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Salem's Story - Trigger Warning

When I met her I thought I’d won the lottery. There was something about the way she looked at me that made me feel like she really wanted to know who I was. We’d met at Tim Hortons for coffee after 3 weeks of texting religiously. She was late, and I waited an hour and a half for her to find someone to sit her kids. But in that moment I didn’t care, because she was gorgeous and vibrant, this tiny little thing that walked like she owned the world and smiled like she loved every part of it.

It wasn’t long before I knew I wanted a life with her. She’d woken me from a sleep I hadn’t known I’d been in since my wife died, and the opportunity to know someone again intimately, especially someone as wistful as her, was overpowering. And perhaps at another time I would’ve shied from a woman with two young boys, but the more time I spent with them the more I grew to love them, too. 

The first summer of our relationship was filled with romantic moments and date nights. We spent as much time as we could together. We both worked, and a quiet evening at home with her was better than anything else I could imagine. But the honeymoon didn’t last, as most don’t, and I couldn’t have anticipated the downward spiral my life was destined for. 

The first red flag that I can remember came in the early summer of our first year. She’d found a sitter for the night and we went out together with my friends. We were drinking, having a good time. She seemed to be able to take the party well. And that’s why it caught me off guard when she started screaming at me. “Salem, we’re done!” she said. I tried to calm her down, asked her what was wrong, but she kept telling me “we’re done” and calling me a "shady prick", among other things. When I finally got the story from her I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. She claimed she saw me with another woman. The other people who were there thought she was crazy, because they all knew what she said she saw never happened. But eventually she calmed down.

The next day I asked her what she thought had happened. I wanted to know if she’d really believed it, or if she’d imagined it. I couldn’t fathom how someone who make something like that up, or why she would. She said, “I guess I imagined it.” I still don’t know what she really believes happened that night.

The second red flag followed shortly after. A few months into our new relationship I began to notice there was never any money for groceries. When the supplies grew low, she’d say, “We need to go shopping but we have no money,” to which I’d answer, “It’s okay, we need to eat, so we’ll just put it on my visa and pay it off next month.” Maybe I should’ve asked why she had no credit, no card, no money in her bank account. Maybe I should’ve asked a lot of things, but I didn’t. At four months our relationship was still new, and we’d already overcome the first hurdle. I didn’t want to rock the boat, but I also didn’t want to go any further into debt. So one day I approached her about it. I had a visa with a $5,000 limit, and it was nearly full since the beginning of our relationship 4 months prior. I told her we needed to be more careful with our finances, or we would bury ourselves in debt. I said I wanted to work together to find solutions to the problem. I knew that most of her money went to buy alcohol, but I didn’t want to point that out.

She drank most every day, and often started as early as 10AM. She told me I was taking it too seriously and I needed to just live life.

We’d been together a year when we started seriously looking at houses. Sure, we’d had our ups and downs, but it’d been mostly good. We were growing together, building a life together. And by this time I’d fallen in love with her boys as much as her. Even if I’d wanted to leave her, I didn’t want to lose the boys.

We found a house that was perfect - or I thought so, anyhow. It was the only one we’d agreed on, and she excitedly called my parents with me to ask them to co-sign for the mortgage. My credit was good, but since hers was not, the banks had told me I’d need another signatory. We started packing, gave our notice, and prepared to start a new life in a new town together. It was supposed to be the best time of our lives. But a few weeks before the move, she started questioning the decision. Eventually she told me she wasn't going to move and asked me to cancel the deal. But we’d already closed, and it was too late to back out. I asked her why she hadn’t said anything sooner if she had doubts. She said she only did it to please me. I was devastated. Owning my own home had been my dream for a number of years.

For a week we fought about it, ugly fights that left me on the verge of tears, hiding in my truck, whiskey glass in hand, because I couldn’t face the anger in her eyes, I couldn’t listen to the insults, the names, the yelling. I couldn’t bear it. And finally I told her one night I was leaving, and if she was willing, I’d be back the next night to try to work it out again. I meant to keep going back, keep trying, right up until all my things were packed and it was time to say goodbye. I didn’t want to endure her anger anymore, but I wasn’t ready to give up, either. But the next night when I returned to the house would be one of the worst nights of my life.

I called my dad on the way home from work. I told him what I was doing, and as always, he offered the support and encouragement only a dad can. When I got to the house she was there, but the kids weren’t. I told her I was willing to talk it out, but I wasn’t going to let her treat me the way she had, and if she continued, then I would pack my things and leave. I don’t now remember all the details, but I ended up packing, not talking.

I remember carrying my things from the house while she yelled and cried, begged me not to leave, called me all sorts of things I hope no one else ever has to hear. At one point she threw the BBQ from the porch in a fit of rage. But when the night really changed for the worse was when she said, “I feel so hopeless.” She went to the kitchen, and in the slow crawl of time as your heart races from you, I watched her repeatedly draw a knife across her wrists. I tried to talk her out of it. When that failed, I forcefully took the knife from her hands. She tried to reach for it again. She fought me to get away. I held my arms around her shoulder and tried to call the personal number of a police officer she knew. That was the first time I’d tried to reach out for help, and when I discovered I had the wrong number, I felt a feeling of such utter hopelessness that I did not know what to do. I wanted to be away from her. I didn’t want to endure the abuse anymore. But I knew I couldn’t leave her there to die. I felt utterly trapped.

When she promised me she wouldn’t hurt herself again, I let her go. But she locked herself in the travel trailer just outside the door, and it was only later I’d find out she had hidden a knife in there, too.

I called her dad, and he came and talked her out. The next day we talked over our relationship. She seemed so utterly dejected, and perhaps that’s why I took sympathy on her. Maybe that’s why I chose to stay. She promised me she’d change, that we wouldn’t fight anymore, that she understood that we had to do something about this. She begged me to let her come to the new house me, and I reluctantly gave in, though my better self was cursing me for having that moment of weakness. I knew better.

We were living in the new house for barely a month before the fighting got so bad again that I couldn’t take it anymore. It was around the same time we found out she was pregnant with my son. She’d quit drinking, and that may have been a factor. It was a stressful time. We spent one weekend in silence after a particularly bad fight. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk to her, but all my attempts to open communication had been met with such hostile attacks that I gave up. Finally, after a weekend of silent hell, I told her that she either needed to find new ways to relate to me or move out. As she packed up the boys and drove away, I couldn’t help but wonder why that was her choice when the alternative was so much better. It wasn’t until later I’d find out that the only part of that she understood was “move out.”

That separation was a bitter sweet time. I had freedom again, and quiet when I wanted it. I could breathe easy and ignore her messages if I wanted to. I didn’t have to worry about her jealously looking over my shoulder, or wonder when her next angry outburst would come. I was free at last! But I still wasn't ready to give up hope. On advice from my mom, I told her I wanted to talk, to work things out, but it wasn’t safe for me to talk to her without a mediator present. I told her I wanted to go to counselling together, and to my surprise, she booked an appointment.

Three and a half months later would find her moving back in, and things were on much better terms. And it did last awhile. She was sober, our son was on the way, and it was easy to forget about all the heartache and trauma that came before. Easy to forget the angry fights. Easy to forget how much I’d hated her in those moments when she’d made me feel so worthless and small that I could barely hold my head up.

My son was born February 26, and that day marked the end of those good times. No sooner was she out of the hospital, and then she went back to drinking.

One night she woke me up. “I think I have a problem,” she said. “I need to show you something.” She took me around the house and showed me where she’d been stashing her empties. She’d been drinking at home while I was at work. I’d had my suspicions; I’d confronted her about it; but I hadn’t known how bad it had become. I hadn’t know she couldn’t go a day without drinking again. I felt sorry for her in that moment. She had so many reasons to drink, and none of them good enough, but reasons, none the less. I wanted her to get help, and tried to come up with solutions. But while she promised once again that she’d change, she didn’t.

I have some horrible memories from that time, things I wish I could forget. My months old son, awake at odd times of the night as only a baby knows how to be, and his drunk mom holding him. I didn’t dare take my eyes off them, not for a second. I didn’t dare try to take him from her, because she would’ve lashed out, and he could’ve been hurt. I listened as she called me “asshole” “Shady prick” “dick”, and accused me of being worse than her ex who assaulted her. I listened as she told my son that I would abandon him, as she said to him, just barely a few months old, “Say goodbye, Daddy” in the twisted voice of someone who wants only to wound in the worst possible way. I listened, and I endured it for him. When I refused to engage with her, she took my cellphone from my hand and threw it across the room, cracking the screen. She later promised to replace the screen, but she never did.

I remember one night we came home from grocery shopping late.

As we were putting away the groceries we were arguing about something, and it became hostile. I remember her pushing me, and when I brought my arms up to stop her, she flinched back and threw her hands up in the air like I’d tried to hit her, even though I never had, not in the whole time we’d been together. Shortly after, she threw a box of frozen chicken at my head. Whatever happened after that, I don’t remember it. But I do recall sitting on the floor by my front door, the blue Christmas lights from outside flooding light across the entrance, and I thought to myself that I hated her so much I just wished she would leave - leave and never come back. I didn’t want anything more to do with her.

I finally thought our lives might change for the better when I came home from work one day to find a close friend at the house. The friend had come over to find her drunk, alone at home with our 3 boys. Together they’d been calling treatment centres and detox centres, looking for somewhere that would take her. Together my partner and I called my parents to come get the boys, and that night I drove her 4 hours away to detox. She stayed there for 3 days, and when she came home she was excited to change her life, to make things better and be a happier person.

It didn’t last. That was just last fall, only a year ago. In the spring I went to school to finish my apprenticeship. While I was gone I’d often call home and knew that she was drinking. I could tell by the way she talked. She’d ramble on about things that didn’t make sense, or she’d talk to me in scattered sentences. She’d yell at the kids in the background, too, and in moments like these I’d have to take a deep breath and believe it would be okay. I raised my concerns with the MCFD at that time. I reached out to a social worker I knew and asked for support. The next month I was back home from school, and we had a home visit from a social worker who said, “There’s been a report of alcohol abuse in the home.” My partner replied, “Yes, that’s me, but I’ve taken steps to take care of it and get help.”

Nothing more was done or said, and the problem that was circling my life and the lives of my kids just went back under the rug where she’d so carefully hidden it.

In April, my life fell apart, and this began the end of things as I’d known them to be. I was out of the house for the afternoon on a Sunday, and when I came home, I found my partner drunk. I knew within a few minutes she’d been drinking. All the signs were there. She tried to engage with me, and I ignored it, hoping to get the kids to bed before things went south, as I knew they would. But she finally cornered me in the kitchen and demanded to know what was wrong. “You’re drunk,” I said. I’d told her so many times before that we can’t talk when she’s drunk, that if she wants to work it out then she needs to go to bed so we can talk when she's sober. She has never listened to these pleas. For awhile she pressed the issue, and when I refused to fight back, she told me she was leaving with the kids.

This wasn’t by any means the first time she’d threatened to take the kids away. It had been an ongoing issue for our entire relationship, but after my son was born I’d asked her not to do it anymore. I tried my best to remain calm. “If you need space,” I said, “you can leave if you want. But you aren’t driving, and you aren’t taking the kids.” I asked her to give me the keys for our vehicle. She gave me only one, and I knew she had another. I asked for the other, but she refused. I watched in a daze as she walked around the house, packing clothes for the boys. I followed her, trying to talk her down. When she put my 14 month old son on the floor and said, “Go say goodbye to daddy”, I scooped him up and dialed 911. She drove away with the other two boys while I was on the phone with the operator.

The police pulled her over on the way to town. They gave her a roadside impaired, towed the vehicle, and brought the boys back to the house. They told me she was with her brother, and they’d told her not to return to the house until the next day. 

While I was talking to the police I received a call from her brother. “Salem, what’s going on?” he asked. I answered, “The police are here. I’ll call you back in a bit."

The experience was traumatic for all of us, but a neighbour came over to help, and we were putting the boys to bed when I saw her, my nemesis, marching across the lawn. The look on her face was pure rage, and when she opened the door and saw me standing there, she said, “Get out of my way!” and pushed past me. I immediately phoned the police again, but since I live in a rural community, it takes them at least fifteen minutes to get here. When she began banging around the house and breaking things, we took the boys outside. Myself, the neighbour, her brother, and her sister-in-law were all there - the latter two having brought her back because they didn’t know she’d been told not to. At one point she opened the door, wine glass in hand, and threw it at me with every intention of hitting me. I remember her saying something like, “Here you go!” The glass missed me, but shattered at my feet. Our oldest son was standing next to me, and if I’d been hurt, she could’ve just as easily hurt him, too.

She came back out of the house with a bag and told the boys they were going with her. She went to her brother’s car to leave, but he locked the door and said, “I’m not taking you anywhere, not after what I’ve seen.”

When the police arrived once more, she was on her way out the door and took off down the street. They picked her up not long after, and she spent the night in custody. The responding officer walked through the house, took my ID and the neighbour's ID, and asked me if I wanted to press charges. I said “No” because I believed that after an incident like that she’d have to finally own up to her problems. The evidence was too clear now, too public. I couldn’t see how it could get any worse.

The boys were terrified. Our oldest has his own room in the basement, but he slept on the floor in our bedroom that night. I told him everything would be okay, mom would have to go away for a bit and get help. I told him we’d call the police again if anything bad happened.

The next morning I attempted to contact our social worker, but wasn’t successful. I then received a message from my partner's mom that said she was on her way home, and she was angry. I immediately called the police again, and when she arrived at the house, I refused to let her inside. “Wait until the police get here,” I said. “When they do we can talk.”

When the officers arrived, I asked them to wait while I talked to her. She didn’t give me much, but I tried to impress on her how serious what she’d done was, and that I needed assurance that she would get help to keep it from happening again. The more I talked the more I could see the anger in her dissipating to fear and shame.

The police gave me a referral to Victim Services, which later become the most valuable asset I have. It gave me connections to information, emotional support and advice, and legal services.

We talked on the couch for quite awhile. The more we talked the more my resolve weakened, and I did the same thing I’ve always done: forgiven, let my guard down. Her promises should’ve meant nothing - they never had before. By like I’d always done, I believed them.

Later in the day I went into town to buy some groceries. When I got back to the house a new social worker was there. He introduced himself, and asked what had happened the night before. I told him everything, every detail I could remember. He made us sign a safety plan: no alcohol or drugs in the home, no drinking around the kids, no intoxicated individuals in the home, and the police must be called and the MCFD notified if anyone is drinking and refuses to leave. I was glad to sign it. Finally someone was looking out for us! Or so I thought.

I should’ve known from the first that she had no intention of keeping the safety plan, even though the social worker made it clear that, if she breached, the MCFD would have to go to court. I told her I wouldn’t lie to the MCFD for her, I told her I not only didn’t want her to drink at home, but I didn’t want her to smoke weed, either. She didn’t care.

On Tuesday, I went back to work, and our oldest son went back to school. I got a call from the school in the morning saying he wasn’t feeling well, so I left work early to go pick him up. I didn’t want to take him home. My partner was there by herself, as the two youngest boys had gone to stay with my parents; and when I asked him, he didn’t want to go, either. I tried three times to reach our social worker to ask her what to do. It’s important to understand that my two oldest sons aren’t mine biologically, and I have no legal guardianship over them. I needed advice on what to do, and I needed to know that the MCFD would support my decisions. When I couldn’t reach the social worker, I took him into town, then back to work where he hung out with a friend for the afternoon. 

In the evening when we got home, he refused to go into the house. I took him to the park for a bit, and asked him several times if he was ready to go home and see mom yet, but he refused every time. I ended up taking him to a friend’s house up the street, where he stayed for the rest of the week. At first I asked him to come home, but he didn’t want to; he was scared of her. Then, when he was ready to come home, she was drinking, and he couldn’t. Having these conversations with him was heartbreaking.

The next week the first breach happened. I came home from work and found she’d been drinking. When she became aggressive and accused me of trying to take the kids away from her, I called the police again, and they removed her from our home. Once more the kids were terrified, but I told them the police would keep us safe.

The next day I called the detox centre, and they told me they could take her. I told her I would drive her the 4 hours, if she would go. I begged her to go, but she refused. But my mom came and picked up the kids, anyhow.

I was able to get ahold of the social worker. She told me the MCFD would be able to go to court, but the supervisors were away, and she wouldn’t know for sure what they would want to do until they got back. She said they would likely tell my partner that she would have to leave the home until then. Later in the day I found out that both the social workers had been to the house, but they hadn’t taken any further action. We didn’t hear from another social worker for four weeks, and when they did come back, they signed a new plan without me, and refused to give me a copy of it. It wasn’t until I went into the office and asked that they decided to come back and renew the original plan. The frustration of not being included in their decisions, when these decisions represented the safety and well-being of my children, left me feeling alone and helpless.

Another breach followed. She lied to my face about it, even though I could smell it in the room and found where she’d hidden the cans. She refused to admit it, so I reported to the MCFD. They came back and signed another safety plan. Another meaningless contract that meant nothing to her.

Things were okay at home for awhile. During this time I really believed she wanted to get better. I’d been encouraging her to go to counselling ever since the incident in April where she’d been arrested. I’d been using the supports I’d acquired through Victim Services, and told her she could use them, too. The counsellors were free and very helpful. But she showed no interest, and when I suggested other solutions, like treatment, detox, or a vacation for her by herself, she shut down all of these ideas. She didn’t want my help, but she was mad a me for failing to support her in whatever way she thought I should. But I still believed she was doing better. I’ve spent so much time being the victim of my own naivety.

Our relationship broke down again one day when I asked her about a key that I’d misplaced. She immediately became defensive, and when I tried to explain that I wasn’t blaming her for it, I just wanted help to find it, she kept saying, “I didn’t take it.” When I became frustrated with her, she yelled at me in front of the kids.

This incident was never resolved, and she never admitted that she was wrong to be defensive, or that she was wrong to yell in front of the kids. Shortly after this incident, she informed me again that she was leaving with the kids and there was nothing I could do about it. “What are you going to do?” she asked. “Call the police? They can’t do anything.” I replied that I thought it would be good for her to take some time away, to stay with her family and reach out for their support; but I also told her in no uncertain terms that I did not think it was a good idea for her to take the kids with her.

Over the next few weeks we made some progress in working towards a mutual arrangement. I explained to her that I really wanted her to wait awhile before leaving to stay with her family. We’d made plans from the beginning of the year to take a family camping vacation for a week, and I expressed to her my desire to carry through with those plans. My ideal situations, I told her, would be if we went on the vacation together, then all drove the fourteen hours or so to stay with her family for the next week. After that week, she could stay there with the kids while I returned home for work. This idea wasn’t acceptable to her, and I must admit that her grandfather’s impending heart surgery did add some precedence to her case. I told her I understood if she felt she needed to go sooner, but I wanted the kids to stay with me. Finally, she was the one who suggested she only take the two younger boys, and our oldest and I would go camping, as we’d planned. This wasn’t what I was hoping for, but I reasoned it was likely the closest we would be able to come to a compromise, and having agreed on something together, the chances of our being on good terms while she was gone would remain high. This gave me some confidence that she would maintain the safety of my two youngest sons while they were alone in her care. And so this was the plan we agreed on, and she told our oldest son about it. He was excitedly looking forward to it.

I was quite glad when she finally told me that she’d booked a counselling appointment at Mental Health and Addictions. It was the news I’d been waiting for months to hear, and even though she claimed she’d already told me about it, I ignored the fact that she hadn’t because I was just simply glad it’d finally happened. As I'd promised months earlier to make sure she could make it to the appointment, I spoke to my employer about taking the time away from work to drive her. It wasn’t possible, so I asked a number of family members if they would be willing. When I found my sister was happy to help, I informed my partner about it. She said, “Okay”, and no further discussion was had on the matter.

The next morning my partner informed me that she had cancelled the appointment. I was dumbstruck. I couldn’t understand why she had done it. I tried to reach my sister to cancel the plan, but I couldn't get ahold of her as she was out of service. When I confronted my partner about the change, she said that I’d made a plan for my sister to drive her without her consent, but didn’t explain why she cancelled her appointment. I was so frustrated! I tried to explain to her how disappointed I was. I couldn’t help but feel that this childish way of manipulating the situation with ungratefulness for my attempts to help, even though I’d given her the opportunity to discuss it with me, was all just another attempt to sabotage everything we’d worked toward. And it was at this time that she said again, “I’m leaving, I’m taking all the kids, and I don’t want you to come.”

It did not give her a response. I spoke to my lawyer, who suggested we apply for a court order of non-removal. I did not want to make a decision immediately, so I decided to give it some time. I attempted to contact our social worker to ask for the MCFDs support, but I wasn’t able to reach him. So I let it sit overnight, and in the morning I asked my partner again if she would stand behind that statement. When she said she would, I tried to explain to her that it wasn’t what we’d agreed on, that it would have a negative impact on the kids, and that I’d previously asked her not to threaten their removal. In her response she said I was insinuating that she was a bad parent by not taking the kids’ best interests into account, and that was abusive of me.

I immediately contacted my lawyer to prepare the application for the courts.

That was a Friday. It was the expiry date of our safety plan with the MCFD. It was also my partner’s birthday, but I couldn’t help that. My sister-in-law agreed to serve the application on her, and suggested ways we could make the experience a little more positive. She bought my partner dinner, I picked up flowers, and we took the boys outside for an hour while my partner ate her birthday meal. Then my sister-in-law served her. Shortly after that, I discovered that my partner had been drinking at home, but she left the house willingly once the kids were in bed, and so I didn’t involve the police. On her way out the door she said, “You know I can petition this, right?” Then: “You think you’re so smart but you’re not.”

Our court date was set for the following Tuesday, and the unsettled matter hung in the air all weekend. She didn’t mention it, and neither did I.

On Monday morning I attempted to contact our social worker to report the Friday night breach. I told him via text message that there’d been a breach I needed to talk to him about. He said he was in meetings and would call me as soon as he was out. By the time he called, my partner had met him at his office door, and he’d already signed a new safety plan with her, involving my sons, and without consulting me first, even though he knew there’d been a breach. I was furious, and I spent an hour begging him to do something about it, as I felt certain the judge would assume the signed safety plan was sufficient evidence to suggest that there were no safety concerns. He promised to consult with his supervisor, but also told me he doubted anything would be done.

The judge didn’t want to make a decision that day, and put in an interim order, sending the matter to trial on the next Thursday. For a brief moment I thought there was hope, and my lawyer and I prepared to present all the evidence we could to support my claim that my partner was not only a risk to my children, but that if our relationship did not improve, I had good reason to believe I might lose contact with my sons. The judge heard our evidence, but said no decision would be made until the morning. I went back to work with high hopes. I felt proud of my attorney for the way the case had been presented. I felt proud of my son who’d come to me the night before with his concerns. I felt proud of myself for being able to stand up for his right to be heard.

Here are the notes I made of that conversation between myself and my son only minutes after it happened:

Put my son to bed at 8:00PM. Went outside to get my pen from the van to make notes. Came back in to find him upstairs. He had been complaining about being tired, so I sent him back to bed. I could see something was bugging him, so I said, “Hey, you know you can talk to me if something is bugging you, right?” He said mmhm, and went back to bed.

A few minutes later he was upstairs again and said, “Salem, there’s something I need to tell you.”

I asked him what it was. He said, “I miss grandma and grandpa.” I asked which grandma and grandpa, he pointed at his mom's grandparents on the fridge. I told him it’s okay to miss them, but he is going to see them soon. He said “Okay", but didn’t go back downstairs. I asked if anything else was bugging him. He said, “I’ve never seen them before.” I said, “Yes, you have, but it was when you were really little.”

When he still didn’t go back downstairs to bed, I told him I am sorry that he is feeling sad, that sometimes we miss people and feel sad, and that’s okay. I told him it’s time to go back to bed. We went back downstairs and I tucked him in. He hid under his blankets. I asked again if something else was bugging him. He said he didn’t like what mom said. I asked, “What did mom say?" He said he was sad that mom said they were leaving yesterday, and then they didn’t, and he had to wait till tomorrow (the delay was because the judge hadn’t made a decision immediately). I said it was okay, because he was still going to get to go, but he just had to wait and be patient. I suggested he tell mom how it made him sad. He said, “Would you tell mom?” I said no, when mom does something that makes me sad it’s my story to tell, but when mom does something that makes you sad it’s your story to tell.

He was quiet a moment, then he asked if I was going to stay home by myself while they were gone. I said yes, I have to work. He asked if I was going to go fishing with Nana and Papa. I said yes, that is the plan. I asked him if he was sad that he couldn’t go. He said yes. I suggested again that he should tell mom it made him sad. He said he was afraid to because mom would say the same thing again. I asked, “What did mom say?” He said she’d told him he had to go with her because I was being a bully. I told him I was sorry that mom changed the plan and that made him sad. I explained to him that sometimes even big people have problems, even grownups. Sometimes problems are hard to solve, like his problem about being sad. I told him it’s not his fault. He said, “It’s mom’s fault?” I said yes, it’s mom’s fault that she changed the plan, it’s not your fault. I told him I love him and everything will be okay.

I told him then that he needed to try and sleep. I meant to come straight upstairs to record this conversation, but as I was writing this down, he came back upstairs to say that it was still bugging him. I asked if he wanted to sleep on the couch upstairs, and of course he said yes.]

The judge heard all the evidence, heard my recounting of that conversation with my son, but the only part she seemed to remember was me saying, “Yes, it’s mom’s fault”. She sided with my partner, claiming that my attempts to protect my children from my partner's abusive behaviours and addiction amounted to control and manipulation, and that granting the order I’d requested would upset the power balance in the relationship. 

I was devastated. I drove home and said goodbye to my boys. I could do nothing to prevent her from taking them away, in spite of the evidence that she couldn’t maintain her sobriety, in spite of the evidence that she’d put their lives at risk repeatedly. All the people with the power to stop her abusive tirade through our lives had let us down, and when I returned to work, I broke down in front of my co-workers and cried uncontrollably.

It’s been more than 3 weeks now since they left, and while my now-ex-partner claims to be bringing the boys back within the week, she has stated clearly that she will not be bringing them back to the house they’ve called home for the past 2 years, the home we built together. The judge’s words and criticisms of my intentions gave her the judicial reinforcement she needed to bolster her irrational beliefs and excuse her abusive behaviours and violent outbursts. I do not now know what the future holds for my sons, and with such little support from the courts and the MCFD, I feel scared that the social orders that are supposed to protect us will continue to turn our lives into a hell at the hands of my abuser. I feel so much uncertainty that at times I can barely manage the emotions at war in my heart. At times I wonder if I’ve lost my children forever.

But in the face of all of this I know that one thing is true: no one - not a man, nor a woman, nor a child - deserves to be treated with violence and abuse. And to the victims who’ve endured it for their own reasons, I have to believe that life can be better than this. Reaching out for help is the scariest thing I have ever done, but it was the right choice to make, not only for my kids, but for myself as well. And as long as I have strength in me, I’ll never stop fighting for the right of my sons to feel safe and loved.

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