This article was written for Holl and Lane Magazine Issue 19: Redemption.
“I believe you” and “I’m sorry” are the two phrases that victims yearn to hear. They are the phrases that validate our experience and allow us to begin to heal. It’s not uncommon that we never hear either. Living with that void is torturous.
Two years ago, I received a phone call I never expected. It was my daughter’s school calling to tell me that there was evidence of child abuse–she had come to school with bruises on her neck–and that they needed to contact the authorities and I needed to come to the school as soon as possible. My heart dropped into my stomach. I wasn’t sure what was harder to believe, that someone had so violently hurt my child or that the person who hurt her was her father.
The events of that afternoon are both crystal clear and somewhat surreal. We spent time at the school being interviewed, having photos taken, and mostly sitting there in shock. While he was always more of the authoritarian, this seemed so out of character for the man I thought I knew.
The man that fathered my child was kind and gentlemanly, even if he was a bit selfish and aggressive. He hadn’t wanted anything to do with his child for five years, but never complained about paying me a scant amount of child support each month. When he finally decided to get involved, he seemingly went all in and made an earnest effort to forge a relationship with his child. He and I got along, even though we had the occasional angry disagreement over how best to parent our child.
I just couldn’t believe that this was the man now being accused of child abuse. I thought for sure there must be some mistake, that the police would speak to him and he would admit that he had been wrong, he would apologize, and we would take whatever steps necessary to fix this situation. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the charming man who had fathered my child didn’t really exist and that he was going to fight this allegation with every fiber of his being.
The court process took a few months to get underway, and another five before it was finished. It felt like an eternity. Hearing after hearing, I had my character attacked while he plead his innocence in the matter. I believed that I had truth on my side and that it would prevail, but when truth is constantly attacked and twisted into something that is then weaponized against you, it starts to feel like the truth wasn’t all that real to begin with.
I just wanted it to be over and to hear the words, “I’m sorry to put you both through this. How can we move forward?”
I will never hear those words.
Through the entire process, I have been vilified at every turn. I have worked hard to protect my child from the lies, the anger, and the manipulation. It is only thanks to his insistence on making this about me that I have been able to keep her safely away from him.
In the midst of the criminal proceedings, he decided to take up a battle on the civil side of things as well. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to break me financially or spiritually, or if it was just fun for him to watch me struggle to manage everything he threw at me. I submitted to an investigation. It came out in my favor. I gave a deposition. They didn’t get anything they could use. They tried to get me to give up, by dragging out the process, but I kept fighting for my daughter.
At no point did he stop, accept responsibility, and apologize for what he had done.
In therapy, I talked for hours about how I couldn’t believe that I was being treated like the bad guy in all of this when my only fault was protecting my daughter. The facts were being obscured by semantics rather than looking at the overall effect this aggressive act had on my child. She became ancillary to the process, rather than its central subject. It was clear that this had become all about retribution for him.
I came to accept that he would never admit his wrongdoing and would certainly never apologize for what he put us through. I held out hope that maybe his family would.
I had only managed to forge a somewhat decent relationship with one member of his family in the five years he had been actively a dad. I had spoken to his oldest sister shortly after the incident and told her what had happened. A few days later, she sent me a text begging me to do everything in my power to make sure that he would still be able to see his child. She argued that my child’s life would be so empty without him and his family in it. She had clearly taken his side. I disagreed and did not respond.
I never knew what had been said to her or any other member of the family, but they completely stopped calling. I didn’t understand why. My heart broke for my child. I was angry and disappointed, but I chose to believe that when they wanted to hear the truth, they would ask. I hoped that everyone would someday tell my daughter they were sorry for abandoning her and for not being willing to at least hear her side of the story.
This has been my reality for the past two years. I keep hoping for redemption and it never comes. Every time I think that we are on the cusp of that breakthrough, I am reminded that the story is already written. No one thinks to ask for my perspective before passing judgement. When I do have the opportunity to speak the truth, the bias that has formed against me is all too real. I am the villain, every time. My motives are questioned and I find myself constantly defensive of my words and my actions. Any effort I have made to repair the relationships has been seen as controlling.
I see communication between the attorneys where I’ve been painted to be manipulative and dishonest. I’ve been subject to accusations filled with lies so blatant that it wouldn’t take much effort for me to fully debunk them. The way his attorney is openly hostile toward me in every interaction makes me wonder what else has been said about me. I know I shouldn’t care. It angers me that anyone could believe the falsehoods that have been shared about me.
I know that none of what I have been fighting against is my fault. I know that the stories I hear are untrue. I know that the efforts to twist my intentions into something negative are only to give cover to the real villain. I know that the things that are said about me and the feelings that are directed toward me are all a result of the lies that have been said.
Every time things go quiet for a bit, I keep hoping that it’s over. That I will finally be able to let my guard down and not have to think so hard about the words I use. That I won’t have to defend the latest thing I said. That someone will finally say, “I believe you” and “I’m sorry to have put you through this.”
I want to believe it, but I know that day will never come.