yours, tiramisu

voir dire and jury duty

I didn't get a lot of sleep last night, so today I opted to wear the new glasses I got last year. Since I've never liked the look of glasses on my face or the weight of them on my nose bridge, I'm used to the world looking like a Monet painting. These new glasses I got to sharpen my vision for driving make everything so much easier. Who would have thought? Gone are the days of zooming in on photos of microscopic fast food menus and squinting to find the lane markers. Seeing in HD is playing life on easy mode. The round tortoiseshell frames make me look more writerly than I feel inside, but that's something I can live with. I guess I'll just have to write more.

Fog shrouded the tops of the buildings when I arrived downtown for jury duty. I'm always going to be partial to the sun, but I found the overcast gray glow oddly comforting today. Time stands still when you can't see the sun, and I like pretending that time's taken a break from its relentless march as the world holds its breath waiting for the sun to return.

I checked in virtually yesterday and called the juror hotline to listen to an automated message tell me that I was one of the juror groups selected to go in. My mom acted like I'd been shot when I told her the news. I wasn't thrilled about the prospect of waking up early to commute downtown either, but I couldn't deny my desire to find out what actually happens in a courtroom. If I got picked I'd get to quench that curiosity, and if not I'd get to spend the rest of the day visiting my brother. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Slightly out of character, I showed up closer to nine than the eight-thirty call time, but it didn't matter because they made us wait in long lines to check in anyway. From what I could tell, I could have showed up as late as ten past nine without issue.

The waiting room was on the seventh floor and filled with rows of stained red chairs and harsh fluorescent lights. While waiting there for someone to call my name, give me my juror number, and send me to my assigned courtroom, I finished the reading I assigned to my students for homework this week. Sometimes I struggle to bring myself to read the YA material on the writing curriculum, but a boring waiting room with nothing else to do makes it go down easier.

Almost an hour later I found myself shuffling into rows of wooden benches in the courtroom with thirty five other juror candidates. The judge, plaintiff, and defendant introduced us to the case before commencing the voir dire. In the voir dire (literally "see say", in French), the plaintiff and the defendant each asked us questions to determine our competence to testify (i.e. if we had any biases that might unfairly sway how we would view the case). This particular case was a civil case concerning a car accident, so the questions circled around automobiles, insurance, and the law. We held up white paddles displaying our juror numbers and took turns telling the attorneys short vignettes about our experiences with car accidents, herniated discs, and chiropractors. All of the people that spoke to us seemed nice, but the plaintiff's attorney struck me as especially personable. He listened to us tell him stories of terrible accidents and expressed what felt to me like genuine sympathy. In contrast, the defendant's attorney rushed through his questions and went about them with businesslike efficiency. He probably helped us get out of there faster, but I couldn't help but feel like the plaintiff had gotten a leg up before the trial had even begun.

Two hours of voir dire had an oddly bonding effect on us. By the noontime break, we were all making small talk and getting to know our fellow jury members. We were a diverse bunch of veterans, retirees, engineers, caretakers, anesthesiologists, nurses, and former jurors, and almost every single one of us had experienced a car accident in some form or another. I don't often feel proud of the place I grew up in, but I definitely felt a flicker of pride when we wished each other luck while waiting in that hallway for the final panel of jurors.

Juror number 30 was a kind lady in her sixties who sat next to me. She asked me during the break what I'd been scribbling in my notebook (answer: this post), and we chatted for a bit about writing and teaching. As a shy extravert I appreciate when people make educated attempts to strike up conversation with me, and she was really sweet about it. When neither of our numbers got called for the final panel, we grinned at each other. I was thrilled to be free, but a part of me wanted to continue our conversation. Do you also think about those strangers you meet and know you'll never see again? They linger in my head long after they've gone. I know our paths aren't meant to cross, but I've gotten a passing glimpse into a small window of your life, and now I want to hear your dreams, your fears, what goes on in that head and heart of yours.

#english #life #wordvomit