August 11, 2017
I was writing numbers for research on a piece of paper at work with computers all around me. “Careful. Careful, Steph,” I kept reminding myself. I printed careful numbers. I checkmarked then cautiously proceeded through a list. After a lifetime of years and only a few years of realization that I was being careful. Cautious. With the simplest parts of jobs, procedures and life, I was desperately cautious.
That’s when it hit me.
“I think I could look stupid. There is no reason for this, Steph. This task does not require it. You are plodding, Steph.” I was slow, methodical and extremely accurate. I could have cried had I the time. “I think this makes me look stupid. This is stupid Steph. Quit. Quit it. Quit this. Stop it. Quit.”
Go, Steph. Go faster. Go on.
Now sometimes it is the most trivial of tasks which are welcome cognitive warm-ups. But in my case that is an excuse. The only reason I kept my brain cautious was out of fright. I would like to say that I never knew that before today. That may or may not be true. Even if it is, the bigger truth is that never before today had I ever made myself feel safe enough to do something about that nauseating and unnecessary habit. Not until I was writing numbers, feeling perfectly safe.
In the past weeks my buildings and my lessons tangoed with each other in the most wicked and telling sort of dance.
I returned to court for the third time to resolve a tenancy issue in one of the buildings. A person may be nice, beautiful, kind, smart and all those lovely gooey adjectives – it means nothing in a court room. You might say I have been learning new lessons. First an appreciation for law, the detail of our legal system and the resultant strengths upheld by such a system. I think every halfway intelligent person goes through a period of time when they imagine being a lawyer and those wonderful movie-moment speeches they would give – the summations and the stunning cross examinations they would unleash.
Guilty, your Honor.
The reality is much different. And in all the court cases in the world this one, mine, is known, at least in the state of Wisconsin, as being one of the nitziest – nasty, detailed and not exceptionally high on meaningfulness or on legal desirability. It is like the sewer of legal matters.
Ongoing. Dirty. Unglamorous. And no way around it except through. And I better learn it.
Esther, to me, was always the ballet madame. She has taught me with the harshest, swiftest lessons. Here we went again. No way to go except through. So I kept going.
Since the end of April this situation has overwhelmed my life. I let it. I did this to myself – allowing my life and my business to be compromised and to be dirtied a bit. During the course of the steps along the way, I had to serve people with papers. Turns out there are certain ways to do it – certain ways which are acceptable and legally meaningful. Nice does not matter. Besides the fact that a person can write the papers themselves – there is specific language which must be used and online resources.., but there are ways to serve papers. Certified mail. What is the true definition of ‘certified’? Certified means someone must sign for the mail upon receipt. Registered mail means that the mail is ‘under lock and key’ the whole time in transit, in delivery. And then there are the legal definitions of ‘posting notice.’ What does it mean to ‘post notice’? A person may be able to post the paperwork. The surest of ways is the hiring people to serve the papers – process servers and law enforcement.
Then I learned that people do not always come to the door when they see a uniformed individual. I learned who is defined as able to accept papers. Did you know, for example, that the law defines it acceptable that anyone over 14 years old may accept the papers? Did you also know that there exist people who will state that they will send their nine year old daughter to the door rather than accepting the papers themselves?
Frankly, I wanted to barf at the suggestion of adults sending children to the door to accept legal papers in order to avoid implicating themselves. (Please forgive the language.)
Yep. It has been a lesson.
I finished work Tuesday at nineteen hundred hours. I needed to check on the buildings then run one errand. Earlier in the morning the court granted the formal eviction. In my true life’s fashion the process took twice in the same morning. I arrived at the courthouse, checked in unnecessarily at the clerk’s office then walked in to the courtroom with my plastic container of four copies each of billing statements, leases, Five day Cure notices, and Fourteen Day Termination of Tenancy notices. I nervously chatted with the deputy who arrived behind me as I had grown a bit paranoid that each time I was in a courtroom, the officer seemed to appear. ‘No,’ he assured me.
The judge and clerks entered the room, but no tenants, the respondents or defendants in this case. I was declared the court eviction, damages awarded and twenty one days to amend the damage claim. My plastic container and I treaded softly out the courtroom, grateful. Relief. I made it out the door, into the hallway and at most, ten steps into the womens restroom which was tucked into the northern most corner of the building before I sobbed. I cared not about my tears but tried to keep a lid on the sound. It was over.
I still needed to work. I had to get to work. I straightened myself up, checked my make-up, then opened the door to step into the hallway just outside of the first floor rotunda. My eye caught a figure pacing alongside the railing of the second story rotunda. A distinguishable figure, my tenant had mistakenly waited at the wrong courtroom.
I walked back into the first floor courtroom, still emptied of any respondents, plaintiffs, defendants and petitioners. The court staff and judge and deputy waited for any representatives in any of the cases on their docket to appear. The sight of me was not on their schedule.
“Excuse me.” As soon as the words left my mouth, my brain was already in court with my soul. “Why is it, we are always in these situations? Who else does this?” The soul inevitably responds, “Yep, this is how you earn it. It’s the only way. You don’t look back. You do it as right as you can.”
“Excuse me. I believe my tenant had gone to the incorrect courtroom. He is upstairs.” If there was disbelief in the whole scenario I would not have been wise enough to know it. I had no clue what I was doing. In the months which had past I had not known what I was doing, but I knew I wanted to learn. I knew I needed to read those state statutes and understand them as best as I could.
The judge sent the deputy upstairs to escort my tenant to the courtroom. And we began again.
There were moments in the past three months with the court actions, filings and paperwork when I would read the counter claims of my tenants. They would barrage me with text messages from family ‘representatives’ and family members. Ridiculous statements but they admittedly frightened me. Their words and claims caused me to retrace my leases and communications. Months. Days. Repeatedly.
“Wait. Wait.” A tiny voice in my head. “This makes no sense. But they said it. They stated it. They wrote it. People do not just state things about another person. People do not do that without reason. Oh, I must have done something.”
And I retraced again. Steph. Stephanie. Steph. Stop. What are the facts? Stephanie, what are the facts? I was not going to run to someone for advice. I wanted to figure this out.
Stephanie. It is not true. Look. You have your paperwork in front of you. Here are the facts supported by external sources. Besides, Stephanie, you know you.
My tenant seemed opposed to the necessity of a court eviction. I insisted upon it. The judge granted it. Now it was truly over. Face to face, fair and square.
Before I ran that errand, I needed kettlecorn. The darkening clouds should have been foreboding but instead seemed welcoming. I have had some aspects of my life always wired such as the availability of my favorite slightly sweet popcorn at the local drugstore, always at its special ‘two for’ price. Even so, I wrestled with the necessity of stopping when all I wanted to do was check on property then get home. The darkened clouds now tumbled overhead. I would not have to think as I grabbed my kettlecorn and favorite sparkling water (also, by the way, always at a ‘two for’ price). Grab, pay, run.
I walked across the parking lot with the nudging of light raindrops to hurry my shopping. But upon entering the drugstore I saw the drugstore clerk with the best shade of red lipstick. Now I know there are better shades – I have tried them. But this one I knew would look acceptable on me and I would actually wear it.
I was running back to the Jeep in a cloud unleashing downpour. I laughed but mused at why on earth I felt it necessary to succumb to my popcorn urgings. Mmm, I sat in the Jeep, warm and drying myself with my old sweatshirt as the rain pelted the roof. I laughed as I experimented with my new red lipstick. As I approved myself in the mirror I saw why I sat there. I cried at the sight of the courthouse across the street. Almost a half day ago I had learned. I had earned a legal declaration. I had learned.
About me, woman.
The lollipop fetish has now transferred to gum chewing and popcorn eating. The weight gain has thankfully stopped. I have come face to face with my lack of self-care on many fronts.
In the midst of all the legal work I also came face to face with a memory of December 2014. I had perched myself on a bench alongside the courthouse rotunda. I was fairly certain I had every lease, every receipt, and every letter I had sent to my tenants in my plastic container. I had given up on briefcases, rolling suitcases and chic totes. I just wanted to be prepared and I could never be certain that I was prepared enough. I had even begun to transcribe the text messages I had received. I had completed papers for a restraining order. I was in the middle of hell. Again.
I had gone through months of hell – my marriage was broken, the distress of home life was unraveling and going through the necessary blowing apart. The violent honesty..
In the fall of 2014 I was also going through a certain kind of hell where I was working. At the same time, my marriage was broken and my home life was in the midst of the violent honesty necessary to blow apart. Two and half years later as I sat on the courthouse rotunda bench I put together a piece from that time – an event that had never quite made sense but the trauma blinded comprehension. The guilt of divorce and shame of failure had clouded it further. Ironic for the memory now, in this past week.
Funny how a memory can change you. It changed everything. I had sought, praying for the reasons why people did what they did to me and reasons why I let them. This one detail washed that need away.
With red lipsticked lips, I sat, crying in the rain, under the seemingly proud face of a certain courthouse building.
Remember, Stephanie. This was your lesson. Stephanie, you knew the facts. Stephanie, you knew your head, you knew your heart. You stopped the intrusions. You stopped the assaults on your being – physical and otherwise. You did not ask for any of it, but you did allow it.
I sat in the rain, smiling with tears at memories.
Five hundred years ago people used lavender to scent the air, perhaps only masking the odors of plagues and dark sicknesses of soul and body. Five hundred years ago mankind not only wrestled mindfully of good and evil, not only waded through it all,…no, five hundred years ago it was a world of thought and change in which the worlds best minds dove into the sewers of humanity.
I needed to walk outside. The normal office work days of nine hours grew long in the late afternoon. As long as I can get outside, I walk outside. The annuals of the manicured gardens are at their summer’s fullest. Rarely are there lawn clippings or branches left on the grounds. It is not perfect grounds in which a person feels ill at ease among perfection but a welcoming comfort of care. I walked among the smells of sun warmed sidewalk concrete and the warming sugars of pine sap. That is when I saw the perfect pine cone. I picked it up, remembering.
Es had a budget, like the other teachers, of near to nothing. That is almost a rule of thumb in public schools and doubly so in parochial schools. “That’s okay,” was her mantra. “There are plenty of scraps to make do with. Art. Math. Literature. Computers. We have plenty.”
Es waited, but she realized the project would really be up to her. The end of October was nearing. You cannot celebrate Halloween in a parochial school, at least of this denomination. That’s okay too, she figured. Once in a while she missed a good old-fashioned frankenstein or a witch or superheros, but she had her fill of hatchet bearing zombies with syrupy faux blood. Still, why should her students miss the celebrations of October, especially since one of the most famous and vibrant celebrations of their particular church was on October 31?
Es planned her teaching unit on Reformation, surprised that no one joined her. From the beginning of the school year to the end of October, Es finally realized that no matter how many letters home to parents requesting sacks of scraps of fabrics or pine cones, she would need to provide the supplies. That’s okay too. Es was a parent. She knew the stresses. At first she thought it was her failure, a testimony to her personality which had never been known to be strict, cruel or harsh. She only expected good behavior out of her students. She expected what she gave them and they returned as such. No she would would just announce the project, a celebration of Reformation. If her seventh and eighth grade students wished, they could dress up in a period costume.
Admittedly Es was smug on the whole idea. Faith? Pfft. “We are not just going to sit around and learn about faith. Nope, we are going to live it. We are going to make it come alive, love it as it does and oh yeah…have fun learning about it too.” Plus, no one under her charge would miss all of the hoopla of the end of October. She could describe ‘Hallow’s Eve’ until she was blue in the face. Or, she could have a Reformation Party.
They were going to have Reformation with Es. G~d would smile upon them, carrying on about reformation. Now a person might wonder about how much could one do and how can one teacher engage the minds of seventh and eighth grade students with a religious holiday.
“Hmm. You didn’t know Es, now did you?”
They made lavender sachets of purple and ivory fabric scraps tied with ribbons of lilac, filling them with lavender scented carpet powder. Oh, there were the standard stations of church window coloring and readings. (She had to have some calming stations too.) They made dirt cake worm cups (crushed Oreo cookies with gummy worms) to symbolize The Edict of Worms. Es tread carefully on the line of religious teaching. Formal Bible study was not her strength nor was it her job. She aligned her subject matter to compliment and weave with the children’s religious studies.
Only one student showed up in costume. That’s okay. But not one lavender sachet became a projectile or pseudo-hacky sack.
Es laughed and carried on with them as they listened to music from five hundred years ago, eating worms and smelling of lavender. She also noticed that their hallway of seventh and eighth grade lockers never smelled better.
Smiling, I picked up the pinecone, naturally beautiful but still imagining how precious it would have been three years ago as part of a Christmas art project. I rather enjoy it now, placed among photos and collections and computers at my work desk.
I think I am going to always remember. That’s okay. I am safe now to remember.
But I also I think I am going to teach myself to move faster.
I might even test myself.
Smiling I say,
Love to you.
The brick dandelion,