QUALITY FAMILY TIME
by ABBIE JOHNSON TAYLOR
“Spending time with your family doesn’t win court cases,” his boss was fond of saying. These words rang in Nick Ramsey’s ears as he stared at the divorce papers. Here he was, a junior partner in a big law firm and now, he would have to hire a lawyer. It didn’t make sense. Carolyn was filing on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. What did that mean? He took a deep breath, leaned back in his chair, and reflected on his marriage.
When he was fresh out of law school and working as a public defender, he met Carolyn. She stood on the other side of the bars of a jail cell. She sported a black eye and her face was covered with bruises. Her left arm was in a cast and her blonde hair was disheveled. The eye that was not blackened appeared to be blue. “I’m scared,” she said. “Can you get me out of here?”
His heart went out to her. He reached through the bars and took her right hand. It was soft and it grasped and held his as if clinging to a lifeline. “It’s okay. I’m going to help you,” he said
To Nick, it was a clear case of self defense. For the past few months, Carolyn’s husband Chris beat her on a regular basis. He was drunk most of the time when the abuse occurred. She broke her arm when he pushed her down a flight of stairs. Afterwards, when he was sober, he apologized and promised it would never happen again. But it always did.
One night, he came after her with a kitchen knife. With her good arm, she grabbed it and cut deep into his throat. The authorities found her on the floor, weeping and holding his bloody body with the knife lying nearby.
She was the only child in her family and her parents were killed in a car crash when she was ten years old. Since there were no living relatives who wanted her, she circulated from one foster home to another until she came of age. Since she couldn’t afford to go to college, she worked for several years as a waitress until she married Chris.
With no one to speak on her behalf and no witnesses, Nick thought this case would be hard to defend. But when the judge, a woman, saw the bruises and cast and learned Carolyn’s story, she dismissed the case, much to Nick’s surprise and relief. Nick and Carolyn celebrated by going out to dinner.
During the next few months, they occasionally went either to dinner or a movie. At first, Carolyn was hesitant to become more romantically involved with Nick because of her past experience But little by little, Nick earned her trust. Six months later, they were engaged and after another six months of courtship, they were married.
Nine months later, their daughter Mary Beth was born and in two years time, they had a son, Clay. By that time, Nick was working for Fowler and Greeley, the most prestigious law firm in the city. Carolyn, who’d resumed waiting tables after Chris’s death, became a stay at home mom. They were happy.
Several months ago, Herman Fowler, the senior partner, impressed with Nick’s work, offered him a junior partnership. Nick accepted it, glad of the extra pay this would bring him. The raise in pay allowed the family to move to a bigger house with a larger yard, much to the delight of the children, ages three and five. Mary Beth and Clay received new toys and clothes and Nick and Carolyn were able to improve their wardrobes and buy new appliances.
But being a junior partner meant having more cases. Nick found himself working late into the night and on weekends. At first, Carolyn seemed to take Nick’s longer work schedule in stride. “I’m so proud of you, honey,” she said. “You saved me from life in prison. Now, you’re helping others the same way.”
But little by little, the late nights and weekends eroded their marriage. In the beginning, when Nick fell into bed at midnight exhausted, Carolyn took him in her arms, kissed him, and in other ways made it clear to him she wanted to make love. But Nick was just too tired. After giving her a few kisses and strokes, he dropped off to sleep.
Later when Nick collapsed into bed late at night, Carolyn ignored him. She seldom spoke to him during the day except to tell him what she and the children were doing and when dinner would be ready. But he was rarely home for dinner.
Nick’s tight schedule didn’t seem to bother Clay. “When you’re not home, he goes into your study a lot,” Carolyn told him. “He sits at your desk and when I ask him what he’s doing, he says he’s pretending to be Daddy,”
Nick’s relationship with Mary Beth suffered. She had always been Daddy’s little girl. The extra work load meant he no longer had time to take her to movies, go roller skating with her, or attend her soccer games and dance recitals.
“Why can’t you?” she asked.
“Because Daddy has to work just like you have to go to school,” he said. “Sometimes, I wish you could come and watch Daddy in court. But you can’t because you’re in school.”
“Okay, Daddy,” she said as she hugged him.
But as time wore on, she became more withdrawn and rarely spoke to him when he was at home. When Nick requested time off to be with his family, Herman Fowler always uttered his famous line. “Spending time with your family doesn’t win court cases.”
Late one night when Nick arrived home from work, he found the house in total darkness. This was unusual since Carolyn left the front porch and hall lights on for him. In the garage, he stumbled over a dark object that stood near the kitchen door. When he tried to open the door, it was locked. Carolyn never locked the doors, even when he was home.
As he turned on the garage light, he noticed that the object over which he’d nearly fallen was the suitcase he used for business trips. A note from Carolyn pinned to the handle read, “Nick, apparently, you’re married to your work and not to me. So I’m filing for divorce. Why don’t you go live at the office? The suitcase has a few things you’ll need for now. You can get the rest later when the kids and I aren’t here. Good riddance.”
Stunned, Nick stared at the note and then at the suitcase. She couldn’t be serious, he thought. He was tempted to pound on the door and demand she open it and explain herself. Because of what happened with Chris, this would only alarm her. With a sigh of resignation, he loaded his suitcase into his car and drove to a nearby motel.
In the morning, he called Carolyn to tell her where he was staying “Honey, why don’t we meet for lunch and talk about this?” he said.
“I’ve made up my mind, Nick,” Carolyn said. “I have an appointment this afternoon with Smith & Johnson.”
“Ouch,” Nick said as he replaced the receiver. Smith & Johnson was one of Fowler & Greeley’s rivals and Carolyn knew it. Heartbroken, he found an apartment near his office and removed the rest of his belongings from the house while Carolyn and the children were gone.
Nick told no one at the office, not even his boss. He kept thinking Carolyn would change her mind. He continued as usual, working even later hours since he had no wife and children waiting for him at home. It was not until today, when the divorce papers were on his desk, that the reality hit him.
As he stared at the papers, he pictured himself with Carolyn and the children holding hands and roller skating or eating ice cream or watching a movie. He thought of the children’s laughter and Carolyn’s smile. He remembered her tenderness in bed. When was the last time they made love? He shook his head.
He jumped to his feet and grabbed his briefcase. He opened drawer after drawer in his desk, removing personal items and stuffing them into the case. In the outer office, he encountered Herman Fowler, who was also carrying a briefcase and heading out the door. “Off to court are you, my boy?” he asked with a grin. “Good for you. What case are you arguing today?”
Nick stopped, set his case on the floor and turned to face his boss, looking him straight in the eye. “No, sir. I’m not going to court today,” he said. “I’m going to spend time with my family, which I hope will keep me from losing a divorce case.”