I was in a jury pool this morning. There was a last-minute plea agreement, so the jury was never really chosen. There wasn’t much chance of me going home early if the trial had gone forward – I was the second person into the actual jury box. We stayed for the formalities of the guilty plea, and the judge told us we were welcome to stay for the sentencing, but we were not required to.
No one stayed.
I did serve on a jury about five years ago, on a drug case. It was, in fact, a very interesting experience. I have no connections into that world, and when they put the evidence box on the table in the jury room, I wanted to see it. It was crack, and a fat roll of cash, and a Crown Royal bag, which is apparently a thing in the world of drugs. (I knew somebody in college who kept his poker chips in a Crown Royal bag. At least that’s what he said was in there. It never occurred to me to wonder about that before today.) Now I know what crack looks like. What I will do with that knowledge, I can’t imagine.
Today’s case, though, was about domestic violence. I’m glad I didn’t have to hear the entire case. Hearing the details read out by the prosecutor was plenty sad enough for me. And I’m pretty sure this was a mild case as these things go.
It made me remember a day when I sat in a Toledo courtroom and listened to cases most of the day. I was in college and working for the City of Toledo as an intern. Sometimes I drove a city vehicle. Once, I rear-ended someone in one. That was a horrible day. I only felt better when one of the women down the hall told me her brother-in-law had wrecked a brand-new fire truck and hadn’t been killed, so messing up the bumper on a very old Jeep was probably not a capital offense. (And I only felt a little better.) The IT guy called me Crash until I left that job, which didn’t help much.
Anyway. The city was sued because of that accident – I think probably solely because it was a city vehicle – and I was supposed to go to court to testify. I waited a long time, through a lot of cases, 80% of which were related to domestic violence. In almost every case, the woman recanted the statement she’d initially given to the police, and asked for the charges to be dropped. I’d had almost no exposure to anything like it before, and it was an education.
And I was thinking today as I was driving home: I think that was really good for me, especially at that time. I was not in a very good place. My dad had died a couple of years before, and I’d tried to pretend that I was fine, right up until I crashed so spectacularly that even the other clueless college kids around me could see that I needed help. I had gone through a long period of hardly sleeping at all, and I consider it a minor miracle that my grades stayed mostly steady and I never fell asleep at the wheel. I was so hard on myself whenever I wasn’t perfect (which was all the time, because Hi! I’m a human.) that I had elevated self-hatred to an art form.
I would not have said so at the time, but looking back? I think I was ripe for an abusive relationship. I wanted someone – anyone – to love me. I wanted to be worth something to someone, because I certainly didn’t think I was worth anything to myself. I was desperately seeking something, and I would probably have put up with a lot to get it. Maybe even as much as all those women I saw defending their abusers.
Luckily, no one found me attractive.
KIDDING! I don’t really think that. Anymore. Mostly. These things don’t go away overnight.
What I meant was, by luck and by the grace of God, I never did end up in an abusive relationship. I don’t know whether the day I spent in court in Toledo helped me put the brakes on when it was needed or not. But I do know it made me grateful. On the days when I’m mad at Paul over something stupid (because it’s never the big stuff that makes you psychotic; it’s the dishes, or the broom), it’s good to remember that he is the opposite of those men I saw in court. He doesn’t yell at me even when he should.
And today, when I was listening to the prosecutor read through what happened one day to two people who once promised to love each other forever, I was just … unutterably sad. I was glad to get out of the courtroom, and I don’t think I was the only one.
I was not glad to navigate the steps in the municipal building again. I have never been on such a weirdly constructed staircase. The steps, of which there are roughly a thousand (for one floor!) are very wide and very shallow and seem like they’re designed to make you stumble. Or at least complain, which my fellow jurors did, vociferously.
And maybe a little bit to avoid talking about anything we’d just heard. But that’s just speculation.