I sit in the Ten Mile Justice Center courtroom in Fort Bragg, legs crossed, right foot bobbing in an effort to dissipate my nerves. I’m here for the second month in a row to request a continuance on a restraining order I was reluctant to file, but that law enforcement has encouraged me to pursue.
My lower back starts to painfully throb. I concentrate on taking deep, slow breathes, which manifest as shallow asthmatic wheezes. I want to cut and run.
The cases previous to mine are mundane—the opening of probate, something about a family trust, and an illegal eviction. About a half hour after court comes to order, someone enters through the back door. I don’t know who because I’m sitting in the front row of the gallery. The person sits behind me to the right of my peripheral vision. Cigarette fumes give me a nicotine contact high. All I can see of this person is orange and gray athletic shoes.
The judge calls a case for a someone named Bob (not his real name). The guy sitting behind me stands and moves forward. He’s a trim, grizzled 50-something who wears capri-length workout pants and a tank top with three horizontal slashes across the back. I’m somewhat alarmed that he seems to have ignored the posted rules for appropriate court attire—no shorts, no tank tops. His blonde streaked hair is combed forward and he’s got a healthy tan. If he were a few decades younger, he’d look like an attractive surfer dude.
The previously bored bailiff stands and rests his hand on his pistol.
The judge informs Bob the restraining order against him has been dropped. (This order has nothing to do with my case.)
“So I can go back to Ukiah?” Bob asks, incredulous.
“I cannot tell you what to do,” the judge says.
“I’ve been living in Ukiah getting my life together,” Bob announces proudly. “I’m off meth.”
“Good for you,” the judge says with genuine warmth.
“I have some clothes at that house. Can I get them before I leave town?”
“I cannot tell you what to do,” the judge says.
“Since the restraining order’s been dropped, I can go pick up my clothes?”
“I cannot tell you what to do.”
Bob shakes his head as if to dispel water from his ears. “I just wanna tell ya,” he says, “you’re the best. The best!” As if the judge had something to do with getting the complaining party to drop the restraining order.
“Thank you. You’re free to go.”
“I won’t forget this.” Bob turns to leave. “You’re the best. The best!” He’s giddy, pumping his fist in the air like his favorite team just won the World Cup.
The bailiff sits down.
I make note of Bob’s full name in order to later check the online Mendocino County Sheriff’s Booking Log. I’m certain—willing to put money on it—that he’ll be arrested before nightfall for causing a kerfuffle at a house where nobody wants him, yet where some of his clothing still resides.
After he leaves, my case is called. For Bob, my experience would have been a day at the beach. For me, it was stressful enough to send me home to lay on the floor with an ice pack under my back and feeling what Southern women used to call “having a case of the vapors.”
The party I’m seeking a restraining order against, someone who made an obsessive series of calls to my home, someone who is well known to law enforcement, has a right to be served with notice of the filing. He cannot be found. I’m granted my continuance, but scheduled to return the following month. I want nothing more than to have this process over and done with, but fear I’ll spend the bulk of 2019 going to court.
A few days later, I remember to check on Bob to see if he escaped arrest the evening following court and made it safely back to his new life in Ukiah.
Exactly one week before his appearance in the coast courtroom, he was arrested in Fort Bragg for being a public nuisance. He was held overnight.
The day after his release, he was arrested in Ukiah (about an hour and a half drive from Fort Bragg) for disorderly conduct: alcohol, and held overnight.
Two days after that release, he was once again arrested in Ukiah on the same charge and held overnight.
The following day, he appears in the Fort Bragg courtroom to make it a matter of public record that he’s getting his life together.
Bob might have issues with substance abuse and appropriate public decorum, but the underlying struggles he’s dealing with have been visited upon all of us to some degree or another.
We’ve all made the Monday morning promises—“I swear to God I’m going to (fill in the blank).”
- Quit smoking. Until you can no longer suppress the desire to chop someone’s head off (usually by noon on Monday when you bum a smoke from a co-worker).
- Quit drinking. Until you get home after a stressful Monday at work.
- Go on a diet. Go to the gym. Get in shape. Until, on your way home from work, you stop by McDonald’s for a value meal to pair with your tequila shots.
- Give up that toxic girlfriend or boyfriend. Until 10:00pm when you start drunk texting.
Yeah, yeah, yeah—we’ve all made such proclamations, and we’ve all inevitably failed until for some reason—grace?—we follow through and actually turn things around.
Like a worried mother, I visit the booking log website every few days to check on Bob. I’m hopeful he’ll stay out of trouble for good—or at least for a time. Five days after I’m made aware of him, he’s arrested again in Ukiah for—you want to take a guess?—disorderly conduct: alcohol.
At least he’s not on meth, I tell myself.
Twelve days later, he’s arrested in Ukiah for indecent exposure.
I hope Bob eventually finds the grace to overcome his demons and find peace.
I hope I eventually get my own act together and stop checking on him.