Later today I have to buy a gift card at Target, do my weekly grocery shopping, and drop my 16-year-old son off at a deli to meet his lawyer.
The lawyer he has hired to modify custody back from his dad to me. And get me child support so I can afford to house and feed my first-born.
“How are you paying for this?” I sputtered Friday evening, after Luca casually announced he was planning to sue his dad.
“My lawyer says he can get my dad to pay fees,” he said, taking a swig of Coke.
“Good luck to him,” I said, unloading the dishwasher.
“Mom, my dad is making my life hell. He controls everything I do. He confiscated the gift money all the relatives got me for Christmas and won’t let me spend it. He got mad at me for buying a longboard, so he sold it. He told me I have ‘two weeks to make a miraculous turnaround’ or he’ll send me away again.”
“Maybe he’s just threatening,” I said. “You know how he is.”
“I’ve heard him on the phone talking to residentials. He’s serious.”
I leaned against the kitchen counter and crossed my arms.
“You know that modifying custody takes a long time, right? Even if you won your case, it wouldn’t happen in two weeks.”
“Yeah, but my lawyer could go in on an emergency, an ex something…”
“Yeah. So my dad couldn’t send me away. And I could live with you.”
Just a few years ago Luca despised me, and desperately wanted to live full-time with his father. And now, here he was in my kitchen, eating tortilla chips, acting as if wresting custody away from his dad and back to me was a slam-dunk.
I stared at my son. He was wearing camoflauge pants rolled up to reveal the designs he had drawn on his legs, a purple t-shirt, and a skateboard helmet with a tiny camera attached to the top so he could film himelf skating. He looked like something out of The Jetsons.
“Where did you find this lawyer?”
“Online. Do we have any salsa?”
* * *
I spent an hour talking to Nathan, the lawyer. He told me he had a civil rights background and felt that Luca had a case because he was being psychologically abused. He was worried, however, that Luca would lose his college tuition if he went up against his dad.
I told him I didn’t think that would happen because the money came from Prince’s parents, who had always favored Luca. On the other hand, Prince’s family is not comprised of individuals, but operates as one grandiose ego mass, so maybe the grandparents would disown Luca out of solidarity.
Nathan said he had advised Luca to tough it out with his dad until he was 18 and old enough to live on his own. Perhaps he could go to therapy and learn coping skills?
I told him he’d had every kind of therapy imaginable, that he could practically write a book on coping skills, and that he was not the kind of kid to grin and bear it.
Nathan and I discussed emancipation, but that meant that Luca would have to show that he could support himself, which, at 16, and living in one of the most expensive cities in the country, isn’t realistic.
So we decided that he would meet with Nathan Sunday morning and decide whether to proceed. I gave the phone back to Luca so I could e-mail Nathan the custody order, and Prince’s latest financials.
“Mom, Nathan wants to know if my dad is Machiavellian,” said Luca.
“What?” I asked, feeling a flash of panic that Luca knew about this blog.
“What’s Machiavellian?” he asked, genuinely puzzled.
“The word Machiavellian comes from a 15th century Italian diplomat named Machiavelli,” I explained, relieved that the blog was still a secret. “He wrote a book called The Prince. It’s all about crushing your opponents so you can seize power, doing whatever it takes to win.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s totally my dad,” Luca told Nathan over the phone.
As I listened to Luca tell Nathan that nothing would deter him from this legal battle, I tried to wrap my mind around two ironies: one, that my ex’s pseudonym is Prince Machiavelli, for obvious reasons. And two, that I had started this blog exactly three years ago when I was losing custody of my son to his dad. And how in such a short period of time, his dad may be losing custody of Luca to me.
* * *
Later that night, Luca and I sat at the dining room table, drinking coke (him) and wine (me). I wasn’t suprised by anything he told me: his dad’s relentless attempts to control the air he breathed, his stepmother’s collusion, his insistence that he would go nuts if he stayed, his fear of being sent away again, until he finished high school.
“You know, Luca, I don’t have a room for you. And if I can’t get any child support, the judge could make you a ward of the state.”
“I’d rather go to foster care,” he said. “Anything is better than staying with him.”
I grimaced. I work with at-risk kids and know more than I care to about the snake pit that is our foster care system. It’s come to this? I thought. That the favorite grandchild of a spectacularly wealthy dynasty could end up bunking in a shabby room with traumatized inner-city kids?
I gazed out the living room window, and into the windows of the high rise across the parking lot. I watched parents and children on a couch in front of a TV, a family in another window seated around a table eating dinner. They all looked like they were getting along, but who knew? Maybe a long-festering psychic schism was about to rip their family units apart.
I turned back to my son.
“Luca…this is going to be brutal. You think it’s bad now, you have no idea what your dad could put you through.”
Luca paused and looked at me.
“Mom, I don’t think my dad knows what he put you through.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean…I don’t think he had any idea what you were feeling. I don’t think he really gets that, with anyone.”
“I don’t think he does,” I agreed, surprised and relieved to witness my son’s acumen. “But I hope that you do.”
To be continued…