I’ve been walking around in an invisible plastic bubble since yesterday.
Normally, post-court, I feel dizzy for a few hours and have to let the info settle in my head before I feel grounded again.
This time: no dizziness. Just this lightness and an odd distance between my body and the rest of the world.
I had a hearing three days ago that was supposed to finally resolve my filing from last fall. It got continued. Again. It was rescheduled to yesterday – so I was grateful, especially because I know enough to know it’s practically a miracle to get a date that close.
But when your mind and your body are braced for rulings, being postponed again is an odd kind of static tension that just sits, at the ready, in your muscles.
x had submitted something to the court via email the week before but it wasn’t proper service and the clerk said she wouldn’t accept it. So my lawyer didn’t even tell me right away and didn’t send it to me. She said it would only irritate me. Said it was a rambling email that would have no relevance anyway. A typical rant.
The judge asked x about it on Tuesday and he lied that he had properly served it. She didn’t see proof in the court’s record, but told him to bring proof of service Thursday if he wanted his requests considered.
I knew I should go ahead and read it that day instead of after the hearing. So I braced myself and read it.
Your honor, I don’t have an anger problem. I have a frustration problem.
Where frustration can, clearly, be replaced with my name.
He perfectly set the tone for what was to follow: all the reasons what he did was justified because I am unreasonable and unhinged and have psychiatric issues.
It was full of lies and fabrications. Delusional accounts of events. Skewed pleas for the judge to make me talk to him on the phone and let him come to my house again for pickups and drop offs. Incorrect accounts to state he has never been angry with me.
That old telltale sign of a bald-faced lie: Never.
I’ve been mad at him plenty of times and would own up to that. To the work it’s taken to get past anger each time. The commitment to parenting it has taken to not show that anger to my daughter.
So many other lies. He couldn’t have punched my car because he drives a stick shift. I harassed him at work and everyone else there loves him. His ex-wife’s statement shouldn’t be allowed because he’s not like that anymore. (Funny, he said he wasn’t like that then just like he’s saying now . . .).
This was all predictable and expected.
But the ‘exhibits’. He included some truly bizarre stuff. Some stuff made to look like it came from me but didn’t – things he’s been saying for years I am responsible for sending. Emails between him and a coworker of mine that were about him picking up belongings that were supposed to prove they are friendly (spoiler: they are not). A two year old email from his ex-wife that’s supposed to prove his son hates me but does not prove anything in particular. A recent message from me stating why I am not comfortable with him taking our daughter to an indoor movie before she’s vaccinated that’s supposed to prove I’m controlling.
And then there were three or four year old screenshots sent to him by a woman who’d asked him if his dick was big while x and I were together. A screenshot within the screenshot of their messages back and forth where he says it’s not but he knows how to use it and asks her to come over. The main screenshot was me messaging her and telling her she was trash and that her actions hurt another woman and maybe she shouldn’t consider that a no harm /no foul situation in the future.
This exhibit made my head spin.
Hit the most tender spot I still have – the part of me that still hates looking at the things I did in that relationship that I wouldn’t have ever done otherwise.
They’re not me.
Only: they were.
I am not that person.
And yet: I was.
I knew they would have no bearing on the case. My submissions were focused on facts and my child’s welfare. His rant was focused on me being terrible and him being great – on how patient he’s been with my unpredictable behavior.
I knew the judge would either ignore the exhibits he included or they would backfire and show her that he is the one who is bitter and can’t let go. That he is the one who can’t put his child’s needs above his own anger and resentment.
I knew his submission only proved everything I’ve been saying all along.
But that one message thread was embarrassing. My anger at her was disproportionate to her offense. I will be clear – it was an offense by both him and her. And he was always aware of what I thought of his role in all of these bullshit games and lies. So I wasn’t blaming her.
What she engaged in was offensive to me and my relationship. But it was small in comparison to others.
I started working on a piece weeks ago about the ‘shameful’ things we do in the worst of the abuse that get used, at the time, to gaslight and blame us into staying and, after we leave, are used to fuel the smear campaign and prove to people that we are, in fact, crazy and impossible to live with.
That message incident is in that post. With worse ones. Worse messages and worse dramatic reactions I had when I was desperately trying to fix my world and get him to care about my pain. There are a lot of layers as to why we all do these sorts of things in the midst of the abuse and why they work against us, both in and out of the relationship. Why we desperately think they give us some sort of control in our chaotic lives but they just spin the chaos machine faster and tie us more tightly to it.
I would never lie and say I didn’t send those messages. And I wouldn’t lie and say that she deserved my wrath to that extent.
I was lost. I was so angry. At x and all the betrayals. I was desperately holding onto any hope of salvaging my family and anything that was a threat to that was fair game.
I lashed out.
And x had it in his hands to pull out years and years later.
Looking at the ugliest parts of who I was in that relationship hurts. Still.
Having my lawyer and a judge see that version of me is painful. Even knowing it wouldn’t change the judge’s ruling. Even knowing my lawyer had read it a week before and didn’t behave any differently toward me.
I can know that most people would do the same (or worse) if in my position and still be embarrassed by what I did.
I can know I shouldn’t hold shame for it and see that I clearly don’t give myself the grace I give all the other women I give genuine grace for this and worse.
I knew he included that stuff just to hurt me. Any possible court win was secondary.
I knew he put that in that submission solely to try to humiliate me. To knock me down a peg.
It was further abuse – via the court system (not a new tool for folks like x) – and aided by that woman who sent him those screenshots. She most likely has no idea what a cruel, secretively abusive man he is in reality. And so she enabled his abuse.
She handed him a tool to wound me, most likely thinking she was helping a good dad save his child.
I went into yesterday’s hearing regrouped. My friends had talked me through. My therapist and I talked about the work we can do to heal the residual shame over what he turned me into for a short while.
I was ready. Ready to get what I asked for, but also ready to get something less. Such is family court and you have to be realistic to not be continually devastated.
I went into that hearing and heard x state again that I kidnapped our child and raced dangerously through city streets, running red lights and stop signs. And he followed me because what if my daughter was hurt and she was rushing her to the hospital and hadn’t even told me. I had questions and I needed answers.
The judge, astutely and neutrally, said, And you followed her as she drove through two towns at high speed? You caught up to her?
He said well, when I got to a red light. When she had to stop at a light.
Except he’d clearly already written I ran all the stop lights and signs.
Then she asked another question having to do with me notifying him of a time and asked me if she was right in her reading of the event. I answered with evidence and a story that works (because it’s true) and she stopped that line of questioning.
I knew by those two questions that she got it. She understood. Of course she did. That submission and then his words. She had to give him a chance to surprise her by being credible and she had to give me space to fall apart if I only seemed credible on paper.
When she ruled, she started out by granting me sole legal and physical custody.
I hadn’t even asked for that in this motion.
My eyes filled. I willed the water to stop.
Stay here, pay attention, there’s more to hear.
I straightened my back and made myself write notes again, determined not to lose the words that were about to come out of her mouth to the shock and weightlessness I suddenly felt.
She went on to grant everything I asked for plus she suspended visits until he meets some criteria for the court. I hadn’t asked for that, either. I had assumed it would be an over-ask and set me up to seem to be trying to keep him from our child completely.
She set up supervised visitation after he meets that criteria and removed all other time previously ordered. She set up a system so he won’t be able to follow me to or from the facility. Made consequences for unfinished homework. Changed visitation time on the weekends so my daughter can continue the dance classes x has agreed to and then tried to remove her from twice.
She gave me more than I asked for – more than once. I thought perhaps I was still sleeping and simply creating my dream version of how this hearing would go.
She told him he wasn’t credible and then went on to list at least five ways I and my testimony and declarations were credible.
She read him. In a way I couldn’t even realistically hope for . . . called out his sadistic pleasure at torturing me and trying to control me.
She. Said. Those. Words. To him.
Sadistic. Torture. Control.
I felt two heavy bricks lift off of my shoulders.
She sees. She gets it.
He smirked and interrupted her and got shushed for the third time. He then just shook his head and smiled dismissively except when he turned his camera to the roof of his car to not be seen.
I just got what I thought it would take at least five more years to achieve if I ever got it at all.
When I hit the red x to close the court program for virtual hearings, my eyes welled again. My breath got short.
I went to my coworkers and before I could say anything, I started to cry again. I had to say, quickly, it’s good, it’s good, just give me a minute.
I was feeling some kind of way about this process involving a mediator telling me it’s equally my fault he punched my car.
Some kind of way about that woman sending him those messages. About whatever call to action he put out for anything to prove I’m crazy.
Feeling like I’ll just send it all for him next time. Save him the trouble. The court doesn’t care. Just like they don’t care about the ones I have that show he slept with a married woman – the same one he cheated with through all of his relationships – as her husband watched their tiny daughters and thought she was in a class for a degree to better their family.
And they don’t care about the writings I have from him, in his own handwriting, showing he doesn’t know why he should have to tell the truth and how he’s lied to me and everyone he knows for years. Cheated. In all ways possible. Hurt so many people but it should all just be fine. Why do they need to know?
The. Judge. Doesn’t. Care.
I left that hearing feeling some kind of way about him trying to break me down. Again. On the record.
And that he brought my worst self to the table and I was still the best self I’ve been. The one that’s only possible since getting out of that toxic stew of life with him.
I was feeling some kind of way that he had to go years back to find some message where I took the bait, where the madness of abuse had made me react in a shameful way.
I only had to look to the week before to find the same for him. Honestly.
I am feeling some kind of way about how much work I’ve done to reclaim myself and my sanity and a safe, secure home for my daughter.
I spent that afternoon feeling relieved. And grateful. And validated.
In a way few of us get to experience in these situations.
I also know that nothing is permanent in family court. If he pulls his shit together and acts right, we’ll go back to joint custody. If he truly pulls his shit together, then so be it. That would be a real win for my daughter.
I also know that even if he does do that, it’s going to take him a while.
That judge just granted me an epic reprieve.
For me and my daughter.
By the next day, I was trying to figure out why it didn’t feel like the relief-fueled celebration I always imagined it would.
Why did I still feel like I was in that bubble – able to move and see but unable to feel anything around me but my own breath and blood pumping.
Why there was clearly a lightness and deep gratitude and happy shock – but not the elation-level relief I had expected.
It’s because this is a ‘win’ – but a win that has to be in quotes.
The relief and this reprieve bring me out of triage and constant survival mode and so the truth re-settles.
I’m feeling some kind of way about my daughter having a father I have to protect her from.
One that even the court recognizes is damaging to her.
That this is a necessary, but awful kind of win.
Better than not having it, for sure. Let me repeat: I am grateful. Beyond grateful.
And I’ve worked hard to get here. Stayed calm when it seemed impossible. Communicated to him in a way he didn’t deserve but that kept me on the high ground. Sacrificed hours and hours of my life to documenting and protecting and staying vigilant. Helped my child through more rage fits than I can count and held her as she cried over so, so many unnecessary wounds.
But the truth is the truth – and in some ways feels more true now that a court has agreed – that unless her father changes in some serious ways, and shows concrete efforts to do so – my child is better off without him.
That is a barbed pill to swallow. Still.
I’m feeling some kind of way about telling a six year old that I have no idea when she’ll see her dad again and that it’s up to him.
I’m feeling a low level fear operating more as an awareness right now that he will undoubtedly do something to try to hurt me in another way since, to him, this is me gaining a level of control that is beyond unacceptable to him.
I squash peace-making thoughts like facilitating Facetime or worrying about if he’ll go on the kind of bender that he can’t easily come back from. I’m swatting away the kindness I can’t possible extend because any kindness like that is enabling and is damaging to her and can’t happen unless he makes the needed changes in his behavior.
He made this bed. I didn’t make him do these things. It’s not my fault.
I’m feeling some kind of way about anyone who thinks it is.
Just under a year ago, x stood smirking near his car as my child realized she missed preschool graduation and I had to tell her in front of him, all by his design. He watched me, smirk across his face, as I had carry her inside and hold her as she lashed and cried for thirty minutes solid.
This weekend I will continue to think of that smile. To remind myself of who he is and why this has to be.
Think of all the times between that he’s hurt her and think of how this affords her time and space to gain some equilibrium. Whether it’s a week or a month or more, her mind and heart have time to heal a little.
I’m feeling some kind of way about what we need more of in our court systems so this ‘win’ doesn’t make me a unicorn.
About the judges who don’t take the time or the responsibility to read the whole case and really dissect it. Our case was continued for two days because our judge thought that was better than rushing the process she needed in order to know that her decision was solid.
I’m feeling some kind of hope, for the first time, for new judges to come in and operate this way – to give more children the respect my daughter received that morning.
Seeing it can be achieved with the right set of eyes and ears and concern gives me new hope for other children and their parents.
I’m also feeling some kind of way about doing what’s hard – sometimes almost impossible – to protect our children.
I’m feeling. Finally.
Instead of just treading.