“How can I help you?” she asked.
“I just need to get this notarized,” I answered.
She scanned the piece of paper a little more closely than is necessary for a notary. She asked me what it was. I told her it was a statutory warranty deed, meant to transfer title to the subsequent purchasers of my house. I handed her my identification and she set it on her desk.
That’s what a notary does. They check to make sure you are who you say you are, and that you know what you’re signing.
But this notary cocked her head to the side and looked at the piece of paper as if it were written in a foreign language. She had that glassy eyed look of a person who doesn’t have it in them to cry any more.
“Are you selling a house?” she asked.
“Yes… if all goes well.” I answered. I explained that it’s been a long time coming. I chit chatted about the real estate market, and how I can’t wait to be out of it.
“So, are you renting now?” she asked, now looking at me with that side-cocked gaze that was formerly directed at the paper.
“Yes,” I answered, knowing that we’d exceeded the boundaries of the notary / client interaction, at this point.
I can’t remember if she asked or I volunteered that the sale was the result of a divorce. She confided quietly that her house has been on the market for two months, and that she and her husband are separated. But the word separated should be in extra small type, for how quietly it was uttered. I could barely hear it; but I knew exactly what she said.
She stamped and signed the deed, and I signed on the line with my still new, chosen name. When I see my middle initial, “G,” I have to think for a minute about what it stands for. Grace.
She asked me if I’m dating. I answered that I’ve tried, but am presently taking a break; that men are a pain in the ass. That I am learning a lot… and that I’m getting close to feeling ready… but that it’s taken a lot of healing and learning to get here. And that, when I’m ready, it’ll happen. Or not. And that’s okay. And that I wouldn’t change a thing.
She asked how long it’s been, and I had to think about it, and I always get the years confused. It’s been more than two years since the divorce was final; nearly three since the separation.
It feels like a past life ago, I told her. Partly, I have a terrible memory; and it’s even worse when there’s trauma involved. Partly, I’ve grown into a very different version of myself, since that time, so I spend more time thinking about the present than the past.
Today, while working through the paperwork process for the house sale, I realized that the deed had me and my ex listed as husband and wife. I emailed the escrow agent to let her know that we’d divorced in 2008. She replied that the title search hadn’t found the divorce.
For a stunned flash of a second, I thought, “Oh my God. Am I still married?”
I know better — I mean, I’m a lawyer. When I came to, I realized that no … I’m not still married … and yes, I have the judge’s signature to remind myself.
And I realized that I completed numerous divorces for other people as their lawyer. I prepared quitclaim deeds to clear the title for their real property… to move them, in the eyes of the title company and the county auditor from husband and wife holding property as joint tenants, to single people holding property as tenants in common in their separate capacity. But in my own divorce, when I got the decree, with the judge’s signature, I scanned and filed the documents and put them away. I didn’t tie up all of the loose ends I would have, if I were really my attorney. We’d never quitclaimed our interest from ourselves as married people to ourselves as single people.
The title company worked their magic and drafted an updated deed. The notary handed that updated deed back to me, our signatures inked and drying.
“We grew apart, I guess.” she said.
“I plan to choose better, the second time around,” I said.
“I just feel so… sensitive.” she said.
“I know.” I said.
“I wish I could fast forward to where you are, right now,” she breathed quietly, her eyes tired.
I asked her if I could bring her a book or two. She asked if I’d read a lot of books and I said yes. She observed that she felt like she needed some help, spiritually. That she needed support.
When I stood up to leave, she said that I was the day’s most inspiring customer. I looked her in her tired, perfectly lined eyes, and asked her to take good care of herself.