:: Dictated But Not Read ::Musings from the ''Miracle Girl''
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Sunday, November 21, 2004“This is my wife. This is my ex-wife”
I am remarkably lucky in virtually every aspect of my life. I have reflected on one aspect of that luck in that I live in relatively close proximity to my ex-husband and almost never see him. When I say almost never I am actually understating it. In the 3 plus years since our divorce I think I have laid eyes on him three times. Once I was on foot and he was in a car and I didn’t have to speak to him. Another time I was jogging with a friend so I was not compelled to converse on that occasion either. Also, it should be noted when I say close proximity I mean a matter of blocks. Not to mention the fact that we know and spend time with overlapping groups of people. The only possible explanation for the lack of random encounters is pure dumb luck.
I don’t mean to suggest that I don’t hear about him a lot. As I said we know lots of people in common so there is the inevitable leakage of news and information. There are also the unsolicited emails from him informing me about this purchase of a new home, his marriage, and his successful career. I find these emails irritating since I feel like I have made it clear I am not particularly interested in him or his life. I ignore the emails and yet they continue to show up periodically.
Still, I go days and weeks without wondering about him or his life and since I have been so lucky I have stopped concerning myself with the possibility of running into him. I suppose if I were more of a statistician I would be more concerned since the odds must be increasing not decreasing. But when it comes to matters of the heart I am all instinct and superstition and so the fact that it hadn’t happened made me believe it just would not happen. But, then it did and I was completely shocked.
Years ago a friend and I were flying out on the same day just before Thanksgiving. I was dressed rather drably. I was getting on a late night flight to go see family. I was exhausted and could not be bothered to make myself look good. My friend showed up looking very well put together. I teased her about it and she admonished me that “you never know who you will run into.” I rolled my eyes. Five minutes later we in fact ran into a man she had been interested in for years. In the years since I have realized I live in the biggest small town in the world. I always see someone I know no matter where I go. Therefore I frequently think about what my friend said before I leave the house and I always try to look at least moderately presentable.
Last Sunday night I was going to a concert with the same friend and two other friends. I had a nasty cold and I was tired. I thought about keeping on the same stained shirt I had been wearing all day around the house but thought better of it and put on my cute new pink blazer. I looked better than I ordinarily do. I even fixed my hair and spent a bit of time on my makeup. So, when my ex-husband J. sauntered up to my row with his new wife in tow and asked “Have you met R.?” I was able to give my best lip glossed smile and say “why no I haven’t”. And when he said, “This is my wife, R, and this is Margot” I almost said “his ex-wife”. I just wasn’t enough on the draw. But, damn I looked great.
Whoever said “looking good is the best revenge” knew exactly what she was talking about.
Sunday, April 11, 2004The Big Red Plastic Cup
(Why I am the Meanest Lawyer in the World)
I have been practicing law for almost nine years now and I go to court regularly. One of the first things I figured out is that you should be early to court. Not just on time, early. There is a lot to be learned in those ten or fifteen minutes before the judge shows up. You may run into a colleague who has presented a similar case to this judge or you may get a few words with the judge’s clerk that will provide you with some insight. So, I show up early, always.
Recently a client came to see me with a fairly horrible situation. His ex-wife, who has severe diagnosed psychiatric problems, was filing lawsuit after lawsuit against him trying to change the custody agreement that they had made upon their divorce. The strain on him and his new wife and his child was unbelievable. She basically filed a new lawsuit every few months, generally dismissing it either just before court or on the day of court. In addition she was harassing him in a variety of other ways. The client was at his wits end. He already had a lawyer but the lawyer was in his mid-seventies and did not have the same fire in his belly that he had had in his younger days. The client wanted someone a bit tougher on the case. I agreed to get involved but advised that this far along it probably did not make sense to get rid of the lawyer who had been involved for several years. So, I became co-counsel with George. When I went to his office the following Friday to review the file he was clearly a bit put off. To his credit George did not become defensive he just seemed to scoff at me because I clearly had no idea what I was in for with this particular case. After I reviewed the case file he sat back in his chair and said, “So Margot what do you think we ought to do with this mess?” I rattled off several things I thought should be done over that weekend before the hearing that was scheduled for Tuesday. George was enthusiastic to have me take over the tasks and we agreed to one or two things he would handle.
I worked feverishly over the weekend preparing for the hearing. We had seven witness affidavits. I had sent a subpoena to the last hospital that my client’s ex-wife had been to for one of her episodes. We had an expert witness prepared to testify. I arrived early that Tuesday morning, George was early, our client was there, the expert witness was there, and the hospital’s lawyer was there to protest the production of documents. The opposing lawyer was not there. The judge arrived and called all the cases that were to be heard that day. He generously said that we would wait and see if the ex-wife’s lawyer showed up. He continued on to handle other cases. A while later the judge’s clerk motioned to George and I to come to the front of the court to tell us that the opposing lawyer had called to say she was very ill and might not make it. George and I were skeptical given the history of the case. She called several more times alternating between being on her way and not being able to make it. Finally, the judge’s secretary said that she was on the phone and wanted to talk to George. George urged me to come back to the judge’s chambers with him and be on the phone with him. We hunched over the judge’s secretary’s desk while the secretary sat at her desk and tried to hear the opposing lawyer on her cell phone. She was saying something about having had to go home once already to change clothes because she had gotten sick on herself. She also mentioned that she was going to have to pull over again soon. We were having trouble hearing her so I looked at George and then snapped up the phone and listened to her complaints for about two more seconds before saying, “Listen, I really try to be nice and normally I would say yes we can continue the case. I would normally be sympathetic but given the history of this case and given the fact that we have witnesses here and we have all of these affidavits I am afraid I can’t agree.” At that point she had to get off the phone to go vomit. The judge advised his secretary to call her back and tell her that she needed to show up. George advised that he was glad I had been there because he probably would have given in.
The opposing lawyer did eventually appear, albeit an hour later. She did not have much of a file with her and sick or not I got the impression she was not particularly prepared. We started with the hospital lawyer’s argument about keeping the documents from us. The judge heard the arguments and then took the documents back to chambers to make an in camera inspection to see if he would allow their production. While he was gone the opposing lawyer literally ran outside to vomit. She returned about the same time that the judge returned and made his ruling about the hospital documents. She told the judge that she just could not continue with the case because she was too ill. The judge looked to George to see if he would agree to the continuance. Before George could stand up or open his mouth I leapt out of my chair and chronicled the history of the previous five cases that had been filed by this woman and the fact that she had pursued none of them. I chronicled all of the work we had done in preparation for that day. I cannot honestly recall if the judge let the poor opposing lawyer say another word before he announced that he was going to dismiss the case. For the uninitiated it may be important to note that judges do not ordinarily dismiss cases out of hand without hearing any evidence. George was agape. He has since sent me several clients. Of course, since then, this woman has filed two more similar lawsuits.
Lest anyone think that I am unsympathetic bitch I will assure you that I am a gamer and I have the big red plastic cup to prove it. About five years ago I woke up with a terrible stomach virus. I was vomiting like crazy. I had a trial that morning and knew I had to get there and get there early. I managed to get myself dressed somehow and was heading out the door, my then husband stopped me at the door and thrust a big red plastic cup into my hand and said, “Just in case.” I arrived to court and tried my case with the big red plastic cup sitting next to me the whole time.
Saturday, February 21, 2004Professionalism 101
When I was in law school we had to take a required ethics course. It was a ridiculous class which my friends and I renamed “Don’t Fuck Your Clients” because that seemed to be the professor’s focus. We figured anyone who could not figure that out on his own was probably going to have lots of problems as a lawyer which were not likely to be solved by an ethics course. I have reached the conclusion that doctors are not even given these rudimentary lessons in appropriate behavior.
Since 1999 I have been a hypochondriac. I do not spend days on end in bed or anything - I am far too ambitious for that. I do however, believe that I am ill when I am not and I do go to the doctor with some frequency. I did almost die of pneumonia after feeling perfectly fine one day and feeling deathly ill the next. I recently described that illness to a physician and he said “Wow. It sounds like you had the first case of SARS.” O.K, it was probably not SARS, but it was a rather scary illness and no one ever really diagnosed me.
A hypochondriac’s best friend is the “doc in a box”. The “doc in a box” is a walk in clinic where you can see a doctor for your minor illness of the moment without an appointment. A few weeks ago I was feeling really exhausted, I had a few dizzy spells, and a bit of tightness in my chest. I think most busy and healthy thirty-three year olds would probably have ignored the symptoms and gone on with their week, but I am not most healthy thirty-three year olds. I left an unsuccessful mediation session at 4:00 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon to head to my favorite “doc in a box.” Well, that’s not precisely accurate I left the mediation got into my client’s Mercedes and drove to the opposing attorney’s car where we retrieved his ski jacket and his children’s ski jackets. Once that was done I heaved my briefcase into my front seat (the trunk was full of another file) and drove to the “doc in a box” while checking voicemail, returning several telephone calls, and remarkably enough not killing anyone else on the road. My experiences have been very good at this “doc in a box” including being turned away without treatment when I was not really sick.
I arrived around 4:30 p.m. and sat in the waiting room carrying on a conversation with my client about how mistaken she was for considering going back to her manipulative alcoholic husband after we had negotiated a great settlement. I realized other people in the waiting room might be listening and realized how inappropriate I was being. I offered to call her the next day. As I hung up the phone, I could not help but think that the chest pain was probably the result of excessive stress. I called a friend, looked over a file for another case, and by that time it was my turn. The very sympathetic nurse who took my vital signs and asked about my symptoms waved me off when I explained that it was probably nothing and that the symptoms were very mild. He insisted I was right to come in. He told me to put a gown on top so the doctor could listen to my chest. He said, “Dr. S. will be in a minute. He’s here today.” I got the sense that I was lucky that Dr. S. was there.
Dr. S. breezed into the room reading the nurse’s notes and said, “So you’re a weak woman.” When I looked confused and did not respond he said, “You’re fatigued.” “Um, yeah, I guess.” I did not add that I had been considering laying back and taking a brief nap while waiting for him. He asked about my prior pneumonia and as I frequently do, by way of justification I said, “Yes, it was pretty awful. I almost died.” He said, “Now, who told you that?” He said it as though I was a child who could not possibly understand these complicated medical issues like near death experiences.
Dr. S looked briefly in my ears and nose and listened to my chest. (He did not look in my throat.) He concluded that there was some irritation in my nose and that my chest was not entirely clear. Based upon my “history” Dr. S. wanted me to take some antibiotics and a decongestant. He began writing my prescriptions and then noticed on my chart that I am an attorney. He stopped and asked, “What kind of lawyer are you?” I responded without thinking that I do mostly divorce and custody work. Since I am the rare lawyer who enjoys what she does and is proud of her work I do not hesitate to admit it. In this case I should have hesitated or maybe even lied. He immediately launched into, “When are they going to fix those child support guidelines?” I should at this point note that I am a major proponent of my state’s child support guidelines. I have written an article on the topic which I am proud to say was relied upon by the governor’s commission the last time they reviewed the guidelines. So to say that he struck a sore point would be a bit of an understatement. I asked him what was wrong with the guidelines. This is when I confirmed for a certainty that they do not offer Professionalism 101 in medical school. Dr. S. launched into a diatribe during which he called his ex-wife a bitch and somehow, though I do not recall exactly how lumped me in with her. I am guessing it was based on our gender. He also told me how much higher his I.Q. is than any state judge in the state. Dr. S. insisted that he pays more child support for his one child than it takes to support the other two he has with his current wife. Throughout this tirade Dr. S. was sitting between me and the door and I was dressed in my suit slacks on the bottom and a hospital gown on top. I did not have any way to escape him. Also, since I was sick I had neither the inclination nor the energy to fight as hard as I ordinarily would about this topic. He went on for about ten minutes though it felt much longer to me. He concluded his lecture by telling me that I make my money off of people who cannot agree about their children or some similar quip. When he was done venting he told me to take the antibiotics and the decongestant and to come back if I did not feel better in five days and to come back sooner if I felt worse. If I was feeling more clever I might have noted that I was feeling worse right then than I had when I arrived.
I left the office in a haze. I had to return several client phone calls on my endless drive through traffic to get to the drugstore in my neighborhood. By the time I got home I was exhausted. I was also stunned by what had happened to me. I called my friend M. and recounted my story. I pointed out that while I wanted to complain I did not want to be black listed at the “doc in a box”. Being the always helpful and resourceful friend he found a way for me to lodge a complaint anonymously through a website. I had every intention of doing so until the next afternoon when my phone rang at the office. The caller introduced himself by first and last name without the prefix “doctor” so I was confused. After a second I realized who he was, Dr. S. He asked how I was feeling. I said I was doing o.k. but still tired. He had called, he said, to apologize for his behavior the day before. He admitted that he should not be arguing with his patient. (I would not have called it arguing so much as berating but why quibble with words.) Dr. S. mentioned he had been up all night the night before and had had a long day and he just lost it. He said he had tried to reach me at home the night before but when I did not answer he figured I must be “out partying”. I had in fact ignored the call because it was a blocked number and I did not want to be bothered. Dr. S. did not leave a message. Dr. S. tried to carry on a friendly casual conversation for a few minutes and for reasons I cannot explain I played along with him. Dr. S. told me the days he works at that particular location and that next time I came in he would see me for no charge. He repeated that I should come back in if I was not feeling better. “No thanks,” I thought.
I wonder if the medical school equivalent to “Don’t Fuck Your Clients” is “Fuck Bedside Manner.”
Monday, December 22, 2003It's not the news so much...
I was involved in a long awful case that ended at the beginning of this month. I represented the children, who were treated horribly by everyone involved. I disagreed with the judge's final ruling but I am obsessed with his reasoning. He ruled against the man in the case, not because of what he had or had not done but because he lied about everything he had or had not done. We often hear that refrain, "It isn't what you did but the fact that you lied about it." Tonight, I am suffering from an analogous phenomenon.
What are the odds? I was driving home from dinner at my parents' house tonight and talking to my friend D. who I hadn't talked to in a couple of months. "I am still really sad but I feel like I am coming out the other side of something, finally. I woke up panicked this morning and went to the office and worked like crazy for hours." D. thought it did sound healthy. So what are the odds that as I hung up with D. and pushed the answering machine button on my home phone that there would be something new to process? Slim to none. I have had enough of processing lately. But, there it was. I had seen the Mount Shasta, California telephone number and known that it must be my ex-grandmother in law. Terrible to have an ex-grandmother but it does happen. She has never figured out that the telephone number that was once "ours" is now mine. I have politely relayed her messages to my ex-husband, J., for the past three years, but this one has me a bit stumped. She said, "J., sweetheart, I am so happy for you, I hope you and R. live a long and happy life together." I guess, now would be the time to clarify that J. and I rarely communicate. I didn't know he was dating an R. and certainly had no inkling he was close to living a long and happy life together with anyone. What are the odds that I would learn this news from his grandmother? It's not the news so much as the way I heard it.
Update: Here's his response to my e-mail congratulating him and letting him know to call his grandmother:
"I’m still laughing over Bubbie doing that, I am sorry you had to hear it that way. As you probably figured out, I got engaged and we’re getting married soon. Will probably be moving to a larger house (Midtown or Inman Park) because her office is home-based too, plus she has a dog and cats. Max loves the dog but isn’t so happy about the cats.
Work is great. I’m shooting my first national ad campaign in in New York in January, a baby ad for Playtex.
Hope the new year brings only good things for you.
If good things come in the form of a larger house probably not. If they come in the form of good friends, laughter and irony, I am all set.
Thursday, December 11, 2003Partner Hair
The journey of the young attorney’s career in the large law firm is arduous and requires a level of commitment demonstrated by few. I am an unlikely candidate for such dedication. I am even a person unlikely to be found in a large law firm to begin with, yet here I am on the precipice of partnership. I wonder how I found myself here. I stand here despite my failure, refusal and/or inability to “play by the rules”. I have not billed as many hours as are expected of a young associate. Representing poor people, good works in the community and surfing the internet for potential dates are not part of the billable hours calculation. Though the firm would be pleased if you would do so pro bono work, make yourself visible in the community and had an appropriate date and ultimately spouse at the firm Christmas party, none of these contributes to the bottom line of the firm and therefore none of them “counts” in the way that billable hours are counted. I have spent untold hours, literally, engaged in non-billable community and pro bono legal work. I have done this despite repeated warnings about my paltry billable hours.
The transition point for the young lawyer is when he/she, usually he, becomes a partner. In my law firm this typically occurs after approximately eight and one-half years ago of practice. This summer as the harsh light of pre-partnership scrutiny turned on me I felt I needed a miracle in order to pull it off. (Partners are “made” in the winter. Scrutiny of those who are “up” for partnership is heaviest in the fall.) As is so often the case is in my life a miracle presented itself. I was visiting my sister and she made me an appointment to have my hair done at a rather famous salon associated with her company. I went in for highlights and came out a new woman. My hair, previously wildly curly and out of control, was straightened out to frame my face and made me look, well, to be frank, rather waspy. I met my friend A. for dinner that night. We met at a small restaurant on the upper west side. I was early and was sitting at the bar when A. arrived. He look at me and then past me and then did a double take when he realized it was me. Throughout a long evening of conversation, some of it rather intense, A. kept coming back to the topic of my hair. He assured me that I was soon to find out just how shallow people really are. He insisted people would begin to treat me differently. Most importantly, he was convinced that the hair would make the difference in my pursuit of partnership.
The following Monday I was getting in the elevator with my friend M. a Jewish senior partner in the firm he felt the need to comment to our two non-Jewish fellow riders, the managing partner of the firm and one of the named partners of the firm about my hair. He said, “This is Rebecca’s new Wasp hair.” I was shocked. The two men in the elevator smiled politely. I was feeling the silence so I admonished M. that “we don’t speak that way in mixed company.” We all laughed and the moment passed. I repeated the story to A. and he said, “Just wait.”
Although I have yet to be “made” a partner and I won’t know for at least another month whether or not it will happen I have seen a sign that the hair is working its magic. I was at the firm Christmas party last weekend. I was sitting and watching a football game instead of being appropriately sociable. The same named partner from the elevator came and sat down at the table where I was sitting. He is not a particularly effusive guy. He is a man of few words. So, when he leaned over and said to me “I have been hearing a lot about you”, it was noteworthy. I was, of course, a bit intoxicated and I said, “I hope not bad things”. He looked quite serious and said, “I have been hearing great things about you.” Even his wife looked a bit surprised by his outburst. At that point the first thing I thought was that it was time for me to go home. I mean it is not every day that the guy who is one of three names on a firm of 400 lawyers says something like that during the month when you are being considered for partnership. The Christmas party was not going to get better from there.
It was only later in the quiet of my home that I realized what he must have meant. I am doing the same community service and pro bono work I have always done. My legal skills are what they are. He could not have been hearing about those things. The only thing that is new that people could be talking about is my hair. The hair makes the partner.
Monday, November 10, 2003Emptiness
She comes home every day and feels the emptiness of the house. She never realized emptiness was a thing but now she knows it, emptiness is a living being. The echoing in the rooms that no longer have furniture is not really the worst part, though that is pretty awful. She has cleaned up the dust bunnies that were floating across the rooms like tumbleweeds but she can hear each of her footsteps as she goes from the bedroom to the kitchen for a cup of tea to take back to her solitary bed. There are empty places on the walls where their photos used to hang, but that is not the worst part either. The worst part is that there is something tangible about the emptiness in the house. The emptiness demands her attention, maybe because the house has always been filled. It is over 70 years old and has been filled with families through most of its years. The families gave the house a lot more than she can offer it. The house wants her to fill the emptiness.
She stays away as much as she can, working long hours, going out on random dates and with friends late into the night, but eventually she has to come home. The house is empty, not just of furniture, but also of hope, promise and dreams. It had been so full of all of those things. She picked the house before it was even for sale. One night on their walk through the neighborhood, she stood on the sidewalk in front of the house and said, “That’s the one. I want that house.” Two months later it went on the market and another month later they had closed and hired a painter to make the house their own. They carefully picked the colors for each room of the house. They moved in, put a wooden swing in the front yard and closed in the backyard so they could get a puppy. Now the house was empty.
A friend suggests rearranging the furniture to make the house more her own. She gets a couple of friends and they move the office furniture from the bright orange front room to the newly renovated back of the house. It makes a pretty office with a view of the back yard and she is able to close off the empty orange room so she does not have to confront it, but it still feels empty. She has a brilliant idea, she will paint. She decides she will do the painting herself. She goes to the paint store and studies colored strips for hours. Finally, she has the paint she wants for each room. She lugs it home and starts applying it to the walls. She enjoys the feeling of transforming each wall but when she is finally done she is not happy with the way it looks. She calls her next door neighbor for his input. He looks around with an indifferent shrug and says it looks nice to him. She dismisses him and heads back to the paint store.
Over the next few months she repaints each of the rooms in her house several times. After she completes each round of painting she calls her neighbor over and each time she is greeted with the same indifferent shrug. Finally though, he asks, “Why don’t you just paint all the walls white?” She stares at him in disbelief; clearly he has no concept of emptiness. Sure, he may be lonely, and she thinks he is and that was what led her to believe that he might understand, but he has no idea about emptiness. White walls would merely advertise to her and to the world that the house was empty. No amount of new furniture and redecorating could fix the white walls. She thanks her neighbor for his suggestion. She means it sincerely because now she knows what she has to do. The next day she places a For Sale sign in the yard. She will take her hopes and dreams to some other place and let them fill it. They cannot fill this empty house.
Wednesday, October 15, 2003I Can See Clearly Now
In December of 1999, I almost died. I was married then, not living alone like I am now, where I could slip and fall and not be found for days. I had, in theory, a partner, another adult whose fate was supposed to be tied to mine and who should have taken care of me. He did not and I almost died. I would have been better off alone I think. I might have called an ambulance, but he did not. I got a strain of pneumonia that was never identified but which was clearly harsher than the average strain. My husband did not take me to a doctor or hospital although I ran a high fever for several days. I was delirious for much of that time but do recall asking him, several times whether he thought I should get medical care. He finally took me in when I passed out sitting on the toilet and could not be roused for several minutes.
It was one of many moments from my marriage that I can now look back on and say “I should have known when he…” I should have known when he told me to go back to sleep when I told him I felt like vomiting on the first night of our honeymoon. I should have known when he failed to show up at the finish line of the New York Marathon knowing full well what an accomplishment finishing was for me. (He was shopping at Saks for sweaters.) I think I deserve more than the average ribbing for not getting it sooner because I am a divorce lawyer. I really should have known better.
The story I have been unwilling to tell so far is the one about what happened on the day I was transferred from the I.C.U. to the intermediate care floor. I thought my husband had gone back to work that day. He had not been to work much while I was in the hospital, though he was not keeping a vigil at my bed side either. Actually I am not certain what he did during all of those days but I do know he hated his job and got himself fired shortly thereafter. In any event, he showed up in my intermediate care room that afternoon with a stack of glasses cases. I propped myself up in bed to see what he had with him. He explained that he had gone across the street to the optometrist’s office to pick out some new frames and they had allowed him to take the frames with him so that I could help him choose. That was so nice of the optometrist’s office. Now, it is true that I was on the mend and it seemed likely I would live but my diagnosis and prognosis were both still uncertain. I was breathing well but only with oxygen. My arms and hands were bruised from the many blood tests that I had been given in an attempt to arrive at a definitive diagnosis. I had an I.V. pumping a vicious cocktail of antibiotics into me and I was supposed to help pick out glasses for him. I remember that during the process the infectious disease doctor who was assigned to me came into my room to check on me. She looked stupefied and asked what we were doing. She was not a warm, fuzzy person. She was smart and efficient and to the point but you could tell she cared. My husband explained that we were picking out glasses for him and we all laughed.
The thing that is considerably more incredible than his asking me to pick out the frames is that I did it and I never said a word. I said nothing at the time and I said nothing during the agonizing 9 months that followed when I tried to make our marriage work against all odds and with little or no help from him I said nothing during joint counseling. I said nothing about it when I told him to get out of the house. I said nothing because I forgot. In the scheme of things that he had done to me it seemed minor. I remembered it for the first time last month while I was visiting my sister and she was recalling how he failed to show up at the marathon finish line (she was there), and every time I remember again I am dumbfounded. I am also entertained and amused. He thought he was being efficient, after all I was right there, not going anywhere, he had a new prescription and he needed some new glasses. There was no irony for him. On a positive note I have no doubt that the experience makes me a much better divorce lawyer. I understand completely the capacity that the heart has to make an otherwise bright person a complete fool and I empathize with the fools since I have been one too.