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I hand my petition for guardianship to the judge. He puts on his glasses and pulls the paper closer to his face mouthing numbers. He’s counting the signatures in support on the page.
“Mr. Jones, I see you have just under 100 signatures verses the Smith’s almost 200 signatures.”
I freeze. “How could I let this happen?” I think to myself, “I let my brother down.”
“Mr. Kelly where is your lawyer?” says the judge.
“I’m not sure Your Honor. He told me he had something very important to do.” I reply.
“Very well, you will have to represent yourself,” the judge says gruffly.
I nod my acknowledgment to the judge. I start to tear up as I sit down and whispering, “I’m sorry Luke.”
Addressing Jennifer’s lawyer he asks, “Any closing statements before I make my ruling?”
I hardly hear him as my ears are ringing with the horrible, sudden realization that I’m going to lose Bradley.
I remember when my brother Luke first asked me to take care of his son. I didn’t know what was happening so I asked, “Why do would you need me to do that?”
“Alex, I have to tell you something” said Luke, so serious he scared me.
“What is it man?” I replied cautiously.
“I’m dying. I have cancer and the doctors said they found it too late to do anything. It’s over for me.” Alex said in measured tones.
I didn’t know how to react. Luke had always been super healthy and fit. It caught me off guard and before I could even speak, I started to cry.
“Hey look, it’ll be all right bro, just don’t forget me, okay?” Alex said, tearing up himself. He jumping up and wrapping his arm around me, for a quick half brother hug.
“Alright Luke, I promise I won’t forget you. And of course, sure, I’ll do anything you need me to do.” I said, quickly.
“Alex, I’m serious about Bradley, I need you to take care of him.” Luke said seriously, looking at me square in the face and holding me with one hand on my shoulder so I couldn’t look away.
“I don’t know, Luke” I murmured uncomfortably.
Of course I loved Bradley. He was the light of the family, and of course I wanted to make my dying brother happy! But what did I know about taking care of a three year old child? I was just the silly uncle who would buy him toys and fast food, not a father; certainly not his father. But as Alex stared at me with that intense look on his face, the unspoken reality of the situation make clear that I had no choice. I had to man up and I had to take Bradley, because if I didn’t take him, he would go to Jennifer. Jennifer is Bradley’s mother and Luke’s ex-wife.
Jennifer is tall, with a purchased hourglass figure, and absolutely beautiful in every way. But like most “perfect” things, there was a catch. Jennifer was a closet alcoholic and an abusive one, at that. She used to physically and verbally abuse little Bradley, when Luke was away at work. I tried to tell Luke but he didn’t believe me, until I was forced to show him. Luke was relatively rich, so he had cameras recording entries into his house, for security. It took some doing and a bottle of expensive wine, but I managed to gain entry into their home. When Jennifer was occupied, I turned the cameras so they were set to record the family areas, instead of the doors. It was hard to wait, but I gave it a week, before I told Alex. He was not happy with me and more to prove me wrong, he agreed to look. He pulled down the cameras and we viewed them together, but only got a third of the way through before we saw Jennifer twice tormenting Bradley. I will never forget the look on his face; he was absolutely devastated. I took no pleasure in it, but I was relieved. He started to cry as he walked away, but didn’t say a word. I don’t know the exact details as to what followed or what he said to Jennifer, but he filed for a divorce almost immediately. The custody battles for Bradley waged on and on, but Alex retained full custody up until his death. Jennifer didn’t take much time to find a new man - Zach. I remember the first time I met Zach; it was at one of Bradley’s custody dispute cases. He was very big and you could tell just by looking at him that he was rich. He kept going on and on about how amazing Jennifer is, and how he doesn’t understand how Luke could have left her. I wanted to tell him why, but I know Luke wouldn’t have been happy if I did. He was always a private guy and he never stopped loving Jennifer, the mother of his child. He just couldn’t accept her behavior, especially when it came to hurting Bradley.
Now, he’s gone. I just can’t believe it; it just won’t register. He’s been with me my whole life, looking out for me and taking care of me. But I couldn’t do the one thing he asked of me, basically on his death bed! The day Luke died my world stopped. I had contemplated killing myself, because I couldn’t face being so alone. Then I remembered Bradley and knew I couldn’t do that to him. I couldn’t leave him alone, to have to live with that monster Jennifer. I had to keep my promise to Luke, no matter how much I hurt living without him. Thankfully, Luke had designated me as the person he wanted to have custody in his will. I was able to have Bradley these last six months; but only half the time, because the judge let him spend half the time with his mother while we battled for custody. It took everything I had, financially and emotionally, fighting Jennifer and her rich new husband every single day. Everywhere I turned, Jennifer out-bought me or out-maneuvered me, like with double the number of character reference signatures on the petition for custody. I’m sure her husband paid well for those signatures, too. But she couldn’t buy Bradley. No matter what she did or said, Bradley would always run to me and hold on for dear life any time she came near. The court investigators saw that and so did the social workers. I know they saw how terrified Bradley was when he was forced to go with Jennifer and so did she, until finally she just started sending Zach to pick him up at the exchanges. I know the investigators saw that, too. I only hoped they were honest enough to report it that way to the judge. Jennifer had the best lawyers money could buy, a team of three; while I had a part-time legal assistant from the legal aid society. He was always rushed and on the phone with other cases, even as we were meeting or walking into court.
Or worst of all, today, our final hearing and he couldn’t even show up. I was too sad to even be angry with him. I was trying to think how I was going to have to go into that dark little holding room where Bradley was waiting, and how I was going to have to tell him that he couldn’t come home with me. I was going to have to tell this three year old child that he was being given over to his nightmare. So consumed with my despair, I’d lost touch with where I was and the bailiff had to physically nudge me to pay attention. The judge was addressing me and I hadn’t even noticed! I registered movement from the other table and glanced quickly at Jennifer and saw her beautiful face contorted in fury, as she swatted away papers her attorney was trying to hand her. Without realizing it, I came to my feet, to better understand what was going on and finally focused on what the judge’s words:
“Mr. Kelly, the Court generally favors placing a child with a birth parent. That is the natural order of things. Even if the deceased father wanted you to have custody, the child’s mother is the natural choice for guardian. However, your attorney did indeed have something “more important” to take care of. He was able to get the authorities to exercise a warrant for the missing security camera footage, with the private security firm that monitored the home remotely. Even though your brother destroyed the footage he owned, the security firm maintains their footage for a full year. Your attorney provided that footage to this court this morning. The footage speaks for itself - a full week of abuse and assault and battery, against this toddler, by none other than his own mother. I have shared this footage with opposing counsel and more importantly with the District Attorney. Given this uncontroverted evidence, the Court finds that the best interest of the child is not served by residing with the mother, his abuser. To the contrary, Mr. Kelly, every report I have received, from every court investigator and social worker, supports my finding that the best interest of the minor child Bradley Kelly is to reside with his uncle Alex Kelly, and so full and permanent custody is so granted. Bailiff, please take that woman into custody and please show Mr. Kelly where he may find his “son”. Court is adjourned.”.