My present looked like an endless expectation that maybe today was the day things started to go uphill again. But as is usually the case in life, when it began to tear, it made the most sense to prepare yourself for several brutal battles.
Every year after the divorce with Alex, I hoped that we would find some solution to our constant struggles and, if nothing else, let each other move on with life. This year was three years after the divorce. I had gone on vacation to my home country for the summer with my six-year-old daughter at the time, and I had to figure out how to cope when I came back.
My financial situation, to put it mildly, left much to be desired. In the hope of saving money, I went to places where free food was distributed to the poor. Going back and forth was my Walk of Shame because shame was what I felt on this journey. No matter where I went, it seemed to me that everyone knew how poor I was at the time.
I COULD HAVE ASKED FOR HELP, AND I HAD PEOPLE TO ASK FOR THAT HELP. BUT ASKING FOR HELP SEEMED MUCH MORE DEMANDING TO ME THAN LIVING IN POVERTY.
Although I had lived in this country for years, soon for decades, the only people closest to me here were a couple of retirees, Maya and Dominic. Once, when I arrived in this country, they helped me with the job and where I stayed, and we stayed in touch. They would certainly have helped me if I had asked for help, but I chose not to. I had a girlfriend though, Angelica, who, despite not asking her, often came to visit with food or clothes she didn’t need anyway, as she said. 80% of my closet consisted of the clothes she gave at the time.
Sometimes I had given in so much that all I could do was lie in bed and look at the ceiling. I knew my kitchen cabinet was empty of food, I knew I had to put myself up so I could put something in that, but I just couldn’t force myself to do anything. These were the moments for which I was endlessly grateful to Angelica, because she came as a rescue angel and, without asking anything, filled my kitchen cabinet with food.
At Christmas, I could come home and find a whole box of Christmas food behind the door. It was kindly shared by an acquaintance I met sometimes. We had known each other for years, but we never became close friends. Still, she realized that it wasn’t so easy for us, and she made us such Christmas gifts close to heart. All the food was made by her at home using the recipes from her homeland.
I did not know how I could one day return this aid. Maybe there’s a time waiting for them when they could need my help. I was really hoping for that as I hoped to help them as they were helping me in this difficult time. But here and now, I was grateful for what I had, and despite everything that happened, I had to look to the future instead of stumbling into the past.
It was the most challenging time for the kids. They would have gladly stayed away from the whole situation. The children would have preferred everything to be as it once was. Over time, I talked to the older children about what was happening, and I saw that it was difficult for them to take the parties directly. But the more we talked about it, the more the details came out about how badly Alex had treated them as they were kids. They just thought it was their own fault and that it was perfectly normal. When I witnessed some of this bad treatment at the time, Alex and I had a disagreement in the house about it, of course. But as I heard later after the separation, a lot of ill-treatment had taken place without my knowledge.
At one point, an older son who was still living with me refused to eat the food I brought from the free distribution points. And even when I bought food from the store, he wanted to be one hundred percent sure it was still purchased from the store. I realized that the whole situation is too difficult for children. Although the daughter was still so young that she could not know better except for the wish that her mother and father would always be friends, it was clear that she was also overwhelmed by the whole situation.
I DECIDED TO GET WHAT I COULD, BUT I WOULDN’T BRING FREE FOOD HOME ANYMORE. ANGELICA’S HELP WAS A GREAT HELP, IT WAS FROM OUR CLOSE FRIEND. THE REST I HAD TO DO MYSELF.
The date of our Main Court for Alex and me was approaching at the speed of light. Things like that took several months, of course, and sometimes it seemed to me that I couldn’t wait for so long. But on the other hand, things developed too fast for me. For example, when a court-appointed psychologist began visiting our home to observe how our relationship with my daughter worked. He also had conversations with Alex and me alone, talked to the school and family doctors, and even kindergarten came into play, although several years had passed since kindergarten.
“How is your financial situation?” he asked me.
“Okay, we don’t have the luxury, but we have everything we need,” I replied confidently. I wondered if I should have mentioned Angelica’s help. But my previous life experience said that it was better not to interfere those who were not direct family members in such conversations.
“Sometimes my father sends money from home, so we have it good,” I added a little more uncertainly. And that was true. I had really finally gathered myself and asked Dad for help, and he helped us a lot.
“But aren’t you entitled to half the property after the divorce?” he asked curiously. The expert I spoke to was a senior gentleman. He was polite and professional, but he also exhaled feelings and attentiveness to things that one might not have expected of the counter worker.
“Yes, but I would have to go through another court to apply for it,” I submitted. “Actually, I’ve left this part of my life behind. I don’t want to start fighting for money. It’s just money, and I know it won’t bring me any luck anyway. You see, it doesn’t bring happiness to Alex either. What worries me more is a house loan for the house Alex currently lives in and for which I am the guarantor without any right to the house. If I could get rid of this loan, I would be quite happy with my life economically.
Of course, the daughter is a different story. I will fight for her to the last drop of blood,” I added decisively.
“Yes, why do you think your daughter is not so good at growing up with her father? What is it that worries you?” he asked. Our conversation took place in my home, and it made things more comfortable, but it was a big challenge. I shouldn’t have been too modest, and I shouldn’t have been too offensive. Both were quite tricky challenges because the whole situation was built on strong emotions.
“There are several reasons for this. First of all, Alex has never been particularly interested in his daughter’s activities, most of the doing has been done by me. Making appointments to the doctor, organizing birthdays, leisure activities, and training. My daughter’s father thinks it could be left out. Children grow up anyway. Secondly, this whole precarious atmosphere in this house. Not only do workers from dubious backgrounds come and go all the time, and who also staying there for the night. But also, women. He changes these women quite often, and he must introduce them to his daughter immediately every time. He tells them, of course, that he is a single father and that I have escaped the madhouse. How could it be good for any child?”
He looked at me with an appreciative look, wrote something in his notebook, and moved on to a different topic. We talked about the child’s development, I showed him my daughter’s drawings and told where they were made and what they meant. When he left, I sat with the empty feeling behind the kitchen table. I had no idea how our meetings and conversations had affected him or what his professional recommendation to the court could be. All I could do at that moment was hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
WAITING IS ONE OF THE HEAVIEST LOADS ONE CAN CARRY. LACK OF KNOWLEDGE AND HOPE THAT MAYBE SOMETHING WILL SOON CHANGE FOR THE BETTER. WAITING STOPS TIME AND GIVES A LOT OF ROOM FOR DOUBT AND FEAR.
When the day of the Main Court arrived, I decided that I had to stay calm no matter what Alex was going to do. I had no choice. I had to do it for my daughter. And that’s why I looked for a bracelet made of white pearls by Jane and put it around my arm so that it would always be in front of my eyes. I was hoping this bracelet wouldn’t let me forget that I had to be strong for Jane.
The courtroom was large. Especially when there were so few people in it. Me with my lawyer, Alex, with his lawyer, a psychological expert, and a judge. All of them.
First, I went to the witness bench. I had a whole bunch of papers with me that I had prepared in case something went wrong. But after the first few sentences, I realized that I was too nervous, so my eyes could distinguish meaningful words in the middle of the letters on paper. I moved the pile of paper away from me and started talking the way I remembered things.
I was talking about what had happened in my childhood and adolescence. I did it because Alex had threatened to use it against me and have my child taken away. I talked about suicide attempts and human trafficking. It was my chance to say it from my point of view before Alex did it himself. I talked about escaping with the kids and how I met Alex. Then I talked about life with Alex, my trust in him, and his betrayal. I also tried to pass on who my daughter was, what she liked and did not like, what kind of character she had, and how brave and creative she was. I did it all calmly and never looked at the Alex. In the end, I added plans for the future. This spring, I graduated from university with a degree in psychology, hoping it would help me get a better job.
Next, Alex went to the witness stand, and when he started talking, I didn’t want to believe what he was saying at first. It had to be a trick, an insidious plan. He basically talked most of the time about why I didn’t qualify as a mother. It was hard to hear, and it was even harder to listen to witnesses who later came to testify in his favor, dismissing me as much as possible. One of the witnesses remained neutral to me but praising Alex to heaven for how good a father he was.
Later, when I got home and calmed down, I realized what Alex’s plan was. He wanted to drive me crazy. He was absolutely sure that after all the fuss they threw at me in court, I would definitely become hysterical. Could he really be so bad as to let witnesses lie in his favor to prove that I am not a worthy mother?
I had no witnesses. I just didn’t have the heart to get anyone involved and let them go through hell with me. Especially when it came to my older children. They already had quite a bad experience.
MY GREATEST HAPPINESS WAS WHEN I LEARNED THAT I HAD BEEN HEARD AND BELIEVED. I WON THE CASE, AND I GOT MY CHILD BACK TO ME. OR SO I THOUGHT.
By law, we had to wait a month before the trial was legally binding. This meant that until that month was over, we had to stick to the old arrangement, split in half – the child was with me only every other week.
One day, when Jane came back from her father again, she asked me:
“How much longer will you fight with Dad?”
I didn’t understand exactly what she meant by that, and she explained that it was about the case. Her father had said it wasn’t over yet, and that he was suing and fighting for Jane.
My heart dropped, and my hands went powerlessly down. I couldn’t believe what I heard. Now Alex had turned this into a big fight where he, a good father, had to fight with me, a mother of evil, to make Jane happy. This whole play was done to get Jane to his side. I saw it. But I had a small amount of hope that maybe Alex still cared about his child so much that he would let go of the old and let us move on with our lives. Jane would yet have gone to Alex, just not every other week, but every other weekend. For Alex, it was the perfect solution – he could have continued to have his women at home without the child had to witness it, and he could have spent time with Jane without keeping control of daily activities such as school and training. Why couldn’t he leave it this way? Why couldn’t he give Jane a peaceful childhood?
My world collapsed again. Once again, I had to face accusations that I was mentally unstable, that I was not a good mother, and that there was nothing good left of me. Although I knew I had to go through the same hell again, I also felt that this time I went into battle stronger than I was last time.
Divorce and the division of children could have brought out the worst in people. Some could have fallen as low as they could. Because what was talking at the moment was frustration and pain, and sometimes it could be hard to see anything else behind it. Still, Alex had no forgiveness in my eyes. Every promise he had ever given me had been broken. And not only that. He continued to trample on me even now that I had escaped his cynicism. What let him do this was one of my weakest points – my daughter, whom he brutally used to avenge me.
I thought about what it was that made him so angry. What was it that he thought was so deeply unfair to him. Because it couldn’t be Jane. If it really had been Jane and time they spent together, he would have cared for her before, and not just now that the court was in progress. I had a strong suspicion that Alex’s anger came from two factors. One was that I dared to defy him and walk away from him. He was sure he was holding me in a deadly grip. And the other factor was that I could reveal his darkest and most shameful secrets. That was what he was most afraid of, and Jane was his security that I would not do it.