Category Archives: Scary

Neck Tattoo

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.

I shuddered.

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.

Beauty Will Rise

The day after I filed for divorce, I started moving my husband out.

The plan was to take his belongings to his parents’ house, with little to no explanation.  I did not want any of his family to know that I had filed for divorce, simply for the fact that I could not trust them.  They would surely go bat-shit crazy on me.

Joy was there to help me.  She started in the Master bedroom, taking on my husband’s side of the closet, and whatever else might be hiding under the bed, in the drawers, cabinets, etc.  I had recently discovered an overdue parking ticket and credit card bill buried deep beneath a pile of sweaters.  I didn’t want to deal with any more surprises.

I decided to tackle “The Man House” (basement), which was a slightly bigger project.  It was full to the brim of my husband’s “toys”: knick-knacks, gifts from students, surfboards, wetsuits, Samurai swords, collectible Star Wars figurines, a couple of skateboards, and the like.

This would be it: the last time I’d have to look at anything that physically reminded me of him.  Energized, I started sorting through a basket of his teaching books and papers.

Almost immediately, I found something horrible.  Two things, actually.

There, on a single sheet of crisp, white paper, was a cluster of Russian writing.  The handwriting was clearly female.  Underneath, my husband had scrawled out the English interpretations of the foreign phrases, all of which were sexual.  I read descriptions of what my husband and his 24-year old Ukrainian student/lover had done —  or wanted to do — to each other.

My mouth went dry.   It was the most explicit thing I had ever read, until I discovered the next item.

Right underneath was a thick packet of my husband’s articles he was writing for a particular magazine.  The series was entitled Leave Them Wanting Less.  My eyes scanned the first story.  Within the third paragraph, my husband detailed having raucous, drug-enhanced anal sex with a “hot” flight attendant in an airplane bathroom.

Just elements of the story.

I dry heaved.

Shaking, I exited The Man House, holding the papers between two fingers, as if they were diseased.  I breathed noisily as the groans started to well up inside of me again.  I forced them back down.  My heart felt heavy and my blood ran cold.  I stumbled into the house and searched for Joy.

I found her in the bathroom, cleaning out the medicine cabinet.

She took one look at my ghostly-white face and reached for me.

“What’s wrong?!”  Her eyes flashed with immediate concern.


I couldn’t breathe.

“What is it!!?  Are you sick? What happened?”

I collapsed into the tiny bathroom’s doorframe and tried to speak.  I raised my right arm, and gestured towards my hand, which still gripped at the writings.


She pried my fingers away from the papers and studied them, briefly.

“Get rid of them, now,” she ordered, horrified.  “Don’t go back down there. Just leave it.  You don’t need this.”

I swallowed hard.

“Okay,” I managed.  I was sweating; feverish.

I took the papers from her and dizzily made my way back to the kitchen.  I fumbled through the drawers until I found a lighter, and carried the entire operation outside.

I squatted in the dirt and lit all four corners of each individual piece of paper on fire.  I squeezed my eyes shut so I would not be able to take in any more of my husband’s sickness.  The ends of the paper curled up as the small, orange flame struggled to illuminate, then swallow, the darkness.  I stood up and watched the white turn to grey.

Then, finally: fluttery, black ashes.

I went back into the house, grabbed my phone, and started texting my close circle of friends, begging for help.  I felt bad for doing so, since Easter was the very next day.

My pastor and dear friend, Joseph, showed up almost immediately, as did my dad, and neighbor, Eli.  Together, the five of us were able to get almost everything out of the Man House, into Eli’s truck, my dad’s minivan and Joy’s car.  Only a few surfboards remained, which Joseph neatly organized, then stacked together.

Joy called my in-laws and explained that the house had been leased, and we needed a place to store “some” of my husband’s belongings.  They accepted.

So, the “bombing raid” (as my dad dubbed it) began.  I watched the caravan of three vehicles carry the physical remnants of my husband back to his parents.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief, and went back upstairs.  On my way back into the house, I passed by the pile of ashes.

Later, it would rain, and wash them away.

This rain feels like a huge cleansing, I wrote.

God, I know he is forgiven, and even though it is difficult to imagine myself ever near him again, I think I can get to a place where I can forgive him —  even for what he is doing right now…it is so sad to watch him be destroyed and enjoy it.  (He is) destroying himself…oh, God, release me.  Release me from the burden of his sin.  Release me from the burden of loving him.  I do not know Your will; I am blinded by my pain.

And so I struggle, but I do honestly want to thank You for this crisis. 

It is making me into the woman You created me to be. 

It is so difficult to not want to forge ahead and taste the future.  I am scared, God.  I don’t want to move.  I love my house and my neighbors and the comfort of being here in my home; my haven.

Yet, You are calling me elsewhere.  I am following You, Lord…and I pray that You would continue to guide me; be patient with me, dear Father.

I cannot see.

Months and months later, a sweet friend of mine would give me a copy of Steven Curtis Chapman’s latest album, “Beauty Will Rise”.  I will be the first to admit how uncool Christian music can be, and have tried to avoid it as much as possible.  Yet this particular album comes from a very real, deep, personal, painful yet beautiful journey through a tragic loss.

What resonates is hope and beauty.  Beauty from the ashes.

It will take our breath away to see the beauty that’s been made out of the ashes.

Out of these ashes, beauty will rise —
And we will dance among the ruins,
We will see it with our own eyes.
Out of these ashes, beauty will rise —
for we know joy is coming in the morning.

Out of this darkness, new light will shine,
And we’ll know the joy that’s coming in the morning.

Beauty will rise.


Four days later I got tested for STD’s.

Since I had only ever slept with my husband, first on our wedding night (!!!), neither of us had to worry about sexually transmitted anything.  Upon my therapist’s recommendation, and slight suspicion that my husband had, indeed, slept with the “investment banker” (and who knows, to this day, whomever else during that time), I paid a visit to my gynecologist.

She is always unbelievably cheery, for a woman who has to deal with vaginas all day long.

“Hi, Doc,”  My eyes met hers.  I quickly looked away and forced a smile.

“What are we doing today?”  (Still cheery!)

I sat there, visibly sweating through the arm holes in my hospital gown.  I took a deep breath.
“Well, I’m here because my husband…”

She cut me off.
“OH, NOOOOOOOO!  What the hell?!  When are men going to learn to stick with just one vagina?!  What an idiot.  I’m so sorry, sweetie.”

I smiled, relaxed and shifted my heels in the seemingly extra-wide stirrups.
“Thanks,” I squeaked.

She adjusted her glasses.
“Well, I want to run a test for everything,” she offered, matter-of-factly.  “That includes HIV, HPV, PID…” Her voice became somewhat muffled, a la the ambiguous teacher in any Charlie Brown special on ABC.

“She was his student,” I suddenly blurted out.   “She didn’t speak English very well.  She’s twenty-four.”  My eyes shifted over to the plastic model of the uterus, complete with a miniature baby inside.  My heart hurt.

My doctor peered at me, and raised an eyebrow.  “What nationality is she?  Anything Asian?”

“Ukrainian,” I mumbled, still gazing at the miniature baby.  It was upside down.

“Oh, GAWWWWWWDDDDD,” she threw her head back, clicked her pen open and started furiously scribbling on my chart.

“Hepatitis A, B, C, D, E, F and G, as well as Syphilis, Gonorrhea, Trichomoniasis and definitely HIV,” she trailed, out loud.  She then looked up at me and shook her head.  “People die from this shit in that country. “


I couldn’t disappear, no matter how hard I tried.  I was sitting atop a medical table, naked yet thinly veiled in my sweat-soaked gown, legs spread wide open, ready to discover whatever disgusting, unattractive and deadly disease I had contracted from my cheating husband.

His familiar voice rang out in my head:  “It happened…just once”.

I took another deep breath, laid down on the table and scooted forward.  My doctor did her thing, quickly, as I tried to bravely breathe through it all.  Honestly, it hurt like hell.

Like HELL. 

Trying not to “catastrophize” (a big word I had just learned from my therapist), I prayed that everything would turn out OK.  At the same time, I had no control over any of it; I had to accept my fate.

After she had finished, I thanked my Doc and got dressed.  She gave me a huge hug on my way out.

“Good luck, sweetie.  You’ll find someone that deserves you.”

I swallowed hard.  I had never told her that I was trying to make my marriage work, STD’s and all.


I drove home, clenching my teeth.  I wrote in my prayer journal the next day.

I am out of control; I am a total failure.  I am NOT handing any of this very well, Lord…it just sucks.  I got so angry with [my husband], and last night just raged and ranted.  So ugly.  I’m sorry.  Forgive me.

Father, I am going to shut up today.  I am not doing well by doing it “my way”.   Grant me patience, Father, help me through this.  I am tired of myself.

An agonizing two months later, I received my test results.  I was totally, completely, free and clean, and have been, ever since.

God is so good.

P.T.L., indeed.