When I first received a jury questionnaire in the mail, back in the spring, I wrote in the space provided about my various health issues and why it would be difficult for me to manage a full day of jury duty, let alone several days of a trial, and asked to be excused. When I didn’t hear back from them with a request for more information, I thought I’d done enough to be let off the hook. But the jury summons came anyway, on the same day that I’d gotten clearance from the Pulmonologist for my oral surgery, and the summons was dated for the week of the surgery itself.
I was able to postpone the summons for a few weeks, but I didn’t even try to get out of it completely; partly because I felt guilty trying to get out of jury duty, and partly because I didn’t want to go through the humiliation of trying to prove to my doctor that my disabilities are significant. I’d gotten out of jury duty a while back with a doctor’s note, when they were going to send me to Brooklyn (an hour and a half trip each way, by train, in the summer), but I had a doctor I trusted back then, and I knew for sure that I wouldn’t have been able to handle that trip, no matter how hard I’d tried. But this time, it was different, or I kept thinking it was.
I told myself that I’d only have to drive twenty minutes each way, because the court complex is nearby, and I knew the route, and even if the weather was disgusting, I’d be inside most of the time, and sitting. And then my surgery was postponed too, with jury duty coming first instead of second, so I really didn’t see any way out of it.
One of the more stressful things about jury duty, in my area at least, is that instead of being told to come in on a specific day, you are put on call for a week, meaning that every day at five o’clock you have to check the website to see if your number has been called for the following day. But I was lucky, this time, because when I checked the website the Friday before my summons week, I found out that I was being called for Monday, which meant I had the whole weekend to prepare: do the food shopping and the laundry, take extra naps, fill up my book bag with all of the things I’d need, and thank god I didn’t have to wait until five o’clock each day, for the rest of the week, to find out if I’d have to go in the next morning.
I feel like I should be one of the people who is actively interested in every part of the justice system, and in doing my civic duty, and I keep thinking that I should use jury duty as a way to research future novels and learn about police procedure and all that. And, beyond that, I feel like jury duty is an obligation, like voting, and I don’t want to be one of the people who lies to get out of jury duty and then laughs about how juries are all made up of the stupid people who can’t get out of it. But I don’t have much energy, and I have a lot of social anxiety issues that make things like this ten times harder than they should be, and, whenever I’m near a police officer or inside of a court building, I think I’m going to be arrested.
My mom has only been called for jury duty once in her life, and, so far, I’ve been called five or six times. I don’t know how I got so lucky. The first time I’d just graduated from college, and I was really nervous, but also kind of excited. I went through the voir dire, where the lawyers ask potential jurors all kinds of questions to see if they’ll be a good juror for the case, and when they asked if I’d ever been the victim of a crime, I had to say, uh, yeah, and the guilty party got away with it. I thought about saying no, just to see what it would be like to be chosen for a jury, but I’m not a good liar. Another time, I vaguely remember that we were given damp sandwiches and bused to another location that looked like a repurposed elementary school, but I was scratched, again, when they got to the victim-of-a-crime question. There was another time when I had to call in each day, for a week, to find out if they needed me, and they never did. That was probably the worst.
Even during my short stints at jury duty, though, it’s become clear that the lawyers just aren’t as interesting as the ones on TV, and the cases aren’t as dramatic or convoluted, and there’s almost never a twist ending, which is just disappointing. Instead it’s a lot of sitting around and waiting. If only I could bring one of the dogs with me for company – though there’s a very good chance that Cricket would get me arrested.
I should have asked for a doctor’s note, because I’m just so tired all the time, and because Mom was still recovering from her second hip surgery, and because the dogs needed me, and because I needed to keep the apartment relatively livable, but I was too chicken. So I went.
I packed diligently: phone, phone charger, jury summons, extra mask, book to read for fun, book to read for serious, notebooks and pens, oatmeal in a thermos (with a spoon), gingerale (in case of nausea caused by anxiety), and wet wipes.
I got to the courthouse a few minutes early and found a seat in a corner of the central jury room, which was, thankfully, well air-conditioned and big enough to leave room for social distancing. Most people wore face masks, even though we were allowed to show our vaccination cards to get out of it, and after a little while of sitting there and staring around the room at each other, we watched a few videos: about jury service in New York and about implicit bias (how we fill in a picture when it is incomplete, based on assumptions that may not be true). And then we waited. A bunch of names were called while I played with my phone: sent an email and a text, did some water sorting and some Duolingo. And then we waited some more. I finished reading my book-for-fun (Rhys Bowen’s God Rest Ye Royal Gentlemen) and another group of names were called, and then we waited again. My phone was running out of power, but I was too scared to go wandering around looking for a place to charge it, so I got some writing done, and read some of the serious book (Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God), and then some more names were called and then we waited again. It was getting close to lunch time by then, and my neck and back hurt, and I was wondering if we would be sent to a cafeteria or let out for the hour and a half for lunch, and wishing I could go home and take a nap. And then my name was called. A whole group of us were led into a smaller, less well air-conditioned room, and I was really worried that we would be sent to do a voir dire right away and miss our lunch break altogether, and my headache would keep getting worse and I’d end up crying, or yelling at someone, or getting myself arrested, somehow. And then a non-descript man came into the room with a big pile of papers and told us that the rest of the cases for the day had been settled, and we would be going home early. There were quite a few hoots and hollers and Praise Gods and then we were called up one by one to get our printed sheet confirming that we had completed our jury service. And that was it.
It had rained at some point while we were deep inside the court building, far from any windows, but the air outside still felt wet and thick as I walked across the street to my hot car, but…I was free!
But even as I was driving home, hours earlier than expected, I wasn’t quite able to process what had happened. Time had slowed down so thoroughly in that big, isolated, jury room, with all of the empty spaces filled with anxiety about what might happen next, and not trusting myself to know how to answer the lawyers’ questions if I was called in to try out for jury and worried I would end up on a five week trial because I was too scared to say no. And then, suddenly, I was free, and I was still awake and aware enough to drive home without needing to pull over to rest, and even though I was a little bit shaky with fatigue, I was actually okay.
And then I was home. Mom and the dogs met me at the door and I was able to take a nap in my own room, with puppies for company, and eat whatever I wanted to eat instead of whatever I could fit into a thermos. It wasn’t the easiest day of the summer, but it wasn’t the hardest one either, after all. All summer long there’s been one challenge after another, and even if it hasn’t been easy, each challenge has been met, somehow. And even though I’d much rather not be in survival mode endlessly, it’s good to know that if I need to survive, I can do it. I just hope I won’t get another jury summons too soon, and Mom won’t need another new hip for a while, and things will start to calm down a little bit.
But…I’m not holding my breath.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.
Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?