Tensions between my parents regularly erupted, but the incident that affected me most took place two days before I turned 16: they went to Court and I was called as a witness. The argument that started Court Proceedings on this occasion started around Christmas 1986. Dad wanted me to visit over a certain few days and Mom didn’t want me to visit at that time. I was forced to speak to Dad on the phone, drag myself to the other room with Mom where she sat in the hardwood rocking chair as if a throne, tell her what Dad said, and then relay the reply to Dad, who then said something else, and so on. Although I asked Mom to speak directly to Dad, she was not going to do that. Finally, she looked at me and said “If you want to go with your Dad for Christmas, go but don’t come back!” I told Dad. I said I was sorry. Dad didn’t hold it against me. Dad blamed Mom.
Over the following months, I learned that Dad was taking Mom to Court. Let me be clear: Court between my parents was not a new phenomenon. They regularly went to Court about money and I accepted this as part of normality. This time was different: I would also need to attend. The build-up of the court case, day by day, layered more and more emotion upon my pubescent body. I took refuge in friends who baffled at each new dreadful detail about the case and what I was expected to do. No matter how I begged, I was not to be let off the hook. No matter how eloquently I told them how they were hurting me, my head was in the noose. Each blamed the other and neither one was going to give an inch. I was on the chopping block.
By the time the case came to Court, I was an emotional wreck. I barely ate or slept. I was distracted in class. My feet didn’t connect with the ground. I struggled to exhale. I felt as though I was being made to choose between them. The only people I felt I could rely on weren’t my parents anymore, but my high school friends who struggled to comprehend how loving parents could so utterly destroy their daughter. My friends understood I felt I was no longer a person but an item to be fought over and manipulated: to me my parents’ goal was to hurt one another and bugger whoever got in the way of inflicting that pain. But on the day itself, I was alone.
I arrived at the courthouse. I was wearing the nicest outfit I owned: a long white sweater with a lace collar and a paisley skirt with blue sling-back heels. While I was waiting to be called, someone roughly my age sat across from me on the chocolate brown faux leather chairs. I didn’t recognise him, but he looked as miserable as I felt. We didn’t speak but we had an instantaneous understanding and, a few minutes later, as he was led away from me, my emotions erupted – we locked eyes: it was as if my soul escaped my body. I poured all my anger, hurt and misery into that poor kid I didn’t even know. He flinched. He almost said something… but I turned my head. He had to go but I almost heard “Are you OK?” as he was being dragged away, and I was left to wait my firing squad.
I don’t remember much about being on the stand itself – I was too overwhelmed with emotion. I vaguely recall trembling and answering questions with no comprehension as to who I was helping and who I was hurting. I was numb. I want to say that the judge asked me a couple of questions – possibly to get me to feel more comfortable – but I was at that moment beyond any help. I just needed to lower my head like the beaten puppy I was and get through the battering.
As we were leaving the Courthouse, Dad came to me, patted me on the back and said well done. I expect he just wanted to give me a bit of encouragement but Mom, walking with me, took it personally and I was frog-marched back home and was psychologically tortured for more details of the case. Mom wanted to know that I wasn’t “in-league” with Dad. I just wanted to vomit.
A few days later Dad told me that the judge shook his finger at Mom and said that I seemed a good kid who shouldn’t have had to endure coming to Court. But, now that I’m an adult, I like to think that the Judge delivered a stern word at both my parents. But at the time I unloaded my grief on my friends. I was utterly morose.
The ramifications of the Court Incident affected my relationship with my parents for a number of years. I distrusted them. I was an award on a mantle to be won or lost and then won again. I didn’t believe that they ever loved me.