You never thought you’d be here, but the clock hanging askew on the opposite wall reminds you otherwise. Its hands push forward the way you wish you could. This time will be different, you tell yourself in a last-ditch attempt to soothe this building anxiety. This could not have been further from the truth, but then again, what do you know? You’re sixteen, and you left school for this. You could be writing shitty poetry in the back of physics class right now. Instead, you’re writing shitty poetry in the holding room of a courthouse, white walls bordering you in. You wonder if divorce court is intentionally designed to be this bleak, this clean solemnity that signals: We handle this like adults.
So do you feel like an adult now? The severity of the present is jarring enough to catapult you back to playground days, back when setting the table for four wasn’t a blasphemous sin. You’re starting to regret ever wanting to grow up. You cross your arms and hug your backpack tight, hyperaware of the irony present between your falsified maturation and your awkward schoolgirl uniform. You stick out like a sore thumb in the courthouse, your adolescent disposition warning of a naivety these white walls haven’t welcomed in a while. The way the hands of time mock you from across the room forces you to stew in your own rage; you fiddle impatiently with your phone and try to focus on the positive—this means the yelling will finally stop. Isn’t that what you’ve wanted?
The judge waves you and your brother in, and this silent calamity triggers your fight or flight response. You’ve never wanted so badly to escape as you do right now, so you settle for dissociating out of your body (for running away like you always do). You feel like you just walked into an active battlefield—smug and frustrated expressions threaten to implode, and all you can do is try to find shelter.
He starts: I know this must be difficult for you.
You hear: I can’t believe your parents brought you to this.
He drops: We’ve reached a separation agreement with both parties.
You hear: This is how love dies.
He pleads: I hope you can understand and support your parents.
You hear: You’re the adults now.
You stare back at the judge, mentally present but emotionally elsewhere. You feel numb numb numb, like your feelings finally decided your wasteland of a heart was too barren, too empty; they packed their bags and you’ve been searching for them since. A prolonged silence hangs between everyone, but you refuse to relieve it. You’ve been expecting a catastrophe, some seismic upturn in the world.
But all you feel is a change in your soul—something shifts ever so subtly, so quietly that only you can hear it move. You dig deep and try to uncover what you’ve lost, but all you find is an emptiness where home should fill. Where no amount of love could ever parch your thirst for safety. Where love doesn’t exist, clearly, because if it did, you wouldn’t be praying for a reprieve. If love existed, it wouldn’t be reduced to tan lines where wedding bands used to be, or the stack of settlement forms laid out in front of you right now.
Do you hear that? That’s the sound of trepidation settling in your heart, of bitterness planting its seed in your soil. This unassuming placidity clutches onto you, but it’ll be days before it sinks its teeth into you. You’ll spend the rest of your newfound adulthood wondering if you’ll ever break free from it, if time would ever lend a hand to liberate this fear. If love—the idea of it, the home you so desperately craved for— will ever mean the same again.
You walk out of that courthouse unscathed, but you’re struggling to piece it all together. Is this what love is supposed to look like? You don’t think you ever want to find out.
Natasha Lim is a psychology student from Singapore. She writes poetry and prose, and is an editor for the Interstellar Literary Review. In her spare time, she enjoys drinking copious amounts of coffee and reading books that make her cry.