Fred P. Raines and Romulus Valesco were roommates and varsity wrestling training partners at Western Continental University (WCU). They helped each other finish their education before Fred moved to a small town in the mid west called Hickory Leaf. Romulus married Radisha Ethridge 17 years after Fred moved.
Fred and Romulus remained friends, maintaining contact for 27 years. Fred heard about a researcher position opening at his company, Scientific Aerotechnical Systems (SAS), for which Romulus would be perfect. He invited Romulus to move with Radisha, and their 8-year-old son, Robin, to Hickory Leaf. He moved his family, the Valescos, but did not let Fred know that, after 10 years of marriage, they were on the brink of divorce. In spite of serious concerns about how their marriage would survive a long-distance move, Romulus moved with Radisha and Robin.
About three months after their move, the town caught wind of Romulus and Radisha having loud, prolonged arguments at home with Robin crying terribly in the background. On the surface, it looked terrible for this new family having just moved into this small town. At the local diner, The Springs, some people would casually change tables away from them when they recognized them as the quarreling family. Romulus, as the husband and father bore the brunt of the social backlash, as people were generally less sympathetic to him for his larger size.
A neighbor passing by could be heard saying, "He's rather big compared to his wife and kid. They just got here. They fuss and stuff- and we don't do that kinda stuff here."
Four days later, as the couple had finished arguing for 46 minutes over Robin, Radisha sat to eat. She finished her last mouthful of the meal when Romulus re-approached her at the table and sat. They stared at each other with a nine-second pregnant pause of silence before Romulus said, "I can't do this anymore. This is over." Radisha glared back with indifferent silence. He got up and walked away.
Two days later, Romulus filed for divorce at the Hickory Leaf Family Court citing irreconcilable differences. He had been sleeping in a different part of the home and withdrawing himself from sexual activity with Radisha. He maintained sexual restraint and physical distance at home was to satisfy the divorce conditions requiring that they were neither sharing a marital bed or sexual relations.
Within 10 days, Radisha was served the divorce papers at home. She resented that he had filed before she did. Fast-forward 14 months and Radisha did not contest the divorce proceedings. Romulus weighed how they would co-parent Robin while divorced under the same roof but came to no conclusion. He divorced to detach himself from the intimate relationship and association with Radisha. He had no intention of ever forsaking his duty to help raise Robin, but now had to do so as divorcees. He realized how complicated his family had just become while they were still relatively new to Hickory Leaf.
Robin had defied Romulus's repeated instructions to get dressed for school. As he was getting himself ready for work, Radisha remained in her bed. Romulus was scrambling about the home gathering his things and asking Robin if he was ready. Robin repeatedly answered, "yes." When Romulus came to check on Robin, he saw that Robin was still undressed and no way ready for school. He yelled at Robin for disobedience and Radisha got out of bed to confront Romulus about yelling.
"I don't have time for you," said Romulus as he hurried past her. She followed after him as they yelled back and forth. He snatched up the child, threw the nearest clothes on him and scuffled to the car to take him to school. Radisha persisted after him to the car. After delaying him a few more minutes, she slammed his car door shut and he drove off.
That same evening, the loud, contentious verbal dispute about Robin resumed. Radisha ran outside with him to the stoplight, full of tears, beads of sweat on her forehead, and slobber from the mouth, wailing, "Romulus did this! Romulus did this!" The child, upset by his mother, then started crying hysterically also. Passersby came over to check on her and a small crowd quickly formed. Romulus attempted to approach her to bring her back inside but she was engulfed by concerned onlookers. The damage was done. What could Romulus say in his own defense to assuage this crowd that he had not caused the distress that they were seeing upon her and the child?
Twice more after the divorce finalized, Radisha concocted a public ruckus with Robin in her arms for onlookers to behold in three weeks. She sought the sympathies of their neighbors as she paraded the street with the visibly distressed child in her arms. She made damnable allegations concerning Romulus's discipline of Robin. She depicted him as monstrous and brooding, lordly, and intimidating to the child.
"I would come home afraid of his temper. My son would not even come out of his room." She told a couple outside The Springs. She was becoming recognizable to passers-by and they knew of whom she referred.
18 days later, Radisha filed charges against him to obtain a restraining order and substantiate the narrative that she was spilling to throughout Hickory Leaf. She had him served at his office at SAS. He was not immediately terminated, but was called into a one hour meeting with Human Resources. They informed him that they would monitor the progress of his legal situation. That same day, his neighbors witnessed the police escort Romulus to his home to gather his belongings and leave the property.
Fred heard various rumors about Romulus and was disappointed by the allegations of menacing swirling about. He regretted that his old friend did not open up to him before moving about their marital troubles. Fred kept silent and the appearance of being unmoved by the allegations.
So within the first two years of their residency, Romulus filed for divorce and Radisha filed a restraining order against him. As the news was all around Hickory Leaf, with the help of Radisha heralding it, the name Valesco had become synonymous with the phrase, domestic dispute. Fred questioned himself how well he knew Romulus over this three decade span. Although Romulus was considered a good worker, his off-hours character was being called into question throughout the town.
Seven tense days remained until the hearing for the restraining order. Romulus regretted moving his family to Hickory Leaf. He had to stay in a hotel while awaiting the hearing and avoided going out as much as possible. Radisha continued to vilify him to anyone in town who would listen.
Romulus recognized that his job may now be in jeopardy. the town was being swayed by the preponderance of allegations against him, most of which he himself had not heard. He noticed an increasing number of disapproving stares as he went about his daily business. An increasing number of people were siding with his alleged victim because they felt that to do otherwise would be perceived as victimizing her further. Fred was noticeably unavailable to Romulus, even at work, for much of that week.
Romulus finally caught up to Fred at the general store and asked him out for a beer. A Jeep Cherokee pulled up to the stoplight with Joe Cocker's, With A Little Help From My Friends, beginning to play. Both paused their discussion to hear those hum the lyrics as the car awaited the light. It crossed the intersection with the music leaving a fading trail of sound. Their discussion resumed. Fred agreed to meet him at the tavern and in separate cars, they went.
As Fred and he would here be the first person to hear out Romulus's side, he pleaded his innocence of wrongdoing. He asserted that Radisha was being vindictive because she felt humiliated by him filing for divorce first. He also defended scolding Robin as any father would for the child's misbehavior. Fred seemed skeptical concerning him as how could anyone contrive the things that Radisha has against him. In spite of his friend's impromptu testimony, he just would not accept that a woman would assert such things if they were not true. He only knew Radisha through Romulus but had not spent any significant time with her to learn her character.
Fred remained determined to straighten out his friend for getting himself into this mess and feared the possible backlash from the town upon him for inviting the Valesco family to Hickory Leaf. Their attitude concerning domestic quarrels is, "we don't do that here." Thus, even legit domestic disputes are not examined and treated. Like most others, Fred perceived it as honorable to rise to defend the weak and defenseless, namely woman and child from a man. He was also motivated to clear his own name by standing up to his former WCU roommate.
"The word around town is that you kept her in a room and she couldn't escape for days until you went for a piss and she slipped out. What kind of man would do that? She couldn't just make that up," said Fred.
Fred began to tell Romulus about additional things of which Radisha accused him. He was completely unaware of how far she would go to ruin his name in town. Astounded and taken aback, Romulus hammered the table, stunned that his friend of almost three decades sided with his accuser on accusation alone. Other families at neighboring tables snickered amongst themselves that his display of passion made it plausible that he was the menace that Radisha made him out to be.
Romulus set down his beer, looked Fred in the eye, and said, "I've known you a long time- three decades, to be exact. How then don't you know me better than to do these things?"
Romulus questioned why there seemed to be no relationship equity built over decades to cash in against the current situation. He saw that Fred was resolute in his position against him. As a last resort, he appealed to him to come to the hearing and witness the case.
A few days later, Romulus arrives at the courthouse for the hearing. Before entering the courtroom, he sat with his lawyer, Haran Leibowicz, Esq., in the hallway reviewing the stack of paperwork and discussing the facts. Radisha walked by alone and empty-handed. Radisha would speak on her own and Robin's behalf. Robin, because of his age, was not subjected to provide testimony. Fred was yet to be seen.
As the case was called forth to the bench and the hearing began, Romulus turned to see that Fred had just arrived. He refused to look back at Romulus. Romulus turned and kept focus while the Honorable Judge Lynnette Fusco swore them in and stated the charges against him.
"Mr. Valesco, you are hereby alleged to have inflicted mental injury upon a minor and have a history of domestic disputes with the child's mother, your ex-wife, Radisha Ethridge-Valesco," said the judge.
When the judge finished outlining out the case, she called Radisha to state her allegations. She proceeded to pour out incident after incident based loosely on actual events of Romulus correcting and upsetting Robin unto tears. She trumped up the minor detail to portray him as afflicting mental abuse upon the child. She added tears and twitching at the recollection of these events, similar to her prior public displays at the stoplight, to bolster her purported fear that Romulus intended to harm him. She upped-the-ante by alleging that he had previously come at her violently and now has set his sights upon Robin.
Romulus looked back at Fred again and this time, Fred looked back at Romulus with disgust. Romulus sought to project a confidence that he had a sound defense against these allegations. However, Fred stood up, not breaking his stare into Romulus's eyes, and until he walked out of the courtroom. Nonetheless, Romulus turned forward, still determined to defend against these charges. He maintained his innocence. Leibowicz did not let him take the stand but moved the defense forward.
Leibowicz presented to the judge, "my client is a loving father who did what any reasonable parent does- chastise his own wayward child. What child does not cry or exhibit signs of upset, distress, and tears when he wants his own way and the parent says, 'no'?"
The case proceeded almost 42 minutes with Leibowicz outlining and presenting his case. He cross-examined Radisha, attempting to demonstrate before the court that she misrepresented true events to secure an advantage. He introduced that she has been parading herself and the child as victims in bold public behavior uncharacteristic of a victim to garner sympathy.
Leibowicz described Radisha's behavior as, "Look at me, I am woman. Look at me, I am victim. He, the big bad man- never mind that he is father of my child. He did this to me. 'Romulus did this,' she cried out at the stoplight more than once. She volunteered her child as a sympathetic figure, victimized allegedly by my client, Mr. Valesco."
Leibowicz proceeded to closing arguments that Romulus had acted within reasonable parental discretion and neither menaced the child or used undue force. He closed by asserting that Romulus is no danger to his child, requested that the order be terminated at the close of the hearing, and that Romulus's parental rights restored.
As the judge retired to her chambers before the decision, Romulus was confident that Leibowicz had mounted a strong defense against the narrative presented by Radisha. He was still cautious because to have the order upheld against him would seem to outsiders to validate his accuser. He knew that he would have to live in this town bearing the indelible stain of being maligned by Radisha. Any unfavorable verdict would solidify the court of public opinion in justifying their ostracism of him.
After 11 minutes, the attendees stood and Judge Fusco returned to the courtroom. The judge opened her decision with scathing words of contempt for Romulus's behavior as a father disciplining his child. She also blasted Leibowicz for victim-blaming. She asserted that her ruling in favor of Radisha was precautionary to ensure the welfare of the child.
"It is the opinion of the court that to ensure the health and mental well-being of the minor child, Robin G. Valesco, the restraining order is upheld another 180 days, at which time, a hearing will determine the fitness of the Respondent, Mr. Valesco, to resume parental rights." Judge Fusco continued her instructions before concluding the case.
The restraining order was upheld and extended for six months. Additional requirements upon Romulus included parenting and anger management classes and paying fines. Romulus doubted for how long he could continue to work at SAS or if he would even be able to remain in Hickory Leaf. He must still raise Robin with Radisha, but now it is complicated by the legal consequences affecting whether he would be able to earn a living or remain in Hickory Leaf.
Romulus's worst nightmare had just become his unbearable reality from which there would be no immediate recovery. A decision against him banned him from his own child, cemented the death of his reputation in a town now intent upon alienating him, and it gave Radisha the satisfaction that she pursued at his expense. She had successfully likened him in a court of law to the lowest form of scum in civil society- a domestic abuser.
Beyond the courthouse doors in the public square, Romulus realized that he would have no advocate. Where does it leave him if he loses the job or his savings run out from covering the expenses of their home and his hotel?
He grappled with how he could have been so out-of-touch with the cultural hypersensitivity to gender-based violence and child mistreatment such that even traditional forms of child discipline, such as scolding, are viewed with heightened scrutiny. He contended in himself that there was a time when paternal discipline of one's own child was considered honorable. There had been a widely-accepted distinction between responsible parental discipline and child abuse. He was on the losing end of that cultural shift in perception about parenting today.
Judge Fusco closed the case and both parties exited the courtroom. Leibowicz comforted Romulus as they waited in the hallway for him to be served a printout of the decision by the court officer. Upon receipt of it, Radisha's damning portrayal of him was now signed in ink.
"What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?" Romulus recalled the Joe Cocker lyrics, which Fred heard while standing alongside him just a few days prior. Here, Fred had done just that. Romulus noticed that he had not returned to hear any of Leibowicz's defense.
Three decades of friendship now destroyed without Fred so much as remaining five more minutes to hear Romulus' defense. Maybe he could have helped his own cause by opening up earlier to Fred. Perhaps "a little help from his friend" may have gone a long way to reconciling with Radisha even after re-locating to Hickory Leaf.