January 20th, 2008 - Robert McCready
“It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character. Otherwise, it cannot harm you—inside or out.” – Marcus Aurelius
I remember how good it felt to dump Jason. In a lull between customers one morning shift at Starbucks, I stood at the drive-thru window with my eyes closed, feeling the sun rise. According to my journal, this occurred on Sunday, January 20, 2008, my twenty-third year. I wrote, “I texted that I was glad it was over, he wasn’t what I was looking for, and sorry.”
That afternoon, during the after-church rush, I had bar duty. Dozens of cups lined the counter, and I made one, two, and sometimes three drinks at a time. Jason walked in, sipping a tall frappé that he got from the only other Starbucks in Florence—at the Barnes and Noble café. He walked to the bar, straw in mouth, and set a Barnes and Noble store bag on the counter. It was wrapped flat around a book. He raised his eyebrows to me and left without saying a word.
Jason bought me the Norton Critical edition of Pride and Prejudice I’d been eyeing but hadn’t bought, and still, to this day, haven’t read.
I don’t remember taking him back easily. According to the journal entry, I went to his apartment after my shift where we fought—I don’t know what about—and he gave me a card.
The card was plain, white on the inside, blue on the outside, and it folded in half. He filled up the whole thing with a message in cursive script, a move that I now view as manipulative because he always printed; I wrote in cursive. You could tell this effort came from a novice writer. His letters were shaky and uneven. The effect created what seemed like genuine emotion. Superimposed over the script, he’d drawn large block letters in crayon spelling out “I’M SORRY.” Besides the apology, I recall one other phrase, which is, “I know I’m not what you want, but you are what I need.”
In the late fall of 2009, I found the card in the trunk of my car amidst tons of papers, bills, advertisements, student loan notices, and folders of bank information. I don’t know where I parked, but I remember cleaning out the junk at night. When I found the note, I stopped gathering papers into a trash bag, and wrote a text to my pen pal Alex that might’ve read something like, “If I’d found this letter a year ago, I would’ve won in court.” I snapped a photo of the note with my flip phone and sent it to him. Alex is an engineer and an overall good, strong person. I imagine his reply went like this: “Good riddance. Jason seems like an idiot.”
The exchange with Alex represents the last communication about and evidence of that note. I tore it up and trashed it. It held no sentimental value; its value had been legal. Now was too late to appeal the restraining order Jason won against me because it had already expired. An unorganized man may get his day in court, but he won’t win.
When you get served a restraining order, the constable comes to your house. It’s very embarrassing because everyone knows that you’re being served court papers, and if in the future you are served legal documents, this is probably how they will come. Everyone will know that someone has taken action against you, that you perpetrated the law. Forget about pleading ignorance or innocence until proven guilty; you’ll be on the defense.
You get several weeks until the court date, so use the days to prepare your arguments. Use some of your time to come up with a defense, but use the rest of it to form an argument that makes the other person look like a dick. You’ll need evidence, a handwritten note for instance, to bolster your claim that the plaintiff is the crazy one, far crazier than you.
Had I known this lesson, Jason v. Robert would’ve ended with no restraining order granted, vindication for me, and a besmirched reputation for Jason. When he said, “Robert threatened in a text message to hit me if he ever saw me again,” I would’ve countered, “Only because he kept coming into my work and leaving me harassing notes. He’s a stalker!”
Before the court date, I’d sought advice from magistrate judges. They cannot give legal advice, but will inform you about the law. I met two different judges on two different days. The last judge I saw was a black woman with whom I felt a kinship. I sat across the desk from her in the office.
I said, “I was up late one night, remembering things that made me angry, and I texted him. The next day, he had me served with a restraining order.”
“What did your text say?” she said.
“That I would hit him the next time I saw him.”
“That’s all?” She opened a large tan book with bold blue and burgundy stripes on the binding. She read a moment and said, “The law is that the plaintiff has to ask twice within 90 days for the defendant to leave him alone.”
“What if he didn’t ask twice?”
“He’d have to prove that he did.”
“He didn’t. My text was out of the blue.”
She smiled. “I think it will be all right.”
The court date came one afternoon, in late July or early August. I brought my friend Stephanie, and Jason brought Stevie, a gentleman with whom I once had a date with at the Books-A-Million. He had a lisp and kept asking me, “What’s going on?” I’d answer with an update about my life, and he’d ask again and again until I said things like, “I’m just sitting here with you.” I see now that he wanted a casual sex encounter with me and didn’t know how to ask. Stevie had no reason to feel embarrassed that I rejected him out of naiveté or lack of interest because here he was, soon to witness my biggest humiliation so far.
The optics in court favored Jason. For his lime-green button-up shirt, I countered him a sensible pinstripe one. His spiky hair with blond tips almost fainted and fell over next to my crew cut. He wore a puka shell choker necklace, and I wore a watch. He and Stevie looked like a couple. Stephanie and I looked like a couple. This effeminate gay man looked like he needed legal protection from the gay basher.
The Honorable Neron Langley granted and denied around a half a dozen restraining order cases before Jason and I were called. A sister filed a restraining order against her brother for threatening her son, and since he didn’t show up, she won her case. A teenage girl, seated with her dad, cried in front of the judge, telling the story of how her boyfriend threatened to shoot her and himself while they were out on his boat in Santee. His defense that the gun wasn’t loaded lost his case, and I saw how pained his mother looked. A young woman without parents told the judge about how her ex-boyfriend kept coming to her house after she asked him to leave. He, also without parents, threw himself on the mercy of the court and said that he was joining the marines on Tuesday and a restraining order might hurt his chances. Judge Langley issued a stay and said that if he contacted her within thirty days he’d grant the order. The woman started crying.
I whispered to Stephanie, “Maybe I should say I’m going to the army.”
“Stop,” she might’ve said. She usually smiles and says this when I make inappropriate jokes.
“He texted me that if he ever saw me again that he would hit me,” Jason said. The judge asked some follow-up questions, and Jason’s responses were brief.
When it was my turn, I said, “It was kind of a joke.”
“The law requires a reasonable person to have fear, and he seems reasonable to me.”
“It says that he has to tell me twice within 90 days to leave him alone, and Jason didn’t.”
“Did you?” The judge turned to him.
Jason looked down. He stuttered. “Yes.”
I suppose I protested as the gavel struck. I remember that I irritated the judge. Jason couldn’t prove that he told me to leave him alone. The judge granted Jason’s restraining order against me, and I had to pay for it. It cost eighty dollars. Stephanie said to me in the courtroom before we walked out to pay, “Jason Kr—r has a vagina.” On the way home I kept thinking everyone would assume I was a stalker and that Jason would tell them I was crazy.
Stephanie said, “He lied in court.”
I never thought of Jason as a liar because he would make confessions to me. Part of the rhythm of our relationship included his confession of betrayals against me, behaviors that made him unfit, that caused fights, that pushed me away. Early on, the game tested my resolve. “I’ve been fingered. I was drunk. It was Ronnie,” he said. We weren’t exclusive; it wasn’t real sex. “I’m not going to cut my toenails anymore,” he said before Thanksgiving. I felt relief when after his Christmas trip back home to Lowville he said, “I had to clip them to go ice skating.” Later, I stopped looking at these confessions as a sign of his remorse; I stopped believing he was capable of it. Jason would lie in court; confessions and lies are kindred. They have secrecy in common. Lying protects a secret and confessions abandon it when lying is no longer necessary.
I felt stressed when I sensed a betrayal from Jason, and he would count on a fight. I experienced satisfaction when he made a tearful confession. Such a life soon tires me out, and I broke the rhythm ten years ago. When I sensed that final betrayal, instead of arguing, I decided to leave. Jason needed our drama, and when I wouldn’t fight him as part of a couple, he arranged for me to fight him in court.
Six months after I found the card, I spoke on the phone to a new friend in Charleston. “I want to go to gay potluck,” Nick said. Somehow in the conversation he mentioned that Jason goes to the event, not realizing that I knew him.
“He’s crazy. We had a bad breakup,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“He likes to try to get you to fight with him.”
Nick said, “He once sent me a message on Facebook that said ‘I thought you were different.’ I sent him a question mark. Then he said, ‘You’re just like everyone else.’”
“Typical.” I tried to sound casual. "That boy loves a puka shell necklace.”
Until that conversation with Nick, I felt embarrassed that Jason won a restraining order against me. Ten years ago, I was too naïve to know that the game Jason played only had one winner, him. Some writers might call Jason a narcissist or a sociopath. While he does provide evidence that supports either supposition, what Nick revealed shows that Jason hadn’t changed. I paid eighty dollars and never saw Jason again, and now, I consider that a waste of money. Punching him in his stupid face would’ve been more satisfying, and I could have used the eighty dollars towards bail.
Robert McCready lives with his dog in a small town in South Carolina, USA. His work appears in Tweetspeak Poetry, Cattywampus, and The Bitchin' Kitsch.