Saturday, July 17, 2010

Little Victories

"God is in the midst of her; he will not allow her to be moved." 
~ Psalm 46 (NKJV)

Tuesday, July 13th, was the date of my hearing. I had been working toward and preparing for that day since May 28th, the day I filed for my order of protection from my abuser. I had been re-reading my journal - though my memory of what he had done to me didn't really need refreshing. I searched through months of phone records and painstakingly marked each call that occurred after the day I'd left him, when I’d asked him not to be in contact with me again. I spoke with co-workers until I found one who'd seen and recognized his car in the parking lot at work on several different occasions - two of those times, he had actually seen my abuser driving the car and was willing to testify to that in court. I wracked my brain to think of anyone I knew who might have seen me with bruises and cuts on my face and then remembered that my ex-husband had commented on the injuries when I'd picked up my daughters, less than 20 hours after the last incident had occurred. He agreed to testify also. I spent time on the phone with my Legal Aid attorney discussing what had happened and I sent her a copy of the incident log I had kept after the second time I saw him near where I worked. A week after my abuser was served, he and his lawyer offered the compromise of a "mutual restraining order", which I declined. Not only are such orders not found on any law books, but they are also difficult to enforce, since they assume a level playing field with abuse and harm on both sides. A friend who used to be a police officer warned me against agreeing, saying that the police wouldn't know who to believe if I called and reported a violation, unless they arrived on the scene and found me bleeding. I had already made up my mind not to accept their compromise; I did not do anything to harm my abuser and I was not going to say I had. My abuser had hired a private investigator who was calling friends and acquaintances from my hometown, trying to dig up things they could use against me. I felt violated.

In the run-up to the hearing, I admit that I didn't sleep well. I wasn't able to eat much, either, and as a result I felt tired and sick all the time. The night of July 12th was especially difficult, as I only slept for about three hours, and then spent the rest of the night wondering what in the world his attorney was going to try to do, what they could possibly use against me, and what lies my abuser might tell. I already knew my abuser to be unscrupulous and cruel; it seemed as if his attorney might be the same way. When I declined their offer of a mutual restraining order, my abuser’s attorney told my lawyer that he would “tear me apart on the witness stand”. Having already been torn apart by my abuser, I could only imagine how difficult it would be to face what his attorney would say to and about me.

Throughout the time between filing for the protective order and the day of the hearing, I often prayed. Sometimes, words wouldn't come, and I just sent my fears and hurts to God rather than sending supplications. I didn't know what to ask for, anyway. During my long, sleepless night on the 12th, I prayed that God's will would be done the next day, and that no matter what the outcome, I hoped that his Spirit and presence would be with me. It was all I felt I could ask for.

The morning of the 13th arrived and I was exhausted. I thank God for the support of my ex-husband, and my friends and co-workers who sat with me in the courtroom and offered their protection and their love. At different times during the day, they held my hand or put themselves between me and my abuser so he couldn’t watch me. Seeing him again was indescribably awful. His attorney pushed him to sit right next to me, but my friends would not allow it; instead, he sat nearby, behind me. After she realized what had happened, my attorney came over and said it would be okay if I moved, so we changed to the other side of the courtroom. There were so many cases being heard that day that we ended up having to return in the afternoon; even though I was scheduled to be heard at 9 am, it was 2 pm before we were sworn in and I had to take the witness stand.

If I had to describe the process of being grilled by a hostile man while the person who had hit and sexually assaulted me watched, I’d say it was like being raped all over again. He made terrible accusations – said I had been drunk and had hit my abuser, that I was the one who had committed assault. He said that I was a liar and untrustworthy. He tried to make the judge believe that I am mentally unstable and have a terrible temper -- to try to prove this, he brought out a two-inch thick sheaf of papers that were print-outs of my Facebook entries going all the way back to November 2009. There was no facet of my life that they left unexamined. He said that I was only doing this to hurt my abuser because I was angry that he had left me -- totally untrue, as I was the one who ended the relationship. I answered all his questions truthfully, even the ones that made me sick, the ones that meant admitting that I had done things I wasn’t proud of. But I had sworn to tell the truth, and I told the truth. I was on the stand for an hour, and during that time, I had to read aloud letters that I had written that were glowing character references for the man who had beaten and sexually assaulted me. The words tasted as bitter as ashes and they sickened me; my body shook and my voice trembled. Finally I was allowed to stop, and my witnesses were called. They told the truth also, and I was proud of the way they answered affirmatively without hesitating when the judge asked if they thought I was honest and trustworthy, especially my ex-husband. After they finished, it was my abuser’s turn to be questioned.

The sound of his voice cut me to pieces. I put my head down and tried to cover my ears. I couldn’t bear to look at him and it was easy to close my eyes, but it was impossible to shut out his words and the things he said and the lies he told. When my attorney cross examined him, he began to stumble, and that is when his lies started to catch up with him. Among other things, his denial of having called me after January 2nd was easily disproved by a quick glance through my telephone records. His insistence that he had only visited my workplace because of the Christian bookstore located there was shot down by his own witness, who happily admitted that they often went to the bookstore together; when asked which bookstore, she told the court they visited Books-a-Million and that he always bought Christian devotionals there. In the end, the judge granted my order. I won.

Maybe I should have cheered, but all I could do was sit there and cry. I can’t describe the relief I felt, but I also felt so broken. Smiles and celebrations came later, but at that moment when the judge said I had proved my character and honesty and my abuser had not, all I could do was put my face in my hands and let the tears roll. I don’t know how my abuser reacted, and truthfully, I don’t care. In the grand scheme of things, it just doesn’t matter. Right now, several days later, I am certain he is raging, thinking of me and what he can do to get revenge. I know him very well and I know the way he thinks. He doesn’t just let go of things. I understand that the order of protection is just a piece of paper – it might make it easier for the police to understand the situation if they are ever called to respond, but it doesn’t really protect me. In the end, I am the only one who can really physically protect me, no matter where I am or who I’m with.

I still don’t know what’s going to happen. I suppose he can appeal the decision, which will mean another day of hell in the same room with the man who sexually and physically assaulted me. Or he might try another tactic to get even. He’s threatened that kind of thing before, too. Either way, I’ll just have to be as strong as I can and get through it the best way I can. Sometimes we lose - my experience with this man was one of those times. But sometimes we win - and even when the victories are small, they are meaningful. Sure, it would have been better if I had reported his abuse at the time. It would have been smarter, and he would have faced criminal prosecution. I made a choice not to report, and I regret that choice more than I can say. Another loss for me, another victory for him. Most of our relationship was that way - and he seemed to feel most victorious when he was able to cause me pain.

On Tuesday, July 13, I experienced a little victory. God was with me, he did not allow me to be moved.

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