When “Being Present” Is Up For Debate

I will admit I do dabble in language, most specifically the written word, more often than most people. I can’t help it. It’s how I’m built.

But even for those who don’t carouse with grammar and meaning, I’m pretty sure there is very little ambiguity about the word “present.”

It can mean a gift. Especially to kids, right? Especially on Christmas – there isn’t a word for the number of times they utter the word “present” or “presents” on that day. Infinity times infinity, if we want to play that way.

“Present” can also be defined as “in a particular place.” Being there. Attending. Physically presenting yourself. I’m not even talking in a mindful, hippy kind of way. I’m talking straight up, as literal as you can get with the word.

Present. Being in a particular place.

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So, if someone is not supposed to be “present” at a particular event, by say a court order designed to protect someone from them, and they physically are there, that would mean they are present. That would mean they are “in a particular place” they are prohibited from being, according to that court order, while the protected person is there.

The person “shall not be present at the location” at the same time as the protected person. And if that person was, then they’re going against the language of the court order. They are going against what is allowed. They are violating it.

I’m not an attorney. Or a police officer. But I do know English.

He was present. He was aware he wasn’t supposed to be present. He had no reason to be there, let alone step outside. But, he wanted me to know he was there, I guess.

So I called. “Report everything,” they tell me. “Everything,” says every judge, every police officer, every prosecutor, every detective.  “Report everything he does.”

So I did. But they decided his physical presence didn’t qualify as being “present.”

As someone who has survived a certain amount of insanity, the likes of which many people are fortunate enough to avoid, I suppose I could make light of that sentence – because an officer may be referring to a mental presence over a physical presence. I mean, I could, if it wasn’t so incredibly messed up.

He’s not supposed to be present. He knew it. He was present. Black and white. ‘

But that’s the problem. Domestic violence lives in the grayest of gray areas. Deviance and terror slither through the cracks. They burrow between the thin layer that separates “he’s being an asshole” from “he’s breaking the law.”

And then I get the apologies. The “I’m sorry about this.” The “I know this is frustrating.”  The “If the order only would have said…blah blah blah.”  The “Keep reporting things though, because we are here to help you.”

That is a tough one to swallow. They aren’t here to help when I feel so terrified about a potential interaction that I feel the need to bring my dog with me, and hope that’s enough to protect me. Or a friend, so I have a witness to whatever might happen.

They don’t feel me shake. They don’t get the stomachaches. They don’t get his ridiculous demands, his manifestos, his delusions. His terror doesn’t interrupt their day.

Nope. His terror lives in the gray areas. Its base is darker than any black I’ve ever seen, but he contorts it with lies and innuendo and half-baked theories until its color lightens and allows it to live in the gray.  That sweet spot for someone who likes to terrorize someone but detests getting caught.

If you wonder why people don’t leave, this is it. If you wonder why people don’t report things, this is it. Right here.

Abuse survivors are damned either way. If they report it, and it gets a conviction, the abuser becomes a victim in the eyes of his manipulated, small circle. If they report it and nothing comes of it except apologies from officers who continue to encourage more reporting, the abused receives more abuse from the abuser. More terror. Because the abuser is emboldened.

They will continue to do what is allowed. Even if it’s not allowed.