Let me love the world like a mother.Maggie Smith / from the poem “Rain, New Year’s Eve”.
Let me be tender when it lets me down.
Last weekend, Mother’s Day weekend, a Utah mother got the news we’ve all lived in fear of (but probably haven’t voiced out loud to more than our closest friends).
Or, I guess I mean, it’s the number one fear for those of us who come to realize that our child’s other parent will do anything to hurt us, even – especially – hurt our children.
On Saturday, the day before Mother’s Day, the body of her 16 year old son was found dead. His father had murdered him and then killed himself.
Three months ago, this mother stood in front of the Utah State Capital protesting reunification camps and the abuse that family court facilitates. She met with others there to try to get help in her own situation.
She had been working for years to protect her son, trying to prove to the courts that his father was a danger.
She was getting closer to someone believing her.
There had been a report that would bear weight in the next court date that would maybe – maybe – offer her son some protection.
This is the time when things can be the most dangerous.
Court requires notice, serving all documents to the other party and then time for responses. It’s how our judicial system works. There are solid reasons for these processes.
In cases like these, it means the abuser sees that time is almost up, that their opportunities to hurt you might evaporate. That their last tool to control you may be moved out of their reach.
In my last round of hearings – the round that gave me sole custody and provided very real protections for my child – I submitted a declaration by x’s ex-wife to corroborate my stories. To show that this was not simply some sad, desperate man but one who has executed this type of abuse and control before, more than a decade earlier.
This is how he is, not what you see. A typed out and signed document saying that.
The declaration was a very hard ask for me. And (believe me – I know) it was an even harder give for x’s ex-wife.
She had to weigh out the risk to her. More importantly, she had to weigh out the risk to her child.
She had to go back in time and relive things that no one should have to live a first time.
Reading her declaration and then seeing her signed version that would go to the court still stands as one of the most validating and empowering times for me in this whole process.
It’s so lonely on this island of truth when an abuser is spinning lies about you and people so badly want to believe the lies. It is unfathomable that a parent would hurt their child just to hurt the other parent, so outsiders find it easier to believe you are lying than telling the truth.
Being a protective parent means always wondering if people really truly believe what you know to be true. Or if they think you’re exaggerating. Or dramatic. Or bitter and lying.
I knew that his ex-wife believed me because she had lived it. The early stories here in this blog are what pushed her to contact me more than a year after x and I had split for good.
It’s like I was reading my own life from ten years ago.
Our tentative friendship – one with so much of x’s machinations in between us for years – was built on being the only two to really know who this man was and is – what he is truly capable of even though he seems like a great guy to most people.
The power in knowing that at least one person understands is fortifying and healing in a way that cannot be underestimated.
But for her to have met with my lawyer and then read the draft and then signed the official document and approved it being submitted to court (and so served on x), caused a feeling I had definitely underestimated.
I cried that whole first night. Tears of relief – through the whole process, I kept preparing myself for her to back out, the stakes being so high. But more than that: I felt real, I felt seen, I felt validated in a way I hadn’t been for years.
The truth was the truth and someone else was here to say it publicly and without hedging.
What I am trying to tell you all is true – see? She sees it, too. She is telling you that I am telling the truth. And she is someone who knows.
The next morning, the terror came crashing in like a tsunami.
He will read this. He will read this and be furious. He will read this and be furious and he will want to hurt me.
And her. And our children.
He will read this at least ten days before our hearing. I pulled out a calendar and counted back ten days before our hearing.
He will read this and he will be so furious and he will want to hurt us and our children and he will have an overnight visit three days before court.
When you throw yourself into learning about how to navigate family court, you cannot escape the always-growing total number of children murdered by a parent while ‘in custody disputes’.
I have a mug I bought a couple of years ago with the number at the time: 758.
As I am writing this, the total is 925.
And I know this does not include Om Gandhi.
(Or probably many others in the last few months.)
If you dig into these stories, you see that very often the murder happens right when the facade is about to crumble.
Once x’s ex-wife’s words were submitted officially to the court, he could no longer tell one of the biggest lies he’d told in court over the years: I coparent great with the mother of my other child, it’s just this one who is bitter and controlling and making this hard for everyone.
This one document would show I was telling the truth which would, much more importantly to him, show him for who he is and take away his best courtroom sleight of hand.
Exposing an abuser – in a way that makes the accusations credible – is the most dangerous place to be if you don’t have protections in place.
I had seen his black-eyed stare of hate many times since ending it and I knew for sure that stare knew no limits when it came to what damage it wished for me.
You’ve gotten yourself safely away but you have to hand over the most precious thing in your life on a regular schedule. Or else.
I sent multiple emails to my lawyer asking her to make sure to give me a day’s notice before he’d be served. So I’d know and be able to be as safe as possible. So I could let x’s ex-wife know so she could be as safe as possible. I’m sure my attorney wanted to say ‘ok, I’ve got it, stop telling me that’ but she didn’t.
I could not risk not saying it, no matter how many times.
I was aware at the time that, even though we were in communication, the ex-wife and I were not talking to each other about our fear. Not really. We said that we were scared about his reaction and that we needed to know when he knew since we knew he’d be mad, but we didn’t go to each other with our deepest fears.
I didn’t want to lay my burden on her. I knew what she was risking and was so grateful.
I hardly spoke it to anyone. Like it was a curse I could summon from the depths of the core of the earth.
I told a couple of people. And my therapist.
And then he was served.
When that weekend’s overnight came, I mentally prepared myself to be scared, to be terrified but also to survive the terror.
I planned chores and activities for that Saturday night.
I kept busy.
I cleaned out a closet. I spackled some holes in the walls. I tried to watch a movie but just fidgeted with my phone instead.
About 10:30pm, I started to move into the bedroom and try to sleep, if sleep would come.
I had counted how many hours had passed and how many were left: 10.5 hours down, 13.5 to go.
As I started to close the windows and turn off the lights, I heard a siren.
I tried to tell where it was coming from, where it was going.
x had moved away to live with his girlfriend, but still pretended to live at his sister’s place that was two city blocks away from me. All of his overnights were there so he could keep up the facade.
The siren was close.
I pulled both lips between my teeth and silently prayed that whatever emergency vehicle it was would come rolling down my street heading away from where my daughter should be sleeping.
I heard it idle close enough for me to hear it sitting still. Muffled enough that I knew it wasn’t around the corner.
I walked down the hall toward the bedroom.
I sat on my bed.
My skin felt electrified.
The fear was like a thousand currents inhabiting my body.
I argued with myself that I was calm a minute ago and had suppressed the terror and I could do it again.
And then I stopped arguing with myself and grabbed my purse, put on some flipflops and walked out my front door in my nightgown. I got in my car and I started it and I backed out of my driveway.
I drove up three city blocks past one side of the apartment complex that x was still pretending to live in. I turned right and right again and drove past the other side of that complex.
No emergency vehicles. No flashing lights.
It wasn’t confirmation that my daughter was safe. But it was the only confirmation I could have that night: those sirens were not for her.
I went home and got through the night fitfully. I was exhausted by the fear that had been building for more than a week, but I was also still electrified from the inside.
The hours passed and my daughter came home.
One could say that proves that she wasn’t in danger.
But Om’s mother had many of those returns to home before the time that her son didn’t come home.
This is not a dice roll the courts should be making us take.
We have to try to prove and then prove again and then again and again. She had been trying to prove for so, so many years.
If Om had been given the protections my daughter was given after two long, scary years, he would be alive today.
He would be alive.
Maybe his mother could tell the story of how she was so scared that she couldn’t sleep and drove around town in her nightgown to make sure the sirens were not for him. Maybe she could tell this story to her son.
To say my heart aches is not enough.
Change is coming. It is.
Last week, the UN released a report damning reunification therapies and camps and the use of the debunked Parental Alienation defense for abuse accusations.
But our country is the only UN participant who hasn’t signed the Children’s Bill of Rights, stating that it might infringe on “Parental Rights”.
Let that sink in.
So it will still be a fight.
But change is coming. We can do this.
As I worked on this post, Colorado became the first state to adopt Kayden’s Law.
Like the hours of that long night almost exactly two years ago, I count the states: 1 down, 49 to go.
Time will be up, someday. Hopefully very soon.
But not in time for Om.
Or Kayden. Or Kara. Or Greyson. Or Samantha and Samarah and Samia. Not in time for the nearly one thousand children court ordered to their own deaths.
The sad truth is I could randomly pick names and it is likely a child with that name was murdered by a parent ‘in a custody dispute’.
We must do better.
To aid in the passing of SB331 Piqui’s Law: Keeping Children Safe From Family Violence please go to the California Protective Parents Association.
To help in other states, please go to Custody Peace to see what is happening in your state.