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“I don’t know!” She said it straight to the jury, speaking loudly for once. “I don’t remember!” Selective amnesia, my sister wrote on her notepad. But Caitlin seemed genuinely agitated as she described the next thing she remembered: being in Brian’s car—and seeing her bloody reflection in the rearview mirror. “There was something . . . ” She waved her hand across her face.
“I went back inside,” she said, “to wash up. I didn’t know . . . . And then I saw something on the carpeting—this big red stripe, like something got drug down the hall.”
“When you saw that, what did you do?”
“I yelled for Brian,” she said. “I couldn’t find my phone to call for help.”
Caitlin recounted following that trail, to find Brian on the floor of his bedroom, face down.
“I went over to him, and when I came up by his waist, he grabbed my ankle—like in a scary movie. His hand … was all red. And he said—it was awful—he said ‘I’m going to kill you, you retarded bitch.’ And he jerked real hard on my ankle, and I fell against the dresser and hit my head—right where he’d gotten me with the clicker.”
That’s when Caitlin remembered the loaded gun Brian kept in his sock drawer. Something he bragged about, she said (and I could only imagine how BriaNation would react; Brian was surely responsible in gun ownership as in everything else). Her head was throbbing and Brian was still coming after her, dragging himself along the floor. She took the gun from the drawer.
“Did he see it?”
“I think so, because he came at me faster.”
“And you didn’t run?”
“I would’ve had to jump over him, and he’d already pulled me down once.”
“So what did you do?”
“I fired the gun.”
“Were you trying to shoot him?”
“I was trying to scare him.”
“You weren’t aiming the gun at Brian when you fired?”
“I didn’t know how to use it—I’d never even held a gun before.”
“Do you remember hitting him?”
“Do you remember shooting the gun again?”
She shot him six times, as we all knew. As she described it, Brian Davis’s family members wept and embraced in the front row of the gallery. Were they imagining Brian’s pain, or how he’d treated Caitlin? The cable station’s big HD camera swiveled toward the family and Jana adjusted the scarf at her throat.
“Miss Martin,” said the attorney, “do you remember what happened next?”
She shook her head. “I must’ve walked home.”
A twelve-mile walk with blood on her face in the middle of the night. Did someone pick her up from Brian’s? She couldn’t remember. Nor did she remember what she’d done with the gun; she couldn’t remember anything about the knife. But it’s impossible, or nearly so, that anyone but Caitlin disposed of those weapons. They were found, wiped, in a brackish lake behind a discount shopping center, just across the highway from her apartment complex. Caitlin lived in Pine Hills, a rough part of Orlando—dangerous enough for Tamara Gold to ask, “What was a ‘nice’ girl like her doing in Crime Hills?” Did Caitlin figure, when she dumped her weapons, that they’d just blend in with all the others? Instead, they were found within forty-eight hours of Brian’s death. A partial print was taken from the handle of the eight-inch chef’s knife—the only piece missing from Brian’s Wüsthof set. The shopping center even turned over fuzzy surveillance footage of a slim figure crossing the parking lot on December 12th. In other words, Caitlin had no idea how not to get caught. On the stand, she clutched a tissue, weeping or pretending to. She only cries for herself, Jana wrote. Never for Brian. But I can bring myself to the verge of panic by imagining myself in Caitlin’s place, that night or in the witness box. In Caitlin’s place, I would’ve done anything to save myself.
When court adjourns for the day, Jana and I file outside. We won’t be back, thank God. We will soon become rational creatures again, interested in matters of consequence. Even so, I offer to take a picture of Jana in front of the courthouse—a souvenir. “Sure,” she whispers. She reties her scarf, eyeing the crowd on the plaza. Every day we leave the orderly courtroom to meet BriaNation in full regalia. Supporters of the Davis family carry homemade signs and distribute buttons; Brian’s face is everywhere. On Wednesday, a trial-watcher was even arrested for trying too insistently to hug a grieving Davis. Cable crews troll this motley crowd, angling for interviews. It’s a scene we’ll remember, with or without photographs. Still, I dig through my tote for my camera. When I look up, my sister is waving to someone. CaitlinMartian, TrialWatcher69, Wild4Trialz—all of Jana’s friends know that we’re flying home tomorrow, all will want to say goodbye. But approaching us, quickly, is a woman with tall yellow hair, an electric blue powersuit. A familiar face—but not, I realize, from among our circle of courtroom acquaintances. It’s Tamara Gold, of The Gold Standard.
Jana waves again and Gold calls out: “Which of ya’ll girls is the blogger?” My camera is in my hands; I raise it, take the incredible picture of my sister shaking hands with Gold, then being led away by a waifish young man with gelled hair and a clipboard. The portion of BriaNation that orbits the cable crews closes around Gold and Jana, trundling in a mass toward a more scenic corner of the plaza. They leave me behind. Jana is right there, I know, but from this vantage, I can’t be sure that she hasn’t disappeared.
Which one of you is the blogger?—I find my phone at the bottom of my bag, turn it on. “Domestic violence is a cancer,” Jana had tweeted earlier, “Remember the real victim #EarlyDetection #Survivor #JusticeforBrian.” The post links back to her blog—to the post she wrote at recess:
As a cancer survivor, I know what it’s like to be surprised. By the time I knew my thyroid was diseased, the only way to save myself was to get rid of it. That’s the situation that Brian was in. Caitlin Martin was a cancer, but he couldn’t see it, no matter how hard he looked. He couldn’t see she had changed from normal to malignant. We don’t know exactly why that happened—whether Caitlin mutated or was cancerous from birth—but we do know that Brian should have gotten rid of her at the first sign of abnormality. He was too trusting to do this, and because of his kindness he made the ultimate sacrifice.
I read it again, lingering on that last phrase. The ultimate sacrifice? If Jana were beside me, instead of lost inside that sycophantic circle, I’d ask her how she could use such language—this trite, militaristic euphemism—to describe being killed in a domestic dispute. Sacrifice denotes willingness, I’d tell her; sacrifice means giving up something for someone else.
But what would my protest mean, when many, many trial-watchers have already reposted this paragraph of Jana’s? I scroll through dozens of supportive notes in her comments section. This is no place for me to post my objections. If I unfollowed her now, HatinCaitlinM wouldn’t even notice.
* * *
I wait for nearly an hour on the plaza—watching the crowd thin and skateboarders emerge, to grind down the concrete stairs—before Gold’s assistant finds me.
“Miss Karlin? Your sister asked me to tell you that you should meet her back at the hotel.”
“No,” I say, reflexively. “How will she get there without me?”
Miss Gold will take care of that, he assures me; it won’t be much longer.
“My sister can barely speak—I don’t understand how an interview, or whatever they’re doing, could take this long.”
“Everyone is aware of Mrs. Sheehan’s condition. Miss Gold’s production team just has a few details left to work out with your sister.”
Mrs. Sheehan—Jana’s married name, her legal name. It’s as unexpected as the phrase production team. “Is Jana going to be on TV?” I’ve never seen anything approaching this fuss when the cable crew solicits reactions on the plaza. But I’ve never paid much attention, either.
“I’m not at liberty, but I’m sure Mrs. Sheehan will explain everything later.”
“I’d rather wait here.”
“Miss Karlin, your sister left with Miss Gold. The easiest thing would be to wait for her at the hotel. Miss Gold’s driver will deliver Mrs. Sheehan in just a bit, safe and sound.”
I check my phone. Its blankness confirms what he’s saying: Jana has abandoned me. And so I go. Alone in our musty hotel room, I find the court channel, but I can’t bear to listen to it, or even to watch its muted faces, frowning earnestly. I pack my suitcase, pack Jana’s, too, ticking off the minutes until our flight the next morning. I’m glad we didn’t allow an extra day for Universal Studios, Gatorland, Disney World—any of the garish amusements whose brochures litter this cheap room. Jana spent her honeymoon at Disney, but I’ve never been; our family never made that trip. In fact I’ve only visited Florida once before this, over the Labor Day weekend following my college graduation. My senior-year boyfriend had been recruited by a consulting firm; he was rooming with another new consultant in an apartment paid for by the firm. He drove a company car and had already identified the company girl he would date after me. The attraction we’d felt for each other at college, tucked away in the mountains of western Massachusetts, didn’t translate into the denuded landscape of central Florida. I remember the stark white beaches, the bleached-white sky, the sheen of sweat and oil on my clammy white face. I felt incongruous and plain at beachside bars; I felt shy of the body he’d built over the summer, working out to kill time until his job started. That relationship amounted to nothing; he’s someone I sometimes forget, when I tally the men I’ve been with. But being in Florida for the trial reminds me of who I was, on that other visit—someone awkward and confused, a stranger even to the calendar of my post-college life. That boyfriend dumped me on the drive to the Tampa airport, and as soon as I landed in Boston, I began my stint as a temp. Now, fifteen years later, I’m waiting in an Orlando hotel room for my sister, on the eve of flying back to our hometown. I could almost believe that my life away from her never happened, or mattered.
I tap my phone to life: no messages. But at the top of my meager Twitter feed—
“@GoldStandard: Meet your new on-air correspondent! #JusticeforBrian.”
I’m still considering this when the card reader buzzes and Jana comes in. She waves, an exhausted gesture. It’s almost 10 o’clock. We’ve gotten up every morning this week at four to get seats in the gallery. Ten o’clock in a strange town, and Jana didn’t message me about her whereabouts—except insofar as she tweeted her followers. Now she nods to my phone.
“You saw?” she asks aloud.
“No ‘congratulations’?” Her hand goes to her throat and she pulls her phone from her blazer pocket. “Did you watch my segment?” she texts.
“I missed it.”
“They’ll be more,” she types. “They hired me as a commentator!”
“You can’t speak.” It’s the first thing that comes to my mind. How could you? is next.
“I’ll type,” she texts. “Like this, but on-air with Tamara. They’ll have a display on half the screen. It’s a new angle.”
“Jana … you want to be part of this?”
She blinks at me. “Why do you think I came down here?” she texts.
“To get a spot on The Gold Standard?”
“What—you’re above this kind of thing? :P”
Yes, I’d like to answer—but after all, I’m here. “This is going to affect your life, Jana. Your job.”
She waves her hand, then types: “This IS my job now. This is something I care about.”
“What will Mom and Dad think?” This is how they’ll find out she’s had cancer … by seeing her on court TV, an expert trial-watcher with a sad backstory.