There are people we meet, and frequently spend very little time with who stick with us forever. I was thinking about those types of people, the moments shared and circumstances that bring us together tonight for no apparent reason.
I remembered a middle aged woman with grey hair pulled back tightly into a bun, a neatly pressed silk blouse, a denim NPR pledge-drive book bag, and bright battleship grey eyes. We served on the jury in a kidnapping and assault case in county court in Tucson, Arizona. The trial took two days including two hours of deliberation, with an hour and a half for lunch each day. We ate lunch with each other both days and sat next to each other in the jury box look over the others’ shoulder to see what notes we were taking.
She was intelligent, well-read and thoughtful. We spent our first lunch in the sandwich place across from the courthouse, religiously following the judge’s instructions not to discuss the case. We talked about Orson Welles, Monet, Van Gogh and the walk through the woods up to the old Getty in LA. I remember talking about politics, but I don’t remember exactly what was said. I do remember I had a California BLT and a cherry lemonade.
The second day, we went for a walk around downtown, stopped in a used bookstore where I picked up a dog-eared copy of A Prayer for Owen Meany, which I still haven’t read all the way through (this was in 1997 or 1998, I think). We stopped in this amazing hole-in-the-wall Mexican place on Scott for lunch and talked about how much we both loved John Irving, the things we loved and hated about living in Tucson, and my relationship with the fiance whose heart I would break in the next couple months (I don’t remember exactly when the trial happened in relationship to my cancelling the wedding, but it was beautiful in Tucson, so it must have been January or February… The wedding was cancelled in March).
In the jury room, I was elected foreman by reason of insanity (and because no one else wanted to do it). She sat next to me and gave me silent comments on how I was doing and was always writing notes in small tight cursive, taking down important comments from everyone in the room, and asking thoughtful questions at the right time.
We delivered our verdict, which I felt pretty crappy about, but she assured me we had done the right thing. The prosecution had blown the case, she said, and I had to agree with her. What was a domestic dispute with no witnesses and no evidence was prosecuted like a kidnapping on the scale of the Lindbergh baby. We had enough evidence to find him guilty on four lesser counts of the six charges.
I don’t even remember her name, but she was a lovely woman. She reminded me of my favorite English teacher from high school, and treated me like the adult I still haven’t become. We said good-bye at the elevator that night, and I never saw her again, and don’t remember thinking about her until tonight, yet she will forever be entwined in the memory of my experience with the criminal justice system, and the fairness of the jury system. I wish I could remember her name.
John Irving writes two different types of books. First, there are his more ecletic stories, like Garp and Hotel New Hampshire. Then, there are the more traditional books, like Cider House Rules and Prayer for Owen Meany. I’m not suggesting that the two styles are really that much different, but I’ve found that the people who really like Garp aren’t really that crazy about Owen Meany, and vise versa. I happen to like both styles, but I have to admit that I like Owen Meany best of all. I’ve never cried for a book before. But that one did it. I was seriously bawling at the end of it.
Thanks for reminding me about Irving. I keep meaning to check out Piggy Snead from the library. Maybe I’ll do that this weekend.
Piggy Snead is fun. It has a couple good short stories and his writing about wrestling is entertaining, even if you don’t like wrestling. My favorite Irving novel (for reasons outside quality) is Setting Free the Bears. It was his first, and my sentimental fave.
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