As I slipped my car into its space at the back of our house, this Friday, at the end of an unrelenting week, I felt the chilly air seeping into the inch of space between the top of my car door and the lowered window. I shut off the engine and listened to the interchange between the ringing in my ears and the night sounds of our back yard. The rustle of leaves; the ping and pang of settling metal; the gasp of the car's heater, then its sudden silence. I sat, my hands on the wheel, my forehead lowered to its cold smooth surface.
A half hour later, I would tell stories of my roller coaster ride, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, over a deli dinner at our long oak table: Hearings won; young, rude lawyers chastened by stern judges; smiling clients and warm clasped hands. I would shrug off disappointment at one or two developments, and listen to my returning stepson struggle with his trepidation over a bollixed housing arrangement for the fall. After dinner, I would read in my favorite rocker, on the tablet which I find so indispensable, its e-reader an aid to my strained eyesight; from disdain to dependence, in just a few short months.
But before I left the isolation of my car, I let my mind wander. I raised one hand and touched the glass beside me, the glass on which a uniformed officer had wrapped with a sudden bang, the glass that I had lowered to hear her admonishment to move my vehicle, please, didn't I know I was parked in a 4:00 zone? Thursday, en route home from the second court appearance of the day, a light snow falling on the 2nd of May. I had gazed around me, unseeing, immersed in the strained, fearful tones on the other end of my cell phone, the shocked voice of a client that had compelled me to park in the first place.
Pulling back out onto Troost Avenue, I had continued to reassure my client as to the outcome of a hearing. We got what we wanted, I reiterated. You will not have to attend mediation with your husband, the Court will appoint a guardian ad litem for your children, they will not have to go see their father.
It's a rare case for me, where I am not pushing equally parenting. I'm usually a fathers' advocate; I frequently wrangle for as much cooperation as possible; I most commonly drag everybody in sight to mediation, settlement conferences, and counseling.
This case is different.
Like lava spewing from a once-dead volcano, the stories of beatings, bullying, and emotional manipulation by my client's husband spread over the contours of this case. I cannot stop the flow. I cannot protect my client and her children from the scalding molten rock, or the relentless devastation. Though the father denies many of the accusations, he admits some of them and dismisses others as blown out of proportion. A wink is as good as a nod. His lawyer uses the phrase "over-discipline" and my stomach flops. "Over-discipline"? This sounds like something I might do to a steering wheel, like "over-correcting", or to a sailboat, or a satellite. My mind reels.
Thursday bled into Friday, a day when a client for whom I had recently won a sad little hearing lumbered into my suite to hire me on another matter. Divorce papers this time, served by the same lawyer who represented his wife in an unsuccessful effort to get a restraining order. The judge had agreed with me: one altercation did not abuse make, especially when that altercation consisted of my client, the husband, taking out a loaded gun and begging his wife to shoot him. Two weeks later, the client is back in my office, confident that I will get him as good an outcome in the dissolution as I did in the Adult Abuse action. He signed the contract and I took his check. As he struggled out of my office, heavy cane gripped in one hand, smooth-shaven head trembling, chest heaving, I could feel the weight of his grief settle around my own narrow shoulders.
And so my work week ended, with me sitting, alone, in the front seat of my Saturn.
I slid my hand down the glass, slowly, leaving a long streak which did not fade. In the glow cast by a motion light on the neighbors' house, I watched as the wind tossed the branches of the towering cedars which separate our yards. Straggling vines trailed over the fence, stirred by a small critter scampering past, which had no doubt been startled by the sweep of my headlights. I watched its grey form disappear into the undergrowth.
I am also small, huddled in the seat of my vehicle, alone in the darkness. But I have no connection to the skittering in the night, to the billowing masses of clouds high above me. In the house, the sentient beings who comprise two-fifths of my nuclear family stand over their own distractions -- an irritating phone call, a mass of belongings to unpack and put away. The burdens of their own lumpy weeks. I will hear their tales, by and by, squinting my eyes, wrinkling my nose, making little clucking noises of sympathy. But there in the shroud of night, I remained bound by my taut, solitary skin, hovering in the gap between my identities, in the transient slip of space where I am responsible for no one. I breathed; in, out. I blinked, long, hard movements, eyes closed, eyes open, eyes closed. I sat, motionless, while the shrill squeal in my ears caught and held its own rhythm, and the flutter of an angel's wings caressed my cheek.
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