I was sure that the orange of the sunset painted walls of the yoga room tinged Tom and Daniel’s cheeks as Tom, over six foot tall, held Daniel on his shoulders, talking to me. I also saw the unmistakable glow of happiness emanating from my son.
Tom had offered to come to court with me next week as a support. “I won’t say anything,” he’d said. “I won’t eye Chris off or anything. I’ll just be there for you. My energy of love and support alongside you.”
For a moment I felt the thin veil which kept Time Past shy of Time Present, shift. It whispered momentarily aside on a sigh of extreme consciousness, and I now stood in a former life with Tom and Daniel upon a beach, before a setting sun. It was a surreal sense of de ja vue.
“Thank you, Tom,” I said.
But I didn’t want Tom to come to court with me, to wait, wait and wait. I didn’t want him to see me called before a Magistrate, and Chris. I didn’t want Tom to witness whatever may unfold because I was sure that ugliness would ensue. I had sensed from Chris, since he made application to the courts and it was served on me, more arrogance than usual. His posture on pick-ups and drop-offs now displayed a sense of “upper hand”. And I did not want Tom to see me in such a raw human moment as begging the courts may I remain Daniel’s sole guardian, and negotiating which days Chris would have Daniel – and please can he not leave Daniel with his girlfriend Tracy, or Aunty Karen. I would be ashamed for Tom to know I had unease leaving Daniel with Chris but still did, through perceived obligation – and more, that I had not the strength to enforce Chris to follow my word as Daniel’s mother, of what instinctively I felt was right for our child, my one and only son.
“I don’t want to waste your time,” I said to Tom. “You don’t know how long it will take or where we’ll be in line – probably we’ll be at the end of the list because of Chris’ surname. It’s okay. I’ll be fine,” I smiled, to convince him. “Seriously, I’ll be fine.”
Tom lifted his arms and brought Daniel down. Daniel was not satisfied to be knee-high and demanded to be collected by me. With Daniel on my hip, I gave thanks to Tom. “I really appreciate the income. It helps us like you wouldn’t believe.” Again Tom had not kept his word of how much he would pay me – he’d paid me more.
“I care about you, Noeleen,” he said.
The discomfort I felt at that oddity was deeply confusing. I turned away.
“Okay, good luck then,” Tom said as I walked Daniel to the front door of his yoga room.
“Thank you, Tom,” I said, and walked away.
When we arrived home, I saw a note stuffed into the flywire of our front door. I dislodged it, put the key into our lock, and as Daniel tumbled through, read the note.
“Address to Neoleen
To clear Tracy’s name in the all documentations relating to the case between Chris & Neoleen about access to said child Daneil (middle, surname).
If Neoleen can not prove the statement of child abused of all documentation relating to Tracy they will be legal action taken in the order of character deformation.
If Neoleen cannot provide child abused alligations to be true then a written apology to Tracy is required
Sign by the Lawer & Neoleen
Date of Detials”
I stood, staring at it. It seemed to be both a demand for apology and a threat of defamation proceedings against me.
I hadn’t made claims of abuse by Tracy. I had simply stated in my affidavit, in point form, that Daniel was returned to me with vacant eyes too often to ignore; that I learned Chris left Daniel with Tracy; that I asked him not to and he promised he wouldn’t – but still did; that Daniel cried fretfully at night, “Tracy in the dark!” to which Chris responded that “they’ve just got opposing energies” and, “You just jealous, that’s all”; that Chris said because of the alignment of the stars at Daniel’s birth, he won’t follow me and Chris will take custody when Daniel is out of nappies.
I had seized upon the opportunity Chris’ application gave me, in my Response, to tell all. Whereas I had quietly struggled with our difficulties under the radar, as Chris had brought our existence before the Courts I’d decided to air everything so that a Magistrate could make a wise choice of who Daniel was best raised by.
I guess there was the inference of child abuse… Tension, fear, anxiety seized me.
Daniel doubled back from indoors and looked up at me, the note in my hand. Only 10 minutes previous, we had been safe, well, cared for. It seemed life would not allow me a warm moment for longer than two seconds.
I dragged Daniel’s pusher through our front door, rested it in the hallway, then went to my desk. Obsessively, I began correcting the grammar and English of Chris’ note. I then read it again. He wanted me to prove my seeming allegations of child abuse. I couldn’t prove anything, and Chris knew it. And more than anyone, I guess, given Tracy’s background: Tracy knew it.
I had read many books on the Cultural Revolution, and wondered who it was that required the written apology – Chris or Tracy. Tracy wasn’t Asian, but her abusive former husband was. I felt it was Chris who was driving for an apology, but inspired by Tracy’s outrage at reading my Response to Application. I wondered if Chris had to write apologies as a child, if he’d worn humiliating words slung around his neck…. and if he obtained joint guardianship of Daniel, he would do that to our son.
“Hungry,” Daniel said. I think he wanted to distract me from my freeze in fear, staring at the handwritten page. Could Chris succeed in defamation proceedings against me? Would that mean jail or a fine, being punishment by disadvantagement – a sentence, really, to 2-minute noodles for months.
While Daniel ate, me sitting with him – as I sat tense, cold, drained, my flywire door flung open and Chris strode in, fuming. I still always forgot to lock it, Chris still always strode through as if it were his second home.
Daniel and me looked up at him, stunned. We both felt Chris’ rage.
“You rang Aunty Karen!” he spat at me hatefully. I really think Chris hated me, who I was in his lifetime. What I was guilty of, I wasn’t sure, but I was clearly an aggravation to Chris. I felt terrible inside.
“Yes. I just asked her nicely –“
“You ring and leave message on tape. That evidence!”
“Her husband Leon come home and ring me angry. You cause me embarrassment! Embarrassment in all my family! YOU ring him tell him what to do!” I couldn’t process Chris’ rapid spit of words, felt confused, couldn’t respond. Chris stepped closer to Daniel and me, suddenly large, flared. I got up from my seated position. Daniel, eyes wide, stared terrified at his father.
“Chris, she was hitting Daniel with a stick. Daniel is our son.” I thought these words would explain themselves, would land upon Chris with logical placement.
“She hit all the kids with a stick!”
“That her job! She look after neighbourhood kids and now YOU cause a problem! YOU spoil everything! She cheap, $4 an hour! You want too much!”
I knew Chris paid his sister when he dropped Daniel over there. He’d tried to claim the money back when the judgment of backpay of child support came through for the year that he denied Daniel was his son, which judgment he appealed.
I felt guilty. At the same time, I was horrified at the thought of Karen hitting other children and doing who knows what to their knees, without their parents knowing. A part of me, while standing weakly before Chris and blasted by his rage, was glad.
“Leon rip the tape from machine, tear it apart and put it in the bin!” Chris went on.
“I’m sorry” I said, at the mental picture that brought. How excessive.
“You done it now! You say you want help but you don’t want me leave Daniel with Tracy! Now I can’t leave him with Karen! Leon ban Daniel from his home! Daniel BANNED! No more Aunty Karen for Daniel!” I sensed this was meant to punish us somehow, but it was wonderful. I clearly wouldn’t need a Magistrate to make that rule.
“Chris…” But really, I didn’t know what to say.
Chris hadn’t looked at Daniel through the whole exchange. Now we stood together before our son in silence.
“YOU EMBARRASS ME!” he hurled from some depth of himself, and strode out.
The flywire door slammed shut. I began trembling. Daniel stared me, I guess wondering what I would do next. I was supposed to be strong, the leader, to show him the way. But tears came to my eyes and bled down my cheeks.
“Well,” I said to Daniel with a big smile on my face, tears streaming. “You don’t have to go to Aunty Karen’s any more. You heard Daddy – no more Aunty Karen’s!” And smiled harder.
I then gulped. I went to the toilet and sat there, shivering.