Last month I was served a subpoena as I was out watering the garden early one sunny morning. My dog Hannah was in the yard with me. She began barking as she usually does when someone pulls into the gravel driveway. A man in plain clothes got out of a similarly plain-looking car, and asked for me by name.
I said yes, I was Jacqlyn Thorne. He handed me two pieces of paper stapled together and said I was being served. The breeze almost blew the papers out of my hands as I stared at them. They had spelled my name wrong, I thought. That was what I noticed.
For legal and emotional reasons, I cannot and do not want to go into all the details of what happened, who was involved, everything that was said and done. In short, a person I loved, who had become the biggest part of my life, was going to court. It was a situation that took years to develop, and almost emotionally destroyed me and everyone else involved. In the past year I had set much of it aside, concentrated on putting my life back together, moving forward with my creative work.
But I realized that morning with those papers in my hand that I was foolish to ever think the past would leave me alone, let me go in peace.
I felt shame, amazement, sadness, fear, and mostly, anger. Anger that, after so much time, the person serving me finally wanted to hear my side of the story. Needed to, even. Now that many significant goals were at stake, they cared deeply about what I had to say.
Weeks went by with nothing happening except me trying to anticipate questions, thinking of what I would say. I tried to imagine the worst scenarios, the inquisitions I dreaded. I soon realized I really had been rehearsing for this moment for years, held conversations in my mind over and over again in case I was ever given the opportunity to speak my truth. Consequently, I was more prepared than I’d first believed I would be. Emotionally, mentally, spiritually, I felt I might be ready.
This week, after a couple of postponements, I finally got to answer the summons. I had been subpoenaed and was being deposed by the lawyer of the person who was not my friend. He and his client believed, I think, that I could offer up testimony that would help paint my friend in a negative light and improve their case. I arrived at the office early, hoping that would make me feel and seem less intimidated. My friend’s lawyer and even the stenographer were very kind. They sat me in a small room, and offered me water. I was still nervous and uncomfortable.
But after I began speaking, answering the other lawyer’s questions, my spine started to feel made of steel, even though my stomach stayed more like jelly. I was honest. I was objective. I was fair. In the end I think I did their cause more harm than good. I hope I helped my friend in his. Soon we will see, I guess.
What I learned about myself, however, was more significant. I had the opportunity in that hour or so of my life to say as much as I wanted to say. I could have been mean, spoken of things that would hurt other people. I could have defended myself more, or tried to explain out of guilt or remorse, as I tried to years earlier. I could have pointed out the faults in the other person’s behavior much more cruelly than I did. I had rehearsed all those kinds of statements in my head seemingly for forever.
It’s not like me to ever be unkind. But years of frustration, hurt, and hard feelings are difficult to overcome sometimes, and there were moments when I wanted to let everything come screaming out.
But I didn’t do that. Instead I sat and answered questions, seeking somehow instinctively for the higher ground in every answer I gave. No one, I think, was more surprised than me. I knew I had been perceived as a bad person, virtually a monster, for years by the other person. I had the chance in that room to prove I wasn’t. And I think I did.
I realized afterward that I was actually grateful for being given such a moment.
I am not a perfect person. I have done wrong, made mistakes, some worse than others. I’m not sure there is anyone in the world who could claim otherwise. But that’s not all I’ve done, and they’re not the only things about me that matter. There is a lot of good, as well. Even more now, I think.
And not because of what I did, but because of what I didn’t do.
Ultimately, what I proved to myself once again is that bad things can end up making me a better person. I thought I would have understood that well by now. I know I have to choose that path, however, and it’s always a harder road to follow. But I am stronger now than I was. I am kinder than I was. I can own up to the fact that, yes, I have caused other people pain (albeit unintentionally) and be sorry for that, but not feel as if I deserve to be punished for the rest of my life. Nor do I wish to punish or hurt anyone else for the injustices I feel have been done to me. Enough harm has already been done to us all. Time, I hope, for everyone to move on.
But I may not be done yet. I may have to testify further, I don’t quite know. At least now everyone involved knows what I will say, what they can expect from me should I be asked to speak again. And I know for myself that I will be able to do so.
I’m sure somehow this will all make its way out into my work, my poems. That is how I usually speak most clearly, through my writing.
The past couple of days I’ve actually begun to feel lighter, better, as if my soul has been unburdened. It’s a good feeling, one I want to try and hang on to whatever comes next. And though I could never say I was happy about any of what’s happened (it has all caused too much damage to ever be the case), feeling better is close enough. I’ll take it, and be thankful.