Redeemed and Rolling in the Grass
At 8:00 am on Halloween, I was walking through a metal detector and a law enforcement officer was standing in front of me asking, “Victim or defendant?” I wanted to shout ‘survivor,’ but simply answered her question and let her escort my husband and me to a witness room to await being called into the courtroom.
Ironically, my morning had begun with a flow of encouraging text messages, scripture verses and prayers from friends. My neighbor sent word she was bringing over chili for dinner. The kindness of God was coming to me, embodied.
From the time I got the subpoena in July, I had dreaded October 31st and hoped against all wisdom and counsel from those with knowledge of this process, that this person would give up his accomplice in exchange for a plea deal. He did not.
The driver of the car, from which my attacker had jumped, was on trial.
As I walked through the lobby beside my husband and with the officer, I could feel someone staring at me. Glancing to my right, I saw a young man looking straight at me. Our eyes met. I knew in my gut I was looking at the accused, the driver of the car, though at that moment I had no factual basis for that knowledge.
As soon as I entered the witness room I was greeted by Willow, a courthouse facility dog whose job is to lend support and comfort to victims when they have to face their perpetrators in courtrooms. Without thinking, I sat down on the floor and she lay beside me offering me her gentle face and black velvet ears to pet. If I couldn’t take Grizzly into that courtroom, she was the next best thing. My mind doesn’t understand it, but my body receives it: the power of a loving dog to tether an anxious person to the ground.
The conversation began among those in the room: Willow’s handler, an eye-witness for my case, my husband and two other victims of property crimes. When the DA entered and began explaining paperwork to us, she singled me out as having more paperwork because I was ‘the victim of a violent crime’. That phrase, which she used twice, stung me both times. I later learned that though I walked away from my incident with only a sore ear and knee and a headache for a couple of days, the charge of ‘robbery’ is a felony defined as “taking the property of another through the use of force or threat of force.” Robbery, unlike theft, includes a victim being present to personally experience the crime.
After months of healing including trauma counseling and getting my own emotional support and guard dog, one would think I wouldn’t be shocked by the word violent; but yet again, I now see how adept my mind is at denial. Somehow, because I wasn’t dead, permanently disfigured, or even needing medical attention that afternoon, I had not let myself use the word violence inwardly or out loud in connection to my story.
As I examine it now, though, I feel a strange sense of relief. To see how the justice system defines my “incident” - I still don’t have all the words after all these months. That word, violent, though hard to hear, validated the feelings, fears, memories, and changes the last ten months have brought.
The second time the DA entered the room, she told us that the defendant had decided to plead guilty as charged and therefore, I was not required to enter the courtroom but I had the option. I looked to both my husband and to Willow, realizing that only I could decide at this moment in time what was best for me. I chose not to go.
The DA entered a final time and told us we were free to go. It was over.
You think it is going to feel like some “pop the cork” moment when you walk out, but it does not. My legs felt like water walking to the car. I was grateful. It was the best possible outcome given the circumstances I was presented that day, but it wasn’t the feeling of closure I expected.
I had planned to ask myself what would be restorative to me after this ordeal was over. A massage was the only thing on my calendar thus far. As we drove into the driveway I asked myself what that was: What I really wanted on this brilliant blue fall day was to take a walk with my Grizzly. Not just any walk. I wanted to walk the street where the attack happened. I had not been back there on foot or by car since the Sunday morning after it happened when the detective took me along with my husband to walk through the scenario with him.
I called my best friend, the one who has walked literally and spiritually with me almost everywhere, and of course she said she would go.
I leashed Grizzly and the three of us walked the street, stopping at the scene of the crime, to let Grizzly roll around on the grass. I found myself smiling. I was not afraid, angry or sad. My friend took our picture.
By the time I got to the end of the street, I snapped a picture of the street sign. I felt free. We three celebrated that stretch of road, our neighborhood, our freedom to walk. This was the ‘pop the cork’ moment .
The street, the neighborhood, the whole space felt redeemed. Grizzly bought it back for me.
I still ruminate on the question I asked that first week with Grizzly: What truth is coming to liberate me bounding on these enormous paws?
I recently heard someone say, “We don’t choose our healing.”
I wouldn’t have chosen this disruption to my life ever, much less this particular year, running on a parallel track with my daughter’s wedding, but I also wouldn’t want to rewind the tape of this year if I had to give back the transforming experience it has been. The ability to see beauty and celebrate the good that has grown in the dark days of reaching and stretching for the next place. I wouldn’t have chosen the effects of trauma or the work I had to do in counseling to deal with the other issues it dredged up, but I don’t want to give back the fresh plowed field of my life that is ready for new seed. I wouldn’t have chosen an enormous dog that cramps my space and my schedule, but I don’t want to give back the healing power of his love and presence.
We don’t choose our healing and we don’t choose our redemption, but both we can receive …if we let ourselves.