One of the things you do before a big trial is sit with the prosecutor and the potential witnesses and go over testimony and reports and evidence to make reasonably certain that there aren’t going to be any big surprises on the stand. A couple of days ago I sat with this old cowboy.
He come in with his son. They looked as out of place as I’m sure they felt, standing in our sleek gray conference room in their plaid work shirts, jeans and worn boots, their stained felt resistol hats in their hard, knobby hands. The boy was over six foot and baby-faced, his head lowered, his eyes not missing a thing. He stayed mostly silent, but when he did speak it was to the point and the point was sharp.
The old man was as lost as I’ve ever seen a human being. Lost, but desperate to gain his bearings back and to buck up under it. His hands shook violently with palsey and his red-rimmed eyes rattled around the room like mice looking for a way out of a cage. When his eyes lit on one of the detectives who’d been out at the scene, he hugged him tight, tears welling up and spilling over. He clapped him on the shoulder again and again, and turned to the prosecutor, telling him, “This here is a good man. A good man. You ought to know what kind of a man you have here, and he’s a good one.”
The detective turned away, wiping at his eyes.
Anyways, we sat down and for the next three or four hours we went through the photographs in evidence. We had gone through beforehand and took out all the bad ones so he wouldn’t have to see them, but there was not much use in that. The events of that day were burned into him in the way that those things get burned in, and as soon as he saw the first picture he was right back there. He pointed a gnarled finger at the computer screen and started pointing out details, and telling his story.
What was good was everyone in that room knew the deal and we let him go. You do more harm than good trying to keep them on point when they’re churned up like that. When they’re back in that awful place you gotta just let it spill out, and you go ahead and pick out what it is you were looking for in all that. You don’t try to corral him none, you just give him his head and hang on. There was a lady from victim witness in there, running out and coming back with water for the old man, looking over at the boy to see did he need anything, and whenever our eyes met she bit her lip and looked over at the ceiling behind my shoulder.
Sometimes I get so focused on the dead that I lose sight of how much the living suffer from these crimes. You ought to have seen how that boy looked after his old man. It broke my heart all over again. And you knew talking to everyone in the aftermath of what had happened that everybody in that family was just good folks. Just real good people who got visited by something evil. Some of them it killed and some of them it just left wishing they was dead.
It seems lately that everywhere I look I am confronted with the fragile, provisional nature of the structures we erect to protect ourselves and to give our lives meaning.
We are like children engrossed in our sand castles, ignorant of the hunger and ferocity of the sea for what we’ve built.
We move toward a more disordered state.
Last night we had a fancy dinner out with my mom and step-dad. Nice, semi-pretentious italian joint. They had a price fixe meal where you got an appetizer, a main course, and dessert for thirty bucks.
It was really nice to sit and listen to everyone, share a couple of bottles of great wine, taste each other’s food, and be together in a fancy place with folks in starched and pressed white shirts taking care of us, pouring our wine, bringing us more spoons, making sure we were contented.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating:
This is why we are alive.
Go you ahead and eat too much good food in the company of good people. Have you that second bottle of red. Have that white truffle oil gelato.
And don’t be shy with your hugs and kisses. With your small kindnesses and large.
We are all of us going to be rolled over by the big machine. It’s a slaughterhouse out there.
Let’s be good to each other and ourselves while we’ve got the wherewithal to do it.