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Fred Dickey's Island of Human Drama

A novelist who believes every life is an adventure.

Another Trial for a Woman Who's Endured Heavy Burdens

By Fred Dickey                                                                                                                           March 6, 2017

If you insist, descend with me into downtown courtroom D-45.

           This chamber of unhappiness is where domestic restraining orders are heard and ruled on. It’s a room full of love gone wrong.

           I watch accusers and accused shuffle in; plaintiffs sitting on one side with their attorneys, if they have them; defendants sitting on the other. Both sides try to avoid eye contact. No one seems to have made an effort to dress for going anywhere but Starbucks.

          One woman stands out. She is dressed in a smart plum business suit and heels. She does not smile. If anyone in that room has more reason for angst than she, they truly are stuck in a swamp of despair, if I may borrow from “Pilgrim’s Progress.”

         While I wait, I think about two stories I wrote in the last year and a half. They were about a woman in her late-30s with stage-4 breast cancer. She had a toddler and was heavily carrying a second. She had been in (temporary) remission and had gotten pregnant only because oncologists said her treatment has pushed her into menopause.

        They said wrong. But then, cancer came knocking again. A little over a year ago, she gave birth to a second daughter. For months she has been locked in a near-death struggle with her disease. She says the cancer has spread to her liver, her spine, skull, bones, and...that’s enough.

         After 3 years of being together, she married her girls’ father 8 months ago and took his surname. He married a woman with serious cancer. Not every man would.

        Chemotherapy made her life hell. She persevered, because she had her husband and those two little girls: Wide-eyed, peach-skinned, happily gurgling reasons to live.

        Many readers have asked over the months how Christie is doing. Did her cancer come back? Are the kids okay? Did her husband find work? Some stories stick in the mind like a favorite movie. A lot of people developed an interest in this woman who smiled through her pain.

       So, how is Christie doing?

       She’s right here in the courtroom. The woman in the plum suit.

       My phone rang a few days ago. “Hi, Fred. This is Christie Hess.”

       Hess? Her maiden name.

      We catch-up pleasantly. She told me the kids are fine, but that cellular Frankenstein monster has kept her in chemo. The diagnosis is an unchanging “terminal.” Then she dropped her bomb. “I’m getting a divorce.”

       You are what? This is a woman gravely ill and with two toddlers. For God’s sake

      The last time I saw her, a few weeks ago, she was strapped to the torture rack of heavy, heavy chemo treatments. Her husband faithfully took her to and from the hospital. She had a nanny to help with the children and the house work in their small Clairmont home.

       Since then, the torture has turned psychic, but it’s still the rack.

       I don’t know what caused the marriage to land in domestic-violence court, but the offense she alleges was not brutal, at least by usual conduct, she says. I don’t ask further.

       Look, I feel kindly toward this woman, so I’m going to bend over backwards to be fair to her husband. An ethical writer has to recognize how his emotions lean. I won’t even use his name.

       How does love go wrong? A thousand ways. Anyone who claims the ability to sort out the intricacies of a marriage, even their own, is self-deluding. My interest is the consequences of this--frankly--bizarre situation.

       The animus between this couple became so heavy that Christie says her 2-year-old innocently said, “Mommy is a bitch.” Christie does not think the girl learned that word in pre-school.

       Christie says her husband filed a counter request for a restraining order against her, which left my mouth agape.

       I asked him if that were true, and he said, “No comment.”


When her husband and his attorney entered the courtroom, they summoned Christie and her attorney into the hallway where both agreed to drop the restraining-order petitions with the understanding that a visitation agreement would be worked out, she says.

Christie has taken the first steps to divorce. She anticipates the main point of contention will be her desire to move back east. Her plan is to load a rental trailer and drive to New Jersey with her step-father who will fly out. There, she’ll move into her mother’s house and start new medical treatment.

Her great fear is that her girls will not be with her.

 Today, Christie takes care of her girls with only the essential part-time assistance of a $12 per hour helper, which she can barely afford. Christie was given thousands of dollars by sympathetic readers, which she put in a joint account. Gone. If she has any money now, it’s like a lone can of beans in a pantry.

She gave her lawyer a $10,000 retainer, of which half is already gone. She anticipates having to come up with more. It’s money borrowed from her family. Her rent is paid through March only because the landlord is letting her use the security deposit for the last month’s rent. And then?

However, Christie’s hopes for an expedited hearing were for naught. Days later, the judge cited a full calendar and set June 5 for the divorce proceedings to be heard. That will mean three months of waiting for Christie. Time she doesn’t have. What to do...What to do...

 Asked several times to counter the things Christie said, her husband angrily declined, in full divorce-battle mode, as is she. He also disputes that the proposed New Jersey environment would be a suitable home for the children. Oh, he’s angry, all right.

Divorce. Sigh.

 Christie’s challenges have her surrounded: cancer, divorce, rent, custody--most of all, time. Time is always slow when you want it to be in a hurry.

 In the meantime, Christie sits home alone, feeds the kids, changes diapers, fights nausea and the fatigue her treatment causes. When she can rest, she stares at walls in a dark house.

   The rains have stopped, and the sun is now shining. For some.

Christie and family have a Go-Fund Me webpage at:

Fred Dickey's home page is

His email is [email protected]