You have to say I am forgiven again and again
until it becomes the story you believe about yourself.
– Cheryl Strayed
This morning, I stood alone in court, asking to take six little letters off of my daughter’s birth certificate. So she’ll hopefully never know they were there. So I will hopefully never have to tell her why they had to disappear. Never have to say out loud to her the reason she has three names where four used to be.
Her father, the person who picked that name and is the reason it has to be struck from my life and hers, was a no show.
He had to sign the form requesting the hearing. He had to sign it twice because I tried to file in 2017 but couldn’t bring myself to face a stranger with the story of why it needed to be changed and so the forms sat, in a drawer in the dining room, for two years, unfiled. They sat in that drawer so long that the required forms had changed slightly and I had to have him sign the new ones.
When I presented him with the new papers this summer, he glared at me. He was mad. Irritated. Lashed out at me. But I held them in front of him and said please please please don’t make this harder.
I stood still and held them steady on the table in front of him and waited.
He signed. He said he would show up to do the right thing.
I finally waited in line and wrote the painfully large check for the filing fee and got the officially stamped copy two months ago. I sent him the date and asked him to pay for the newspaper post. He refused and told me that this was my thing. Not his. Mine.
He said some cruel things and stared at me with eyes that cut me to the bone and I had to leave work for ten minutes to cry in my car. As he watched me get into my car, sobbing, he posted on social media that he needed an academy award to hand to someone.
Four days ago, when I reminded him that the hearing was this week, he attacked me in email and said I never told him. Said if I paid him some money he’d see what he could do about showing up. Said I was harassing him and bullying him.
When I sent that dry, fact based reminder email four days ago, I had made the mistake of asking him to not salt the wound with any reply other than he would be there or he would not. It was like I opened up my arm in front of a shark.
I know better.
Avalanches of salt.
Instantly, again, I was transported back.
To when I sat on my bed one summer day in 2016 and read email after email between him and another woman who he’d been secretly meeting with, who he’d been sexting with, who he’d asked for advice on how to propose, who he’d sent photos of the nursery I was making for our daughter, who he stopped off to meet with on work runs to only hug her while I was home nursing our daughter.
In the middle of those emails I learned that they were going to name their daughter that name if they had stayed together so many decades earlier when they had dated, when they had first been in love.
She brought it up to him and asked if that’s what we were going to name our daughter. I could piece together that it had been days later when he added it to our name list and said he’d just been sitting around trying to think about musical names. That he’d just thought of that one and really liked it.
I remember the color of the comforter I sat on as I read that email and the way my leg had started cramping from sitting in that position for so long as my daughter napped and I excavated piles of information that I never ever wanted to know.
I struggled for months and months with what to do but I knew in my very core that that name had to go. So I had to stop pretending there was any way around it. I asked family to stop calling her by that name. I took down the birth announcement I had lovingly stuck to the refrigerator during her first week of life.
Her. The most perfect and miraculous thing in my life could not possible remind me… for all of my life, for all of her life….of his lies and betrayals.
The name had to go. The name has to go.
He begrudgingly agreed. For years. He would get terse and short with me if it came up, but he would say, go do it -fine.
Today, though, there I stood: alone. Tears welled up in in my eyes.
I’d spent days praying – yes, praying – that his no-show would mean they’d grant the request instead of that it would be denied and I’d have to refile. Pay another $435 dollar fee and another $130 to post a public notice (public!) to give anyone a chance to object. Take him to court to make him show up and consent, again.
I received a call two days ago that her father hadn’t signed the form in all the required places. From the judge. The actual judge. My stomach fell.
No I said. He definitely signed it.
The judge looked again. I had missed a signature.
Oh, never mind he said. You can just sign it when you come.
I said, as I scrunched my face anxiously and braced myself, But he said he’s not coming now. I don’t know that it will matter if I show up.
I held my breath.
He signed the form. You’re good. You sign it when you’re here and it’ll be done.
I exhaled. I don’t even remember what I said next or how the conversation ended.
You can’t stop this now I thought. You can’t, also, take this from me. You can try but I can do this alone, now, without you.
It is done. As with most things, without you.
I have forgiven a lot of him in the last four years. A lot. Way more than the incident that led to this court date. I tried for years to still make it work. Even now, as he’s attacked me on all fronts and posted lies about me online, I’ve held onto the knowledge that those things speak about him and not about me. I’ve pitied him the kind of life that makes people damage the ones who love them so easily and so thoroughly instead of dealing with their own pain.
But this? This. I don’t know. The simple fact he would extort me over this.
That he actually didn’t show up, fully believing, as I had for months now, that it would mean I had wasted all my time and money and would be stuck with that name attached to my most precious love. Knowing it would be the thing that hurts me the most.
Maybe someday, surely someday, I can forgive him for being so unable to deal with his own damage that he left me, alone and in tears, to have to decide what to do with these six letters that I want my daughter to never ever know. That he left me alone to send out a sterile courtroom prayer into the air that his deeds don’t have to taint the very thing that matters most to me.
So she never has to know that her mother’s love and faith and trust and what brought her beautiful stubborn intuitive self into this world was a yarnball of lies and deception and pain.
So she could hang onto the fantasy that things just didn’t work out.
I will always sugarcoat him for her. At least until she’s an adult and comes to me with questions and will, surely by then, have seen him for who he really is no matter how hard I try to shield her from that.
I will protect her image of him as long as I can – as I am doing now even when she looks up at me and says, of him, I hope he’s not lying, because my alert, attentive, smart little girl has already seen him lie too many times.
Even through those heartbreaking moments he will benefit from my maturity and integrity and my marrow-deep love for her. He’s not lying, sweetie, he just got confused.
But forgiveness? Right now? For this loneliest of moments? My first time in front of a judge and for this humiliating reason? That kind of forgiveness feels like a make-believe planet in a make-believe show on a make-believe network right now.
As I have done before with some of the hardest things to forgive of him, I will float in the integrity of doing the right thing each day, minute by minute, and hope that a wash of understanding and forgiveness will come over me in an unexpected moment of reflection. That I will someday feel the lightness of the sharp pain suddenly not being there. The absence of that deep ache like wings, even if only momentarily.
That someday, eventually, I will be taken back to that hopeless lonely memory of my feet on that courtroom floor and my eyes damp and pleading, of me shaking as I signed the form in front of the judge and the clerk, first trying with a pen that wouldn’t work and then fumbling for another before finally scrawling my name on the required line.
Someday, eventually, I will remember all of that and think of how sad it is for him that he can’t be present to do the right things. I will forgive him the pain it caused me and my daughter. Because it was never really about us.
I will float in the daily doing of what is right and necessary, knowing that I will forgive, someday.
That I will forgive myself for needing to be in that courtroom, alone, sad and angry and lost (again), because of him.
That I will forgive myself.