Thursday, March 8, 2018.
Annual occurrence, with the additional pressure of McDonald’s. Somehow a fast food chain can activate itself to flip its golden M arch into a busty golden W, but I can repeatedly miss the boat. March 8, Steph. Every year. It is International Women’s Day. A day in which hashtags drum upon hashtags and postings pop and feminist ideals highlight the media.
I walked into the courtroom with a first glance at the clock. Scheduled for 9:30, I had arrived with a comfortable cushion of thirteen minutes or so. The circuit court judge, the court reporter and the clerk of circuit courts were already seated. Their casual talk was easily heard but I could not now remember nor would I have ever been able to remember exactly what they were saying. Upon seeing me enter, they too checked the clock.
The three made note of the time and my presence by glance. With the judge’s instruction and invitation, I walked through the gated area to one of the two desks before the bench. The three excused themselves, disappearing into what I imagined to be chambers or prep rooms behind the judge’s bench. In the more historical courtrooms of the courthouse building, this room would be larger. But I was thankful this morning for the smaller space.
It was shockingly modern in a historic building and about as non-Perry Mason a courtroom as would ever be imagined. Yet, the conveniences of technology and the necessities of security envelop me. Entrances and exits are tightly spaced with safety glass and security scanners. The deputy whose presence in prior versions of this case unnerved me, was now comforting. Large screen televisions dotted spaces in front of empty juror chairs and lined the edges of ceiling and wall behind the gated area.
The judge himself and the circuit court staff were seated physically close to me, with each station equipped with individual computer systems. They were labyrinths and mountains in this small world. I was comforted by the formality of the distance between my desk and those of the court. As I looked around, I imagined each step in that room was weighted with the different meaning of placement. Step too close to the next gate, the one which separated plaintiff and defendant from the court officers, and it would have caused the deputy to stand. One step further would have caused alarm. One step. Four steps behind me, back through the gate, and I would have no longer been a plaintiff.
But I had minutes. I decided to walk the room because there was no one there. I studied the thickness of exterior walls. I had heard that the building is constructed as a brick veneer which means that the structure itself is not masonry or brick upon brick, but a wooden frame with stone facing. If so, the framing would be thick, at least a foot here on the first floor. The windows are proud, turn of the nineteenth century, three part windows with the upper most being a lovely leaded transom. The interior doors leading into the room match them. The sashes of the windows are thick, well-maintained, corded and clean. The foot thick wood sill is polished warm, tanned oak.
I prayed. I was nervous. I waited for the last minute cancellation of the defendants ( a tactic I have since learned about, from the beginning of this process). I looked out the window into the traffic, thinking of how ridiculous prayer would be, at a time like this. I thought, as I watched delivery trucks and loggers, of how ridiculous would be the notion to ‘give it to G~d’ at this point. This was a court of man, I rationalized. G~d would have no place here. I kept thinking of how thankful I was, learning my lessons during this process, a process which had begun in April 2017.
Eleven months passed as I watched those cars, blurring by the windows. I am a landlord. In April 2017 my then tenants in the residential space of my building paid me with checks from a closed bank account. They had then refused to pay utilities which, up until now, I had kept in my name. (Yes, that is correct. I learn my lessons hard.) The months from April until the court eviction of August 1, 2017 had been a succession of lessons for me, lessons as tough and bombastic as the blockheaded and egotistical notions of my own ignorance.
There is no ‘nice guy’ to the law. There is the law. And that is nice. Odd, isn’t it? The law is law. In April 2017 I wrote my then tenants a letter to either pay or leave. I gave them thirty days. (I thought I was nice). I might have been nice but it was not the law. My tenants knew law. My tenants also knew about how the law is enforced.
From April to August 2017 I was in court four times. I did not realize at the time, but the court was moving fast. I read about state statutes, about notifications, about legal wording and about the law enforcement and service professionals who I needed to employ in order to proceed to the next step. The Five Day Notice to Cure. Fourteen Days Notice of Termination of Tenancy. The Court ordered Eviction.
In August 2017 I earned, from a court of law, an eviction. A court ordered eviction is now part of the record of my former tenants which will surface on their records. That, and the court declared they owed me $3049.
Evasion. I am not sure, but I believe, as I stare out the courtroom window, that my tenants may have evaded the law, but me? Who was I kidding. I evaded me. And that may not be law, but it was my lesson.
The judge reappeared. I scampered from my observation point at the window, to the plaintiff’s desk in time for the traditional “All rise.” (I do believe I heard the deputy chuckle.)
As the case was re-introduced, one of my former tenants walks through the door. He is late. I proceeded to outline my request for an increase, an amendment to the monetary judgment due to damages, cleaning and the additional expenses. I have photographs. I finish speaking.
It was my former tenant’s turn.
At first I did not listen. I remembered my thoughts at the window. How silly, I thought, to pray before court. I do not expect G~d to save me. I do not expect G~d to give me a positive result. In the minutes my former tenant spoke, I remember the first time in court. I remembered learning, as he spoke in court, that people may say anything about another person, about me. I remembered the first time I heard him say things about me that were not true. I remembered how it stung.
Still, I did not realize the significance. I had sat there, emotional, on the brink of tears. I remembered thinking ‘How can he possibly say these things? How can he lie?” I had begun to defend myself, my character, to the court.
In my memory, I cringed at the thought. Here I am, today, listening to the same voice. Nothing. And again I thought to myself, why would I believe now, to give this – this situation here – why would I believe now, to give this to G~d? Why would I be so, so arrogant and so blatantly self-serving, to give this situation, to G~d?
I had given the documents, my exhibits, to the court. The court accepted them. I had enough copies for the defendant and the court. I could have been clearer and more exact on some of the dates. I listened. (Ok, I interrupted once. Advice – don’t do that.) But by and large, I listened.
The judge and the court officers left to decide upon my request for amended judgment. The defendant and I left. I stretched, walking to slurp at the water fountain. (Plus, I liked the comforting sound of footsteps upon the marble floors in the hallway. Such an old building! I imagined, with the silly hope of its history, secrets to seep onto my skin). I welcomed returning to the comfort of the empty room, with the structure details still in my head and thoughts of why on earth would I “give it up to G~d”. I sat again at the plaintiff’s station, my own desk for possibly thirty more minutes.
With me, in my seven dollar chantilly pink faux leather tote that looks like ‘the bomb’ of an outfit with my twenty-five year old black leather coat and an equally pink faux fur stole (three dollars, thank you), I had packed extra paperwork, my weekly schedule, to complete during any wait time. “Thank G~d” for my schedule which I never quite follow yet by which I feel totally guided. I smiled. “Thank G~d indeed.” I had been praying all along as I reasoned about the silliness of prayer, here, in court, by myself.
The court awarded me an additional $450. In order to collect the nearly four thousand dollars, I now need an attorney. The money is a significant sum. Greater is the lesson of finding kindness in an increased knowledge of the law. Along the way I found expertise and professionalism of others to a level of which I could only aspire.
In that courthouse, a building which I have passed by my whole life, I realized the truth of others lies and the warning, the reminder to myself, to never allow theirs to become truths of my own. I regret I had not learned these lessons earlier.
The court awarded me a resolution I sought but had not earned.
My son arrived home from school hours later. He grabbed a broom to knock icicles off the eaves. I stood in the doorway, watching for Wally, as we recounted our day.
He smiled that smile. And I remembered. I remembered standing in the windows of a courtroom earlier. I shut my eyes remembering the wonderment of giving it to G~d. “Why should I pray in a courtroom?” I had thought as I had uncovered my stacks of attachments for my court exhibit.
I remembered months. Then, I did not.
You see, the wind came up, through our woods. My ears tingled, tickling my eyes to open.
“You are welcome,” the Wind breathed in my ear.
Love, lots and lots of love.
And a kiss. (for luck, just saying.)