Today, I had to go to court …

because I let my driver’s license expire.  I’m not certain how it happened as I renew all of my licenses, passport, tags and anything else I can, online.  But I did and I found myself sitting in a courtroom waiting to be chastised by a Judge who, though he seemed friendly enough, intimidated me to the point of nausea.

If an officer hadn’t pulled me over on a snowy evening as I was coming home from art class just to inform me that I had a tail light out, I would still be driving around on an expired license.  I didn’t look at the date.  Why would I?  That is what I have email reminders for.  But this time, the reminder didn’t come and I was told that I had been driving around for SEVERAL MONTHS on an expired license.

It only occurred to me later that he didn’t have me call someone to come get me, but let me drive away on that expired license.

The officer was kind and I think he actually felt a bit guilty that he had to ticket me, but what else, really, could he do?  He told me that all I had to do was call “the number noted in red” on the ticket, could pay it over the phone and avoid an appearance in court.

Sounds simple enough doesn’t it?  Well, there was a flip-side to this particular coin.

I called the number a few days later to pay the ticket and hung up the phone feeling like a common criminal.  The lady told me that “people who are charged with driving on an expired, revoked or suspended license are not allowed to pay over the phone”.  So I requested the afternoon off and prepared to show up, pay my fine and be done with it.

As the day drew nearer, the butterflies in my stomach increased.  Each day, I thought of little else and began to imagine all manner of scenarios in my mind (and my imagination is top notch).  I started having nightmares, sleepless nights and long, stress-laden days.

I kept reminding myself that this is only a ticket, and I encouraged myself by remembering that I renewed my driver’s license within 48-hours of getting the ticket.  It was all good, all OK and there was nothing, in reality, to get all worked up about.

This morning, however, when I woke up, after spending the night plagued by nightmares, complete with creepy music and all, the first thought that came into my head was COURT!! (a reminder to be careful what I pray for, for the other “the minute my eyes open thoughts” were much more pleasant, even if they were annoying)

I went through my usual routine, minus coffee, for somewhere along the way, I had used the last of it and didn’t have a back-up bag in the pantry … but I digress.

I went to work and tried as best I could to focus on what had to be done and keep the nagging worry to a minimum.  I kept re-reminding myself that this was only a ticket.  Only a ticket.  Only a ticket.

I showed up well before my appointed time, in my nursing uniform, complete with band-aids that hadn’t been used stuck to my name badge and took my place at the back of the courtroom.  The light above the Judge flickered continuously and I wondered how he could sit there, hour after hour, with that going on.  I focused on that silly light until I had worked myself up even more, convincing myself that by the time my turn came, he would be half-crazed, as was I, from that constant, maddening flickering.

And I never moved a muscle.

For nearly two hours.

I had the beginnings of palpitations before I ever reached the courthouse, but after sitting in the courtroom, my resting heart rate (which is usually between 55-65) was well over 100.  I was certain that I was going to either pass out, throw up or die.  Dying, at this point, was the best choice.  How sad is that?

After what seemed like hours, my name was called and, instead of going directly in front of the Judge through the gate that separates the criminals from the Bench, I went the long way around and entered through the exit.  I apologized  when he commented on it and his laughter should have eased my mind, but it didn’t.  It took every ounce I will I could muster to not simply burst into tears in front of him and humiliate myself the rest of way.

I remembered to say “Sir”, “Your Honor” and “thank you” while the officer who gave me the ticket never uttered a single word.  I’m not certain it was even him, though, because at the time of the ticket-giving, his bright headlights were in my rear-view mirror and his flashlight in my eyes making him completely back-lit.

I couldn’t have picked him, with any confidence, out of a line-up.

When I finally was given my leave, paid my fine and left the building, I made it nearly to my car before I vomited and then burst into sobbing tears.  I put my convertible top down as that usually calms me, but I cried all the way home.  What a day.

I can promise this … I have looked at the expiration date on my driver’s license no less than a hundred times since I renewed it.  I will likely renew it a year early just to avoid the situation I found myself in today.

I am eternally grateful that I have a full pack of Oreo Double-Stuff cookies on hand and an unopened pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cannoli ice cream in the freezer because if there ever was a day for it, this was it.

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