Eye of the Tiger

December 4, 2012

The other day, I had to go to my ex-husband’s ex-lawyer’s office. I’ll call this lawyer “Tim,” since that’s his name. The arbitrator made Tim the escrow agent of a 3 month emergency fund in case my ex did not pay the support. My ex has not paid the support once in 18 months. I have been able to go the the emergency fund 6 times, when it has been funded, and the other 12 months I just sat and waited for a court date. We’ve been over this. I know. It gets boring. You get the picture. My ex does not pay support.  ANYHOW, when I went to pick up the check, I actually saw Tim for the first time since the trial. We made small talk, and he was kind of a jerk, and the last thing I said to him as I walked  out the door was, “”Remember, Tim, I was the good guy.” After I walked out of his office and stepped into the elevator, I started to shake and I couldn’t stop. Just being in that space with this man brought back a lot of trauma for me.

You see, long ago, and in a not so far away city, a trial took place. It did not occur in a court room, but in the arbitrator’s law office. He was a good man, this arbitrator, if not a little naive (which coming from me, says a lot!). In any case, he is one of the most well-respected matrimonial attorneys in the county. He acted as judge, jury, and executioner (I wish), over all the financial aspects of our divorce.

I am not a fighter. I am not good at defending myself. On the first day of the trial, I was in the  hot seat first. My lawyer asked me a whole lot of questions, and Tim kept objecting. The thing is, when someone asks me a question, it is in my nature to be extremely helpful, sometimes going beyond the scope of the question and that’s what Tim objected to. The arbitrator had to admonish me, and I do not take well to admonishment. I got a little teary. I knew that on the second day, Tim would cross-examine me. I was scared, not of telling the truth, because that’s all I know how to do; I was scared of being questioned by a man whose goal was to hurt me and my children. It was his goal because he was representing my husband, and my husband had repeatedly told me he would leave us with nothing.

So the next morning, I arrived at the office building where we were having the trial. I went into the ladies room and took out my iphone and turned on the theme song to Rocky, “Eye of the Tiger,” and I boxed. Left hook, right jab, left cross. Those kickboxing classes came in handy for my bathroom boxing sessions. I did this every morning before trial, and occasionally during a midday break. No one ever caught my boxing sessions, but now you know.

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I’d like to say I gave as good as I got during that trial. I felt pretty bloodied and beaten at the end of each day, but every once in a while, I got in a good jab, a jab that made my lawyer smile and the arbitrator’s eyes twinkle, as they admired my spunk. I’ll never be a person who enjoys a fight, but I’m learning to not back down and I’m learning to protect myself. I just need a good theme song to get me going.

Confession: After my Crazy Part 1 post, a few friends, near and dear and knowing me perhaps too well, asked me about what “Part 2” would be, and had a few suggestions, indicating to me that there is the possibility that there were more than 2 incidents of crazy in my life. I am open to the possibility, but in my mind, what I am about to describe definitely goes on side 1 of My Greatest Hits of Crazy album.

I go to court several times a year. You’d think I would be used to it by now. I think that my first visit to divorce court, almost 4 years ago, spoiled me. I had been separated for over 7 months. My husband had closed all of our bank accounts and left me with no money. Fortunately, I had credit cards and overdraft on my newly opened account, so I did have some way of taking care of myself and our children, but my credit was about to run out. Strangely, I went to court with an incredible amount of optimism. I remember wearing a gold sweater and thinking to myself, “I am golden.” Yeah, that’s crazy, I know. But I just felt this sense of calm as I sat there awaiting my fate. I sat next to people in the waiting area and marveled at the emotional chaos around me. People were angry and bitter. I sat in my golden bubble and offered them empathy and kindness. Ahhh, innocence. But here’s the thing. I walked out of court with a pendente lite support order that provided enough for me to take care of my children, at least temporarily. Pendente lite:  that’s Latin for “pending the litigation” or “the temporary order that your husband will ignore.”

So I went back to court every few months to get my husband to comply with the order. This went on for 2 ½ years. Finally, in the spring of 2011, we went through binding arbitration and got a final decision and order and I retreated back to my golden bubble and thought the fight was finally over. Ahhh, innocence.

Yeah, yeah, you’re thinking “So, where’s the crazy part?’

My husband refused to accept the BINDING arbitration decision. Once again, he stopped paying all support. So after 3 months of anxiety and waiting for a court date, my lawyer and I returned to court. Maybe I should have worn my gold sweater, but it was August. Maybe the heat had already gotten to me, but for some reason, I had brought pictures: 8×10 glossies of my beautiful children. Through this whole process, I had been trying to tell the court that this was all about the children. That all I cared about was my children. So maybe I could not make my husband be the father they deserved. Maybe I could not make him love them the way all children should be loved. I just wanted someone to see them. I wanted the judge to look at my children and see that they were not just names in pile upon pile of legal papers. They were beautiful, innocent, loving, and vulnerable children who needed this judge to protect them.

I’m not sure how it happened, but we walked out of the courtroom and nothing had happened. I walked out with exactly what I walked in with, and I never said a word. Never said a word until I walked out of the courtroom.

I suppose if you’re going to go crazy, it’s better to do it outside of the courtroom. As soon as I walked out of the courtroom, I lost it. (However, there was no snorting.) I started to cry, loudly, holding up the photos of my children, approaching people in the waiting area, saying, “Wouldn’t you love these children? Wouldn’t you take care of them if they were yours?”

Gosh, I wasn’t holding out a gun or anything, but I remember being encircled by men in uniform, men with guns. That’s weird, right? And so I held those photos up to the policemen surrounding me, and asked them if they would love my children. Asked them how my children’s father could abandon them. I remember soothing words from the policemen and my lawyer, who managed to ferry me to the elevator and back down to the main floor of the courthouse, where we were met and again encircled by a few more men in uniform. This is the part that makes me giggle. I imagine them getting the heads up that a crazy, distraught woman was coming downstairs and that they should be prepared. OK, I know bad things can happen in courthouses, but imagine the call coming on their walkie-talkies, “There’s a woman coming downstairs. Watch out, she’s got photos.”

And maybe that’s why I was so dangerous. I was asking people to look beyond the words printed on stacks of paper. I was asking them to look beyond the lawyers and the husband and wife at war. I was asking them to look at the truth. And the truth was that I had 3 children who didn’t ask for any of this. Who deserved a childhood, as all children deserve, a childhood free from strife and chaos, and full of joy and love and peace.

I went back to court this week. I had told my lawyer that I would want to speak, but when I had my chance, I didn’t have the words. Or maybe I was afraid the words would not matter. Because what’s really crazy is that I’m sitting here weeping as I write this. I’m weeping because I am still wishing that my children’s father would love them the way children should be loved by their father. I guess there’s no court in the world that can make that happen. And it’s crazy that I thought, even for a moment, that my words would make a difference.

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