June 21, 2007

“The divorce is granted and the agreement is approved.”

It was first come first served at the uncontesteds’ counter, and I was the earliest to arrive, along with the junior lawyer who was shepherding me through. A simple and sometimes nonchalant process: after I passed through the metal detector in the courthouse lobby, she and I had tried to find each other by walking slowly around in the crowd and giving furtive are-you-the-one glances, trying to guess each other’s identity on the basis of vague descriptions, like a couple on a blind date.

In the elevator we talked about how she’d had a flat tire that morning and had used Fix-a-Flat, a recourse I highly recommend. It was my first time in a courtroom, and I sat in one of the rows of spectator seats, with four or five other about-to-be-divorced citizens and their lawyers waiting scattered. Our judge was a cranky type on the verge of retirement, the lawyer had advised me, but she turned out to be perfectly human. She mistakenly called the lawyer “sir” instead of “ma’am” and apologized smilingly, and she sounded sincere when she told me, “Good luck to you, sir,” at the end. It was just a matter of answering “correct” to seven or eight formulaic questions as the junior lawyer had coached me to in the hallway.

The judge entered the courtroom at 8:30 a.m. and by 8:35 I was on my way out, having been wished a friendly, “You can go now,” by the lawyer, who had another client to usher through. (“What a way to meet people,” that divorcee had told me as we chatted uncomfortably before the opening of the session.)

I wandered the halls. I lingered to read the family court docket, a long sheet of printout paper taped to a glass door: restraining orders, divorce trials, and assorted motions. I read the names of the parties and wondered who they were, what had brought them to this. Out on the street again I started walking to the state capitol, near which someone I know is going to start a job soon, and for some reason I started thinking of myself in the third person. “The man is walking up the hill. He looks at the bronze statue of a soldier next to the fountain. He turns around and heads for where his car is parked.” It made me feel better to think that way. At some point I was focused enough to drive home.

At some moments I wanted to plunge back into work and at others I wanted to lie down and sleep, so I alternated both strategies through the day. Waking up from a nap at 3:00, I warned myself that if I didn’t get up and get moving I might go into a downslide, not to mention bing unable to sleep once night came. So I went to the gym and that energized me. Then I dropped by the martial arts school to pay a test fee for the kids, then I went to pick them up from day camp, then I took the three of us for ice cream, and then I drove us home and made them take showers, they were filthy from playing in the dirt all day.

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