It’s been several years since I finally ended it with my abusive ex—the one I got a restraining order against after he sent my naked photos to our coworkers. For the sake of space and arse-kicking, I’ll skip over the various little messes he caused for me in the months following—there was some stalking, a phone call, and his car parked across the street so often that I had to be escorted out after work, but it’s much more fun to talk about what came next—I’ve been sitting on the court transcripts for months and I’m dying to share them with you.
It was August 2013 and I felt like I’d moved on. The anxiety had dissipated and the nightmares were few and far between. I still looked for him every time I walked outside and listened for the sound of the door kicking in while I slept, but it felt like progress. That was, until I found out he was suing for wrongful termination and that I’d be forced to testify against him as a key witness.
The trial was scheduled for exactly one year to the day that I’d filed for the restraining order and went on for two weeks, ending on the one-year anniversary of the day it was awarded.
My life, so poetic.
When I found out I had to testify against him, I screamed and cried the entire commute home, careening about the interstate in a fit of mania. I couldn’t believe I had to go back before a judge, back to that place in my head where I locked away all the things he’d done to me. It’d been bad enough to stand in a courtroom for one hour, but this time it would take two weeks. And I was no longer the victim–he was.
It was my turn to be on trial.
When I’d stopped with the screaming and crying I called the lead attorney who was handling the case. I had a thousand questions.
How much security would be on site?
How were they planning to uphold the restraining order so that I didn’t have to see him?
What were they expecting me to say?
Our lead attorney was a notorious slimeball who was once caught living in his office because his wife kicked him out after he banged his secretary. His bedside manner as he delivered my bad news was less than stellar—it was an administrative court, which meant there would be no metal detectors or security. I could only testify about what was documented in his termination letter but his attorney would be able to cross examine me however she pleased. And he would be sitting across from me the entire time. In the same room. Only a few feet away.
“But what about the restraining order? It says no contact, whatsoever.”
He actually had the nerve to laugh.
“This trial is not about your rights—this is about him, and he has the right to face his accuser.”
I couldn’t believe it.
“My brother has jurisdiction there,” I countered, “maybe I’ll just bring him along so he can arrest him the second he walks in the room.”
His tone was so lazy and condescending.
“Well, you can feel free, but answer me this—do you really want him to come back and work with you? That’s what’s at stake here. He’s not just looking for money, he wants his job back. He wants to win. Listen, you need to just forget about the restraining order for a few days.”
That restraining order may have been nothing but a sheet of paper but I’d gone through hell to get it and there was no way I was going to “just forget about it” for any measure of time.
“Also, if you don’t answer the subpoena you’ll lose your job, be fined up to $10,000 or spend a year in jail.”
I might have been willing to play nice if it weren’t for that comment. It was the ultimate bully move, and we all know how I feel about bullies.
I had Betsy, my badass attorney, serve our legal team with papers detailing the conditions under which I’d be willing to testify— She’d sit with the other attorneys so she could object on my behalf, there’d be an armed guard, and my ex would have to be removed from the room.
Knowing Betsy would be there was an immense relief. The attorney who would actually handle the case was one of the dumbest people I’d ever met—when I’d tried to explain the Virgin Mobile records to her, she couldn’t even figure out the page numbers at the bottom of the bill.
As the hearing approached, I was given absolutely no guidance on how to prepare. Betsy advised me to be ready for the cross-examination because they’d be looking for anything and everything to discredit and paint me as a liar.
I spent hours researching the art of cross examination, studying the techniques used to impeach witnesses, undermine their statements and trick them into getting flustered. I took more notes than the entirety of my college years.
And then… I went shopping. Because everyone knows that if you have to testify in court you’re going to need a sleek new outfit (complete with shoes, handbag, and jewelry) to make you appear more credible/spending money dulls the pain of life.
The night before, my boyfriend and I ordered pizza + cheezits, drank a bottle of wine, and went over my goals for the cross-examination.
Goal #1: Keep your shit together.
Goal #2: Be as unhelpful as possible.
Goal #3: Destroy him.
That morning, I got a text from Betsy that she was being admitted to the hospital for an existing health issue. I tried not to panic as I put on my new clothes and listened to my “ass-kicking” playlist.
When I arrived at the courtroom, I was hidden away in a small office. My boyfriend and I hung out with a state trooper, passing the time by looking up auto-correct fails and laughing until we nearly peed ourselves. We made the trooper tell us battle stories from his line of work and talked about everything but what we were actually there for.
Finally, it was my turn to testify.
The trooper escorted me to the room and I took a seat on the witness stand. My boyfriend sat in a line of chairs at the back of the room while I was sworn in. My ex was sitting just outside the door so he could listen without me having to see him. Still, I could see his clasped hands hanging over the edge.
His attorney was a petite, sharp-eyed woman who was completely devoid of humor.
My employer’s attorney questioned me first, allowing me to tell my story. We started with details of the relationship, and moved on to the abuse and the eventual breakup. When I was asked how many times he’d continued to contact me afterwards, I pulled a sheet of paper from a binder I’d snuck in and began reading a long list of dates.
His Bitch Attorney immediately objected.
“Your honor, she’s not allowed to bring anything into the courtroom that is not already entered into evidence.”
I looked at the judge.
“It’s just a list of dates, so I don’t get anything wrong.”
“It’s not evidence,” the judge said, “but I can’t permit you to read anything unless you’re able to provide a copy to counsel and myself.”
I already knew this because I’d read the 368-page document regarding such court proceedings.
I pulled out three identical copies for each of them. Bitch Lawyer looked like she wanted to punch me in the face as I continued to read an exhausting list of all the various times he’d contacted or confronted me after the breakup. It would’ve been hilarious if it weren’t for the frustrated sounds I could hear him making from the hallway.
He was sighing and exhaling and making a strange clicking noise with his mouth.
My testimony went on for about an hour before it was time for the cross-examination. Bitch Lawyer left the room to talk to my ex and I took turns staring at my lap, my boyfriend, and the state trooper, who winked at me in a “you got this” sort of way. Meanwhile, my employer’s attorney sat blankly like a cow grazing in a field.
Bitch Lawyer came back into the room with her legal pad covered in fresh notes.
“This is it,” I thought, “time for the cross-examination, where she will attempt to destroy me.”
I couldn’t imagine what she would start with.
She stared at me for a few minutes, squinting and pursing her lips in a proper mean girl play at intimidation. I stared back, waiting, my hands folded in my lap.
“Ms. Lorens,” she began, “what does the Virgin Mobile website look like?”
Really. This is how you want to start.
“I’m sorry?” I said, “I don’t understand the question.”
“Describe to me what the Virgin Mobile website looks like.”
“It looks like a cell phone website…”
This did not please her.
“Yes, but what does it say, specifically?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“I haven’t been to it in a year, I have no idea what it says.”
She rolled her eyes.
“What kinds of things do you see when you go to the Virgin Mobile website?”
“It says ‘Virgin Mobile USA’ and has a place to log in.”
Her eyes lit up at this—apparently she thought I’d wandered into some sort of trap. She asked me all about how you log in to the website and I described how I’d entered the cell phone number and an 8-digit PIN.
“But Ms. Lorens,” she said “Isn’t it true that there are other options for logging in? You can use the account number or a user name with a PIN or a passcode or a V-key.”
I shrugged, face blank.
“Ms. Lorens!” she crowed triumphantly, “do you even KNOW what a V-key is?”
She’d seemed so passionate about that last line of questioning but it just sort of awkwardly hung in the air so she abandoned it.
“Did you tell the Internal Affairs Investigator that you told Virgin Mobile that the prepaid account was yours?”
This seemed like a really good opportunity to fulfill Goal #2 and not be helpful.
“The account isn’t mine.”
“No, did you tell the investigator that you told Virgin Mobile it was yours?”
“I didn’t tell Virgin Mobile it was my account.”
She got louder as she enunciated every syllable.
“But did you tell the Investigator that you told them it was yours?”
“So if he recorded in his report that you said this, then you’re telling me he was lying?”
“I can’t speak to his decisions for what he wrote in his report.”
“Ms. Lorens, what is the name associated with the Virgin Mobile account?”
“I was told by customer service and later saw online that it was ‘William’ with two “w’s” and the last name was Lorenzo.”
“So when you called about this account that has a very masculine name, they didn’t question why you—who has a very pretty and feminine voice—were calling?”
Bitch, don’t call my voice pretty.
“They didn’t think it was suspicious that a woman was calling about an account in a man’s name?”
“I have no way of knowing what they thought.”
She seemed to grow more and more frustrated as I sat there like I was having polite conversation at a tea party. She moved on to ask me about my background working with cell phones.
“So you worked in IT for AT&T for 5 years?”
She asked this question four different ways, trying to establish I had some sort of “IT experience” but I kept leaning into the microphone and blessing her with a simple “no” to every question.
“Well then what did you do there?”
“I sold cell phones.”
“So you have experience altering cell phone records?”
I couldn’t help it, I started laughing. It was such a stupid question.
“No,” I finally managed.
“But you have experience with cell phone records, yes or no?”
“I know how to read a bill, yes.”
“Did you ever manipulate this information or edit people’s phone records?”
“No, that’s not possible.”
“Do you consider yourself an expert at reading phone records?”
“Well, I know how to read words on a page… not sure that makes me an expert.”
The judge snorted and the trooper had to look down at his feet.
Bitch Lawyer decided she needed a smoking gun and just flung herself into the deep end.
“Is it true that you hacked your father’s computer when you were 18?”
This was another good opportunity to be unhelpful—it’s true I hacked his computer, but I was 13 when that happened. At 18, I just guessed his password.
“Ms. Lorens, I will remind you that you are under oath.”
“Did you not tell Mr. Psycho Ex that you hacked into your father’s computer in order to see what he’d been doing and use that information against him?”
“I didn’t hack his computer.”
“But you accessed your father’s computer to look at his history?”
“And how did you do that?”
“I turned it on and typed in his password. Is that what you mean by hacking?”
The judge broke in and asked whether there was a point to this line of questioning. Bitch Lawyer assured her that she was about to prove that I exhibited a pattern of deception and malice.
“Ms. Lorens, did you feel this was a deceptive act?”
I told her I didn’t understand the question and made her rephrase it so many times that she had smoke escaping her nostrils and was dumb enough to ask whether it was “wrong” for me to have gotten on his computer.
“It was my Dad’s computer, in the house where I lived, and I’d used it a million times.”
“And why did you want to access his computer in the first place?”
“To see if he was looking at gay porn.”
It was completely silent. She hadn’t been prepared for that one.
“Ms. Lorens did you not pretend to be someone else and then meet up with your father to catch him in the act so you could videotape it?”
I was having fun now, so I told her I didn’t understand the question.
“Did you go to a location pretending to be someone else and then entrap him so that you could get him fired from his job?”
“You didn’t videotape your father trying to meet up with another man in a parking lot?”
“I have two older brothers who did that.”
“So you weren’t there?”
“But you helped set this up because you’d logged into his computer to get his information.”
Not exactly, no.
“There was about 3 years in between those two separate things, I’m not really sure what you want me to say.”
“Counsel,” the judge broke in, “please don’t waste our time with irrelevant lines of questioning.”
I could hear the sound of my ex scribbling notes in the hallway, sighing and stomping his feet up and down. Bitch Lawyer glared at me as she shuffled her notes, looking for her next plan of attack. I had just trounced her in Round One, but she was just getting started.
Have you ever had the tables turned on you when you thought YOU were the victim? Has evasion and misdirection ever worked in your favor? Do you ever turn a shitty situation into some sort of game, just so you can get through it?
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