The old courthouse is a large ominous building that sits on the edge of Nelson. Behind it is a small parking lot with only a few very familiar cars parked in the very last row. My heart was pounding as I pulled into the parking space. My hair was pulled back away from my face but was short so several pieces hung down in my eyes,
as tears rolled down my face. I sat in my car for
a while, staring at the small set of steps that led into the tired looking courthouse building. The anxiety that I felt was overwhelming; I felt like I physically could not get out of my car. I felt like running away from everything right now, like this was too much to possibly bear. My hands were shaking and wet from sweat, and as I wiped them on my pants I thought, “Is this really happening to me?”.
I had finally decided to leave. As I opened the door to my car, my heart started beating faster.
It was beating so fast it felt like it might stop and give out altogether. The anxiety I felt was all around me like a thick dense fog, so thick it felt like I couldn’t breathe. I whispered, “Erin, you can do this."
After all, it had been fifteen years since I thought I had met the love of my life. We had four beautiful children and what felt like a lifetime of memories. Could this all be over in the blink of an eye? So much time and so much love, how in the world could I possibly walk away?
The truck was silver and pretty, but driving it made me angry. This rental car I was driving was not my own. The anger inside boiled up like a pot of macaroni. Why did he have to do this to us? I had worked so hard to buy my new SUV, and he knew that. It’s probably why he had destroyed it. He didn’t like the fact that we were just fine without him. The sweats I was wearing were hanging on me like the stench of a workout.
I sat there in the unfamiliar truck, door still open, trying to muster up the courage to get my shaking body out of the car and slowly attempt to climb the old steps into the courthouse. I knew I was making the right decision, but if that were true, then why was this so hard for me to fathom? Why were my emotions so inconceivable and so twisted? It felt like a tiny war was being fought inside my body. I never would have imagined how much strength it took just to open the door and walk inside.
As I entered the courthouse, directly to the right sits a steep set of stairs that leads up to the clerk’s office and several courtrooms. I slowly made my way to the bottom of the stairs and made my way up them. At the top of the stairs is a small room on the right where the clerk’s office is located. Walking into this room is like walking into a time machine that just took me back to the early 1900’s.
There is a closet to the left just inside the door to the left. The door to it is made of old bars, and kind of looks like a tiny little jail cell. Inside there are over one hundred handwritten record books that date back to the early 1800’s. To the right of it is a small desk in the corner with a computer from the mid 90’s sitting on top of it.
The clerk was sitting behind his computer as I walked up to the counter. With a concerned look on his face, he asked, “What can I do for you?”
I explained to him the situation and asked him for the paperwork that I needed to fill out and for an advocate if possible. He informed me that he would call her but that it might be a while before she arrived, and that I was welcome to have a seat at the desk and start the paperwork if I would like to. I thanked him politely and had a seat.
As I read over the paperwork, tears started to roll down my face. I grabbed my pen and started to write. The tears started to fall heavier; they left little round wet marks on the paper as I sat there laying out in great detail the unthinkable situations, I had allowed myself to be involved in.
It seemed like forever before the advocate arrived. I had had enough time to finish completing all the paperwork before she even arrived. I sat patiently in my chair in the corner as people came in and out of the tiny little room, taking care of their business.
When she finally appeared in the doorway, I was surprised at how she looked. She was an older lady with a pair of crutches gingerly carrying her along. She had a smile on her face from ear to ear as she walked over to shake my hand and introduce herself to me. Her blondish greyish hair was pulled up in a ponytail and away from her face. The calmness I felt as she spoke to me was like being wrapped in a warm blanket and a cold wintery day. She quietly looked over the paperwork I had completed and looked up at me surprised and asked, “Have you done this before?”
Sadly, I replied, “Yes, but this will be the last time I promise.”
She explained to me that she thought I had done a great job on the paperwork. She calmly handed me her business card and explained that she lived in Nelson and if there was ever anything that she could help me with that I should just let her know. I thanked her for her time as she left.
I looked over my packet of papers one more time, and with a downtrodden look on my face, I walked up to the counter. I looked over the staunch papers in my hand a couple more times before I decided to hand them over to the clerk. There were scribbles and dates written everywhere. They all seemed to blend together. The clerk looked over my paperwork as well, as I stood there quietly crying. He looked up at me with concern in his eyes and asked, “Are you sure?”
I replied quietly, “I think so.”
He stared at me for a moment as if he was waiting for me to change my mind and said, “OK, I will be right back.”
I stood at the counter patiently waiting for what seemed an eternity. I wanted to pace but felt like everyone was watching me. I was confused I had never really taken things this far before. I knew this would be it for us. The thought of divorcing him was bittersweet. When he finally returned to the small room in the courthouse he said to me, “The judge wants you to wait.”
I said, “OK”, and I sat back down at the small desk in the corner.
I remembered all the times we had sat on the beach watching our kids run around. It seemed like that place was a million miles away. I sat there at the small desk thinking about all the good times we had together and finally realized that they would never outweigh the bad that he had put my children and I through. After what seemed like forever, a large figure appeared in the doorway still wearing his black robe.
He didn’t say a word to me as he walked over to the counter. He looked at the clerk and said, “please take care of this right away”, and then he was gone. The clerk informed me that my request had been granted and asked me if there was anything else he could do for me. I quietly thanked him, took my paperwork, and slowly walked out of the small room. I felt a strange sense of relief mixed with anxiety. I was relieved that this part of the process was over, but sad and emotionally drained.
I was also scared. I had no idea how he would react once the paperwork had been served, but I knew that if I could walk through this storm that I could accomplish anything. I felt stronger and I felt a freedom that I hadn’t known in fifteen years.
As I walked down the old steps and out to my car, I thought, “You did it.” This was quite possibly the hardest thing I have ever done. I had walked through what felt like fire and made it out the other side. I was emotionally drained and physically tired, but also extremely proud of myself. That was the day I realized that I had to make a change, for my children, for myself, and for women everywhere who have been in the same situation that I am in now.
I struggled for a year to try to put the pieces back together and decide to apply for college. CCC was the smartest choice for me, so I opened my computer one day with a dream and a lot of hope and applied for college at 39 years old. A little scared to fail and not sure how I was going to make it work with my kids’ schedule I was determined to break this cycle now. I made an appointment with Julie Mullen and scheduled an assessment. She’s amazing by the way! And within a week or so I was scheduled for my first semester at Central Community College.
My kids thought I was crazy to try to attempt full-time college at my age trying to raise four kids and there were times I thought I was crazy myself. I love school, I thought to myself. I am going to make this work. I have no choice. A single mom with four kids cannot provide for her family alone without an education.
The instructors I have met here have done nothing but encourage and support me throughout this journey that I am on. And then I met Lauren Gillespie, Dr. G as her students call her, and I started to find passion in something again. I was starting to feel whole as if my whole life was starting to come together. I am not sure if this is how 22-year-olds feel when they are in college too, but it was becoming real to me.
I felt as though I finally had a purpose again. I excelled in her class and found my love for science again. When she offered me the GPS scholarship, I turned it down. YES, that is right I turned it down. I didn’t want to disappoint. I knew that I would not be able to always attend meetings and that I would probably miss out on most of the field trips and that it would be better served for a student that could be present.
I knew that through studying and basketball games and football games and dance competitions and the sporadic meltdowns that my autistic 7-year-old might have at school that this might be too much on my plate. Dr. G is most assuredly one of the most persistent people I have ever met. She saw my love for science and my passion for change and she would not take no for an answer. So here we are. I am strong, I am worthy, I am capable, and I am graduating college at the age of 41. I could not be more grateful to you all and to every instructor who has made it possible for me to see my dreams come true.