Five years ago, I sat on a murder trial as a juror. I was fresh off maternity leave, a mom for only ten weeks, when I left work again for another two weeks when I was chosen to be juror number (okay I admit, I have no idea if we had numbers and if we did what number I was). The case I was part of was big news where I lived at the time. I guess I was busy enough being pregnant and then having a child that when it came time to ask me questions like if I was biased, I really didn’t know much about the case at all. And based on the jurors they chose, they were looking for young females who were married – there were a handful of us on the jury.
The case was one in which a young wife and mother was found murdered in her home, on the pull out couch in her family room. Her husband and two sons were upstairs at the time. There were all kinds of dramatic things that came into play in the case, most notably sex and drugs. The husband frequented prostitutes. The victim was having an affair. The husband was accused of hiring the murder of his wife by a couple of young drug addicts, one of which was the victim’s step brother. For $5,000. Murder for so little. It was all sunshine and roses.
Not a pleasant two weeks, I spent those days sitting in a court room hearing about things that I had only previously seen on TV and in movies. I joked more than once that real life court is not nearly as glamorous or as exciting as Law & Order and John Grisham make it look. And it goes a lot slower. I couldn’t believe how many repetitive questions had to get asked, how not eloquent the lawyers were, and how absolutely slow the whole process was. But it proceeded and we made it through, to the end, so we could send the husband to jail for life for hiring out the murder of his wife while he sat in his bed upstairs reading a murder-mystery novel (yes, really) and her two young sons slept (still brings tears to my eyes).
Five years later, here is where my brain is about the whole thing. She had a messy house. All the photos they had to show us of the crime scene? I can’t remember what the photos of her body looked like after she was shot in the eye and then stabbed repeatedly when the shot didn’t kill her. I don’t remember any of the images of her, or the blood trails (I know they were there, but I can’t picture them) through the kitchen when he went for a knife to finish the job. I do remember that her kitchen was a total disaster. I remember cases of soda on the floor, garbage that needed to be taken out, dishes in the sink, cluttered side tables and counters.
I often joke that I like my home to be relatively put together because you never know if Oprah is going to show up. Or, more likely, my mom is going to stop by. Or, I will want to invite a friend over on a whim. Ever since that murder trial, I have in the back of my mind when I head to bed at night, that I could perhaps be leaving in my wake a crime scene. One that is captured forever on camera, one that will be the last thing I leave that tells something about me.
For two weeks, I learned about people that appeared to have it all on the outside – a lawyer and his banker wife in their suburban home with two kids. Nothing – NOTHING – was as it seemed, though. Despite all they appeared to have, both were clearly unhappy – she cheating on her husband and he, well, he being tied up in all kinds of things not family friendly. Behind that front porch, through that garage, was a family that made it appear they had it all right but in fact had none of it right.
I learned that you just never know. While the end result for this family was clearly beyond the norm, it still showed me that you never know. If there are secrets and lies. If there is debt and destruction. If there is unhappiness behind that picket fence. I learned at the age of 25, as a brand new mother, to not ever let myself wish I had something I know nothing about. To never assume that because someone appears to have it all on the outside that it isn’t all falling apart on the inside. To stop envying lives that aren’t worth envying. To be happy in this little life, for all the simple things that are right and good.