In Heavenly armor we’ll enter the land,
The battle belongs to the Lord.
No weapon that’s fashioned against us shall stand:
The battle belongs to the Lord.
I drove down to Hemet Wednesday morning with adrenaline singing through my veins. I did not want to be full of adrenaline. I wanted to be calm and mellow and articulate. I knew Steve would be bringing a lawyer (Julie Paige, the woman his mother works for) and I had never met her but I knew she would be doing her best to push all my buttons and make me lose my cool. I figured in my current state there was a pretty good chance that she would make me cry in front of the judge, and a small-but-horrifying possibility that she would goad me into getting angry and loud. Adrenaline was not my friend that morning.
I got to the courthouse early and waited outside the courtroom with a bunch of other folks who had morning hearings. My plan was to watch and listen carefully to every case that was heard before ours, so that I could get a feel for how it was supposed to go and what I was supposed to say. I really had no idea what to expect. I was grateful that most of the people there were dressed even more casually than me, except for the lawyers.
After a while Steve and (of course) his parents arrived and hung out a good distance away from where I sat. Steve was wearing jeans and a dark grey button-down shirt and an alarmingly bright teal tie. He aimed this look at me…I’m not sure if it was supposed to be Threatening or Intimidating or what, but these days when I look at him all I see is a petulant child. I met his gaze until he dropped his eyes.
Oh! I forgot to mention the funny part! Okay, I had received a copy of Steve’s request for a restraining order, and it was full of mostly-fictional accounts of all the horrible things I had done to him since the separation. In each instance he took a nugget of truth, like the thrown Blizzard or the dings in his truck, and then wildly embellished them with grandiose lies until anyone reading the accounts (who didn’t know Steve or me) might truly believe that I was a dangerous lunatic who can’t walk down the street without knocking over mailboxes and smashing windows. That’s not the funny part. The funny part is that in the section where he was supposed to fill in my physical description, he got EVERYTHING WRONG. He has known me for 15 years and was married to me for 11.5 of those, but somehow he does not know what color my eyes are or how tall I am or what year I was born or anything about my physical appearance.
Okay, moving on. The courtroom doors opened and we all filed in and sat down except Steve and his parents because their lawyer was late. She finally made it though. She didn’t look at all the way I’d pictured her, but she looked exactly like the sort of lawyer that Cheryl would work for. Anyway, she asked the judge to put our case first because she had to leave soon. Curses!! I didn’t get to watch anyone else first!
The judge called us up and for some reason she and Steve sat on the “Respondent” side, so I sat on the “Petitioner” side. I was tautly braced for her worst, but I didn’t know what that would look like.
And then she started to talk, and all my nervousness melted away. She was SO over-the-top sneery and belligerent and bullying that it had an instantly calming effect on me. It was like suddenly she was the one who had lost her grip and I was the one in calm control of myself.
You cannot rattle me by acting like my mother. I was born and raised in that there briar patch.
Then the judge asked me if I wanted to say anything, and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to say so I just sort of reiterated the response I had filed until the judge told me to stop doing that, and then I was at a loss as to what I was supposed to say. Not that that slowed me down any. (Note to self: learn when to stop talking.)
A few minutes into the hearing I began to realize that the three of us were working at cross-purposes.
Steve’s lawyer was working very hard at trying to get the judge to change his mind and approve the restraining order. (I think she just wants it on my record.) She was very tenacious on the subject, and painted me as a dangerous psychopath who would be waiting behind bushes to slit Steve’s throat if he wasn’t protected.
Me, I was working very hard to convince the judge that giving Steve physical custody of the children is a Very Bad Idea.
The judge was working very hard…well, no. The judge was primarily focused on advising me that things would go much better for me during the divorce proceedings if I let Steve have visitation now, without the conditions I was asking for.
We all talked for a while and then the judge made his ruling: no new orders. No restraining order, no new custody orders. At the divorce hearing in August Steve and I could hash out a final custody agreement, after we’d been through mediation.
For a while there I actually thought I’d won something. With the judge’s advice in mind I sent Steve a text: “The kids get home from camp Friday. You can have afternoon visits, but no more overnights until after the next hearing.”
He texted back, “Thank you.”
I got about halfway home and realized that I had forgotten to get that rackinfrackin Proof Of Service filed while I was at the courthouse.
I turned around, drove back to Hemet and back to the courthouse. The line was epic. But finally, FINALLY, that piece of paperwork was gotten out of the way.
I got home and just breathed for a while.
And then I picked up the pile of paperwork I’d been served and realized with a sinking feeling that I hadn’t won anything yet. “No new visitation orders” meant that the orders approving Steve’s visitation request were still in place until the next hearing.
I called the courthouse back and spoke to a Family Law clerk who confirmed that.
I added up the weeks (Steve gets the first, third and fifth week of every month) and realized that the stars and planets are aligned exactly right to give Steve only five days of custody between now and the hearing, so the kids’ lives won’t be disrupted too awfully much if things go well then. Maybe just enough that they can tell the court with certainty that they don’t want to keep doing it. Maybe by then Steve will have realized that revenge is a fleeting pleasure but actual parenting is perpetually noisy and messy and inconvenient and expensive.
I texted Steve and told him what I’d realized and that he would have the kids from July 30 — August 2. He said okay.
I’m glad they are safely out of town this week while all the fur flies.
When I thought about it later, I realized that I had in fact won something pretty huge: Steve’s lawyer was pushing so hard for that restraining order because I think it would basically be their only weapon against me in the divorce proceedings. Unless they have some new trick up their sleeves, all they have to fight with now is a failed attempt to make me look dangerous and a father who has been emotionally absent from his children’s lives since they were born.
I pray that Pastor Bill is right and this will turn out to be a blessing in the end. Mysterious ways, and all that.
Back to the cow issue, I have come to a decision about what I want to do there. But this post is already very long, so I’ll include that in one of this week’s future installments.
To Be Continued….