So many people, so little authenticity. I watched silently as one side argued against another. Each attorney made things sound much different than the actual circumstance. Or, maybe I should say my side argued against his side. I did not feel connected to this process though. I glanced down at the table I was sitting at before the judge and realized that there were confidential documents spread out before me. None of which were mine or my lawyer’s or pertaining to my divorce. There had been a lady sitting here that was a lawyer for a kid that did not want to live with his father, I think. I knew I should not look, but I couldn’t help but notice that there were detailed documents outlining the dates and amounts child support received, dates and times that the child has been picked up, and many, many more documents that looked like they covered everything from doctor visits to notes from teachers.
I sat there barely listening, wondering more about this child and his case. Did his father hit him? Or was he just never around? Maybe his father had beat the child’s mother and not the child. Certainly there could not be any evidence, otherwise, how would the man be sitting in the courtroom arguing over custody and not in prison? My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by my attorney calling me up to the stand to be sworn in and testify in my own divorce and custody hearing.
I stood up, my attorney touched my arm and said, “You look nice. You’ll be fine, just answer each question truthfully and look at me the whole time if it would make you feel more comfortable.”
While this was all very nice of him, I did not need any of this. I am always a rock when it is important. Great under pressure. I had no plans to faint, or cry, or cause a scene. I was the picture of calm, as usual. I wanted everything to be over, and I wanted it all completed as quietly as could be possible.
After being sworn in, I was asked the basic questions. State my name, date of birth, address, and so on, for the record. I had originally thought that this moment would be my chance to finally tell my story, to explain to someone in authority how unfair and outrageous this situation was. I had an epiphany of sorts, while waiting for a year and a half after filing for divorce, waiting for it to be my turn to end my marriage. Well, officially end it anyway. My epiphany was simple and somehow painfully freeing. No one cared how unfair or outrageous my life had become. No one even wanted to hear about it. If looking around with any indication, I should instead be rejoicing to the heavens that my very soon to be ex-husband had not beat me or my child or done other horrible things.
So I sat on that stand and I answered each simple question. The one question I had not been expecting came from the judge, not from either attorney. She leaned toward me and asked, “Is this marriage completely unsalvageable?”
With that single sentence, my calm wavered. I felt the need to hold my breath. My mind immediately flashed to waiting in the hallway for my case to be heard. While sitting there with my best friend, my husband decided to sit with us as well, and I had tried to keep things happy and light. My husband was angry about something, I don’t remember what because it wasn’t even the real reason he was angry to begin with, and his way of coping with this was to sit there and tell me that he could not wait until he could get on the stand and tell the judge that I was nothing but a whore and a bitch and I did not deserve to raise his child. Not that he was seeking full custody or anything of that nature. My mind then flashed back to the day I got a phone call from a stranger telling me my husband was dating her 18 year old daughter, and that my child seemed like a delightful little girl according to her daughter, who had met my child on several occasions.
I looked at my husband sitting there next to his attorney. He looked very nervous, and something else. I started trying to figure out what else that was on his face, other than his ugly new goatee his girlfriend thought was sexy. There was an emotion there I could not identify. I thought a moment more and instead of remembering all the terrible moments, I remembered all the terrible feelings. The absolute gut-wrenching feeling of betrayal. Then the subsequent feelings of stupidity for not seeing it coming, for being in the same category as all the other women out there fooled by a cheater. I’m smart, but it didn’t matter. After those feelings receded just a bit, then came the overwhelming anger. The staggering amount of anger I felt was the most unexpected. I expected anger, but not an all-consuming fiery rage that didn’t seem to let up for months, maybe even now it hadn’t. Maybe I had just learned how to keep it locked away inside that vault of emotions I carry around these days. Now was not the time to analyze it.
I took a deep breath, turned to the judge and answered calmly, “This marriage is unsalvageable.”
My answer was clear. That emotion on his face a moment ago had been the closest thing to an apology I would ever get. As soon as I had said those four little words, confirming that this divorce would happen today, that emotion I had seen on his face was gone. I didn’t puzzle over this. It didn’t matter at this point. Even if he was man enough to cough out a spoken apology to my face, I wasn’t ready to hear it. It wouldn’t heal any of the damage. The attorney had no more questions and I was told I could return to my seat.
I sat down next to my attorney, and I felt a moment of relief. My part was finished. They would ask my husband some questions, maybe he would get to call me a whore publicly and on the record, and then this would be over. After filing for divorce a year and half later, we had finally made it to this culminating moment. Complete. Done. At that moment my emotions quickly shifted. Relief was nowhere to be found suddenly.
I felt like the room was closing in on me. My chest hurt. I thought to myself, I wonder what it would be like to have a heart attack? Is it even possible at age 25? I laughed in my head, my ex would find some way to blame my heart attack on me being a whore I was sure. It was always funny to me that he projected his unfaithfulness on to me. Well, funny was a strangely relative thing these days. Things were funny because I didn’t want to cry anymore. So laughing was much easier. So funny to me, wasn’t really funny to anyone else I had noticed, despite my friends’ best efforts.
They had finished questioning him, and I wasn’t even publicly branded a whore. Everything was in order. The judge made her decree. I mostly got what I had wanted. Child support could have always been higher. But I figured that was the best I was going to get, unless I wanted to wait another year to get divorced. That was out of the question. I felt like I might suffocate on the spot if they told me we had to wait any longer to be divorced. Except that I wouldn’t die, I would just be stuck in this painful cycle of not breathing enough to thrive but breathing just enough to stay alive.
Still feeling like I might be having a severe cardiac event, I made my way out of the courtroom. My best friend who had come for moral support grabbed my arm and said something to me. I have no idea what, I just repeated a couple of times, “Let’s get out of here”. And we did.
This with me. This was almost 4 years ago. A lot of things, negative and positive, have happened in my life since this moment in time. This defining moment in my history has taught me a lot about myself and it continues to hold intense emotion for me every time I think about it again.
How about you? What’s your story?