Last week I met a friend for lunch at McDonald’s. It was Monday, so it was just Raphael and me. Tre and Max were at their homeschool enrichment program. My friend only had her youngest with her, also a three year old boy. Our sons wolfed down their lunches and thundered off to climb in the plastic jungle.
My friend pulled out a large manila envelope and slid it across the table.
“There it is. Could you look at it?”
I pulled the papers out and started leafing through them. Her divorce papers. She’d asked me to look at them, because she was having trouble getting them all together.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” I said, “I had a lawyer to handle all this…” I sighed and felt the heft of the stack of papers in my hands. “They’re so heavy, aren’t they?” She nodded.
“I know. I think that’s half my problem. Every time I pick that envelope up, it’s just so heavy. I think, ‘I can’t deal with all that right now,’ and I shove it in a drawer.” I nodded, remembering how unthinkingly I would sign papers in my lawyer’s office. He’d put something in front of me and point at a line with his pen and I’d sign, blinking at the glare of white off the page. Yes, yes, don’t tell me any more. I don’t want to think about it.
“I wish I could be some sort of help to you…” I trailed off again, helplessly.
“I know. I guess I just wanted someone else to see them. To understand.”
I remembered the day of my divorce, the women who sat with me in the courtroom. My mom and two dear friends. I hardly spoke to any of them that day, but I felt their presence. They were my silent witnesses, praying for me. On a day when so much I’d believed to be true was being put asunder, they were there as touchstones to reality. And love.
Legally, I am of no help to my friend. I don’t know the law I somehow navigated once. I don’t understand the language or the ramifications of the statements. But I could be her witness. So I sat, leafing through the pages, quietly reading the issues to be faced. Who will make the major decisions for the children on medical issues? Educational issues? Where will they live? What nights will they spend at the noncustodial parent’s house? Where will they spend their summers? Christmas? What will be paid in child support? What is owned in common? What debts were incurred during the marriage?
A million details, each another weight on the heart. I couldn’t change a thing in those papers. I couldn’t add or subtract a single mark. But I remembered my witnesses, women who stood and wept for me when I could hardly breathe for myself. So I read each page.
Witnessed. And wept.