Things are final. My marriage is legally over. Many say marriage is only a piece of paper, but this legal finality runs a deep river of sadness through me.
The air was heavy with residual anger and grief from the Treyvon Martin protest that took place near the courthouse yesterday. News vans lined the streets and portable gazebos were still set up in parking lots. The place was empty, only the echoes of the angry people from the teenage boy’s senseless death remained.
I kept my gaze focused ahead of me and climbed the courthouse steps under a blue, cloudless sky.
Past the security checkpoint, I scanned the posted signs for Courtroom A and found it immediately to my right. I was twenty five minutes early. I took a deep breath, set my shoulders and steeled myself as I pushed through the courtroom door.
I was greeted by a dark and empty courtroom. I stood dumfounded and drank in the scene with my eyes. Before me was a large judiciary bench flanked on each side by a witness stand and a court reporter’s desk. To my right was the raised seating area for the jury. The room held two tables for the plaintiff and defendant. Rows of chairs filled the rest of the room and I decided on the first row, aisle seat. I sat in the dark room, waiting for a few minutes before I decided to go in search of help.
I approached the civil disputes desk, the only area with an open window through which I could ask questions. I showed the lady my notice of hearing and she shrugged and pointed me in the direction of courtroom A. I walked across the lobby and decided to give it another go.
Five minutes passed without a sign of life. I again sought out assistance and asked the police officer manning the metal detector to help me. He pointed me to the elevators and told me to find Courtroom K, the assigned courtroom for the judge presiding over my case.
I was assigned courtroom A, but the hearing had been moved to courtroom K. I had been waiting in the wrong courtroom. I’m glad I asked. Twice.
I found the waiting area outside the correct courtroom filled with lawyers holding thick files and conferring with their clients.
I paused before a podium bearing a sign-in sheet for lawyers and decided to sign my name even though I was self-represented. I was hesitant and a bit confused, but it was evident no one was going to offer any help. A sardonic thought crossed my mind: Can I ask one of these lawyers a question without getting billed? I sat next to woman and waited.
The judge walked by a few minutes after nine. I recognized her from our meeting years ago in a writing group we were in together. Awkward! My gaze dropped to my lap. I waited to be called back.
I really had no idea what to do, so like a sheep I followed the herd as the bailiff opened the courtroom door. I found my seat and fiddled with my driver’s license in my sweaty hands. I didn’t have a thick file to hand the judge. Was I missing something?
The first case was a dissolution of marriage. The woman was sworn in and her attorney asked her a series of questions. I listened in earnest preparing answers in my mind should the same questions be asked of me.
The attorney asked her, “Is your marriage irretrievably broken?”
My breath caught in my throat and tears spilled from my eyes.
He asked, “Do you sign this agreement of your own free will without force, coercion or while under duress?”
I grabbed tissues from my purse. I had come prepared with tissue papers, if not legal ones.
My name was called at last. I was the first self-represented person to stand before the judge. The bailiff jumped up and blocked my path to the judge’s bench, guiding me instead to a podium in the middle of the room. His abrupt movement felt offensive to me. His implication that I would cause the judge harm stung, but I conceded that I was in a court of law and there was protocol that I was not accustomed to. I held my license up for him to take and tangled my fingers around my tissues.
She asked me a series of questions. I stated my name and the name of my husband. She asked me to verify our wedding date and I answered her the best I could while maintaining my composure. I dabbed my cheeks frequently as the tears fell.
The judge gave me a tender smile and continued with her questions. She asked about my children and our parenting plan. She asked about our marital agreement and I responded with mostly “yes” answers. She recited her canned statement and wished me luck. I was told to sit in the waiting area and wait for the clerk from downstairs to bring me my file.
I sat stiff and alone on the hard bench in the hall. I cried silently and reminded myself to breathe. My air had been taken away from me in that courtroom and I sat, legs shaking, with my tear-stained face staring straight ahead.
I thought perhaps if I stayed still the pain would be less. I barely blinked. I inhaled a shaky breath on occasion. The heaviness of the finality weighed on my shoulders. Still, I remained upright and motionless as the death of my marriage crushed me.
Others from the courtroom entered the waiting area. Another woman wept openly across from me. Seeing her pain dried my tears for a moment, before I began again, this time feeling her pain along with mine.
I left the courthouse after receiving my certified copies and longed to sit on a bench and gaze out over the St. John’s river. I decided against it – the news vans and the sad energy surrounding the area from the Treyvon Martin protests made me uncomfortable.
I took my time walking to the car. The weather was perfect – clear blue skies blanketed me and a cool breeze brushed my face. The weather was incongruent with my mood. A dark spot was placed on my heart. I cried on the drive home, walked into my house and hugged my son. Maxwell regarded me with a look far too wise for a three-year old and said, “Mommy, your eyes are so blue!”
Just like the skies, my eyes are so blue after I cry.