The day before my court hearing, I received a long-awaited package in the mail.
As soon as I saw the familiar manila envelope sitting in my post office box, my heart leapt for joy. This was it! I was finally divorced. Christmas had come early. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
As I giddily tore open the package, I noticed something was wrong.
All of my divorce paperwork had been returned.
How could this happen? What kind of cruel joke was being played on me? Furthermore, what could possibly be wrong with the paperwork? It was supposed to be the “easiest” divorce in the history of the world. We had argued over nothing, the house was already sold. For crying out loud, the Respondent was already shacked up with someone else. I felt like I couldn’t move forward in my life without being legally divorced, so why couldn’t it just be done?
I figured out what was wrong: I had forgotten to write an address on one of the forms. Now it would take at least two more months for the paperwork to be routed back through the system.
Please join me in a repeated chorus of all your favorite expletives here!
I started to cry, right there in the post office. I had waited so long for that envelope to appear so I could finally mourn the end of my marriage to completion. I didn’t expect this anger and frustration to come bubbling up, yet I quickly talked myself out of my tears. Instead of cry and feel sorry for myself, I had to take action.
I quickly filled in the missing addresses on the stupid-ass form and drove downtown. I blazed through the courthouse, on a mission to re-file the documents. I had a court hearing the very next day, but I wanted to show the judge my earnest effort and honest mistake.
Surely he would grant the divorce in person, after realizing that I had just forgotten to write down a simple address.
I re-filed the paperwork and drove back to Pasadena. There was nothing else I could do but pray.
Oh, God, this has to be done. I am screaming inside. I want to throw up.
I trust You. I trust You.
There are no restraining orders, custody orders, nothing. Just an error. Name, address, date. SERIOUSLY?
Oh, the anticipation and subsequent disappointment…
The next day I awoke at 3:40 a.m. I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got up, ate breakfast, dressed in my “court clothes” and prayed.
D-Day had finally come.
Andrea accompanied me to court. We arrived at 8:30 a.m. and slowly made our way up to the 5th floor, to the room where my case would be heard. My heart was pounding out of my chest. I half-hoped my husband wouldn’t show up, but as soon as I got off the escalator and rounded the corner, I saw him.
He was standing alone, wearing an expensive-looking suit. His blonde hair was slicked back tight, away from his large forehead. He had a fresh tattoo, too: some sort of inscription that seemed to crawl up his neck.
He has a neck tattoo. He’s wearing a suit. He’s engaged to be married.
I started to feel nauseated, but pushed the feeling of weakness back down. I couldn’t look at him. I would deal with the emotions later. Right now, I had to get divorced.
I marched straight past my husband and headed towards the docket list that was posted next to the courtroom door. Andrea trailed behind me, in all her silent strength and support. I followed my finger down the list until I saw our names. We were number 10. Next to my husband’s name was the acronym, OSC. It stood for “Order to Show Cause”.
Since he hadn’t shown up to court back in August, the judge wanted an explanation for why.
Good. I hope he gets in trouble.
As we entered the courtroom, Andrea and I took a seat in the very back, on the left: the Bride’s side. My husband sat down in the second to the last row on the right side of the courtroom. I glanced across at him. He looked nervous; almost sad.
I started spouting off court lingo with Andrea, which prompted the woman in front of us to turn around and ask a question. She, too, was battling through a divorce. That day’s particular hearing was for custody of her son. As we chatted, we quickly discovered we had gone to the same college. I gave her a high-five (“Go, Eagles!”) and we joked a bit about contributing to the sad, staggering statistic of divorce. We were all members of the same club now. She had the same, knowing look in her eyes — one of deep pain and lingering injustice. Yet, she pressed on. Andrea and I encouraged her and it seemed to help her relax. She thanked us for the glimmer of hope and cheer in that otherwise dark courtroom.
The courtroom’s participants were soon called to order. We were instructed to check in with the bailiff. As I made my way towards the front, my husband slipped into line, directly behind me. I sensed his familiar presence, yet, something had changed.
“Hi,” he offered, casually, as he moved up in line to stand next to me.
I didn’t look at him.
“How are you?” he asked.
I threw him a sideways glance.
“I’m just fine,” I replied, shortly.
“What’s an O.S.C?” he asked.
I sighed, loudly. I was sick of doing everything; taking care of all the details.
“What does that mean?” he prompted again, more urgently.
Part of my heart went out to him. We had shared so much. I recalled, deep down in the hidden crevices of my soul, that I had loved — still loved? – this man standing before me. We weren’t supposed to be getting divorced! We were supposed to be strengthening our marriage and cracking jokes about the fact that we were in court in the first place! He had promised me that he would be faithful. He had promised to love me until death parted us. We had so many dreams together that we were supposed to accomplish. He was supposed to be the father of my children. We were going to conquer the world, together.
Our love story will go down in history: It just wasn’t meant to be.
Before me stood a broken man who broke his promises. I saw him in a fleeting light: so lost, so helpless, so very unattractive with that tattoo on his neck.
I shook off any sort of compassion I felt for him in that moment.
“Listen, you’re on your own here,” I said, then turned on my heels, and went back to my seat.
The judge entered the courtroom, shuffled his papers around, adjusted his glasses, and called our names first.
It all happened in such a flash. The judge declared that our case was “relatively easy” and wanted to get to the bottom of it. He asked my husband why he hadn’t shown up in August.
“I was disoriented,” he answered. “I had just returned from Australia.”
The judge peered down from his bench, accepted his bullshit excuse and gave him a verbal warning. He even forgave the $200.00 fine for my husband’s failure to appear.
The judge then turned to me.
“I see that your paperwork was returned because it is incomplete,” he stated, as he inspected the small collection of papers in our file.
“Yes, Your Honor, “ I answered. I quickly added, “But-it-was-only-because-I-had-forgotten-to-put-our-address-on-form-FL-190-what-a-silly-mistake-don’t-you-agree?-All-the-paperwork-is-complete-and-we-even-sold-our-house-and-agreed-on-everything…”
I raised my eyebrows and shot a knowing glance over to my husband. He nodded in agreement, even though he had no idea what was happening. It was the last moment we would ever share in that regard. He knew how to read me. He knew me deeply; intimately. He knew to not question me. He knew I was doing what was best for both of us; he knew I had taken care of it all.
The judge inspected both of us for a moment.
“I’m continuing this case to April 14th,” he ordered, as he shuffled our documents to the bottom of his pile. “I want to look through your file and see exactly what is going on here; exactly why it is incomplete.”
Nooo! I just want this to be over! I’m going to die right here in this courtroom, in five seconds. Five…four…three…
The judge continued.
“If you receive the paperwork in the mail with my judgment form and signature before the next hearing, you will not have to come back to court.”
I can’t hear you, Your Honor. I’m dead. I just died right here. Please send someone to collect my body.
“Thank you, Your Honor,” I managed feebly, as I fought back tears.
And, like that, we were excused. Our judge had a lot of cases to get through. After all, it was the last day of the year for the LA Superior Court system. They would go on a two-week hiatus so the court and its employees could enjoy Christmas with their families.
Christmas was just three days away. And it was now ruined. The present I so desperately wanted — a finalized divorce! — was now coal in my stocking. Instead of celebrating underneath the mistletoe, I had my dragged-out divorce hanging over my head.
I bit my lip as hard as I could to keep from crying, and made my way back to Andrea and my purse. My husband was busy on his phone. As I waited for Andrea to gather her belongings, my husband tapped me on the shoulder.
“What was our court date again?” he asked, distracted by an incoming text message.
I glared at him. It was all I could do to not scratch his eyes out, kick him in the balls, or scream at the top of my lungs in that cold courtroom. Why couldn’t someone just arrest him? Why did he deserve such grace, time and time again?!
He sensed my anger.
“Come on, Les. What was the date? Just tell me!”
I looked at him briefly, then at his neck. I shook my head, placed my hand against the door and pushed it open. I left, without a word.
I had gotten a closer look at the tattoo.
It was his fiancée’s signature. And he was her problem now.