I don’t know if there’s anything fundamentally more awkward than sitting in a courtroom five feet away from someone that you swore to have and to hold, to love and to honor, facing a magistrate for your divorce hearing. But if you can’t find humor in that, your funny bone may be broken.
Sitting in the hall outside the courtroom, I played “Angry Birds” on my phone while my soon-to-be ex-wife and our family lawyer friend chatted. I suppose I should say her family lawyer friend, because while I like her and would totally hang out with her, I think she got her in the divorce. I wonder if we could arrange friend visitations? I tried to pretend like this video game was the MOST. IMPORTANT. VIDEO GAME. EVER. while they talked about work and shopping and vacations and other idle chatter.
The sheriff’s deputy was a giant of a man with a moustache that would put Tom Selleck to shame. He opened the courtroom door and spoke in this deep, gravelly voice: “Avitable.” Well, except he said it more like Argylemonkey’suncle. We stood in the doorway and waited for him to step to the side so that we could enter.
“Please make sure that your cell phones are turned off,” his eyes bore holes in all three of us. “And no food or drink are allowed, including gum or candy. Okay?”
“Okay,” we said, about as meekly as three adults with law degrees could be (which is, actually, pretty fucking meek when you’re facing Man Mountain Moustache himself.) I unconsciously chewed my gum.
“Did you just chew gum? DO YOU HAVE GUM IN YOUR MOUTH?” I think flames may have sprouted from his nose.
“Uhh, no.” I literally stammered. And then thought to myself “Why the fuck did I say no? I clearly have gum in my goddamn mouth and I can’t stop chewing it around and around like a fucking cow with her cud and he knows I’m lying but I can’t stop saying no and I can’t stop chewing this fucking gum.”
“Didn’t you hear me? I said NO GUM ALLOWED!” He grew like four inches taller.
I did the only thing I could think of. I gulped and swallowed it, fully aware that there was a very real possibility that said gum would get caught just like food can because of the surgery and there was a good chance that I would be vomiting it directly up again, probably on his giant Volkswagen-sized shiny black shoes. And then, like a five-year old happy as a clam that he finished all his vegetables, I opened my mouth, stuck out my tongue and showed Man Mountain Moustache that I did not, indeed, have any gum in my mouth.
With an evil glare that said to me “I’m watching you Argylemonkey’suncle, and if you step out of line I will beat the everloving shit out of you,” he stepped aside and we entered the courtroom. She and I sat facing the magistrate, an older man with glasses and a turkey neck.
On each of our tables was a sheet of paper. It was numbered 1 through 11, and listed the items that we had to recite. These were all items that we had meticulously included in the marital settlement agreement that the magistrate held in his creaky old hands, like “Name”, and “Date you moved to Florida” and “Date of separation” and “Number of sexual partners you’ve had”, etc. It was all mindless and rote, with a few exceptions:
#9. Did you voluntarily and openly enter into the martial settlement agreement that is in the judge’s possession?
I read this line and saw that the secretary had accidentally written “martial” instead of “marital” and started immediately thinking about martial settlement agreements. I imagined Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris hammering out an agreement of who gets to throw which punch, who will defend at which point, and how many times each party gets to bellow a mighty “Hiiiiyaaahhh!” And this thought got me smiling and almost chuckling a little, which then earned an evil glare from Man Mountain Moustache. “I can read your mind, Argylemonkey’suncle,” he telepathically threatened, “And this is strike two. If you do anything else, I will rip you in two and eat you like some type of delicious sandwich.”
#10. My marriage is irretrievably broken.
Okay, so this line is a legal necessity because the term “irretrievably broken” is legal fucking terminology in the state of Florida! So apparently the settlement agreement and the 120-day waiting period isn’t enough evidence that the marriage is over – we have to verbally announce to this old guy, his clerk, and Man Mountain Moustache that yes, it is irretrievably broken.
She said, “My marriage is irretrievably broken.”
Magistrate Creaky said, “Let the record show that the Petitioner has stated that her marriage is irretrievably broken. It is irreparable, and cannot be repaired by any means possible. It’s destroyed beyond the point of return. It is shattered into a million pieces that can never be put back together. It is fucked the fuck up. It’s dead, like Zed. It’s obliterated into smithereens.”
And then he said, “Okay, now I need you to give me a reason why, so that I can perform a finding of fact.”
Why? Why is the marriage irretrievably broken? He needs an additional reason other than the fact that we’re standing there in front of him with a settlement agreement in his hands? I quickly put myself in her shoes and thought of some of the reasons that I would have given if I was her:
“He snores like a motherfucker.”
“Have you seen his feet?”
“Two words: Comic books. Two more words: COMIC BOOKS.”
“He hates the Beatles.”
“He calls his underwear ‘manties’!”
“I’ve seen him hold his pinkie finger out sometimes when he drinks.”
“He wins at every board game.”
“His ego is much larger than his penis.”
“I can’t be with someone who suffers from ‘pancake ass’.”
“What’s the point when the world is ending in 2012?”
“I can’t compete with Sarah Silverman. Fly free, little Avitabird. Fly free.”
Instead, though, she took the serious route and said, “I do not want to be married to Adam Avitable.” Which, while an accurate response, also begs the question, “How is this a finding of fact?” A fact is defined as “A statement that is objectively true and can be verified.” This is a subjective statement that doesn’t really give the magistrate any new information from what was presented to him with the settlement agreement. However, she was right to go with a statement like that – I don’t think he would have appreciated a cavalier response, and Man Mountain Moustache would have had his way with me.
#11. Do you think that counseling would help?
Really? Are there actually dissolutions of marriage that proceed this far, and get to the very last item on the page, after going through all of this procedure and after agreeing that their marriage is irretrievably broken and shattered beyond repair and after naming an actual “FACTUAL” reason that the marriage is broken, and THEN, they read #11, and say “Oh Gosh, we didn’t think of that! Let’s try counseling!”
Maybe there are. Maybe that actually happens. I’d like to make a suggestion, though. Instead of making it the last item on the page, make it #1. Before you say your name or your address or explain to a room full of strangers why you have failed at marriage, maybe, JUST MAYBE, the first thing you should read is “Do you think counseling would help?” Because for those few people for whom that does work, it would just save a lot of time and energy, plus there will be less counseling about why the petitioner said that the respondent was a worthless piece of shit and that’s the factual reason her marriage is irretrievably broken.
After we affirmed to the magistrate that no, counseling would not be effective, thank you very much for asking, my parents died in a car wreck when I was ten would you like to talk about that?, he looked at us seriously and said:
“Blah blah blah (Procedural shit about sending the agreement and his order to the clerk and how it will arrive in the mail and we can waive our right to file an exception so the divorce is completely final when we get a letter that says ‘Congratulations you’re divorced’ or something like that) blah blah blah.
One last thing. There are 6 billion people on this Earth, and all of them are just searching for their little slice of happiness. They’ll find it, and you will, too, and I hope the both of you are able to find the happiness that you deserve.”
I said, “Gee, thanks, Mr. Magistrate! I was planning on spending the rest of my life moping around and being miserable, but these last few words of yours, coming from someone in a clinically legal setting who is a complete stranger and doesn’t know anything about me or her and probably says these same words with the same cadence to the hundred or so people you see a day in here, well, golly, that just changed my whole life. I will be happy and it’s all thanks to you, guy whose name I can’t even remember!”
Well, that’s what I would have said if it wasn’t for Man Mountain Moustache and his telepathic third strike. Instead, I nodded my head, said “Thank you.” and got the fuck out of the courtroom, which would have been awesome except I ended up walking awkwardly side by side with her as we walked out the same door to the parking lot where we had parked near each other inadvertently.
So, it’s over. A relationship that lasted 11 years, over 8 of which were in marriage, is over. And while I’m sad, I’m also glad to have the memories of the positive times. There was a lot of growth and maturation on my part during that time (and stagnation and regression at times) and any experience from which you can walk away is a positive one. And if there’s one thing that I’ve learned, out of all of this, it’s that love is a battlefield. No, wait. Love stinks. Nope. I’d do anything for love but I won’t do that. Nah. My heart will go on. No. Un-break my heart. Nope. Love will keep us together. Nu-huh.
Oh yeah, I remember. Don’t chew gum at the courthouse.