Copyright 2011 by Gayle Thawley
If only one policeman, one lawyer, one mediator, one clerk or one judge within the Church of Law had believed my story to be true . . . If only . . .
Watching the clock, unable to sleep, my mind kept going over and over the last six months which have been filled with a fear I previously thought possible only in a Hollywood movie. If only it were a Hollywood movie and not my life. If only a policeman, a lawyer, a mediator, a clerk or a judge would believe it to be my life. If only one of them, any one of them, would believe my story I would not have been going over and over each incident preparing for Court Mediation in twelve long hours. I would not have been painfully recalling how it all began in hopes that my words, if properly chosen, might finally evoke credence.
My skeptical faith in the legal system had stemmed from two previous court experiences. Upon arriving at the Collier County Courthouse for my initiation into a court hearing for a Petition for an Injunction, I found two large wooden double doors to Courtroom #3. Embedded within each door was a small rectangular window far higher than I could see through. Why would there be a window so high? Was it only meant for a select few? There certainly was no doubt that it was not meant for me. Little did I know when I opened the door I could not understand, it opened to a world even less understandable.
I found the room inside to be reminiscent of a church I had attended just once in my youth, the First Baptist Church of Vicksburg. Pews behind a wooden railing with a swinging gate kept the congregation at bay. Empty vertical pews for choir-like participants flanked the side of the main altar which was a massive mahogany structure.
Raised above us all, much like I was used to seeing a priest raised above the parishioners within my own Catholic Church, was the judge. Dressed in a black robe, rather than brightly colored vestments, the gray haired little man curtly presided over the solemn ceremony without hesitation. My body began to tremble as I fantasized that I had entered a Church of Law for my Day of Reckoning.
How did I, a good Catholic girl raised in all of the right schools, ever end up in a Church of Law asking for a Restraining Order against an ex-husband? Before I could begin to search for an answer, my lawyer signaled me to step outside. I was advised to withdraw the petition in exchange for a meeting to sign the previously unsigned divorce papers the following day. Given the choice between ending my nightmare divorce and being judged within the adjacent chamber, the decision to withdraw was a welcome relief. An hour later, however, a call from my lawyer abruptly ended all relief. The opposing lawyer, his secretary had advised, had no time on his schedule for weeks. In fact, the first time both lawyers could meet would be some six weeks later, after the first of the year. Six more weeks!
Six more weeks of fear? How did I come to this point in life? Having fled my home with my one year old son and two year old daughter, in the heat of an argument, I found myself with no food, no diapers, no milk, no money, and a debit card my husband immediately canceled just before he changed the locks on the doors. Unfortunately, my parents were on a short European cruise. Fortunately, the three of us were able to move into their secure investment condo where I made a home as best I could with money borrowed from friends. Little did I know the terrors I would have to face in the months ahead. Countless nights my ex-spouse hid in the darkness outside my window. Hundreds and hundreds of phone calls, as many as forty-two in one single day, began as early as 5 AM and continued until after midnight. Repeatedly changing my number brought only temporary relief from his telephone harassment as he somehow always managed to unearth my newest number.
Further, my ex-husband’s episodes have included: throwing an incredible tantrum at my place of work at 6:45 AM; blocking my car as I was leaving work; running me off the road; following me countless times; quietly kidnapping the children from a Cingular store; breaking into my parents’ AOL account and changing the password; stealing my son’s Birthday presents from inside my car; placing my picture in a 6" X 4" newspaper ad with a profession of love; reporting me falsely to Child Protective Services. The list just goes on and on. Incredibly, police help has been sought on five separate occasions and nothing . . . Nothing has ended his escapades, not even our return to the Church of Law.
My second road to the church literally began as I drove to daycare the Friday before Christmas. My daughter and I were singing Jingle Bells at the top of our lungs until I realized we were being pursued by my ex-husband’s red Honda Civic. My hands began to throb as I gripped the steering wheel tighter and tighter out of fear for the Honda’s headlights vanished from sight as his car drove closer and closer to my own blue mini-van. 55+ MPH . . . 60 MPH . . . Was he going to hit my car? The faster I went, the faster he went. The slower I went, the slower he went. I went left, he went left. I went left again, he went left again. Nothing I did deterred his pursuit.
My cell phone was my only link to help. I called my mother who, with unwavering resolve, told me to drive to her home where she would be waiting out front. Reporting each turn I made as I neared her home, I found her, as promised, bravely putting herself between my car and his.
That episode of vehicular endangerment was the proverbial straw. Within hours, the necessary paperwork was filed and a Temporary Restraining Order was granted with a hearing scheduled after the first of the year. I vowed that my next hearing would be quite different. I would not be dissuaded from securing peace in my life and in the lives of my children through a Restraining Order.
There, quite simply, could be no question in my future as to whether an order would be granted. It had to be! Organizing a 2" notebook with phone records, financial records, e-mail records and the like, would surely prove the seventeen incidents of domestic abuse that I cited within an affidavit to assure a decision in my favor. Finally, I was ready, even eager, to return to the Church of Law for my Judgment Day.
The huge wooden doors with the too high to see through windows opened to the churchlike courtroom exactly as I had remembered with one exception, the gray haired little judge was replaced by a man of confident stature who governed every word. Finally, a commanding person within the legal system who, I felt certain, would help me. Wrong! Having presented my seventeen counts of domestic abuse, I could not believe the defense‘s rebuttal much less the judge’s decision.
I could only watch the scene that followed: Smiling pictures of the children and me were introduced as evidence that I was not living in fear; Testimony, under oath, stating that all of the phone calls were to save my life because I was suicidal was entered into the court’s records; And finally, swearing, under oath, that not one of my seventeen allegations were true.
The judge, obviously put out, gave me no chance to refute the lies. Instead, his ruling began with, "You two must get along for the sake of the children . . .". From that sentence on, I lost all consciousness. It did not matter that I was wearing my wedding ring in two of the sets of pictures clearly proving they were taken before we separated. It did not matter that phone records and AOL records clearly showed that the forty-two phone calls immediately followed the breaking into my parent’s AOL account not some outlandish claim of suicide.
Can a person actually be accused of lies in court without being given a chance to respond? The man had committed perjury not once but on all counts. Isn’t perjury punishable by imprisonment? The questions within my mind were interrupted by the bang of a gavel. My case in the Church of Law was dismissed. I had been condemned to continue my life in Hell.
During the weeks that followed, I moved into a secure, gated community. Inconceivably, my ranking of fear was raised to a heightened level, Code Red, when the sanctity of my new home was violated. My garage door opener was taken from my locked car, copied, and used to enter my home. The policeman responding to my call, could not have been less sympathetic once he found that nothing had been taken. The incident would be noted, the officer explained, but there would be no fingerprints, no warning and no arrest. With that, he left.
Nothing was taken! That didn’t make sense to me. If nothing had been taken, then why the break-in? There must have been a reason to force an entry. I entertained the thought that perhaps it was not to take something, but, rather to leave something . . . Something incriminating like drugs. Unfortunately, given the thought that I was being set-up, I was more terrified than ever. Left with no choice, I spent the next few hours searching every possible nook and cranny to alleviate my fear. Once again, my ex-partner caused panic. Once again, my ex-partner triumphed.
Not arrested, my fully confident invader surprisingly struck again just 36 hours later, at 6:35 AM. Inexplicably, when I pushed the button for my garage door to go up, it stopped and then went down. I repeated the push for up, and again it stopped and then went down. After several failed attempts I walked down the driveway where I saw the all too familiar figure turn and run down the street into the early morning darkness. Angered more than afraid, I gave chase as fast as I could. Yards ahead, he turned a corner then I heard a huge crash. As I reached the bend in his path I saw him on top of an air conditioning unit climbing over a fence. The crash I deduced was, quite obviously, the sound of his body running into the unit. I could barely see that the top of the fixture was dented from being used as a ladder to climb over the fence. I was certainly not going to follow over the fence. My chase ended there.
Thinking that his fingerprints, clearly supporting evidence, were on the fence, I called the police one more time. Again, the police officer responding to my call could not have been less sympathetic. There would be no fingerprinting of the fence. There would be no arrest. The officer‘s words, "If you reprogram your garage door opener you will be just fine," left me with only one hope for help, Court Mediation.
Preparing for court on the given day, my thoughts naturally turned to how I should dress. Classic? Preppy? Poor? Having tried the first two styles without success, I thought I would wear something in my poverty line of clothes from WalMart to reflect my new status in life. Supporting two children, solely on my $270/wk income after childcare, has been well beyond my capabilities. Yes, most definitely, my poverty line of clothes should be worn to validate my financial plight.
While driving to the meeting, my unbridled mind was reviewing the Court papers I had received the week before. According to the initial instructions, I recalled, the $240 Mediation fee would be waived if the courts were notified of an inability to pay. Believing if anyone should qualify, I surely should, I sent a letter requesting exemption. Wrong again! It seems, I was told, that no one had ever written a letter requesting an exemption so not any one of the four court clerks I spoke with behind the courthouse desk knew how to handle the unknown sent to them. After much discussion, I was told to call the Mediator assigned to my case, but, almost predictably, my message went unanswered leaving me no choice but to pay the fee that was just shy of a week’s salary. Clearly, there was to be no questioning of the church’s fees.
Stopped at a light just a mile from the courthouse I fumbled to answer a call on my cell phone. The words from my lawyer came through loud and clear, "The Mediation meeting has been canceled. It is now scheduled to take place in three weeks on the 22nd." Three weeks! After six long months now three more weeks?
That’s it! I QUIT! I can no longer fight both my ex-husband and the courts. My parents have paid over $6,000 to lawyers, yet I have nothing, absolutely nothing, to show for it besides my notebook filled with proof and a total of $180 paid in Child Support over the past six months.
Discouraged, I will no longer naively waste my time noting incidents and collecting evidence that will not even be acknowledged. There will be no more calling the police, seeking my lawyer’s advice, asking for help from a clerk, or seeking relief from a judge because the stark reality is not a single one of them has believed my plight.
Angry, I am going to shut off my phone, pull down my shades, buy an alarm for my car, a security camera for my driveway, and protect my children as best I can.
Yet, somehow inexplicably, though discouraged and angry, I do feel compassion for all of those in the Church of Law who have been so unbelievably insensitive toward me. Surrounded in my daily life by the love and laughter of children all day, every day, both at work and at home, I cannot help but feel sorry for those I have met who adjudicate adults. Sadly, I doubt that they even realize their cynicism has colored their demeanor to a point where no one has seemed even remotely concerned with truth. If only one policeman, one lawyer, one mediator, one clerk or one judge within the Church of Law had not been so cynical. If only one of them, any one of them, had believed my story to be true . . . If only this were a Hollywood movie and not my life. If only . . .
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