She decided she didn’t want to go in.

Two weeks ago, she said she would. Told the lawyer so. Promised she’d be there, say what needed to be said. “I’m not backing down,” she said.

But today’s today, and today the Marion Country Courthouse looks like a damn prison. And didn’t Tommy have enough of that already, all the odds stacked against him like bricks in a fricking wall? Couldn’t she give him this one break? Christ would forgive. Angie had that much to say. Angie who was born with the name Angel, so she should know right? Already two steps closer to heaven than she, Justine Francis Downs would ever be. No, she didn’t like the look of that building one little bit.

She knows what it’s like in there. How you have to go through those damn security machines. Give up your purse, your coat, your shoes even. They make you feel guilty, the people running those machines. Standing there in their uniforms like junior cops. Not fifteen feet into the building and you already feel beaten down. Like they know you aren’t to be trusted. Another day, another time, you’ll be the one coming escorted by the sheriff. There’s a thin line between those facing charges and those being charged. Justine knew that.

She’d been all through it with her brother, Edgar. He was 15 when he had to stand in a room in that building. It killed her to see him in that jumpsuit, all shackled and handcuffed. Her kid brother caught driving a stolen car. He got 8 years. Just a kid, and he got eight years cause of that Measure 11. Mandatory Sentencing. No thought. No discretion. No mercy. But that’s the way it goes. Enter that courthouse and things can just slip away. Time, dignity. Your life. You name it.

Her mom, she spends hours every couple months on those damn court computers in there. Type in a name and you can find out all kinds of things about a person. Whether or not they’re married say or have a will or ever skipped out on child support, or get busted for slapping your old lady. Or, worse. Loads worse. Mom found the computer room while Edgar was on trial, and now that’s where she goes to try to figure out if the guy she’s talking to on the internet has as long of a record as the one’s she with now. “Crossing my P’s and Q’s.” Course you don’t cross P’s, but try telling her that. No, this place is a prison, whether you’re on trial or not.

Once, while on a jury, Justine tried to step out for a smoke, and the hell they raised. Three junior cops chasing her down and yelling about how she can’t leave the building. It was worse than back in highschool, getting caught smoking in the john. Principal busting in. Pushing her up against the wall, telling her she was nothing but trash.

That courthouse. White marble and glass. Glass graced with vertical bars. “Tell me that don’t look like a prison,” she says to no one. Cause right now she has no one. Mom’s onto another guy, and your guy is in that building waiting for you to put another brick in that wall. She had promised to love and cherish him. Eighteen years old, the both of them and they swore “till death do us part.” And she does love Tommy. Hates herself for it sometimes, but — she does. And today, on this day. Cold and gray and rainy, this building don’t look good for much else other than locking away peoples hopes. Bricks in walls, shovels full of dirt digging some muddy grave. It’s all the same. In there, a judge was waiting. Her attorney, too. Justine and her had practiced a little. Justine reciting what she knew to be true. Maybe…

The attorney had told Justine she knew it was hard, testifying against your husband. But what does that fancy ass attorney know about hard? Her with her suits and shoes and picture-perfect pantyhose. Justine had worn pantyhose two times in her life. Once to the prom, and five months later to her wedding. That attorney don’t know shit about hard. For her, love is probably one of those movie things. All laughter and flowers. Sunlight shining through a clean and well kept life. But that’s not love. That’s a slow ride on a carnival ride.
No. In Justine’s life, love’s the ride that flings you up into the air, spins you around so you don’t up from down, then, then next second it is slamming you back to earth. Love jerks you around like horses tail, and then makes you want to puke. It’s hard. It’s hard and it’s lonely. It requires sacrifice and compromise and more than a good deal of turning the other cheek, but most of all it requires accepting that even though your sleeping next to someone, you can still be lonely. In Justine’s estimation, love gives you a choice, there is what makes you feel lonely, and there is what makes you feel a little less lonely, and right now staring at that courthouse, she thinks she’ll be better off being a little less lonely.

(Note: everyday I try to take one black and white photograph. Sometimes a story comes with them. When they do, I will post them here.)

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