Right now I am working at a divorce lawyer’s office. My boss is truly the definition of a wonderful lady: she is always cheerful, kind, and patient. Half of me does not understand why such an optimistic person got into such a pessimistic business, but the other half of me gets it. She tries to avoid the inevitable — the big “d” word with her clients. She enforces the help of therapists and mediators who try and coax the couple in crisis to not make the jump that splits families apart.
“For some people, divorce is the right decision,” she admitted to me once. “But not always,” she added. She tries to separate herself from the emotions of it all, but they so plainly color the waiting room in which my desk sits that it’s impossible for me. I feel for the people that come in and out of the door, and I feel for the silence that sits like a real person between the couples who sit like statues on the couch.
I’m only the receptionist so I do not deal in the legality of the walls that surround me. The clients come in and they sit on the couch that lies several feet from where I sit and wait for somebody to come sort out their mess. Some smile at me and engage in conversation, and some merely glare and sit fuming till I’m worried they’ll burn a hole in the cushion from the anger rolling off their skin. I don’t begrudge them, and I think this is an unwritten part of my job description. When I give my well rehearsed line– “Can I get you any coffee or water?” I never begrudge them for giving a reply that borderlines on rude or hostile. I smile and nod, and continue back to typing on my little black keyboard. My work is easy and methodical here, and my fingers delicately punch the keys with a rhythm that is almost machine like. But I am still a human.
Another part of my job description entails filing the many sickly blue folders that pile up on the assistant’s desk and often times my fingertips will pause over the smooth thick paper and I’ll cautiously open up the file and read about the vague end of a stranger’s marriage. Very little is handwritten in the folder and the neatly typed letters make skimming extremely easy. In these cases there’s always a petitioner and a defendant, and it seems so funny to me that something like a marriage can be displayed like that on a page all neatly filed away with the other heartbreaks. I imagine the couples whose names dot the page and I make up images for them in my head. Petitioner and wife so-and-so, having defendant husband feed her cake on the day of their wedding. A list of all the properties they own– making a location from a home to a house. And we file away their heartbreaks like they are things that can be compartmentalized and explained away with legal terms and fat paychecks that come in the mail and land on my desk with more of a thud than an envelope is actually capable of. Everyone in the office discusses the clients as if they are moving pieces in a game but when they come in and sit in front of my desk, fidgeting and staring blankly at the portraits of the walls, I can’t help but see them as people. But we all have our roles to play in this game.
I’ll sit here like a permanent fixture and give them my best “Just wait one moment” smile and I’ll scurry into the office of whoever they’re here to see and I’ll whisper “Your four o’clock is here.” There’s a broken family sitting in the waiting room. The wife’s french manicured nails are bitten down with teeth that chatter from the cold in her newly empty bed. The husband is silent, stoney, but surely molten inside. Like a volcano waiting to erupt. I want to sit down beside them on the couch and show them that I, too, am human. I’m not just a figure at the desk and I feel sorry for them. I have a heart too, and it aches sometimes. They don’t look at each other but instead search the room for something they’ll never find. But I can’t. I know that I can’t, because these people look to this office to be their superhuman saviors. Characters dressed in suits instead of capes who can clean up the mess of emotions and trauma. The truth is, we really can’t do any of that. We can try, but ultimately it’s the families who have to clean it up. We are a cold hand to hold, we try and print this colorful end to somebody’s love in black and white so they can read it and nod like it doesn’t hurt. But it does. How can it not?
I cannot imagine any romantic relationship I’ve had in my life to end in paperwork and court settlements. I think this is a flaw in our humanity, that we try and make love into this thing that can sit in a filing cabinet. It can’t, it’s too big and too messy. Here at the office we try and tuck the feelings away into binders and official agreements, but the mess still remains in the waiting room, like a crime scene that cannot be cleaned or solved. But I watch, and I sympathize, and I’ll go home to my cozy house and curl up on the couch and try not to think too much about the sad faces that color my day. It’s worth it though, these clients, these people, they are worth it. So I’ll smile every time they walk in that door, because everybody needs a little hope.