I picture the scene often.
It’s not that hard, really.
“The defense would like to call the next witness to the stand…”
I see me standing. I adjust my black blazer.
I do not smile.
I do not blink.
I raise my right hand, palms out. I show the lines traced into my skin, the same tributaries deciphered by palm readers at the Renaissance Festival. Left hand goes on the Bible.
“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?”
It’s almost as if it’s real, you know? I mean, I’ve never actually been inside an actual court room, but in my head, the scenario feels real. There’s cherry paneled walls that make the room seem older and darker and, I dunno, more legal.
Is that a thing? More legal?
There’s the wooden rows for the wooden jurors that sit with wooden faces. Their eyebrows are chiseled into consternation. Their mouths are sculpted sullen. Seriousness is carved into their set jawlines, their stares, their sideburns.
The presiding judge is Judge Judy.
I get my court room inspiration from the shows and movies I’ve watched, like Miracle on 34th Street, but the remake, with the same girl that acted in Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda. The courtroom in Making a Murderer stands out, too. And that OJ Simpson drama. You know that one, right? The show they recently made, with that guy that now plays Randall in This Is Us. It was good.
The questions begin.
Can you tell the jury what you saw….?
I mean, it’s not just me that saw these things. I can’t sit here on this stand with everyone staring and pretend to be special. Being a witness isn’t unique. We’ve all seen these scenes play out in other people’s lives. But we don’t always know what we’re seeing until it’s over, when the mess has been made and we’re trying to help pick up the pieces of a broken mirror. The shards sting. The cracks show. We bend down and try to put it all back together again.
But maybe it’s irreparable. The pieces of broken glass lay shattered on the ground, reflecting the truth right back at you as you look down.
Lindsay, did you see it happen…?
It depends on what we’re talking about here. Because there's a lot of bad things that happened to a lot of good people over the years.
Can you rephrase the question?
You mean, did I see my friend’s heartbreak coming? Did I see the sadness?
Did I picture the space widening?
Did I see it all ending?
Did I see the pictures taken down from the office? The vacant leather chair? The faded smell from their house, their perfume, their car air freshener? The lights turned off. The closed door.
Did I see the signs? The loss? The mental illnesses that robbed joy and stole happiness without a second thought? The idle hands, the broken ties, the empty bottles, the missed calls?
The accident? The flashing lights? The vehicle crumpled like an accordion?
Did I see onesies that went unworn, fuzzy gray sonograms shoved into drawers, back with the hopes that no longer get to see the light of day?
Did I see dashed dreams and empty beds?
Did I see black suits and tear-soaked faces and memorial flowers—circles of lilies and vases of roses— that sit in a church as alone and forgotten as the family members now feel?
Did I see the texts? The silent phone sitting on the nightstand? The frequent phone numbers, sitting stagnant in the Contacts? It hurts too much to delete the name.
...No. No, I did not.
And what did you do next?
It depends. But usually?
Wine. Words. Worry.
When you’re a witness, you don’t know what to say in times like these. You want to say so much right without saying all of the wrong. But you aren’t sure what counts as Right and what constitutes as Wrong.
So you stay silent. You awkwardly joke. You wonder if you should hug, or talk, or keep cover under the concealment of Maybe They Need Space.
You watch. You see. At work, at home, in the grocery story, on the sidewalk.
And you wonder.
And you worry.
And you wish that you could step into their shoes. You wish you could take away their pain by taking it on instead.
But you can’t. So you won’t.
But you wish you could.
You look up at the stars. You blow out birthday candles. You close your eyes as the clock reads 11:11. And you wish, you wish, you wish, you wish.
Have you thought about doing physical damage?
I mean…what are we talking here? To the people who hurt my people? Well.
Like a slap to the face? A key to the car door? Not enough to cause significant pain, but enough to cause slight damage?
I plead the fifth.
BUT let the record show….
Aren’t we all witnesses to something? We are witnesses to our loved one’s pain, and suffering, and loss. Yes, we kick ourselves for not seeing enough, or not predicting what would have happened, or not responding right.
The hardest realization is often understanding that you can’t always do something to eliminate the situation. I don’t want to just see. I don’t want to simply stand by. We live in a world where we need to take action, so the hardest thing is to stand back, and just watch it unfold.
But being a witness isn’t about what we can do.
It’s about what we see.
Amongst the pain, I see strength. Immeasurable grit. Steps forward. I see people gathering around their people. I see pranks on co-workers, and giggles from a baby, and lunches with parents.
I see Wizard of Oz costumes on Halloween, and rap music on the radio, and hunting camouflage in the woods.
I see growth. I see love.
I see silver linings.
I see my favorite people, hurting and loving and living. I dust off my shoulder. I stand by their sides, forever hoping it helps.
You may step down from the stand.