Your Heart

I Found Love In A Hopeless Place, AKA the American Judicial System

By February 3, 2016 1
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I went to jury duty, and it was the best day of my life- if you don’t count any of the good ones and compare it to the week I had mono and the morning after I turned 21.

A more accurate, secular description would be: I went to jury duty thinking it was going to be interesting and I finished the day convinced I am going to die alone.

I was completing my duty at a district court in my town squeezed in between a KFC and a Dunkin Donuts, which should have tipped me off in the direction that this day was going to go. Instead I hummed happily along into the back parking lot, lowering my window to the crossing guard and purring, “I’m a juror reporting for duty,” as if I had just flashed a clearance badge for the Pentagon. The crossing guard gave a sigh and placed a pink slip underneath my windshield wiper. I cruised to the front of the lot, sizing up the people who were standing around the court doors with cigarettes and oversized puffer jackets.

Peasants, I will decide your future as I please.

My VIP experience stopped short when I actually entered the courthouse. As a robust woman patted me down in places I usually don’t even touch myself, I watched the other security guard pull a white paper bag out of my pocket book and walk towards the trash.

I screamed.

First lesson of jury duty: under no circumstances should you scream in the security check. In retrospect, this seems obvious.

The security guard who had been patting me down was now gripping my forearm with an urgency I can only describe as bone crushing, while three more guards had run over to the white paper bag.

“Don’t throw that away!” I said quickly, and they swiveled to face the owner of the anthrax envelope/concealed weapon/hairspray bomb. “There’s avocado on that.”

They refused to give me back my breakfast sandwich, but I managed to get away with my coffee- only after it became clear that I would have no problem holding up our country’s democratic process indefinitely if it came between my caffeine addiction and me. As I walked out of the lobby, sipping my coffee triumphantly, I passed a skeletal woman wearing a pink terry-cloth sweatsuit and sitting with a man in a suit. She leaned towards him, her raccoon eyes following me, and whispered some translation that I’m sure came out to, “We can throw her out if we have to, right? I don’t want that psycho on my jury.”

I made a mental note to vote guilty without parole for her if I saw her later that day.

Once they had confirmed that the jurors were all present and accounted for, they took us out of the pretty courtroom that we were gathered in, all mahogany and big draping curtains, and into our Guantanamo-esque holding cell: a room no bigger than 10×15 with plastic seats crammed around the edges of the room. I found myself sandwiched between a sweating, overweight Hispanic man who smelled vaguely of French fry grease and a woman with gelled hair slicked into a bun who kept glancing at her watch.

Across the undecorated, windowless, room, a bald man pulled a bagel out of his jacket. I watched in disbelief. Are you kidding me?

He caught my eye and winked, unsuccessfully wiping at a glob of cream cheese by his lip. I made a second mental note to plant drugs in his car, and then vote guilty without parole.

Second lesson of jury duty: the time you spend there is split into two distinctive periods, but they have absolutely nothing to do with trials. Instead, your time is juxtaposed between those precious snow globe moments before the first conversation happens in the jury room, and the shit storm of overlapping dialogue that happens after. And this isn’t just “oh your daughter plays Cello? Mine absolutely loves the clarinet!” type interactions- it’s more of a “this is why I think Donald Trump might just have an idea with that wall thingy” type of discussion. My main theory for this is that coming to jury duty gives people one day out of every three years where their opinion is not only allowed, but requested. So even if you never leave the room (which we never did) to see a single trial (which we didn’t), you spend the day in a partial group lobotomy procedure.

The Before was all too short: about an hour of shifting in our chairs, accented by coughs, throat clearing, and that Hispanic man breathing french fry-cigarette breath onto my shoulder, while I ran through several hypothetical recon missions to get back my fallen sandwich. Then, the irreversible After.

“Is your son applying to college?” An older woman to my right addressed a man in an Army jacket, pointing at the reading material on his lap.

“Yeah, he’s a juniah, still, but there are so many scholahships applications to look at, we figured we’d get a jump staht.” His Boston accent was so thick I almost choked on it.

The man with the contraband bagel leaned forward: “It’s crazy, man, the prices these days for even one year. Just crazy. I get nervous about my kids off at these campuses with all this violence, you know.”

The room started to vibrate as all of the jurors cleared their throats. I reached into my bag for an Advil. It didn’t take long for us to hit peak vibrating frequency:

“-and that’s why it just seems to make the most sense for kindergarten teachers to have automatic weapons.”

“-since when is it illegal to hit your kids? Where is that in the bill of rights?”

“…Frankly, I’m still not convinced that Monica didn’t make the whole thing up, I mean if you saw her little outfits-“

I looked towards the door. Our bailiff-if that word can even be used for an overweight, half asleep organism that possesses a plastic star-shaped badge- had long abandoned his post. He was probably out in some hallway, eating my sandwich and drinking unlimited coffee like a king.

I turned to the woman on my right. “When’s the coffee break when you need it, am I right?”

She squinted her eyes at me, then shifted her body away, like I had just approached her at a city crosswalk with a stack of Bibles. So much for an alliance.

I stood up, and the hispanic man immediately slid into my chair, leaning towards the woman I had separated him from. Good, I thought as I walked to the bathroom. Enjoy his breath, you Godless woman.

In a shocking turn of events that surprised no one, the one bathroom we had access to contained a swinging light bulb and a clogged toilet. What is this, a Breaking Bad episode? In a similarly shocking turn of events, none of the countless jury members who had gone to the bathroom so far had felt the need to tell anyone, because who wants a working bathroom when you’re spending twelve hours with twenty strangers in exile, all of whom only have access to a coffee place and a KFC?

I managed to pull a bailiff from in a separate hallway, and he managed to find our bailiff, who did in fact have one of those milkshakes-disguised-as-coffee drinks gripped in his meaty little claw. I led him to the toilet, pointed at the toilet, and then explained in several small words that we needed him to fix the toilet. I then pointed at the toilet again, explained his role one more time for good measure, and left him to deal with it in his own sweet time.

I should never have returned to the holding cell. I turned the corner back into the room as the conversation hit me.

“-like chivalry never even existed, I mean you should see what my daughter wears out-”

Oh, no. No, no, no, turn around, abortmissionwherethehellisthatfatbastardbailiff-

I didn’t move fast enough. The man in the military windbreaker extended his finger at me where I stood, in a half pivot towards the door in the middle of the room.

“You look young.” Accusation, not compliment. He nodded at the other jurors, then continued, “Maybe you can shed a little light on this whole hook-in culture.”

“Do you mean hook up culture?” I replied reflexively, my feet still planted facing the door.

“See, I knew she’d know!” He threw his hands up, having successfully found the resident expert on casual sex. “So what’s the deal? Why don’t you girls want guys to pay for dinner anymore?”

I exhaled deeply, and took a resigned step towards a seat. “I mean, we didn’t exactly go to an empty cafeteria and take a vote. It’s just the way it is. Sexual revolution and Gloria Steinhem, you know.” I smiled. Try to look cute. How do girls look cute? Crap, think cute, think Bambi, make your eyes bigger-

An elderly woman barked a laugh. “Oh, don’t you go blaming your parents for your tight skirts and loose lips, sexual revolution baloney.”

“I don’t… that wasn’t really my intention-” do I seriously have to answer this? Can someone just shoot me and give us a trial that way? “- I just mean that I don’t have an answer, for hookup culture, or whatever. It just is.” I gazed around the room for someone else young. My eyes landed on a guy in the corner, who couldn’t have been more than two years older than me. He squinted his eyes at me and shook his head. I sat back, resigned to my fate, and the questions rolled in:

“Do you Tinder? How does that work, exactly?”

“Are you in a relationship? No? Why not?”

“Why don’t you want to be in a real, honest to God relationship?”

“Why does everyone want to wait around to get married? Fertility peaks around 27, bet you didn’t know that-”

I tried to spar for a while, but the questions came too quickly, so I narrowed my responses to yes, no, and I generally follow Beyonce’s lead in that regard.

Within twenty minutes, a small but accurate sample of the American population knew my sexual history, my preferences for a marital partner, and my opinion on Adele’s new album. I should’ve been annoyed, but they were all so genuinely curious, so confused by my stuttered attempts at explaining dating apps and modern relationship protocol, that I could only feel guilt at my inability to give them the answers they wanted.

Want to verbally waterboard a twenty two year old woman? Ask her repeatedly why she’s single.

Yes, it’s pretty common to be sleeping with multiple people at once.

No, I’ve never been cordially asked to dinner by someone for a first date.

Well, I don’t have a hard and fast rule on spandex clothing, but I generally follow Beyonce’s lead in that regard.

“So this works? I mean, this whole style, it works for you? It makes you happy?” The bagel man asked from across the room, after I finished describing a typical night at bars (go out with friends, get drunk on vodka sodas you buy for yourself, take a few group pictures in the bathroom mirror, and spend an hour or so texting someone who isn’t in a five mile radius of you before calling an uber and getting pizza on the way home.)

I shrugged, holding his gaze and my breath while my internal organs slowly deflated. “I guess so.”

He nodded, surveying me with the same type of resigned pity that you might give to a deer limping away from a car wreck. I pretended to check my phone, and the interest eventually waned as other more exciting topics arose; my sex life was replaced by transgender rights, which were trampled by the crisis in Syria, and so on.

We had three more hours before they would let us go. My hunger took up most of my thoughts, but in the moments that filled the space between each stomach growl, those last questions would light up in front of me: So this works? It makes you happy?

Eventually, the bailiff informed us of two equally momentous occasions: the toilet had been fixed, and we were now free to go. I gathered my things and was the first to leave the room. The thought of having to make small talk with any of these people, or even worse, to have to listen to advice about how to turn my “situation” around, was unimaginable. Also, I hadn’t eaten since I left my house that morning, which is probably the longest stretch of time I’ve gone without food since I’ve been born.

I was almost at my car when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I jumped- keep in mind I was in the parking lot where convicted felons have their last chance at freedom. It was the woman who had started this whole nuclear event, the one who had asked the army man about scholarships and indirectly led to my interrogation. She wasn’t as old as she had looked in our holding cell; in natural lighting, she looked younger than my mother.

“So sorry to scare you, I didn’t mean to- I just wanted to- oh, here, just take this.” She took my hand and closed it around a piece of paper. “It’s my son’s number.” She squeezed my hand with a smile and then hurried away.

I could’ve responded with any number of automatic defense mechanisms, throwing her peace offering at her retreating figure with some clever one liner about how I didn’t need help, I wasn’t looking for a relationship, I’m totally happy on my own. That this whole thing does work for me, and I am perfectly happy living in the system.

But I didn’t. The paper is still folded in my bag, creased into the tiniest white square, behind a zipped compartment. It has his email, as well as his first and last name, with a tiny note in loopy cursive underneath: “Nothing to lose!”

I haven’t called him, but I check to see if the paper is still there every day. I imagine occasionally what would happen if I called. A handsome voice answering on the third ring, a few dates followed by a few months followed by several years. A marriage toast littered with puns about the legal system, a collective sigh as the parking lot scene is described for a thousandth time, and a shared, knowing look between his mother and me.

Comments

  • Jackie

    call him!