It was windy. Springtime in Provence, mistral windy.
I’d worn a new, almost mini-length skirt, an insufficient black leather jacket, and my knee-high black leather boots. Belatedly I realized they were the selfsame boots I’d worn on our first date, eight years, three hundred and sixty-one days earlier.
Then, I’d been a size four, in a silkier skirt, a slinkier attitude. Now, bigger, greyer, older, I marched grimly down what passes for sidewalks in Santa Fe, headed toward the courthouse, the wind molesting my bare legs, slapping up dust into my carefully made-up face, and making my hair so much less good than I’d intended.
The man who didn’t want to be my husband anymore walked behind me, in silence.
I’d wanted him to eat his heart out. But the heart had gone out of our relationship a long time before.
The courthouse was so new it squeaked. There were five crisply dressed security agents grouped around the metal detectors, and not another soul in sight. I put my purse through the belt, put myself through the bracket of the machine. I beeped. The guard told me I was okay.
I wanted to believe him.
The man who didn’t want to be my husband anymore pointed the way to the first of the rooms that would process us, like so much hamburger, into discrete entities. He’d researched it all and knew exactly what to do – this, a man who couldn’t so much as research where we might go on vacation together without three weeks of my prompting.
For the first time in our marriage, I followed.
We entered the most beige room in the universe. So beige I wanted to scream, splash the walls with red, or purple, or any kind of sunshine, just to deny the fluorescent banality, the clean, clean countertops and new-from-the-packaging ergonomic chairs.
I didn’t scream. And I didn’t look at the man who no longer wanted to be my husband.
The clerk gave us a form, and before the ink could dry, we were ushered through to the next, even more unbearably beige room. A second clerk took our papers; un-stapled them, shuffled them around, re-stapled them, licked her finger and checked through the pages once again. And off to the next room.
This one was the color of coffee with too much half-and-half, and even cleaner, if possible. There had never been a fingerprint on the glass.
Take a number, said the sign.
The man who did not want to be my husband anymore took a number. “Nine-oh-eight,” he mumbled, not looking at me.
“Six-eighty,” called the clerk behind the glass.
There was no one else in the room.
She un-stapled our papers. Shuffled them. Shuffled some more. Extracted a few and threw them away. Rubbed ink over the notary seals, licked her finger and ran it and her eyes across the sheepish remains of our shared existence. She stapled them again in a different order. “One-thirty-eight,” she told us. The cost of our mistake.
“I’ll pay,” I said. “Take a check?”
We didn’t have cash. The man who no longer wanted to be my husband remembered there was an ATM down the block. I told him to take it from the joint account we’d be closing before his lunch break ended. It was all my money anyway. I waited in the untouched, coffee-with-too-much-creamer room, playing with my phone as if Siri could tell me something that made sense. I considered updating my Facebook status with a check-in at the courthouse and a caption, “Getting divorced!” Decided the moment deserved more solemnity, or at least less tackiness.
He returned, clutching money. He gave me the receipt. The machine had charged us $3 for the privilege. I’d always hated that — how he paid the fees instead of finding our own branch. But what did it matter now.
We’d waited too long. Now we’d have to see a different clerk. The only one not on lunch was helping a mother explain to her daughter that she’d have to file the papers hiding her from her abusive father in another jurisdiction. The mother was translating the news into Spanish for her daughter, and they were making the best of it. Turned away, unsaved.
We were called.
Clerk number four took our papers. She un-stapled them. She arranged the copies into stacks. She rearranged the stacks, and rearranged them again, and again, in a swift shell-game whose sense only she could see. Stack, staple, un-staple. Riffle, re-sort. I dared a glance at the man who no longer wanted to be my husband, and humor was in it before I could recall that we didn’t share humor anymore. We didn’t bond over ridiculous pencil pushers.
His smile died too. We looked away.
“You’re missing pages on two of the copies,” she told us. “If they’re not all the same, the judge might not accept them.”
“Those are the pages the other clerk threw away,” said the man who no longer wanted to be my husband.
“Well, they’re not here, and they all have to be the same. I can copy them for you, but it will cost you thirty-five cents a copy.”
We gritted our teeth. This was not the moment.
“Whatever, just charge us.”
She stapled. Un-stapled. Stacked and sorted. Then she got out her stamp.
This was progress.
Thump. Thump. Thump. Three copies marked submitted.
There was some more writing of numbers and sorting of papers. If I were those papers, I thought, I would be queasy, dizzy, bewildered.
“Okay,” she said, and handed me my change. “We’ll call you when the judge has made her decision.”
“And that’s it? That’ll be the divorce?”
“Do you have any idea how long it might take? Like, a week or a month or a couple of days?”
“No, ma’am. I couldn’t say.”
Three hours later I was driving down I-25, going ninety while the wind pushed my silver, official-car-of-Santa-Fe Subaru Forester around. My phone rang. And, despite knowing better, I answered.
“You can come pick up your papers now, Ms. Fields.”
It was April Fool’s Day, but this lady was a courthouse bureaucrat. She wasn’t paid for pulling pranks.
“I’m divorced?” I asked, and tried not to let the wind carry me off the highway into the blue, blue, blue.
I drove faster. Back to what, I did not know. Back to whom; just me.
Home, I threw the mail on the dining table I’d wanted and he hadn’t. It was all bank statements and ugly-shirt catalogs for the father I no longer had. Cable bills for the mother who had predeceased him. And a Crate and Barrel coupon for me, should I wish to feather my nest.
I turned on the stereo I’d listened to so infrequently these past years. Somewhere along the line I’d stopped being the woman who poured music into her ears and out her throat. I turned it up, and up, and up until the cats left the room in mincing, furry huffs. And I danced. So badly. I danced like Elaine from Seinfeld, in jerky, rhythmless twitches, trying to find the groove that had been so natural for me in the days of my sexiness, the days when I knew I was desirable and a glance from my knowing blue eyes was enough to rouse a man.
And I didn’t let the tears smear the liner I’d so carefully applied to remind him that those blue eyes had once roused him too.
Great writing, HIllary!
You brought tears to my eyes. Your way with words just sucks me right in. I can’t wait to hear more as you start this new chapter in your book of life. I love you and your honesty. Hugs, 😘, Diane