I never think about the day I became a noncustodial mom. There have been occasional drive-by-flashes skip through my memory regarding it, but nothing more. I don’t allow myself to purposefully relive the events of that day so I keep it locked securely away. Too much pain held up in that massive expanse of a memory. But Hiding grew tired of my hiding so it forced me out and demanded that I take notice.
Curiously, I started to find myself thinking about that day, specifically the courtroom. Where was it? I mean, I knew where it was but as many times as I had been in the courthouse I didn’t know where that specific courtroom was. It had been 7 years, why start thinking about it now? I couldn’t explain the curiosity, I only knew it existed.
It was just a casual fascination though, nothing that would cause me to ask anyone about it or purposefully seek it out. To relive that on purpose… riiiiight. Not in my lifetime. I like to hide, remember?
A little while ago, though, I found myself walking into that courthouse again.
I never gave it second thought, really. I was just there to do my duty and follow court orders. Or so I thought.
Remember what I said about Hiding and how it will dominate you, force you out, without choice, to make you face your fear? Yeah? Well, today it chose me and required that I take notice.
I walked up the stairs, the ones I always see but never question, and turned the corner shyly peering over the handrail to see if anyone was waiting. Whew. No one there. Deep exhale. I continued up the stairs and stopped at the top to adjust, take another deep breath, and prepare myself for entering.
I anxiously fiddled with my jacket and purse, not knowing what or who lay behind the closed doors. Palms sweaty and shaky, I reached for the large brass handle, pulled it towards me, and reluctantly entered.
Within that same nanosecond, all traces of oxygen left my body. My muscles seized and my thought process halted. My body temperature dropped and my legs became weak. The room was spinning and my vision doubled. I gasped for air as panic instantly choked. Placing my hand on the back of the solitary bench that filled the entirety of the back row, I slowly guided myself around the high-waisted arm rest, and nervously slid down into the seat.
I scoured the room begging for a familiar face, but none were there in real time – only those in memory.
This was it, wasn’t it? The courtroom that destroyed my life. There they were – the voices, the smells, the auras, the flashbacks – the tears, the failure, the disbelief, the disgust, the anger, the hatred, the emptiness, the loss. They all demanded immediate attention, they all strangled inside a memory-laced straight jacket.
Breathe, Dana, breathe.
There I sat. There he sat. My attorney was there; his attorney over there. My mom was sitting right there. And there. The judge. Wait. Is that him? The man sitting there, right there, in the black robe. Really, could it be? Is that the man who took my kids away? Surely not. That can’t be him. No, please, God. No. Please don’t let that be him. I’m not ready for this.
But I couldn’t move.
Seven years of pain had anchored me securely to that seat through an invisible, yet very real force. The tears fell silently while I desperately tried to filter my thoughts through the walls of some kind of unseen force field. This was a new kind of force, one I hadn’t had to face yet, one that I didn’t want to face because it was one that I didn’t even want to compete against. I only wanted to dematerialize, to fall away, to vanish. For eternity. And then some.
I opened my eyes. I sat. I stared. I listened. I watched.
It was him. Breathe Dana, please.
There he was, in the flesh. Breathing the same air I breathed, occupying the same space I was forced to occupy. How dare he?! Rushes of anger mixed with a pure, unadulterated, disgusting type of hatred dominated every cell in my body. He was smiling. He was laughing. He was doing “his job”. I was quietly convulsing with tears. I was stabbing myself repeatedly with memories of life without my kids. I was dying.
If only he knew what his actions had created, not only within me and my children, but within the mind of the man he granted free and unrestrained reign over our lives. Oh what an evil man you are, Mr. Judge.
Time passed, 15 minutes, then 20 minutes, then 30 minutes. I knew I had the date and time right. The papers now tightly wadded in my smoldering hands proved that. But my ex wasn’t there, nor was his attorney. So why was I supposed to be there? I mean, the paper said to be there on this date and at this time, so if they had cancelled or rescheduled, wouldn’t they have told me?
Wait… that was a stupid question. That would be classified as respect, and there was none of that floating around in the universe of that courthouse.
I steadied my thought patterns, regained my composure, and continued to wait silently wondering why I was there. The judge continued on through his docket, directing each attorney to present their case as it came their turn. One by one, he marked off his list. “What about me?”, I wondered.
Maybe it was just going to be us today, the judge and I. Perhaps it was simply standard procedure to do it this way for one reason or another. I didn’t know.
He peered down at the docket, reviewed it page by page, confirmed he was done, raised his eyes toward the court room, caught my screaming gaze, smiled, and said, “Ma’am, did you need something?”
Caught off guard, I furiously shook my head no and lowered my head to break eye contact. If he didn’t need my attention, I sure wasn’t going to give it to him! He looked away, laughed with his colleagues, got up, and walked out of the courtroom.
Uhhh, what was that? Did that really just happen? Pinch yourself, Dana. Wake up! Wake up! This can’t be real.
I collapsed forward into a lumping heap, letting my forehead fall forcefully onto the bench in front of me. My knuckles were white and bare from tension. My face flushed. My mind swirling into another black hole of oblivion.
Did I just make eye contact with the man responsible for taking my kids away?
The courtroom began to empty but there I remained. Alone. Paralyzed by memories. Soaked with tears. Unable to move.
Forcing myself to stand, I stumbled into the aisle, turned to my left, took 6 steps, then exited the courtroom. Once the door closed behind me, I took a few deep breaths and paused yet again to prepare physically for the walk down the stairs.
This just can’t be? I mean, why? What was the purpose? It doesn’t make sense. Where was everybody?
With a numbing lack of speed, I exited the courthouse, eager to seek solace behind the locked doors of my car. My legs were moving but I wasn’t present. My entire being was still stuck in the what-just-happened-moments of the prior hour.
As I neared my safety net, my eyes caught notice of a brightly colored postcard laying on the ground behind my car. I gave it a quick once over, then dismissed it, not even pausing long enough to make out the image. Nothing was going to stop me from crawling into my long-awaited comfort zone!
I opened the door, eagerly jumped in, and situated myself cozily into the duct-taped seats of my worn-down, peaceful, broken in, cozy habitat. I locked the door.
Ahhhh, now was I free. I could breathe again, and I could think without interruption.
Play by play, I mentally worked through every detail. Every few seconds or so that postcard would flash through my mental replay, sometimes like a blinking light, other times like a still image as it passed from one brain wave to another. And it wouldn’t stop. It literally begged my attention. But it wasn’t going to get it! Not if I have my way!
This girl was safe and secure in her car and there was no getting me out to entertain some silly little piece of paper that didn’t even belong to me!
I brushed off each instance with a shrug and eagerly returned to my mental replay, often having to rewind to before the distraction. But there it was again. And again. And again.
Well dang it! Just stop already.
With every pass through, it begged more and more. It started telling me to get out of the car and go take a closer look. It pleaded, over and over (it reminded me of my kid!).
Just go see it, then you can hop back in really quick. It won’t take but a second. Now go. Get out and look at it. Ugh. It’s just a stupid piece of paper, but whatever. I’ll go see what it is.
With uncertainty, I got out of my car and turned to see if it was still there. Surprisingly, it was. I waited until the next car passed, walked towards the postcard, and hovered cautiously over it. This is what stared back at me.
There was the paralyzing feeling again.
I stood there unable to breathe, again. The first tear ran down my cheek, then the next, then the next. The river flowed soon after. I rushed back to the car, grabbed my phone, and took a quick picture. Even though the postcard wasn’t mine, it was meant for me and I needed to have a reminder of this moment forever. I left it where it lay and returned to my car.
I snuggled back in, slouched down comfortably, stared at the image, and let it share a few words of healing.
“Dana, I did this for you. You needed to be reminded that I am there, with you, always. I have never left your side. Even though your struggles have been great, they would have been far greater if I wasn’t there. I have protected you from so much. Please believe Me. I gave My life for your freedom and I want you to accept it with Grace. I know everything that has happened. I was there, too. I need you to continue to trust Me. I already see the end; the purpose that this is unfolding, the love that this is revealing, the life that this is redeeming.
Now, about that judge. You need to forgive him. You need to let your anger towards him go. You see, he’s human, just like you. You saw him smiling and laughing. And just as he smiles and laughs, he experiences sadness and pain, too. He deals with his own moments of failure and vicious defeat. He doesn’t always win his battles either. Let it go. Let him go. Release him from your grip.
It’s been 7 years, you have to move forward, and that means that you have to free him from your mental death grip. Focusing on the past won’t make you feel better. You know this. So let’s move forward together. Neither of us can change what happened in that court room 7 years ago, but both of us, working in harmony, can change what happens in the future.
Let this moment serve as a reminder of My unfailing, unconditional love and presence in your life. I knew what you needed today because I know what you’re feeling right now. I know how you think sometimes that I’m not there, or that nothing will ever change, or that you’re such a wreck of a person and that’s why I won’t help you. All of those are wrong, wrong, wrong!
I’m working in the midst of your life right now. At this very moment, I am moving mountains for you! You can’t see them, but I can. What I see is so much greater than what you see. I know you have a lot of questions and I will answer those over time. There is a beautiful future waiting for you. Please let the past go and enter fully into a new future of expectation, hope, and abundance. You are my daughter, my precious princess, my love, in whom I am well pleased.” Signed: The Lover of Your Soul, Jesus
Through the tears and cracked voice, I quietly thanked Him for answering my prayer for His presence. I never expected a Presence like that, but He gave it to me and I’m without words – because they all liquified into tears, I’m sure!
Thanks to Hiding and the demands it placed, I’m a flubbering mess, but I’m free! So the next time you choose to go into hiding, even against my admonition not to, you can rest confidently knowing that Hiding will force you out into something greater, too.