An open letter to his mother:
Brian is a trigger word, a name that incites anxiety, fear, sickness, and pain into the core of my being every time it is spoken. I will spare you the details as best I can, but I hope you can understand that this is the name of a man who controlled me, isolated me, belittled me, humiliated me, and deliberately hurt me– emotionally, physically, financially, and sexually, for many years. I left him, fearing for my own safety, but more than anything, I feared for my son. I feared that Brian would turn on him. I feared that my son would grow up in a toxic family in which he learned that it’s ok to mistreat women and children, and that he would continue the vicious cycle of abuse. If that happened, if my son’s innocence was stolen from him and replaced with hatred and I didn’t do enough to try to prevent it, then I could never live with my conscience. I would have failed at the most important duty I have, which is the duty to love and protect my son, and to teach him respect, compassion, and fellowship toward humanity.
I found out quickly that women and children do NOT have a voice in the court room. Despite having proof of what was going on behind closed doors, I was forced to file joint custody for Byron during our divorce. Judge Kevin Galley cancelled my emergency custody hearing that was to address the fact that Brian refused to return Byron to me for visitation. He was using our child to hurt me, by withholding him from me. Then, Galley blatantly refused to hear our case concerning the domestic violence that took place, cancelled the divorce hearing, and told me that if I couldn’t come up with thousands of dollars to hire a Guardian ad Litem to represent the best interest of our child, then he would not hear my case and I had no choice but to file for joint custody that very day, further adding that we would not be excused from court until an agreement was completed, signed, and filed in front of him that very day. On January 5th of 2010, I was re-traumatized by a bully judge. I left with my heart dragging behind me, with the words of my lawyer ringing in my ears, “You’ll just have to wait and watch for signs of abuse. When it happens, then we can take action.”
So I waited and watched in agony. Every day without my son I was filled with a constant pang of fear that Brian would turn his temper on Byron, and that our world would completely collapse.
There were always signs of bad parenting choices and emotional abuse, but for a long, excruciating time, I had no physical, tangible proof that I could show the court.
That changed on Thursday, March 12th of 2011. Three months before Byron’s fourth birthday, my son came home to me physically battered. A child of three, with the words “daddy pulled my hair and whooped my butt and dragged me by my ears” on his quivering lips. A mere toddler. A child deserving of patience and gentle guidance and unconditional love. Instead, bruised, misunderstood, terrified, confused, angry, and embittered because his own father beat him.
From my point of view, it looked as though you played your part, acting as if nothing was off about my son that night, even though the signs of abuse were all over him. You had the words of an enabler on your lips, “Brian said they were rough housing and he fell and got hurt.” The child could not walk straight. My previously well potty trained child had an accident in his underwear that you were cleaning from his bruised and sore bottom as I arrived after work to take him home, covering him back up as I walked into the bathroom. There was no doubt in my mind that you had to have seen it, plain and simple.
When we got in the car to leave, my son began crying hysterically before we were even out of your driveway. I tried my best to calm him, and I held his hand all the way home, the other hand on the wheel, but I knew that this was no ordinary tantrum. In fact, I knew it was no tantrum at all. I know my son better than anyone in the world, and I knew that whatever was wrong, it was something that would change us forever.
I inspected every inch of him when we got home. I found thumbprint shaped bruises on his ears, bruising across his cheeks and forehead, and found that his entire backside was one giant, striated bruise. My worst nightmare was now a reality. There was no way in hell that I could let anyone get away with hurting my child like that.
Some may think they understand what this kind of trauma can do to a child, especially at that ripe of an age, but they don’t. Only I and others who have been there truly know. The worst thing about a three year old child experiencing such trauma is that they don’t yet know how to process, understand, and then communicate to others what exactly they are going through. A three year old responds to serious trauma with rage, violence, tantrums, and anger, among other things. Therapy can only do so much for a child this young (and he received plenty), but who is the one to receive the blunt of this reactive behavior? Mommy. Mommy is left to clean up this giant mess that daddy made in a single moment’s fit of rage. It took months of sleepless nights, endless soothing, special care, and selfless love to help this child see the light of the world again. No one else will ever know the blood, sweat, and tears that I sacrificed in order to bring love back into my child’s heart, but I hope to god that you learn to acknowledge and accept this– not as a slam against your son, but as an understanding for the living hell that he has put us through.
I can’t help but mention that I was already suffering from PTSD as a result of a life lived in fear and constant trauma. You may not want to know that Brian has threatened to take my life before, but it cannot go unmentioned. Maybe someday you will understand how I feared for our lives then and, that in some way, I always will. Maybe you will understand how there aren’t enough dead bolts in the world to protect us from a threat that will forever haunt us.
The courts failed us for a second time though, when Brian got off the hook with the usual first-time offender slap on the wrist in exchange for a plea of guilty. Before I knew it, my child was in his hands again, terrified of what may happen to him. After nine months of healing, my son instantly regressed the night of his very first unsupervised visitation at his dad’s house, which was my son’s nightmare, a place that is the source of his worst fears realized. It then took another handful of months to get him back on track to emotional well-being.
Brian served 12 months of probation, which ended on May 31st of 2013. During those periods of unsupervised visitation, I again saw signs of mistreatment. Brian found every chance he could to try to take his anger out on all three of us. Byron came home with reports of his dad telling him to hurt my feelings, that Mike (my paramour) was a bad person, that I was trying to get Brian in trouble, his dad making fun of him and making him feel bad about himself, etc. etc. The list went on and on, yet never once did either Mike or I speak negatively of Brian. Never. Not once. We still don’t. All we could do was listen to Byron’s fears and frustrations, try to help him overcome his anger and sadness, and show him nothing but love and support every step of the way, all the while trying to keep Brian and his growing, misplaced anger and paranoia at bay.
It also CANNOT go without being said that it is one of the absolute WORST feelings in the world to be treated like the enemy by people who chose to ” side” with Brian, like I somehow victimized HIM for reporting his crime against our innocent son. Victim blaming 101. This is a hard one to ever recover from, and it may be the hardest thing I will ever have to learn to forgive others for. Victim blaming leaves open wounds that stand as wide chasms between myself and the people who I once thought I could trust.
The problem is that when Byron was alone with his father, there was nothing at all that we could do to protect him, no matter how much we wish we could. This became glaringly obvious when on July 2nd of 2013, merely two months after the end of Brian’s probation, all hell broke loose and our world got turned upside down AGAIN. I received an angry phone call from Brian, who was yelling, swearing, and trying to blame us for an accident that Byron had on his bathroom floor. He ranted about having already spoken with his lawyer about god-knows-what. He spoke of harsh punishment for Byron, which I calmly tried to talk him down from. He belittled our son, a six year old, calling him a baby, saying that he doesn’t deserve to go to a family gathering that weekend, that he doesn’t deserve special outings with him, that he’ll never take him fishing again, etc. He then told me that dinner was ready, and that they would eat their dinner and then drive Byron home after that, abruptly ending the phone call.
Although visitation was supposed to be over and my son home by 7:15, we waited here, pacing floors, pulling our hair out with worry and concern well beyond his court- ordered curfew. Then, as we sat on the porch, a fast, angry car tore into the driveway and out came an angry dad with Byron looking like a scared dog, head down and tail between the legs. Brian instantly started in on my son, demanding him to “tell them what you told me!” Byron came to me, but refused to say whatever it was that Brian convinced him to say, only dancing around the subject. Brian then blurted out that Byron claimed that we told him to “shit and piss” on his bathroom floor. I couldn’t believe that someone so full of unwarranted hate and animosity could try to project his paranoia onto us as if we had any reason to fuel his delusions. We stood our ground and spoke the truth, that we would never do something so absurd. Then he tried to say that Byron said he is scared of Mike, asking Byron to verify it, which Byron also refused to repeat, because it’s not true. It was glaringly obvious at this point that Brian had coached him to say these things, thoroughly underestimating the loving, respectful, and honest bond that my son and I share. I ended the conversation and took Byron inside. There was no use in listening to his spite when I had a visibly perturbed son to attend to. He peeled out in his car.
Byron entered the house as his father cursed at us through the open car window, and as soon as his feet hit the ground he was running. He threw himself onto his bed in hysterics, and I followed to soothe him. After he calmed down enough for me to understand his words of despair, he lifted his eyes to mine and I saw it. First, the tears streaming from his black eye. Then, the cuts and bruises on his cheeks as I wiped his tears and pulled him close to my chest and held him tight. Then, as he began to tell me the nightmare he just lived through, I counted four fingerprint shaped bruises around his neck, and I nearly vomited as the pang of sorrow, fear, and panic set in. He told me everything his dad had done to him– first, he described the emotional pain. The embarrassment of having an accident on the floor, and the hurried attempt to clean it up before his dad caught him. The terror as his dad entered the room, saw what he had done, and the hand reaching for his throat. The shock of blunt force as his head was slammed into the floor, and the instant throbbing of pain shooting through his skull. The horror and disgust as his dad rubbed his face in the urine and feces, as well as the gag reflex as some of the waste entered his mouth. The rush of fear as he was dragged into the hallway, thrown over a knee, and then the sharp sting of a hand striking his bare bottom repeatedly until he was raw and sore and bruised. You don’t like hearing this? This is our worst nightmare, and we live with the memory every moment of our lives. I can’t help but feel like you have somehow managed to overlook the simple fact that Brian is our demon, and that we have known hell on earth.
So with this knowledge, how can you justify your actions any longer? Though I have every reason in the world to trust NO ONE, I still tried to give you another chance to earn it. I invited you into my home for a night, and on my return, I have a report from my son that you were seen looking through my mail and stacks of papers. What were you looking for? Are you still looking for fault with us? Still trying to blame the victim? I spoke with my best friend later that night, and she told me that even though she hadn’t called my home phone for a good week, you somehow took it upon yourself to check my caller ID, and even had the nerve to call her, saying that there was a missed call from her, and lingering on the phone as if to press her for information. Why would I not have the tendency to distrust such shady actions? Then, I gave you one more chance. You took Byron for a few hours to a football game to watch cousin Paige perform in the marching band at halftime. I received a text message from you with a picture of Byron, but I realized that this text conversation was not just between you and I. No, a Group MMS. I looked at the number, then I looked at yours. Same first digits, 363. How odd, I thought. Who could this other number belong to? Two minutes and a simple web search later, and I had the name of the owner of the mystery number– Brian _________. Our tormentor. The man whom we have legal protection from because he has committed vile, inhumane acts against us. But yet, you mock our safety by sending photos to him, and all but giving him a location for my son? Please don’t tell me that you don’t see the fault in these actions in hindsight. Brian may be your son, but if you ever want to have a relationship with your grandson, you need to understand the gravity of what he has done to us and why we have every right in the world to keep this monster far, far away from us. You need to stop mentioning Brian at the drop of a pin around my son and I, because the very word is like a flood of a thousand needles piercing the flesh of our new-found safety.
I will never forget the time our DCFS investigator called me on the phone a few days after the second incident, to inform me that you attempted to file a report against Mike and I as if we were a potential guilty party in the abuse of my son. I will never forget the sting of betrayal, the slap in the face of your “retaliation.” I will never forget the first time we spoke again, shortly after that, when you said such insensitive things as, “Well, I’ve heard Byron say some things about Mike that concern me,” though Mike couldn’t hurt a fly and you know it, and “This is something that you and Brian have to work out together,” practically dismissing the fact that child abuse is a serious criminal offense, NOT A PRIVATE “FAMILY” ORDEAL.
I will never forget that you let Brian talk down to you, call you names, disrespect you, berate you, and threaten you, even in front of my child. I especially will never forget the time years ago that you called me up, screaming at me the same way he frequently did, telling me that he’s right, that I’m “fucked in the head,” that I don’t appreciate anything, that I don’t deserve happiness, or my son, or the respect of anyone… because YOUR SON threatened you that he would never let you see your grandson again. Do you remember that? Do you see the absurdity of this yet? Do you understand why I am absolutely justified in my fear, and that I may never be able to trust you again? After all of the times that you treated me with mistrust because your abusive, controlling son told you to, how can I ever look you in the eye and say that I know you have our best interest in mind?
Do you know what it’s like sitting with a single supporter and no representation in a courtroom three days after your mother, your best friend, died tragically, waiting for justice and closure, watching as your tormentor piles in with his family as they sneer in your direction? Do you know what it’s like for a judge to claim that he knew your mother, but not being allowed to request a different judge because victims have no voice in a courtroom? Do you know what it’s like to spend hours preparing a victim statement that was not read, not recited, but glanced at and then verbally mocked by the judge? Do you know what it’s like to hear a judge contradict his speech with his actions? Do you know the horror of hearing a judge give you and your son’s abuser a sentence of 30 months of probation in lieu of 15 years in prison? Do you know justice? Because we don’t. And goddamnit, if anyone deserves it, we do.
If you think that these words are harsh, put yourself in our shoes and you will finally understand that they are nothing compared to the hell we have lived in. We are not perfect, but there is nothing that we have done to deserve a life like this. You may have raised three children yourself, but I have restrained the most beautiful child in the world between my arms to keep him from grabbing the toolbox from under the sink and smashing his head and gouging his eyes with its contents, as he threatened to do at the age of six. I held him in the ER the night before his first day of first grade because of his urges to self-harm, because this is what the trauma of abuse and cruelty does to an innocent child.
You didn’t see the long hours, the meltdowns, the nightmares, the flashbacks, the hours of dispelling anger, fear, and hurt in a child, hoping to rebuild a sense of safety, trust, and inner calm that he thought he had lost. With lots of therapy, loving guidance, attentive care-taking, and heartache I have helped this boy out of the pits of anger, despair, and hatred, and watched him transform back into a loving, respectful, playful, imaginative, hopeful, and considerate young man. If all of this doesn’t dispel your denial and blame, then nothing ever will and there will never again be a chance to rebuild our trust. I will always do what’s in the best interest of my child first and foremost, and the way you choose to handle this knowledge will be my decision point on whether or not you also have the best interest of my child in mind. There is an order of protection stating that Brian may not see us or contact us in any way because of the seriousness of what he’s done. The juvenile court has declared him to be unfit for parenting because of the seriousness of what he’s done. I have every legal right to keep all unwanted reminders of him far away from us so we can truly find healing. If you don’t choose absolute neutrality out of respect for us, then I will stay away from you and you must then learn to accept my reasoning, because I have every right in the world to do so.