A man has his limits. He has to, or what else is there?
That boy came into my house in the dead of night. While my wife and baby were asleep. There’s nothing more than that.
Do you have a wife?
Do you have a child?
Now I’m told to produce witnesses. “It will come down to character,” my lawyer says. “What good things you’ve done, if the jury thinks you’re a good man. Who will testify?”
Who will testify? Let me break into your house in the dead of night, take something of yours. Let me come back and break in again. Then you’ll understand why I left my shotgun loaded by the door.
And now my son is growing without me.
The newspapers say it was a game. High school kids looking for beer, petty cash. Garage-hopping, they called it. The week before, they’d stolen my wife’s wallet and cell phone. They’d stolen my bong, a glass jar of weed.
With these rich kids it’s always a game. Where I grew up you knew what would happen if you broke into another man’s house. People had respect.
“We got a bill,” my wife says. Small holes circle the bulletproof glass above her face, as if one side, mine or hers, might run out of air. Her thick makeup reminds me of our wedding day. News cameras follow her whenever she leaves the house.
“From his parents’ lawyers. For a plane ticket and a casket and I don’t know what else.” She stops. “If they think we’re going to pay to ship their rat son back to them.” Her eyes are bloodshot. She leans back, squinting at the light above my head.
I don’t respond.
“He’s not even a U.S. citizen.”
The boy was Turkish but from Germany. A foreign exchange student in Montana for one semester. The other prisoners find it funny. Welcome to America, they call me.
“Hey, Welcome to America.” The voice carries down the dark cellblock. “What are you, man? You a Mexican? You some kind of chink?”
The first time Mr. Shin slipped on his front steps I was nine years old. My mother brought me over to his house with a pot of ox-bone soup. I wasn’t born with the cloak of this country wrapped around my shoulders. Half white, half Korean, to some people that’s nothing. Mr. Shin’s whole right leg was in a cast. The next time he slipped I was eleven. I went over on my own, taking the bag of salt from the kitchen cupboard. I poured it down his steps like I’d seen the city workers do in the street. From then on, I did this each icy morning.
But Mr. Shin is dead, and my mother—I can’t think of her on the stand. Who would believe a man’s mother?
My small, gray-eyed lawyer becomes a team of small, gray-eyed lawyers. They whisper to each other and their eyes brighten. My case has gained national interest. It’s become a proving ground, they say, for the Castle Doctrine.
Interview requests flood in from CNN, Fox News, the BBC, but I’m not allowed to speak. I’m meat. Guards move me from one place to another. To be photographed, to be searched, to be spoken of like a child, as if I wasn’t there.
My wife brought my son to the visitation room yesterday. Eleven months old and already in the county jail. I wanted to laugh when I saw him gawking up at the fluorescent lights, his fist wrapped through my wife’s hair. I reached out to touch the glass and for a moment she held him away from me.
I get so angry in here I try to rip the steel bunk from the cinderblock wall.
This morning I waited for four hours outside the courtroom, watching feet pass on the marble floor. Loafers, flats, boots, sneakers. The soles left black marks on the waxed surface. Then I was taken inside where the prosecutor twisted my childhood into a dark little knot. I heard myself become dangerous, disturbed. Her voice rose to an exclamation point at the end of each sentence. She’s a bony, anxious woman, the kind my father would say needs a firm hand. I kept my eyes on the base of the bench. I tried to look like a good man. My handcuff-tender wrists itched in the starched cuffs of my suit.
After a while, the sound of the prosecutor’s voice blended in with the buzzing of the fluorescent lights and the clack of the stenographer’s keyboard. My eyelids sagged. I lost track of what a good man would look like. I saw Mr. Shin falling in the snow. My lawyer nudged my elbow with his notebook.
“Hey, Welcome to America. It’s showtime.” The word echoes down the hall, repeating in various cells. “Showtime, showtime, showtime, showtime.” I don’t know how they found out. They find out everything in here.
Everything except who I am.
The prosecutor played a video for the jury today. My own security system being used against me; the one I installed after my wife’s wallet and phone were stolen. On the court’s rolling television set, I watched myself pad down my dark hallway in boxer shorts. I looked older and thicker than I remembered. I crouched just inside the front door. I tipped my head toward the muffled noises coming from the garage.
“Showtime,” I said, as I picked up the shotgun.
I don’t remember saying it. And even if I did, the facts remain. But my lawyer turned away, blanched, before reshuffling his notes.
Clouds hid the moon. I crept down from the porch and around the back of my truck. I looked into the dark mouth of the garage. I heard rustling, the sound of metal on metal. The small hairs on my arms stood up. I gripped the shotgun.
The garage is attached to our house. He could’ve come inside, walked down the hall to where my nine-month-old was asleep in his crib. Done…done what? Done everything. My dreams flee through the cinderblock walls.
Neighbors and a man from TrueGreen Lawn Care testify that I frightened them, made them physically afraid. Every day, the prosecutor says, I was at war.
I want to stand up behind the defense table and tell them about the days when I could hardly leave my bed, when all I wanted to do was pour salt on an icy walk. The times I made dinner for my wife. The way our son looked at me as he drifted off to sleep.
“They should be thanking you,” my wife says. “The neighborhood is safe now.” Her lips begin to tremble. She looks at the empty orange chair beside her. “Everyone is just waiting for me to move.”
“Showtime.” The word follows me into my sleep, repeating like the four shots I fired.
Tall, black-haired, handsome. His friends testify to his skill as a midfielder. His easygoing nature. They say he didn’t understand certain things about America. “What’d you get?” my father used to ask, when we went hunting.
Eight thousand dollars to ship him home.
I have sisters, cousins. There are many testaments: small kindnesses, loans, but which of them could be held up to the moment when I turned on the garage light and saw him, a child really, lying beside the open fridge. His remaining eye blank but his lips open and quivering, as if with the right word he might still recover.