Courtrooms have the muffled vacuum sound of a library. The rich hunter green fabrics accented on slick, shiny dark wood furniture cause an awareness of your inferiority. The moment you enter the austere space, you realize this is where the rest of your life will be determined. There is a man behind the door to your right. You have never met but he holds your heart, mental health, and bank account in his hands.
There were four cases on the docket. The first three were settled quickly and it was now time to begin. I could feel my superhuman compartmentalization power turning up to the highest notch. I wanted to scream, run, and cry but I stood up, watched my red shoes walk from the chair and go around the bannister that separates us from them. My shoes took me to one of four chairs placed at a long, glossy wood table. I stood beside my lawyer and waited for the man who holds my everything to appear.
After an hour, we heard, “Let’s take a 10-minute recess while we call for the child and his stepmother.”
When I realized I was about to see my child being escorted into the courthouse by his stepmother, a woman who prides herself on tearing me apart, the word surreal just didn’t cut it. She has been across the street at a coffee shop with my son. I cannot fathom the conversation between them as they waited to be called to court. She and her husband kept my son from me for 30 days prior to this hearing. This was not a part of the summer schedule lined out three months prior. They would not allow him to talk to me or see me. They told my son to have no contact with anyone in my house. Now, in this 10-minute recess, in the second floor of the courthouse, I will see my son for the first time.
How do you greet your child? You know he is in this disconsolate place for one purpose; to tell the judge he wants to leave you. How would you greet him? All eyes are on you. The lawyers, your son’s father and stepmother, your mother, your husband. How do you genuinely greet this child who has shown so much hate and malice toward you?
I wrapped my arms around him like I did the first day I met him. I buried my face in his cheek, my tears wet the ends of his hair, and I told him, “No matter what happens, I love you more than you can ever know.” I meant it. I was not sure if I would mean it. I am so hurt and angry. But, when I held my baby in my arms, even if he does not feel capable to reciprocate in front of all the eyes staring at him, he knows I meant it. Always.
Recess was over. The damage done.
My husband drove us the 90-minute trip from the courthouse to our home. I sat silent in the passenger seat. We clenched hands so tightly that our knuckles whitened and we lost feeling in our fingers. I was afraid if I let go of him I might erupt. I don’t mean erupt in streams of tears or just become a mess of disorganized emotions. I mean erupt. Literally erupt. Right there in the passenger seat of his truck. Ka-BOOM! Erupt.
Behind me sits a young, 14-year old boy. He has my eyes. I can’t see him because I am paralyzed and incapable of moving my body but I know every inch of him. Inside my heart I see his freckles on his nose, his bitten off fingernails, his long, lean legs that are growing hair, his new clothes that his step mother bought him so he could look nice for the judge. I have not seen this precious child in 30 days. All I wanted to do was hold him. Now, in the crack of a gavel, I want to toss him out of the vehicle and run faster than I’ve ever run. In any direction, I just want to run.