Almost immediately after filing the second round of paperwork, I received a summons in the mail.
It was a court-ordered Case Management Conference, to be conducted exactly one week before my birthday.
I asked Andrea to accompany me this time. I did not want to go alone. I dressed casually, thinking that I would just show up at the counter and explain to the clerk that I had already filed the next round of paperwork. I was tired of dressing in my “court clothes”. Plus, I was getting used to the routine: Drive, park, walk, breathe, stand in line, file, stamp, stamp, stamp, say hi to the Disney Opera House, walk, pray, hope, move forward.
Clearly I had misunderstood the nature of the summons. I had no idea that it was an actual hearing. I panicked.
Thankfully, Andrea was dressed appropriately, so we swapped clothing in the bathroom on the 4th floor of the Los Angeles Superior Courthouse. She rocked my Levi’s jean capris (they’re actually cute), and I wore her black skirt and jacket to appear before the judge. I managed to conceal my plaid shirt, and my tall, tan espadrilles didn’t exactly communicate “business attire.”
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat for three hours as I listened to divorce hearing after divorce hearing. I marveled at how every single person in that small courtroom was angry at each other. The heaviness, pain and reality of broken relationships was astounding. I was amongst a sea of many, yet it was oddly comforting.
When my name was finally called, I stood on the right, behind the gold placard that read, PLAINTIFF.
The DEFENDANT spot was empty. My husband had not shown up.
I swallowed hard.
“Smith vs. Smith,” the judge murmured, rifling through our thin file. He then looked up at me.
“Mrs. Smith –“
I shuddered at the name. I wanted to scream and kick and throw things, all while yelling through my teeth and slapping the judge’s face: “DON’T YOU DARE CALL ME MRS. SMITH!!! THAT’S NOT WHO I AM!”
But I kept my mouth shut. After all, I was dressed inappropriately — trashy, really — and totally unprepared for this hearing. The armpits of my shirt underneath Andrea’s jacket were soaking. I thought about washing the jacket in cold water and a little Tide, else taking it to get dry-cleaned for her. It was going to staaaank after this morning.
The judge continued.
“Mrs. Smith, where is your husband? Why is he not here?”
The entire courtroom got quiet. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the court reporter’s fingers, poised, waiting for my answer. A fellow divorcee shifted his weight on the bench behind me and it creaked, loudly. A lawyer sneezed.
I took a deep breath.
“Your Honor, I have no idea where he is,” I answered, truthfully.
He was supposed to be in town, for he was actually going to meet with Kathy to sign papers to list our house on the market. After much prayer, deliberation and tears, I had made a decision to go forward with selling my beloved home. It was not an easy decision to have made, but I trusted that it was right. Still, it felt unfair.
The judge didn’t look up, but kept going through my paperwork. Apparently he hadn’t done his homework.
“Well, this looks like an easy case. You don’t have any children…”
Rub it in, why don’t you. Yes, I know. I’m single AND barren.
“…and it looks like you just have a piece of property that you have to figure out what to do with..” He shuffled the papers back into the case folder, took off his glasses and peered down at me.
“You know that your husband is supposed to be here,” he directed, firmly.
I wanted to scream again.
I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR HIM! HE’S A JERKFACE, DOUCHEHOUND, DIRTBAG, CHEATING, LYING, SONOFABITCH AND THE REASON I’M HERE IN COURT IS TO GET RID OF HIS ASS!! WHY DOES EVERYTHING HAVE TO BE MY RESPONSIBILITY?!
Judges get paid for numbers of cases that they resolve. They are not interested in the details of your personal life, why you are getting divorced, or even who is responsible for the demise of the marriage. Even though you both checked the box, “Irreconcilable Differences,” the judge doesn’t care who hurt who. It’s all an even playing field. You are just a case number he needs to resolve. Sell your possessions and split everything 50/50. Stop fighting and move on with your lives.
It’s a cold, cruel business, but somebody’s got to handle it.
I answered, with a little edge in my voice.
“Yes, your Honor. I wish I knew where he is. He does not communicate his whereabouts with me.”
The judge sat back and nodded.
“Well, the reason why I called this conference is to help you both through your divorce,” he explained. “I am going to extend your case, so that you two can talk things through and figure this out.”
“Yes, your Honor, it is my – err, our – intention to get this done as quickly as possible.”
“All right.” The judge then directed his conversation towards the clerk. “This case is extended to December 22nd. That should give this couple enough time. I am placing sanctions on Mr. Smith, and giving him an OTC (Order to Show Cause).”
He then looked back at me.
“Let your husband know he needs to appear in court,” he reprimanded.
I wanted to scream, Part Three, and then burst into tears. Throwing a wild tantrum on the courtroom floor actually sounded like the more sane thing to do, and I had the the outfit to go along with it.
DECEMBER????? FOUR more months of limbo??? I’m going to die.
I couldn’t hurry it along. I couldn’t win. I had to wait for my husband. We had to do this together. And what was almost worse was that the judge had extended him grace.
I swallowed again, harder this time, and squeaked,
“Yes, your Honor. Thank you.”