Breaking Up on a Friday in Washington

Fridays are divorce days in Bellingham, Wash. If you want to dissolve your marriage in Belingham, you have to show up in court on a Friday, with all of the other couples who are divorcing that week. Recently, one of those couples was commentator Ron Judd and his ex-wife, Jackie. Judd is a columnist for The Seattle Times and author of the book, The Roof Rack Chronicles.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Fridays are divorce days in Bellingham, Washington. If you want to dissolve your marriage in Bellingham, you have to show up in court on a Friday with all of the other couples who are divorcing that week. Recently one of those couples was commentator Ron Judd and his ex-wife, Jackie.

RON JUDD:

In the Whatcom County Courthouse, names are called. Couples rise from a wood bench and stand before a judge, swearing to tell the whole truth. One partner reads from a script. It's a standard form with blanks filled in at home. That sheet of paper in my hand was all that was left of my marriage, the birth, life and death of a promise reduced to a single page, double-spaced. `My name is Ronald Charles Judd. I am the husband of Jacqueline. We were married on May 18th, 2002, in Bellingham, Washington. My wife is not pregnant. No children have been born to us. Our marriage is irretrievably broken.' Irretrievably broken. My wife and I had come to our hometown courtroom to untie the knot each of us had sworn before friends and family would stay bound forever.

A half-dozen other people had shuffled up to the judge before us. Most of them walked away in tears. When our turn came, I tried not to look at Jackie standing at my shoulder for the first time in a long time. I tried not to remember that spring day five years ago when I knew instantly and without doubt that I loved her. We were in the Rocky Mountains. She had touched the nose of a wild deer and burst straight into tears.

Not all counties require divorcers to appear in this very public unmarriage ceremony, and not all that do are cruel or savvy enough to force you to say the words out loud. Irretrievably broken? When movie stars part, their publicists kiss it off with a kinder and more forgiving `irreconcilable differences.' Differences are something you just discover, unpleasantries that just show up one day, like unsightly nostril hair. Broken was something we did to ourselves, our friends, our extended families. In even worse cases, it's something people do to their own children.

But our marriage was irretrievably broken. And the tears welling in my eyes were not just over the cold finality of those words but the knowledge that they were true. I blinked in that bad florescent light and wondered, `Shouldn't every bright-eyed couple applying for a marriage license two floors below have to sit through an hour of dissolution court first just to appreciate the stakes before registering on Wedding.com?' I wondered how many people are ever truly prepared to bear the weight of their own vows. `Till death do us part'? It's a catchy slogan but, really, just a five-word string everybody secretly knows can be snipped by legal scissors.

The truth: Marriage is only as forgiving as the frequency and depth to which you can swallow your own pride. It's only as lasting as your own ability to forgive, only as permanent as the strength you bring to it every hour. A lot of people grasp this at some point. Sadly, for us, that point was the day we found ourselves here in a courthouse wincing with the realization that the only thing permanent about our marriage is the two-word phrase that took it apart: `irretrievably broken.' That's forever.

SIEGEL: Ron Judd is a columnist for The Seattle Times and author of the book "The Roof-Rack Chronicles."

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