Court Day

May, 2003

The ceremony was casual and relaxed, outdoors, in the backyard of my grandparents’ house. My bride and I chatted with our seventy guests, dressed for the ceremony, before it started. My sister officiated and the simple ceremony lasted less than five minutes. It was just what we wanted.

Photo from

Photo from

December, 2013

The hearing is scheduled for 9:00, and we’re both shivering from anxiety and chill. It’s one of those winter days that the sun rises and the temperature starts to fall. I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation for it, but it feels illogical. I got here at 8:40 and she was already standing out front. As we’ve waited the temperature has dropped ten degrees.

It’s now 9:15 and we are here, standing in front of the courthouse, waiting for her missing lawyer.

The divorce is no contest and I’m not required to attend. I didn’t even hire a lawyer, so only she has one. Yesterday she told me that I didn’t have to be here and that she may start crying in front of the judge if I’m here. I apologized, but told her that I couldn’t imagine not being there, it’s something I have to do. I need this memory.

We’ve each called the lawyer three times, and sent text messages as well. We’ve looked inside the court building, but no sign of him. The clerk directs us to the room in which our hearing is scheduled. We enter the room and there’s no sign of him, so we sit and wait, both anxiously holding our phones.

9:25 and the judge calls our name. We stand up and she says the lawyer isn’t here yet. He tells us to wait and moves onto the next name.

It’s 9:40. I offer to print the only document that we don’t already have printed out, in case the judge will continue without the lawyer being present. She agrees, and I’m out of the courthouse and in my car. I find a copy shop a mile away. The whole time we’re texting back and forth and calling the lawyer.

At the copy shop the lady behind the counter helps get my document prepped and asks if I’m having a good day. I say “No…but it’ll be okay.” I notice the smallest wedding solitaire I’ve ever seen on her left ring finger. I notice ring fingers a lot these days. It’s become a reflex.

She prints out the documents and charges me. As she does, she says “I hope your day gets better.” I say, “it’s ok, someday it’ll make a funny story.”

It’s 10:00 and I’m back in the courtroom. Still no sign of the lawyer, and I can see the anxiety in her darting eyes. I don’t want to be here, this whole thing wasn’t my idea, but at this point, I just want it to be over.

The judge calls our name again. I stand up and offer that I have all the documents and ask if we can proceed. The judge says, “Not without your lawyer.”

We both call the lawyer again.

I didn’t want the divorce.

When I finally gave in and agreed to this, I really thought I’d done all I could, but the feeling of failure was immense. I had spent years doing my best, succeeding occasionally, failing often. I had changed in the last decade, much more than I expected to.

Now I just wanted it to be over. I wanted to deal with my failure on my own terms and move forward. Dealing with the lawyer, the money, the court, it just became the business of it all, and I wanted the business done.

It’s 10:10. We both call the lawyer again.

It’s 10:15. The lawyer has sent her an email. It reads I’m so sorry…I will call the court and reschedule…

“No way,” I say. “Tell him he is supposed to be here and we’ll wait.”

I seethe about the fact that I called him five minutes ago and he is replying by email instead of answering the phone. She emails him back: We’re here now, we don’t want to reschedule.

A few minutes later he responds with I’ll be there when I can.

As she continues to wring her hands I say “Aren’t you glad I showed up today?”

She says “You’re always right,” which stings a bit under the circumstances.

We settle in to wait and watch a hearing before the judge. Dad is in a wool suit and tie, Mom is in a slinky knit dress and high-heeled boots. The hearing is about whether their court mandated divorce decree can be modified so that Wool Suit can send his teenaged daughter to a counselor even though High Heels doesn’t approve. He is quiet, but I sense control issues. She is loud and fidgety and I sense emotional distress. The judge is listening to the lawyers and snacking on chips, as if he he were watching a courtroom in a TV show instead of presiding over one.

The hearing devolves into something that would strain belief if I made it up. High Heels can’t stop interrupting the proceedings to chime in or by shaking her head or grunting. Wool suit can’t stop talking when asked a simple yes-or-no question, and doesn’t realize he sounds just as crazy as she does, yet in a much quieter way. Eventually the judge takes a minute to admonish both of them and the lawyers. He says, “I’m quickly losing patience. This should have only taken a few minutes.”

We are watching slack-jawed while giggling a bit. At one point my to-be-ex-wife looks at me, and says sincerely, “Thank you for making this easy.”

High Heels is being hushed loudly by both her attorneys. They are joining the judge in exasperation. They are saying things like “You need to stop.” and “Just walk away.” She keeps picking up a legal pad and scribbling furiously on it then pointing at it to her attorney. He keeps waving her off.

The judge says something, then stands up and walks out of the courtroom. He just leaves. Wool Suit walks quietly back to his seat. High Heels walks to hers and begins picking up her papers. Her attorney walks by and she starts saying something to him. The attorney says “You’re killing me…” and keeps walking out of the courtroom.

Our lawyer shows up. He looks in bad shape. His hands are shaking, he looks pale and feverish, his hair is not properly combed, and he has cut himself in several spots with his razor. His suit is pressed and buttoned nicely, but otherwise he looks like the caricature of the guy whose briefcase is crushing documents in the seams as he is darting up the courthouse steps, glasses askew on his face, tie hanging loose. My anger dissipates into relief that he’s here, and she looks at him and asks “Are you okay?”

He doesn’t answer, but apologizes and begins to collect the papers he will need for our hearing.

High Heels and Wool Suit have joined their attorneys back in front of the judge. He speaks plainly.

“You guys have good attorneys and you are making their work much harder. I don’t feel the need to make a decision today, seeing as you already have a hearing scheduled for two weeks from now. When you get back in the courtroom, I hope you can act better, because at this point, I can see why I should be worried about the health and well-being of your children.” Damn. Even our attorney looks a bit surprised at this.

They are dismissed and our names become the only names on the docket. The judge calls our name, and this time we are invited to approach the bench.

The attorney introduces the case and hands the judge the decree. As he reads it, making notes, I stare at the plaque with his name on it. I think about the fact that my wife and I are standing before a judge, asking him to end the marriage that started 10 years and six months earlier, standing before friends and family and officiated by my sister. I can feel the tears welling.

My tears are preempted by the judge asking the lawyer about a couple points in the document. He hands the Divorce Decree to the lawyer and the lawyer makes changes in pen, and she and I initial each change. The judge offers the floor to the attorney who asks her the questions she needs to answer to satisfy the judge. She is mostly facing away from me, but I can see her tears as she answers the questions, then she’s finished.

The judge faces me, and asks me a few questions. I answer affirmatively and he announces that the marriage is over and signs the paper.

Photo ©2018 Joshua Leto

Photo ©2018 Joshua Leto

We are outside the courthouse. The wind has picked up and it’s even colder than before.

The hearing only took ten minutes after two hours of waiting. The lawyer is apologizing sincerely, and with a great deal of embarrassment. We both tell him not to worry, but it doesn’t seem to settle him.

She says “I’m just glad it’s over.”

He apologizes again.

I say, “I’ll admit that until you walked into the courtroom, I was pissed. But it’s okay, we forgive you.” We shake hands and he walks away.

She asks where I’m parked. I point north. She points south. She takes a step toward me and gives me a hug.

We walk away in opposite directions.