The uneven clip clop my saddle shoes make on the polished terrazzo floor reminds me of my lapsed chiropractor visits, the muscles around my spine slowly twisting themselves into hardened knots, strengthening my increasingly frequent tension headaches and off-setting my gait.
I advance in the security line, straighten my back, and grate my teeth into a smile while being wanded by a thoroughly exasperated guard. As he tracks up my arms and alongside my head, I expect him to ask if I have anything stowed “up there,” pointing to my hair accusingly like the Atlanta TSA agent I recently had the pleasure of meeting during a “random” security check. Instead, he tells me to take my bag and go.
Consumed with Pokemon capture, the information desk attendant acts completely annoyed as I trip through my directional inquiry and stutter “filing for divorce,” my mouth contorting around each loaded syllable.
“Sixth floor,” he grumbles, readjusting himself and screwing up his face at whatever invisible creature is hovering inside the courthouse foyer.
Exiting the elevator, I sidle up to the intake clerk’s counter, stumble through my introduction yet again, and present my manila folder plumped with signed paperwork – most of which is still dog-eared and covered with Post Its.
“You don’t need this form. Or this one. Nope, not this one.”
I collate the wasted trees as quickly as he pushes them aside, muttering something about “Just wanting to make sure I have everything…”
“But you do need to go get that form over there.”
He motions to a bar glutted with stacks of paper. Like Indiana Jones selecting the holy grail, my hand hovers over the form I surmise is correct.
“NO, one more to the right,” he calls from behind the counter.
I pull out the over-copied form, the Arial font approximating that of a dot matrix printer readout. He highlights a few sections, recites what I’ll need, and asks if I have copies of the other forms.
“Yes, but I left them in my car.”
He looks displeased, but allays my fears of having to start this all over on another day.
“It’s fine. You don’t really need’em. Just be sure to write down your case number.”
The litigious vocabulary of this entire process throws me off at every turn. It seems so unnecessarily terrifying. He confirms that I have all of the correct paperwork, and asks me to fill out the form I just fetched. When I step away, I dart back and forth, trying to find a private space to scribble in the appropriate information. Clearly looking like a confused rabbit, I draw the clerk’s attention again.
“You know, you can just go wherever.”
Once I sequester myself inside a reading nook near the copier station, everything starts hitting me in waves. I start sweating, feel nauseous. I want to burst into hysterical sobs. I can’t believe this is all happening.
This is when it, quite literally, becomes official.
I fill in all of the personal information, reread the short form roughly 300 times, and paperclip it to the bulky wad affixed to my manila folder.
Crossing back in front of the clerk, I park myself behind two men at the Filing counter.
“So, let me get this straight. He’s got to file, er, serve this summons form to her. And the complaint? What does he do with that, and how does all that work with getting the property?”
Smiling kindly, the clerk gently nudges one of the ubiquitous signs forward, which reads: “Clerks cannot provide legal advice.”
“Oh, well. Okay, here. I see it here on the form.”
The younger man’s eyes glaze over as the older man’s continued recitation of each form’s title fills the enclosed area with a constant, reverberating din.
I stare hard at the floor, clutching the paperwork tightly across my chest – like a pilot has advised me of an imminent, turbulent water landing and to use my seat cushion as a flotation device. At the next window over, a lawyer makes small talk with another clerk who methodically stamps forms inside each dossier he places atop the counter; his pile is a mass of gray, cardboard-like files – like those that overflow in every Law & Order office set.
The two men stuff the last of their forms into a satchel and leave. The clerk scribbles a few things down on the other forms they left, tosses them into a massive pile, and motions to me.
“Next. You can step up here.”
“Yes, hi. I, uh, need to, uh, file these.”
Like the intake clerk, she assesses everything, recites the astronomically high filing fee, and starts rapping away at her computer. A moment passes, and a coworker comes behind her and asks for paperclips. I stare down at the box of clips in front of me, just out of her view, but don’t have the energy to say anything. They disappear for what seems like three hours, and I think about all the absurd time we waste in life rummaging around looking for useless shit.
She reappears with two large booklets, and typed up sheets.
“My goodness, these aren’t as high quality as they used to be,” she says, waving the booklets at me, the bolded titles of which read “How To Ask For A Divorce.” I almost interject with, “I think we’re beyond that” but, again, the energy just isn’t there.
She glances over the two packets, and then grabs a large date-time stamp with rotating numbers and letters, methodically aligning the ink-caked numerals with a long numeric string she’s reading on her computer screen.
And then she begins.
I watch her dissect my freshly stamped stack of papers – tossing a form here, there, and into a box.
And just like that, our marriage begins its 90-day dissolution.
“Now, you get this, and you give this to the other party. Since you’re filing with no children, you can opt for a ‘Simple Divorce’ if you want, or you can initiate the process to have a court date set for the final ruling.”
“IWANTTHESIMPLEWAYPLEASE,” I blurt loudly, drawing the attention of a woman going through the same process with a neighboring clerk.
“Well, that office is on the third floor, and they just closed for lunch.”
I roll my eyes and laugh and say something like “Of course it is” and thank her for her help.
“And now, you both have to attend this class.”
“Wait, what? I have to attend a class?”
As she quickly touches on the logistics of this absurdly archaic practice – the “Are You Sure You Want To Go Through This?” and its legal repercussions spiel – I feel the last remnant of energy drain from me completely, pooling down my legs and onto the terrazzo.
Before I know it, I’m peeing out my frustration in a deserted courthouse bathroom while clutching the packets beneath my arm. I pass back by the Pokemon Whisperer and then join the droves walking through downtown.
I bustle past lunch-goers and the cafe where, 30 minutes before, I was having a final in-person job interview – and hoping that the conversation would translate to the employment life boat I desperately need. I pause momentarily, envisioning myself standing awkwardly, waiting for my interviewer to arrive – my reflection a constant reminder that this interview outfit is now my official divorce outfit.
A few minutes later, I’m buying a cheap shirt at Target so I don’t have to pay the astronomically high “public parking” fee in their garage. Surveying the sale and clearance racks, I reflect on the mundane act of buying clothes – adding to a wardrobe that’s now only mine. It’s a weird, awkward moment.
After navigating the labyrinthine parking garage, I’m so tired I can’t even cry until I get back to work and have to force myself not to cry.
The wall everyone’s been surprised I haven’t hit is suddenly smashing my nose into my face.
I can’t breathe.
It’s nearing 9PM, and the table lamp’s light illuminates the bushes outside, reminding me just how exposed the back of the house is with all its glorious windows. Each time I look out, I expect to see Michael Myers quietly standing just at the edge of the yard, the knife in his hand shimmering in the moonlight.
Joanna woofs lowly at a small winged creature attacking the window, determined to diffuse the cursed ball of light blazing afire in the darkness.
My eyes are heavy, and my body aches. I look down at my blank journal page, pen in-hand. But I have nothing witty to write, no metaphors to deconstruct.
Some days, just staying upright is my biggest success.