Continued from the print edition
A couple of weeks later we had drinks with the understanding that she was going to lend me sage advice on handling the rigors of law school. A half dozen John Daniels (He’s Jack to strangers and John to his old friends) and Cokes later, we were expanding the boundaries of our mentor to mentee relationship. It was decent, memorable only because of the words she said. “I love my boyfriend,” she blurted. I nodded, either in agreement or understanding. I can’t decide which. Then, we proceeded.
It would be another week or so before we did it again. She avoided me, or I her. We crossed paths in the library. The Red Bull that powered me nightly through numbing readings of vicarious liability and statutory interpretation was dissipating. I no longer had wings. She claimed to have a case of Diet Coke. She offered, the Diet Coke of course, and I obliged, of course. The Diet Coke was warm, as was she. It was quiet and rushed, but exhilarating.
We continued, every Wednesday night for the almost the duration of the semester. It continued to be rushed and quiet, and towards the end it felt very mechanical. Before the beginning of final exams, she divulged that the guilt was too much to bear. She reminded me that she was in love with her boyfriend. Again, I nodded either in agreement or understanding. I still cannot decide which. I was raised Catholic, so guilt is second nature for me. However, I’ve never really taken to it, and it none to me. Guilt and Southern Comfort are my foes.
The summer before my 3L year, I worked as an associate for a mid-sized law firm. The firm worked mainly in government contracts. I didn’t want to take the position, but I needed the money. Half way through my internship, the firm hosted all the associates at a baseball game. I was having a sh**** day and was in a sh**** mood and was forced to smile and eat sh** while watching a sh**** baseball team get slaughtered by another sh**** baseball team. I’m a baseball snob. I’m from a city that has two baseball teams, both with multiple World Series titles. We take baseball seriously. It is not merely an afterthought. Our stadiums are not merely pawns in city politics. There was free booze in the corporate suite, of which I availed myself to. I was on drink four by the third inning and quitting time was a long ways off.
One of the supervising partners, a serious man in an ill fitting Men’s Wearhouse suit, took to starting a conversation with me. We had spoken only a few times before; mostly forced small talk by the coffee pot or when we were trapped in the 14 floor elevator ride from the mezzanine to the firm’s floor. He told me that the firm was glad to have me on board, and asked me how I was enjoying my summer so far. Usually, I am adept at lying and lying well. I worked for a U.S. senator for four years and a city mayor for three. I had witnessed the best do it and I’m a quick learner. But on this day, lying took the day off.
Maybe it was the heat or the alcohol or the hapless game between two teams that hadn’t been to the playoffs in over a decade – but I was in no mood to b*******. And so, I didn’t. I replied that my summer sucked. That I hated each day going to work more than the previous. That in the mornings, I cursed my decision to go to law school. That in the shower, during the 60 seconds it takes for my overpriced shampoo/conditioner combination to work its magic, I thought of creative excuses to call out sick. That I spent the first half of each work day trolling eBay for useless sh**. That I made several advances on the Spanish paralegal whom was thirty years my senior. That more than once I was so hung over from binge drinking the night before that I took a nap in the bathroom stall. That I was sleeping with a college undergrad. That had nothing to do with work, but I was really embarrassed that at 29 years old I was watching Channing Tatum films with a 19 year old girl in an off-campus dormitory. Since I was in the midst of an honesty spill, it made sense to mention it. The partner never once interrupted me. He nodded, sipped his light beer and waited until I was finished. After a few minutes, I had unloaded everything that was taking refuge in my head at that moment. As my uncle would quip, I had suffered from “constipation of the brain, diarrhea of the mouth.”
The partner methodically finished his beer. Literally seconds after my rant, I was sick with buyer’s remorse. I was convinced that I had just executed my legal career. Before I could mutter a limp apology, the partner smiled and said, “My life sucks.” He continued, “Work is work. I have to do it. My wife doesn’t work and the private school tuition for my kids is $20,000 each. If I could turn back the hands of time, I would. I would go back to teaching. My car and house would pale in comparison, and vacations would be pedestrian, but I would actually enjoy my life.” He took a moment to ponder and reflect. He shrugged, uttered “fuck it”, and proceeded to order another light beer.
As he drifted off with his light beer in hand, I fell silent. I was embarrassed and relieved. Embarrassed that my rant led to a proud and accomplished man in his 40s to reveal so much of his life to a drunken summer associate. Relieved that I still had time in my life to make sure it never mirrored his. A lawyer saved my life that night. I finished out the summer with the firm. The partner and I never crossed paths again, but his words burned a hole in my conscious. The final weeks of the summer did not seem so bad anymore. I made decent money. I began dating one of the other summer associates who at 25 was considerably closer to my age, maturity level and movie tastes. On my final day, I skipped on the summer associate lunch and left work early to make happy hour at a bar on the Hill. I knew I was never going to work at a firm again. I was never going to practice law. I sent that partner a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label wrapped in fancy designer paper. In the attached card, I scribbled “f*** it”. I repeat, a lawyer saved my life that night.