Today I came across an old piece of paper in my briefcase and almost threw it out until I realized what it was. A piece of paper can look so innocuous. It was a note from last May, and there is this disgusting lawyer scribble all over it … why wouldn’t I toss it?
“Pltiff’s general obj = bogus. Despite the fact that such docs may be in the possession of def’s it is imposs to determine what docs P has that form the basis of various claims without id of each doc relied upon.”
Blah blah BLAH. I love it when I draft in surfer-ease like I’m Spiccoli. Who really says “bogus” anymore, anyway? I laughed.
But then, as I read it, I started to realize what this paper was.
I remembered the argument. I knew exactly what this comment meant, because I knew the case inside and out at the time it was written. I suddenly remembered what I was thinking when I wrote it. My thoughts were fluid and fast, then. I was angry and I was righteous and I believed that combination made for righteous indignation. I was right, I knew I was. I lauged again.
I could remember where I was when I wrote it, too. I was sitting in an incredibly uncomfortable chair in the outpatient surgery waiting room at the hospital. I had been there for hours and hours, waiting for my mom to get out of a routine surgery. I was hand-writing my responses to some interrogatories because the laptop was down. And when I say I was writing “responses” what I really mean is that I was writing objections. I’m always contrarian on the first draft. It feels better that way and I can get it out of my system. Sometimes I even sign first drafts with the salutation “hugs and kisses.” But my secretary isn’t as entertained as I am by that one.
I read on:
“Pltiff’s so-called right to supplement is a duty to supplement. Does NOT permit the P to utilize excuse or suprise in the nonproduction of something, is absolutely limited to discovery deadline …”
And then it trails off, and then there are hesitations. Whatever thought fragments I attempted had been marked out. And I remembered why.
Because as the day lingered on and Mom didn’t come out as expected, things went sour. I remember that by the time the surgeon came out I had read and reread and reread Interrogatory Number 54 about six times and no matter how hard I concentrated, I couldn’t keep my mind on the question. I knew things were not right, and it was confirmed for me as the doctor approached slowly.
What kind of surgeon walks slowly?
He sat down, and I didn’t like it. No other doctors came out and sat down with anyone else waiting for family that day. I had been around long enough to figure out how things were run around the joint. Doctors around here were in a hurry, telling families things were done, and happily skipping away to perform the next procedure.
But not this doctor.
He sat down. He looked at me. He talked softly, and slowly. As he spoke, the room kind-of swelled. Cancer. Cancer. They found all kinds of it when they opened my mother up. That much I understood. That much was sinking in. I remember it happening, but not the specifics. I remember staring at the paper. I remember being astonished that I spoke and argued for a living and suddenly, I had nothing to say. Not even when he asked if I had questions.
The bottom of the page is scribbled with distinctively non lawyerish words … “Aden- Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma.”
When I hold this thing up and look at it, it really captures a tangible image of the way that day felt. The top is scratched with egotistical arguments and messy mark-outs that appear to have been made with a flourish. Even the paper it’s written on wafts an unpleasant odor. It’s on leftover judicial letterhead our office used as scratch paper for a while. It’s like I purposely picked that scrap paper in order to magically make my arguments carry the weight of the court. It encapsulates the assurance, the confidence, and the arrogance I had during those first few hours when, unbeknownst to me, the cancer was being cut out of my mother’s neck on the other side of the wall. It encapsulates the arrogance that had grown inside of me, the arrogance that swelled during all of those years. It grew like the cancer grew, without any of us knowing it was there, but it was there all along.
I think it’s interesting that my legal arguments are in pen, scratched up and lined out with arrows and notes interspersed, but the cancer diagnosis is written at the bottom, in pencil. As if I were going to erase it later, after the doctor left. As if I could.
So, I’m keeping this scribbled up piece of scratch paper for a while longer. It reminds me how to be, and how not to be. It reminds me to write in pencil, sometimes. And it reminds me what is really important.
So knock off the arguing if you can, and hug your Valentines this week. Tell them you love them, and then really do it. Love them and love them and love them. And never ever write that part in pencil. Make sure that part can never be erased, no matter what.