As we stood outside the courtroom, it was clear where the lines were drawn. The divide in the room was less physical, as the space was small, but it was a mental and emotional chasm as large as the Grand Canyon. My attorney had told me to be prepared for an emotional outburst from my mother. My attorney warned me that my father might become overly warm and try to entice me to "drop this whole charade". About my father, she was correct. As soon as we crossed the threshold from hallway to courtroom, my father turned on the charm and charisma. He held the door for me and as I passed, the jerk actually smiled. We took seats in the small gallery and by virtue of it's lack of chairs, my father stood behind me. When my attorney went to the counsellor's table behind the gate, my dad put his hand on my shoulder and patted it reassuringly. The judge, hearing another case, looked up just as my father did this and I thought, surely, my case was sunk. Here was this girl trying to run away from such a loving, concerned father, right? No judge would see through his gesture to the controlling message the gesture betrayed. No judge would see his smile for the manipulation it was, right? I had been trained by years of brainwashing to believe that the world would always see my father as a righteous man.
My attorney returned to the gallery area and softly confronted my father. Asking him to take his hands off me and step away. He acted hurt, but obeyed. My mother sat staring straight ahead this entire time. She didn't look at me. My heart ached for her and my resolve started to dip. I knew that by continuing this, I was putting her in harms way. I knew she couldn't look at me because of his orders.
The court officer called my case. For the huge change it was about to have on my life, for what was at stake, it was a short exchange. The judge said he'd read my plea and needed some clarification, but he was concerned about putting me on the stand. My father's attorney kept saying that there was no case because there was no abuse and that I was, simply, an "ungrateful runaway" and "a teenaged girl who dramatized a good situation". Ultimately, the judge asked if it was possible for me to speak with a court appointed mediator that day and we recessed while the attorneys and court officers worked to see if that was possible. It was. An hour later, after the Klein's and my brother's friends gave me pep talks and a snack outside, a frazzled woman arrived at court. We went back into the court room and the judge ordered me to go to chambers and speak with this lady alone- no council present.
She was very kind. Years later, I saw a kids television show called the Magic School Bus and Miss Frizzle reminded me of this mediator. She asked me why I had ran from home that night and made me replay the decision outloud. She asked about Adam and about my religion and the way I had been raised. She asked about my fear of my father and why I didn't want to go home. Then she asked what my plans were. I couldn't answer her. I didn't know what my plan was. Honestly, beyond getting out of that relationship with Adam and getting away from a forced marriage, I didn't have one. I told her I didn't know what I was doing. She told me that that wasn't good enough and I realized she was right. She said she was going to give me a moment and ask me again what my plan was. I didn't know what to say. My mind raced and I thought this was the end- I would be sent home. She asked me what my plan was - I blurted out "I want to go to real school and I want to find out what my plan is without being told what my plan is." She smiled and said, "good girl." With that, we went back to the courtroom. The judge asked her to meet with my parents next. A while later, we went into the room with her together. It was just her, my parents, and I. No lawyers. This was the first time I'd sat across a table from my parents, without the Kleins or a cop, since I left and it was scary. My father was still playing nice but I could tell he was angry under the surface smile. The mediator asked if we could work it out...if there was any way I would go home. I couldn't speak. I felt like my dad would reach across the table the moment I said anything. She asked again. I shook my head no. My mother started crying. I reached for her and my dad slapped my hand down against the table. "You have caused your mother enough harm, Ruth. Won't you be a good girl and come home. Spare her this hurt." I almost bought it. I can't say what it was that made me realize I needed to leave, but something happened that told me it was okay to leave. I had to leave. I told my mom I had to go and I knew she would understand why. The mediator was glaring at my father. In his effort to appear protective of my mother, he had just slapped my hands away from her in front of a court appointed mediator! He had just validated the things I had said- he was controlling and manipulative and, if even on a small level, abusive. She asked my father to keep his hands to himself and quickly asked him what he was willing to do to get me home. My father said, I'm sure thinking that it would make him look like some great authority figure, that I would have to do "what God requires of a child- to obey and respect her parents." The mediator asked him if any harm would come to me by returning home and he said, "Not at my hands.", smugly.
We returned to the courtroom. I was terrified. While, in hindsight now, I can see that my father wasn't winning at this point,- at the time- I didn't see it. I was sure he would send me home. The Klein's, unbeknownst to me at this point, had friends who were foster parents in the system and they know sat in the courtroom. The mediator was put on the stand and she gave her opinion. She stated that she believed I was mature enough to make the decision to leave and that I couldn't go home. She relayed the words my father had said - "not at my hands" and said she worried about the semantics of the answer. My dad's attorney was pouncing on her, left and right, with objections to statements and interjecting comments - to the point where the judge got annoyed. He shut the attorney down and said he needed to hear from the mediator without interuption.
To make a very long story short, the case was adjourned until the next day. The next day, only my father came to court with his attorney and my father shocked everyone by saying he would drop his argument. He would let me go. The judge said he couldn't let my father abdicate his parental rights so easily but that we could figure something out. The rest of the day was spent figuring it out. I was a minor, but only for a few more months. Emancipating me would take longer than it would for me to turn 18. Putting me in foster care would mean, if I understood it correctly, having my father and mother deemed unfit. My parents wouldn't have gone for that. In the end, guardianship of me was award to the Turners (friends of the Klein's) until my eighteenth birthday, with my parents still retaining legal rights to me as a child. It was a "mutual agreement", in the end.
I like to think that my father finally realized I needed to be set free. The reality is that I know that wasn't it. I don't know why he dropped the case and let me go. In the end, I don't think it matters. I was set free and I was terrified, but I had hope. The next step was "the plan". What was my plan? MY plan for MY life.