Just a place

I’m on my lunch break right now, taking a class where the teacher is really into breaks. “Shall we take a break?” he asks every 30 minutes, which sounds awesome, except I’d rather get out early than take frequent breaks. Our dinner break is an actual 1 hour and 40 minutes (it’s an 8-hour class), and so I left campus and am now parked across the street from the courthouse so I can eat my dinner and read in the shade until it’s time to return.

This is an interesting place to pause. There was a time when the courthouse gave me panic attacks. I spent months in and out of this building, working out details to a messy divorce that included custody, child support, and eventually a restraining order. I was lucky to be dating a law student after some time, as he set me up with a pro bono lawyer when things took a turn for the worse. It was likely the only reason he crossed my path, as we were incompatible as human beings. But in this, I owe much to that connection.

Still, the courthouse was a place filled with scary memories, one I stuffed way down deep. I hadn’t realized how much this place bothered me until a few weeks ago when faced with jury duty. I got the call-in option every day, and I almost forgot to check for Friday. Last minute, I realized I’d been summoned.

The drive there, my stomach did numerous turns. It never occurred to me why I was so nervous until I was almost there.

Oh. Oh yeah. That’s why your nervous.

The memories flooded back as I walked the steps to the courtyard, recalling moments of unrest and fear I wouldn’t be heard. Before I had a lawyer, I was ignored. Nothing I said mattered. The threats. The fear. The phone messages. The bruises. It all fell on deaf ears. But with a lawyer, I was no longer invisible. I didn’t even have to speak, which was good because I was too afraid to say much of anything. The case closed with two years distance granted between us, allowing me the time I needed to heal and give our kids a solid foundation.

I wasn’t alone as I waited to find out if I’d serve on jury duty. One of my coworkers was also called to be there, and we both waited around a few hours together. I kept a book handy, and took turns reading and sharing conversation, along with occasional glimpses at a woman quilting on the TV. The longer we waited, the more this menacing courtroom became just a room with chairs. Nothing to be scared of, unless boring PBS shows freak you out.

We were eventually dismissed for the day, told to return Monday. When that day arrived, the two of us waited in line for security to check us through. They confiscated my dangerous water bottle, and we were sent upstairs. I was just around the corner from the courtroom I sat in more than a decade earlier. But this time, my fears stayed away. We filed into a different courtroom to await our personal verdicts on whether we’d be part of the jury or not. The judge went through his speech, fifteen minutes to be exact, and then he dismissed us. All that for nothing, my coworker grumbled.

But it wasn’t nothing for me.

In those two partial days, I received a new memory of the courthouse. The bad taste I’d last experienced was washed down by two very ordinary days. It took away the scariness and made this place a building. It became so ordinary that on my hour and forty minute lunch, I’ve chosen to spend my time here, finding solace in the shade of a tree while facing this place. It’s just a place, just a building, and I happened to experience both scary and ordinary moments here.

And that is all. I just had to share.

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