Well, it had to do with one of them. He sat slumped in his chair at the desk beside the defense attorney, legs kicked out underneath the table. He looked exactly like I remembered him. "A good-looking kid, lean, muscular build, almond-shaped eyes." And when I described him like that to the judge, keeping eye contact with the kid as I did so, he winked at me.
I don't know if that's what made me cry on the stand. It could have been a lot of things, because the ordeal was so intense. I tried to remain poised, unruffled — tourist mugged in the French Quarter, no big deal — but inside, I was beginning to hemmorhage. What upset me more than the wink was the way the defense attorney twisted my words, yanked them out of context, a year after I had spoken them. That wasn't the order you gave us at the time, that wasn't what you said it that night, don't you think you should have mentioned that before now? It felt unfair, and although I don't cry when I'm scared, I do cry when I'm frustrated. I lasted through forty-five minutes of that cross-examination, and at about the forty-six-minute mark, my breath turned to hiccups, a tear torpedoed onto the witness stand, the bored boys in jumpsuits suddenly took interest, and someone wearing a tie was dispatched to get me a Kleenex.
It was awful, that hot purple ache in your throat that feels like a fist squeezing. I wanted to be unshakeable in front of that kid; I didn't want to give him the satisfaction of knowing how he'd wounded me. I didn't want to look weak, vulnerable, but what can I say? I guess he won. (By the way, he won the motion, too. But I promise things get better. I told you this wasn't a tragedy.)
I left the witness stand as the detective took it. As I passed him in the corridor, I remember feeling an extra twinge of misery that
There's something romantic about talking to someone on the phone, even if it's the romance of 1983.
he saw me this way. That morning, as we drank a cup of bad coffee and made each other laugh just to lighten the mood, I had taken such pride in my composure — me, the one always crying in restaurants. But here I was again, red eyes and runny mascara.
I went to the women's bathroom, locked myself in the stall and cried.
It was the kind of crying that feels like vomiting. Or screaming. Or an orgasm, except that kind of ecstasy was the furthest thing from my mind. I didn't even sit on the toilet; I just stood there, face covered with slimy hands, bent over close to the plastic toilet-paper dispenser. I don't know how long I was in there. Twenty minutes? Five? When I finally emerged, I discovered a woman in the corner, silent and worried, waiting for the right time to ask if I was okay.
The defense attorney was earning his paycheck that day. Outside the courtroom, I could hear a cross-examination as grueling as mine. There was yelling, and repeated objections, and I thought at first that Nick might actually be losing his temper on the stand, but that was before I learned that Nick is one of the calmest people I know. Oh, that's his name, by the way: Nick. I'm going to stop calling him "the detective" now, and this is pretty much the moment I made that switch in my real life, too.
Nick looked beat when he came out of the courtroom. "Some cases are better than others," he said with a sigh. And then: "Come on. Let me take you to lunch."
I don't know how to explain what happened next. Or maybe I don't want to. It's funny, because I feel like I'm always falling in love with strangers — the friendly guy at the bodega, the scruffy delivery boy with a messenger bag — but the idea of romance with Nick hadn't even occurred to me. Because he was a detective in New Orleans, and I was a writer in New York, and I knew exactly the parameters of what we were doing at that moment: we were just two people, joking away a bad morning.
A week later, I sent him a gift. I wanted to thank him for lunch; I also, probably, wanted to make sure he didn't forget me. Two weeks after that, he sent me a card. I wrote him a letter. He sent me a book. We started talking on the phone — for hours at a stretch, like we were middle schoolers confined to our bedroom. Our second phone conversation lasted three hours. And we didn't hang up. His cellphone battery ran out.