This story is by Lou-Ellen Bissell and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Sitting next to my attorney, I am shocked to how people swear to tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but hearing lies. Jacob, my attorney isn’t even objecting! We have him on tape and not one objection! What the hell kind of system do we have?
Four years ago, I divorced Ralph and we share custody of our son, each with one week on, one week off. It killed me to let my six month old go through that, but my first time ever in court and with an attorney who said it’d be best this way. So, I did.
Now here we are four years later and I am attempting to get full custody of my son. My parents were against the first arrangement stating that it wasn’t healthy for a child to be going back and forth like that. Now, my son comes with a mouth like a sailor and his father taught him. We were supposed to have every other holiday, me with the odd years. He had him for his 1st Christmas when he was six months old. I got him when he was a year and Ralph got him when he was two and three as he refused to give him to me. This is where my story begins.
Every year when Ralph finds out I have a new boyfriend, he starts calling me names, threatening me and keeps our son from me. This is one of those times. I went to pick him up for our Christmas and Ralph said I wasn’t getting him. I called 9-1-1 as he threatened to push me over the balcony kill me. The operator heard it all. I wasn’t able to get my son until I went to court.
When Monday after Christmas rolled around, I did. My mom took me. She spent money on the papers to be filed, for him to be served and later that day, I got my son back. I had put a restraining order on him, per moms’ suggestion, and had a wonderful one month free of abuse from Ralph. Our son wasn’t potty trained at three, and for that month I had him, I got him trained. He was using “please” and “thank-you’s” as well as “excuse me”. His head start teacher even complimented what a changed boy he was from being so angry and hurtful to now being so kind, loving and helpful.
Ralph contested both the restraining order and the new parenting agreement. The judge dismissed the restraining order and here I am!
Ralph is in court with his girlfriend, my ex-friend, who slept with my husband which is why we divorced. They are lying through their teeth about me being an unfit mother. I don’t spank my son, but he obviously did as our son came back from his place with black and blue marks. DHS said that they couldn’t find anything.
My parents took out a loan and hired me an attorney, Jacob. I am at a low, the lowest I have been. Ralph called DHS on me and my ex-boyfriend stating that we locked him in his bedroom and DHS took my son away for two whole weeks. When my son came back to me, after they found nothing, he told me that daddy hits him with a belt. Per my mom’s suggestion, I enrolled him into counseling.
Ralph is testifying that I have had several boyfriends since our divorce and involving them with our son’s life that they are “shady”. My biggest bad choice in men is up on the stand lying through his drug infected teeth! I may not have a job, or have not been able to keep one for very long, but I have never and will never hurt my son. Ralph has had one girlfriend, my ex-friend, for these last three years and they have so many police recordings of them fighting, drug use, etc that mom said we both are in a bad place. I’m living with my parents; Ralph and his girlfriend are living with his parents. I hate that mom is right.
My turn on the stand:
Jacob: “Liberty, are you still employed with the Army?”
Me: “Yes, I begged my parents to let me go to boot camp in-between my junior and senior year. They declined, so when I graduated, I joined on my own.
Jacob: “What happened when you were in the Army?”
Me: “I was stationed in North Carolina and my parents begged me to not drink or if I did, to make sure other females were around. Well, I didn’t listen. I went out drinking with men and I was raped.”
Jacob: “Then what did you do?”
Me: “I called and told my parents, mom wanted to fly to me, but I knew she had no money. I told her I was a big girl and could take care of it myself. Instead, I flew Ralph down as we were seeing each other before I left. He came and stayed with relatives to be with me. I had to work with the same men who raped me and it was hard. Ralph and I got married a month after he flew down to be with me so that I could go to him every night and not be scared that they would try to hurt me again.”
Jacob: “Did you get out of the Army shortly after that?”
Me: “Yes. I was pregnant with our son, Rourke, and the stress of working next to those men, being harassed by the group and being pregnant was so stressful on me that my counselor suggested I get medical leave but work one weekend a month. I agreed and we came back home to live with his parents until Rourke was born.”
Jacob: “What happened while you lived with his parents?”
Me: “They told me I was eating too much or unhealthy. I was sick all the time. They blamed that on me too. They said I was not a good mother; that I would eat spicy foods just so that I could throw up and get their sympathy. The list goes on. Shortly before Rourke was born, we, Ralph and I, found our own place. He didn’t want me to be around my family. So, I didn’t.
Jacob: “What happened when Rourke was six months old? Why did you leave Ralph?”
Me: “I left as I found out he cheated on me with my friend. I called my parents and they came to get me. Ralph threatened to kill me and my dad.”
Jacob: “Why did you agree to meet with Ralph on Christmas morning?”
Me: “I felt bad that he would miss Rourke’s first Christmas. So, I agreed to meet him at a close restaurant, against my parents’ wishes. When my parents said it was time to go, Ralph walked out the door with our son.”
Jacob: “At that time you went to court and got joint custody where you get one week and Ralph gets a week, correct?”
Jacob: “Why are you here today?”
Me: “I want my son protected, safe and stable. I don’t want him to be bounced around, used to hurt or punish me, nor to have him see or hear the abusive language his father calls me. It’s not a good environment for our son. I don’t want to take him away from his father, but to give him a stable, healthy environment with no drama, chaos, or violence either verbal or physical.”
Jacob: “Do you have any proof of physical violence?”
Me: “Yes, I have pictures of black and blue marks that look like hand prints on my sons bottom.”
Jacob does his attorney spiel and hands the pictures over to the judge and other attorney.
Judge: “I hereby retain an attorney for Rourke, himself. We will have Rourke’s attorney defend him to see which of you are the better parents. We will resume this in three months.”
Jacob: “Your Honor, my client hasn’t seen her son in about a month now due to these unfounded charges of sexual abuse against her fiancé. She lives with her parents and not the fiancé; I don’t see any reason why we cannot allow her the same rights as before.”
Judge: “I will allow Ralph to take Rourke to your place of residence say Saturday from 12 to 4pm, will that be acceptable?”
Jacob: “Your honor due to the facts heard today, can’t they meet in a public place?”
Judge: “Grandma, would you agree to this?”
My mom stands up, “No your honor. Ralph has threatened our lives; I don’t want him to be anywhere around us.”
Judge: “Then I guess you get what you ask for. You will NOT get him at all this weekend, how’s that!? We are dismissed.”
Exiting the courtroom, I hurry to find my fiancé. He couldn’t be there today due to the sexual abuse charges that Ralph has brought up against him. My fiancé has not been charged, arrested or even talked to about any of this. It’s all a damn lie and no one has talked to me or my parents and they haven’t even visited my parent’s place where I am staying.
Wyatt meets me at a restaurant three blocks away. I told him everything.
Wyatt: “Your mom is not to blame. She is trying to protect you, your son and them too. You know how violent Ralph can be. We have seen it firsthand. Your mom is probably feeling horrible that you, or her, can’t see Rourke. Give her a break; she is doing everything for you, financially and otherwise.”
Me: “Yeah, you’re right. I just needed to blow off steam. I’ll call her later and tell her it’s not her fault.”
Two weeks later we have an emergency hearing in front of our judge. Ralph is trying to get emergency custody.
Judge: “You are all wasting my time today. Why is that?”
Ralph’s attorney: “Your honor, we are trying to protect a minor. Give him a stable home with no more back and forth….”
Judge: “Stop! I have heard enough. You” pointing to Ralph and me, “will meet in a public place. How about the library? It’s right next door to the police station.”
Jacob: “Your honor, we accept these conditions.”
Ralph’s attorney: “Yes your honor.”
Judge: “We will do one week with the mom, one week with the dad starting this Monday.”
Jacob: “Your honor, what about the holiday?”
Judge: “Whoever has him has him. I’m not changing anything until we settle this in two months. Now get out of my courtroom!!”
Two months later: Exiting court, I have a spring in my step. I won! I have full custody of Rourke! I called mom and told her and she is thrilled for me, us, especially happy for my son. He will now have one place to call home, security, love and no more abusive explosions from his dad. His dad has to take anger management, parenting classes and have supervised visitation until the court says otherwise. I’m happy. I feel like a burden has been lifted.
Looking back on all I’ve been through, seeing the hole I was almost buried in, I realize that if it wasn’t for my family, parents mostly, I don’t think I’d be where I am today. With a great and wonderful new husband, a career I love, being able to repay my parents back but the best part is I have Rourke. My mom always says, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. Yes, I am stronger for all I went through, all I lived through. And I am stronger today because of my mom being there for me whether I needed her or not. She is my rock! I want to grow up to be just like her; to be there for my son as she is for me. My hole turned me whole.