Once upon a time, I had to go to court to dispute a speeding ticket. I was seventeen and had been caught careening down my small town’s main street at 73 miles an hour, on my way to turn in a history paper that, in retrospect, was not important at all. After sobbing to the state trooper about the vital importance of said history paper, I was issued a citation for $250. I felt an immediate rush of panic about telling my dad, combined with excitement about the chance to wear a dramatically demure outfit to court and plead my innocence.
I spent weeks planning a foolproof trial wardrobe and defense. I decided I would wear a cream skirt with flower embroidery, a black shirt with pearl buttons and a rounded collar, black tights, ballet flats, a red vintage scarf, and round sunglasses. I would say that if society wanted to persecute me for striving to be a good student, then I would dutifully pay the price, but I would forever lament the injustice of a legal system that so callously ignored a citizen’s right to life, liberty, and the 73-mile-an-hour pursuit of an A on my essay about the industrial revolution.
The day of my court date, everything went according to plan: my outfit looked great, and my note cards were in order. When I walked out the door, it was chilly and I felt a raindrop, so I ran back inside and grabbed a random coat from the laundry room. This random coat happened to be my mom’s dilapidated fleece pullover, but I didn’t think much of it as I slipped it on and headed to the courthouse.
When I arrived, I strutted through the big doors and down the hall to my assigned courtroom. I whipped off my glamorous shades and faced a huge room packed with traffic offenders and nonviolent felons. People were glaring and the judge’s bench was much more imposing than I’d anticipated and the whole thing was very scary. I dropped my note cards into my bag and perched on the edge of a bench next to a woman with a crying baby and I felt nothing like Winona Ryder.
The judge came in and the clerk started calling names for rapid-fire public pleas. I was hyperventilating. About fifteen minutes in, they called my name. I stood up on wobbly legs and they asked me for my plea. I opened my mouth to speak but suddenly all I could think was, “Oh my god, I’m wearing a fleece covered in dog hair.”
“Guilty,” I said.