“What’s he saying?” This was from Michelle or Christy. “He wants to see his kids!”
Jan 14, 2013
The usually quiet and solemn hallways on the second story of the San Bernardino Court House building erupted with boisterous cackling. The unruly and rowdy nature of my ex-wife and her entourage is observably out of place, as they emerge from the stairs, stumbling over each other and into the echoing court halls like drunks exiting the local dive bar after last call.
The doors to the Commissioner Daniel’s courtroom remained closed but the bailiff in department S-11 swings the door open and looks up and down the halls, brows furrowed, for the source of the ruckus.
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Christy Garrison, her sister Michelle and her husband quickly quiet down. They went from cackling to composed fast enough to avoid being discovered as the source of the commotion. They have become experts at this transformation, going from malevolent to amenable and finally to victim. Playing the part, at will, that best suits the audience or that works towards their desired results.
The old wooden door had barely clacked shut before they re-erupt in, this time a somewhat restrained, bout of cackling. The restrained part being grossly ineffective.
A few of the onlookers shook their heads. Others seem somewhat amused. In this morose setting it didn’t take much and most wait-ers welcomed any diversion. Like watching Jerry Springer because it’s better than any infomercial or dry daytime soap opera.
Their display is nothing new to me, so I ignore them; happy that most everyone in the room was unaware of my association with them.
Christy saw me sitting on the heavily lacquered wooden bench opposite where we would be entering the courtroom and shot me an exaggerated look of disgust.
Ignore undesirable behavior. Just ignore it.
I leaned back and closed my eyes and thought about my family again and how glad I was that my wife, Tammy, had not accompanied me to court today.
“Please. I can handle this,” I reassured her, “the worst that can happen already has.” I kissed her goodbye.
At about the same time that Christy was growling in my direction, thirty-one 5th graders were greeting my wife, Mrs. Barrow, showering her with bids of good morning after stopping at the “Mirror of Empowerment” before finally making their way into their seats. The mirror is strategically placed where 5th graders walk in and pause to share a positive affirmation, a constructive thought, or give themselves a smile of approval. It helps for the start of a wonderful day and facilitates the practice of compassion, thoughtfulness, and fair play throughout the day. I can picture my wife right about now as she smiles approvingly at her students.
How I envied my wife. She claimed again, as she does every year, that this is her most unique group of individual students she’s ever had. Yes, she admits, as a group they are a bit chatty. Welcome to the 5th grade.
She loves her students and they love and admire her. How could I deny them another day with each other just to expose my wife to the craziness of family court with Christy?
Out of the corner of my eye I could see that Christy and Michelle were carrying on again. Michelle’s husband Dean was theatrically clawing over Christy and Michelle and in my direction as if he was struggling to come after me while Michelle and Christy attempted to hold him back.
I averted my eyes, refusing to give them the satisfaction of looking in their direction.
A lady sitting next to me stopped flipping through her court documents to nudged me and motion in the trio’s direction. “I know,” I said to her as I looked up at their display. What the hell, I thought. If I look they will hopefully stop. I looked, they laughed.
Now will you please sit down?
As soon as they saw that I noticed them they stopped and went right into a giggling rage, Christy standing with her legs crossed, bent over, and one arm on Michelle, the other holding her lower belly as if she had to relieve herself.
To me none of this was funny.
Recently, I had become aware that indeed the alienation has had negative affect on our daughter. How could it not. Enough to where I believe April to be crying out for help through social media. I thought about April and if she was in class wondering what was happening in court. Surely Christy would have made sure she knew she was off to court to fight the “monster.” I wondered if she were able to see her mother right now how she would feel. If April would be giggling right alongside them and thinking that this is a natural and healthy behavior. That this is what growing up is supposed to be like. You revere one parent while learning to despise the other. That all this is somehow normal.
Because there is a God, right then, the bailiff opened the door and called for parties with attorneys to come in. I didn’t have an attorney but sprang up anyway thinking the nonsense would end once we were in the courtroom.
I arrived early which is rare for me. I hoped that being the first to check in, our case would be one of the first to be called up. I would soon find out Commissioner Daniel had other plans for us. I missed my wife by my side, but was glad I insisted that she didn’t come.
The court paperwork said 8:15 am in department S-11. Commissioner Deborah Daniel’s lair.
Be prompt, they had ordered at the mandatory mediation a month earlier, but anyone who has been to family court knows they have their own rules and that includes taking certain liberties with the process, time, and your families.
Commissioner Daniel will saunter in, take recesses, and lunch breaks at her convenience. I wondered if she has children of her own.
I was one of the first to check in with the bailiff and sat at the closest end of the aisle, in the front row of the gallery, sure that our case would be one of the first one’s called before the bench. It is common for cases that are being handled by attorneys to be called up first, as well as those who needed a translator. Christy had obtained a limited scope attorney—a lawyer for the day.
Christy’s attorney, Diana M. Shropshire, a frizzy-haired, homely, hispanic-looking woman walked by and plumped down in the area designated for attorneys nearer to the bench, everyone else who was to be heard by the judge sits in the gallery.
Moments later Christy and her entourage entered quietly and instead of walking towards the opposite end of the aisle, they planted themselves right behind me. Anyone else coming in after them would have to squeeze around Christy, Michelle and Dean.
They had walked in quiet, solemn, and out of character enough, but that changed as the room began to fill up and there was some soft chatter in the gallery.
“I wonder if we’ll see Billy in here?” Michelle said in a loud whisper meant to be heard by me. Billy was her ex-husband whom she accused of being abusive and therefor has since attempted to keep him from their children.
“Oh look, there’s Billy in an orange jumpsuit!’ Dean joked loud enough for others in the gallery to look up, “He wants to see his kids too.”
Dean is Michelle’s latest husband and, let’s just say, he fits right in.
Christy let out what was something between a snort and a cackle. I heard what sounded like a hand slapping someone’s leg and Michelle saying, “Deeean!” before giggling out loud herself.
“Poor fucking Billy!” Christy repeated and simultaneously snorting with laughter.
Billy and Michelle had been dating when Christy and I met. They had two boys together, married, then divorced. He has been trying to be a part of his boy’s lives for years. The boys rarely have any contact with their dad if at all and it shows more-so in the younger one.
A few months ago, our daughter, April, mentioned Billy’s son William but she referred to him as Billy. I had not seen or heard of Billy Sr. for years and assuming she was talking about him asked about him.
“No dad not that Billy,” April said and then volunteered, “He was abusive to Michelle.”
"Oh,” I said, not sure how to respond to a 13 year old having that type of information about her uncle and divulging it.
“They don’t see him anymore,” April added. The last part, about the kids not seeing their dad, I already knew.
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Commissioner Daniel had made her way to her bench.
The subdued laughter behind me continued as the threesome carried on an entire scenario about Billy, the father to Michelle’s boys. Something about being escorted in, hands and feet shackled, mumbling something under the hockey mask that covered his face.
“What’s he saying?” This was a voice coming from behind me either from Michelle or Christy. “He wants to see his kids too!”
The bailiff, as if cued, quickly looked over the group in the gallery and settled either on me or at the trio behind me and kept his gaze in our direction for a while.
This seemed to work. Christy and her entourage quieted down.
I go to my wife’s beautiful smile as she stands in front of her dry erase board scribbling mixed fraction problems. I think about how happy our other children are all the time. How healthy they are being brought up.
My thoughts escape me, however, for a moment as I think about how our children will never act like the three sitting behind me. How sad their childhoods must have been. Michelle and Christy have the same mother but different fathers. Men who were not involved in their lives to any mentionable degree. Both women claiming that their respective fathers were abusive to them and their mother. I make my thoughts work me and drown out the triad’s dysfunction--their pain—that must be part of their daily lives now.
I go back to thinking about my children, my wife.
I will tell my wife how things went at court, but certain details I will make sure I leave out.
No need to bring their dysfunction into our home.
Another couple, side-armed with attorneys, was called up. Then another. Until finally, all cases with representation or who needed a translator were done. Except ours.
Commissioner Daniel began calling Pro Se cases. As one self-represented case went up after another before us, Christy’s attorney looked back even more often.
After a while, I began to wonder what was going on.
The Honorable Commissioner Deborah L Daniel, of the San Bernardino County Court House was clearing out her courtroom. She was saving our case for last for some unknown reason.
It was close to the two hour mark when Commissioner Daniel announced a recess. There were only a handful of people left in her courtroom and I thought it would make more sense to just skip break and get these cases done. Maybe the commissioner can then have an early lunch. I picture the fleshy commissioner stuffing her face at the bench. I wondered how much rest one needs after sitting in a $1500 chair and skimming through declarations for 2 hours.
At least she was considerate enough to remind those of us who had parked in the 2 hour parking zone that it was close to the 2 hour mark.
Christy, Michelle, and Dean began murmuring again, but this time it wasn't to mock me or the other alienated men in their lives, but to discuss whether or not they were in a 2 hour parking zone. They had parked across the street from me and sat in Christy's Honda Pilot watching me until I walked ahead towards the courthouse. We had both parked in a 2 hour zone.
It is in my nature to be thoughtful and considerate. I haven’t always been that way but age and fatherhood seem to bring about changes in that make you realize what’s important—and what isn’t. Being a good person was always important. I knew that and I didn't have a mirror of empowerment in my fifth grade class.
I was about to turn to let them know that, yes, they were in the 2 hour parking zone and that the parking police in front of the San Bernardino Court house don’t mess around; at 2 hours and 2 minutes they will ticket your car. My regards weren’t entirely altruistic. By helping prevent Christy getting ticketed may also lead them to tone down their attacks and malicious remarks aimed at me. Yes, I still kid myself that I will get a normal response from Christy. But still, it would be worth a shot if it would make the next 2 or 3 hours more bearable for me and less embarrassing for them. Besides, some of the other parents were getting annoyed by their constant nasty remarks.
I had picked up my laptop bag and turned when Michelle said, “Oh, hold on...There goes Billy.”
I threw my laptop strap over my shoulder and silently walked out.
I hope their Honda Pilot gets towed.
After driving around the block once I found an even closer parking spot. A little bit of good news I could share with my wife when I get home. Compliments of Commissioner Daniel.
Back inside the courtroom, I now sat towards the middle of the front row. A man and a woman sat directly behind me and I was relieved that I was going to be out of earshot of the Christy, Michelle and Dean. Aside from them I could only make out two, maybe three, other estranged couples waiting for their chance to be heard.
Commissioner Daniel began calling other couples. Respondents to the right, petitioners to the left. Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, or at least not blasphemously lie in order to get more custody time with your child?
This is family law your Honor.
Okay, please be seated.
By now it was definitely apparent that something was going on. Christy’s attorney looked back again and seemed to mouthed something to Christy, then looked at her watch.
Not a good move on her part. She was the only person sitting in the area reserved for attorneys and right in Commissioner Daniel’s line of sight.
Finally, the last couple was called up. They had settled their differences beforehand.
Once again Commissioner Daniel used her seat to remind those in her courtroom about how much better off the children are when parents are able to work through their issues amicably and without going to court. I took the opportunity to look around. In the courtroom was myself sitting in the middle of the front row and Christy, her sister Michelle and Michelle’s husband Dean. They were behaving now, acting normal.
I wondered if the commissioner was referring to us. I wonder if the commissioner knows that sometimes all it takes is one side to create a high conflict nightmare. How one parent can do everything in their power for the benefit of the child that they share and how that still will never be enough. I wonder if Commissioner Deborah Daniel has any idea how a person with a personality disorder thinks, behaves, or handles certain situations. How limiting their disorder is. How it prevents them from working amicably towards a mutually beneficial solution with give and take.
I wonder if she knows that a stable parent can give in to a mentally unstable parent’s every whim but it will never be enough. They will still want more from you. Once slighted, either perceived or genuinely, their thirst for vindictiveness is insatiable, like a black holes ever sucking the light and what matters into their own darkness.
I wonder if she knows that hey are not wired to follow rules or to play nice. They are even more broken than the petty thieves and the addicted that are sentenced daily to serve time. I wonder if Commissioner Daniel, of the San Bernardino County Court, Family Law division knows that all the empowerment mirrors in the world won't help them.
But more than anything else, right now I wondered why she needed to completely clear out the courtroom before calling our case?
Commissioner Daniel picked up our heavy file and without opening it she began, “This clearly is an incredibly high conflict matter.”
I was about to find out the answer to all my questions...
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