The whole truth

lucky

I am lucky. I am a survivor.

I was dismissed from jury duty this week.

That is not why I am lucky. That is not what I survived.

I was dismissed because I could not be fair and impartial regarding the case before me and the other potential jurors.

Soon after the clerk herded us sheep into the dark-paneled court room and guided us to our pen,  I felt myself relax for the first time that day. Waiting is stressful. At least now I knew my fate. Or so I thought.

As the judge, prosecutor and defense droned on about rules of law, the great American judicial system and so forth, I’ll admit my mind started to drift. Then the words: armed robbery shot cross the room like a bullet.

The words jabbed me in the ribs and I let out an embarrassing little gasp that drew the attention of those seated next to me.

It was the beginning of a string of actions that would cast the spotlight on me. Things like being asked to sit here. Then being asked to get up and sit over there. Then being asked the same question three different ways. Then being asked to leave the room and sit in another room until every last juror or potential juror was safely in their cars and headed home. Any lawyers out there who care to explain this to me?

I don’t know, telling the court you don’t think you can be objective — which is the truth and I swore to be truthful — maybe gives them pause?

Nineteen years after I was robbed at work, I still have anxiety about it. I don’t like it that I do.  But I do and I have to accept that about myself. Things like court rooms don’t help.

I survived the incident. But it took me a long while to learn there was a lesson in it: When something bad happens, you have to acknowledge that bad thing and then let it go. This is not what I did. I was the queen of suppression and denial.

So when I found myself on the business end of a gun during my stint as a bank employee, I reacted not only to the threat at hand but to another incident four years earlier, which was a deep, dark secret brushed under the rug and never worked through. Most decidedly, the felon on parole wielding a .380 pistol pushed my buttons.

Everything spun out of control after that. I ended up in therapy. I quit my job. I messed up my last year of college. I damaged beyond repair the relationship I was in at the time. What may have been a minor blip on someone else’s timeline was a big bomb going off on mine. 

So, the lesson in all this is when something bad happens: cry, scream, yell, get help, press charges, tell a friend, go jogging. Do what you need to do to release the poison and begin the healing. Pretending away a trauma does not work. Don’t worry about what others will think. Ditch the false bravado.

I’m lucky I survived both incidents with nothing more than some protracted stress issues. I’m lucky I learned from them. 

That’s the truth.

Hot wait. Hot seat. Out.

jurybox

I just completed my third round of jury duty. Three times called. Three times dismissed. This time, however, I made it all the way to voir dire and sat in the jury box for the better part of an hour before the judge hit the eject button.

Mixed feelings tore at my insides. Part of me wanted to take part in this case, to hear the evidence, listen to the witnesses and deliberate with other jurors. Another darker, sadder part knew I would not be selected because the case at hand struck too close to home. I could not be a fair and impartial juror. The prosecution and defense batted me about like a toy mouse for a while and then tossed me to the curb.

It marked  the end of a long day sitting on a plastic chair in a poorly ventilated waiting room, punctuated by multiple calls to line up in long hallways, march up and down staircases, and sit on hard wooden benches before returning to the hot room. But long days on plastic chairs in poorly ventilated rooms give me no choice but to people watch and jot down observations. Here are a few:

* The night before, I had to call the courthouse, type in my juror identification number, and wait for instructions. After the initial wheres and whens, came a list of dos and don’ts. Some of the don’ts: do not come to court in swimwear, exercise wear, hooded jackets or hats. I wondered for a moment why this was necessary to explain.

* Because of that list, I labored over what to wear.  I put on dress pants, high heels, a sleeveless but conservative top and loosely draped a scarf around my neck. I worried that I was too casual. Ha! I cannot tell you how many folks showed up in shorts, tank tops, flip-flop sandals, work boots and hooded sweatshirts. There was even one heavily tattooed guy in one of those weight-lifter shirts that revealed most of the chest and huge tufts of body hair.  I have no more wonder about the dress-code instructions.

* In spite of the various warnings on paperwork mailed to the home, on the recorded message, and posted clearly at the entrances advising against having cell phones with camera devices, people still tried to sneak them in and then feigned ignorance when confronted with it. “I didn’t even know it had a camera!”

* I am amazed at how elaborately some people packed their bags for the day of waiting. The snacks. The stacks of magazines. One woman had several plastic bags full of crafting materials and set up a mini-assembly line on her tabletop. Most of the folks I chatted with seemed hyped about getting seated on a jury.

*I watched more TV on this day than I have in the last quarter, including my first-ever  Oprah episode. According to Oprah, my summer wardrobe sucks.

Well, she should see the rest of the folks in this room.

You can run, but you can't hide

summons

Had I not successfully asked for and received a postponement, this is how I’d be spending my Friday.
Turns out the courts aren’t a babysitting service and don’t want three-year-olds in attendance at legal proceedings.
Turns out the only babysitter I had available landed a full-time gig.
Turns out not a soul I know is available to babysit pro bono for an indeterminate amount of time on Friday because … who knows how long jury duty could take?
Turns out that getting paid $20 for the day doesn’t cover the $10 hourly rate ($10 x 8 hours = Ack!) that babysitters charge nowadays.
Huh.
There was a time when I’d welcome a summons to appear in the mail. Twice before in my life I’ve reported for jury duty. Twice before I’ve been dismissed before voir dire even commenced. I was disappointed.
But having covered a number of trials in my reporter days, I know better now. Real-life court rooms are nothing like TV shows. Mostly, they’re boring.
Between now and June, when I have to show up for real, I’m going to work on forming a babysitting cooperative with at least one other family.