Friday, September 10, 2004

My 9/11 Story

September 11, 2001, has multiple meanings for me. Most people think of the tragedy that shocked our nation. So do I! But 9/11/01 would have been a powerful day in my life regardless of it's now historical significance. I was in a custody battle, and ever since May 2001, I knew that September 11, 2001, would be "Custer's last stand".

For added perspective, you really need to read this first. It is a post regarding the last time I saw the towers, and the first time I bonded with my stepson.

91101 Part 1

I woke up that dreadful morning with a high level of anxiety. I never shared much with my kids (who were 3rd and 4th graders at the time), regarding the legal struggles of a custody battle. I was in a position of strength! Primary caregiver, stable home, quality family environment, etc. My Ex was living out of state, several thousand dollars in arrearage, and had violated the terms of the custodial arrangement.

In our May 2001 hearing, the Ex appeared via telephone. The Referee made it clear, that the Ex was in violation of the Marital Termination Agreement (MTA} and in significant arrears. Furthermore, she ruled in my favor for full legal and physical custody of both our children. The Ex was furious! Furious to the point that the Referee told her to relax. And this was over a speakerphone.

The referee stated that my Ex could appeal the ruling. The Ex demanded a court date for the evidentiary hearing. The referee made it clear, that this would be a 'body only' appearance! No phone-in allowed, no delay, last chance! The date was set, then and there, September 11, 2001.

An awkward Summer passes, including a tumultuous situation in ensuring my boys return to Minnesota. See, I still was obligated to fulfill the current custodial arrangement while the appeal was in process. That meant having my kids cross state lines, and hoping they would return. It wouldn't have been the first time law enforcement was necessary to insure their safe return.

September 2001 brought a new school year , and we were still getting used to the routine. The morning of the 11th, I brought my suit down to have available post shower. I am up early, that day, as it was difficult to sleep. I knew how important the decisions that would be made later would effect the rest of my life. I used my work laptop to plug into the world, kicking back on the couch since I have a mini network running in the house. I happen to hit the CNN site when my boys are coming down to leave for school, There is mention of a single engine plane having crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. I think it is a tragic accident, and grab the remote to flip CNN on the TV.

The one tower is burning, my young boys are curious, and I am preoccupied with the reality of seeing their mother, in a court room, not knowing what tomorrow may bring. I needed a shower, and off I go.

While I was still in the bathroom, I heard one of my boys say: "Another plane just hit the building" I yelled out through the door "I am sure it is just a replay"

To my horror, It was not.

- - - - - - Part 2 - - - - - -

I began getting dressed, staring at the TV, still somewhat preoccupied with my day ahead. My boys were not really aware of the magnitude of what they were witnessing. It was clear the second plane was a passenger jet, and no single engine Cesna.

It was time for them to leave, and I needed to get to the court house. The vehicle was filled with the breaking news coming off the radio on my way downtown. Sketchy reports were starting to reach the airwaves; hijackers, attack, missing plane, and then . . . the Pentagon! I sat in the car after I parked, listening to the radio, waiting till the last minute, before I enter the media black hole within the courthouse.

I was the first one there. Seemed like forever as I paced the quiet, somber, desolate, waiting area. My attorney arrived moments before the scheduled time. No sign of the Referee, or her court reporter. We chatted briefly about the events evolving in New York. But most of our conversation centered around the pending hearing. Eventually, My Ex's attorney arrived. She had not heard from my Ex, and was unaware of whether she would show up.

Almost an hour after we were suppose to begin the hearing, the court room door opened. The court reporter invited us in to the court room, where we awaited the arrival of the referee. Still no Ex, my mind is completely unaware of what is transpiring in New York.

The referee finally arrived and the proceedings began. The adjudicator revealed she had received a letter from my Ex the prior week, explaining hardship and other circumstances. She was requesting a postponement of the hearing. My stomach sank, my eyes rolled, and I was convinced I was facing yet another delay in this perpetual case.

I don't recall exactly what the referee said, but there was clear disdain in her voice, while making it clear that the request before her was totally unacceptable. She stated in open court, that there would be no delay. She had made it clear that my Ex's total lack of respect for the court system would not be tolerated. Furthermore, it was discovered that the court documents sent to the last known address of my Ex were undeliverable. This is in direct violation of court orders requiring both of us to provide our most recent addresses to the system.

It was now time for the ruling. A Contempt of Court arrest warrant was issued for my Ex. I was awarded full physical and legal custody of both my boys. Visitation was modified to 'supervised only', requiring my Ex to contact County child services, where she would be allowed to visit the children in their visitation rooms.

I was ecstatic. I expressed sincere gratitude to my attorney for all his help in making it to this point. For the first time in several year, there was a level of closure. I no longer had to wonder what would happen to my boys. I now had court support, to ensure their safety, and continue to provide the quality, secure, and healthy environment they deserved.

When I had arrived at my car, I had completely blocked out what had been happening in New York, It wasn't until I turned on the radio that I was reminded in a most horrific way.

A tower had fallen!

- - - - - - Part 3 - - - - - -

The drive home was awkward. The relief I now felt regarding my children, was overshadowed by the new found concern I had for their safety in this world. While one level of security was assured, another, taken for granted, was shattered.

I was away from the media for about three hours, 8:30 - 11:30 Central Time. In that time everything happened. All the planes had crashed, the towers had already fallen, and the reports were starting to steam in. Terrorism, attack, al Quada, the horror that unfolded, and the bravery of the NYPD and NYFD. I no longer was thinking of my experiences of that morning. As powerful as the decision was, it seemed dwarfed by the magnitude of what other will be facing in the days and weeks to come. Families shatter, lives to rebuilding, and commerce to recover.

I spent a lot of time this weekend accepting how fragile life is, and how precious our children are. We can never take any day in our life, or any moment with our children, for granted. I will not allow them to think for an instant, I won't be there for them in anyway I can!


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