I’m 30 years old and this morning I had to go into a courtroom for the 6th time this year just to fight for a piece of paper that tells my mentally-ill, abusive, drug-addicted father to stay away from me. And for the 3rd time this year I had to sit next to him, feeling the anger coming off of him in waves, just for the court to give him another continuance and know that I have to go back next month to sit next to him and his anger again.
Each time a day in court is coming up I stuff it deep down until I absolutely can’t avoid it, usually the night before. Then my anxiety kicks in. I shake, I feel nerves and adrenaline coursing through my body, and feel nauseous. I do breathing exercises and watch something light like Parks & Rec until I fall into a fitful sleep.
When I wake up, it’s worse. I’m nauseous, running to the bathroom several times, and sweating. I try to keep my mind in as positive of a space as possible, but it’s much easier said than done. I don’t feel talkative and my husband lets me be and supports me silently. He knows I don’t want to talk about what I’m feeling – it only makes it worse. We drive to the courthouse silently, while my stomach churns, I sweat, and try to keep my breathing steady. On the entire way there, I’m on the lookout for any Black Tahoes that might be him. We find a place to park, looking around to make sure he’s not near us.
We walk to the security line and I try to just keep my eyes down or forward because inevitably he has to go through the same security line around the same time. At this point I’m shaky, and a bit faint because I can never seem to get any food down before our usual 8:30am court time. I’m usually someone with a big smile and a strong voice, but on these days I can’t force a smile and for whatever reason my voice can’t get above a strong whisper.
All the while I’m thinking is he behind me? Should I try to get to the bathroom before I get into the courtroom? Why won’t my hands (and everything else) stop sweating? Maybe a little water will calm my stomach. Nope. Is he behind me now? Am I going to get stuck in the elevator with him? Is he going to sit near me?
When we get to the second floor, we have to wait outside until the bailiff opens the doors. A mix of “protected” parties and “restrained” parties waiting in a small hallway. I keep my eyes on the floor and stay near the doors until the bailiff welcomes us in. As soon as the doors open I get in quickly and pick the seat in the very front row all the way to the end next to the bailiff’s desk. Is he behind me? I never know until the bailiff calls “roll” and his name comes up. And there he is with his rough voice. Somewhere behind me.
We wait until our turn and he enters ahead of me and takes a seat. I take a seat furthest from him. And then the real fun begins. I feel sick to my stomach, not sure which end might fail me, and try to keep my eyes directly on the Judge. He is always angry. I can feel the anger just radiating off of him. No matter what’s going on that particular day in court, he always arrogantly scoffs and talks with angry confusion that I’ve done something wrong. I haven’t served him properly, my paperwork is wrong, I did something to provoke his ugliness. It’s never true and I just have to remind myself of that over and over again in my head.
This whole time, the day prior and all through court and usually for days afterwards, I can’t stop the memories.
I remember the dozens and dozens of times my mom took my brother and I and we left – in the middle of the night, after a big fight, or maybe while he was at work. We went to a friend’s house, a hotel, drove to another city, or even another state. But he always found us. And we always went back.
I remember the times my mom screamed mine or my brother’s name to come into the room while they were fighting because he wouldn’t choke her or push her when we were in the room.
I remember getting angry at my mom for making us leave again and telling her when I was 12. It broke her heart. After that I stayed behind with my dad when she left.
I remember when I was 14 home alone with my dad one of the times my mother left, and all of a sudden, he was in my room accusing me of knowing where my mom was, and that I purposely wasn’t telling him. I never knew, because I didn’t want the weight of having to decide to tell him where she was or not. He backed me into a corner, screaming and accusing me, until I was able to get him to “calm down”. That’s when he told me he had been a meth addict for a few years and it was my mom’s fault (it wasn’t).
I remember right before I turned 17 my mom moved out and I stayed. I tried to “help” him. In the end, he turned on me and told me to get the fuck out and that I was just like my mother.
I remember the times he took my car from me, so it would make my mother’s life harder.
I remember the time he showed up at my high school, dirty and strung out, trying to get me to leave with him so he could file for sole custody from my mom just to hurt her.
I remember when he showed up to my mom’s house when I was home alone and told me if I didn’t come out and come with him he would come in and get me. To pacify him I told him he didn’t have to force me, that I loved him and would love to spend time with him. He was kidnapping me until my mom would speak to him, I understood. I called my mom, went to the Burlington Coat Factory for her to meet us and help him find a suit for a criminal court date he had coming up. My mom knew I was scared. They got back together after that.
I remember the times he let the air out of my tires to again make my mom’s life harder.
I remember the time he was going to be arrested and he hid in the attic of his house to try and get away from the cops. They took him to the psychiatric ward and I was the only one “he could call”. My mom wouldn’t let me pick him up. Hours later she gave me my phone back and I called him. He was walking, and I told him I’d pick him up. He had walked miles in hospital clothing and socks only, and his feet were bleeding. He screamed at me and shook with anger that I didn’t pick him up sooner.
I remember all the threats over the decades that if I didn’t get my mom to talk to him he would make my life hell.
I remember the time I came home from college and he tried to push my mom on the stairs. I asked if I could leave the house and he screamed at me. He threw dishes and keys in a fit of rage that hit me and my mom. My mom was able to wrestle the phone from him and get outside, and then he locked her out and me in. He came to me and raised his fist, cursing at me. In a short, lucid moment I thank God he let me leave.
I remember all of the threatening messages he would leave on my phone, our home phone, my mom’s phone, my brother’s phone, my aunt and uncle’s phones.
I remember when I was living on my own and my mom left. My mom had to tell me how to secure my bedroom doors and garage because he always knew how to find a way in.
I remember when he came over in a frenzy and begged me to kill him and put him out of his misery.
I remember when he told me he was going to kill my mom.
I remember when he told me that he would make my brother’s and my lives hell, he would ruin everything we owned, and “fuck our shit up” if we didn’t get my mom back to him.
I remember the day I drove out of my garage and he was waiting for me after I had called the cops on him earlier that week. I lived in a gated community and he drove up next to me going the opposite direction. I slightly rolled down my window and he was shaking with anger and started cursing. I told him I wasn’t going to speak with him and started driving away slowly. He kicked his car in reverse and slammed on the accelerator trying to hit my car. I sped off avoiding being hit, and he continued to chase me at high speeds around the neighborhood. I knew I couldn’t go to the gate because it had a motion sensor and in the time it would take the gate to open he would be able to break my window and get me out of my car. I drove in circles honking and screaming until I saw two neighbors in their driveway doing work and I sped into their driveway begging to help me. He drove away.
I remember my mom trying to serve him with a restraining order after that and being unable to because he was great at avoiding service. The sheriffs could never get him because he wouldn’t ever open his door. We couldn’t serve him directly because we were both listed on the restraining order. We didn’t want to put our friends and family in danger. We finally served him because he came to stalk us at a restaurant and our friend was able to throw the restraining order into his open window while he was screaming and cussing at my mother.
I remember being so close to getting evicted from my rental home because I had to call the cops so many times on him while living in this gated community. I broke my lease thanks to a law protecting victims, only for the white male landlord to tell me, “I was taking advantage of a poorly written law”. He threatened me with a lawsuit to pay out the rest of the months of rent on the lease and only because I was privileged enough to have access to an attorney, he let me go and dropped any additional “charges” of the lease.
I remember the several other times he stalked me and chased me around town after that. I finally moved and sold my car so he wouldn’t be able to so easily find me.
I remember that over a year later, when things had calmed down because my mom was speaking to him again that the District Attorney went to prosecute him. He was facing 10 years in prison. I knew he would kill himself before going to prison and while I didn’t want him in my life I also didn’t want him to die. So I refused to testify and told the DA how revictimizing it was to have this come back around over a year later.
I remember the betrayal I felt when my parents got back together the last time.
I remember going to family counseling and quitting because my father shook and screamed and truly lived in a different reality where I was a liar and the reason he was in criminal trouble.
I remember always waiting for the other shoe to drop. And it always did.
After I got married last year, to which my dad skipped pictures and showed up to walk me down the aisle seconds before I started walking, my dad blew up on me. He wasn’t sorry for anything that happened at my wedding.
And then the threats started again.
“I always said i dont care if I ever talk to u again when your slut mother used to ask me and i dont. U r the second biggest mistake in my life i wish she had gotten rid of u. I got way more important things to worry about than something this stupid. ur just a snot nosed little bitch now fuck off and die!”
I filed for a restraining order for myself this time and promised myself I wouldn’t go through this again. That my husband and his family didn’t deserve this, and he never deserved to meet his grandchildren if I ever decided to have any.
And since then I’ve been in a courtroom, sick, 6 times – 3 with him in the room, with 2 of those ending in a continuance and 1 ending in a temporary six-month restraining order that I am now trying to make permanent. I’ve wasted money and time trying to get him served and in the end my husband had to personally serve him before a criminal court case of my father’s because the sheriff’s and paid servers aren’t able to serve someone in a court house. And we had no other way to find him.
So today was finally the day. I had been praying that this was the end. That today I would get my permanent restraining order and my family and I can move on with a tiny bit of protection. Just a damn piece of paper. But for whatever reason, he was allowed another continuance. And I have to continue with this anxiety and go back into the same room with him again next month – all for a damn piece of paper to say, “please, stay away from me”.
When the Judge granted him a continuance my wall of protection and my stoic demeanor finally came crumbling down. The tears and cries came in a wave of heaves and uncontrollable shaking. But I understood there was nothing I could do, this is how the system works.
I’m 30 years old and I’ve been under the abuse of this man’s mental illness all 30 of those years. So while I’ve been in court 6 times this year (not counting all the trips to the clerk’s office and to the sheriff’s office and the police department), I’ve been in his hell being victimized countless times. The damage is done. And while it’s just a piece of paper, it’s the only peace I have access to and I deserve at least that after a lifetime of abuse.
In the meantime, I’ll be on the lookout every single day for Black Tahoes. I’ll watch every car behind me on my way home to make sure no one is following me. I will get in my car and lock it before opening my garage door when I leave for work. I will keep my stun gun on me always. I will turn on my home alarm every day and night, and not leave my windows or doors open unless my husband is home with me. I won’t answer a number I don’t recognize just in case it’s him. I will get sick again next month just because I know he will not be on “his best behavior” when I don’t have this damn piece of paper.
But how many women have given up? How many women don’t have a job with flexibility where they can take days off for court? How many women couldn’t get their abuser personally served and gave up on the system? How many women have DIED without that piece of paper because we make it SO hard to get? How many more women have to get hurt or killed for us to change this system that works on behalf of abusers – not survivors?
I know my privilege. I am an educated, white, cis, married woman with “wealth”. What about all of the women of color? What about the women who don’t understand the system? What about the women who don’t have a supportive husband sitting next to them through these revictimizing events? What about trans and gay women? What about women who don’t have a dime to their names?
I ask not for your pity, your apologies, or your sympathy. I ask for your EMPATHY. Put yourself in my shoes. Put yourself in the shoes of all of the less privileged women who don’t make it out of this system alive. It shouldn’t be this hard to have a damn piece of paper to ask someone who’s abused me for years to just stay away from me. So let’s change it. I don’t know what we “can” do, but I’m reaching out to my representatives today because I know I have a voice and as Brittany Packnett urged me last week, I’m going to SPEND MY PRIVILEGE.