July 13th, 2015. A date that will forever be etched in my mind. A part of me kept thinking, “This is not going to happen. It’s going to be different for us. God is faithful.”
My husband and I drove together, and arrived promptly at 8:00AM. I was completely numb, as if I were living in some alternate universe. My body on autopilot, as I walked up a wide stairway, looking for Courtroom 23. Everything was very bright, with glass “walls”, and light colored shinny floors. Once up the stairs, there were several long hallways with a multitude of numbered doors. My husband and I found Courtroom number 23 at the very end of such a hallway, and sat on the built in cold stone benches along the walls. There were several people standing by; young, old, white, Hispanic, black, children, teenagers, men, women, dressed up, dressed down, all awaiting their fate. I could feel the somberness in the air. It was like nothing I had ever seen.
As I sat there, and waited, I see my parents coming down the hallway along with David. My heart skips a beat, and for a split second, I jumped for joy as I saw my little boy. The last time we saw each other was nothing but short of a nightmare. I start walking down the hallway with open arms ready to scoop him up. As soon as he sees me… he ran the other way. My joy quickly turned to sheer heartbreak. My son was running away from me. His little 20-month-old heart couldn’t trust me. Could I blame him? First he gets ripped away in the middle of the night, and then I leave him again at the shelter. My heart just kept shattering, at every one of those thoughts that entered my head. My little boy had lost his innocence. All in the name of “the best interest of the child.” There was nothing I could do at that point. I had to stand back, and give him his space. He ran back to my mom, and clung to her leg for dear life. I hugged my mom, and walked down the hallway to Room 23.
We waited, and waited, and waited… until around 10:00AM when our attorney’s arrived. They pulled us to the side to confirm we were all on the same page. My husband and I had to get separate counsel to represent us to not present a “conflict of interest.” An interesting side note, our attorney’s were twin brothers. My husband’s lawyer reminded him once again, to keep in mind all “the system” cared about was the “children’s best interest.” Therefore, any question that may be asked regarding me, or trying to defend me… Don’t. Both lawyers made sure to emphasize that if we didn’t “play along,” they were going to take our children away. My lawyer also prepared me psychologically for what I was going to read in the court reports. He said I would most likely be very angry, that my words or actions would be taken out of context, but not to worry about that right now. Let’s just say I now understand the purpose of pleading the fifth.
My heart was racing as we walked back to the “hallway of doom” (as we refer to it now; since we would return there many more times). I was innocent. Yet, the fate of my family rested in this sea of nameless faces. My family in Brazil was on their knees, praying; missionaries in Africa, on their knees, praying; friends in Switzerland, praying; all over the US, praying. I was pleading with God myself, praying that this judge would see the preposterousness of it all, and close the case that day.
“And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife,
Let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won;
The Kingdom ours remains.”
“Parents of David and Lucas Bruno?” We all stand up, and walk into the courtroom, leaving David with my friend Tatiana. The hearing begins. I just watched, still in shock this was even happening, heart palpitating, as the legal formalities began taking place. I was sitting on the left side of the courtroom, with the children’s court appointed lawyer, and Social Services’ lawyers sitting in front of me. Ricardo was sitting on the right side, with our lawyers, and my mom behind in the jury box. I don’t really remember what was being said in the courtroom. It felt like I was having an out of body experience, as if I were looking in from the outside. Here I was, being judged for something I absolutely did not do, with no proof whatsoever. Yet, they were really considering taking my children away. I glanced over at the children’s lawyer. She swooshed through a ton of papers, then slowed down while taking a closer look at the character letters. She slowed down and turned each page one, by one, carefully making notes.
The judge asked all parties involved if they were in agreement with giving the father sole custody. He turned to me, I confirmed. Turned to my husband, he confirmed. Turned to the children’s lawyer, she confirmed. Turned to Social Services… DENIED. When asked why, the SSA lawyer stated that they did not have a chance to speak with the father prior to the hearing; therefore, they felt like they didn’t “know” him. We instantly turned to each other and made eye contact, both knowing what the other was thinking. Was it any coincidence that on the fateful night when Ricardo arrived from his business trip, and the police were “interviewing” us at the hospital, they explicitly told him NOT to speak to the SSA agents?
At that point, the hearing was in recess while our lawyers battled it out with the judge and SSA lawyers. I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest. Our lawyers argued that my husband was out of state when the incident took place, so it shouldn’t even be a question whether he had any involvement, regardless of whether SSA got to talk to him or not. He’s not a suspect, and he has no prior history of child abuse (or any record at all, for that matter; then again, neither did I).
By the Grace of God, the judge overruled SSA’s objection, and ruled that the children would go to their biological father. He went on to make further provisions, stating the father be put on a “CRISP-like” program (CRISP stands for Conditional Release and Intensive Supervision Program, and is only available to residents of Orange County; we were living in LA County), and the mother would have 24 hours to vacate the premises of the family home and all her belongings. Caseworkers would contact us with further details. Hearing adjourned.
I was gut punched, but not surprised. This is exactly what my lawyer said would happen. From a legal/logical perspective, this was the best outcome I could have hoped for. My children were guaranteed to be with their father, and therefore could not be adopted by a foster family. That was my greatest concern at that moment. Then I turned around and saw my mom. I put my head down on her shoulder, and we just bawled, hugging each other as we walked out of the courtroom down the “hallway of doom.” My head said one thing, while my heart felt another. By one fell swoop of a gavel, I was stripped of everything I cherished—my husband, my children, my home.