Thirty-two years ago today, I came home from a temp job. Shortly after I got home, my parents pulled up, and my father put on a backpack as they walked across the yard from the parking area to my door.
Let me back up a bit.
Two days earlier, on Saturday, June 30, 1990, I moved my piano into my new apartment on in a three-family house on Main Street. The next day, my family and friends moved all my stuff from my apartment in Stamford to the new apartment. My friend, Scott, stuck around long enough to help me spread out the living room rug. Then, they all left, and it was just the cats and me.
I remember that evening vividly. I had a two-week temp job starting the next morning. After that, I had nothing in the way of employment. I was scheduled to start law school the last week of August, which meant I needed some way to earn a living, come up with rent money, and maybe even pay for food in the next several weeks.
Terrified of spending money, I dug out a saucepan and a box of Mrs. Grass’s chicken noodle soup, and that was my dinner. I put the leftovers in the refrigerator, still in the pan because I didn’t know where any of my plastic containers were. The cats chose to hide in the bedroom, which had no windows because it was on the inner side of the apartment.
I knew exactly how they felt. I wasn’t that far from the people I knew, but I’d never been so alone.
The next day, I went to my temp job. When I returned, I’d barely changed clothes when I looked out the back door and saw my father putting on the backpack. My parents had bought it for me because they figured I’d need it for books—a thought I’d never had. I don’t know what motivated them to drive up that day after they’d just been there the day before for moving, but I still remember feeling rescued, and loved.
We went out to dinner at Chili’s on Main Street. I hadn’t had the time or the courage to explore my new town, but Chili’s was just up the street from me. It was just as well, because I didn’t know whether my soup-in-a-saucepan was safe to eat (it wasn’t), and I wouldn’t have had the nerve to spend money. It turned out that I got more temp jobs in the coming weeks. I ended up working steadily through the rest of the summer; while not princely, my wages were adequate. But that first night, for the first time in my life, I literally didn’t know where my next meal was coming from.
That was thirty-two years ago. Virtually everything in my life has changed since then. I started law school, and graduated and took the bar exam, and went on to practice in a firm, and went out on my own. I moved from that first apartment to another, and then to another, and then I bought a house. I dated various men before I decided that it was preferable to be on my own. I didn’t have to worry about the country back then, because there was no urgency or viciousness to the decisions being handed down. I’ve changed churches. My father passed away. Some of my dearest friends have moved away or died. It’s been a wild time.
In recent months, I’ve begun to understand why some old people spend so much time focusing on the good old days. It’s because those were the days that were so full of promise, when everything lay ahead of them. There was so much potential back then. We could have fun and play, and we had no real obligations. We went out to dinner or for drinks whenever we chose. We dated whoever was marginally appealing. We went to the movies on weeknights without thinking about what time we’d get home. We went to friends’ weddings, and we fantasized about what our own weddings might look like, but there was no real rush to find a spouse. We spent whatever we earned without a thought for the future. Retirement was for old people, and we were young and carefree, with everything ahead of us.
Probably my first real step into the future was when I started to understand that my future would never change if I didn’t change it. I was taking a week off work in August, and my boss was taking two weeks off. On Monday of my week off, I realized that when I returned, I’d have to work for one of the other partners with whom I had what could be kindly termed as a hostile relationship, and this fact was enough to ruin my entire week off.
The firm had already hired new associates who were younger than I was. As a paralegal, I used to prepare the documents to incorporate new corporations. One day not long after my vacation, one of the young associates asked me for the documents so she could do this. When I went asked my boss what was going on, he said, “The thing with young associates is that they don’t know how to do anything, but you have to give them something to do.” That was when I realized that unless I took action, in the coming years, the firm would hire new twenty-something associates who were doing my tasks while I got older and had less and less to do.
And so I called an associate I knew from our old firm, a litigator who was cute and had always ben friendly. I asked him to lunch with the primary intention of finding out what paralegals did in litigation practices. As we dined, he mentioned that it was a good thing I’d caught him when I did, because he was about to leave to go out to a small county in the northeast corner of the state to be a prosecutor. After lunch, as he drove me back to the office, I asked him why he was making this move. I didn’t say aloud that he was working for one of the most prestigious law firms in the state and he was probably making a lot more than he would as a prosecutor, but we both knew it. He said, “It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”
The next moment remains as vivid in my mind as the day it occurred. I thought, “Why does he get to do what he’s always wanted and I don’t?” As he made the right-hand turn from Tresser Boulevard onto Atlantic Street, the thought was in my brain: who says you don’t?
A couple days later, I arranged for lunch with a lawyer who taught one of my paralegal classes. I asked every stupid question in existence, such as whether I should get a job and then apply to law school or get into law school and then try to find a job. (Answer: the latter.) She and another paralegal professor wrote references for me. I ordered all the practice tests available from the LSAT people and spent my evenings working on them at my desk in my bedroom. On a September morning, I drove to Darien and took the LSAT, and then I waited. When my results arrived, I called one of the professors, and she said, “You know what this means, right? It means you can take all the shitty schools off your list.”
I spent the fall working on law school applications. I got into one school in December—literally a week after I applied. In April, my first choice told me I was waitlisted, but my boss knew a professor there, and he made a call, and I got in. I spent the next two months packing up my life and finding an apartment near the law school, all of which culminated with the move thirty-two years ago.
I wonder if I’d have the guts now to do what I did then—reaching out to people, asking for help, taking leaps of faith. I like to think I would, but in reality, much of it was probably sheer cluelessness: I asked and reached out and leapt because I simply didn’t know any better.
Thank heaven I did.
It’s been more than half my life since that fateful move. So much has happened since then. There is a part of me that wants to play the reruns in the same way I stream early episodes of a show I enjoy. Another part looks at that naïve soul and wonders how she made it through. Still another part knows that realistically, I have more years behind me than ahead, and I want to know how many more crazy clueless leaps I have left.
Because the truth is that I’m not ready to sit back in my recliner and call it done. I may ponder the good old days, but I’m not ready to say that’s all there is. I want to keep moving forward, keep exploring, keep finding my next big thing. I probably won’t relocate or go back to school, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have some glorious things ahead. Because I may have more years behind me than ahead, but that doesn’t mean I’m out of time. Far from it.
So stay tuned. Because things may get interesting.