The tenacity of enduring, surviving and overcoming a painful, unexpected ordeal punctuated by the realization of your self-worth were the messages I wanted to share from my column about my boss helping me retrieve my son.
However, a few readers approached me, inquiring about the events that followed. When I initially wrote the column, I did not intend to explain the outcome that is about to unfold. Focusing on the positive messages was my goal, but I realized that the full story should be told.
There was no fairy tale ending.
After my boss and I brought my son safely to my mother, we drove back to work. Meanwhile, word had spread quickly around the newsroom that Francis had left with me to get my son from his father, who refused to return him at the end of his visit at the agreed upon time.
When we walked into the nest of cubicles, we were greeted with praise and concern. So many people reached out to me with kindness and support that day. Others were acutely stunned that I actually returned to work after this traumatic experience. I was amazed myself, but I managed to edit and rewrite stories, coach reporters, and lay out and proofread pages for two publications.
After work, my friend Sam, who stopped my son’s father from further injuring me that morning, met me at the District Court Commissioner’s Office in the county where I lived. It was here that Sam helped me file the assault and battery charges against my son’s father. I so desperately needed him there. His sheer physical presence gave me the strength to file the paperwork that evening. And the adrenalin that had been coursing through me for the past 24 hours? That kept me from simply collapsing.
My attorney was aware of the morning’s events, and we discussed me obtaining a temporary restraining order against my son’s father. This order would keep us physically apart for seven days, an appropriate cooling down period, I thought. I wanted the request to include our son, because I could not trust his father and I did not want our son to be hurt and used. The tension between his father and me had escalated so quickly and I was afraid.
With the paperwork for the temporary restraining order filed with the court, a date was quickly set — possibly the worst date — on July 3. And our case was being heard before a District Court judge who had a reputation for being harsh and lacking empathy.
My lawyer sent a junior attorney — likely one who just passed the bar — to meet Sam and me in the courthouse the morning of the hearing. When we found each other among the people gathering in the courthouse, he assured me that he had been briefed on my case and could handle it. I distinctly remember the slightly ill-fitting suit he wore. It seemed to wear him.
Sam and this attorney stayed with me when my son’s father and his attorney arrived, standing a substantial distance from us. I pointed them out to my attorney, who huddled with his attorney in conversation. My attorney returned to me with an offer: “He will agree to a temporary restraining order against only you, not his son.” I could not agree to that, and so the offer was withdrawn.
Eventually, we joined the many people who were funneling into our assigned courtroom. The room itself seemed stuffy. The lights were a bit dim. The wooden seats were hard. The tension and anxiety made the atmosphere feel heavy, so very heavy.
We stood when the judge entered and after we were all seated, I observed that she appeared quite agitated — not a good sign. As she looked about the room from the bench, she remarked on how she would much rather be anywhere than here on the day before July 4.
Of all the people in the room, my case was called first. My attorney presented my request for a temporary restraining order and my reasons for seeking one. Then, I supplied my testimony, describing what had occurred that dreadful morning. Sam was present to be a witness if called upon. He was not. My son’s father and his attorney were in the courtroom, but they did not even need to attend the hearing. Because I requested the restraining order, only my input was needed, according to Maryland law.
With little to no explanation, the judge denied my request. She simply said there was not enough evidence to support the need for the restraining order.
I was shocked. Sam was shocked. My son’s father was shocked.
As I left the courtroom with Sam and my attorney, I heard additional footsteps and noticed a woman was following us. She called to me and I turned toward her. Tears were streaming down her face; her eyes were fearful. She clutched a Kleenex in her tiny, desperate hands.
“How could you not get an order? If you can’t get one, what about the rest of us?” she asked.
I didn’t know what to say. I hugged her and wished her well in her case. As I walked away from her, she became smaller and smaller until she ducked back into the courtroom and disappeared, but her alarming questions gnawed at me.
The state pressed second-degree assault charges against my son’s father and a court date was set. I was thrilled to have my case heard in court with the state’s support behind me. My son’s father would hear the testimony and realize that what he did was wrong. Guilty or not, he would see the two men, who fought to protect me, point out his poor choices and bad behavior.
But that never happened.
I arrived in court that day with my witnesses and parents and met the lawyer from the county’s State’s Attorney’s Office. We briefly reviewed my case and the action she planned to take.
The courtroom began to fill with many people and their many cases. I wondered when my case would be heard. I wondered too what incidents and circumstances brought these individuals here. How would they defend themselves?
When the clock hit 9 a.m., the District Court judge took her seat at the bench. What followed gave me hope for my case. She was postponing cases left and right after attorneys presented their arguments for such delays. Her decisions allowed her to move through the docket effortlessly, but not quickly enough for her.
She was hungry. Physically hungry. And she complained about it — several times — from 9 a.m. to after 1 p.m. when my case finally came before her. I cringed as her disposition became increasingly more unpleasant, but she had postponed so many cases that surely my case would follow suit.
My son’s father’s attorney and the state’s attorney presented their arguments:
- His attorney: If she did not have enough evidence to obtain a restraining order, then she doesn’t have a case.
- The state’s attorney: She may not have obtained the restraining order, but we need to hear the case and the testimony from the witnesses to learn what happened.
Instead of postponing the case or hearing it after her lunch, the judge dismissed the charges. She agreed with my son’s father’s attorney and didn’t want to hear any testimony. This entire case rested on my short testimony from the restraining order hearing. That just didn’t seem fair to me — or anyone. And so, I never did have my day in court.
This horrible series of events did accomplish something. I realized I could never trust my son’s father and the court system. For the past 13 years, I have brought my mother with me for pickups and drop-offs when my son sees his father. I don’t want to engage him in any way in person. I don’t want him to think he can yell at me and humiliate me. I have a witness. I have someone who will speak up and out for me even if the court system wouldn’t allow me to have a voice.
On Thursdays, I will be sharing a blog about a day in the actual life of a single parent. Every fourth Thursday, instead of a personal post, I will put together one where I assemble news on and about single parents nationally and globally.
I would love to hear from you! Feel free to send any comments and questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also on Twitter @parentsonurown and can be found by searching #singleparentandstrong.