Common Criminals (Reprinted from my Initial Site Circa 2000)

“For my father, who spent most of my life in the South of France.”

Sitting in the courtroom, I possessed a feeling of superiority to those around me.  There was my stepmother, who I believed to be one of the most naive people I’d ever met.  Of course, there was my father, who I lied about all my life, and the plethora of criminals and rednecks.  I don’t know what made me feel superior.  Maybe it was my city-fied clothing and thoughts.  Or possibly it was because I knew–okay, assumed–that I was more educated than half of the room.  I guess this explained why I kept smoothing my clothes, brushing back my braids and sticking my chin in the air.  I just wanted everyone to know I was above these proceedings.  That I, like the judge, commanded respect and to cross me would be very dangerous.  I knew I didn’t have that power, but I wanted everyone else to believe that I did.

Supporting my father came naturally.  It shouldn’t; after all, this is the man that allowed me to spend my seventh year of life expecting a pony to show up on my doorstep.  The only present I got from him that year was his absence.   But I could never hold a grudge.  Nothing upset me about anyone for more than a week.  My father benefited most from my benevolence. Despite knowing that he was a drug-addicted jailbird, I loved him.  Anything that he asked of me, I would have done without hesitation.   Maybe I should have learned something from my sister about grudge holding because I wouldn’t be sitting here wondering what would happen next and half-praying vengeance on my father’s accusers.  Instead, I could be in California in the relative safety of my mother’s home.

I had been in Florida only two days when I learned of the court date.

“You have to go to court with your father.” Leia said quietly

“Huh?”

“Your father is being hauled into court by a crazy woman.  She is accusing your father of stalking her” Leia’s voice rose above the radio, “For heaven’s sake, he had just had a stroke and it was a misdial and she wants to make it a federal case.  She wrote the judge telling him it was a hate crime because she was white.”

“That doesn’t sound logical.”  My heart was pounding while my ears burned in anger, but I couldn’t allow her to see that.  This anger was strange.  It was a mixture of disbelief and belief. It was as though I wanted to believe in my father, but I knew I didn’t.

“I know.  You should have seen her face when I showed up in the courtroom for the arraignment.  Her face slap hit the floor.” Leia’s blue eyes danced as she laughed.

“Bet she felt stupid, dumb ass” I chuckled then covered my mouth realizing my nine-year-old brother could hear me.

“She’s slapped a restraining order on your father.  She had him thrown in jail” Leia’s chest was heaving.

“Come on, that’s ridiculous.”

“Oh, it just gets better.  She also started researching your father’s family.  She found out he has another child besides your brother.  She got all confused and thought it was your cousin”

“How the hell is she getting all this information?  What is she a psycho?”  My brows furrowed and my lips tensed.

“Oh, yeah, she’s a psycho all right.  She works right there in the County Courthouse as a clerk.” Leia informed me.

“What?”

Okay, this was too much for me to process.  It sounded so simple when it all began, but it became a gradually more complicated story.  I think it was all it’s complexities that made me stop listening to Leia yap on.  I didn’t want to know.  She said that the woman knew that one of my father’s kids lived in California.  In that instant, her attack on my father became personal. Who the hell gave this woman the right to turn around and stalk my father?  And what gave her the right to stalk me?  So maybe fury was more a motivation than love, but I knew one thing for sure, that if this woman had done everything my stepmother was accusing her of, she would pay.

“Why don’t you sue her for stalking you?” I asked thinking that it was the logical deduction of any rational human being.

“We can’t, because she accused your father first”

“What’s that got to do with a civil suit.”

I came from the most litigious state in the union.  Suing was second nature to me as a Californian.   So whatever Leia’s reasoning was for not wanting to bring forth a civil suit wasn’t good enough for me.   I decided not to pursue it further.  I would rather sit fuming in silence than listen to this ass backwards woman tell me that the couldn’t do this or that for the most asinine reasons.

Now here I sat, with that same woman waiting for to hear the fate of my father’s saga with the phantom menace that worked in the courthouse.  As case after case was called, I watch the dredges of society stand in front of the judge with their heads hung down, as if they were ashamed, but I wondered if they were ashamed of what they had done or ashamed because they had been caught.  One woman became the focal point of my inquisitiveness.  I suppose it was because we looked to be the same age.  Her wavy dark hair reminded me of my girlfriend’s back home. Although my friends would never have worn a red bandana as a headband, nor would they wear Daisy Duke shorts or a T-shirt that had been made a half top with dull scissors.    She wasn’t thoroughly unattractive. In fact, with the right haircut and a better choice in clothing, she could have just as easily been walking down Rodeo Drive on her cell phone while men drove by checking out her assets.  But she wasn’t, she was here in the St. John’s County Courthouse having a trial date set for probation violation and resisting arrest.  Seems this “young lady” had gotten herself into a barroom brawl and did not want to go to jail.  It’s too bad really.   I wonder if she had hope for the future like I did.  Or was she like the friends I had left behind so many years ago who only hoped that they could feed all the babies they were making and hold on to a man for more than a couple of months.  A life like the latter was hopeless to me.   The part of me who wants to rescue the wounded wanted to take her by the hand and make her into a carbon copy of everything that was good and hopeful, but the other part of me, the real me despised her existence.

It was finally my father’s turn to take his place in front of the judge.  My father was calculating.  He had worn a pair of slacks and sports jacket with a T-shirt depicting praying hands and the catch phrase “Real Men Love Jesus”.   And I can still hear him chucking in the foyer with Mr Koning, his attorney, “The judge will like this one,” he said this proudly displaying the T-shirt.  Watching him before the judge now, he reminded me of OJ.  All that pomp and circumstance to cover up the fact that he was a worthless human being.  But what gave me the right to judge everyone so harshly.  I was no Polaroid of perfection.  In fact I had spent my teenage years pretending to be in a gang and standing on street corners drinking 40’s.

But I wasn’t on trial, my father was.  As the judge called us to order once again, all the bile in my stomach rose to my throat.  I wanted to reach out and hold Leia’s hand, but I wouldn’t.  She wasn’t my mother and I wasn’t about to let her feel as though she’d won me over at this moment or ever.

“How do you plead, Mr. Brashares?” The judge asked my father.

“No contest your honor.”  My dad said loudly.

“All right, Madam District Attorney, will you please read the charges against the defendant.”

“Your honor, the State of Florida has accepted Mr. Brashares plea of no contest to one count of harassment, one count of….”

“Hold on! I ain’t guilty.  I wanna change my plea.”  My father’s voice went through me like nails on a blackboard.

He hadn’t learned a thing. Murmuring began to fill the courtroom.  I wanted to hide my face and make it go away.  How could he be so terribly ignorant?  Mr. Koning had told him that if he plead no contest that he would be free to go.

“What’s happening?” Leia leaned over and asked.

“Your husband is an idiot.”

Leia looked at me as if I had seven heads on my shoulders.  She never expected me to disrespect my father that way.

“What did you say?” I could tell she wanted to slap me.

” I said he’s an idiot. Two more minutes and the whole damn incident would be over.”  I shook my head.

“Roxy, how can you say that?”

I looked at her then looked away.  Had she forgotten how many times he’d yelled at her for no more than dinner not being on the table or for my brother not doing what he was told to do?

“Shhhhh!”

“Excuse me, your honor.”  It was the voice of Nancy Laughlin, the DA.

“Yes, Ms. Laughlin.”

“It seems that Mr. Brashares has three bench warrants outstanding.”

I think my heart skipped a few beats in those next few moments.  Gasps filled the courtroom and I looked at Leia, expecting an explanation.

As the DA read off drug charges, my feelings of superiority melted away. I was no longer any better than anyone else in the room.  I was currently residing in a suspected drug domicile.  I was the daughter of a man who was accused of possession with intent to sell.  For the first time in my life, I felt like a criminal.

Had I laundered his money?  Had his filthy lucre to bought Christmas gifts, airline tickets, my new car or paid part of my tuition?  Had I willingly taken coinage from my father to cover my bills that had contributed to the dissolution of society?

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