Death · Expatria · Florida · Huffington Post · Repatria · Trauma · Wendy · Zuzu Huffington

Jury Duty and the Gun Crime Survivor

In many ways, trauma is like any major physical injury — a blown knee, back surgery, a joint replacement. After the initial and major healing you take care of it as best you can, icing it when necessary, applying heat or medicine, resting when it flares up, and generally being aware of the injury’s presence, even when not acutely bothered by it.

And then something happens that provokes your injury. A fall, someone else’s negligence, an accident that tweaks that injury right awake in a way it might not have been since it first happened.

It’s been 15 years since my traumatic event — witnessing the murder of one of my dearest friends in a random robbery — and I’ve generally and finally come to a point where I spend more time remembering her bright, bold spirit alive, rather than the horror of her death. But just like that major injury, it doesn’t always stay that way.

I received one, simple, little piece of paper in the mail and it was like a house fell on my head: A jury summons.

After Wendy’s death I had to testify in court three times against her murderers: The first was the preliminary hearing to determine if the case would go to trial. The second was against the woman who pulled the trigger. The third time I testified was against the murderer’s accomplice.

I spend a lot of time NOT thinking about those horrible experiences. How the defense attorney implied it was our fault Wendy got shot because we were out so late. Forcing me to look at gruesome images. Forcing me to relive the final moments in which Wendy’s life ended and mine was irrevocably destroyed as well.

All the while, the woman who bulldozed our lives was mere feet from me, breathing air Wendy would never breathe again, and breathing my same air. It was unimaginable and the pain unfathomable.

During my testimony against the woman who murdered Wendy — which lasted almost two hours because of the defense attorney’s disgusting posturings — I had several PTSD attacks while on the stand. I made the mistake of looking over at the jury for support and to take my gaze away from the murderess, to see jury members weeping and one who sounded like she was having a panic attack right along with me. That’s when the judge asked if I wanted a postponement. The thought of having to spend another day with that killer sitting across from me almost pushed me into pure, unbridled madness.

I sucked it up and stayed on the stand for another hour as the defense attorney grilled me six ways to Sunday, all the while the prosecutor saying, “Objection. Objection. Objection.” When I received the final court transcript of my testimony I was shocked at how slim the volume was for my two hours on the stand. It’s because more than half the things that defense attorney asked me and said to me were inadmissible in the court record. She tortured me on purpose.

In the days after receiving the jury summons I couldn’t sleep. Every time I almost got there the smell of the courtroom entered my nose: wood polish, old carpet on its way to being moldy, the cold airconditioned air, the smell of fear metallic seeping through my pores and soaking my clothes, the burning salt of the tears that poured from my eyes; flashbacks to the smells of gunsmoke and blood. My eyes fly back open, and that reminder of what a tenuous grip I have on managing my traumatic injury rises anew.

It’s been 15 years since Wendy was taken by a gang member with a gun, 13 years since I testified for the last time, and 12 years since I tried to take my own life after my role in the murder investigation was over.

Yet the simple piece of paper with a jury summons notice was enough to erase every moment of healing I’ve accomplished since the then and now. This piece of paper made me want to flee the country that caused me so much damage, like I ended up doing in 2002 after my suicide attempt. Just move back abroad. Somewhere. I don’t care where. Just anywhere I will never have a jury summons come to my home and remind me of all the pain I will never get over and everything I have lost since the last time I set foot in a courthouse to put those murderers away for life.

Wendy’s mom told me to call the courthouse and talk to them about why I can’t be on a jury. I steeled myself for the call and told myself over and over not to break down. But my body had other plans: I proceeded to have a full-blown PTSD attack with the Fort Lauderdale County Clerk on the other end of the line. As I wept into phone trying to explain my situation, the clerk talked me through the attack in the most loving and kind way. “Just breathe, honey. Breathe. Have a sip of water. Breathe,” she crooned in a Florida-southern accent.

Her kindness shocked me — I was expecting someone coldhearted like Kim Davis shouting at me telling me to get over it. The clerk gave me a five-month postponement so I could get a doctor’s note excusing me, and allayed my fears that this would be a difficult feat to accomplish; apparently it’s so routine doctors even accept these requests over the phone. What a wonderful woman who probably has no idea just how much she helped me, pulling me back from a really dark place. And I didn’t even catch her name.

This one piece of paper with my jury duty notice inadvertently opened up a marvelous wound just in time for the 15-year memorial of dear Wendy’s death on October 28, 2015. To unburden myself, and in honor of Wendy, I buzzed all my hair off. Wendy always loved this look on me, and for the first time in years I peered in the mirror and saw the badass chick I was before trauma split my life in two. This buzzed-haired fearless babe is the only me who Wendy knew, and she’d be proud to see me again like this, looking fierce even if I’m not feeling it.

And now that the unhealed pieces of my injury from those three testimonies has seen the light after all these years — and some of that long-repressed pain had a chance to drain — maybe, and sometime soon, I’ll start finding myself stronger at those broken places.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

This piece originally appeared at Huffington Post Impact under the title “Jury Duty Notice Provoked My PTSD”.


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