There was a woman who said,
"I don't know if she's been served with papers yet. She's homeless. I don't know where she is. She's threatening to kill my children."
She stood at a table before the judge, leaned far forward, nervous, tripping over her words.
A man who said,
"Well, it's like, he and I were
lovers. A friend said he saw him hit my car with a crowbar. I live on
Social Security and my rent is $800 a month."
Another woman, who said,
"He just got out of jail today."
She was holding a scrap of paper, and she twisted and twisted it in her hands.
A young man, elegantly dressed in grey slacks, dress shoes, a green pullover sweater. I couldn't see his face, but he spoke quietly, with nervous deliberation, obviously struggling to choose the right words: Continuance? Extension?
A man who said,
" I'm disabled. I have two young children. My landlord intentionally hit me with his car."
The judge said,
"What does being disabled have to do with this?"
The man said,
"I can't defend myself!"
The tension in the room sizzled like sparklers nearly spent but that, oddly, still burned.
When it was my turn to go to the front of the room, I turned and looked directly at the respondent in my case — seated four feet away — but he stared forward, his presence as steely as the color of his suit.
I wanted him to look at me, to acknowledge my humanness; and I wanted to see his humanness, wanted to see his eyes.
When I presented my facts, my voice wavered, lost in some vocal range I couldn't identify as mine. Despite my shaky speech, I believe I told my story clearly and calmly, and the judge listened thoughtfully, for which I was grateful. But my voice!
My heart felt as if it were pulsating outward on every square inch of my skin, as if I were all beating heart, eardrum-splitting beating heart.
I was granted that for which I asked, which was small consolation. A legal bow loosely tied onto something wrapped tissue-thin. But it's what I have; it's how the system works.
Upon exiting the courthouse, I inhaled deeply the warm September air, felt my throat loosen, amazed that outside everything still hummed seamlessly, impossibly on — buses, pedestrians, traffic lights, seagulls, people sitting at a coffee shop on a corner, the usual shady dealings in City Hall Park. Briefcases, high-heels, striped ties, bluejeans, sport coats, shorts, backpacks....