Rug burn

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The detective glances at me several times during our daughters’ gymnastics class. I don’t know if he only recognizes me from school pick-up, or if he remembers me from the jury. THAT jury.

The trial was almost two years ago, but I’ve only seen the detective around town the last couple of months or so. Maybe he had a schedule change that allows him more time at his child’s activities. Or maybe he changed jobs.

Seeing him is uncomfortable, though he is visually pleasing. He’s sort of broad like he works out a lot, but his face is kind. A walking juxtaposition, like he could kick your ass but would rather not.

The detective walks toward me with his daughter, who I’m guessing is five, in his arms. I think he’s identified me, that he knows I’m one of the 12. But instead he continues past me to the gymnastics instructor to tell her that his daughter fell down and has rug burn on her knee, and that he won’t make her continue today’s lesson if she doesn’t want to. The sympathy and love he feels for his daughter comes off of him in warm waves.

The trial was for a man who abused his baby son. He had thrown his toddler against the wall, but the boy’s body didn’t die. Only his capacities. He would never walk or feed himself. They boy would never go to school. He was trapped in a body that would never do anything but breathe and pump blood.

The man’s wife cried for the man’s freedom, not for her son. They had an older child, too. That boy seemed physically intact. But who knows what emotional injuries he carried.

In deliberations, I argued for third degree child abuse. But two jurors held out for second. They said we didn’t know for certain that the boy hadn’t just been accidentally dropped as the father claimed. Even though we did know. The injuries were inconsistent with the man’s claims. The two jurors were uncomfortable handing down such a sentence, even though a defense witness had once seen the father kill a bee on the baby’s forehead with a flip-flop.

We argued for hours. The room was too small and too hot. We were hungry and thirsty, and not allowed to go to the bathroom without causing a disturbance.

I argued that the mother would not defend the other boy against the father, as it was obvious she was more loyal to her husband than her children. The responsibility to the older boy fell at our feet.

The ten of us eventually conceded and agreed to second degree child abuse. The only reason was to avoid a mistrial.

When the judge handed down our verdict, the mother mouthed “thank you” at us, and I hated her right then more than I’ve ever hated anyone.

The prosecutor and the detective came into the jury room immediately afterward and told us that they weren’t allowed to disclose during the trial that the man had a history of violence. I wept big, ugly tears. I couldn’t stop, even though I was in a tiny room full of strangers. The mother sent the defender back with family photographs for us to view. The juror next to me said, “You don’t have to look at those.” And I didn’t. I refused to pretend they were a happy family. The mother was delusional enough for all of us.

Seeing the detective brings it all back. The shame I felt at relenting, even after I learned the judge gave the man a twenty-year sentence.

The detective’s daughter must have been a baby when he showed up at the man’s apartment to question him about his recently incapacitated toddler. The case must have gutted him. And then we the jurors broke his heart. He undoubtedly suffered many more sleepless nights over the trial than I did.

He’s standing next to me now, and I want to tell him I’m sorry, that I know he was right, and that I still can’t eat Reese’s Pieces because there was a giant bag of them in the jury room the entire three days we were there. So now Reese’s Pieces remind me of child abuse instead of E.T.  I want to tell him that I learned a lot about having courage in my convictions from that experience.

Instead I offer, “I saw her fall. It looked like it hurt.” It’s my apology, because I can’t tell him that I was on that jury and I failed. Because I can’t bring it back to him in case he’s found a way to make peace.  And I really hope he has.

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