From Medium: Chapter 14, Standing When The Ground Shakes

*This is the final chapter of a story that left off here last week.

I’m divorced. Wow. Those two words. I got to go sign papers yesterday, after an agonizing two weeks of negotiations through email, which included a heaping load of threats and bullshit from him, but in the end I came away with protections I needed legally and a fair custody agreement.

It’s surreal. It’s done. My marriage is over. It took me a whole 10 minutes to sign the papers. Ten minutes. That was it. But it took 10 months to get to this point, which I realize isn’t that bad. It could have been worse.

We could have gone to trial for custody. That would have been awful. Just awful. We would have won, which I think he realized and may have been his catalyst for moving forward with a settlement. But who wants a trial, really? No one.

This is better for everyone involved, as long as he keeps his end of the deal. He needs to do that.

So, the kids went with him this morning for “his” weekend. I’ll be without them for five days. Five whole days. Five sleeps. It’s crazy to even think about. That much freedom. I know I will miss them, but this will be good for all of us. I hope.

Moving on. Moving up. Moving forward.

I’m just about out of words. On this subject.

 — -

It seemed I had a few words left. Just a few. About 1,000 to be exact and I saved them for the day he was sentenced. I saved them for him, and for the judge who let his behavior continue without reproach.

When asked, I approached the judge and unfolded the three pieces of paper I had tucked into my purse. My dad was in the gallery, as was a city council member who had been following the case and came to see how it would play out and congratulate me in the end for showing strength and having patience.

After I delivered my statement, just a couple feet from the judge, the council members asked for a copy of my statement and I handed it over. Here’s what he got.

We are taught from a very young age that for every action, there is a consequence. And as adults, those consequences go beyond a simple time-out.

You shove someone into a wall, you’re no longer allowed around that person — because they feared you enough that they got a protective order. You violate that protective order, you get arrested. You violate a no contact order, you face charges. You break windows, you go to jail.

It’s pretty simple. Every action has a consequence.

But, sometimes inaction has consequences, too. And I struggled with that inaction for months. I struggled to understand it, because it was incredibly frustrating. Patience became my best friend.

By granting every request for a continuance in this case, dating back to August, this court has effectively enabled someone with escalating violent behavior to terrorize, harass and attempt to intimidate me for nearly a year.

His behavior went unchecked. For months. The continued delays gave him the opportunity to break my sliding glass door. To search through my email, extract my confidential victim statement, and recite it back to me in an attempt to intimidate me. It emboldened him to think he could get away with anything — including breaking my family room window in broad daylight, sending shattered glass all over the couch that our kids and I use on a daily basis, lodging shards in a Barbie doll I purchased for our oldest daughter for Christmas.

And then to lie about it. Hours after he did it. And verbally assault a Gilbert officer — because he felt he could.

As someone living through this terrorizing situation, please know that a court’s inaction during an escalating cycle of violence puts the target of that violence in an extremely precarious position. It is unsettling. It is nauseating. It is disruptive. It is abusive. And it effects every aspect of that person’s life.

And it is dangerous. With each continuance, the pot continued to boil, until it spilled over.

Over the past year, those closest to me conducted welfare checks. They set up a signal with me. Officers increased patrols. It was all at-once comforting and unnerving.

And the court has the power to hold someone like this accountable when it is happening. Before months click away.

He is pleading no contest today to assault. He now claims he can’t remember that 8 a.m. altercation in August because of impairment. And that’s interesting. He remembered it vividly enough to recount it and tearfully apologize for it to my neighbor in the weeks that followed that fateful day. He remembered it enough to tell his mom, who admitted to me in my own kitchen that she wasn’t sure it would not happen again.

I remember though. I remember calling his mom and screaming for help. I remember the bruises that followed. I remember reading the lies they both told in the police report.

I’ve had the nightmares from it. I remember. I will never forget it.

I also remember the shock and validation I felt when I learned that his behavior was not new. It was repeating itself from his previous marriage, now nearly 20 years gone. This was him. 

Not me. Not her.

He will need to reconcile with himself his willingness to dodge responsibility. It hasn’t happened yet. And I’m not sure if that will ever happen. But, I’m hopeful.

So, during these months of inaction, there have been some unexpected consequences.

I’ve learned that I am not special — in that — he did not reserve this type of abuse just for me. His actions, his words, his anger — they’ve been there for years and other people have been on the receiving end, most notably his first wife. Our experiences mirror each other right down to similar phrases, looks and manipulations. My experience has validated her decades-old pain in a very unexpected way. And for that I am grateful. We both are.

I watched with a humbled heart as outside agencies stepped in and offered to cover the replacement costs for my broken door and my shattered window. And that was incredible. I’m not sure I have the words to express how that feels.

Finally, I am not the same person he waved a broken beer bottle at last August. Not even close. I have found my footing. And it can’t be rattled.

To be fair, that is more a positive effect of inaction than a consequence.

Had this hearing taken place in October or November or December, I’m not sure I would have been strong enough to stand here and say all of this. I wouldn’t have reached where I needed to be to do this.

It apparently took a shattered door. A shattered window. Threatening emails. A seemingly endless stream of legal delays. A review of police officer body camera footage that was wholeheartedly unsettling.

Those things made me angry enough to speak up. And the support I have received from friends, family, law enforcement, the prosecutor’s office and its advocates, youth and family services, outside agencies and my employer has helped me feel strong enough to speak out.

So while I do feel a sense of peace knowing this is coming to a close, I do worry about other victims who come through this court. Dragging out cases for months on end only puts them in a riskier position. Riskier than how they were living before. Risky because they are pushing back on someone who never allowed that to happen.

And that victim is the only one who is pushing back. So they look over their shoulder. They post mugshots of that person at their office. They sleep with a car alarm under the pillow. They have the nightmares.

So, while there is a consequence for every action. Those consequences should not trickle down to the victim. Ever.

And as I see it, the only silver lining to come from this delay is the fact that I could stand here and say this. So, thank you for giving me the window of time I needed to find the strength to do it.