The “Black People”: A Camping Story

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We found our camping spot without any trouble, compared to last time when we started late, couldn’t find the road, got turned around and then learned what a “soft shoulder” on the highway really meant. We had sat on the side of the road for hours with a man that had stopped to help, getting his own truck stuck in the process. Luckily, he had AAA and all we had to do was wait; all the while wondering if the “kind stranger” was really a psycho killer waiting for his chance to strike.

The tow truck driver was quick and efficient, pulling our truck and trailer out of the sand and then the stranger’s, righting both our vehicles on the side of the highway. When we told him where we were headed, he was happy to lead the way to the entrance road, stopping to give us a few pointers: head down the road about a mile and then pull off to camp, look for a better spot during daylight. It seems so simple once you know where the road is, but it seems that our memories of childhood camping spots, twenty years after the fact, aren’t as clear as we thought they were.

We went looking for the perfect spot at daybreak and have been returning to it for the last fifteen years.

This was the second time we had pulled our tent trailer, filled to the gills with three days worth of food and supplies for the five of us, out to what we now called “our spot” in the desert for a few days escape from city life.

Three kids piled into the backseat of the truck; my husband’s daughter, age 10, and our two sons, ages 3 and 5. They were so excited to be out in the wilderness again. The boys spent most of their days digging holes and playing army, bb guns within reach just in case there was an attack. Nikki spent her time reading and writing stories. She would play with the boys for a while when they begged her to join in their game. Listening to them was one of my favorite parts of camping. I wish I could have recorded them and all the fantastic stories they came up with together. From Indiana Jones scenes and Nazi invasions to Civil War reenactments and Star Wars scenarios, you just never knew what they’d come up with.

We took long hikes with the kids. I’d pack our adventure backpack, the one with all their favorite tools: binoculars, magnifying glass, baggies for collecting, bandanas, and first aid kit, with snacks for the “trail” and a few extra bottles of water. The kids all had their own canteen they carried, ones they got from Santa Claus the year before. The boys had their cowboy hats and camouflage on, bb guns slung over their shoulder for protection.

We’d head out away from the trailer in the direction of some rocky hill off in the distance. At first, the kids led the way and we followed along behind. They said they were “scouting” for a good trail to follow. We’d watch them walking and talking ahead. Every once in awhile, one of the boys would stop and stand alert, crouch down and signal for us to do the same. They’d pump their bb guns and fire a few rounds into a bush and then signal that is was safe for us to keep going. They’d scared off whatever bad guys that had been waiting to ambush us.

At some point in the walk, they’d get hungry and tired and we’d sit under a big creosote to picnic on salami and cheese or nuts and granola bars. That’s about as far as the trail went. From there, we’d begin to circle back toward the trailer, at some point ending up with us in the lead and the kids dragging along behind. The enthusiasm for the adventure had waned and they had reverted to simply three kids camping with their parents. We spent much more time getting back than going out, stopping every few minutes to let them catch up or to rest and get a drink of water. By the time we got back to camp, they acted like they had been dragged across the open desert for days, flopping into camp chairs and begging for someone to bring them a coke.

We got comfortable in our own chairs, thinking they’d be good to relax in one spot for at least an hour, but within minutes they were up and around again, digging through last nights campfire, looking for rabbits and birds in the bushes, and eventually back to being “bored with nothing to do.” Maybe we could play a game or build a rocket or pile these rocks up! We would have sworn they had been on the edge of death just a few minutes ago, but kids recover more quickly than their parents.

A “long” walk, a snack, a board game, lunch, another walk, a snack, a short foray into the wash on their own and then the sun started to set. I went inside the tent trailer to start getting dinner together while Dad and the kids built a campfire and dragged camp chairs around it.

When I came out to the fire, a bag of buns, a cylinder of Pringles, and a package of hot dogs in hand, they were all happily tending to a small fire in the fire pit they had dug out and surrounded with rocks the last time we were out here. Nikki was walking back and forth beside the fire relating the story of the ghost of a gold miner with pet goldfish that wandered the rocky desert chanting “Who’s going to feed my fish?” Dad and Tom were kneeling next to the fire poking it with sticks and finding little things to set on top of the logs to watch melt and burn. Jake, the youngest, was standing just at the edge of the firelight staring out into the darkness.

I set the hot dog fixings on one of the camp chairs and asked if anyone had seen the roasting sticks.

“They’re right here!” Tom said, reaching beside the fire to pick up the long wooden handled roasters his Dad had made the previous week.

Nikki threw herself to her knees beside her brother and reached for one of the sticks. Tom grabbed his stick and I slid a hot dog onto each. Dad helped them to keep them from burning up too quickly.

“Jake. You want a hot dog?” I called to my youngest, still watching the desert. No answer.

“Jake.”

“Jake!”

He just stood there, stock-still, looking. I walked over to him to get his attention. That kid always could get completely lost in his thoughts and not hear a word of the world around him. I walked up and knelt beside him, putting my hand across his back.

“Baby. Pretty out there, isn’t it?” I thought he might be watching the last of the sunlight seep out of the desert. He didn’t answer. He just stared out into the increasing darkness; his little brow furrowed.

“What ‘cha looking at, baby?”

Without looking away, “The black people.”

I laughed lightly and looked out into the darkness. “The black people?”

“Yeah.” He said in his tiny most serious voice.

“You mean the shadows? They do look like people.” Looking out at the bushes and trying to see what he saw.

“No. Shadows are under bushes.” He said, and then in a whisper, “The black people. They’re dancing.”

A chill washed over my body. What could he possibly be seeing? I turned his face to look at me and smiled nervously. “You have a clever imagination kiddo. Those are just shadows in the dark. The moon is coming up.” And I turned him toward the fire. “Let’s get a hot dog.”

He came with me but glanced back over his shoulder as we went. I refused to let his imaginings creep me out any more than they already had. I didn’t look back, even though the hair was standing up on the back of my neck.

As we joined the rest of the family, the kids were “sacrificing” a hot dog to the camping gods and Dad was dutifully putting blackened but cold hot dogs in buns because the kids said they were done and he wasn’t about to argue with them.

“Everything ok?” he asked as I reached for a hot dog to cook for Jake.

“Sure. He was just fascinated by the shadows.” I considered relating the story to him but thought better of it. I’ll tell it in the light of day, no need to freak everyone out with that. We had enough ghost stories already.

Jake sat beside me as I put a hot dog on the roaster and then helped hold and turn it as I kept it above the flames. When he said it was done, I put it on a bun, and he sat in a camp chair quietly munching it while staring out into the darkness.

Once we had finished eating and the kids had had enough of playing with the fire and singing silly songs, we all went inside the trailer to snuggle in for the night. Teeth brushed, jammas on, they all settled down in their sleeping bags, side by side, like three pigs in blankets. Everyone got a kiss goodnight and then Dad and I got into our sleeping bags on the other side of the trailer.

Once the lights were out, the giggling from the kid side commenced, followed by “Don’t touch me!” and “Mom!” and then more giggling.

“Ok, you guys. Settle down.” Dad’s business voice.

The ruckus quieted a little, picked up again, and then finally settled into quiet snores. They were asleep and I lay there next to my snoring husband, still wondering what in the world he could have been seeing out there.

Small Experiences Can Change Everything

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Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Funny the things that you remember so clearly from childhood. It was more than 40 years ago and I can still hear those words and see that small mouse-faced girl with the short-cropped brown hair. I don’t remember her name, but I can see the Kindergarten classroom and hear the snide tone of her voice. It’s my recurring nightmare to this day and a moment that shaped my life.

It was career week at my elementary school in 1978 and the assignment for Monday was to come dressed as one of our parents. If we didn’t already know, we were supposed to ask our parents where they worked and what they did at their job, and then come to school dressed as they would at work, stand up in front of the class and tell everyone about what we had learned about our parent’s jobs.

I went home with this assignment for career week full of excitement. I already knew what my Mom and my stepdad did for work. My stepdad, I called him my Ken, was a delivery driver. He drove a big truck delivering new washers and sofas to people’s houses. It was exciting for my brother and me when he would let us play in the back of the truck or pay us $5 to rub hard wax all over the wooden floor so that the big boxes would slide easily across it, but it didn’t seem to my five-year-old mind, like something exciting to tell my classmates about or to come to school dressed in jeans and a work shirt like him. My Dad did a similar job, delivering for drug stores, and although we always loved being picked up from school in his work truck and sliding around the back in crates while he drove us the one block to his house from school, I didn’t want to wear just plain clothes to school.

Yes, it was all about the clothes! I wanted to wear a costume! I wanted people in class to be impressed!

By the next day, my thoughts were focused on my mom. She worked at a bank and dressed up fancy (to my five-year-old senses) every day. She wore nice skirts and blouses, jackets and high heels. She always did her hair up nice and wore makeup. I thought she was the prettiest person in the world. I wanted to come to school dressed just like her!

I don’t remember if I worked this out with my mom. I know we were supposed to ask our parents about their work and get their help dressing as they did, and I’m sure my mom helped me with my hair (and a little makeup), but those specifics are lost to me today. I do remember thinking that I couldn’t wear her clothes because they were way too big, but I could wear my own nicest clothes and curl my hair like hers and that’s exactly what I did.

On the day of the assignment I came to school full of pride. I was wearing a frilly blue dress my mom had got me for a party we had gone to. I had white stockings on and shiny black shoes. My hair was curled, and I had a matching ribbon. And I was thrilled that my mom had let me wear just a little makeup like hers! I walked to school as if I were the queen of the world. I felt gorgeous and soon everyone would know how important and pretty my Mom was when I told them what her job was.

Parents dropping their kids off at school and kids that walked with older brothers and sisters were slowly trickling into the Kinder play area. I was too dressed up to play and waited at the door where we all would line up when the bell rang for class and soon it did. Other kids came running up to the concrete porch area in front of the door to line up behind me and another girl that was talking to me.

Most of the kids in my class were dressed up in crazy outfits that day. One I remember had a white apron on and baggy black pants with a paper hat on his head. His Dad worked at the meat counter at the grocery store. Another girl had her dad’s McDonald’s shirt on like a dress, belted at the waist, hanging almost to her ankles. One boy had on jeans and his dad’s old construction work boots. I had begun to worry. Everyone else was wearing something of their parents, no matter how big the clothes were. I was different.

That’s when I saw her look at me. That tall girl that always seemed like she was angry about something. Her snack wasn’t the right one. Someone took her pencil when it was clearly right on the floor next to her. Strangely, I don’t remember what she was wearing but I remember her walking straight up to me and looking at my dress. She gave that mousy, narrow-eyed look of a kid that’s sure you must be crazy, and said, “What are you supposed to be? Tinkerbell?”

I was instantly mortified. I had interpreted the assignment to dress up “LIKE” a parent. Everyone else took the assignment literally and wore their parent’s clothes.

I honestly can’t remember what my reply was. My memory has two versions. One is probably closer to what happened, and the other is what my older self wishes I had said.

I stammered an answer with tears in my eyes, face flushing red, “My mom dresses up nice to work at the bank.”

The other, more clever answer? “Yes. My Mom works at Disneyland and she IS Tinkerbell.”

It really doesn’t matter what I said, what was important was the “I really screwed up” feeling that stuck with me for the rest of my school life, my whole life if I’m honest. To this day, I am still afraid to stand out.

It’s embarrassing to admit that it still affects me, that I just can’t let it go. There’s no one to blame. She wasn’t a bad person; she was a child. Even as adults, people generally don’t say things to hurt others deliberately. She didn’t mean to cut me down or ruin my life, she just said what she was thinking, and I took it so personally, internalized it so much that it continued to direct my actions my whole life. That’s on me.

Strange to think that one incident can have such a strong impact on a life, but it did in my case. I can’t say that that girl’s remark about my costume choice changed me or if it just accentuated a feeling I already had. I had always been a sensitive and shy kid. Her remark was probably one of hundreds over my lifetime that shaped me. But should they have? Should anyone else’s opinion shape our choices, especially the opinions of people that we don’t really care to impress?

What could I have done differently? How could I have reacted differently? Was there an adult in my life that could have changed how I felt about it? I will never know.

Why did this memory come up? Because I want to go to the Renaissance Faire in the spring and I so desperately want to dress up! And you know what? I’m afraid to! Yes. I’m still afraid to dress up. I’m 46 years old and afraid to dress up and go to an event that is known for its costumed patrons! At what point does one get over these kinds of things?

How can I change this? How do I start doing things because I want to and they make me happy and not worry about what anyone else thinks? I do it in lots of different ways, but not with my clothes. I just can’t bring myself to stand out like that.

Brilliant Little Communicating Machines

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“Boo,” he kept saying, becoming more frustrated with me every moment. What could he possibly mean?

My young son had more thoughts, needs, and motivations than his tiny vocabulary and vocal muscles could pronounce. We had begun teaching him “baby signs” at six months old and by eighteen months he had a varied vocabulary that included many signs and several words. He could tell you when he was hungry, when he was wet, when he wanted to snuggle. He could ask for a specific “snack” and tell you that he wanted to play at Disneyland, not the park. He knew “mine,” “share,” and “go.” It was a little uncanny at times for someone so small to be so articulate.

I had learned about baby signs when he was born and was told it would help ease the frustration of the toddler years and so far, it was working like a charm except for today. Today he had a new need and was working on a new word to express it.

“Boo!” he shouted this time, pointing up at the shelf of video tapes, music CDs, stuffed animals, and other knickknacks. I moved to it, looking over each item, pointing to some.

“This?” I asked.

A small stomp of the foot. This had to be so frustrating. “No. Boo!”

“This?” I asked again, picking up a stuffed animal, a small blue bear that worked like a music box.

“No.” Shaking his tiny blonde head in sadness, then suddenly looking up with bright eyes. He had an idea. He put both his hands up and opened and closed his little fists several times, “Boo Koo!”

Suddenly it dawned on me. Blues Clues! He wanted to watch Blues Clues! He could see the light come on in my head as I reached for the correct video tape. He did is adorable “happy dance” hoping around on one foot and spinning toward the couch.

“Yes!” he said, another word he spoke so well. We were both relieved that the communication gap was bridged.

Putting the tape into the machine and turning on the TV, he points to the kitchen, “SNACK!” he says with both fists up, clenched to his body like he’s angry. That means something sweet, preferably some crackers with a few M&M’s in a bowl.

“Sure baby!” and I run to the kitchen to get us both something sweet while the Blues Clues title song starts to play.

Settling down next to him, snacks in our lap, I wonder at this little language learning machine. It’s a miracle really. Not only do they learn to hear and understand what we express, but they learn to form those words in their throat and mouth, and all the body language and tone along with it.

As Spock would say, “Fascinating.”

Thanks for the October writing prompts, Writers Write!

What Are Dreams Anyway?

I’ve always been a very vivid dreamer, but last night really took the cake. It’s been a long time since anyone had to wake me up because I was thrashing or crying in my sleep. Last night, even after my husband shook me awake and turned on the light, I continued to cry. Every time I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep, the images returned and my sobs continued. After a few minutes, I decided to get up and get a drink of water but when I came into the kitchen, where my dream was, it hit me again. I sat on the floor and sobbed for a few more minutes. It’s been a long, long time since a dream has held me that long.

I’d been dreaming about arguing with my son and his girlfriend. She had brought more friends over late in the evening and I really didn’t want all those people in my house. I just wanted to be alone, but when I told them to leave they couldn’t because it was pouring rain and the road was flooded.
When we came back into the kitchen, my Grandma was there. She was just standing there in the kitchen in a white shirt and pants, not smiling, not looking at anything. I looked at my husband who was standing next to me as if to ask if he saw her. When I looked back at her, she didn’t move or say anything. She looked more like she didn’t know she was there.

I reached out to touch her and could feel her. That’s when I fell to my knees in front of her and put my arms around her waist, like I did when I was little. I buried my face in her body and smelled her and started to cry. Nothing was said, just felt. I missed her so much. I wanted her to come back.
That’s when my husband shook me awake.

This morning, when I walked into the kitchen for my coffee, it flooded over me again. I pushed it away and went to my corner of the couch to read. Every time I think back on it I feel that sob rise in my throat and tears stream down my face.

My Grandma was a big part of my life growing up. The cookie giver, the keeper of secrets, the holiday maker. We lived with her and my Grandpa on and off growing up. And in college, I spent a lot of time with her watching Star Trek and hockey games on TV. We didn’t always agree and we did have some pretty heated arguments, but at the bottom of it all was her love for me. I never doubted that she would always be on my side in the end.
In 2006, she suddenly passed away from Pancreatic Cancer. It felt as if one week she was fine and the next we were all gathered in her home, watching her slip away. I cannot imagine what she went through, and I cannot even fathom what my Grandpa must have felt having to stand by and helplessly watch. I was sad to lose her too soon, but not overwhelmed with grief. I remember feeling guilty about that. I remember sitting beside her and holding her hand, feeling her small frailness in my own rough hands. I remember talking to her cheerfully about what her Great-Grandsons were up to, how much they were growing. And I remember her last day, telling her how much I loved her and that she need not worry about us, that we would all be ok, that we’d take care of each other just like she would, and that we’d all see her again soon on the other side with Jesus. I believed that with my whole heart and still do, so I have never mourned her loss. I have always felt as if she had gone on a long trip that I couldn’t go on yet and that we’ll be reunited some day. There is nothing to be sad about.

What I have mourned is what has happened to my family since she passed on. It’s so strange. What I once thought was a tight knit extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins has fractured into a million pieces, as if we were all held together by her quiet strength and courage alone. We haven’t been the same since that day and that is what I feel I lost.

I have never before had such a vivid dream of my maternal Grandmother. In life, she was small, seemingly quiet and unimposing. She was the kind of woman that told you exactly how she felt about things and what she believed was right, without stepping on toes. It was so sweet the way she told you what was what that you wanted to comply because…well…she said so. I’ve never met anyone like her and suddenly I miss her more than I ever have.
Dreaming of her standing there in my kitchen with my family has shaken me. What was it? Why was she there? Was it a warning? Was she trying to tell me something I needed to know? Was she trying to wake me up to something I didn’t know was missing? Why does our subconscious work this way?

And the most upsetting part for me is that I wrote this yesterday and reading it over today, I still can’t hold back the tears.


For my readers, if you find this story touching or relevant to you in any way, please like and share. I hate to beg, but the only way my words can spread to others is by your social media efforts. Thanks for your help!

Book Run Adventures!

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Books are one of my very favorite things in this world. I’m obsessed with having them, reading them, making notes in them, and writing about them. I wish I did more of the writing about them, but I’m working on that. You can’t just wish for something to happen; you have to make it happen! So here I am, writing about…something.

Since I’m still reading “Revenge of Analog” and he was talking about book stores, I got a bug about going to Barnes & Noble yesterday. That is no small feat since it’s 60 miles away and in the direction of the city. For those that don’t know Southern California, that means traffic. But…books!!

Our small town has three, good sized used book stores. They are nice to browse through from time to time, but they are old and crowded and not very organized. I wish we had a new book store that was closer, but alas, that’s another cost of living rurally.

The truth is, there is just nothing better for finding new fiction than browsing the aisles of a real bookstore! Amazon is great for finding a specific book I go looking for, like when I see one recommended by an article or a friend, but not much good for browsing. So, got in the truck and headed down the highway.

First obstacle. It usually takes me about an hour and half to get there, but as soon as I hit the main freeway the traffic stopped dead. Wondering what in the world could be going on, it dawned on me that I saw a sign the day before to expect delays due to Coachella Fest weekend. Oh man…this could take forever!

I sat there wondering for a moment if I should abandon the mission, but then traffic started to move again. Maybe it was over? It stopped again. It moved again. It wasn’t permanently stopped and, besides, I’d change freeways in a couple miles. It wouldn’t be so bad after that. I kept driving.

Getting closer to the change in freeways, I see another sign. “Road construction. One lane only.” Are you kidding me? I consider aborting the mission again. Nah, it’ll be fine after that. It’s only a couple more miles.

Nearly three hours later, I arrive at the bookstore. I’m stubborn and I had my heart set on book shopping. If I turned around, all the time would have been wasted!

After a breather and a bathroom break, I consider whether I should get a cup of the sweet-smelling coffee they are selling at the front of the store or not. A cup of coffee will need a sweet snack to go with it.

No! Must not deviate from healthy diet! I’ve already spent most of the day sitting on my butt. I can’t add several hundred calories to that. I head to the fiction aisles.

Going through the books on the shelf, I try to focus and start to read. No one is waiting for me. I have all the time in the world, but I don’t have that much money. I’m going to have to narrow down my choices. I can’t just throw books into the pile all willy nilly!

So many great books. How can one possibly choose? By cover, of course! One had praise from Stephen King on it. That’s good enough for me! One said “student” and “history” on the cover. Nice. One was called “Tell me no lies.” Romance. Like that!

I picked up “Wicked” and walked around with it for a while. My mom read it and loved it, so have a lot of my friends, but I know the story too well and although I’m sure I’d love it, I can’t buy them all so I decided to put it back.

I got “Bird Box” because the TV show looks awesome, but my family isn’t a fan of scary TV shows. I’ll read it and give myself nightmares. I passed by a table and saw “Rebecca.” Like the movie my husband loves so much? Yes please! And then, just as I was about to walk away, I saw “bookstore” and “Paris.” I picked it up and read the back.

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“literary apothecary”

“prescribes novels for the hardships of life”

“mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal is himself”

I’ve always dreamed about opening a bookstore of my own. One of those, if I were rich, kind of dreams. I imagine a warm meeting place where people can hang out and talk books and music, meet people, drink coffee. Maybe some used books could be shared. Children come there to find new magic. It’s a beautiful image. This book was for me. I think he must have come right out of the book and handed it to me. If this were a movie, it might have fallen off the shelf at my feet all by itself, so I’d be sure to find it.

Six books. As I made my way to the front of the store to buy them, a woman asked if I needed a basket. “No thanks! When the arms are full, it’s time to go!” She laughed. Book people know the struggle. Man, I wish I could WORK at a bookstore.

At the front of the store, I found a line about six people deep with one cashier. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to stand here and read this little darling while I wait, like eating the chips while you wait at the checkout because you didn’t eat lunch before you left for the grocery store.

I read twenty pages while I waited. I fell in love instantly. It’s just that beautiful.

Leaving the store, I realized I was hungry for more than words and that I was right across the street from one of my favorite places, Panera. I put my books in the back seat and drove over.

Ok…Southern California…it took me ten minutes to drive across the street. Really. What are all these people doing here? Whenever this happens, I’m reminded why we moved to the desert. Yes, I may not have a bookstore to hang out in, but at least it doesn’t take me ten minutes to drive less than a mile.

Once I parked and got my lunch, I went back to the truck, moved the seat back, got myself all situated with the new love of my life and started to read. It was a beautiful hour. I can’t wait to read the rest of it, but I’ll have to wait a little. I’m about 200 pages from the end of The Brothers Karamazov and about three quarters into “Revenge of Analog.”

Before I headed home, I checked to see if there was a good podcast to listen to. Tim Ferriss interviewing Neil Gaiman! Can this day get any better?

Writing THAT Book

Something dawned on a me a while back. I’m scared. No. I’m terrified of finishing it and putting it out there. Why? Because people didn’t believe me when it happened and that killed me emotionally more than what happened, especially when some of those people were very close to me or should have been.

When it happened, there were people (other than the DA) that thought I was hiding something. The police don’t arrest completely innocent people. There had to be something going on that led them to think it was me. That’s what I thought too. It’s why I hid nothing from the detectives that served the search warrant and ultimately arrested me. I waived my “right to have an attorney present during questioning” because I believed whole-heartedly that you could not incriminate yourself if you didn’t do anything wrong. That was naïve. They used every word I said to build a case against me.

I thought it was just the police being overzealous. It’s not evil. It’s just the way things go sometimes. A mistake that will be cleared up after a while. A year later, it wasn’t cleared up until I paid a big lawyer a lot of money to scare them into letting go. Like big ill-trained dog with a bone, I had to get a big stick to get the bone away.

And then it got worse. My church, some friends, and strangers doubted my authenticity and said so. Right as my world started to slip away from me, instead of throwing me a rope, they turned their backs and kicked dirt at me as a fell. My lawyer warned me it would happen and he was right.

I’ll admit that one of my biggest problems is self-consciousness. I feel that I need to have the approval of others, kudos from everyone I can find. I feed off it. I shouldn’t, but I do. To walk around knowing that people think of ill of me is the worst thing I can think of. Being accused of a violent crime was horrible enough, but then people didn’t believe that I was innocent. I didn’t choose to be in the position. I did absolutely nothing to be there. It was just plain circumstances. It happened to me and I got through it.

Here I am, years later, writing it all out and reliving each painful day. And it turns out that writing it isn’t nearly as hard as offering it to the world…voluntarily. This time I’m publicly bringing it on myself. Not only will my family see it and know the details of my experience, some for the first time, but strangers all over the internet will be able to read it for themselves. If people close to me had a hard time believing me, how will strangers react? And how will I deal with that? That’s what is slowing me down right now.

Why am I doing this to myself? Because the truth must be told whether or not people listen or believe. I can’t let other people’s biases, their opinions, stop me from telling my story. I’m doing it for myself, to heal. Not only do I need to become a better story teller to make that happen, I need to strengthen my defenses to deal with the responses to it. Back when it happened, I had to focus on getting through. I had a young marriage, young children, and finances to deal with. It was a like a big meal. I ate and that’s all I could do. Only now am I ready to digest it and grow stronger from the nourishment.

It will be slow going for me, but I’ve learned than any progress is better than none. My story will be told in the best way I can tell it.

“Out of the Blue” Chapter 2 – Go to Sleep

Happy Friday! From now on, every Friday morning I’ll be posting roughly 1700 words of my book. I’m planning on self-publishing it, but I could use some help and “accountability” in getting it edited and ready to publish. What better way than to post it here? I’m sure you’ll be able to spot any errors or give me some feedback! Use the comments to say your piece. I’d really appreciate any constructive criticism. 

I hate to be a beggar, but please share the post if you like it.

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Sometimes looking back through old calendars and journals, I get sad. I’m doing it because I’m trying to better remember the week before I was arrested so that I can write about our life up to that point. Memories are fuzzy, but journals…well, they leave the cold details of the dark place I was entering at the time right out there for anyone to find. I want to burn them so no one can see. But I also want this story to get out there, all of it, so I trudge through and then try to write it out so that it looks happier than it does on paper. So much drama in my heart and on my mind. I’m not sure I want to remember and share it.

I was in the thick of the toddler years of defiance. My boys were becoming their own persons and making sure that I knew it at every step. On top of that, they had totally different personalities.

My older son was 3½ years old, strong willed and full of questions, testing everything he could find around him, curious about the world around him. He was inquisitive, happy, talkative, and always wanting to try things.

My younger son had just turned two. Although he had few words, he knew what he wanted and always seemed to be thinking about something. What everyone around him was doing was of no interest usually, unless it was his Dad. He always wanted to know what Dad was doing.

My journals are filled with what we did each day and grumblings about them not listening to me, or that they wouldn’t go to sleep, worries about Nikki, and my family. I had been taking anti-anxiety medication for about a year and wanted to come off it. It dulled all my senses, made me sleepy and added even more pounds than my birth control pills. I still wasn’t happy while taking them but at least I wasn’t angry anymore. There was this nagging feeling that I really didn’t need them. I just needed to catch up on sleep and then I’d be able to control my emotions again. I had tried coming off them, fell into an angry depression, and then reluctantly started taking them again hoping I hadn’t done too much damage to the relationships with my husband and children. There was much more work to do before I could come off those drugs. I needed help. I didn’t feel therapy was working. Feeling like I belonged at church helped more, and it was free.

I didn’t like the person I was. I felt like I was just getting along. I had friends and activities but no goals, no vision of the future. In hindsight, I wish I had realized at the time what was going on. I was right where I should have been, focused on raising my children. I kept going backwards in my mind, wondering what I was doing and where I was going. I was being a Mom of small children. I fully enjoyed being just Mom, why couldn’t I see that and relax into it? My children seemed to be happy…unless they were going to bed, which was when I had the most time to write in my journal. I did it to distract myself from the antics going on around me. I refused to let them cry themselves to sleep and they refused to go to sleep without me. So there I sat with my journal, my bible, and my book, trying not to let myself get angry at the two little ones unwillingly ending their day.

Evenings went something like this. After dinner, we’d begin our “routine”. We’d say goodnight to Dad, sister, and grandma. We’d enthusiastically climb up the stairs to pick out books to read. One for each boy. And one for me, usually a longer book that I wanted to share with the boys. We’d brush our teeth and get into our PJ’s, get a drink of water, go to the bathroom, and snuggle down on the bottom bunk together. There was usually one boy on each side of me, kind of picaresque like. We’d read “Where The Wild Things Are” and “Curious George” for the hundredth time, mimicking the characters and acting out scenes. Jake would “read” the book himself, turning pages and telling us what each person said in his tiny baby words. Once those books were read, the boys would get into bed, one at each end of the bottom bunk. Neither one wanted to sleep on the top. It was too scary! We’d dismantle the bunk beds soon and never put them up again. They only used it as a jungle gym and it was just a matter of time before one of them got seriously hurt anyway. I’d sit in my rocking chair (the one my Grandma had and gave to me when I got my first apartment on my own), open the book I’d chosen and start to read. They loved any book I’d read out loud, mostly because it let them stay awake that much longer. We read things like “Little House on the Prairie”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, and “Pinocchio”. Sometimes I’d have to stop reading to fix a blanket or separate little feet from kicking. I’d read a chapter, close the book, and then the antics began.

I could feel my temper start to rise every night. One wanted the window open, one wanted it closed. One wanted to talk and wiggle himself to sleep and the other needed complete silence to settle down. We tried going to bed one at a time and it failed miserably. They didn’t like to be separated either. I wish I’d had more patience back then. I wish I had just taken a deep breath and let it go, but as I sat there writing a bit in my journal and trying to read the bible passage in my devotional, I wondered if they’d ever go to sleep. Many nights I just gave up and laid down on the floor next to them or in bed with them and went to sleep, only to wake up a while later and crawl into bed with my husband. I desperately wanted a whole night’s sleep in one bed. I really didn’t get that until years later. Looking back, I’m glad we slept this way. It was crazy, but it became a routine that worked out well for all of us. I laugh thinking about sitting there in my rocking chair. My memory tells me that I was frustrated from time to time but generally peaceful about it. My journals show a different picture!

Zombie or Treasure

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My Brother and Cousin 1980

The story goes that my Grandpa Roy, my Dad’s Dad, gave me this bear. The oldest picture I have of him is from 1980, but I think I got him before that, probably around 1978 because I remember being around five or six years old when I got him for Christmas.

He was under the tree at my Grandpa’s house in Anaheim, the house with the huge Magnolia tree in the front yard that always seemed to have one flower at the very top. When we came into the house on Christmas Day, I saw him under the tree and secretly hoped he was for me instead of my little brother.

We ate cookies and played with the dogs for what seemed like an eternity. Why do adults make children wait to open presents on holidays? Is it to torture them or teach them patience? All I know is that it’s a practice I gave up the moment I became a parent. In fact, I did it before that. Any time I had the chance to get a gift for a kid, I’d always find some way to let them open it as soon as they saw it much to the dismay of the parents I knew. I just never could see the point of delaying the inevitable and besides, I never couldn’t wait to see their joy when they opened them.

We had finally gathered around my Grandpa’s Christmas tree to exchange and open gifts and I made a bee line to that bear with the big red ribbon around his neck. My Grandpa, that great big man with jet black hair, soft smile, and giant hands, took me in his arms and told me quietly that teddy bears were invented to guard children from nightmares. He explained that this one was a “pot-bellied bear” and was especially good at it. He was trained to sleep all day long so that he could stay up all night and make sure nightmares never came near his friends. I remember taking it very seriously and I named him Edward. He hasn’t spent a night away from me since that day.

As a child, I always had very vivid nightmares. They ranged from vague feelings of abandonment to horribly detailed graphic dreams of death and fear. Dreams have a way of being so terrifying when you’re wrapped in the darkness of a quiet bedroom but seem rather silly when described out loud in the daylight, but I’ll do my best to describe the one recurring nightmare that has always terrified me. It even comes around today from time to time.

I wasn’t sure what triggered it, but I could always tell I’d have this nightmare before I went to sleep. I’d get ready for bed with an uneasy feeling in my stomach. Once I was snuggled into my bed, my Mom would come and tuck me in with a kiss and turn off my light and that’s where it would start to snowball into night terrors.

I’d do everything a kid could do to stay awake, talk to my animals, sing to myself, get up for water and a trip to the bathroom. Sometimes I’d even spur myself to walk out into the livingroom and to talk to my mom. I’d ask for a snack or maybe another kiss goodnight.

I never could understand why my parents were so angry and frustrated about my nocturnal wanderings. I swore to myself that when I became a parent, I’d always be understanding about why a kid wouldn’t want to go to sleep. But then once I was a parent myself, I found out it wasn’t that easy. I could easily understand my children’s nighttime fears, but I was so tired myself that it was hard to consistently respond in sympathy. These are the things we learn as we experience life!

After numerous attempts to get out of going to sleep, including sleeping in my little brother’s bed, I’d reluctantly climb back into my single bed, pull my Raggedy Ann and Andy sheets up to my neck, put my back against the wall an attempt to keep my eyes open until sunrise.

It was always in vain. Eventually, that nervous feeling would grow and fill my throat and ears. My room walls would fade and my bedroom furniture would push away from the center of the room. I’d find myself walking a circle around the middle of my bedroom floor with my dresser and writing desk growing beside me “Wonderland” style. The stark fear I felt was maddening.

I can’t say what I was afraid of. There was nothing overtly frightening in this dream, just a feeling of dread that overwhelmed me. I’d begin to take a few more steps around my room when the floor in the middle would drop out into darkness and I’d fall into it in slow motion. That’s when the terror would hit me and I’d wake up in my bed shaking. That was the end of it. You’d think I’d sit up the rest of night or call out for my parents, but I never did. After I woke, the fear would be gone. I’d roll over in my bed and go right to sleep wondering what in the world was so wrong.

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Me and My Brother 1985

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Camping 1986

My Grandpa must have been told about these nightmares and had thought to give me the bear in the hope of helping. It worked most nights. Most nights, I’d get into my bed and face the wall, Edward the Bear would face the room, and I’d fall asleep easily. Some nights, though, the nightmares would come back, and I’d wake up and scold him for sleeping on the job. He always looked so remorseful that I forgave him. I’m sure he had perfectly reasonable excuses, though he never tried to explain them to me.

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College Dorm Room 1992

That bear has never left my side. I remember my mother asking me if I’d keep him even when I grew up and got married. I proudly told her I’d never marry anyone that didn’t love Edward as much as me. He’s even went on camping trips with me when I was kid, including “Outdoor Education” camp when I was a sixth grader.

Michelle and Snicker napping 1994

My own apartment 1994

I’m in my forties now and these days I rarely have nightmares like I used to, but sometimes they come back. I’ve learned what triggers them though, anxiety. When events and worries overwhelm me, the nightmares return. I’ve even had that same falling down dream a few times in recent years, but Edward has always been there. I’m a side sleeper and I’ve grown accustomed to having him under my arm for support.

His name was changed from Edward the Bear to Edward T. Bear in my twenties but years later, when my young sons asked what the “T” stood for, I quickly renamed him Tiberius after Captain Kirk. They approved heartily. There was a time when I thought I would share that bear with my boys, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. He’s a part of me.

Thomas in Bed Serious 04-05-01

Sharing With My Baby Boy 2001

The past few years, he’s really started to show his wear. He has no mouth at all any more. His neck is wobbly from all the stuffing he’s lost from holes I sewed up with needle and thread. His ears no longer stand up and his eyes are scratched and dull. I considered putting him up on a shelf instead of sleeping with him under my arm to protect him, but I can’t. Ever since the Toy Story movies, I can’t bear to put him up no matter how threadbare he becomes. I tired to think of a way to reinforce his skin a bit and came up with patches. Every time he gets a hole, I put on a new patch. Each patch is sewn over the side of another patch, since he original fabric is so thin. It’s working. He’s beginning to look like a patchwork quilt.

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Today!

I love that stinky bear. We’ve been through a lot. Growing up. Boyfriends. Break-ups. New jobs. Marriage. Babies. And now my babies growing up. He’s been covered in my tears, listens attentively, and never judges or gives bad advice. It’s crazy, I know, but that bear goes with me when I die. I can’t leave him behind.

 

“Out of the Blue” Chapter 1

Happy Friday! From now on, every Friday morning I’ll be posting roughly 1700 words of my book. I’m planning on self-publishing it, but I could use some help and “accountability” in getting it edited and ready to publish. What better way than to post it here? I’m sure you’ll be able to spot any errors or give me some feedback! Use the comments to say your piece. I’d really appreciate any constructive criticism. 

I hate to be a beggar, but please share the post if you like it. Each Friday story post will have a link back to this one for those who want to start at the beginning.

Subscribe with your email if you’d like to be notified when the next part is posted!

To start reading this story from the beginning, click HERE.


Mother’s Day Dedication

I’d been attending church for about nine months. Today my children would be dedicated to God on Mother’s Day, with my Husband, Mother-in-Law, and Grandparents in attendance.

I started going to this church at the invitation of a friend. She had been going there for years and they were trying something new. The church was a bit of a drive for me, but it was only once a week and, being a stay at home mom with young children, I enjoyed the time alone in the car. I hadn’t grown up going to church. I considered myself a Christian. I believed in God and I had an idea about who Jesus was. I had a bible and had read some of it from time to time over my life.

I have two memories of church when I was a child. The first was a Lutheran school I went to for the 1st grade. I don’t remember why I went there instead of a public school like the rest of my life but I remember being dropped off in front of the chapel on Wednesday’s before school started and needing to be quiet as I came in. The second was “Released Time Education” in the 4th grade. I signed up to go because it was once a week during math class. I hated math, so being sent to a small trailer off school property (separation of church and state, you know) with a group of kids from other classrooms was a treat. There was a Catholic and a Protestant one. I went to the Protestant one. I learned the Lord’s prayer and got a tiny bible to keep. That was the extent of my Christian education.

So here I was meeting a good friend at a Baptist church to find out what this new thing they were going to try was. It turned out to be life changing. Services were to be held in the gym instead of the sanctuary. There was a band, a coffee shop in the back, and bean bags in the back rows. The pastor rode in on his Harley. His wife sang with the band. He was passionate and loud. I heard “Can I get an amen from ya!” several times. The people were happy, excited, and outwardly worshiping, hands out-stretched with tears in their eyes. I was intrigued and looked forward to coming back the following week.

As the weeks went on I became more and more comfortable there. Other friends of ours came to Sunday services a few times when they could. I helped in the nursery once a month. I joined a small group bible study on Wednesday nights and joined the ladies for coffee and desserts afterward every week. I felt a part of the family. I began to really fall in love with Jesus and read my bible more and more. I craved to know more about the Lord. The depression I struggled with throughout my adult life, and really fallen into since my children were born, began to abate. I felt like this was what I had been missing, this was the help my heart was searching for. When the pastor announced there would be a group baptism at the church the next month, I felt led to do it which terrified me. I’m not an outgoing person and it was very difficult for me to stand up there in front of the whole congregation and be so publicly baptized, but I felt it was something I had to do, something the Lord wanted me to do, a public announcement of my faith, of my being adopted into the Christian family. I had never felt so happy and proud to be a part of something. Looking back, I wish I had made a bigger deal about it. I wish I had a picture!

I typically attended Sunday services alone. My husband usually picked up his daughter from her Mother’s house on Sunday morning, so coming with me was not an option. My sons were very young and couldn’t sit through the service just yet. The church did have a childcare option, but I was not comfortable leaving them there. They weren’t happy to leave my side and stay with strangers and our parenting philosophy was not one to force them to get used to it. We were still fully in the bonding stages of early parenting and it felt wrong not to honor their desire to stay with a parent. Since my husband was already occupied with picking up his daughter, the boys were happy to go with him. It became a Sunday tradition. I would leave for church and they would get ready to go with Dad. On the way home, they would usually pick up donuts and I would be home just after they were. But it wasn’t always the happiest day of the week for us. There was quite a bit of stress.

My step-daughter spent the rest of her Sunday decompressing. Our home and her Mother’s were very different. Parenting styles, atmosphere, expectations were all different. At her Mother’s she only had to contend with one other person. At our house, there were five of us. She was always excited to see us, but I’m sure it was a rough transition. She was nine years old and was diagnosed as high-functioning autistic when she was two. The personality doesn’t do well with radical change and she had quite a bit of change to deal with every week. We tried to make the transition as easy as possible, giving her space to relax and unwind, but with two little brothers that were excited to see her and school looming the next day, there were things we had to push and it didn’t always go as smoothly as we planned.

It’s one of the things that still weighs heavily on my heart. I hope she knows we always tried to do the best we could. Parenting is not easy. There are no directions, handbooks, or quick fixes. There are just too many variables. And we’re all growing up at the same time but in different stages. Life is messy.

We had joined households with my Mother-In-Law just before my youngest child was born. I can’t say we moved in with her or that she moved in with us. We found a big house that all of us could fit in and we shared expenses and duties. It was a good move for all of us. She was no longer alone and could live more comfortably. And we were happy to have a third adult in the house, always willing to lend a hand watching the babies or driving someone somewhere. It was a win-win situation for everyone. She attended another church in our neighborhood that she had always gone to, so she was in on the usual Sunday Morning Excitement.

This Sunday would be different. It was Mother’s Day and my church was honoring the newest mothers in the group by having a Dedication Ceremony. Everyone was asked to be there and to invite extended family and friends to witness. My Mother-In-Law was happy to skip her church service to be there. And my Grandparents drove an hour and half to be there that Sunday morning. They weren’t church going people, but they were Christians. My Grandmother had been raised Catholic (something I didn’t know at the time), so she was excited to see some kind of Christian Ceremony in the family again. It still makes me smile to think of her proud face that day.

My husband had arranged to pick up his daughter on Saturday night instead of Sunday morning, so she could attend. I had to get our sons up, dressed, and out the door by 8am, which was a feat in itself. They were three and two years old and definitely had their own way and pace of doing things. The big change for them was that I wanted them to wear something other than a camouflage shirt and black rubber boots. The very idea was insulting to them. I was just a young mom trying to show those church people I had it all together and had clean and tidy children. Couldn’t they cooperate, just this once?
The ride to the church was about thirty-five minutes long, so my young sons had already been confined for that long, an eternity for little boys. When we arrived, they sprang from the car and ran toward the grass in front of the church. Dad watched over them as they made circles around a fountain and ran up and down the grass chasing their older sister who always seemed happy to have the attention. We were attempting to wear out the wiggles a bit before we went inside. I met my Grandparents in the parking lot and told them how happy I was to have them there. I’d always been close to my Grandparents.

Five minutes before the service was to begin, we rounded up the children and walked into the auditorium. We found the place transformed into a perfectly beautiful, feminine paradise. Instead of rows of chairs there were tables draped in soft cloth of different pastels. Each table was clearly decorated for the ladies; flowers, confetti, a small gift for each mother at the table. We came in and sat down, taking up a whole table with our family and friends. As we settled in the music began.

The band was wonderful. All the kids loved the live music. Especially my oldest son. He’s always been drawn to music and he thoroughly enjoyed being able to see each of the band members play up close, with his ears covered by his hands, of course, “just in case it got too loud,” he said. The music lasted about fifteen minutes before it quieted down and the service began. As the pastor began to speak, I noticed all the other mothers in the auditorium sitting in chairs holding toddlers on their knees or standing quietly in the back rocking their babies while they listened. I know I wasn’t the only Mom praying that the children would remain calm during the ceremony or that the pastor would understand a mother’s plight and make it short, but I felt like I was waiting for a miracle. I knew my step-daughter would sit and listen for as long as the pastor talked. She was older, in school, and already a good listener and one to wait patiently. My younger son promptly fell asleep on Dad’s shoulder. Being two must be nice. Tired? Just crawl into someone’s lap and snooze! My older son was not one to sit still or be quiet when he was not interested in the subject at hand. At first, he fidgeted with the things on the table. He carefully opened a box of candy, separated each of the colors, and ate them all one by one, telling me all about it in his tiny little voice. He asked several times what the pastor was saying and when the music would start again.

The pastor talked for about twenty minutes. Not long for a church service but for a little boy and his mother, forever! My son began to fidget. Grandma tried to entertain him a bit with some crayons she had in her purse. Grandmas! God bless them! My son really wanted to hear more music and I told him they would play soon but if he couldn’t be quiet we’d have to go outside. His little face brightened, “Ok!” That wasn’t the reaction I was looking for but just as he said it, the pastor asked all the families to come to the front for the Dedication Ceremony. My son hadn’t heard that part. When we got up he assumed we were going outside, exactly what he wanted to do. He was so confused when we walked to the front of the assembly and began to cry as the pastor began talking about each family. I knelt next to him and held him close, whispering that this is the part I was waiting for, right afterward the music would start. He just stood there looking irritated. My younger son, held by his Dad, rubbed his eyes in sleepy confusion.
The pastor spoke of each family. His kind and encouraging words for each of us and the loving prayers of the whole church lifted my spirits. I felt connected. I could feel the Holy Spirit in this room full of His children. I felt invincible. Each of the boys received a small New Testament with the date and the name of the church written inside. They loved them. Small books with so many pages they could hold in their little hands. I still have them tucked away in their baby things.

We left the church and headed straight home. There was no going out for lunch for this family. That would be a recipe for disaster. The boys had sat still long enough. But Dad stopped at the donut store on the way back and we all met at the house for donuts and coffee to celebrate. Sitting around the dining room table with my family happily munching away on donuts, my sons and their “coffee” (otherwise known as sippy cups of chocolate milk). I couldn’t be happier. Everything was as it should be.

Looking back now, years later, I realize something about where I was spiritually. I believe I was in love with the church, the experience, the show, not the Lord. I was trying to fit in with a group of people I believed were “doing it right,” not being the person God made me. My focus was not on the Lord or leaning on Him for support. A lot has changed over the years. There have been many trials and some not insignificant pain. This same month would begin nine months of intense stress I never saw coming, but I know the Lord did. I know now that He was building up my defenses for something that would change my whole worldview. Like giving birth once you’re pregnant, this trial had to happen. There was no way to stop it. I was about to learn some very serious life lessons and I know He was right there, holding my hand as it happened and we worked through it together.

Read the next chapter HERE.

“Out of the Blue” Prologue Part 2

Ok…so I got a little side tracked. It’s been weeks since I posted Part 1 and it is NOT Friday, but I do the best I can with what God gave me.


Happy Friday! From now on, every Friday morning I’ll be posting roughly 1700 words of my book. I’m planning on self-publishing it, but I could use some help and “accountability” in getting it edited and ready to publish. What better way than to post it here? I’m sure you’ll be able to spot any errors or give me some feedback! Use the comments to say your piece. I’d really appreciate any constructive criticism. 

I hate to be a beggar, but please share the post if you like it. Each Friday story post will have a link back to this one for those who want to start at the beginning.

Subscribe with your email if you’d like to be notified when the next part is posted!

To start reading this story from the beginning, click HERE.


The day to call on my summons came and went. When I woke up the next day at 4 am, I stumbled to my coffee pot and picked up my book. I sat reading and waking up until 5 am when I went to make a note about something I read. That’s when I remembered I was supposed to call about jury duty! I sat down and called that minute and found out I had to be there at noon. And that is when I started to feel sick.

There was no getting out of it. I had to show up. Maybe they’d just let us sit there all day and then send us home. That’s happened to me before. I had to call the women’s center that I volunteer for and tell them I wouldn’t be there. They’d have to find someone to replace me for the day. I got ready to go and headed out the door feeling very queasy. All the memories started coming back one at a time.

The courthouse here is much smaller than the one in the city. It was pleasant, obvious where I needed to be, and air conditioned! I brought my knitting. I figured we’d be sitting around doing nothing for a while and I really can’t read when I can hear people talking. We were shown a video about how great being on a jury is and how it is our duty to perform this task as a citizen. Everyone seemed gloomy about being there. Some people knew each other. Some had been there before. It’s a small town, so you’re bound to see someone you know. I didn’t, but I knitted away. I expected to be there for a few hours and not be called. About an hour later we were all moved to the courtroom. I hadn’t been in a courtroom in ten years and this one was so much smaller than the last one. The judge talked and talked. The woman next to me said the judge said this every time. They went over a bunch of questions and then we took a break. When we got back, several people were excused and I was called to replace one. We all answered questions about ourselves, out loud, in front of everyone. I was terrified. I’ve never been much of a public speaker and this was ridiculous.

Then it got worse. They asked if I’d ever been accused of a crime and would that influence how I performed my duty. I had to tell them I had been accused in the past and that the case had been dropped. I tried to form coherent sentences about why I believed I was capable of being fair on a jury because of my experience, not despite it. After all, I knew that both sides of an argument can be wrong, even the accusing authority. The prosecution was required to prove that someone was in the wrong, not the defense. I thought it came out well. I wish I could have recorded it and heard myself. I have a feeling I think like I’m a lot clearer and steady that I actually am. My own experience as a defendant years ago brought that to my attention. The judge moved on to other prospective jurors.

A few minutes later, another question made my stomach lurch and compelled me to raise my hand and speak. I don’t know if you had positive experiences with speaking up in a classroom when you were a child, but I did not. I’ve always been a bit shy and nervous which has always attracted the henpecking that children do in school. I was sick in class once when we were required to read our essay out loud. I never lived that down. All the acting classes and performances I did through high school never cured me of my fear of the classroom situation. That has stuck with me until this day. I’m not afraid of public speaking, I’m happy to stand up in front of a group and answer questions or perform, but put me in a situation that looks like a classroom, no matter how compelling an argument I think I have, no matter how much I desire to speak up and tell people what I think about the topic, if I have to raise my hand and speak, forget it. I shake from fear and feel sick. Deep down I desperately believe I have something important to add but just cannot bring myself to put myself back in that classroom situation. And here I was, in a courtroom, as a prospective juror, with a lawyer asking the whole group a question and I felt passionate about my answer, sure that my answer needed to be heard.

“Does anyone here feel that if they disagree with the law in this case that they couldn’t give a verdict of guilty?”

I shook as I began to raise my hand and realize that no one else was volunteering to answer. I would be asked to speak my mind. It all happened in slow motion. At the same time as I was raising my hand, I was trying to formulate my words so I would be clearly understood. I’d already heard the sentiment, “Well, I may not agree with the law, but it is the law and if I’m judging someone whether they broke it or not, I’d have to say he did.” The question had been asked in a few different ways. I was a little confused at times. It didn’t seem to be presented clearly. I felt led to answer in a certain way, like he was fishing for that answer. The last way he said it I felt was clear enough for me and I had to answer.

“I’m not speaking of this case specifically, but in general. If I don’t believe a law is just or right, I cannot convict someone of breaking it. After all, it used to be against the law to let black people eat in a white restaurant.” The lawyer just nodded and moved on to the next question. I knew at that moment I would not be on that jury. As I sat there another hour, I heard over and over again from almost all the other jurors, they may not think the law is right, but it must be there for a reason. I couldn’t believe it.

At the end of the day, several people had been dismissed from jury duty but I remained. We were all asked to come back the next day to continue picking a jury for this trial. As I drove home that afternoon, I was proud of myself. I had stood up and said what I believed was right and I wasn’t summarily dismissed. Maybe, just maybe, the system wasn’t as corrupt as I imagined.

The next morning, I got up and got ready for the day. I was now sure I’d be on this jury. It’d be my first one and I was looking forward to it. I readied myself for a long day in court. One hour later, I was driving home angry and disappointed. I had been the first to be dismissed that day. Once again, I had rearranged my schedule and worked in time to “do my civic duty” and the court disrespected my time and effort, called me in so that they could dismiss me immediately. It was ridiculous.

Driving home, I grumbled and complained to myself. All those people in that courtroom would really uphold and convict a fellow citizen on a law they believed to be unjust? Really? If any of them thought for one minute about what they said, they’d see what they were doing. These same people would think it was a shameful response of the Nazi soldiers to say, “I was only doing my duty, as I was ordered to do.” They’d hold those people responsible. How far will they go? If a lawmaker in our country made it illegal for a segment of people in this country to hold a job and be paid, would you go to court and convict him of trying to support his family? Where would this “I’m just following the law.” thinking g o? I’m seriously shaking just thinking it through again and tapping it out on the screen.

When I got home, I did what all good Americans do these days, I posted on Facebook. I know. It’s not monumental but it’s all I could think to do. I did get some positive response from it. Some of my friends understood what I was trying to say, but the percentage was pretty low and I wonder if I made public poll how many people would agree with me. I’m thinking it would be even lower.

And that’s why I’m here typing this story out. Once again, I began to wonder why I should even bother making that statement, answering the way I did. I’d never be put on a jury if I did. But what if one person in that room heard me and thought about what I said? What if one person read my post afterward and reconsidered their position about “following the law”? What if more people do the same thing by standing up for our constitutional rights and being the biggest check and balance in our justice system? To paraphrase Arlo Guthrie, “Why it may even start a movement! And most of you are too young to know what a movement is!”

This story is just the beginning. I’ve always felt that someday I’d write my experience out for the world to see. It was painful and life changing for me and, until now, it hurt too much to rub those wounds and remember, to reflect on what happened and what could have happened. But this last experience with the justice system has finally encouraged me to take off that bandage and look at the old scar. The wound has healed. There is a scar to remind me of what happened and I refuse to cover it up and hide it any longer.

Next – “Out of the Blue” Chapter 1