by Bob Thurber

True story. So help me god.

In Family Court, late 1991, I listened to my ex-wife swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but.

So help me god, she said.

Straight-faced and glassy-eyed, she told a courtroom full of strangers what she’d been telling friends right along — what a worthless waste of human spirit I truly was.

Her attorney, who was better dressed than mine, asked: How often did the plaintiff visit his daughter after your divorce?

My ex didn’t hesitate, didn’t blink.

Maybe twice, she said.

I leaned into my lawyer.

She’s lying, I said.

He raised his legal pad on which he had written nothing and used it to hide our mouths. Relax, he said. They do it all the time.

I had no documentation, no proof I’d visited every Tuesday, no evidence that each week I handed cash to my vindictive ex and listened to her bullshit just so I could see my daughter for a few hours. Toward the end, my new wife accompanied me on numerous visits, but her testimony wasn’t allowed on the grounds of prejudice.

After a short recess the judge denied my request for joint custody and regular visitation. Then he terminated my parental rights on the grounds of abandonment and non-support.

So help me god.

Numb, woozy, I staggered to my feet. I couldn’t remember how to leave the courtroom. My lawyer put his hand on my shoulder and guided me like he was escorting a blind man.

We need to talk before you leave the building, he said.

I located my new wife, front row center. Her eyes were moist, but she wasn’t crying. I watched my daughter hop out of her seat and follow her mother out of the courtroom.

So help me god.

I said to myself: For the rest of your life, you will remember this moment.

My lawyer rode down with us in the elevator, just us three. He spoke about the appeal process. This is not over yet, he said. It’s far from over.

My wife clutched my arm and squeezed.

Take a few days, then call my office, my lawyer said. Make an appointment to come in and we’ll discuss your options.

He was noticeably thrown by the judge’s ruling. And friendlier then ever.

Don’t think this is over, he reminded us.

My wife shook his hand and that handshake turned into a hug.

Thank you so much for everything, she said.

I had thirty days to file my appeal, but why bother. No judge was going to take my word on anything. I was a writer with no regular income. My wife supported my existence, which officially made me a chump, a loser.

So help me god.

Time heals nothing. Wounds fester and ooze. Life drags you by a rope over rocks and stones and one day you look up, look back, and see you’ve been used to cut a path, mark a trail.

So help me god.

***

“Oath” is a selection from Nothing But Trouble, a collection of stories accompanied by images.