“Waiting for the Host to Start the Meeting.”
I was staring at a Zoom window with “Domestic Relations Daley Center” officially typed across it. Waiting for me on the other side of the virtual threshold was a judge I had never met, two lawyers whom I had only met remotely, and the man who had been my husband for ten years, now a complete stranger to me.
As I sat in the Illinois Circuit Court of Cook County’s remote waiting room, I couldn’t help but ponder the sad contrast, yet unexpected similarities, between the day my marriage began in a Greensboro, North Carolina chapel to the day it ended on a Chicago, Illinois-based computer screen. These two pivotal moments in my life, both equally meaningful and charged with emotion, yet delivered and packaged to me with such differing levels of pageantry.
My wedding day, my sweet father by my side, heart fluttering in anticipation of the beautiful ceremony, celebration and life ahead as we stood waiting in the church vestibule. The almost two hundred family and friends that helped build my groom and me, stealing glimpses of me in my Monique L’Huillier number, conservatively high in the front and plunging recklessly low down the back. My husband-to-be, his signature grin, chest puffed up and sparkling blue-green eyes looked on at me, his bride, from his end of the aisle.
I wonder if the 30-year-old me would have believed it, had she been told that the pomp and circumstance of that moment would deliver ten years of a relational rollercoaster and three daughters, only to be dismantled on a half hour Zoom video call. I clutched the very same rosary that wrapped around my wildflower bouquet at my wedding. I had bought it in Lebanon a few years prior and had it blessed by a local priest. Nervously wrapping the beads around my sweaty palms, I was digitally transported in front of a judge, our lawyers and a man whose status as my legal spouse would expire forever within the hour.
Not many of us think about our divorce day, but if your mind occasionally wanders to dark places, you may envision an echoing courtroom and a judge perched on the bench, gavel poised. I was more than happy to forgo the formality and closure offered by the courtroom for the comfort of my own bedroom. My parents, steadfast, loving, never judging in the ways this mess had upended their senior years, were in the room next door watching “Sophia” with my two-year old. Just as they had supported, encouraged and celebrated with me when I decided to marry this man, they comforted, consoled and cried with me when we divorced. They were mere feet from me when our union was terminated, just as they had been when it began.
The aura of the judge reminded me of the priest that married us, while not with her in the flesh, she demanded respect and exuded authority. Throughout our mediated divorce, my lawyers kept reminding me that the only figure with the power to order my husband or I to do anything was the judge. A stranger to us, oblivious to the ten years of “he said, she said” that resulted in this moment, she had the power to relieve us of our duty to the other. Our priest, a Monsignor — which I had discovered at the time is simply an honorary title in the Catholic church — was less than impressed and a little too serious for my liking. Having only met him once, he married us that day, blind to the fact that we were horribly mismatched.
The judge, our lawyers and the court reporter, rambled off formalities I did not understand. They asked me to raise my right hand and swore me in. I stared at a cheap Dollar Store plaque that read “This Girl Can” in neon pink. I had bought it for my eight-year-old daughter’s desk in an effort to advertise the strength and resilience I planned to instill in her. It turned out I needed it more, swiping it off her desk for all of our Zoomed mediation and negotiation sessions. It sat under my monitor reminding me that I, indeed could, and would.
My soon to be ex-husband, the plaintiff, had to answer a series of questions with “I do”:
“Do you agree that there are irreconcilable differences that lead to the irretrievable breakdown of your marriage?”
“Do you agree that future attempts at reconciliation would not be in the best interest of your family and impracticable?”
I had recently splurged on a brand-new second monitor — realizing my 2010 MacBook Air needed a serious upgrade if I were to go from stay-at-home mom to single, work-from-home mom. The monitor’s oversized screen reflected back an empty room behind me as I silently cursed that no one was there to witness the absurdity of these “I do’s.” Was “I do” really going to be recycled for this occasion? Thankfully I, the respondent, was only obliged to one “I do.” It still felt cruel. Punitive, almost.
My lawyer’s face suddenly took over the screen. Prior to that, she had been shrunk to a little box in a lineup of boxes that included all the meeting participants. Something about the neat lineup of little boxes transported me back to the perfect row of attendants at my wedding. Both so symmetrical, almost somber. She was asking if I was satisfied with my husband’s testimony and understood the terms of my settlement.
(Had anyone ever objected at this point? Does anyone in the congregation object to a marriage in the middle of the ceremony? In our case, maybe someone should have.)
More formalities and legal dialogue between our lawyers and the honorable judge. Apparently, the circuit court was satisfied that the binding nature of this contract was adequately relayed and imprinted upon this civilian couple. My lawyer triumphantly declared that I could resume use of my maiden name.
After a brief lull in activity, the judge’s face took over one last time. “Good luck,” she managed with a weak smile. The professionals exchanged pleasantries and goodbyes, passing on regards to various colleagues in their world of family law. One by one the little boxes dropped off my screen leaving a black square.
“The meeting has been ended by the host.”
After the exchange of rings at our wedding, I had marveled at how I was suddenly someone’s wife, yet felt no different. I was now someone’s ex-wife, yet felt no different. Perhaps a bit more jaded with pieces to put back together, a heart to heal and scars to wear proudly, but still just me. I took some victory from that, as the old adage “The more things change, the more they stay the same” turned around in my mind.
Giggling and laughter in the next room forced me out of my reverie. “Sophia” had ended. I took a shaky breath and couldn’t help but smile inwardly at the humor of the situation. There I sat, old rosary in hand, new and updated Mac products on my desk, with a borrowed sign from my daughter. Perhaps this next chapter would bring more luck. After all, I had Something old, something new, something borrowed, something… Zoomed?