“We would prefer Ms. Smith were not in the courtroom during the proceedings.” The Defense lawyer gives his convincing pitch to the judge sitting on his throne of power. “We may or may not call her as a witness.”
“Are you sure you will call Ms. Smith to the stand?” The honorable Judge Williams calmly but instinctively responds to the lawyers request.
“Yes Your Honor, we are sure.” Defense lawyer responds.
My palms sweat as I squeeze the basset hound beanie baby in my hand that Catherine gave me before we came here. My skin goes pale as the Judge calmly asks my mom to leave the courtroom before we continue anything. I reach for my mom before she turns around kissing me on the head and begging me softly to be strong. I feel dizzy when I see the Defense lawyer whisper into my father's ear, my so called opponent in the game. That’s what Catherine calls it, she refers to the courtroom as just a giant game of chess. “You just have to be smarter than them, know their next move before they do.” She would say. Catherine is the Prosecutor, the one that may or may not send my father to prison. I have spoken to her on the phone many times in the past six years, but only met her the day before trial. She is nice but stern, soft complexion with a mean underlayer. I pick at my nude stockings my mom made me wear that morning until there is a giant hole by my knee. The lawyers are giving opening statements today, I won’t even testify until tomorrow. 24 hours until things are no longer up to me. I quickly come back to reality when my Victims Advocate puts her arm around me as a sign of comfort. All I can feel is the sun poisoning seeping through my sleeve from my shoulder that I got the day before. My mom thought it’d be a great idea to walk to the beach half an hour away with no sun screen in Key Haven, Florida. Then her next bright idea was for me to go into the ocean with my shoes on. I went in with two shoes and came out with one. Funny me thought I could search the ocean for a lost shoe. Mom and I switched off wearing her shoes on the walk back after I threw the lonesome sandal away. I wasn’t mad though, she was just trying to make that day special. I had never been to the beach before and she just wanted me to have one good day in this God forsaken town. It was Mother’s Day and we had walked to a nice restaurant so mom could enjoy some of her day. She got the tiramisu for dessert and I wasn’t very hungry.
“Are you ok?” Kelly, my Victims Advocate whispers to me as they finish up opening statements.
“Mhm.” I nod, barely able to make anything else out but a slight noise from my throat that showed I was still alive, even though I didn’t feel it.
Kelly looks back towards the jury and starts whispering little things about each person.
“See that one?” Kelly points at an old lady. “She is a grandmother and you can already tell she is voting guilty. See the way she sits when the defense talks? She doesn’t want to hear any of it. And that man over there? He has two little ones at home so he is definitely on your side.” Kelly keeps scoping out the rest of the Jury quietly while I return to my mind full of incomplete thoughts.
I read a book before I came here, I can’t remember the title, but I read a book. It was something about five ways to take control of my mind. I remember reading a part and it told me what I should be feeling in certain time lapses. Right about now I should be feeling angry, but i’m not angry. If anything, I’m nauseous, dizzy, depressed, guilty, and tired. Not angry. I was angry a long time ago. However, now that I’m sitting here in this long pew in this tiny, clammy courtroom. I feel ashamed. Ashamed that everyone here knows some intimate level of my life. Ashamed that it took six years to get this far. Ashamed that I have been waiting for this moment for years, and now I just want to go home. What are they thinking of me? Whore? Slut? She deserved it? She doesn’t know any better? I don’t blame them. Why should I? They don’t know any better than what society taught them to know. All they know is a 16 year old girl is accusing a highly decorated Chief Naval Officer of rape and three counts of molestation. No one in this room knows the truth on what happened, other than him and me. I can’t help but feel a little nauseous.
By now it’s noon and we are all given an hour recess to go get some lunch. I leave the courtroom to find mom sitting in a tiny room off the tiny hall that lead to the tiny courtroom we were all just stuffed into. She is calmly reading her kindle and looks up to find me crying in her arms in one second flat. She combs my hair with her fingers whispering things like “It will be ok.” and “You are strong, I know you can handle this.” I continue to cry before Kelly motions us to all leave so we can get some food in my stomach. The minute she says food, my stomach starts making loud gurgle noises and I realize I haven’t eaten anything all day. We walk back to Kelly’s office about a block away and into her room where I sit down and play with a rubix cube lying on the round table by the door where we entered.
“Are you hungry for anything?” Kelly questions as I stare at the cube in my hand, back into my own thoughts.
“Not really.” I respond.
“Are you sure, Isabelle? We can order whatever you want..?” Kelly pushes.
“I guess chinese wouldn’t be bad.” A tear follows my facial features down my face until it leaps onto the table dropping into a puddle. Thomas never let us order take out. Everything always had to be handmade and ready to be cooked when he got home. Laundry had to be washed, dried, folded and put away. Things had to be done right. If they weren’t… nevermind.
“You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to Iz.” My mom motions towards me to come sit on her lap.
“I don’t really have a choice now do I?” I get up to leave towards the bathroom. I can hear my mom sniffling as I walk away, but I don’t care. I don’t want to be here. I want to go home. This was all just a huge mistake. I should never have done this to everyone, to myself. I spend some time in the bathroom crying over the sink before I can compose myself to leave. By the time I get back, there is food waiting on the table next to my little tear that I left behind. I walk past the food and over to mom. She looks at me and I lean down to give her a big hug. She returns it before gently pulling me away so I can eat something before returning to the courthouse. Kelly comes out and sits next to me to start eating, She smiles at me and gives a small encouraging nod for me to start eating. I pick up the plastic fork that was left for me and quietly dig in, back into my own thoughts. I notice how comfortable Kelly is to be sitting by me, when I noticed the giant stacks of files next to her desk. She has so much other things to do, and she is sitting next to me. I look up at her and give a slight smile.
“Kelly? Why this job? I mean, why out of all the jobs did you decide on this one?” I question.
Kelly takes a deep breath before connecting her eyes to mine.
“It was sort of a calling I guess. I mean, I don’t do it for the money, but I love it. I love how rewarding it is. I love that I can change someone’s life just by holding their hand in the darkest time of their life. I still get people from my older cases that come back to say thank you. I guess that’s why I do it.” Kelly responds while choking back a tear.
I smile at her, somehow content with the answer I just received. I think about where I will be years later and what I could be doing to change someone’s life. It’s the least I could do for Kelly saving mine.
“That’s what I’m gonna do.” I say matter of factly.
“What?” Kelly responds a tad bit shocked.
“I’m gonna be a Victim’s Advocate one day and change a life. It’s my way of giving back to this horrible world.” I answer.
Kelly just looks at me and shares a smile with me that will last forever.
* * *
“Do you solemnly swear that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” Questions Bailiff.
“Yes” I whimper into the microphone.
“Louder so the jury can hear you.” Judge Williams booms loudly.
“Yes.” I say loud enough to try and sound sure of myself.
This is it, no turning back now. Oh, crap. I forgot my beanie baby dog. My palms won’t stop sweating. I think my aloe wore off. I completely forgot to pee before getting up here. Oh s*** he keeps watching me. They say don’t look him in the eye, but crap he just looked at me again. I know this is a play on their side. They want to make me vulnerable so I’m too scared to testify. I just don’t look at them and I’ll be fine. Is it too late to change my mind? I want to go home, I should never have come here. This was a mistake. I can see all the jurors watching me, judging me. They have kids and family of their own. They shouldn’t be worried about mine. This microphone is too close to my face. They can all hear me breathing. I wonder if they can hear my heart racing. I can barely hear anything right now, I’m just trying to focus on not throwing up all over my lawyer walking towards me. She is about to start, i’m not ready. Please don’t start yet, i’m not ready. I’ll never be ready.
“Is your attacker here in the courtroom with us today?” Catherine asks just like she told me she would yesterday when we practiced this. Once I say yes, everything becomes real.
“Yes.” I manage to get out while trying not to cry. I was told i’m not allowed to cry on the stand, or it shows i’m weak. I am only allowed to cry during certain moments of this case. If I cry any other time then I get in trouble. I also have to wear my hair down, and I can’t wear that much makeup so that I look younger than I am. I have to wear younger looking clothes and I have to act stronger than I actually am to show I can handle this trial.
I can still remember the first time it happened. I can remember the pain I felt. I can remember the words he used to coax me softly. I can remember the way he treated me everytime. Like I was some ratty doll. I can remember every time he was finished how I got thrown in the shower so I could “clean myself up” and “get myself together”. I can remember the watchful eye he kept on me for all 49 days I was there. I can remember how I wasn’t allowed to speak to my mom unless under supervision. I can remember how innocent I was when I flew to Florida that summer. I can even remember the very moment my life was revoked from me. I can still remember his hot breath on me. I can still smell the tacos on his breath. I can still hear the beating of my heart in that very moment. I can still feel his skin against mine. I can still feel the shivers in those exact spots. He gets to forget. I get to remember these things for the rest of my life.
“Let the record reflect that the witness has identified the defendant.” Catherine announces this loudly to the courtroom.
This is it. The beginning of the end for me.
* * *
Today is June 2nd, 2017. I am devastated. I am heartbroken and haunted by these memories-but I had to write this. Maybe you will be the only one to read it, and that’s ok. As long as someone does. It is two years after the trial and I can still remember every last bit of those details. And those memories will stay with my forever. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do something good with them. I don’t want my story to have a bad ending. I’ve learned that stories don’t have to have a predictable ending. I don’t want my story to be predictable or stereotyped. I want to be the one that survived. I stopped being a victim a long time ago. I will never refer to myself as a victim again, because I’m not. I survived an incredible trauma, and that is something to celebrate. I refuse to let him win by me giving up the rest of my life to him. I want what I do in the future to count. I want survivors like me to know they can make something else of themselves besides the labels that were created for them. On June 12th I will graduate. I have the goal to become a Victims Advocate. I know that I can make a difference in someone’s once shattered world That is why I am graduating with joy and gratitude. That is why I am going to college in the fall. That is why I’m not broken. I know that this is not the end of my story.