Kwaku Alston Tamera Mowry Housley
In November 2018, Tamera Mowry-Housley's life was forever changed when she was woken up to a call with unimaginable news.
The actress and former talk show host learned that her 18-year-old niece Alaina Housley — who she often referred to as her "favorite Housley" — had been killed in a mass shooting with 11 others at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, California.
Now, for the first time since Alaina's death, Mowry-Housley, 44, is detailing the dark day and its aftermath in an exclusive excerpt from her new book You Should Sit Down for This (out Tuesday, Oct. 4), in which she also shares her life story, from child stardom on Sister, Sister to a daytime TV stint on The Real.
You Should Sit for This Cover Art
On the night of November 7, 2018, not too long after going to sleep, my husband's phone rang. It was Arik, Adam's brother, "Alaina went out dancing with friends, and there was a shooting—it's all I know right now."
A shooting? Alaina? This is impossible, she has to be okay. The same nightmare that has destroyed too many families in this country had arrived in our bedroom—and unfortunately the nightmare was real.
Alaina Housley. My sweet, sweet Alaina, you stole my heart when you were just five years old. By now you all know (I'm talking to you, readers!) I was emailing back and forth with Adam before I met him in person. In the first picture he sent me he was standing next to a tiny, bright-eyed, mocha-skinned beauty whose smile was larger than life. Alaina . . . your uncle was wise to include you in the first photo he shared with me, because who could resist your cuteness? Who wouldn't want to go out with a man who so clearly adored his niece? I'll admit it, when I first saw that picture, I thought, Okay, I can definitely have kids with this man. If there's any chance they'll look like her, I'm all in!
Alaina, you and I clicked instantly. We bonded over fun, girly things like manicures, hair braiding, makeup, and clothes. I was in love with Adam, and I was smitten with your entire family, but it didn't take me long to come to a surprising conclusion. That you, Alaina, were my favorite Housley. You know that, right, Alaina? And I'm sorry for Adam! But it's the honest-to-God truth. We sang so well together, too. I treasure the photograph of us right after we sang the national anthem together before the first Napa Valley 1839 soccer game. I often show that picture to people because it captures the essence of our relationship. Our faces show lots of love with a big side of silly. We look so proud and happy in that picture! Remember how hard it is to hit that crazy high note at the end? That note is no joke! That day you taught me that there is something even more joyful than singing, and that's singing with someone whom you love with all your heart.
In true Housley-Mowry fashion, you chose to matriculate at Pepperdine. You followed in the footsteps of both of your parents, of your Uncle Adam, me, and of course Tia. A bright, outgoing girl—you probably could have studied anywhere you wanted to, but you were proud to step into a family tradition. I don't know how, but you managed to teach yourself to play the ukulele. I remember how you blew everyone's mind at the school talent show. Adam filled me in on your brilliant performance in Les Miserables. I was out of town and so sad to miss your performance, to miss seeing you in your element. You loved Hamilton as much as I did. Werk! And I was thrilled that you were theatre curious, falling in love with acting and auditioning for plays in college. You knew I had your back—whatever you needed, advice, support, a last minute mani-pedi.
But this is the part that haunts me sometimes. Alaina, you wanted me to come see you to talk about acting and your new life in college, and I couldn't make it work. I didn't think much of it, because I was going to see you at Aden's birthday party the next week. In a million years I couldn't have imagined I'd never see you again. It's impossible to make sense of this. Someone with a gun went into a bar and stole your life along with the lives of eleven other innocent people. I ache for everything that was stolen. Your graduation from Pepperdine, your first job after college, the traveling you would have done, the men you would have dated, helping you through your first broken heart, the songs you would have sung, your wedding (you stole the show in mine you looked so pretty!), your first baby. We were robbed of all your potential—your entire future.
Your uncle drove down to Thousand Oaks to try to find you. He had covered mass shootings before, and yet it was unthinkable that you could be involved in one. I called the emergency hotline so many times that I was gently and kindly told they would call me when there was information. Your iPhone said that you were in the bar where the shooting took place hours and hours after the event happened, and we knew what that probably meant. But the little thread of hope was not something that was easy for any of us to let go of. Finally, your dad got the word. "She's gone," he said to your uncle. Those two little words carried so much power. An unbelievable amount of grief—She's gone. It is not possible to describe what any of us felt. I can't tell you what it was like to tell Ariah and Aden that their cousin was gone. Honestly, Alaina, I'm not entirely sure the words to describe this level of pain actually exist.
The Napa police drove down to where you were. You were brought home with a police escort—and the cops were crying too. The worst thing I have ever seen in my life was your mother's face when you arrived in that long black car. Her baby had come home, and she crumpled.
Tamera Mowry/Instagram Niece Alaina and Son Aden
She wailed. I don't know how she survived that moment, because this was not the way you were supposed to come home from college. Seeing you in that car was a horrible reminder that this nightmare was real, and it wasn't going to end. The cops escorted you—silently, but with lights on, to the cemetery. The outpouring of support and love from the people of Napa was incredible. They lined the streets for you and your family. You wouldn't think something like that could help, but it did. You were loved.
Of all the people who saved me from constant despair, it was your mother. She should not have had to save me, but she did. As we were approaching the second anniversary of your death and the pain was still raw, she said, "Tamera, I've realized something. Alaina was never fully mine. She belonged to God. I might have given birth to her, but her mission here on earth is done. She's with Him now." What a brave and wise thing to say—what a generous way to move forward in life after experiencing such pain! That's your mom, Alaina. She's really something.
I learned that day how much love can hurt. Losing you hurt so much, and it still hurts a lot, but losing you also taught me to love. Even harder. I am going to love my people at full capacity—because we have no idea what's going to happen, Alaina. You're not even here, but you still taught me to love deeper, more fully, and without any reservation at all. I'm spreading as much love as I can around this world, and it's all thanks to the privilege of knowing you.
Excerpted from the book YOU SHOULD DOWN FOR THIS by Tamera Mowry-Housley Copyright © 2022 by Tamera Mowry-Housley. Reprinted with permission of Legacy Lit. All rights reserved.