I had to go to trial over that time I got punched in the face with the snapped off car antenna. I never thought it would come to that, and going to court over the whole stupid event seemed ridiculous. But Sara and I decided that annoyance probably wasn’t a good enough reason to shirk civic duty. This guy had been in and out of the system (I picked up this lingo from the time spent with the DA. DA, that stands for District Attorney) for years, and had a felony robbery on his record already. He isn’t even homeless. The cops told me he lives in Gresham and comes downtown and fucks with people.
Still, I didn’t foresee trial. We had to meet in court early Monday morning, the whole time expecting the guy, Matthew, to plea down and call the whole thing off. He didn’t. The attorney prepped us, told us Matthew’s attorney would goad us on, and that we should not “take the bait.” This is stuff of TV. The night before, Sara had said, “It’s not going to be like TV.” But lo and behold.
We sat in the hallway, me terrified. Sara, as usual, seeming largely unaffected and a little bored. The arresting officer sitting across the hallway in a nice pantsuit. She looked lovely really. Sleek even. I suddenly decided I should have worn a tie, instead of black Levis and a rumpled blue button-down. Dammit. Stupid.
The DA told us we had to await jury selection. We could go get coffee. We didn’t need coffee, so we walked to the river. Stood along the waterfront, making small talk. Me too nervous to be funny or charming or the normal things I would try to do in the company of a woman, much less an ex-girlfriend. I commented that the DA referred to Matthew’s antics as “monkeyshines.”
He waived right to a jury and we were called back to testify immediately.
I was called in. Sara was told to wait in the hallway. A nice woman swore me in. I didn’t put my hand on the bible, but I think I held my hand up. Matthew was sitting at a table across from the judge and me, wearing a suit but no tie, and his long hair pulled into two wild pony tails, jutting from each side of his head at right angles. His ankles were chained together, and he was looking at me. Not scary, but definitely looking. I felt bad for him. I felt guilty. He was in jail, not because of me, but because of me.
I testified. Told the court what happened. The public defender started his cross-examination. It was long. Really long. He asked me how much I had to drink. I told him the truth. He asked a lot of questions about what I had done that night. About Sara and I. What we were talking about. How long we had known each other. For a second I relaxed. I like to talk about myself, and I kind of felt like I was in therapy, or telling a story in a bar. Then things took a turn.
PD: Do you dislike panhandlers Mr. Williams?
DA: Objection, irrelevant.
Judge: How is the question relevant?
PD: I’m establishing that Mr. Williams was the aggressor.
Judge: Objection overruled.
I told him that, no, I do not dislike panhandlers. I wanted to tell him that I kind of panhandle for a living, or at least that I work downtown all the time. But he was wily, and I figured I better not give him any ammo. He was trying to make it sound like I hate panhandlers and when Matthew asked for money, I became aggressive and led him to attack. A fine strategy. But I didn’t take the bait.
There was a re-direct:
DA: How many times did you tell the defendant to leave?
Me: Between 10 and 20 times.
DA: Did you see him about to hit you, or expect him to hit you?
Me: It came completely out of nowhere.
DA: Did you ever threaten him?
Me: Absolutely not.
DA: Did you make any threatening motion toward him?
Me: Absolutely not.
I walked out. Sara walked in. I felt so bad for her. Nervous for her. I was afraid she would get ripped to shreds. She said the defense was a lot nicer to her. It’s tough to attack cute little girl on the stand.
We left and the cop was going in to testify. We said goodbye. I walked out and felt like I was breathing for the first time all day. I couldn’t go back to work yet. We stood outside court and decided to go eat. We weren’t hungry. I got a coffee and a pumpkin bread. We walked to Pioneer Square, where on the bricks it was warm. I drank my coffee and shared the pumpkin bread. Sara gave some to a little kid to feed the pigeons. She told me she feels her biological clock ticking. That things are going well with her new boyfriend. I opted not to pursue the discussion of personal lives, either out of exhaustion or common sense.
There were pigeons everywhere. “Look what you did,” I said.
We walked around a little more. I was almost feeling back to normal, like it was wearing off. I was about to leave a world in which I say things like, “in and out of the system.” A world where I am cross-examined and re-directed. Where I am sworn in and speak into a microphone. Where I eat pumpkin bread and force smalltalk with someone I used to share a bed with. Where we are both so tired from waking up many hours before we used to wake up together. And annoyed, and not really hungry.
I was in a work meeting, and I got a call from the district attorney, who told me Matthew was found guilty.