I have a lot of conversations in my head. I guess most people do, but I think those of us newly out of an abusive relationship have more than we ever have had before in our lives.
The harshness of the smear campaigns means we have a lot to say and that saying it will only make us look worse. So we are told, adamantly, by people who know: don’t defend. Don’t counter. Just live life and stay quiet.
So we have, pretty much every day at first, one-sided conversations until our brains wear out and we can finally sleep.
For me, at first, these conversations were to x’s friends and family. Once I saw him for who he is, I quit having even the pretend ones with him, even in my own head. Once you get clear about the futility of those conversations – and worse, how they give the x ammo to hurt you more – you start only trying to explain to other people. Other people he’s lied to.
Once I regained my strength fully – and remembered who I was before him (assured, confident, loud, vocal, mostly informed) – I started having fewer one-sided conversations and started having more what I would call ‘dramatic monologues’.
I sometimes even write them down to expel them and move on. Maybe in a decade I’ll be able to make a one woman show from the heap of righteous anger and suppressed truth I’ve soliloquized onto the page over the last fifteen months.
Lately, as I’ve really been submerging myself in learning about family court, and am realizing that all this knowledge will lead to some sort of action on my part once my personal struggle is less tenuous – I don’t just have dramatic monologues.
I have Norma Rae monologues. Erin Brockovich monologues.
There’s a scene in the quietly haunting and surprisingly lovely movie Herself, where the mother gets her Norma Rae moment – in a much quieter but, to me, equally satisfying way – while testifying in family court.
She’s testifying and the judge is asking her questions and she pauses.
She says: Ask better questions.
I beg your pardon, says the judge.
She says: Ask *him* why he’s using the children as pawns in front of us all while we’re all wondering why I didn’t fill in a form right.
She then gets the time and space for a brief monologue explaining her daughter’s refused visits because she saw and she’s scared. She gets to say she’d do it again and again. A million times.
She says: You … sit me in the same room with him and ask me questions like ‘why didn’t you leave him’ but you never ask ‘why didn’t he stop’.
Then there are about seven seconds of silence and all I still heard in my head was: Ask better questions.
I clapped at the end of that scene. Quietly and alone – I watched the movie at 4am, during a bout of insomnia brought on by an uptick in x’s abusive antics. My daughter was asleep just down the hall.
My hands flew up involuntarily and I caught them and slowed them down just in time to bring them together silently and I quietly said, out loud, yessss.
And then I cried.
Because I know lots of other folks who, along with me, wish we could have those moments in court. Have the judge give us that space and *really* hear us. Wish that our tears – or, more importantly, our child’s tears – meant more in that hallowed room.
I laid in bed crying and had to pause the movie because I had to pull myself together. Because out of all the stories I now know of mothers like her, not one has had that moment.
I have been assigned a new judge. I have no reason to believe, based on actually listening to her rule on numerous cases in the last month via courtroom livestreams, that she will do anything but what she believes is right for my daughter. So my current Norma Rae speeches aren’t even directed at her. Not specifically. Or not just her anyway.
They are directed at all family court judges. Based on the hundreds and hundreds of stories I now know of parents like me who have to navigate a maze of towing the legal line while also doing what we can to advocate for and protect our children.
It doesn’t often get said out loud in court, but the underlying perception that sets us all up as equals when we first appear in court is: even if you are telling the truth about the abuser, you stayed, you had children with him, and now you want us to bail you out and step in and save you from a mess you helped create. That’s priceless. We’re busy. You think we have all day to fix your mistakes? Do you see all the other cases we have just like yours of people who now want to change the script?
He might be messing up.
Obviously and clearly.
You are also to blame.
You should have known better.
You. Should. Have. Known.
I don’t have my full Norma Rae scene complete yet – I respectfully reserve the right to come up with a much better, more powerful version at a later date.
But this week, I keep wanting to be able to have my movie courtroom moment and say this:
Yes. I loved him. I believed him.
Until I didn’t.
And even then, the terror of this process kept me in for a few years more, trying and trying to squeeze blood from a turnip.
And so, sure, I’m to blame.
I decided to bind myself to this man with this child.
I got myself into something and now I’m trying to get myself out of it.
More importantly, I’m trying to save my daughter from the ugliness of it.
I’m trying my best.
And it’s not enough.
He’s tireless in his efforts to undermine me and free from the scruples we like to think all people have.
So yes – now I am saying I need your help.
I. Need. Your. Help.
Now. Because its not too late for her. It’s not.
So sure: you can keep making my child pay the price for my mistake.
I can see you blame me at least as much as this man whose actions hurt her.
I didn’t push his fist into my car as she wailed. Or did I? I sometimes think you might believe that I did.
But ok. Fine. Even if I did: she is not guilty, your honor.
She is not guilty of anything.
She can continue to pay for what you see as my bad judgment.
Or she can be given protections so that she has the chance to grow up and not repeat my mistakes.
She can be seen as a human independent of both of her parents, who deserves for the court to err on the side of her right to the calm and quiet enjoyment of her life.
This is not my fault.
Or it is.
I blame myself for a lot, still, and yet I know that no matter what I chose to bring her into, she deserves better.
Stop asking why I believed him.
Stop asking what it is I expect to have happened.
Stop seeing her as something he and I both have rights to possess.
Start asking what does this child need.
Start asking why this man gets to fail her six ways from Sunday without consequence.
Start asking why his right to access trumps her right to live trauma-free.
Start asking what will help her have the life she deserves.
She did not do this. She is not to blame.
She is not guilty of anything her mother or her father did.
Blame is an adult game.
She’s just trying to have a childhood.
Ask better questions. Please.