The Most Comforting Words In English: Restraining Order

I read a post this morning by Aussa Lorens on how she got a restraining order. Her story involved scheduled hearings, attorneys, and absolutely worst of all, facing her abuser in court. He was required to be there.

My story is different. I got my restraining order in Boston, Massachusetts at the tail of the 1990s. This is the story of how I got mine. The process might be different now.

He tried to kill me. Eight years of verbal abuse and at least two years of physical violence culminated in one night. On that final night, the monster was seconds away from murdering me when an acquaintance walked by and intervened. He saved my life. I didn’t know how to repay him. I still don’t.

After my lifesaver chased the monster away, we went to the Cambridge police station. They took pictures of me and my car with the broken window he had pulled me out of by my hair and the fist-shaped dents on the hood. A very nice female officer wrote down everything that we told her. I left the Cambridge police station with a fat, blue copy of a police report. It signified two warrants for arrest: misdemeanor assault and battery, and felony property damage. In the eyes of the law, my car was worth more than me.

The police report was the first time the abuse left my brain. It was the first time I admitted it out loud to anyone. It was the first time I reached out to someone for help. The abuse was officially on record. I didn’t think about what walking into that police station meant. It just had to be done. One way or another, it was over. I would not, could not, go back to the way things were. I didn’t know how yet, but it had to stop. I had reached the end of my acceptance, silence and tolerance. I had come as close to death as he had ever taken me and I wouldn’t go there again. I was done.

Later that night, he came back to the house, of course, and threatened to kill me some more, but he couldn’t get in. For the second time that night, I reached out to the police for help. They couldn’t do anything. The warrants for his arrest were in a different jurisdiction. The police took him away overnight for public drunkenness, but they’d have to release him the next day.

They helpfully told me what time he’d be released, and where and when to get a restraining order. If I hurried, I might be able to get a restraining order before he was released from custody. That way, when he did come back, they could remove him from the premises. I’d be protected. They gave me a copy of the incident report and a business card with a phone number to call if the court gave me any trouble.

After the police took him away, I remember noticing how quiet it was. I walked through the house and it sunk in that he wasn’t there. My neighbors were probably pissed about all the noise as it was something like three in the morning at that point, but he was gone now and it was so quiet.

I went into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror for the first time since I left the house many hours before. I had one proper black eye and one half one. I could only see out of the half black eye as the other one was too swollen. My nose was bleeding. There was blood in my hair. My lip was split and swollen. My neck was covered with strangulation marks. I had bruises, scratches and scrapes absolutely everywhere. Even my ears hurt. I was still wearing stockings. Well, what was left of them anyway. They hadn’t fared too well, having been dragged over the broken glass of my car window and falling on the ground repeatedly. I tried to take them off, but there was too much dried blood gluing them to my legs.

I poured a hot bath and got in practically fully dressed. After soaking a while, I started taking my clothes off. The bath water looked like a horror movie, all pink from blood. I was completely numb. I don’t remember thinking anything during that bath at all. Or maybe I was thinking everything. I did not cry. I sat in the bloody water until it got cold.

I didn’t sleep that night. I dozed off once or twice, but I woke up in a panic. It was only a few hours until the court was open anyway. All bruised, swollen and still bleeding, but clean, I went to the courthouse to get a restraining order. I was really early. I thought I would be the first one there, but I wasn’t.

They searched my bag and ran me through a metal detector. I told them why I was there, filled out some forms and was ushered into a waiting room. It was a closed room, not visible to those walking by, roughly 15 x 15 feet with two doors and no windows. The chairs were against the walls, leaving a big open space in the middle. It was entirely decorated in shades of brown–brown carpet, beige walls, beige plastic chairs, brown tables. It looked much like any other waiting room you’ve ever been in, just as impersonal. Instead of old magazines, they had pamphlets on child care, how to report domestic violence, who to call and what to do.

When I was led into the room, there were two women there already. Their bruises were in different places, but they were in much the same condition as me. They both looked at me as I walked in. I chose a seat across from the door between them. I picked up some of the pamphlets on a table and pretended to read them. A few moments later, a woman with two children came in and sat across from me. She was carrying one in her arms and pushing the other in a stroller. The baby was crying. The toddler fussed. A bead of blood ran down her forehead. She pulled out a tissue and wiped it away. She had to repeat that process at least five more times.

More women and more children came in until nearly every chair was occupied. Nobody said anything, except the children. We pretended to read the pamphlets or just stared at our wringing hands. I read my police reports for the first time. Every now and again, we’d glance up and cast a furtive look around the room. If we caught someone’s eye, we quickly looked away. When someone new walked in, every head turned in their direction. We wanted to get this over as quickly as possible before we changed our minds. That waiting room was the saddest room I’ve ever been in. Those 15 x 15 feet housed so much fear, pain and uncertainty that it makes me want to cry.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, they started calling names. I was suddenly very glad that I wasn’t the first one there. A woman still waiting got up and went out the way we came in. I guess she changed her mind.

They called my name. I went through the door into a small courtroom. There were only a few people in there, a court reporter, a judge, and the man who led me in. The judge read a piece of paper in front of him. “Explain to me what happened.”

I told him about the night before. How the monster tried to kill me in Cambridge, the Boston police detaining him, the witnesses, the police reports, which I handed to the bailiff who handed them to the judge, the bruises, everything. I just kept talking. I had no idea what I was saying.

“This police report is from Cambridge, not Boston.”

“I know that, sir. That’s why the Boston police were unable to arrest him even though he was threatening my life while they were there.”

“This police report is inadmissible. Do you have any other evidence of abuse?”

“I do not, your honor. Just the Boston police’s word that he was threatening my life while they were there and all the injuries on my body.”

“This is not the first incident?”

“No, your honor.”

“But this is the first time you’ve reported it? Why didn’t you call the police before this?”

I didn’t know what to say. Why didn’t I call the police all the times he had tried to kill me before? A lifetime’s worth of words would have been insufficient to explain, so I lowered my head and simply said, “I don’t know. I should have.” I thought I lost. I was prepared to walk out with nothing.

“I’ll grant you a temporary prevention order. It’s good for one year. You will have to come back to court to renew it should you feel it necessary.”

“Thank you, your honor!” I have no idea what he said after that.

The bailiff gave me my documents back along with a clean new piece of paper that said “ABUSE PREVENTION ORDER 209A” on the top. He led me out a door on the other side of the courtroom. I was expecting to still be inside the courthouse, but it led to a small courtyard outside. The sun was blinding. Before my eyes even adjusted, the two women who went before me came up and gave me a hug. We stood there, crying and smiling, clutching our papers until the woman with the two children came out. We greeted her the way they had greeted me. Not a single woman who came through that door had been denied a restraining order. Not one.

Eventually, the first two women left. I left, too, knowing that the next women would be greeted with smiles and hugs from those who went after me. We were officially protected. It was on the record. It was validation of what we endured. They could not touch us ever again.

I carried that piece of paper with me everywhere for a year. I kept it even after it had expired, even after I moved out of the state of Massachusetts. I still have it. I will always have it.