Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Family Court Day One

I like my emotions mine, I admit. They can sing high notes or drop very low, whatever their thing is a particular moment, but I want them coming out of my repertoire. I want my emotions to be recognizable to me so I can play them--tell their story to myself. I like manageable or at the least, concretely malleable emotions. The fucked up has to lend itself to my blog entry: a sitcom? a poem? a journal entry from the single mother narratives? a rant. We love a rant! Whatever it is, my emotions have to be an It. This sort of anti-cognitive, resistant to interpretation and process, stubborn, inarticulate, lead-like, neck knotted, tongue-twisting, edge fraying, kind of emotion? This I don't like. This makes me uneasy. My therapist used to love them though. She'd stalk them with the awkward silence, that just so glare that says "any minute you'd like to have that good cry and lose your bearings, I'm happy to start taking my notes then." Ah, I hate that shit. Hate this shit. I like to hear myself talk but dammit, I don't like to be hurt such that I hear myself babble. But you can't be strong if you allow fear to stop you from surrendering, so here I am, babbling.

There is so much wrong with the family court experience. Start with the name: family court. Even if you don't smoke weed or drink cosmos, ponder that phrase, and it's trippy, right? Think about it, "family", "court"--it's wrong, right? And yet it's right: the recourse that the people sitting there sought, they needed it. I needed it. It's fundamentally about deploying enforcements around your boundaries, your intimate boundaries, the ones you need up when bonds of family don't keep people from behaving like you are helpless. Many people there had more complicated things going on and they needed the law to come into their homes and save them, literally, sometimes not just from the brink but actually from the return of the brink. Some folks there were familiar with the court officers. "Hey what's up, man, how are you?"; "You're gonna have a long day?"; "Plans for the holiday?". Even more mysterious to me, some people were running into acquaintances and even friends. I'll admit total complete ignorance of how that happens. I'll admit and I'll hold on to said ignorance.

The cases about orders of protection or violent altercations were scary to be around. While some of us sat and waited to be called into our hearings, others actually waited to be called to pick up the decisions from theirs--the orders. In those instances, when they would call the two names, two people would come from most separate ends of the huge waiting area, and you would see the body language of who is afraid, and who is terrorizing. Sometimes the person would be small--as in a woman--but sometimes worse, she'd be frail--as in a very old woman that sat next to me with her lawyer and was blind. Eight straight hours is a long time to be in close proximity with what seemed like every little piece of misery in this city, of the domestic time, beside one's own... You're stuck there, quiet, silent, able to hear and so are they, and here you are all, miserable with waiting, heavy with anxiety, running what you're going to say or what was said to the judge--gathered on this bright, unseasonably warm winter day, a family court family. The woman whose boyfriend was holding her real close, I thought she was scared too. I caught her face right away because she was so beautiful, she seemed out of place. I realized her boyfriend was her girlfriend, just extra butchy. And the culprit, who came up to get her court order, along with them, she was her mother. She looked the same, except was 25 years older. She had the same pretty face but chilly.

People don't give a shit about rules in family court waiting rooms. Which is weird. I played a game of counting the number of people who would walk into the area closed off by a door with a red STOP sign on it with the following underneath: Do Not Enter Authorized Personel Only. Sociologically it made no sense to me to be trespassing whilst in court, but this was a majority of people. Something about being sent around from room to room, in a "city government" type building with identical floors covered in more tonalities of beige one ever needed, makes one Just Need Answers Now. And so, one after another, each entertained us with their dance: walk up to the middle of the room; look about for any of us to suggest that we know something (we don't know and we don't care); squint at the room numbers that make no sense; squint back at the many pieces of paper in hand; catch sight of the door with sign; ponder 3-2-1 seconds and walk right in. Only to walk right back out escorted by the irate officer. If they were Spanish speaking, they would pretend to be confused and the very tolerant and warm Latino interpreter would play along (yeah because in Spanish a big read STOP signs means Entrar Por Favor). The Creole interpreter was a jackass to the Haitians, in stark contrast. This was not surprising to me given that I am a veteran of the Immigration offices. There it was Asian interpreters and staff that terrorize their people and the rest of us. I'm sure there's great armchair psychology payoff to analyzing this and I would go there, except, as I said, I'm zapped of my powers today.

Ok, one story, because the universe served it to me without any subtlety. He came in first and it threw me how much he looked like my son's father. In fact at first glance I thought my son's father had repented from his renegade text messages from yesterday "I can't be there tomorrow", and decided to actually respond to a summons. The lookalike walked in and was very much him as I remember him. Same immaculately white, brand new t-shirt under a half-hood-half-prep hoodie (you know those), same dark wash jeans, scruff free timbs. Same absence of jewelry except for good, not flashy, watch; same manicured, clean nails on a hand that ain't never work a day in its life. He was one of the ones that knew the court officers and made genuinely polite and sweet small talk with them. He had been here before--in fact the officer he spoke to the longest knew half the story, his side at least. She walked in looking like I used to look standing next to him when we used to stand next to each other: mismatched. Of course in my days I didn't notice, those things didn't matter, but today, sitting across from them, I saw it. She clearly works somewhere where attire is business casual. She wears grown but still young heels. Her make-up means to be put together but loses that battle to life every day. Her hair was down but there she goes again with the sloppy bun that ages and dishevels her--she doesn't even notices herself tie it. She is resolute but tired. He makes his move to sit next to her. It is hard for her to not move and talk and look and listen to him as if they are deeply in love either because they still are or because it's the habit moving talking looking and listening for her. The intimacy, even while they argue quietly (he *hates* a ghetto-ass scene) is palpable. Her head nods can be measured by how often and how vehement they are at first, resisting his arguments. Later they begin to disappear. They become blank stares, sighs, shrugs--the dance of the exhaustion in her eyes that precedes the capitulation. I overhear him say "communication" a lot. He comes up to the court officer and inquires about dropping the petition. She stands behind him. I think that's what he says because the officer says "Ma'am are you sure?" and she nods. She does not speak then or as they walk away and get into the elevator. He however, hasn't shut up for the entire time.

And One Rant. It makes no sense that you have to meet on the Parenting plain with a co-parent who refuses to parent. What is the purpose or terms or language of that meeting? It's like night and day deciding to show up together in the sky--that wouldn't work, each being quintessentially what the other is not. Sitting in that family court waiting room, surrounded by deadbeat fathers and the mothers chasing them, crystallized this incoherence that has been a central part of my life. What sense does it make for me to sit here and have to chase after someone who doesn't want to be found, in that true existential meaning of the phrase? Not even the sherrif summons someone into their life if they want no part of it. The whole idea of going to court to make a man be a father is obscene to me, on a deep level. This scenario where I go asking for my son's rights--the form being named a petition, it fucks with my upbringing, my sense of place in the world, my pride, and my common sense. Eight hours. Add that to my son's eight years. So eight hours and eight years. And do you know what his contribution was? To both the eight hours and the eight years? Not Showing Up. I am rambling too loudly now, so I'll stop short of saying things that will look too ugly when we're past this. Life is longer than eight hours and eight years and family court, in the end, is about family.