Uma Lettera para Clara (#23 )
Finally, as promised, a letter. As I said in my last notes, it has been difficult for me, emotionally, to sit down and write this. I have been looking at some of the emails and other papers of the time – a huge collection of them – and it only depresses me. I hope you understand.
Returning to Rome with me in early October, 2000, from Cabanas, considerably later than I (and you) had been promised, to be in your Montessori school at the start, you did resume school. Your mother having indicated when we left that she wished to separate and that she would return to Rome to live, and we’d have separate apartments and share our time with you. She did return at the very end of October, once she had shot almost all of her film. She was hostile on arrival, and I went, as she knew was planned, to do 3 days of screenings in Madrid. On November 1, she abducted you – kidnapped is the real word – from our home in Rome, and went into hiding for 2 weeks. In December I went to Lisboa to see you and be present for a first court hearing. While I had the alleged legal right to see you each day while there, your mother blocked this repeatedly. I saw you a few times, always in a very hostile environment. I left, and in January returned, with the same alleged rights, and was able to see you only three times.
In the period after, my lawyer in Lisboa, Constanza Maltez, did the legal work at hand. In August 2001, I was informed there would be a hearing in court for “temporary custody.” And so I went – again with the alleged legal right to see you everyday. Your mother, as she had previously, violated the terms of her custody, and blocked me from seeing you. At one point Vasco Pimental I believe it was, told me the address where you were staying, and I went to the apartment. You were not there, but Teresa was, and I was able, briefly, to enter. I found your room – after 6 months it was a mattress on the floor and some dirty sheets and a few of your toys. Teresa was much too busy working on her important film to be bothered with providing you a proper room. She chased me from the house.
If I recall properly during that August I saw you three times – once we went to a swimming pool, and the other time out to the aquarium in the World Fair grounds. Though you clearly still recognized me, you no longer spoke English, something I am certain your mother did to try to break any connection between us. It had been 7 months since you had last seen me, or spoken with me, solely owing to your mother’s actions. It was a bit difficult as your English was mostly lost – though bit by bit you remembered it. Also you clearly liked to be with me – as before you were kidnapped. Your mother transparently did not like this.
At the court hearing the formalities were done: Teresa’s lawyer said his bit, and confirmed the false claims of your mother; my lawyer did her talk, noting the perjuries your mother had committed – lies about where you had lived, how you had been raised, and so on. The judge, a man seemingly in his early 30’s listened, and at the conclusion ordered that your mother receive temporary custody. I broke into weeping in the court. The callous nature of the system – that it ruled on your life knowing nothing of you, of your life, and accepting the lies your mother gave them, all fell on me (and you) in that moment. The judge did though order that I’d be able to see you each day, which thus far on that visit, again, your mother had repeatedly tried to block.
A day was set, and I went to see you, by agreement with Teresa, in the Parque Infantile close by where you were living. I arrived in time, and some minutes later, your mother came, accompanied by a hard looking woman of her own age, presumably to be a witness. You were four years and some months old, and instead of walking or skipping along, you were wrapped around Teresa’s waist, clutching her like a monkey, in tears. Teresa said it was because you didn’t want to see me!
I do not know what your mother could have done to reduce you to such a state, but whatever it was, it was cruel and brutal. You had been terrorized, taught – as you had earlier in December been taught to say sexually suggestive things – to fear me, your father. But indeed you did remember me, and after some minutes, we ran and played in the park. Your mother and her friend sat and glowered at us. Owing to the language problem I called a Portuguese friend, someone you knew from our time in Largo de Outerinho, and she came at my request to help translate – though you were already beginning to recall some English. And after a while, you were happy, playing, and a distant person from the little brutalized girl your mother had brought to the park. I suggested we go to the Fiera, and you said yes, and as the terms of my visit were that I could go, alone, with you. Teresa resisted this, which required a telephone call to the lawyers and the Juvenile Authorities before she complied. We finally left.
I rented a car, and in your interests – seeing how your mother had been treating you – your mess of a bedroom, her constant violation of the terms of her custody – and whatever she had done to you before bringing you to the park, we left Portugal. My lawyer, previously, faced with the realities of the Portuguese Juvenile system, had told me that the best thing she could imagine was me calling to tell her I was in Rome, with you.
On our way we stopped overnight in Toledo, Spain, and then went on to Rome. In the entire time we spoke, slowly, and your English returned. And not once did you ever mention your mother.
It was the end of August, a time in which in Portugal and in Italy, when hardly anything can ever be done. We had been in Rome a handful of days, and you were quickly “at home” in your room, in the piazza’s and the playground we used to go to before you were kidnapped.
And then one night – around 3 or 4 am in the morning – lights flashed across our fourth floor apartment. I awoke, and saw some kind of police van, and a fire truck with ladders, down in the streets. They were coming to break into the apartment. It was the police, directed by Interpol. They did come in, entering and going to the room you were in, shining a flashlight directly in your face. Fortunately you were sleeping deeply and did not awake. I recall, too, that your aunt, Joanna, ran into the apartment screaming, though she was quickly escorted out by the police. I sat then with the police until morning, while your mother and someone who was beefy, some kind of body-guard “enforcer” waited on the street. Serge Treffaut was also there.
This all led to a hearing in the Italian juvenile court system, which said you should stay with me, but that Teresa would be able to see you some hours per day. I arranged with a photographer friend who had a studio for you to visit there with her. My friend, however, said Teresa was very hostile and caused many problems, so that ended in a day or two. In turn, again, the Italian juvenile court then placed you in Teresa’s custody, with a court order that Teresa remain in Rome until custody hearings would be set and done in Italy. I pleaded with them not to do this, and said if they did so, you would be kidnapped again within 24 hours. They said this couldn’t happen as she would be stopped at the border with you, though I pointed out that under the Schengen treaty there was no longer a border to stop at. They insisted otherwise, and indeed, you were gone in 24 hours, kidnapped by your mother for the second time, against a legal court order requiring her to remain, with you, in Italy. The juvenile authority who had done this later apologized to me for his error.
The last time I saw you was in the police station of Trastevere, sitting on your mother’s lap as she looked angrily at you, saying I know not what. You were crying. A phone call came from the juvenile court person saying the police should turn you over to Teresa. I have never seen you since. Nor spoken with you. It has been 15 years and 3 months.
I don’t “know” what has happened to you in those years, or how your mother has treated you. I can imagine – there is a considerable literature on people like your mother, and what they often do. It is not very nice, though often they succeed in their aims in alienating their child from the other parent. In real life I have known more than a few people, directly or indirectly, who had similar experiences – broken families, being taught by one parent that they should hate the other parent. The consequences are usually not so wonderful and in some instances I know of, the effect has been devastating.
I can also surmise from how your mother has willfully blocked you from any contact with me all these years – returning things sent to you, blocking your Facebook page, and myriad other things – that she has been very forceful in attempting to erase me from your life. And I doubt that this has been good for you, though I hope for your sake it has not been terribly damaging.
I will leave this letter to end here.
The winter solstice will be on us soon and with it the holiday season. I hope you have a wonderful holiday, and that the coming New Year is positive and joyful for you. And I hope we may see each other.
Amo-te, Clarinha !
Teu pai, jon
Amo-te, Clarinha !