You might want to start at the beginning of the story here.
It was a Thursday, the day I went to the county courthouse. I remember feeling angry – this wasn’t how I imagined my life, contemplating being a single mom, divorcing a man who was spiraling down into the abyss of alcoholism. He wasn’t the man I fell in love with 16 years ago. He wasn’t the man I married almost 10 years ago. Or the man I wanted to have babies with. Or the person I wanted to spend my life with. That guy was gone.
The courthouse was busy that day – or maybe it’s busy everyday. It was the first time I was ever inside. I was a little nervous about running into someone I knew, someone who knew Mike. After all, he was an attorney and had a lot of friends and colleagues who walked those halls daily.
I found the room I needed and waited my turn on a hard wooden bench in the hall. Ten minutes later, I was telling my story to a VERY young woman in flip flops and short shorts. She wasn’t really what the person imagined I would be talking to. I didn’t know what to expect, but she wasn’t it. I wasn’t sure how someone so young was going to be able to help me. Flip Flops asked a lot of questions and filled out several pages of forms.
Then she handed me a brochure with telephone numbers on it. Numbers for abused woman. “I’m not being abused,” I said. “He’s a drunk. He’s never touched me or the kids.”
“Abuse is more than just physical,” she told me. “Those names he’s calling you? The way he’s treating you? It’s not right.”
This all felt very surreal. Of all the things I wanted to remember about that day, the lighting in that tiny, windowless room stands out. It was a pathetic, yellowish lighting coming from way-too-bright overhead fluorescent lights. In a room that is used mostly by women (I assume), the lighting should be better, I thought. In this room, it was unflattering and sad. Someone coming into this room should feel good, but the lighting was any thing but confidence inspiring.
“You’re up next in the courtroom,” the Flip Flops said.
I felt my stomach knot up. Up next? I had to go to court NOW? I hadn’t thought I’d be in a courtroom on the same day as the forms I just filled out with Flip Flop’s help. I wasn’t even dressed for it – in jeans and a tee-shirt. I would have been more “serious” looking if I thought I would be going in front of a judge.
Flip Flops walked with me to the courtroom where she introduced me to an older woman. “This is Elise,” the young woman said. “She’ll be your advocate in the courtroom.”
Elise talked in whispers, walking me through what was going to happen. Then the judge walked in. The judge decided to hear from a couple sitting in the last row of the courtroom first.
I will never forget the couple’s story, that case before mine. The man was here to get visitation taken away from his ex-wife. The kids had visited their mom (his ex) the weekend before and she threw their three-year old daughter across the living room and into a wall. More than once. I felt like throwing up.
“This isn’t my life,” I thought. “Maybe my situation is not so bad.”
I wanted to leave. Instead, I cried, feeling glued to the spot I was told to stand. It was my turn.
I’m a strong woman. I’m not afraid or intimidated by anyone. I’ve worked with CEOs from Fortune 500 companies, celebrities, sports stars. No one gets me rattled. But standing here, in front of the judge, made me feel small and weak. I wondered how women – especially those who aren’t as confident as I (usually) am – do this.
I stood silently as he read the form that Flip Flops filled out. Then he spoke in a booming voice. “Why are you here?” he asked.
My voice seemed to be coming from someone else. It was quiet and I was mumbling. The judge asked me to speak up. In that softer-than-normal voice, I gave a brief overview of my reasons for pursing the order of protection. “Sounds like he’s a lazy husband,” the judge said. “That’s not illegal.”
“It’s more than that,” I said. I told him about the name-calling, the neglect of the kids including driving Ethan around while intoxicated, the destruction of our finances, the collapse of our lives.
“I’m going to grant this to you,” he said after a bit more questioning, “But it’s only good for a few weeks, then you will face him. And you better be ready because he will probably destroy you. I was hard on you today because I need to know you can take it. You can handle this, right?”
I was ushered to the side of the courtroom to wait for the paperwork to be signed. I was told the sheriff would arrive in 24-36 hours to serve the papers to Mike. Then I left.
I wouldn’t have imagined a judge to be like that. Your story is so heartbreaking and I’m sorry you had to go through that. I’m glad you stood up for yourself and your children. I can only imagine how a situation like this complicates your grief, I’m sorry.
Thank you, Anya. It definitely adds to the layers of the grief for me and the kids. I always feel like I need a disclaimer when I talk about his death in real life – I find myself saying, “I’m widowed” or “Mike died” immediately followed by “but we were separated and I filed for divorce” as if that makes things different or cushions the loss. In a lot of ways I was (am) dealing with the emotions of the end of my marriage AND the death of my husband at the same time. And, I think some of the difficulties that Ethan is struggling with can be tied to the one-two punch of the loss.
The judge was a complete hard-ass. He was scary. And I wasn’t completely ready to stand in front of him. Things moved so much faster that day than I thought they would. But I would do it again in a heartbeat. Getting Mike out of the house was the right thing to do for me and the kids. It was the right first step for us.