Brief thoughts on domestic abuse

In my life before lululemon I was a domestic violence family law attorney. I’ll never forget the first time I represented a survivor in court.

She’d come to my office the week before to prep for our appearance. She was smart and articulate and poised. She warned me that her kids’ dad, let’s call him Jim, was manipulative and charming. She said he and his own dad had a couple of good rackets going including one where they took her kids out shopping with them to steal from department stores. Grandpa would cause a distraction in the back of the store while playing with and riling up the kids, while dad would calmly walk out, undetected, with an armful of merchandise.* She shared that people who knew him loved him and the people who knew both of them could never believe the stories she’d tell them about him. The real him.

This is a standard description of many a domestic abuser.

Before our appearance I met Jim in the hallway. He winked at me as he shook my hand. He smiled.

I swiftly whipped out my paperwork and fast- talked him through how it was going to go down once we got into the courtroom. I let him know we were leaving with permanent orders and he was going to start paying child support immediately and that if he failed to, or refused, I’d attach his wages and take it from him instead.

I wasn’t there to fuck around.

Instantly his demeanor changed. His eyes narrowed and he leaned backward and put his hands up over his face as if to waive me off.

I told him we could agree now or we could fight it out inside but reminded him that he was unrepresented and I’d be speaking on my client’s behalf. The game has changed, I told him. She has a lawyer now.**

He turned his back on me and told me “I ain’t signing shit.” Then walked away.

Inside, our court appearance went just as I anticipated. Our opposing party was a bumbling fool and I was feisty and articulate.

I had no idea what I was doing.

Just as things started to go down hill for Jim, a commotion erupted in the back of the courtroom. There was Jim’s dad, dramatically clutching his chest and gasping for air. He rose up out of his seat then crashed sideways onto the floor in the aisle. When I looked over at my client in disbelief, she just rolled her eyes.

The hearing stopped. The man was dragged out of the courtroom by the bailiff, the ambulance was called, the whole thing.

The judge told us to come back in a week and when we did, we got everything we wanted.

Just as we suspected, Grandpa’s “heart attack” was fake.

Domestic abusers are cowardly and pathetic. They are the most vile expression of insecurity and incompetence. They often have tons of bravado and machismo but it’s always a thinly veiled cover for how terrible they feel about themselves inside. They cling to power and control by exploiting and manipulating those who are vulnerable, and soft and trusting.

I sat in countless tiny rooms with them to satisfy our meet and confer requirement. I talked to tons of them on the phone and faced a few dozen in court appearances. They always came in hot with conviction and a sense of valiance, only to be crippled by my lawyer suit and the fancy letters after my last name. The way the authority of my title and position hobbled them only verified their complete absence of self esteem and self worth. And that their aggression and abuse was feigned masculinity. False dominance.

Desperate. Despicable.

I believe in redemption and rehabilitation and with few exceptions, believe people are born good. I never condemned my opposing parties as irredeemable but I certainly acknowledged that they needed a lot of work to recover as decent human beings.

There is no defending a domestic abuser. There is no justification for abuse and there is no separating an act of domestic abuse from the person who committed it. You can’t beat your spouse at night then walk into your job the next morning and be an honorable person.

I’m tired of being poised and diplomatic in my analysis of the Trump administration and the current leadership of the Republican Party. I think they are both disgraceful and disgusting. They’re all clinging to power at whatever cost; frequently exploiting those who are most vulnerable to prop up their otherwise pathetic contributions to being alive. They do more harm than good. They continue to defend and excuse the indefensible and inexcusable. This latest bullshit is some of the most alarming but it’s equally just more of the same.

The only positive thing I can say about Trump is that he’s straightforward with all of us about who he is. He never tried to play us with a fake public persona. He’s honestly and transparently a misogynist, autocrat, racist, moron.

I almost have more disdain for the ones who are trying to masquerade as martyrs of liberty or defenders of democracy or heroes of the American dream. That look on Paul Ryan’s face, lately, makes me nauseous.

I really don’t care what contributions John Kelly has made to this country’s military. No amount of professional accomplishment, accolades or decoration can justify being a racist, or a liar, or a defender of abuse, of any kind.

I’m tired of feeling sad and anxious and disappointed.

I’m ready to feel feisty, and fired up, and ready to fight.

* I left my lawyer job and now have a career in retail and was surprised to learn this a pretty common approach to theft- who knew?

** I find the disparity between the outcomes for those who are represented and those who are not deeply problematic for a variety of reasons but as I always felt I was on the right side of the moral good, I took advantage of this particular systemic inequity.

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