At the age of 10, my step-daughter Jessica, who had been living in Mexico with her Mom for six years, was finally allowed to come up to Canada to visit her Dad. She spent the summer with her Dad and I, but two days before she was to return to Mexico, she burst into tears. Between deep sobs, and with incoherent phrases, she told us that she was “being touched in ways that she did not like” by her step-father on nights when her mom locked him out of their bedroom because he was stoned on “coke”.
Within 48 hours, her Dad arranged an interview with Children’s Aid, hired a lawyer, and got temporary custody of his daughter. So began the longest and most challenging 16 months of our lives. During this period, Jessica would live with her Dad and I, and we would juggle our respective jobs and the care of Jessica around visits to Children’s Aid, psychiatrists, lawyers and mediators.
During this time, Jessica would receive nightly phone calls from her Mom who would say things such as: “If you don’t tell the doctor that ‘it’ did not happen, I am going to have to go back to Mexico without you”. Her Dad and I had to deal with Jessica’s anxiety about the abuse which had come to the surface, her fear about her Mom leaving for Mexico without her, and her anger at her Dad for taking her away from her Mom.
After 10 months, $90,000 in legal fees, and a 1-week trial, an Ontario Judge decided that: Jessica must stay in Canada; her mother could keep custody as long as she stayed in the country without her husband; and Jessica should spend 5 days out of every 14 with her Dad and I. We were elated…for about four months! That is when Jessica’s mother began the second campaign to return to Mexico. This campaign was waged entirely through her daughter. Jessica became so anxious about her Mom returning to Mexico without her that she refused to come to our home. Jessica, who was 11 at the time, told us that she would only visit us if we agreed to go to the Mediator with her mother.
In the end, we relented because Jessica’s Therapist told us that, while it was not fair, it seemed that the only way to relieve Jessica’s anxiety was to give her mother want she wanted. The Mediator drafted up an agreement that allowed Jessica and her Mom to return to Mexico, insisting that the conditions included in it would ensure her safety and her relationship with her Dad and I. So, 16 months after disclosing sexual abuse at the hands of her step-father, Jessica returned to Mexico with her Mom, just a few months shy of her 12th birthday.
Of course, Jessica’s Mom complied with none of the terms of the mediation agreement. Rebecca did not come to stay with us every other Christmas or every other summer. We did not get Therapist’s reports or report cards to assure us that she was doing well. We did not get reports from her step-father’s doctor confirming that he was clean. Our gifts were not acknowledged. Our cards and letters went un-answered. Our phone calls were not returned.
We were $120,000 in debt, broken-hearted, and devastated by the injustice of it all. Jessica’s Dad had handled the situation impeccably. He did everything he could to protect his daughter physically and emotionally. He put her in a special school, got her a Therapist, took her to weekly Children’s Aid meetings. He let her yell at him without ever trying to defend himself. He simply re-assured her that he was doing what he needed to do to protect her; and told her that he and her mother would work it out. Despite all of this, he lost the child in body, heart and soul. Or so it seemed until last week.
Last week, the little girl of our youth walked through our door as a young woman of 33. While we have had visits over the years, they have been few and far between; there has always been some distance; there have always been so many complex feelings unspoken. But not last week. Last week, the young woman reached out across the years, to let us know that she “knew” we loved her; that despite all the gaps in her childhood memories, despite all of the distance, despite all of her mother’s lies, her Dad and I “have always been in her heart”. While this does not give us back the past, it gives us a future. While it does not undue the loss, it heals our hearts. While it does not undue the injustice, it restores my faith in the Universe; it tells me that love can transcend all.