I’m sat in a police cell. My relationship with Sarah plumbed new depths when, a few hours ago, I got arrested for common assault. Sarah alleges that I slapped her and consequently, at around 6 in the evening, two police officers arrived at my home and read me my rights.
The whole saga began at lunchtime. The hospital had emailed me and asked if Abi could have chemo’ early because they were short staffed on her normal treatment day. I phoned them to agree and went to Abi’s school to put the numbing cream on her port, intending to take her up to the ward. But when I arrived, Sarah was there. “What are you doing?” I asked. “It’s changeover day. So I’m taking Abi up to the hospital,” she replied. “Eh? How did you know they want to see her early? Besides, we never swap custody on Wednesdays! It’s always on Mondays!” Apparently, Sarah’s thinking was that now the holidays were over, it was her turn to take care of the children. “Perhaps you should have discussed that with me?” I pointed out. “Besides,” I continued: “I have already agreed to take Abi up to the hospital and I’d like to keep the appointment.” Just then, Abi’s teacher arrived and pulled her away: “Your mum and dad need to discuss one or two things,” she told Abi. “They’ll fetch you when they’re done. Come with me please,” she said, leading Abi away. She turned to Sarah and me and told us: “Perhaps you two should sort that out outside.”
Sarah and I continued in the playground. “Really, Sarah. This is unusual. If you thought this was changeover day, then you should have let me know. You can’t just turn up unannounced,” I told her. We moved towards the gate, carrying on our argument. “We have an equal split over the holidays,” she replied. “So it’s my turn to take the kids. Why is that so hard to understand?” she accused. “Because it’s not Monday! For six years we have been doing the changeover on Mondays. Why would I think this week is any bloody different?”
We had made it outside the school gates, where Sarah swivelled and pushed her finger right into my face: “Look, we split the holidays evenly. I am taking Abi up to the hospital,” she said, fiercely. I tried to fathom her logic: “So you’re taking the girls now, and then I fetch them as usual on Monday? That’s what you’re saying?” I asked. “Yes. Of course,” she replied. I shook my head: “Alright, have it your own way. As per bloody usual.” Exasperated, I went to go to my car. Sarah blocked my path: “You’re the one who always gets your own bloody way!” she screamed. I tried to move her to one side. “Don’t push me!” she shouted. “Push you? Don’t be silly!” I replied. “You pushed me!” she insisted. “You were always so aggressive,” she accused, pointing her finger right at my face again. “Violent even,” she continued, still shoving her hand right under my nose. “It’s why we got divorced!” It was her being the aggressor here, not I. I felt sorry for her; she looked unwell. “Please stop shoving your finger in my face, Sarah,” I told her. “I’ll put it wherever I bloody like!” she said to me, doing exactly that. I tried to push her hand away from my nose, but by this time, she had moved right into my space, and I accidentally caught her in the face. “You slapped me!” She accused.
Just then I saw Kara looking over the fence. To my horror, she had been watching the unedifying spectacle. “Stop fighting!” she pleaded.
Sarah snarled at me: “I’m going to call the police! You haven’t heard the last of this!” she screamed, before storming off.
I considered going back inside the school to fetch Abi. After all, as far as I was concerned, she was still in my care. But I realised that would only stoke the fire and things had already gotten way out of hand. I had no option but to let Sarah take Abi to the hospital.
I didn’t doubt that Sarah would be true to her word and that she would indeed call the police. But I thought that was just silly and spiteful. I hadn’t done anything wrong. In fact, I thought I’d actually been quite well restrained, given the provocation, and I was sure the police would also see it that way. I wasn’t too concerned. So I wasn’t surprised when two constables showed up at my door later that evening. What did surprise me was that, instead of a warning, they arrested me.
I had been in the cell for six or seven hours and had finally fallen asleep, when, at around 2.30 a.m, the duty solicitor arrived. He was a gruff, middle-aged Scotsman, who got straight to the point: “Mr. Langston. You have been charged with common assault. It’s the most minor of assault charges, and the Crown Prosecution Service is minded to keep such cases out of the courts. If for instance, you tell me that what happened was an accident, then I feel it is unlikely that you will be charged. However, I must say that I am duty bound to record anything you tell me. So if for instance, you say you did lash out, even in self-defence, then I will have to write that down and it is likely that the written record will be used as evidence in a criminal case that goes to court. Do you understand me?” he asked. I did. I liked this man. “So, tell me your story,” he said. I began: “The whole event was weird,” I said to him. “I mean, to turn up then, Sarah must have phoned the hospital because it wasn’t Abi’s usual day for treatment. They must have told her that I had already arranged to take Abi up to the ward. I can’t understand why she was there and what she was trying to achieve,” I told him. “Don’t try and fathom an ex’s mind,” was his advice. I laughed. I then gave him my account of events. He sounded satisfied: “But don’t say ‘she pushed me back,’ because that implies you pushed her in the first place. Do you understand?” he asked. I did. I liked this man even more.
At around 3.30 a.m, I was finally interviewed by a police constable, who told me that I had the right to silence, but if I chose to use that right, the courts might take my silence into account when deciding my case. To me, that didn’t sound like much of a ‘right’. Besides, I didn’t think I had done anything wrong, so I recounted my side of the story to the constable. “So she was right up in your space, aggressively pointing her finger at you. You tried to move her hand out of the way, and you accidentally caught her in the face. Correct?” the constable asked. “Yes,” I told her. “Can you understand how your ex might interpret that as a slap?” she said. My solicitor intervened: “Hold on. My client has already told you that he did not slap her. You are trying to put words in his mouth,” he said, admonishing the constable. This guy was brilliant.
I was released at around 4.30 a.m., bailed without conditions. I was ordered to appear back at the police station in around six weeks, to find out if I was going to be charged. But before leaving, the constable gave me some advice: “Mr. Langston, you should try to avoid talking to your ex until this matter has been cleared up. If you must speak to her, then keep it to the point and avoid bringing any emotion into the conversation.” “Of course,” I assured her. The constable nodded to me. “Good,” she said. “And good luck with your daughter, Mr. Langston,” she told me. “Thank you, ” I replied.
Outside the station, I shook my solicitor’s hand: “Thanks for all the great advice,” I told him. “You’re welcome,” he said, before telling me: “Listen; don’t worry too much. I’m sure nothing much will come of it. You interviewed well.” “Thanks,” I said. “Sleep well, Mr. Langston. I hope it goes well with your daughter.”
When I got home, I made myself a cup of tea and sat pondering my arrest. I had remained equanimous in my cell. I’d even meditated! Maintaining my calm there must have been possible because Abi’s illness had fortified me with much resolve. Yet I was unable to keep my poise when confronted by Sarah. I had to change the dynamics of our relationship, somehow. That was going to be incredibly difficult. I decided that the police officers advice; to ‘avoid talking to your ex’, was a good start. As was, ‘avoid bringing any emotion into the conversation’. I doubted Sarah would be able to do that, but I could.
The following Monday, before driving home from school, I turned to Kara and Abi: “Kara, I’m sorry you had to witness mummy and daddy outside the school gates fighting. That was wrong of us. Next time, if anything like that even looks like happening, I shall behave much better.” I said. Kara looked straight at me: “Daddy, please don’t fight with mummy,” she told me. “I know darling. We just can’t seem to get along. In all honesty, I don’t particularly enjoy being in her company and she appears to feel the same. So I’m afraid I can’t promise we won’t fight. But I will promise to try very hard not to. Okay?” I asked. “I suppose,” Kara replied. “Daddy, did the police come and speak to you?” Abi asked. “They did, darling,” I told her. “But you’re not to worry about that. It’s all going to be okay,” I told them, confident that it would be. That seemed to satisfy the girls. I drove home sure that our discussion was the right thing to do. I felt it had allowed them to banish any of their worries about the incident.
About a fortnight later, I got a phone call from the police. “We’ve decided not to charge you. There’s no need to come to the station. Okay?” asked the officer on the end of the line. “Yes. Great. Thanks for calling,” I replied, gratefully. “You’re welcome, Mr. Langston. I’m sorry we had to interview you. Do try and work things out with your ex so we don’t have any repeat” he told me. “I know. Yes. I will try,” I agreed. “Great. Oh, and good luck with your daughter, Mr. Langston,” said the constable. "Thanks again,’ I replied.