Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The unspoken

There are words inside me which never make it to the page. When I sit down to write, every thought, every sentence I might pen, is held onto for a moment and tasted, like one rolls a sour candy around in their mouth before deciding to bite.

What if there is reprisal?

This is not how I like to write.

Inside my gut, I feel the dull edges of long silent truths rock up against each other and settle back into place. More often than not, I simply close the computer.

 * * *

Our divorce trial is set for February, almost two years after the process began. Two full days have been set aside by the court to deliberate the spoils and obligations of a ten year marriage.

The detectives have said they plan to offer his criminal case to the Feds by the end of January and that, in the unlikely event the Feds turn it down, the County has already agreed to prosecute. Finally, charges are imminent.

What will happen if he is charged? He will be arrested, bail will be set, he will pay it and be out of jail within days. His job of 25 years may or may not be there when he gets out, I don’t know.

But the gig will be up. The news will have hit the papers.

What this will mean for me and the children remains to be seen.

These two events, the divorce trial and the criminal charges, both so long coming, are like two visitors that have been held up in transit, finally arriving long after the dinner plates have been cleared.  I see their shadows on the horizon.  Sometimes I regard them and think about how their arrival will impact my life. Mostly, I just look away.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Breathing poison

My posting has been light of late. There has been stuff happening in the background – court hearings, namely – and I’ve struggled with whether or not I should talk about it, and if so, how much to say.

I don’t want to dwell on the criminal case. Every time I deal with it, it’s like walking into a thick, dark fog. There is an energy, a very dense and qualmy energy, which accompanies sexual and physical violence and those who participate in it.

Every time I deal with some aspect of these crimes, whether in a courtroom or in my dealings with police or my estranged husband, I have to descend into that energy again and it feels like breathing poison.  When I write about this stuff, and when you read about it, we are dipping our collective thoughts into that energy. This is not what I want to share with you.

However, writing about it can be cathartic. Expression acts as a catalyst to clear and heal the places in me where this energy has settled.  So I try to tease apart what needs out of my system and what is best left unsaid; what can be helpful and enlightening, and what is simply macabre. It’s a fine line.

Lately, I’ve found myself avoiding my blog and not interacting with others online. When that happens, it usually means I have something I need to get out.  It’s like a blockage that needs to be cleared from my heart so that I can feel like myself again.

Today I will be sharing some of what was revealed in recent testimony. I will never reveal anything that would compromise the case, only that which has been shared in a public courtroom.  Some of it is disturbing. None of it will make you feel good. You may read it if you wish or you can click away.

 * * * * *

I’ve had to return to court several times in recent months. This is not the criminal trial – that investigation remains open.  Rather, it’s to litigate issues regarding the children. It’s involved testimony from the forensic detective on his case, the children’s therapist and myself. Mr. X (I’m sorry, I can no longer refer to him as ‘my husband’) has refused to testify, pleading the 5th.

It’s been sobering, infuriating, jaw-droppingly ridiculous and above all, exhausting. Here are the salient points.

I’m going with bullet points on this one. I don’t feel like telling a story.
  • The forensic detective revealed that an initial scan of Mr. X’s hard drive, using a program that matches images with known child pornography images, revealed 18,000 matches.  (In his second testimony, a few months later, he said 14,000. I don’t know which is correct. I’m not sure it matters. Either number is beyond my comprehension.)
  • The forensic detective revealed that among the material confiscated from Mr. X’s office were videos of pre-pubescent children doing stripteases.
  • He also revealed that there were videos of adults having sex with pre-pubescent children.
  • In my testimony, I discussed items found in the home that suggested Mr. X was either producing or intending to produce his own pornography, including recently purchased professional-grade photographic equipment, video-making software, and a hand-drawn floorplan that showed cameras situated in several rooms, including the bedroom, as well as on a porch outside the bedroom. The floorplans did not match any residence I know of.
  • I revealed concerns I had regarding the children, which I will not discuss here.
  • During cross-examination, Mr. X’s attorney suggested that I was trying to damage Mr. X’s reputation with my writing. He lifted a couple of partial sentences out of context from separate blog posts and combined them together to support his argument.
  • I corrected his misstatement and responded that I shared my own personal experiences and the facts of the situation. If those facts were damaging to Mr. X’s reputation, he would have to accept accountability for that.
  • Mr. X is alleging that I started my blog “to profit off his court case”, despite the fact that it was clearly started before we ever decided to divorce.
  • Mr. X’s attorney then accused me of making a great deal of money off my blog. I had to keep from laughing here. Actually, I think I did laugh. I asked what documentation they had of me making money off my blog and he brought up the donations I sought to attend the ABC in Sydney in March. (I’m not sure what the point of this line of questioning was, honestly.)
  • There was more along this vein. I’ll spare you the details. I don’t think it serves any purpose other than to illustrate the machinations of a very disturbed mind.

There will be more hearings in the coming months. They are physically, emotionally and financially draining. I seem to get sick after each one.

To be quite honest, after the detective shared the evidence about the videos of adults having sex with children, something in me died. I hadn’t known about that.

I don’t know why it should shock me, considering everything else. We hold onto our illusions, don’t we, until the very end? This man, I laid beside him for nine years. He is the father of my children.

But there is more grief beneath that. Grief for the illusions I held and for the history my children will inherit.

Every night, I pray for an end to this. 

All I want is an opportunity to create a new life, free of this dark and twisted energy, one where my children can flourish and we can all be safe.  I think that’s the very least we deserve.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A spiritual perspective on domestic violence

While I was coordinating the Speak Out campaign, I approached (and was approached by) a number of individuals who I thought had something relevant to contribute to the discussion of domestic violence.

One such person is a rabbi in my community.One day I heard him talking about the story of Jacob and thought it was a powerful metaphor for any kind of struggle one faces, including DV.

He referred to it as a Jewish 'wounded healer' story. To me, it also parallels so many of the 'dark night of the soul' stories I've read over the years.

I'm not Jewish and, in fact, don't belong to any religious tradition, but I am deeply moved by many of the stories found in various scripture, as I feel their symbolism is powerful and universal.

I studied the great mythologist Joseph Campbell at university, who described the 'hero's journey', a story which appears in some form in almost every religious or tribal tradition. A man or woman leaves their community and sets off alone, into the dark forest (or across a barren desert or ocean deep). Tremendous challenge is encountered and eventually overcome, and only then does he or she emerge a 'hero'.

I would venture to guess that all of us, and most certainly those of us who have experienced violence or abuse, have felt alone and severely tested at some point in our lives. But from these challenges we emerge stronger, wiser and more centered in our own truth.

I'm sharing this guest post today because I believe these words speak to all of us, regardless of our backgrounds. Thank you, Rabbi Rudnick, for sharing with us your grace and wisdom.

* * *

Domestic Violence:
The Un-doing of Shalom

Rabbi Jonathan Rudnick
Jewish Family Services

People often ask what the Jewish belief is regarding hell. Although there is not a theology of hell in Judaism as there is in many Christian denominations, there is a word for hell in Hebrew. The word is gehenom – which means The Valley of Hinom, a valley in Jerusalem where human (children to be exact) sacrifices were offered to the Caananite god Molokh.   Now that is hell!

When people make sacrifices for each other, it is beautiful, even holy – a sanctification.  When human beings sacrifice each other, however, it is ugly, whole-ly unholy – a desecration.

We all know people who are going through hell, and most of the time we don’t even know it.  Domestic violence is one such hell.  Even though I have had the privilege of hearing personal stories, sacred stories, of domestic violence, I cannot imagine living this hell.  For those living this, it must be so hard to imagine anything but living hell.

As a Jew, I have long heard about and felt the centrality of Israel in very particular ways – The Children of Israel, The People Israel, The Land of Israel.  As a chaplain I have come to a deep universal understanding of “Israel” as a central human experience.  I return to the roots of this word “Israel” in The Torah (The Bible) in the story of Jacob wrestling with _________ (you fill in the blank:  the other person, the angel, himself, G-d, …).  

Through the course of what must have been a very long and painful night (preceding an anxiety-laden reunion with brother Esau after 20 years of seething hostility with Esau wanting to kill his brother for “stealing” his birthright), Jacob wrestles/struggles with his interlocutor.   Finally at dawn the fellow struggler seeks to end this physical entanglement and break free.  

Jacob’s response was to condition his letting go of the other on the other giving Jacob a blessing.  The other struggler agreed and blessed Jacob with the new name “Israel”, explained by the text of the Torah:  because you have struggled/wrestled with G-d and with other people (beings Divine and human) and you have been enabled – ENABLED.

And yet Jacob, even with the blessing, limps away from the interaction, injured for life.   I see this as a Jewish “wounded healer” story.

The words of Scripture (from Book of Deuteronomy), “Shema Yisrael”, (Hear O’ Israel) have become central in Jewish prayer and known to many people of different faith traditions. 

From a pastoral and spiritual perspective, I interpret the Biblical context here.  After Moses recounts the giving of the Ten Commandments and implores Israel to obey G-d’s laws and commandments, the first thing he tells the Israelites is to listen to struggle:  Shema Yisrael.  The very next thing he tells them is to love:  v’ahavta.  

In both cases, Moshe speaks to Israel in the singular, in a powerful way addressing each and every one of us, then and for all times.  Only then does Moses continue to talk about their imminent entrance into the Land.  This then may be seen by us as a spiritual prescription for entering our personal promised lands – listening to struggle leads to loving (ourselves and others without illusions of “should have been” and with honest acceptance of “what is” as well as hope for what can yet be) and only then can you be led into your promised land.

We all deserve that shalom (peace and wholeness), especially survivors of domestic violence.


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