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Restraining (and regaining) Order

December 6, 2010

She sat next to me, in a white suit, slightly fuzzy, a striking contrast against her dark, brown skin and her dark hair pulled sleek, in a bun. She was large. I sort of wanted to crawl into her lap, which would have been entirely inappropriate, but was the clear extent of my emotional reasoning at the time.

“She looks safe, I want safe. And warm, she looks warm too. Safe and warm. Safe and warm.” I had been reduced to primal thought; even my words were more like unintelligible grunts.

I sat next to her, in a bright pink sweater, a color more lively than my winter-pale pallor, it was tightly tied in a neat bow around my tiny waist, a stark contrast to the wildly unkempt hair that didn’t conceal me nearly as well as I wanted it to.

She leaned slightly towards me, tilted her head, and with no words or sounds, I felt her thinking, “She needs me, that is one scared girl child there, she’ll be okay, but she doesn’t know it.”

She and I had nothing in common. Until we made eye contact, and both of us had puffy eyes, rimmed red and glistening with tears in various stages of confinement, flow and drying around tired eyes. And on each of our laps, clasped between exhausted hands, the same cluster of white papers with the word “approved” in big letters at the top, and a judge’s name stamped at the bottom. The relevant word, well not really a word, however, was “vs.” We have both had a judge agree that this was a fight. A fight that we couldn’t handle alone. We needed the courts to protect us.

“You got it?” she said to me. “Yah,” I responded, feeling proud, vindicated, terrified and utterly bewildered at how a relationship I valued for two years had now boiled down to two letters, “vs.”

We had been in line together half an hour ago also, waiting for the clerk to process the papers that would allow us to go before the judge and ask for help. Once we had a case number for the judge, we would wait again, in a courtroom in which no one spoke. We had made eye contact a few times in the clerk’s room. There was a couple there trying to prevent someone from harassing their daughter, but their daughter was an adult, so they couldn’t do this. For some reason, they thought the clerk could change the law, and the woman and I looked at each other. Eventually, I said to her, “should I say something?” She shrugged, but sweetly.

The couple continued to argue with the clerk, who, behind a thick glass window and equally thick glasses, looked more like a cartoon character than anyone capable of filing papers to save lives, much less change laws. She was shaped like an egg, the light brown ones my hens lay, with long stringy dark hair and a lisp. My safety was in the hands of a Weeble Wobble who listened patiently while people went on and on about stuff that she could do nothing about.

This was what stood between me and someone who I thought was out to get me. Great.

“There are advocates on the second floor to help you with this,” I finally said. I had a lunch date that I really wanted to get to. It was going to be a blissful two hours in a shit storm of the most domestic kind of terror. And these people were in my way. But I said it nicely. Everything in this room begged for kindness, from strangers and anyone else. We all needed it. “They’re great down there, totally helpful, I actually stopped crying while they were with me.”

“No, they only handle domestic violence, they can’t help in this case,” another, very stern and earnest woman who was waiting in line answered. She had large files and a clear knowledge of how this all worked. She had been here before. Maybe that’s why she stood up straighter than the rest of us.

It was her turn next. The Weeble said to the woman, “and you are, Jane Doe?” “No,” the woman responded, “I’m her attorney.” Oh, right, this is an entire focus of law. Wow, this is “the system” they talk about. I’m in it. God, that’s an oppressive feeling. The realization took my breath away, slowly, like a balloon deflated. A Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon…..  I am usually that grand and colorful and fond of flights of fancy. Now I just want to curl up in the big dark lap of a woman I don’t know, who seems primally  cave-like and safe.

I was up next. The Weeble smiled at me, I had been up there an hour ago, but she sent me down to the second floor, because I didn’t know what I needed, and she knew I needed the advocates to sort it out for me. I cried. An hour ago, not at the moment. Oh, wait, nevermind, I started crying again. She looked at my papers and said, “oh, really, well good luck.”

The Weeble had told me it would be easier to go for harassment. The advocate agreed it would be easier, but it wouldn’t do as much to protect me. “This is domestic violence,” she assures me. Domestic violence? What, he’s not even my boyfriend anymore, and besides, victims of domestic violence are….  I stopped that train of thought, I know better. But here’s what I do know, victims of domestic violence are, they are NOT me. Until this morning.

More accurately, until that night last week when my house was broken into. “They’ll never give me that,” I said to the advocate, “I can’t prove it.” “Do you, in your heart, know it’s true?” I cried. Yes. Not because it happened, but because I believed, at that moment, that he did it. That was the problem, not the theft, but the loss of something I believed in. “Do you think he could hurt you?” “Well, no, but I never thought he’d do this either, so now, I don’t know.” That was the other problem, the axis of things I believed, around which my world spun, was shattered.

So, at the clerk’s office, again, with my Domestic Violence Restraining Order in hand, I started crying. She said, “oh, really, well good luck.” I think she smiled at me, a smile that silently screamed, “you go girl,” but I couldn’t really see, with my tears, her mask of thick glass and the fact that raising the small muscles in her face changed little in its puffy mass.

Then the judge. He read the whole affidavit without moving a muscle except the tiny ones used to move his beady eyes in an imperceptible manner. He was big and old and cold and white like an ancient snow man frozen in time, doing same to the tracks of those who stood before him. If he doesn’t give this to me, if he refuses….  I cried again.

He called my name. “Tell me why he can’t go to this gym?” “Because I am there, every morning, and he knows it.” “Does he work out there now?” “Nope, but he keeps saying he’s going to join, and I don’t want him to. I cried on my way there yesterday, because I knew he knew I’d be there.” “And what about these events, does he need to go to them?” “No, he never does, and anyone in his company can go to them for him, and I’m a public figure in that community and he would know to find me there.” “Alright.” “And what is an email listserv and why can’t he be on it?” “Because it is a social list of people and if he is on it then he can figure out where I am, with whom and doing what.”

He pulls out his stamp, “I’m granting it, he will be served.”

I cried. Then I apologized for crying. “I see a lot of that.” It was expressionless, but I decided to hear an “it’s okay, you’re human, and scared, and we’ll do what we can to protect you.” Because that’s what I needed to hear, and the word “approved,” hovering over the “vs” just didn’t do it for me.

And then I was on the bench, back in the clerk’s office, next to the warm lap.

“You got it?” she said to me. “Yah,” I responded, feeling proud, vindicated, terrified and utterly bewildered at how a relationship I valued for two years had now boiled down to two letters, “vs.”

She told me this was not her first visit here. “How do women do this?” I asked her. “I mean, most people would tell you, I would tell you, that I am the strongest most balanced person you could meet, and this has nearly killed me, I can’t stop crying, I’m scared of my shadow, and all the cops and detectives, and one room and another room and the paperwork,” she was nodding as I continued to ramble off the world’s longest run-on-to-nowhere sentence, “ I mean, you obviously have tons of emotional resources, how do, how do, how do weaker, or I mean just, how do women without resources do this?”

“I did it for two years, ” she said to me. It lit me up, I don’t know why. “ME TOO!” I said, almost giddy, like I’d gotten the cosmic Bingo and won! “But how?”

“Girl, I just always worry about other people more than myself. Hell, even now, I feel guilty doing this.” “ME TOO!” I said. “B-I-N-G-O” I thought. I felt guilty. What if I’m wrong?

“But how? How do other women handle this?” I, apparently, still see myself as different from the other women who are stamped with “vs,” “approved,” “restraining order,” and “domestic violence.” ( I am not.)

“Oh child,” she said to me. “If all of this has taught me anything, it has taught me that you have got to ask for help.”

My dad was in the hall outside waiting for me. He had offered, 1,000 times, to come with me, and I was sure I could handle it alone. One of my soul-sisters, who has been my rock for the months leading up to this moment also insisted she should come, and I assured her I could handle it. If I can sleep alone in the room he had violated, I could file some fucking paper work. As soon as I got in the shower, I started shaking. By the time I called her, on my way down to the courthouse, I was sobbing and shaking.

My father called, while I was waiting for the advocates, he was downtown, “daddy, can you come?” He was there in 5 minutes. Thank god. I could not have done it alone, even though he didn’t do anything, at all. I needed him.

I needed the friends who made a second Thanksgiving dinner with me last night – they happened to be the friends that I called when it happened in the first place. I don’t know if they realized that the “Thankful Leftovers” were not only giving me the Thanksgiving I needed after being so violated on the “real” Thanksgiving, but they were also reminding me of what I am thankful for.

“Ya,” I told the woman, “that’s actually been a blessing. I did ask for help, not always at the times when I needed it. But, really, going through this, I’ve learned how loved I am, and how supported. I couldn’t do this alone.”

“Nope, and I’ll tell you what girl, there aint no shame in needin’ your people, if you’re blessed to have ‘em, you’re a fool not to use ‘em.”

Truer words have never been spoken. (My soul sister who I told I didn’t need there, was texting me every 15 minutes, she was SO THERE!)

Back at the Weeble window for the final time. She says, “you got it?” I got it. Literally, not metaphorically. I will never understand it, but I was legally protected, and that was good enough for now.

She made a mess of copies, clipped things into piles, and handed them back to me. “This one, on top, take it over to Police Headquarters on 5th, and they’ll serve him.” Serve him. Like Thanksgiving. Serve him what?  A pile of papers. I know what they say. You can’t get within 500 feet of these people, these places, no contact, no third-party contact. They say that if he does, they’ll arrest him. They say that if anything happens to me, he’ll be the first person they look to. They are serving up the collective understanding that many people, who are not me, think he might be dangerous.

The truth is, if he did this, I think he’s going to get away with it. I think he’s smart enough not to get caught. (And I will explain why and how, once I know how the investigation will proceed.) I know he’s a brilliant liar, and that others will be as caught in his lies as I was. But I am no longer. And for these few moments, I feel like the world sees what I see. The police who arrived at the scene did. The ones I’ve talked to since all see it. The advocates agree. The judge agrees. My friends agree. (And this makes me sad, for him.)

I still, more than anything, want to be wrong. Losing stuff is a pain the ass, but losing people is heart-break. The unfortunate irony is that by taking this step, I have made it impossible for the one person who could tell me I’m wrong, to tell me anything. So I am going on my gut, knowing that I am doing what I feel I need to do to be safe. And reaching out to those I need to reach out to, to know I’m not alone.

I am not alone. I am safe. As the therapist I’m working with taught me to, I am stopping and saying to myself, “at this moment, I am safe.” I breathe, and look around to let my body feel it, to let my eyes soak in the world around me, which is safe.

At this moment, I am safe.

At this, and every, moment, I am not alone.

I still wish I had crawled into that woman’s lap. But I will, forever, live in her wisdom.

“There aint no shame in needn’ your people, if you’re blessed to have ‘em, you’re a fool not to use ‘em.”

At this moment, I am safe. And happy.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 7, 2010 5:30 pm

    When I read about these experiences, I’m initially left speechless, not knowing quite what to say, and yet I want to say something, to acknowledge the inspiration I draw from your ongoing openness in the face of such challenges, and to add some small measure of support.

    I love the powerful reframing of restraining as regaining in the title.

    If you’re open to a little more constructive – or reconstructive – wordplay, I was also thinking about a word coined by Dee Hock, founder of Visa International, that I first discovered through Guy Kawasaki’s book, The Art of the Start: chaordic (“chaos + order”). I mention it here for two reasons: 1) I think that you are creating order out of chaos, and 2) based on what you’ve written both here and on Seattle 2.0, I think you would find a great deal of alignment – personally and professionally – with the full set of chaordic leadership principles.

    Elements of this most recent chapter in your ordeal reminds of a poem by Mary Oliver, Wild Geese. I wouldn’t be surprised i you’re already familiar with it, but just in case you’re not, here it is:

    You do not have to be good.
    You do not have to walk on your knees
    for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
    You only have to let the soft animal of your body
    love what it loves.

    Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
    Meanwhile the world goes on.
    Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
    are moving across the landscapes,
    over the prairies and the deep trees,
    the mountains and the rivers.
    Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
    are heading home again.

    Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
    the world offers itself to your imagination,
    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting `
    over and over announcing your place
    in the family of things.

  2. Alyssa Royse permalink
    December 7, 2010 10:02 pm

    Not surprisingly, I love that poem. And yes, I knew it, but had totally forgotten about it. And yes, I think there is order, beauty and wisdom in chaos. Trying to control chaos is useless, but learning from it, and aligning it to fill your sails is a damn good skill set. Thanks. 🙂

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