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Judge and Jury

February 1, 2012

The state of Maryland finally found me. I have jury duty.  I don’t want to give up a week of work to report but like a dentist visit, I’ll feel good if I go and it is inevitable so here I am. At the courthouse I see a room marked Jury Service and head that way. A uniformed man is standing in the entryway where he has stopped another woman from entering. I stop as well. Beyond him, potential jurors who arrived earlier are already seated and fooling with their cell phones.

A guard from the hallway sees me hesitating in the doorway and calls out, “Go on in!” So I start to go around the waiting woman and the man in uniform exclaims, “Just stop right there!” as if I have intentionally tried to butt in line, jump the gate, because I am arrogant and rude. Bored potential jurors look up and  my face reddens.

I’m here to be on a jury and I’ve been judged! I was trying to obey and I was characterized as trying to get away with something.

Which brings to mind Ms. McNally—she was a no nonsense, ex -Army WAC, humorless and angry, who taught my fourth grade class like the drill sergeant she was. She wore her brown hair very short and strode about with her head jutted forward from her collared shirt, swinging this way and that in search of trouble makers.

One day she laid us out because Calvin Cavey was talking during reading group. She made 30 nine-year- olds line up in the broiling sun and stand at attention for the entire half hour without moving.  You couldn’t even scratch your nose. My best friend Becky and I vowed we would not take the humiliation and injustice lying down. She might be able to keep us from a half hour of Chinese jump rope but she could not break our spirits. We were rebels. In our hearts we galloped like wild horses, unbroken and free, we were majestic and brave, we were going to grow up to be beautiful and strong and of course, fair. To demonstrate this we decided to smile.

As Ms. McNally patrolled up and down our lines, looking for the slightest twitch or transgression, we each squinted in the 90- degree heat and smiled at her. It was an act of defiance but also an overture.  A scary overture. We were willing to like Ms. McNally. We were little girls who wanted to love their teacher.

“Okay,” said with a slight smile of her own, and our hearts lifted. “Laura and Becky, because you two think this is so funny, you can stand here the rest of the afternoon. The rest of you are dismissed.”

Calvin Cavey, you owe us.

Write about a time you or a character were unfairly punished. Misunderstood. Paid for someone else’s transgression. As a child or adult. 20 minutes. Go.

Improve it: Go back and take out any places where you have been judgmental.Just state the facts. Leave clues, not conclusions.

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