Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Chapter Ends

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Yeah, the title of my post says it all, I think. This chapter of our family's "saga" ended yesterday and, as I told my Aunt Wanda, the new one starts today, and we have a much greater hand in writing it ourselves.

I struggled to get out of bed yesterday morning, feeling the weight of the past six months squarely on my shoulders. I assessed my condition, both physically and mentally, and decided that I felt like I had a funeral to go to later on.

I went into the bathroom and, instead of taking inventory in the mirror as I'm prone to doing, I just tossed the hand towel over it so I wouldn't have to see myself first thing. I showered, toweled off, brushed my teeth, took my meds, and removed the towel from the mirror so I could comb my hair. I tried really hard not to look at my own eyes, focusing instead on my hair. At the time, I was aware of what I was doing, but didn't understand it. I think now that I was afraid if I looked in my own eyes, I'd break down, because deep down I know that I'm not as strong and crusty as I'd like people to think I am.

I ironed myself a blouse, and ironed a t-shirt for Lisa. We dressed in silence -- not completely unusual but there was definitely a difference. And frankly, that was okay with me, surprisingly enough. As Lisa prepared to go, I went to her to kiss her goodbye and wish her a good, productive day at work. She put her arms around me and just held me for a long, long time. Then she kissed me, told me she loved me, and she was gone. I stood there watching her back out of the driveway and thought to myself how lucky I am to have found her, to have someone so completely compatible with me, and someone who knows just what I need. She knows when I need to talk, when I need to listen, and when I just need silence. She has a remarkable gift.

I drove the 75 miles south to my Aunt Wanda's, arriving around 10:00. She was still in her robe, looking like I felt. Older. Sadder. Paler. More hunched over. We chatted for a bit and she went upstairs to shower. I sat on the front porch with a cup of coffee, her 22 year old Siamese cat in my lap, and just watched the birds at the bird feeder, the woodchucks poking their heads up and down in the green growth of the field across the street, and the neighbor walk by with her dog. I resisted thinking about what lay ahead.

We left to make the 20 mile drive further south at about 12:35 and arrived in Bath at about 12:50. We both had to use the restroom, as our nerves combined with the coffee we'd had earlier were working overtime against us. We arrived at the courthouse at 1:05 PM, went through security, and got on the elevator to go to the third floor. We both avoided eye contact.

As we got off the elevator, we saw my Aunt Peggy, who's spoken to neither of us for the past week for reasons that aren't entirely clear to us. She took on a posture that was clearly defensive, and I decided that I just didn't need to get into it, so I sat in the vacant chair as far away from her as possible. Wanda asked Peggy how long she'd been there, and Peggy snapped back some response about a few minutes. Wanda asked Peggy if she'd seen Le, and Peggy just looked coldly at Wanda. The Crime Victim's Advocate, Ron (a most excellent human being) arrived just behind us.

Because she was going to read Le's victim's impact statement to the court (at Le's request) Wanda got the statement out of her purse and started looking it over. A few minutes later, the elevator opened and my oldest daughter, Le, and Le's current...uh...something (Vincent) got off the elevator. Le and I have been on the outs ever since she found out my father gave me power of attorney, and that he gave me a CD-ROM with pictures of her that I was quite sure she didn't want anyone seeing. She's been furious with me.

I believe in leaving doors open as much as possible, so as Wanda hugged Le and said hello to her, I gave her a brief squeeze also and said hello. She spit something really nasty at me, that I really didn't catch, and I just moved away. And there we sat, the seven of us, lost in our own thoughts -- a few words of nervous and very tense small talk here and there breaking the palpable silence.

At precisely 1:15 we were ushered into the courtroom and instructed to sit in the pink seats in the rear of the courtroom. We spread across them, in an effort to present a unified front (as Wanda put it). From the aisle in it went Wanda, Vincent, Le, Peggy, Ron, Michelle, Me.

My father was brought in a short time later, in hospital greens, a leather shackle around his waist, and handcuffed to the shackle. He looked old, frail, and scared. He took inventory of who was in attendance, not really meeting any eyes. Peggy sat and glared at him, and he returned the glare with an almost imperceptible shake of his head.

"All rise, court is now in session" was called out, and the Honorable Judge Joseph Latham entered the courtroom. He instructed the District Attorney to proceed, and the D.A. briefed the judge on the plea bargain that had been entered on April 20th, before that very same judge, in which my father pled guilty to one felony count of unlawful dealings of a sexual nature with a child under 12 (the gist of the charge). In return for the guilty plea, he would receive two years' imprisonment in a state prison, with three years of post-release supervision. However, the D.A. then advised the court that the plea deal was entered into with a provision that my father not be re-arrested, and that my father had, in fact, been re-arrested on May 25th and charged with second degree criminal contempt for violating the order of protection. With the re-arrest on the record, the D.A. told the judge that my father had agreed to a sentence "enhancement" of an additional year.

My father was given the new "deal" to sign, with his lawyer quietly advising him of what he was signing. After the documents were signed, the D.A. then told the court that the victim, via her mother, would like to present a "Victim's Impact Statement" but that the statement would be read by the defendant's sister. The judge had no problem with the stand-in, and urged my Aunt Wanda to come forth.

Standing at the podium, Wanda asked the court “May I speak?” The judge motioned his permission with a wave of the hand, and Wanda said “Richard is my brother. I love my brother very much. I hate what he did, but he’s still my brother. I hate the sin, but love the sinner.” She then began to read Le’s statement. I think this was Wanda’s way of letting the court know that she wasn’t taking sides against her brother, and maybe also serving notice to the D.A. that she wasn’t about to be used as a pawn to make it look worse for her brother than it already was. She’s a smart cookie, Wanda is.

Le’s statement was powerful, addressing issues of a child’s trust of parent, and a parent using that child’s trust and love to do terrible things to her. It talked about all of the vindictive things my father has done since his original arrest – attempts to have her deported, attempts to impugn her character among those family members who fervently supported her, the stalking, the interference in her life, and the attempted sabotage of her college education. These things, she said, were seemingly meant to punish her and Vanessa for the things HE had done.

It should be noted that Le asked Wanda to read her statement because she is close to Wanda and also because the more nervous or frustrated she gets, the worse her English becomes, and she wanted the message, not the delivery to be what the judge heard and paid attention to.

After Wanda finished with the statement, the judge spoke briefly to my father, expressing his desire that my father get help, and that he spend the next three years thinking about what he can do to better his life. I allowed myself to briefly hope that the judge would really throw the book at my father for his crimes, adding more than the one year “enhancement” that the D.A. had asked for. Why? Because it’s for his own good. And because if/when he’s released, he’ll look for Le and Vanessa again.

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And then the judge gave voice to the thoughts that I’ve been writing about, but dared not utter. “You may well die in prison,” the judge said – and the sob escaped from me. My daughter began to cry, I began to cry, trying frantically to control my emotions, without success. My father was led away to begin serving his three year sentence, and suddenly Wanda bolted for the door in the rear of the room, unable to hold her own sobs in any longer. Nobody moved, everyone sat there stunned, until somehow I found my feet and my wits, and I literally leaped over everyone’s feet and went out of the courtroom to find Wanda, sitting in a chair in the hallway, sobbing like a baby. I just sat and put my arms around her and held her, and we cried together.

Le and Vincent were the next ones out of the courtroom – and they went straight to the elevator, without so much as a sideways glance at the elderly woman who had read the words of condemnation for her brother in the courtroom, and they left. I was furious at the helpless feeling I had that Le had used Wanda and now had no more use for her, not even enough human compassion to give her a quick hug, tell her thank you, and promise to call later.

Peggy came out a minute or so later, spitting and sputtering something about some letter she supposedly wrote to the judge. Peggy had wanted to speak, to deliver an impact statement, that contained whiney shit about how mean my father had been to her when she was a child, more than 60 years ago. As if the judge would think anything in that letter was apropos to the situation.

I heard my daughter and Ron come out of the courtroom last. Michelle just stood there, red-eyed, but achingly beautiful and vulnerable looking at the same time. Ron stepped forward and gave Wanda and I each a hug, and instructed me to go buy Wanda and Michelle an ice cream and just give ourselves a break. Good advice.


We got ice cream, said good-bye to Michelle, and left Bath. We stopped off at a garden center on the way for a little “retail therapy” and happily left with our purchases. We got back to Wanda’s at around 5:00, and sat on the front porch and talked about the day’s events.

Even though I didn’t want to make the drive, I finally left Wanda’s house and headed for home. It was after 9:00 by the time I got there. I walked inside, Lisa put her arms around me, and I just sort of went limp and stood there and took it.

I had bizarre dreams last night. My father was in some, the woman I had my first real same-sex relationship with was in some, my mother was in some, and I realized this morning that all of my dreams last night revolved around people who left me, in some way or another. They weren’t traumatic dreams, nightmares, or anything other than fuzzy dreams with these people in them. Amazing how the subconscious works as we sleep, isn’t it?

I promised myself that I won’t be looking at or attending to anything of my father’s until Monday of next week. I need mental hygiene time off, and I’m going to give it to myself.

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I brought an old bike that I just spent $130 fixing up into work this morning, right into my office. At lunchtime, I rode the perimeter road around the campus, which is 2.2 miles. I love to ride my bike. It takes a lot of energy, burns a lot of calories, and takes all of the fight and angst right out of me, and leaves me feeling mentally recharged (and physically drained, in a good way).

I think it’ll be what the doctor ordered for the next few days.

And so, we begin to write a new chapter.

I don't have a lot to do at work these days, so I'm going through our DVD collection, alphabetically. Monday I watched And the Band Played On and Wednesday I watched Beaches. Today it's The Bourne Identity.



And tomorrow, I’m off. Maybe I’ll clean out the inside of my car. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll sit and watch TNT reruns of ER, Judging Amy, NYPD Blue, and Law and Order. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll take a nap. Maybe I won’t. The point is, I’m not going to do anything I don’t want to do or should do. Only what I want to do. I’m sticking only to the pleasure center tomorrow.

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