I had to go back to the courthouse today with Yet Another Complicated 12-Page Form I wasn’t sure I had filled out correctly. You have to have this form to make the wheels continue to turn, so I went to where I turned in all the other forms, but that was not the place. So they sent me to this other place in the building, and there was a sign-in sheet. The wall in front of the little table that held the sheet was PLASTERED with numerous, all-caps warning signs typed up by the surely exasperated staff who work in such a place. I don’t envy them. I too just want to get things right and move along.
TURN OFF OR SILENCE ALL CELL PHONES . SIGN IN AND SOMEONE WILL BE WITH YOU SHORTLY. IF YOU HAVE A COURT DATE TODAY, LET US KNOW RIGHT AWAY. DO YOU HAVE YOUR GREEN FILE? PHOTO ID AND CASE NUMBER ARE REQUIRED. Etc.
I stood staring at all the signs unsure of what to do, and a lady yelled out from her office, asking if I had my green file. I shook my head, and she asked who my judge was, and then directed me as to how I would wind through the big, old marble and concrete building to find the person who had my green file and obtain it from that person, and then come back. I did and she waved me in.
There was a lot of muttering as she flipped through the enormous stack of papers, and then she looked at me squarely and stated that she couldn’t help me with any forms or give me any advice. Ok, I said. I’ve been working on this for more than six months, I just really want to get it right and be done. I understand, she said, and I will check everything and tell you what’s missing or wrong. But if a lawyer comes, you’ll have to leave the office and wait in the hallway until I’m done with them, if you want to wait, because they have cases today and are a priority. Ok. (flip flip) Oh, I see you didn’t fill this one out. (flip flip) And we can’t take a handwritten form for this one. Oh and yeah, (flip flip) you can’t just put all zeros here. Wait, let’s just go through that one now, I’ll enter it into the computer and print you a new one …
The next hour was a BLUR, as the magical unicorn – a helpful, kind, patient, understanding county employee – helped me complete my paperwork, dotted her white-out all over all the shit I fucked up and indicated what should be written where, and then again here, and add this information there, and fill out these additional two forms. Sign here. Cross this out and write this, if that’s what you’ve agreed to. And then you write the same thing under this box on this other form. This other form is missing, but it says in the computer you did it, so it must be lost. You don’t have to re-do it if it’s in the computer. Here, write Exhibit A on the bottom here, and then on this line on this form. And Exhibit B. And this is C and this is D. Hurry, because if a lawyer comes in, you’ll see my whole temperament change. I cannot be helping you. Ok, I said, Ok, ok, ok, as she led me through everything. I felt like Cinderella at 11:55pm. We raced through every form, her peppering me with questions as we went along. What about real estate. What about retirement. What’s the address for this. Do you have the card for that? Call and find out the address while I’m entering this stuff. Then we were done, and she said she would go over the whole file again after I left, and that she had my cell and would call me if there were any more questions or if she needed me to come back down. Unicorn. For real.
But above all of the things, during this hour, there were two things that meant the world to me. One was that she said, look, I can see you tried really hard here, and you did your best, and a lot of this is fine. There are just a few things to fix. After months and months of work, completely in the dark, this was a huge relief. And I realized something interesting at the same time. When my son’s kindergarten work at school is wrong, the teacher writes something on the page like, “I can see you tried your very best!” or “You worked really hard!” and will put a sticker or a smiley face or something. And I thought, you know, I wish more people would do that for adults. Maybe instead of saying, this editorial is all wrong, start over and read the directions again, someone could say, “I can see you did your very best here, and worked hard! Can you try again and try to do it this way this time?” Why is this not a thing? And I wouldn’t mind a purple shiny star or a smiley once and awhile, you know?
The other thing she noted was a form where I had to state whether or not I’d ever been on public assistance. I said I had, but it was so very, very long ago, and not for a terribly long time. She asked when and I told her it was my first year post-college, in 1992. I made about $4500 that year, as I recall. She flipped to the form where I stated my current income and she said, well, you have certainly done very well for yourself in climbing out of that hole. You should be proud. Very proud.
Proud. Something I don’t feel about myself very often, I realized.
It was then I started crying. We were just about done by then, thank goodness, and she gave me a couple more tips for the upcoming court date. I got up and shook her hand as sincerely as I could and gave her a heartfelt thank you, even though I really wanted to buy her flowers and give her a hug and a puppy and a basket of candy.