Her mother tells me, “If you tell her you were shot I won’t let you see her anymore.” Coming from my daughter’s mother this was not an empty threat.
At the time of this threat, leveled at me 10 days after I’d been held up and shot in the head at point blank range in August 1984, she’d already stopped me and my daughter and from seeing each other for two prior stretches of time. And even though I took her to court on both times and won both times, I learned that in 1984 the rights of a non-custodial father were, at best, symbolic. There was no meat on the bones of their armature. In fact, the second time I took her to court the judge caught her lying and ripped into her before once again ruling in my favor. Didn’t matter. Went to pick up my daughter the following weekend and her mother and my daughter had vanished. For all intents and purposes, she’d kidnapped her.
When I called the court and said, Okay, she’s taken my daughter, she’s violating my visitation rights, what are you going to do about it? The answer was, Nothing. Let us know if you find her and you can bring her in on a shown cause order –again. It was three months before her mother brought her back, telling me my daughter was giving her hell and if I wanted to see her, so be it, but I was to stay out of all aspects of her life except when we visited.
Two days after I was shot her mother called me in the hospital and, in a tone that appeared genuine, asked, “Do you have someone to look after you?” I said I did and she said, “Good,” and hung up. A few minutes later she called back, said, “Too bad you didn’t die,” and hung up.
If you are wondering where this woman’s fury comes from, here’s the answer. I was the one who ended our relationship. You can comfortably assume that what you’ve heard here about her capacity for brutality was one of the major reasons I did end the relationship.
Anyway, if I thought the shooting was going to soften her attitude I was mistaken. I called from the hospital and asked to speak to Jennifer who was seven at the time. Her mother said, “No.”
I said, “Listen, I don’t even know if I’m going to live, things aren’t so good. I’m not about to tell her what’s going on, I just want to hear her voice.”
“Tough,” she said, and hung up.
And so here I am, home from the hospital a day or two, head shaved and adorned with a huge scar from the brain surgery and her mother is saying, ““If you tell her you were shot I won’t let you see her anymore.”
“How do you suggest I explain the shaved head and giant scar?”
“I don’t give a shit how you explain it. Tell her you were shot and you don’t see her.”
Now my daughter is breathtakingly smart. She was also a remarkably perceptive seven-year-old. When she saw my head and asked what happened I told her I had a bad fall and had to undergo surgery but was okay now. She notice the pulsing in front of my left temple and asked about it. “Well, there’s a small hole in the skull”
“Does it hurt?”
She nodded. Over the next few weeks Jennifer would hear me talking with crime victims on the phone. At the time I was working with others to form the New York City Chapter of Victims for Victims, a non-profit group founded in 1982 by a remarkable woman and actress named Theresa Saldana.
One day Jennifer and I are sitting in the living room. I’m sitting on the couch, she’s sitting in a chair next to the couch. She says, “Daddy, can I ask you something?”
“How did you say you got hurt?”
“On the sidewalk.”
She pauses, thinking. And then, slowly slicing her hand through the air, her palm parallel to the floor, she asks, “Well, if the sidewalk’s flat, how did it make the hole in your skull?”
Here she comes, I thought, so proud of her, feeling so much love for my daughter that if love were light I would’ve lit up the world. “It didn’t,” I answered.
“Then what did?”
I realize I need to provide a clue. “What people do you hearing my talking to a lot these days?”
A pause. Then, slowly, “You’re a crime victim?”
I nod. “Yes, sweetie.”
She leans forward now and says, “Someone hurt you,” and it’s not a question.
“They beat you up.”
Another clue. “What do bad guys use to hurt people?”
“Someone stabbed you?”
“Someone shot you?”
I say, “Yes, sweetie,” and this gloriously loving seven-year-old girl flies into my arms, both of us crying, holding each other tight. My beautiful daughter had tracked down the truth of what had happened to her father and now we held each other closely. I knew then and know now that moments like that don’t get any healthier and healing.
I called her mother, explained what happened, and pleaded with her to not do anything rash. To my relief, she didn’t.