I am very neat," Andrea Evans says apologetically as she steps around the piles of stuffed animals, princess dolls and DVDs that her 4-year-old daughter has strewn all over her suburban Los Angeles home. "That's something I had to give up. Life is messy with a kid!"

Her life these days is also a joy—something Evans, 51, hardly imagined possible when a stalker forced her to abandon her career and flee New York City 18 years ago. She never thought she would become a mother: "I didn't feel safe bringing a child into the world." Now, plopping down on a sofa in sweats and sneakers, "I feel like a different person," says Evans. She adopted Kylie four years ago with her husband, attorney Stephen Rodriguez, 58. This month, Evans finally returns to the role of Tina Clayton—the same fiery character on ABC's One Life to Live that made her famous in the mid-'80s. "Things have come full circle," says Evans. "It's time to give the audience what they want. And it's time for me to get closure on why I left in the first place."

It was the fall of 1987 when Evans was first accosted in the lobby of One Life to Live's Manhattan studio by her stalker—a Russian immigrant whose name has never appeared in print, at her request. ("These people shouldn't be given any recognition," Evans explains.) Soon afterward, he slashed his wrists on the studio's front steps and was carted off to a psychiatric hospital. There, the man listed Evans as his next of kin. "That's when I began to freak out," she later told PEOPLE. He soon began sending her death threats—some of them written in blood.

With no stalking laws then on the books in New York (today, first-time offenders face jail time), the police and even the FBI—who identified the man as a paranoid schizophrenic who had stalked Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s—were powerless to arrest the man unless he physically harmed Evans. So she hired a private security team. She stopped going out. She even had someone else do her grocery shopping. Then, a few years later, the stalker was caught outside the Secretary of State's office in Washington, D.C., carrying a meat cleaver and a picture of Evans. He was reinstitutionalized. Fearing for her life, Evans quit One Life and moved to Los Angeles to get out of the public eye.

The stalker never contacted her again. But the fear "forever changed me. There's no way it could not," Evans says. She conquered it slowly, with "therapy, support from my friends and family, time and truly my faith," she says. "I prayed a lot. It was a lot of baby steps." Even as she dipped her toe back into television with roles on The Bold and the Beautiful and Passions, public events left her terrified. "I wouldn't sleep the night before. I was constantly sitting up, thinking maybe I shouldn't do this."

With her "biological clock beating like Big Ben" six years ago, she finally tried to get pregnant—only to struggle with fertility. When even their surrogate suffered a miscarriage, "we thought, This is a sign that we were meant to adopt. It's the best thing I have ever done in my life," Evans says. "Just the smell of her fills me with contentment."

Evans plans to continue taking security precautions, but her stalker is now "elderly," she says. "He's no longer a threat." And that allows her to once again live life to the fullest, from buying her own groceries to commuting to New York to reprise the role of Tina. "Part of me will always be hyper-aware," she says, "but I like to think that's a small part now."

  • Contributors:
  • Monica Rizzo/Los Angeles.