from her marriage to Steve Letourneau—an Alaska Airlines employee from whom she was divorced in 1999 while she was in prison and who has since remarried and divorced—told his mother he was moving back to Seattle from Anchorage and asked if he could live with her. His younger sister Mary Claire, 18, a freshman at the Art Institute of Seattle, stays over so frequently she has her own bed in Audrey and Alexis's room. Letourneau's other two children, Jacqueline, 12, and Nicholas, 14, also visit regularly. "If I had known a year ago how all of them are together in my life now," says Letourneau happily, "I would have cried."
Fualaau acknowledges that the situation is complicated and says he spends a lot of time thinking about and trying to sort through conflicting feelings. "I feel like I don't really have a place except that I'm their mother's husband," he says. "I feel out of line asking them to clean up, but I have a right to—it's my house." His wife's children "had a mom and dad and then I came into the picture and they think, 'I hate that guy; if he hadn't come along this would never have happened,'" he says. "Sometimes I feel hatred toward me, like an energy, a look in the eye." Fualaau says he avoids kissing Letourneau when they are with her children because "I've gotten looks." His relationship with Steve Jr., who is only one year younger, can be strained. "I feel a bit of competition, like, 'Who deserves Mom's attention more?'" he says. "I back down because she's his mom and I don't want him hating me. But I get so frustrated."
Last December a police officer stopped Fualaau in SeaTac, Wash., for speeding and reported smelling alcohol on his breath. This April a jury found him guilty; his lawyer is looking at options to keep him out of jail. Despite the arrest, Fualaau's everyday life is, for the most part, ordinary. He and Letourneau devote most of their time to their kids, but every Saturday night is couples night. For their anniversary "Vili has a plan and he's keeping it secret," says Letourneau. Once in a while she envisions having another child. "One more would just be ideal," she says. "If we could have a boy, it would be Vili's dream."
For now Fualaau has his hands full being a husband, father and, he hopes, tattoo artist. His first effort, a family crest he etched on a cousin, "didn't come out exactly the way I wanted it," he says. The same, it seems, is true of his life, though Fualaau says he wouldn't have it any other way. "This is my life and I accept it," he says. "If I get upset at one of her kids, it's fine, it's normal. It's a family. I love them no matter what, and we will work it out."
- Lorenzo Benet/Normandy Park,
- Stacey Wilson/SeaTac.