“His lawyer needs to see this.”
My attorney’s voice sounded tinny on the other side of the phone, and my sudden fierce determination not to be bullied seemed to have revitalized her after dealing with an obnoxiously resistant other lawyer and my ex.
After months of waiting for the other side to get their act and documents and time together, our attorneys had finally met. Hashed out a few details. And promptly improperly mathed the retirement funds of my Ex as they related to our 50/50 split. Having only had the documents for a handful of moments before they discussed, it was not until she was writing up a suggested final papers that my lawyer recognized the difficulties.
His lawyer seemed annoyed at the discovery, and reluctant to even deal with my ex. Having been married to the man for nearly a decade, I can’t say I didn’t blame him.
“He is going to go Ballistic.” Came the immediate reply. “I already told him he was out for no more money.”
We stood firm.
“He is never going to agree. Mediation and court is going to eat up all the funds. It’s a waste of money.”
My lawyer expressed confusion as to why it was so difficult to come to an equal 50/50 split.
Then came the, “My client feels like giving her a big fat zero. Oh, and she needs to drop the protection order and apologize. There are all these lies going around, and if she wanted a fair 50/50 settlement, perhaps she [meaning me] needs to reassess her story.”
Let me say that last bit again. He actually went there. You are a liar. Apologize. Drop the protection order.
These are the things that rocked my world before the holidays. That stirred the panic attacks. Even from afar, he was trying to impose his own reality on me, as if by shouting out his own version of things it could substitute for truth. Not proud of it, but the following day I spent half the morning hiding under the covers in my bed, reeling from emotion and fears and history.
Then, eventually, I pushed myself to at least get up.
Then, get dressed.
Then, sit on the couch and watch TV.
Then, a friend suggested I come for a walk with her and her new baby.
The moment had knocked me off my feet, taken the breath from my lungs, set me back. Yet I wasn’t defeated. I moved. I reached. I asked for help, instead of suffering in silence and holding everything inside.
Then, I remembered something. Back when all these things first began happening, even after I had written the stark truths in the protection order in the limited space provided, my ex claimed confusion. Despite my stating fears of murder suicide, of his comments in December 2014 that we should both kill ourselves, the screaming/swearing fits, the shattered windshield… he just didn’t understand.
At that time, I still struggled with how much was intentional, and how much was his mental illness. So I wrote him a four page letter. I outlined everything. With kindness. I explained that while it seemed something in life had hurt him terribly, his refusal to deal with it meant that he was scaring and hurting me. And that I deserved better. I wrote of the two incidents I had to call 911. I wrote of his being committed against his will for two weeks. His constant suicidal statements. Broken belongings. Punched walls. Refusals to seek counseling or take responsibility. His irrational anger at others who reached out to me in my distress. And the fear I felt, building, over the past year or more, when I could no longer press aside his threat of “slitting your throat in your sleep” as just a one-time thing that had emerged during a manic episode. How every time he grew irrationally angry, those words came back to haunt me. How any attempt I made to communicate fears, or hurt, or offer help for his struggles left me wanting to curl up in a ball once he was done with his verbal assaults of me, and his physical assaults of the things around me. Walls. Flung items. Flinging away the cat.
In four pages, I had poured out my manifesto. One years in the making, outlining the changes in me and my life that were unhealthy, unsafe and that I didn’t like, my anxiety, my difficulty performing my job. There was no anger. Just the hurt, befuddled confusion of a woman who had tried and failed to reach her husband in any way she could. At the time he had spoken of going to a counselor, so I wished him well. I told him he deserved happiness, but that I couldn’t be a part of it. That it was my own decision, uninfluenced by anyone else.
Two weeks after I was awarded the permanent, year-long protection order, I sent this letter to him. His response, “it’s all true, I’m sorry I hurt you and ever made you afraid.” At the time, I think he believed there was a way to win me back. But even in this bald statement, he made comments like, ‘there might be things I could say to explain, although those things are inexcusable.’
I held my original e-mail to him. I held his reply. I sent both to my lawyer.
This is not about the money. I told her. I am not a liar. I don’t want to be bullied. If it means that what I get in the 50/50 split goes to you and lawyer fees, so be it. I am not going to stand by and allow him to be rewarded for bullying. I understand it will cost more. I understand this may mean a court session. That is my final decision. If you think these e-mails will not negatively impact me, please forward them to his lawyer. I don’t want more than my half, but I do want to be fair.
God love her. That woman read through the PDF’s of the e-mails. She pulled up my original protection order. The two police reports we had ended up not needing for the initial filing. And immediately called me. I stood freezing in a bridesmaid dress in front of a tiny church when she confirmed, that yes, these things were important for his lawyer to see.
She sent them all along with a polite, firm response that bore elegance and steel in every carefully formed word. Adding “if this case does not settle, we will be asking for a 5 year protection order in conjunction with this case as well as lawyers fees.”
The day before Christmas, after an extended silence, I received the words I had been hoping for.
We have a settlement.