Growing up, I spent a lot of time in courthouses. When I wasn’t being pulled from one or another parent’s home, I was in trouble for truancy, running away and was certainly considered a “Person in Need of Supervision”. I’m not mentioning this so that anyone will feel sorry for me, or think any way about it, it’s simply a fact. As such, I never knew, when I entered a courtroom where I would be going when court was over. My mother’s house? My father’s? A relative’s? Foster home? Group home? State run juvenile facility? Wayward Home for Girls? Yes, I really did spend a year in a “school for girls”, court appointed, a ward of the state. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds and I’ve left most of that part of my life behind. No grudges, no blame… Do I wish it had been different? Maybe, but I do believe that everything I’ve ever done, everyone I’ve ever met, everything I’ve ever been through makes up who I am now – and I’m OK with who I am now. More than OK with it. There are a couple of residual things that sneak back into my life on occasion… I startle very easily, I jerk awake if there’s a noise that’s outside of ordinary, I can’t sleep with a bedroom door closed and I hate courthouses. I really hate courthouses. I’ve avoided them at all costs through the years, paying tickets I didn’t deserve, letting things go that were pretty egregious, because the idea of entering a courtroom was more than I could bear.
In the past year, I’ve been “invited by the universe” to look at this and been given the opportunity over and over again to put it behind me. Each time I’ve tried – but in the end, chickened out. Last May I received a speeding ticket, in a known speed trap and I believe I could have had it thrown out. I planned to go, really, but on the very last day, I called the court and paid the fine. Then over the summer, I received a parking ticket in a spot that was not clearly marked and as a matter of fact, since I received my ticket there has been a new sign erected there, clearly stating, “No parking here to corner”. I was the last ticket issued there before the sign. Again, I meant to fight it… I did. I know I could have argued effectively against the ticket. And again – the very last day, I paid the fine.
Then, in November, I went through a red light. I knew it – the yellow light was so fast that there wasn’t really much time to stop, but I could have. I could have jammed on the brakes and although it would have been uncomfortable, I could have done it. It was at an intersection with a red light camera and I remember releasing a string of obscenities when I’d realized what I’d done. I went on with my life and waited for the ticket to come in the mail. This time, I was wrong… clearly. I would have to pay this fine, but no ticket ever showed up. I Googled red light camera tickets in my area and read that people were fighting them and that the counties were shutting them down and I figured that they had turned this one off… The fine would have been $156.00 and I would have paid it. In January, I received a letter by certified mail, informing me of my infraction and stating that my fine was $268! I was outraged. I called the county where I was supposed to pay the fine and told them the story – the woman there said that there had been lots of problems with these tickets and that what I had received was the second notice including the inflated fine. She told me to call the town where the ticket was issued – that their police department could help me. When I called there, the woman said that I had been sent a first notice (really? I never got it) and that I had to pay the fine. I called the county back and requested a hearing; all the while hyperventilating. I called my husband, who’s very familiar with my courtphobia and told him the whole story. I told him that I clearly needed to get over this and move on with my life – you know, in between sobs.
The hearing was this morning, so last night I took a “sleeping aid” so that I could stop hyperventilating and maybe get some sleep. When I woke this morning I was strangely calm. I took a shower, got ready and drove myself to the courthouse. I didn’t know where to go and no one seemed to be able to tell me, but still I didn’t panic. I got a “You Go Girl, You Got This”™ phone call from a great friend and I agreed with her, I did have this. I finally found the right area, and when they started to call names, I got slightly panicked. We were all ushered into a courtroom and the man (not a judge, a “hearing officer”) hearing the cases didn’t look like an ogre at all. The first case was heard and after a long drawn out story, the hearing officer said, “So you never got the first notice and you just want to pay the original fine?” The accused answered affirmatively. He was asked to sit while they got his paper work ready. “Is there anyone else who didn’t received their first notice and just wants to pay the original fine? If so please raise your hand”. I raised mine. He asked my name, called me up to the, what is it, a podium? They have mics, did you know that? I didn’t… He asked me to confirm that I, indeed, wanted to pay the original fine and did I agree that I had run the red light – I did. He asked me to sit with the other gentlemen while they got my paperwork. It took about five minutes. I received the paperwork and then the weirdest thing happened. They let me leave. Yep, they let me just leave. On my own recognizance. OK, well it’s not really on my own recognizance as I’m not awaiting trial or anything like that. But they let me go home. No petitions, no group homes, no foster home (Ha! Foster home at 47 – that would be interesting) – and I know it sounds ridiculous – but that’s really what I’ve been afraid of all these years. I walked to my car, called my friend to let her know I had survived and said, “and they let me go” – and she said, “that’s what happens to most people when they go to court”. Huh. Imagine that. And then I cried. Right there in the parking lot of the courthouse, I cried. I cried in relief, I cried for that little girl who has carried this with her for so many years, and I cried because I knew I had finally put this behind me. And I moved on with my life. I picked up my groceries, ran to the fish market, did laundry – all the usual things that I might do in a day. And nothing had changed even though I spent a small part of my morning in a court room.
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