It was like being naked and shot at by a firing squad. The year is 2010 and I am in court, battling for the custody of my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter. I’m standing there next to my attorney, Susan Daley. I am dressed in all white. Simple yet elegant. I want the judge to see me. My face. My eyes. My soul.
My attorney is a sweet woman. It seems like she knows what she is doing. It seems like she has all the right intentions. She seems to know the law. I have never felt so alone.
I raise my hand and swear to tell the truth. This doesn’t make me nervous. Telling the truth is easy and I can’t wait to tell the truth, but I‘m not allowed to speak any further than “I do.”
I haven’t seen my daughter in three weeks. My heart aches. I feel like I don’t have enough strength to go on. I look around me and there are so many incredible faces. I see my dear friend Franco with his beautiful tan skin, face of an angel, heart so big. His eyes are as worried as mine. I can’t focus on anyone else. His suit is so well thought out. He must have prepared it the night before. He is dedicated to making sure I am still standing after all this.
My ex, Catherine, now my opponent, is on the other side of the room. Clearly, there is no working this out. She looks like a different person. Our eyes connect for a short moment. In that moment, she smiles the most uncomfortable creepy smile that makes me feel like crawling out of my skin. I want to scream.
“Did you see that?” I lean in and whisper to my attorney nervously.
Catherine’s eyes are like dark holes and I quickly look away. It felt like all those times with her when she used to laugh at me, belittle me, slowly taking me down until my self-worth was gone. She said I was fat. She made me feel I was ugly and that I would never amount to anything. In my gut, I now realize it had been part of her plan all along. Since before my daughter was born, she had wanted to take my child away from me and destroy her father. And now it was coming full force and I was light years behind her.
The attorney representing my ex-partner, Jemma Chatham is on the other side of the room. She’s tall, dressed almost inappropriately, bordering on sleazy, like a wannabe Kim Cattrall from Sex in The City, though that would be giving her too much credit. She starts in with some diatribe of legalese I don’t understand. She paces around the courtroom, her face looking severely dour. It feels like it was rehearsed. She is daunting. She controls the room, as if she and the judge are longtime allies and they are setting the stage for a massacre.
“She’s a vagabond. She’s never had a job in her life. She’s a drug addict,” she states so matter-of-factly. The words rip through me like a knife.
“What is she talking about?”
Susan puts her hand up for me to keep quiet. I try to breathe, as I listen to this lawyer who doesn’t know me spout lie after lie about me, while I am told to sit there and be quiet. I am a four-time Emmy Award-winner and drugs are not, nor have they ever been, part of my lifestyle, The words being stated before this judge are absolute perjury.
Before I know it, our appearance is over and we are outside the courtroom in some discussions about a stipulation. All I had wanted to do was to fix it in that moment, for it all to be over, but now that moment is gone. I curl up in the windowsill in tears, while my attorney explains to me what a stipulation is. All I hear is “wha wha wha…”
“Your daughter can’t see her father, Bob,” Susan says.
“What? I’m not agreeing to that!” I snap. “What is going on here?!?”
“Don’t worry, It’s only temporary,” Susan says, trying to keep me calm.
A court officer walks over to us and asks me to come with her. She escorts me to an office.“Please, fill out these forms,” she states, ”…and…uh…fill this,” pushing a small plastic urine specimen jar at me.
Now, the bottom is really dropping out. The bathroom is cold and dirty. I feel like the sludge of the gene pool. I just want to get the hell out of here. I’m not wired for this. I don’t know the rules, so I decide to do what I’m asked and see where it leads, though none of it seems right or real, or like I am being treated fairly. The only thing I can think about is when am I going to see my tiny little baby again? She has never been apart from me before and I can’t imagine what she is feeling. It is as if she has been kidnapped from me, and they are making it seem like I am the one doing the absconding.
Postscript: This account of my first court hearing over the custody of my daughter is neither the beginning nor the end of a long nightmare. As I write it down, it still brings me to rage that a person, once loved and trusted, could inflict such pain on another, as well as on my young daughter. It seems unfathomable and I strive to record it accurately. The confusion that it has brought to her will not go away easily. This is the first of many stories I hope to share about this time, as I try to untangle this Gordian knot, in order to give my daughter greater clarity and understanding of what has transpired over the course of her life and to support her emotional well-being.