Those who knew me best could see the deep chinks in the armor of a facade I'd put up. As deep and wide as the Grand Canyon - that's how they felt to me. From what I've been told, the perception must not have been that bad.
The State calls Lauren Ratcliffe to the stand.
At least, I think it went something like that. I, of course, wasn't in the courtroom prior to that moment. It took every ounce of willpower I had to let go of my type-a control-freak nature and stay out of the courtroom until I was called to the stand.
Nothing about my trial was "ordinary." Of course, lawyers will tell you that no two trials are ever truly alike, but my case was a circus freak show of sorts. Between the nearly 18 month back and forth between my attacker and the judge and his court-appointed attorney (whom he "fired" nearly a year prior) that ended in his decision to represent himself and the litany of judicial interns and law students popping in to see what was going on - there was nothing about this that felt normal.
Between my type-A, control freak nature and my (limited) understanding of courts by virtue of my work, I, too, wasn't the normal victim. In the same way a toddler peppers his mother with countless questions, I likewise, asked away. Trying with all my might to understand the process, to feel as though by obtaining knowledge I might gain a semblance of control.
I'd wanted to be in the courtroom to hear everything in jury selection and what my district attorney said in her opening statement. I wanted to hear what type of argument the man who raped me would try to spin.
I thought that if I knew what was coming, I'd be able to steel myself for the impact. Brace for the emotional blows I'd be receiving. My prosecutors told me they wanted me to stay away. Stay in the witness ready room until it was time for me to make a grand entrance. Apparently it can be more effective for the prosecutors if the first time the jury meets the victim is when they're called to the stand. I suppose because I naturally try to feel into a sense of strength - and portray that - it makes sense for the jury to get a feel for my resolve when we made our introductions. But relinquishing that control was difficult.
Thank God for friends. The kind of friends who will sit with you, bringing binge-worthy shows to distract you. They are the kind of friends who see the ugly, scarred version of yourself that you desperately try to hide and love you all the more fiercely. I was immensely blessed with two women who came into my muck and plopped down beside me. They met me where I was in the moment and loved me without judgement. They were all the things I didn't know how to ask for.
That first day of trial was jury selection. Seconds ticked by slowly as my type-A over-analyzing inner being wondered who was being chosen to decide his fate, and mine. I'd have given anything to be a fly on the wall in that courtroom. To get a glimpse and try to size up those who would judge me. I honestly don't remember if we had the full jury selected by the end of the day. I think there was still one or two slots to fill when we left for a restless night of sleep. Knowing I'd be second on deck once things got underway all but ensured there'd be little rest.
Day two: From what I'm told, the day started with lots of back and forth with attorneys and opening statements. Those friends who came to wait with me that first day took more time off work to distract and support me again. And day two was the start of the worst of it.
In that witness prep room we sat. While my attorney laid out her case and introduced the idea of me to the jury, we sat and watched Netflix. While he told a crazy tale of how he was homeless, and I was friends with him. He spun a web of lies including how I invited him to my place where we drank beers and he did laundry and other nonsense while I paced the hallway in the courthouse and tried to kill the swarm of nervous butterflies swirling in my stomach.
I still hadn't seen the inside of the courtroom when we took a lunch break. Normally, give me a box of cheese-itz when I'm stressed and I can go to town. Not that day. I couldn't stomach anything. Sitting at the table with my family, I choked on the tears and lumps forming in the back of my throat. I'd never felt so nervous, so judged, so ... unsteady and unsure.
My mom was first to the stand. It killed me to not be able to support her in the courtroom and waiting while she testified was nearly unbearably difficult. As the second on the clock pulsed through me my anticipation grew. Would the jury believe me? Would they like me? Would they have pity on him?
When my court advocate came to retrieve me, she came with gentleness. "Are you ready?"
How do you answer such a question? I was certainly ready to receive justice, but that was not guaranteed. I was ready for it to be over. To close this dark chapter in my life and try to piece together joy and happiness again
As my well-worn high heels clanked on the marble floor the embarrassing click-clack provided relief from the echoing pulse I could hear ringing in my ears as my heart started to race. The walls of the small waiting room outside the courtroom entrance closed in around me as I forced the tears back into my eyes. Now was the time for strength, and honesty and vulnerability like I had ever experienced.
"The state calls Lauren Ratcliffe..."
And then the door opened.