Monday, March 06, 2006

Almost Legal

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It's time to make the trip downstate to visit the big law school. I really want gf to come to the open house, to feel like it is our decision and our adventure. She cancels class for the day. She is very busy and very stressed. I assure her that she can bail at the last minute if she needs to, that I will go myself and be Completely Understanding, that I won't sulk or be passive aggressive or store it up as a Wrong in the Emotional Arsenal. But I really, really want her to come.

I make a reservation at the Holiday Inn Express. I arrive home from teaching to find a tiny pile of her clothing on the bed, ready to pack. She prides herself on packing light, which I can't seem to manage, ever. She takes one turtleneck cotton sweater, one pair of underwear, and one pair of socks for an overnight trip. I imagine blizzards requiring layers of socks, colonic disasters necessitating twelve pairs of underwear, and sudden climate changes requiring t-shirts, sweaters, maybe a fez. I am happy when I see her tiny pile, because it means she is coming with me.

It threatens to snow. Far away, rush hour traffic is piling up. We manage to pat the cats and dash to the car. The drive is long and boring. The highway is really, really boring. The blonde, bland fields go from straw to gray, and gray to black, and darkness falls with its raw red heaviness, and we are still driving, driving down the country, through all the towns tired of winter.

We find the Holiday Inn Express, finally, off one exit that looks like all the others. The Holiday Inn looks like all the others. But it is brand new, the room smells like new carpet, and the bed--lo! the bed!--is free of the usual scratchy germ-ridden polyester bedspread. Instead, it has a white cotton duvet cover encasing the puffy goodness of a real duvet. The bed is puffy goodness. The pillows are legion, not the one or two creepy flat things you lump hopelessly under your head on a brick of a cheap mattress. Gf looks around, sighs, sits down happily, and asks why we ever have to go home.

Even dinner is a miracle. Driving around looking for restaurants, I spot the sign for a steakhouse. Inside are two big pits in the middle of the floor, around which people, mostly beefy heartlandish boys, are gruffly poking steaks, which they are cooking themselves. In a refrigerator nearby sit piles of thick red cuts, strips and porterhouses and filets and T-bones. Two middle-aged ladies with fading bobs cackle happily together at one of the grills, clutching big mugs of flourescent pink Mai Tais. We are loving them. We are loving this place. We are loving the cool taste of beer in a glass, and the charred burnt of grilled beef you can cook yourself even in the middle of winter.

Love Story is on the TV when we get back to the room. "We can't watch this movie because it will make me cry, " says gf. We watch it. She cries. We are happy.

Next day we get up and face the orientation. I get a packet of information, apartment listings, maps, and a couple of thick plastic orange pens that say "Class of 2009." I am Class of 2009. Omygod. We go to the opening remarks, and the Dean remarks on the diversity and achievements of this admitted class. He mentions Engineers, PhDs, an English Professor.

English Professor? Did he just say that?

We get a tour of the law school from two incredibly radiant, enthusiastic, lovely law students. They are happy. They love it here. We are happy. This is an incredible place. The building is panelled and beautiful. The foyer is airy, nice. The classrooms are big and plush. There is a new courtroom. The Law Library is breathtaking, with its hundred lovely little reading lamps and long tables and dark rich stacks of books.

We watch a class in criminal procedure. The professor is young and hip and smart. The students are a mixed batch of lame and aggressive. Like many classes, I suspect in here the ones not talking are the best students, quietly taking notes. Then we notice someone is playing Solitaire on her computer. The guy next to her is playing Solitaire. All the best students are playing Solitaire.

Still, the professor manages to keep their attention, to steer them kindly through the material. He is still awkward, just getting his footing. Afterwards we tell him we liked his class. He asks what we do and it comes out. He is suddenly shy. It is his first year as an Assistant Professor. Luckily, we have to go to another panel. I wonder if it will be like this, feeling strange about revealing myself to professors who should be colleagues. How can I be a student, be under the radar? I don't want to set people off, feel shame, be a target, or come off as arrogant. I am a student now, in this field, not a colleague. I tuck this away to think about more.

At lunch we are joined by two professors. One is fierce and logorreic. She brings up a subject in order to lecture you about it. The other professor is innocuous, with thick gray hair that looks like a seventies hairpiece, but is real, and parted in the middle. He listens with dark, thoughtful eyes. I learn from the student sitting next to me that Professor Thoughtful sings opera and runs an a capella group. He is known for belting "Capital Gains," a song my father later tells me is from the musical "Don't Sleep in the Subway," in his intersession tax class. The students adore him. Professor Manic asks what brought me to law school. I take a deep breath and try to answer her. She cuts me off after two sentences, ready to talk. I nod and smile until it starts to hurt. Professor Thoughtful casts his mild eyes on me and starts speaking softly about how I might be interested in education and employment discrimination law. He tells me this is a growing field, and one urgently needed. I thank him. I may indeed be interested. I watch him as he leaves the table, a kind, accomplished, modest, jaunty man.

The Assistant Dean stops me and asks if I am coming. He tells me that my story jumped out at him from four thousand applications. I am glad, and a little uneasy. Who wants that kind of story? But I am glad to be wanted. Very glad.

At the end of the final panel they give us T-shirts with the law school name on it, and the words, "Class of 2009" on the left sleeve. I take one happily. I am the Class of 2009. In the parking lot we run into one of the other admitted students, and we tell her how much we like it here. She is not sure; she wants to meet women in another city. We shrug and tell her we hope she changes her mind. We are a we now, in this together, making decisions together, trying to figure out life together. This feels nice. We get in the car to drive home, each expressing to the other the hope that the cats haven't broken anything major this time in the apartment. It is a beautiful sunset. There will be lots more like it on this road in the next several years. We look forward to them all.


La Lecturess said...

How fabulous! I'm glad you both liked it so much.

(And tell the truth: didn't you, at some point, really wish that you HAD brought the fez?)

lil'rumpus said...

Excellent to hear things went so well!

The restaurant sounds fabulous.mmmmm steak.....

dr. m(mmm) aka The Notorious P.H.D. said...

I've never seen such a clear and complete aphoristic expression of the disappointment of being a teacher captured by your sentence, All the best students are playing Solitaire. Who could've thought that such a small screen would separate our front stage from our back stage?

Oh, please, you must continue blogging through your law school first year experience. You will have so much to say about pedagogy and language and strange logics.

MaggieMay said...

I'm so excited for you. Your journey will be --already is-- amazing.

What Now? said...

I'm glad you're feeling excited about what this law school experience could be! And surely you'll be able to avoid Professor Manic and be part of Professor Thoughtful's coterie?

I'm going to be so interested to read your experiences of being a student. I think about this experience fairly regularly, whenever I imagine going to seminary (which I do every month or so).

Delightful that the hotel was lovely, the steaks delicious, and the Law Library just the sort of place one wants it to be.