I awake to the sound of my alarm. It’s 8AM and the sun is shining through my bedroom windows on this beautiful summer day. I slowly open my eyes and stare at the ceiling, feeling surprisingly calm. Somehow, I got a decent nights’ sleep, all the while knowing that today I will go court at 9:30AM to finalize my divorce from my (ex) husband.
I get out of bed to make breakfast. I need something good and solid to get me through the next few hours. I decide to make two pieces of toast with two scrambled eggs. As I attempt to take my first bite, I feel my stomach grumble and quickly go to the bathroom. My stomach is not as calm as my head. I eat my breakfast, take a shower, and now I need to decide what to wear. I have gained so much weight that my business attire is too small. I decide to wear long jeans, a loose-fitting tank-top with an ever looser flowy shirt over it, flip flops, and sunglasses – yes sunglasses need to be a part of my outfit to hide the tears that I am anticipating. I put on some light make-up, blow-dry my hair, and check the time. It is 9:04AM. I still have a few minutes before I have to leave. I jump back in my bed, trying to remain calm. I stare back up at the ceiling. This is the last time I will stare at this ceiling, be in this bed, in these clothes, as a married woman. I consider that the next time I come home, I will have a different name and will be divorced.
I leave my home a few minutes later, get a parking spot across the street from the courthouse, and walk up to the entrance. I wait in a small line of people to go through security. It’s my turn so I place my belongings on the belt to go through the x-ray scanner and walk through the metal detector. I’m through, I grab my possessions and check my phone for the time, it is 9:27AM. It is still pretty early, as our hearing begins at 10AM… we agreed to meet at 9:30AM to make sure everything is in order. We both want to make sure everything will be finalized today and that nothing will hold up the process.
I begin to walk down the long hallway of the courthouse to the back where family court proceedings take place. I notice the hallway is very quiet and empty. As I approach the back area, I end up in a waiting area for the family cases; there are people already waiting. I glance around the room for my (ex) husband, but he isn’t here yet. I find a chair in the waiting area to sit down in…I’m still wearing my sunglasses. I’m surprised I haven’t cried yet. I look around to see if anyone else is wearing sunglasses to hide their emotions – but it is just me. I think “I guess everyone is pretty confident with their decisions that will come out of today’s court hearings”. Everyone else seems to be so much more okay with whatever irrevocable decisions they are making today. I begin to question myself and I wonder if my (ex) husband is even going to show up – is this another one of his rouses? My heart beats faster and faster and my hands begin to get clammy.
About fifteen minutes pass; it’s 9:45AM and my (ex) husband enters the waiting area. He is wearing a striped button-down shirt (one that I bought for him about three years ago) tucked into his black slacks, a black belt and black shoes. He is dressed much more formal than I am, I begin to question my apparel. He, too, is wearing sunglasses, his propped up on his head. He glances over to me and then sits down on the other side of the waiting area, furthest away from me, and begins to play on his phone. My mind is racing and I can feel my entire body flood with intense anxiety. My blood burns and tingles, as if it is battery acid running through my veins. I know what this is – this is the start of a panic attack. My hands start to shake. I try to sit still, shades still on, and tell myself “be strong, don’t cry, don’t let him see you cry.”
Ten seconds pass (which feels more like 90 seconds), I cannot hold my emotions in any longer. I stand up and walk out of the waiting area around the corner to the stairwell, walk up the stairs, and enter the bathroom at the top. I hope there will be less people in the upstairs bathroom, I need to release my emotions. The bathroom is empty, I’m the only one in there. I stare at myself in the mirror and allow my tears to run freely down my bright red face. I am ugly crying, and the tears are flowing down so quickly that my shirt is getting wet. I go into one of the bathroom stalls, grab some toilet paper, and walk back out to the mirror. I stand there, staring at myself, wiping my tears. “You can do this! This is what is best for you! You need to do this!” I look down at my watch, it’s now 9:52AM. I pull myself together and walk out of the bathroom, back down the stairs. As I approach the last few steps, I feel like I’m going to fall apart all over again, I feel like I’m going to shit myself. I can’t breathe. I turn around and walk back up the stairs, back into the bathroom.
I go into the stall and try to go to the bathroom, but there is nothing there. My nerves are at their end. My body is beginning to fail me. I walk out of the stall, stand in front of one of the sinks, open my bag, and pull out my orange prescription container of Xanax. (I had a prescription for them a long time ago, and these pills were expired, but I knew they could calm me down.) “It would be a simple antidote,” I tell myself. I open the container and pour one of the pills in my hand. I look down at the pill and begin to talk myself in and out of taking it, “I need this, no I don’t need this. But, I will need this to remain calm and get through this…NO! No, I don’t need this! I need to feel every single emotion right now without anything to numb it. I need to remember this! I need to remember how this moment feels. I don’t need it.” I put the pill back in the orange prescription bottle, put it back in my bag, and look at myself in the mirror one last time, “You’ve got this.”
It’s time. I have no more time to react. I walk out of the bathroom and back down the stairs, back over to the waiting room. More people have arrived since I left and there are no more seats. I stand in the back corner for a few minutes before they call all of us into the courtroom. I put my sunglasses up on my head, there is no more hiding my emotions…they will be out there, raw, for everyone to see. We all walk through two sets of double doors before we are in the room. My (ex) husband enters the first pew on our right, furthest away from the judge’s bench, all the way in the back corner. We still haven’t spoken to each other, but I decide to sit next to him. Once everyone is seated, the judge comes in. My (ex) husband and I sit in silence as three other family court cases are called before we are: a request for a restraining order which was denied, a request for child support which was granted, and a request for a divorce which was also granted. It’s such an embarrassing process, the other cases are called up in front of everyone else. Tears fill my eyes and my anxiety returns as I become aware that everyone there is going to hear the details of our divorce discussed in front of them.
Our names are called. We both stand up and walk to our respective tables in front of the judge. I sit on the right (the plaintiff side), and my (ex) husband sits on the left (the defendant side). The judge asks us several basic questions: confirming our names, confirming our financial affidavits, confirming if I want my last name changed back. My voice trembles as I reply. I clear my throat a few times and apologize to the judge. But with each question and answer, the shakiness diminishes, emotion evaporates, and logic takes over. As the questioning continues, I feel stronger and more confident. I notice the opposite for my (ex) husband. He started out today strong and confident, so sure of himself…and now he is becoming flustered and his voice is shaking. He is unsure how to answer several of the simplest questions, the judge is getting frustrated. I feel empathetic and stop the judge twice to explain certain things to my soon to be ex, just to make sure he understands what is happening. He asks the judge about something we agreed to in the divorce settlement: for me to return my engagement ring. I firmly explain to the judge that his car is currently in my name, and as soon as he gets the title and loan transferred to him, then I will gladly give him the ring. I further explain that he has been late on a car payment once before, and that the ring would serve as collateral. The judge agrees with me that this is be the best course of action. The process takes its course and within seven minutes of our names being called, the judge pounds his gavel grants us our divorce. I stand up from the plaintiff’s table with a smile on my face. “It’s finally over.” We receive our court sealed documents as proof of divorce and leave the court house.
As we walk out the courthouse doors, my ex-husband asks to walk me to my car. I wonder if maybe he is planning to wish me the best, thank me for the experiences we shared, or say something thoughtful that may provide a bit of closure. We cross the street and arrive at my car shortly after. Then, he looks at me and asks me for my engagement ring again. I reiterate to him, once he got the car out of my name, I will be happy to turn it over. I state that the judge just agreed, and I will not turn it over until I receive a letter releasing me from the loan.
As we stand there on the side of the road across from the courthouse, I begin to cry again. He continues to disappoint me. “How could he seriously be asking more of me? We are now divorced and his opinion doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. I don’t care that I’m crying, that he is seeing me cry. I’m not going to hold back my emotions any longer.” He tells me to hold it together, apparently it is easier for him to suppress his emotions, to not feel. As tears stream down my face again, the last thing I say to him is, “How is this so easy for you?”
“It’s not easy for me either,” he replies calmly. I don’t believe him.
I pull my shades back onto my nose and roll my eyes. I turn away from him, get in my car, and drive home. The first thing I do is lay back down in my bed and stare up at the ceiling.