Life or Death

Both Jerimiah and I have been called to jury duty. Both times it was in the State of Missouri, and both times neither of us had to serve. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to. We understand the value of this particular civic duty, and would normally welcome the chance. It was just that, umm, well yeah, it was that we didn’t want to. For two very different reasons.

I was asked to serve first. On August 9th, 2011 I was served with a Federal Court summons to appear for jury duty for the State of Missouri. It was exactly five days after I found out that my daughter, the one I was carrying inside of me, had a chromosomal disorder called Trisomy 18. When I pulled the jury notice from my mailbox that evening, I had just came home from spending the afternoon crying in my doctor’s office while she explained that what I was about to go through was considered a “late-term abortion,” but insisting that she supported my decision. Until this point, it was the worst day of my life and I thought it couldn’t get any worse, then I opened the mailbox. I walked into the house, slammed my jury summons onto the counter and yelled to no one in particular, “Are you fucking kidding me?!”

It felt like the world was conspiring against me. Later that night while Jerimiah and I sat on the couch, a two-year-old Jackson taking his evening nap between us, we laughed for the first time in weeks. We laughed at how absurd it was that in this middle of this shit storm that we found ourselves in, that I was served with a jury summons. I don’t remember who started laughing first, but I know it felt really good.

The next day I called the State of Missouri and a curt woman on the phone informed me that it was a grand jury trial that I had been summoned to, and that I needed to be in Jeff City for the pre-trial hearings. That was the state capital, over two hours away. I asked the date, and the woman said the exact date I was expected to be in the hospital delivering my baby, who was the size of an avocado. I laughed. The State of Missouri did not. Rather, she told me that short of a “life or death situation” I was expected to be there. I told her that I was having a late-term abortion that day, did that count as life or death? Then the State of Missouri and I sat silently on the phone for several moments until she said, “A doctor’s note will do.”

Jerimiah’s summons came from Taney County, Missouri several months later, a coincidence we’ve always wondered about. Taney County was the place we had lived for nearly five years. The place our son was born. Where our daughter had died. The place, up until those last few months, that we thought we would always call home. He didn’t try to get out of it, couldn’t even if he wanted to. He didn’t have a “Get Out of Jury Duty Free” Card. He wasn’t an only parent. His job allowed him to be away. He wasn’t having a late-term abortion. So Jerimiah had to show up to for the jury selection, but he didn’t mind because he was actually a little intrigued by the whole process.

The day he had to show up for jury selection, we met that evening at the local McDonalds (the really clean one with the awesome playground) because Jackson had a playdate with his best buddy in the ball pit. While my friend and I discussed what our toddlers had been up to that week (they had both simultaneously, unbeknownst to each other, tried to eat dog poop the day before) we watched Jerimiah saunter into the play place, and I immediately knew something was wrong.

He sat down in the seat next to me and I asked what happened. I was afraid he’d been picked to serve and that he really didn’t want to. Too much going on at work, our new-ish desire to relocate, the very fresh loss of our daughter, there were a millions reasons why his mind or his heart probably wasn’t in a felony burglary trial or whatever it was.

Thats’ when he told us that he had been relieved of jury duty upon the defendant’s attorney telling the judge that Jerimiah, potential juror #8, had “made a face” when the account was read aloud. What kind of face did you make? I pressed, laughing a little, because he does show his emotions, even when he tries hard not to.

“I guess it was shock, or disgust, or…” he trailed off. He didn’t know what the face was, but at some point he was taken into the courtroom with 11 other people, placed in the jury box and told details of the case with the judge, the prosecuting attorney, and the defending attorney present. What was the case, my friend and I wanted to know. Jerimiah explained that the case was over an accusation that a 12-year-old girl made. I sucked in my breath. The girl was accusing her stepfather of repeatedly raping her over numerous years. And there it was, the face back on him. It was shock, and disgust, and well, it was anger. He had already made his mind up about the case. He was going to sentence the step-father to prison. To death, if possible.

We all sighed a long sigh. I put my hand on his arm in a comforting way, and he tried to smile, but hearing about that little girl, well that stung. It stayed with him for some time too, and obviously it has stayed with me, because here I am sharing it with you nine years later. The sadness. The cruelty. The insanity in this world. Sometimes it all feels like too much, even for the strongest of us.

Jerimiah and I were never called for jury duty in Missouri again. Likewise we were not called in North Carolina, and have yet to be called in Georgia, but I’m sure our time is coming again. And when it does we will answer our civic call. Until then, we will reflect on the other two times, and do our best to stay positive in a world that just makes it so damn hard sometimes.

M.

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