I entered the court house my daughter now a grown woman, at my side. The bursting file I held in my hand, evidence. What was supposed to empower me hindered by my thoughts of doubt. Were his words harsh enough? Would the judge read between the lines and hear the threatening tone ringing in my ears? Was the one threat against my husband enough? Had I filled the papers out correctly.
Certain I would be turned away, again, my hands began to quiver. My stomach all a flutter, not in the good way as is when anticipating a date’s arrival or the phone to ring when your lover calls. The slight flutter before the churning begins. My spirit trying to tell my mind to remain calm, stick to the facts. Trust the process. Trust the system.
I assured myself I had done things right this time around. Eighteen years later, each time the verbal harassment ensued, I wrote it down, printed it out, and called the police to file a report. Each incident a separate packet complete with the officer’s card and incident number. And yet, doubt filled my mind. My heart torn between beating fast and holding its breath, waiting.. My body, fight or flight, on high alert. One moment the urge to flee out the courthouse door before the judge could say the words I dreaded to hear. The words condoning his actions and making a mockery of my fear.
By the time I filed the papers with the clerk, court was in recess. We were asked to return to the courthouse at 1:30 PM for the afternoon session. Two hours to kill. We, my daughter and I, left the building. Now 27 years old, she was here to help me, strengthen me. Eighteen years ago, I took her and ran in the night. I was protecting her then. I went to court then as well, in hopes of obtaining a Protection Order. It was denied. Having never called the Police, it was his word against mine. Not once had I so much as lifted the phone when he destroyed our home, barraged me with verbal insults, nor the times that he hit me so hard and told me I was lucky to be alive. Too afraid to call, ashamed to call, embarrassed of my life, my marriage, my failures. And confused, always so confused. His words of condemnation swarming my brain, blaming me. Followed by acceptance when I resorted to apologizing for my behavior, my lack of submission.
“We’ll be back.” The security guard was less than amused by my lame attempt of Arnold Schwarzenegger impression.
We contemplated lunch knowing full well what we both wanted to do. Drive to the neighborhood my ex had been parked in the night before to see if he was still there. Not in hopes of seeing him, just to make certain he was not somewhere else. Somewhere we couldn’t find him. If we couldn’t find him, how would the police find him? How could he be served if I obtained a Protection Order?. Without service the order was moot.
“I want to drive by where his van was parked. As much as I want him gone, I want him there so I know where he is. If I get this order, I want to be sure he can be served.” Laurie nodded at my words, she had known, expected them.
She drove. I focused on my breathing pressing out my thoughts of doubt and rejection. Court houses still fill me with fear. The day my divorce was final, I fully believed until the judge hit his gavel of decision, he would deny my divorce and make me stay married to Don. Divorce was wrong. I had been told this since I was a small child. A wife is to cling to her husband. Honor him. Obey him. Follow his leadership as he is the head of the home as Christ is the head of the church.
Oh, the crazy insane things my husband had made me do in honor of his leadership In the name of submission. The sins he justified as long as they stayed in the marital bedroom. The abuse he claimed was his ‘right to lead’ and my ‘duty to submit’ to. The blame ever ending on my shoulders when choices turned out bad and life as we knew it fell apart. If only….. If only I would try harder, be a better wife, love him, honor him, be more submissive, not question his authority, believe in him as my husband. If only, then we would have a successful marriage and life. God would be pleased.
Laurie and I drove around Ravenna. Street by street. Looking for the van Seattle Police had confirmed was registered to him. Our hope dwindling, stomachs growling, we gave in and headed north for sustenance.
“It’s such a sunny day, he probably went to Green Lake or something.” Laurie steered the car towards the lake. We would drive by on the way home. Just in case.
We sat on her front porch and ate our lunch. The sun soaked into our winter clothes warming our bodies. Laurie shed her sweatshirt as I unzipped my black coat to let the breeze in. The tension in my body reminding me I was on high alert. The sound of tires bringing my gaze to the street. A car, not a van, passed by.
The minutes ticked off my watch. Time to head back to the court house.
I wish I could say when I sat down in Court Room 1 I felt certain the order would be accepted. I didn’t. As much as logic supported the motion, at least a temporary order, my experience did not. I quickly realized we were in Traffic Court, we werethe only non traffic related order.
‘Ms Reddy, are you in the court room?” The judge scanned the nearly full benches.
“Yes”, I raised my hand as his eyes followed my voice.
“Okay, I have a fairly full docket today which I will start with, but I will get to you soon. I will not make you wait until the end.”
“Thank you, your honor.” I massaged my hands, twisting my ring. A reminder I am happily married now. I am not alone in this.
A little more than an hour passed. the judge explained that he had finished the 1:30 docket and would begin the 2:30 docket shortly. He let us know he had online court from 3:00 PM to 3:30 PM. Due to the nature being an attorney and clients in jail it was a set time and no matter what he was doing at 2:59 PM he had to log-in to the online court at 3:00 PM. He thanked us for our patience.
“At this time I would like to call Ms. Reddy up. I will begin with your order and see how far we get before 3:00 PM. I highly doubt we will finish, so I may need to ask you to wait and we will finish as soon as the online court is complete. I apologize.”
I nodded and headed up to the table and two seats where I had seen others contesting their traffic ticket sit when representing themselves.
I was sworn in and the judge proceeded.
“First I want you to know I have reviewed your Petition for a Protection Order. And – “
He paused to make eye contact with me. His eyes held my gaze as I held my breath. The compassion in his eyes sent a flutter of hope through me.
“And, as difficult as it was, I read all of the documentation that you provided. All of it.” Tears welled up in my eyes at his words. I heard them correctly and yet, this is what I actually heard.
‘I believe you. I read the papers you submitted. I read the words your ex husband wrote to you. I believe he did it. I believe it is NOT OKAY that he did this to you and to your family. I believe that what he has done, and is doing, is wrong. I believe you.’
He didn’t say those words, but I heard them. My shoulders relaxed. My chin lifted.
For the record he read my petition and then told me he would have to ask me a few questions. My full name, my date of birth, my relationship to the respondent. He asked me about the timeline of the incidents that I had documented.
“It does appear his behavour is escalating.” The judge confirmed it was getting worse, not better.
He glanced at the clock on the wall.
“You have my full attention. My apologies for looking at the clock. I do not want you to think in any way what we are looking at is not serious or does not have my attention. I just cannot miss online court.” Again, the judge look directly into my eyes.
‘I hear you. I see you. Your abuse is valid’, His words, the ones said and the ones I interpreted, causing a flooding sensation through my body.
I wanted to cry, full on, shed the tears welling up inside me. For years held back knowing I needed to remain strong. Unable, un-allowed by myself, to give in. I would carry on. I would live my life. His words, the Judge’s words, opening a crack in the dam I had built to protect my spirit, that his words, my abuser’s, sought to destroy. Words past and present spewed at me through the waves of technology, hit upon hit, blow upon blow, attacking when I least expected it, when vulnerability left me susceptible. Once again be pulled back into the depths of his rage. His manipulation powerful, threatened to strip me of who I had become, my growth.
Not today. Today, I was heard. Today, I was believed.
“My apologies, I must set this aside and log-in to the online court system for the jail. I sincerely apologize. Please take your seat and we will continue with your Order upon my completion. I do not want to rush and make any errors on your Order. Again, I am sorry.” His words exemplified the compassion seen in his eyes. As much as he hated to make me wait, he also hated to rush something of great importance.
That’s what I heard. My Order was of great importance. My request deserved to be heard. I deserved to be protected. He, my abuser, deserved to be stopped.
I took my seat and waited. I half listened to the online court. Case after case of request for bail or for charges to be dropped. My thoughts trailed off, I couldn’t help but wish for every woman, everywhere who has experienced or was currently being abused to be me in that moment. I knew, the Protection Order would not in fact completely protect me from potential harm from my ex husband. I knew it was an Order, one like any other boundary, rule, law, only works if it is in fact obeyed. One that if broken comes with legal ramifications, but also great risk for the victim as the result of it being broken could bring physical pain or even death. Even with that knowledge, the joy of being heard, in this moment, out weighed the impending possibility that my Protection Order could be ignored.
“Okay, Ms Reddy, let’s continue your Order for Protection. Thank you for your patience.”
He continued asking questions to clarify locations where we worked, went to church, etc. to indicate in the Order location where Don would not be allowed to come within 500 feet of. The judge went to the extent of hand writing the address of our home, the schools of my children, each place of employment and our church. He added ‘anywhere any person listed in this Order works, attends school, plays sports or worships’ to the hand written details.
“I know this is taking a lot of time, but I want to be certain I leave no detail to misinterpretation. Please bare with me.” He continued writing on the Order.
Bare with you? If ever I questioned my hearing, it was now. If ever I felt more validated, it was now. If ever I wanted to jump up, run over and hug a judge, it was now. My heart was bursting with joy rather than squeezed with anguish.
“Okay, I believe I have all of the pertinent details of the locations. Just so you know in the legal realm I could just have wrote ‘schools’ and ‘ church’ in general and all schools and churches you attend going forward will in fact be covered, but for the sake of expressing my sincere agreement that you are to be protected, I wanted to be specific.” The length of which he was going to make me feel heard was more than I could absorb. Every nerve of my body was tingling.
“Thank you Your Honor. I can’t express what this means to me. Thank you, for everything, from the bottom of my heart.”
“You are welcome. Okay, two more things. One is to determine the length of the Protection Order. And the other, well it is the more difficult one.” Tension crept back in as I felt the hesitation in his voice.
“In as much as I fully believe you have a right to this Protection Order, and I have written all of this out, what I have written is only temporary.” He paused, letting it sink in, or to gather his thoughts. Likely that latter, but it did sink in, to the pit of my stomach. I nodded my understanding.
“These documents, which include all of the pages you submitted, will need to be served to him in person. My understanding is he lives in a van, correct?” He rifled through the pages to find the one with the street coordinates penciled in the place requesting a Physical Address for the Defendant.
“Yes, he does.” I confirmed.
The judge cleared his throat and shuffled the pages back into order before looking at me.
“I will sign this Temporary Order of Protection. In doing so, the local Police will received instructions to serve the defendant with the order and a date of appearance which you will set with the clerk. Detectives will do their best to find him and serve him, however, all they will be able to go off of are these cross streets.” Once again he paused before continuing.
“It will be difficult at best, and quite honestly highly unlikely they will find him. As much as I hate to say that, it is true. It is doubtful the police will in fact be able to serve him.” Silence filled the courthouse. The others awaiting their turn with the judge gripped by the motion at hand, sat intently listening.
“I’m going to tell you what some have done to help the service be successful. It may not be something you can or are willing to do, but well, who knows. Some people drive around and locate the automobile and once having found it they call 9-1-1 and let them know they have found an individual that has an Order to be Served. They then request an officer come to the location and provide that officer with the papers to be served. I am going to give you extra copies of the paperwork and the court for the officer would need to fill out upon serving the packet.” Once again, he paused in the silence.
“I have to warn you, you might call 9-1-1 only to find they are experiencing a busy time and be unable to send an officer for an hour or two or more. Or while you are waiting, he may drive away at which time you would need to call 9-1-1 back and cancel the request. It’s definitely not easy or convenient, but some individuals have had success with service this way. You may want to consider it.”
“Thank you Your Honor. I appreciate the advice.” The tension returning to my body battled with the sense of peace pushing back.
“Okay, now for the duration of the Order. Today I will sign a Temporary Order into effect. You will then have 2 weeks to have him served. Now, I know 2 weeks is a very short period of time and it is very unlikely to happen. I will set your return date for 3 weeks out so the temporary will hold until then. When you return and in the event he has not been served I will extend the Temporary for an additional 30 days. Hopefully in that time, with some luck, you will be able to have him served. Okay?” I nodded my understanding once again.
The judge signed the Temporary Order and handed it to the clerk. I was instructed to proceed to the clerk’s desk for my documents and to set my date of return.
A battle raged within, each emotion fighting for Alpha position. I had been heard, believed, confirmed, validated, and empowered. And then I been heeded, cautioned, more was yet to come. More was needed to finalize what I had set out to obtain. For today I would take hold of the strengthening sense of success, even if it was only Temporary.
Kristi Lyn Reddy, Author, published in True Stories Volume 1 is in the process of writing her Memior (Untitled). Through trauma, uncertainty and the burden of secrets, Kristi Lyn found the strength to carry her towards her ultimate redemption, Living Loved – beyond and in spite of ongoing fear.