Friday, 8 January 2010
Everyday Miracles And Perfect Guidance
As a child I remember a cinema outing to see Peter Pan, and shouting at the top of my lungs when Tinkerbell died after drinking Peter's poisoned medicine.
"I DO believe in fairies! I DO believe in fairies!" I'd shrieked, clapping my hands and stamping my feet along with all the other children in the audience, all of us willing her to get better. I can still remember the tingle of pleasure that ran up my spine as Tinkerbell came back to life.
To this day, I still believe in fairies - except now I choose to call them something else. I call them miracles. And I've been lucky enough to experience a few of my own this week.
You'll know about the recent battles I've been facing. Specifically, how to legally deal with the debts that my husband accrued behind my back - not to mention moving forward with the divorce. It's been an interesting few weeks, and a steep learning process along the way!
Just before Christmas (the day of my 45th birthday in fact) you'll remember, I was faced with the frightening advice that I had no other choice than to sell our family home to cover the debts - that particular deal would also have given my husband a nice chunk of cash, and left Dylan and I homeless and still in debt. I've since been chasing around the houses to find a better solution.
A few weeks earlier, at the beginning of December, a relative in America kindly agreed to pay my legal fees. Since my finances have been so tight that I could not even afford to pay my son's school canteen bill, this had given me a major boost as you can imagine!
So the Christmas break saw me send out an impassioned battle cry to James, a solicitor I worked with many years ago. It was James who fought the court case against my legal guardian, a well-known and highly respected local businessman, so that I could gain legal custody of my sister. James was the only person who believed my story - after all, I was only 19 years old and I accept that my stories of cruelty and betrayal would have been pretty hard to believe at the time. But he DID believe me, and he fought long and hard on my behalf. It was a bitter and complicated case, which dragged on for seven years. But in the end we won. So James and I have a history you see. All those years ago we took on a mighty Goliath together - and we beat him. And I decided that I simply must find a way to get him on my side again for this battle.
I had already tried to hire James in the summer, but at that time I had no proof of an English address, and he simply could not work under Scottish law. Now, however, the circumstances have changed, so I was confident that he would react swiftly to my call.
But the response I received just after Christmas Day (I was in London, with my sister at the time) came as a bit of a shock. His email was unusually brief and factual, stating that he had to go in to hospital and had passed everything on to his colleague, Owen. That was fair enough, but he also added that Owen would likely require a substantial sum of money on account in order to make sense of everything. I was surprised and upset by what I took to be a cold brush-off, and decided that I would research other alternatives before making any decisions.
A friend in London, Katy, who my sister and I have known for many years, kindly recommended another solicitor who had been of great help to her a few years earlier. So contact was made, and we awaited a reply. The Christmas break is a wonderful time in so many ways, but can prove to be frustrating when there are pressing business matters to be dealt with!
I flew home to France on 30th December, and I was finally able to speak with them that afternoon. I spent over an hour on the phone with them - firstly to the person my friend had recommended, and then to a lady who I was told would be more able to assist with my particular requirements. I'll admit, I felt heartened by both conversations, and I dared to start believing that I might finally be able to find a way through the nightmare that was by now overtaking my life. So I spent further hours pulling together countless documents detailing and evidencing my claims. But I was not prepared for the response that came in the following morning. It was a brief impersonal email, asking me to print out and sign their letter of engagement and pay them £1,000 up front on account.
This was not what I had been expecting. My very first question to them had been to ask whether or not they thought they could help me. And if they felt that they could, then specifically what they could do and how much it was going to cost. I had learned from bitter experience in the summer that solicitor's fees can rocket, with very little or nothing to show for their efforts. £2,600 to a firm in Scotland had bought me absolutely nothing apart from a few letters sent to my husband, and I was not about to make the same mistake again. So I immediately replied to their email, stating that I was not going to sign anything, nor was I going to agree to any fees until I had confirmation of what they were going to do for me. Plus the money was not my own, it was my 'aunt' who was paying the fees, so I felt even more strongly that I had to be sure of getting a result this time.
It was New Years Eve and of course I made sure to keep my aunt in the loop as she had requested. Although she was very quick to respond despite the time difference between America and France, I was somewhat baffled by some of the points she was raising. She had rather hoped that I would go back to my original solicitor, who clearly already understood the situation, and couldn't understand why I was considering briefing a new firm. I wrote back confirming our telephone conversation a few weeks earlier, explaining again that I believed the Scottish firm had been ineffective. I also added that their unpaid bill now formed part of my unsecured debts, so unless we wanted to pay that as well, we could not approach them again. She seemed to understand, and her questions stopped.
I still had no response from the solicitors, so I shut down my computer and headed off to Ruth and Henry's New Year's Eve party. I tried to put all of this to the back of my mind, but it was difficult to 'lighten up' and throw myself in to the festivities, although I did my best to join in.
The next day was Friday and a bank holiday, so I knew that nothing more would happen until the following week. Monday arrived together with a pre-booked meeting with the Notaire to find out how I can remove my estranged husband's name from the property. My French bank manager had already confirmed that since I've been solely responsible for mortage payments since April 2009, they would be happy to recommend a "desolidarisation" of the debt, which basically means I would be able to take it on under my name alone. In order to do that, though, I would also have to have the house in my name alone. Initial telephone discussions had implied that this could be quite a straight forward process, so I went in to the appointment feeling confident.
That was a mistake. Within just a few minutes, I understood that the Notaire was powerless to do anything without instructions from an avocat, or lawyer, as he had to be certain that my husband was being treated fairly. Once again I found myself in a position where I had to justify my request and my process for getting here. Where once again the law seemed more interested in 50:50 distribution of marital assets - with no interest or comprehension of the circumstances behind the separation. And once again I felt the heat rise in my body and the tears prick at my eyes as I took a deep breath to regain my composure and calmly explain the facts of the matter.
These days, everything seems to be a fight of some sort - and I don't understand why it should be that way. I am, beyond shadow of a doubt, the wronged party here. I have also done everything within my power to put things right every step of the way. But wherever I go, whoever I approach, it seems that I have to explain the story over and over again and fight for justice. I'm no shrinking violet, as you know, but even I am now feeling battle weary from the continuing demands of people who expect my marriage break-up to fit in to one of their boxes.
By the end of the meeting some 90 minutes later, I know that I had succeeded in getting my case across, and I had won a new ally. But it had been hard, and there were still no straight forward solutions. The Notaire had suggested that I would be wiser to get the divorce settled in France and gave me the details of a French-speaking lawyer who was based in England.
By now, this is the fourth lawyer I've contacted. And I spent a further two hours discussing my case with this new firm. His advice, by the end of the conversation, was different again from the previous lawyers. He told me that I would have to find out how far the divorce had gone in Scotland, before he could help at all. He also said that, although the business had been based in England, and despite the fact that the French Tax Office had told me in person that I was to pay my taxes in the UK, it was highly likely that in fact I'd been breaking the law for the past 6 years that I've been in this country. I should be a French citizen, and pay my taxes in France, so we'd have to investigate this and get the French authorities involved. Great - another issue on top of all the others! He also said that there was little or nothing he could do to guide me on debt advice, and that until I had found out about my divorce progress in Scotland, he could do nothing more.
I came off the phone feeling deflated. But I wasn't going to be beaten, and immediately found the numbers for the courts in Edinburgh - both the Sheriff Court and the High Court. But neither were answering the phone.
While I was on the phone to the "Frenglish" solicitor, I had a missed call from Owen. Since I felt I had achieved nothing but a few bruises from banging my head against brick walls, I decided it would make sense to return his call and see what he had to say. But he'd already left the office. The other solicitors by the way, the ones I'd spoken to at length on New Years Eve, had not even responded to my email. Their silence, I decided, spoke volumes.
That evening my whole world, once again, caved in on me. Thank goodness I was alone in the house (Dylan had gone back to his lycee that morning) and could let it all out. The fight, determination and positive energy I'd felt so sure about as I'd said goodbye to 2009 now all seemed to have been sapped from my body, and I looked sadly at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I looked lost. Beaten. Small. Sad. Exhausted. I hadn't expected to be knocked down quite so early in the year, and at that moment I had no fight left in me, so I let go. Dropping down on to the floor, I curled up in to a ball and sobbed. The tears seemed never-ending, matched with strange and uncontrollable noises coming from my throat. I could sense the pain from deep within the core of my soul, my arms instinctively wrapping around my body for protection. The sounds were steady, quiet, painful moans - cries of a heart that is breaking to release the hurts of today, yesterday, and perhaps years previously.
I don't know how long it took, but I reached a stage where I could finally unfold myself, lie on my back, and breathe steadily once again. I was spent. Emotionally, physically, mentally. I was exhausted, but I also felt clear. So I went downstairs, and made myself a cup of hot tea, which I drank accompanied with numerous chocolate biscuits left over from Christmas. I didn't want to think about anything else. I just switched on the TV and allowed myself to be entertained by the first in a new series of Hustle. And slowly, slowly, I felt the warmth of a smile returning to me.
The next day, Tuesday, I was due to have a meeting with my bank. Beforehand, I decided to try reaching Owen again. This time I was successful. I confess to being more abrupt than usual, simply because I was tired of hearing conflicting messages from so-called professionals, and I was not about to be messed around anymore. But I hadn't needed to be that way. Owen was quick, articulate, understanding of the situation, and keen to explain that I may have more rights than I had previously understood.
Encouraged by our first brief conversation, I headed off to the bank. There, I was to hand over my old cards to be replaced by new ones in my maiden name. My bank manager is a fiery, no-nonsense french woman - the same age as me - who has been right by my side since the day I met her just eight months ago. In her office she reminded me just how far I'd come since we first met, and confided in me a secret. Conspiratorially, she leaned over her desk and told me that for as long as she could remember, she hadn't really liked English people, but that through her dealings with me she had completely changed her opinion! Tears once again pricked at my eyes, but this time they were tears of pride. So I shared a secret with her in return - I told her that she was part of "mon equippe", my team, and that she was one of the people I hold responsible for helping me regain my self-esteem. For the first time ever, we finished that meeting with kisses, not handshakes, and I bounced back to the car with my head held high and a smile on my face.
Home once more, I phoned the Scottish Law Courts - Owen had also said that we'll need to know where we stand regarding the divorce - and spoke calmly and confidently to the lady who answered the Sheriff's Office. She duly searched the divorce files for any mention of my name, and reported that there was nothing on record. I then repeated the process with the High Court - and achieved the same result. There was NO record of any divorce petition having been lodged. So the separation date, 22nd April 2009, had never even been registered by the solicitor I had used for three months last year - she had achieved absolutely nothing for her extortionate bill of over £2,600!
Furious at their lack of performance, but also rejoicing at the fact I was now free to move forward with Owen (funny how things turn out), I stepped back to notice my good fortune. I may have faced a relentless stream of battles over the past few months, but I have learned so much from each one and, as I'm now seeing clearly, I've been guided along my journey. The blocks or dead-ends I saw as frustrations, have all, in fact, led me to where I am now. In a place where I KNOW I have a good solicitor on my side, who is also telling me that the debts are NOT all mine, and that there is another way around every one of my issues.
Delighted with the result, and my subsequent conversation with Owen, I emailed my aunt to let her know that lawyers fees for the divorce would cost no more than £1,200, although the fees for dealing with the debts could not be quoted since we weren't sure exactly what would be involved. I was certain she'd be delighted with my progress, and I happily set off to see my friend Anna for lunch and a good old catch up.
The next day, Wednesday, found me following up on professional introductions for work, and booking in meetings for my upcoming week in London. Relaxed and finally feeling confident about most areas in my life - sure about securing work, convinced that I had a way forward with my divorce, positive about keeping my home - I was busy on my computer when another friend, Julie, popped in for a coffee. Unannounced, it was lovely to see her and hear all her news. She also wanted to hear how I was getting along, so I happily filled her in with my progress.
She and I both happened to be sitting at the kitchen table looking at something on my laptop, when an email came in from my aunt. The title gave nothing away, but I had an instinctive feeling that something was wrong, so although I kept a smile on my face I asked Julie to "be warned, I may get upset at this"... well, thank goodness I did warn her. To my utter shock, the email told me that there had clearly been a misunderstanding and that my aunt was not prepared to pay for my solicitors fees. To say that I felt knocked down is an understantement. After all the battles and emotional energy it had taken me to get this far, her blatant denial of her written offer to pay knocked the wind out of my sails and threatened to capsize my world once again.
"I won't cry, I WON'T!" I said to Julie, the tears welling up and blurring my vision as I tried to make sense of my aunt's sudden change of tone. "What on earth does she expect me to do? How am I going to get through this? I'll have to wait now until I'm earning good money!" deflated and defeated, I let the tears roll down my cheeks.
My friend's expression was caring and gentle, and I sensed a steely determination in her eyes.
"How much is the divorce - £1,200 isn't it? And we don't yet know about the debts? So £2,000 would start you off wouldn't it?" and with that she told me she'd transfer £2,000 in to my bank account that very day, and that I could pay her back once I have some work.
"I can't bear to see you go through this any more, Mel" she added, as I hugged her and cried, speechless at this amazing and totally unexpected act of kindness "you've found a way forward now, so you've got to be able to follow it through" - I nodded, sniffed, and hugged her closer, unable to make any sound, but noticing that very same Tinkerbell tingle running up my spine...
I cannot begin to describe how grateful I am for my kind friend's timely intervention - I am moved beyond words. And I wonder at the timing of these events - what were the odds of her being with me at the very moment my aunt's email arrived?
Perfect guidance, everyday miracles, and a real-life Guardian Angel to my rescue. I am deeply appreciative, humbled and also boosted by the process that has led me here. My faith is restored, strengthened further than ever before, and I now know that no matter HOW bad things appear, I am truly guided and supported - I just need to remember that as I move forward. Perhaps that's my life-long lesson?
"I DO believe in fairies! I DO, I DO, I DO!!!"