2013 was meant to be the year I wrote that children’s book I’d thought about constantly since the birth of my daughter. It was also meant to be the year I got serious about study again. The year my partner and I bought and renovated a house – somewhere we could finally put pictures of our growing family up on the wall, without worrying about what the real estate would say. We were going to lose the baby weight, become rippling machines of muscle and go for runs and climb mountains and….ok, maybe I’m exaggerating now.
What 2013 actually turned into was the year I got divorced. And it shocked me. Like really, really shocked me. I knew we’d had issues but doesn’t everyone? I knew we were fighting more about money and housework, but doesn’t everyone after a baby? We were tired and, I mean…isn’t that what marriage is?
As I write this, I’m thinking about all those protests currently going on around the world in favor of gay marriage. Don’t get me wrong, I am there in spirit. My sign is high above my head, my Facebook cover photo has been a rainbow flag and I share sarcastic gay propaganda whenever I can. Why shouldn’t we have the right to marry the person we love? Seriously.
But with gay marriage comes the inevitable gay divorce. The bitchy, fabulously epic gay divorce. Now I wasn’t legally married to my partner, but my break-(down)up was essentially a divorce. A traumatic battle of wills with the ‘Survivor’ catchphrase of ‘outwit, outplay and outlast’ swirling around constantly in my head. A television show my ex loved and seemed to be taking her cues from. So this is the story of my big, gay divorce. A definitive guide, if you like. Brace yourself; it’s uglier than my ex’s soul. Allegedly.
I’ll spare you most of the details about what happened, but I came home from work one day to find my partner and my 13 month old daughter gone. There was a note on the table explaining they had left because a fight we’d had the previous week was the ‘final straw’. She also said that she was going to get a domestic violence order. Whatever that meant.
I was shocked. My family had gone. My whole life had gone; disappearing into a puff of smoke, leaving only a ransacked house and a lot of weird items missing. Stuff like our decorative bowls, all of her jewelry, Christmas decorations, all mysteriously missing. There was self- raising flour spilt all over the kitchen, cotton buds thrown all over the bathroom floor, clothes and suitcases tossed about the place like she’d left in this massive hurry. Considering I’d been at work all day, it was a confronting and very confusing scene.
So I called my mum. Who else do you call at a time like that? She was shocked. I was shocked. She was shocked again. It was almost unthinkable. We thought my ex had just had a tantrum; that she was just sitting in a shopping centre somewhere, sulking, waiting for me to call or text. Which, mind you, I did. She just didn’t call or text me back.
A couple of hours later, armed with my mum, sister and two mates, I had two police officers in my lounge room, grilling me about what happened that morning. So I told them. I got up and went to work. Nothing out of the ordinary? I told the story once. I told it twice. I told it from the middle to the end and from the end to the beginning. After what was literally hours, one of them said to me that if it was any consolation, he believed me. He told me it sounded like a custody grab and that I should get a lawyer as soon as I could.
So I got a lawyer. A gay lawyer, actually. Friend of a friend. Already being a big fan of ‘The Good Wife’, I was pretty sure I knew how this was all going to go down. My lawyer would kick some ass, there’d be a few brooding looks across the courtroom, we’d hire a hot private investigator who would prove my ex was lying then we’d go for celebratory drinks in a bar close to the court. Done! In less than 45 minutes. This is not what happened at all.
The reality of gay divorce with a side of pending domestic violence order, is that the legal process is a long and expensive one ($440 an hour, billing in six minute increments) and certainly not for the faint-hearted. It’s full of public servants and processes that try to be ‘one size fits all’ but really only fit heterosexuals. Even if there is proof you’re innocent, the process, I’m told, just doesn’t work like it does on TV. There’s no high-fiving and embracing. No dramatic backstory to take your mind off the actual case. There has to be more proof, on top of the proof they already have. And then more proof. Just in case.
I developed this weird, stockholm syndrome-style attachment to my lawyer in the early days. I was so upset by everything and she was the only one who could give me any kind of reasonable answers that I wanted her to hold me, numerous times. I wanted to marry her, just so I knew that she’d be there every time something scary happened. I wanted to hold her hand in court, just so I felt less afraid. She’d send me emails asking for information and not only would I give her the information, I’d also give her a paragraph of musings about the end of my relationship, asking her why she thought it happened and how I’d missed the signs. She, understandably, had no answers.
The good news is, a year into the process, I’ve grown a lot. We’ve dealt with so much shit that I would happily consider her a friend once all this is over. I would definitely consider us to be a brilliant team, kicking ass where we can and just rolling our eyes when my ex does something (allegedly) crazy or mean. Sure, there is still legal stuff my lawyer says to me 12 months later that I have no idea about. It’s like she’s speaking in a foreign language. She’s so patient though. We go over stuff a million times and I’m still like ‘I just don’t understand why …’ and so she explains it. Again.
So here’s the interesting part of the whole story. The domestic violence order that my ex tried to file is the glue that holds this whole debacle together. To her, it meant everything. It was the proof to back up the awful Facebook post she’d written, hours after leaving me, telling all of our friends what a monster I was and how she and my daughter had no choice but to leave. It was the proof she could give to the women at the refuge she had taken my daughter to live in, even though there had been no domestic violence in our home, ever. It was the proof she could give her boss so she wouldn’t have to, well, work. It was the proof she could give Centrelink so she could get benefits for sitting at home, being the ever constant, vigilant victim. It was everything to her. And because so much rode on her having that order, she nearly destroyed me in the process. Nearly.
It’s not a comforting thing knowing that the person you loved a year ago, the mother of your child, is capable of the kind of deception you only see in the movies. As a front row spectator to the horror show, I now know first hand the kind of things people will say to try and prove to their friends that you’re a monster. The way my ex states it, I’m that guy you see in court, chained up behind glass, hurling death threats at his girlfriend and screaming stuff at the police like ‘I neva fuckin tuched ‘er’! I mean, really? I have honestly asked myself a thousand times if there is really anyone out there who could actually believe this about me?
Cue looking at yourself. A lot. My lawyer asked me early on in the proceedings if I had a temper. I told her I’d be a fool to deny it. Did I shout at the computer if it didn’t do what I asked it to do? Damn right. Did I shout obscenities from the safety of my car to other drivers I deemed too slow or too stupid to be on the road? You bet your ass I did. And I still do. But am I the kind of monster who would sit on my pregnant partner’s stomach and shove my fingers down her throat, just because she didn’t do what I wanted? No. I’m not. In fact, there’s a huge difference between someone who has private road rage and someone who beats their partner.
But I guess there’s actually a part of any separation, gay or straight, where you must look seriously at yourself. Who are you? What choices have you made and why have you made them? Can you take these choices confidently into the future with you? Will they stand the test of time? The only question I can answer at the moment is that my daughter is a constant blessing. If in the end, I’ve only gone through this situation so I can appreciate her more than I did before, it’s all been worth it. It will be an ongoing journey I suppose.
I’ll tell you what I do know though. You lose friends. People that meant so much to you one week before your life turned to shit are now no where to be found. I still haven’t figured out why people disappear in situations like this. There are a lot of philosophical sayings I’ve read that try to explain it. Sayings like ‘tough times will always reveal true friends’. It’s still hard to accept but just another bump in the road. At least that’s what they tell me.
The upside of losing friends is that there are people you love and who love you who stick around. They are there. They are asking and listening and telling you funny jokes. They are letting you talk incessantly about your situation and never judging. They take time out of their lives to come to court with you, have lunch with you, never doubting for a second that you’ve been wronged.
These people and these experiences almost make the whole ordeal worth going through. That glimpse of, I don’t know what you’d call it – human spirit maybe, is really humbling to be a part of. Not that I want to make this too ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ or to make anyone hurl in their mouths.
But like I’ve said, in the last 12 months, I’ve really grown up. I’ve learnt the hard way that some love doesn’t work out the way you thought it might. That situations like this happen so that maybe one day, a new love will work out the way you’ve always imagined it would. With kids, dogs, cats, vegetable gardens, house renovations, school drop offs, SUVs and a whole lot of organised chaos exploding around you like land-mines.
I think if anything, this situation might have taught me that no matter how fucked up your life appears today, there’s every chance it will get a whole lot worse tomorrow. But that’s life in the eye of a divorce, right? Outwit, outlast, outplay. Or go home.
Update: After 15 months of adjournments, the Queensland Police withdrew their application for a DVO. No temporary order was ever issued and the evidence supplied by me showed I was at work when the alleged abuse took place. I also now have primary custody of our daughter.