I spent yesterday afternoon at a parenting seminar.
Correction: I spent yesterday afternoon at a parenting plan seminar. Because I am supposed to be preparing to design a co-parenting plan with the man who beat me, raped me, robbed me of the last few years of my childhood, and possibly even caused my son’s autism. And I am supposed to be doing this because he feels like it. And the fact that he feels like it matters because according to our judicial system, even a father who spent the last nine years completely neglecting his nine year old autistic son, who has never paid and still has not offered to pay a dime of child support, and who was charged with “Assault 4,” which means physical assault against a pregnant woman, even that guy has the right to make claims on his biological child.
There are a lot of things to celebrate about our judicial system. This past week, a judge from my hometown used the judicial system to salvage the lives and families of thousands of innocent people who were being detained and deported due to Donald Trump’s unconstitutional, anti-Muslim executive order. My abuser spent four years in a state prison because of our judicial system, and although I believe he deserved much more time, there are some countries in which he would have received no punishment at all. Some states, even. So I will concede that the judicial system can do a lot of good. But the lack of protocols in place to combat domestic abuse via Family Law court is an enormous failing, and one which is destroying my life.
The truth is, my PTSD was not that bad a year ago,
Okay, maybe that’s not entirely ‘the truth.’ If you read my last post, you know that I attempted suicide on my birthday a year ago due to PTSD. That’s pretty bad. Fine, fine, very bad. It was the ten-year anniversary of an extremely traumatic event, and in this decennial based society, the psychological marker was too much for me.
But besides that specific day, my PTSD was fairly well under control. Yes, I still acted awkward in social settings. Yes, I still suffered from anxiety. Yes, I still felt, faintly, that happiness was a dangerous emotion. PTSD is not curable. I have it, I will always have it. The difference was that I was able to maintain my symptoms and at least approximate functionality.
Then I was served with a petition for genetic testing.
Which my ex had to file, by the way, because although he and I were in a relationship at the time of my son’s birth, the courts had placed a domestic violence no-contact order between us and he could not, legally, sign any papers documenting himself as the father.
Two days after being served with the first petition, I saw my ex at the nearest park to my house. He averted his eyes and left immediately. I did not have grounds to call the police, even though I still have a restraining order against him, but I do not believe it was a coincidence that he was there. He wanted to me to know, as viscerally as possible, that he was back.
One of the first things my husband showed me when we first arrived at his parents’ home in Florida was his box full of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu medals. Google his name and you will find multiple videos of him ragdolling much larger men. He has taught me some of these techniques as well, and I know that I am not the helpless child that I felt I was when I was with my ex. In real life, I am probably not in that much physical danger.
But in the world of PTSD, my ex is a indefatigable gorgon. He is the Demon of Demons; the Devil, if you will. He is Evil incarnate. And last year, I learned that Evil had returned to my life.
My PTSD skyrocketed. I began experiencing symptoms that had been gone for years. Flashbacks, nightmares, a perpetual feeling of doom, extreme cherophobia; I even began hallucinating my ex in the faces of other men. In order to protect my son, I have had to recount and write out horrific acts of abuse, things which my therapist believes I am not yet ready to face even with her. In response, he has filed some truly strange things, like photographs of me with my ferret, or a batch of love-letters which I have heard from a mutual acquaintance he still keeps prominently displayed on his bookshelf at home. His responses have been convoluted and obsessively focused on me. Although they ultimately work in my son’s favor, this whole thing is extremely triggering for me. After the last batch of paperwork, I had to quit my job. The next month, we had to do an online fundraiser in order to keep from being evicted. This month, we are still waiting on the final okay from an organization who can help us with our rent. This court case has gone beyond triggering me. It has affected my real life, and the life and stability of my family.
And still, there is nothing I can do.
I have been assigned a pro-bono lawyer through a program which provides aid to low-income survivors of domestic abuse. I have asked her if there is anything I can do to stop him, and her response has been that I can present my case. I can negate my health to save my son. This is what parenting is, with PTSD.
So yesterday, even though I was still recovering from the emotional burden of my birthday, I attended a parenting plan seminar. I had a great time!
I sat next to a man and a woman who were loudly discussing the pitfalls of dating after divorce. At one point, we were asked to break into groups and discuss the benefits of co-parenting and stability. Each parent in my group said their piece, and then, naturally, stared at me.
“What about you? You haven’t said anything,” said the de-facto group leader, a young pretty woman of ambiguous ethnic origin.
What was I supposed to say? Should I have made something up, just to keep things from getting too awkward? I am not a really big believer in that. I didn’t chose to be abused. I didn’t chose to go from being an award-winning playwright on scholarship at Emerson College to an impoverished, mentally ill mess. If I have to live this life, the least others can do is bear witness. I think that we all owe this much to each other.
So I told the truth. “I am in a really unique situation,” I sighed. “My abusive ex showed up out of nowhere after nine years, trying to get custody or visitation or whatever. Clearly what he really wants is to harass me, but my son is profoundly autistic and no good can come from this guy, so there is no co-parenting going on here. All I am trying to do is keep him away from us. This class is literally just a legal requirement.”
Then the guy next to me started rambling about how he had not known his step-father was not his biological father until he was twelve. I am forever grateful to those who take it upon themselves to tell rambling anecdotes in order to remove the attention from me.
After that, nobody really tried to talking to me much, which was fine by me. Well, except for one overly tanned young mother from the talking group, a woman who actually had that ditzy, washed-out vocal inflection that sub-par movie actresses affect when portraying a…less-than-clever character. At the end of the seminar, when everyone was being called in alphabetical order to accept their certificates, she sidled toward me, her lovely, innocent eyes registering genuine concern.
“You said your son’s autistic?” she asked.
“Uh-huh,” I responded, instantly wary.
“Have you heard of a dim doctor?”
I gave her a look like, did I actually hear you right? “No I don’t think so,” I said, trying to make my voice as chipper as possible. I probably just sounded like a sarcastic bitch. I am a sarcastic bitch.
She proceeded to tell me that I needed to get my son into chelation therapy. I have, in fact, heard of this practice, and also the fact that even most naturopaths consider it to be a useless and potentially harmful practice among children with autism.
Nonetheless, she was trying to be helpful. And she was clearly so nice. So I thanked her, and smiled, and looked desperately to the woman with the certificates, willing her to call me next.
“How old is your son?” she pressed.
“Oh good. Do it soon. My sister’s son is twenty-four. She didn’t do anything, and her life is pretty miserable.” She smiled, gave me a sympathetic pat on my hand, and left.
What. The. Fuck.
Who says that? Besides the fact that even people who believe in chelation therapy know that it’s not guaranteed to work, why would you ever tell someone that they are doomed to misery because of their child’s autism? The worst part is that I really do think that she is a nice person.
The actual worst part is that it might be true.
Robin is a lovely little boy. You won’t hear me say a bad thing about Robin. I love him. He is nothing like his father. He was born with a sweet, affectionate temperament, and has maintained it during his life. But autism is a difficult disorder, and his autism is profound. He requires constant supervision. He still uses diapers. He needs more appointments than I can keep track of, and a level of organization and routine which are totally at odds with the chaos of trauma recovery. If my mom and other family weren’t helping, I have no idea what our lives would be like. I know that one day he will come home to me, and that is why I am so diligent with my therapy. But wouldn’t it be nice, wouldn’t it be so much easier, to have his biological father by my side, at least as a co-parent?
I have been asked this over and over. Even my husband asked me, although only once, why not give him a second chance? Sometimes people change. There is only one response I can give; one memory which immediately flashes into my mind when I am asked this.
The last time my ex, my son, and I were alone indoors together, we were in the apartment which I leased under my name and credit, but shared with my ex. My son woke. I got up to breastfeed him. My ex stayed in bed. When my son was back asleep, I decided to stay up and watch TV. One of the things about kids with autism is that, for all the difficulties that will arise when they get older, they are pretty close to being perfect as babies. I knew that if I kept the volume relatively low, and just continued to keep my baby cozied in my arms, that I could watch the show without a fuss. Well, without a fuss from my child. My boyfriend, on the other hand, began moaning and shouting for me to come back to bed.
“I need you,” he said. “I can’t sleep without you.”
“I’m just going to finish this show,” I hissed back. The TV wouldn’t wake the baby, but screaming in his face might. I ignored my boyfriend’s continued pleas.
So he got up.
I hadn’t even realized he was in the room until he was on me, hands gripped around my neck. He strangled me until I lost control of my limbs. He strangled me until the baby fell.
This memory is so strange. I remember it both in total silence, a moment of horror void but for the image of my baby, dazed from the sudden waking, sitting up on his chubby butt, looking around, looking for mama.
And, I remember the sound of my boyfriend yelling. Stomping, stomping at my arms as I tried to reach my baby, stomping as panic welled in my chest, stomping, unaware where he was stomping, stomping closer and closer to my son, stomping while screaming, “Where is the baby? The baby is dead!”
I finally managed to reach through his legs and grab my infant son.
No one who has heard this story has ever again asked if I want to consider letting my son’s biological father see him.
The parenting plan seminar was titled “What About The Children?”
Each presenter kept asking the question. What about the children? They showed us a video in which a reel of children discussed the stress and sadness of divorce, and how badly they wanted time with both parents; how difficult it was to hear their parents fight. The pretty mother of ambiguous ethnic origin cried.
But me? I caught a cat-nap. Because when asked the question about my son, “what about the children?” the only good answer, the only safe answer, the only answer that can be borne from a mother’s love, is to keep his biological father as far away from him for as long as possible.
The next few months will be incredibly difficult for me. The trial, when my beautiful boy’s fate will be determined, is set for June. In the meantime, every poor decision, every bad coping mechanism I used before finding therapy that worked, will be dragged into the balmy light of justice for my ex and his lawyer to manipulate however they please. And all I can do is hope that the judge sees my ex for the sociopath that he is. All I can do is communicate to my best ability what I know through intellect, through intuition, and through repeated exposure, to be true: That if my ex is granted any kind of caregiver status over my son, my son will not live to adulthood.
All I can do is hope the judge hears me.