Ending As We Had Begun

The next few weeks were crucial, grueling and exhausting, in regards to paperwork.

I had an unruly and greedy neighbor who lived atop my hill, just behind the sprawling mass of untamed, indigenous land that we owned.  Once he found out we were selling our home, he tried to exercise his rights to a portion of the land that we had given him permission to use.  It became a frustrating nightmare, not to mention a scramble against the clock to get Escrow closed before he could file a lawsuit against us and adversely possess our land.

Sometimes I just don’t understand people.

I had to meet again with my husband, this time to sign Escrow papers.  I was on a roll.  The end was in sight, yet the pain was still real and raw.  I swallowed it and prayed for mercy.

We met with Maggie, our Escrow officer, at 1:00 p.m on a Monday.  She was a lovely, kind, older woman who obviously knew that our decision to sell had arisen from divorce.  She gently explained the process and what we were signing away.  If all went well, we’d close in thirty days.  My husband quickly scrawled his one-lettered signature on every single piece of paper as fast as he could.  I sat on the chair to his right and carefully read the documents before signing my full name.  It felt surreal.  I had flashes of old memories when we were signing the Escrow papers to buy the house.  Those were happier times, indeed, yet somehow (strangely) no less hopeful than the present.

Still, I was signing my house over to someone else.  It felt so unfair.

I unwillingly started to cry.  Maggie immediately offered me some tissue, but kept pointing to places where I needed to sign.  I sensed strength in her sympathy.  Nevertheless, my tears dripped onto the pages.  It made me feel embarrassed, but I kept my head down and continued to sign my name.

Leslie Spencer.  Goodbye, house.
Leslie Spencer.  Goodbye, marriage.
Leslie Spencer.  Hello, unknown future.

My husband seemed to squirm in his seat as he waited for me to finish.

When the final document had been signed, he got up and announced that he had to leave.  He fled, as fast as he could.

Maggie watched him leave and then sighed.

She got up from her chair, came over to me and gave me a big hug.  She held me as I wept.

“Oh, honey.  Cry.  Let yourself cry.  It’s OK.  Let it out.”  She was so gentle.

Then, to my surprise, she started to cry with me, as she briefly shared her story. She, too, had been through a divorce at my age.  My husband’s behavior reminded her of her ex.  I guess the pain of divorce never really goes away, although she is happily remarried to a remarkable man.

I finished crying, blew my nose, and thanked Maggie profusely.  I was touched by her sympathy.  She wished me the best and said she’d take care of my escrow for me.  I felt better; cared for.

As I slowly made my way to the parking lot, I checked my messages on my phone.  I had received an email from my husband, just minutes after he had fled the Escrow office.  He apologized, saying he had to go.  He then said he’d be sorry forever.

A couple of weeks passed, and I had to meet with my husband again.  He needed to read, agree to and sign the Marital Settlement Agreement that I had re-drafted.  It was a frustrating and detailed document to write, but I had gotten help from my lawyer.  Everything was so grossly fair.  50/50. His and Hers.

Anxious, I emailed him.

We are going to have to meet again. I need you to sign the amended Marital Settlement Agreement. Please make yourself available, this needs to get filed NOW.  I am available Friday.  Thank you.

He replied, saying that he’d be available Saturday morning.

It will only take two minutes. I can meet you anywhere. Thank you for cooperating.

He had a film premiere, and decided Friday morning at 11:00 a.m. — downtown — would be better.

And then, I got an idea.

Yes, Friday morning is better. That way I can file it immediately…let’s meet at the courthouse.  I’ll meet you outside. Across from Disney Opera House and Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. Ok?

He was forty-five minutes late, but he showed up.  He didn’t read a single word of the Settlement Agreement.  He just signed it all.  I gave him copies.  He told me he liked my shoes.

I then asked my husband to accompany me inside to file the final documents.  He obliged.

We stood in line – that horrible, awful line where people go to end their marriages – together.  We said nothing.  It was so strange, standing there.  I didn’t have anything to say.  I couldn’t find anything to say to him.  We were so distant; so different.  I marveled at how I used to love him – and how I still loved him, somehow.  I marveled at how I didn’t know him, yet I was the only one who really, truly knew him, deep down.  I felt compassion for him, anger, hurt, frustration and injustice.

Perhaps I mostly felt injustice, in that building where justice was supposed to be served.

We made our way through the line and towards the clerk. As I stepped up and handed her the documents, I had another memory flash.  It was the only other courthouse experience we had together  — years ago —  as we excitedly applied for our marriage license.  We were 22 and 23 years old, respectively.

I had signed my name then, too: Leslie Spencer.

I let the memory fade.

The clerk rifled through our documents as she chomped on her gum.  She checked our signatures and stamped each paper.  This time, the sound of the stamping was less deafening.  In fact, it sounded more and more like freedom.

“It will take about two months for this to be final,” she flatly offered, as she inked the last document.

“Thank you so much,” I almost squealed.

My husband said nothing.  He stood there with his hands shoved into his pockets.  Occasionally he checked his Blackberry.

We walked down the reflective corridor in silence, out the security doors and into the afternoon sunlight of a warm, October day.  Since we had parked in the same general direction, we walked together to the corner of 1st and Grand.  We waited for the WALK sign to give us the signal to move forward.

My husband turned towards me.  “So, that’s it?!”  He asked.

I grinned.

“That’s it,” I said, and extended my hand.

Years ago, after our very fun and sweet first date, I had thanked him at the end of the night by shaking his hand.

My husband looked at me, knowingly, and half-laughed.  It was a tender moment.  He took my hand and shook it, slowly.  In that moment, we both realized that we had ended just as we had begun.

I smiled, looked up at him and searched his empty, blue eyes.

“Goodbye,” I said, sincerely.  I turned and walked away, as a wider smile spread across my face.

I was free.

Well, almost.

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