Monday, May 25, 2009

Drawn to Law

What was it, apart from a secondary satisfaction to ride out the 1992 recession in the shelter of graduate school (not that incurring additional expense made sense), that had me moving through the Gateway to the West, settling in St. Louis, Missouri, for a doomed attempt at law school? Was it because I'd been told numerous times in my life that I'd make a good lawyer? (And why was that? For a logical mind or an eye for detail? Because I was good at arguing?) I remember that during orientation at Washington University (a.k.a. Wash U), I quickly came to dislike the getting-to-know-you chitchat at social events, because I'd be asked first where I went to college and then what my major had been. Coming from a small liberal arts college with no official pre-law program (we got taught how to think across subjects), I got used to the incredulous looks I received when I said I'd majored in French Language. It was obvious, too, from my urban, "updated Annie Hall" style of dress and my eschewing of foundation makeup and neatly coiffed hair, that I wasn't exactly a cultural match for my new setting. But despite the skepticism of those around me (including friends who knew me as more of a hell-raiser than anyone prone to law enforcement) I felt I was there for a reason, and at the time, that reason was to pursue a J.D. degree with an eye toward a lock-'em-up position in a district attorney's office. I remember two main influences that put me on this path, though I probably had other reasons, now lost to me. First, I was friends with more than one teenage girl who had been the victim of a violent crime for which there never seemed to be a remedy (legal or psychological). Second, I'd had a fabulous criminal law instructor during the summer before my senior year in college, who provided the encouragement (and recommendations) I needed to launch my applications. What I remember about my girlfriends is how fragile and guarded they were as a result of what had happened to them. What I remember about my criminal law class is that I wrote my final paper on the logical inconsistencies and ironies of the statutory rape and martial-rape-exception laws. My instructor thought the paper was as good as some published law review articles (an indication of my actual future career as a writer, I suppose), and he always reassured me if I had doubts about my aptitude for legal work. I remember him saying that if a "thick-headed cop like me can get through law school, then you certainly can with flying colors." He'd been a police officer in New York City before going to law school and eventually joining the EPA. I applied to a lot of law schools, almost all ivy league, and got into one (wait listed at another). As congratulations, my mother gave me a ring she'd had for decades. In fact, I'd been with my father when it was purchased in a small jewelry store in Chicago in the 1970s, and I'd always loved it. The ring is gold with an openwork design, its single emblem a set of hanging scales. The ring was bought for my mother because of her birth date, which makes her a Libra. She gave it to me for my pursuit of justice. (I also happen to be a Libra, so I can still claim the symbol, even though its legal significance is no longer relevant to my life.) In the end, it wasn't meant to be. I knew it fairly early on, in part because my body sent me signs of discord: I ended up taking a medical leave during my second semester. Sometimes the body loosens by its own force the grip your mind has on a self-appointed task or role. I remember feeling guilty for "quitting," but now of course I see the domino effect of my life stemming from the decision to leave law school for something that was as yet undefined—and it's all for the best.

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