My two close-encounters with the courts both happened in the summer of 1995. I was 21 years old. The first was because of an incident while living in Nelson, B.C. One winter Sunday night after a nice supper, my boyfriend, roommate and I decided to get dressed up. We didn’t have much money then, but we scrounged around for our thrift store best and decided to hit the town. Problem was, where do you go in a small town on a Sunday night? We had a friend who worked at the Subway downtown so we decided we would head down there to should him our fancy-ish clothes.
It was cold and pretty icy on the street. I was shivering in my little black dress and slipping around in my girly little shoes, when a car screeches to a stop beside us and a guy jumps out. He has crazy eyes. Crazy. He grabs my boyfriend and starts punching him. My roommate keeps walking, hoping to draw us away. More guys pile out of the car, but they just stand there watching. I start screaming, “Get off him! Stop it! Stop hitting him!” I scream at his friends, but they just shrug their shoulders and say there’s nothing they can do to stop him – we should just get out of there. So I keep yelling at this idiot to stop, angry that he won’t even turn around and look at me. So I shout “Look at me!! Look at me you coward! Look me in the eye!!” What’s he gonna do to a buck-o-five in a little black dress?
Crack. He punched me in the head. Twice. Then I fell down. Even though that bastard turned around to hit me, he didn’t look at me. And he didn’t say a word. Someone pulled me out of the way, then things seemed to break up. I don’t really remember how things happened next, but eventually he took off in the car and the three of us turned around and went home to put ice on our bruises.
The next day I had two black eyes. Maybe more purplish. I called the doctor in case I had a concussion or eye damage. I explained to the receptionist what happened, and she asked if he was in the house with me. What? I don’t even know who he is! (There ended my naivety about domestic violence.) While we were waiting to go to the police station to place charges against this stranger, I was flipping through the local paper. When I opened to the sports section his face leapt out at me. Here, the day after he attacked me, he was featured in a two-page spread as a local hockey hero. While I read quotes about what a superstar and great guy he was, I nursed my bruises and wished I could tell the world what a loser he was, attacking a defenseless girl. I wanted to tell everyone what a coward he was, hitting someone half his size who he couldn’t even look in the eye.
I didn’t feel very hopeful when I entered the Nelson Police Station. Hockey pictures covered the wall. The officers listened to my statement and I told them I only knew who he was because of the paper. Turns out he had done the same thing to a few other folks that night- apparently he was in an alcohol fuelled rage - but no one else was pressing charges. I wanted him to pay – he had been drafted by the Chicago Wolves in the AHL, and I hoped an assault charge would keep him from being able to cross the border to play. I don’t know if it would have. I wanted to interfere with his career so he would have to acknowledge me, what he did. Be sorry? I don’t know. Accept responsibility.
I didn’t hear anything more about the case until I had moved up to Dawson City, Yukon for the summer. I got a message to call someone in Nelson – Justice Department, cop, lawyer, I can’t remember. They told me I needed to be in court in two days. I explained that I was way up north, hours from a major airport, and I that I hated to fly. I made arrangements to take time off work, take the bus to southern B.C., and testify against my attacker. The next day I got a call back saying there would be no trial. He paid a fine instead. I forget now if it was $200 or $400. Small potatoes for a hockey star. Small price to pay for randomly venting your anger on a stranger. Or is it?
I haven’t thought much about “J.R.” over the years, but getting the jury summons today made me think of him. So I googled him. He did go on to the AHL – and just about any other league besides the NHL, even in Scotland and France. He was a not-quite fourth-liner goon who changed teams more than he changed his socks. He highlighted in off-season hockey fight clubs like “Battle of the Hockey Enforcers” and “Hockey Gladiators” - title fights for cash and whatever glory you can scrape back up off the ice. He was, in a word, a loser. And that makes me feel a little bit better.
But he still hit me, while somehow managing to ignore the fact that I was a person, a soul. When I do think of him I figure he must be a broken man – lost, angry, alone. And if I saw him today, yes, I would make him look me in the eye. I would tell him how awful what he did was. And I would feel angry. And I would feel bitter. And I would feel self-righteous. But I would pray. Then I would look him in the eye and tell him I forgive him. Even if I didn’t really feel like it I would trust Jesus and forgive him.
So I guess I did just that.
And I'll probably have to do it again.