After Jim's departure, the Judge hired a new clerk. When Kimberly arrived, everything changed. At first, it was so much fun to have another girl in the office. Shopping at lunch perusing Gucci purses and Coach shoes. She had a steady boyfriend, so I figured the four of us could go out together. I was thrilled!
Thrilled didn't last too long. Kimberly was a screamer. She loved to whip herself into a frenzy of anger and frustration and then spew that onto everyone around her. During the day, she'd talk to her boyfriend on the phone.
"You're going out with the guys again?" She would breathe into the phone. "You went out last night with your friends."
"I don't care that it is a business thing. You haven't spent enough time with me."
"Are you accusing me of not caring about your career?!"
And they'd be off. Eventually, I could hear both sides of the conversation. It would end with her slamming down the phone, slamming her office door and going to sit in the Judge's office to tell him about the latest injustice done to her. I would never have thought he would accept it, but he lapped it like a kitten with cream. He relished her fights so that he could comfort her.
About a month after Kimberly's arrival, the court's office called to make certain I was staying on for a second year. It was ten days before the new clerking year was to begin, I went into the Judge's office to confirm that I should tell the office I was staying; it was a foregone conclusion since the Judge had not even looked at another resume.
"We need to talk about that," he replied when I said the office had called. "When do they need an answer?"
"Well, the year ends at the end of the week."
"I don't like to make a decision until it is necessary."
My eyes bugged out. Necessary? I'd like to take his thick white throat in my hands and give a big squeeze. Bastard! He knew all this time I assumed I was staying, hadn't looked for another job, and at the last minute he was going to kick me to the curb?
I sat down. "What do we need to talk about?"
"Let's talk about it another time." He got up from his chair, walked through his door and out of the chambers.
PANIC -- I have no job to go to, and there's no way to get a job, the economy is in a terrible downward spiral. I'm in Washington, D.C., lawyers are a dime a dozen -- make that four dozen. Sam's going to explode.
"What?" Sam shouted. "I need to have a talk with him."
"I don't think that is the way to go." I could tell that "talking" was not what Sam had in mind.
"The son of a bitch, he can't do that to you. You've finished more cases than anyone he's ever had. Your opinions keep getting upheld by the Circuit. What's going on?"
"I don't know." I was sitting on the couch with my hands gripped together in my lap, still in my suit. "I never saw this coming. I have no idea what is going on." I was shaking my head. My heart and my stomach had taken flight; I felt queasy, light-headed, and very afraid.
"Go early," Sam advised. "Sit him down and find out what's happening."
I did. I went in early, but no Judge. He didn't show up until after nine. He was avoiding me -- the man came in every morning between six and six thirty to avoid traffic. His ravings about traffic were constant -- he spent more time trying to avoid traffic than anything else on the planet.
I tried later in the day to see him.
"I'm really busy," he said dismissing me. "I have an early doctor's appointment, so I have to get this finished."
I didn't think I could stand it. I can't eat. I'm so apprehensive, I'm going to jump out of my skin. I can't focus on anything. True to his word, he was out the door before four o'clock in the afternoon.
I tried again the next morning. Still no Judge. I paced back and forth in my office, struggling to maintain any composure. The cruelty of saying I might not have a job and making me wait days to find out about it was taking a toll on me. I hadn't slept in two days. I'd had two lattes by ten a.m. on the second day of waiting. My body was strung so tight, it was painful. I couldn't stand the pressure.
I went in that afternoon.
"Can we talk?" I asked slipping into a seat in front of his desk.
"Not now." He didn't even look up from his favorite book of poetry. "I'm waiting for a phone call, then I have a judge's meeting."
By the third day, there were dark circles under my eyes. I was drinking coke and lattes constantly. My stomach was burning. I couldn't sit still, couldn't think. I felt like I was imploding. My head was pounding so hard that my eyes were blurred. I didn't think I could take the stress one more second.
I went in early again, but I could hear Kimberly before I even entered the office.
"You are so unfair to me," she was using her pouty voice. "I want to include that comment about the inadequacy of the plaintiff's brief. I think it's perfectly acceptable."
I couldn't hear the Judge's response, but I knew it wasn't favorable.
"It is important to point these things out!" Kimberly was raising her voice an octave. "I think that missing the entire point of the case is reason enough to point out that the attorney is lacking. I think it is your responsibility to say it." She caught me staring. The chamber door slammed shut.
I tried in vain to speak with the Judge all day. I was frantic. What was going to happen? What had I done? What signs had I missed? My palms were sweaty. My headache now extended down my back. My neck was so painful I couldn't hold the phone with my shoulder. I was popping Advil like candy to go along with my latte. If my hair started coming out, could I sue the Judge for damages, I wondered?
Twice I went in to see the Judge. The first time, he pretended to have a meeting, shimmied out the door and came back half an hour later with another judge and a cup of coffee from the shop down the street. On my second try, Kimberly came in two minutes later and plunked down in a chair. I couldn't have a serious conversation in front of her, so I left.
That night, as I was packing up, the Judge called my name. I went in and sat down. It was coming. I braced my hands on my knees to steady myself. I will not cry, no matter what. Taking a deep breath and held it until my lungs were bursting.
"I've been thinking about you staying on another year," the Judge began slowly. "Here's the thing . . . I am not sure that you have an appreciation for the job. You seem to think of it as a job. It is an honor and a privilege to work for me and this court."
I stared at him. First of all, I thought, this is in fact a job. Second, if I get it done, properly and on time, what else do you want? Instead I asked, "What am I doing wrong?"
"It isn't that," he said ruminating, "you're just not enthusiastic enough." He leaned back in his enormous black leather chair and looked up at the ceiling, lightly tapping his fingertips together.
What the hell does that mean? I wanted to yell. "I'm not enthusiastic?"
"You're enthusiastic as a person. I don't think you are enthusiastic enough about the work." He kept looking away from me -- out the window, at the ceiling, behind me at the art.
"HELLO!" I wanted to scream, grab his face and force him to look me in the eye.
In truth, there was nothing to say to this. I didn't really know if I was enthusiastic about the work or not. I liked it, but I didn't bounce off walls about it. I didn't really know what he was driving at. I bit my lip to keep from bursting into tears. "Is there anything else?" I asked. I hated to ask because I hated to hear bad things, but I'd waited forever--I had to know.
"No," he replied, "I just don't think you are enthused by the work. But I realize that the new year is starting next week. I had thought about making your job probationary until Christmas, but I decided against that."
I was extremely confused, angry and hurt. "So, I'm staying for another year?" I needed to be clear.
"Yes." His enthusiasm was under-whelming.
He didn't add anything. Never mentioned my performance -- not one word about my researching, my writing, any of my work. I could not understand it. What had he been driving at?
I went home that night dejected.
"So what happened?" Sam asked when I walked in the door.
"He's keeping me on another year, but I don't think he's happy about it," I responded dolefully. "He told me I wasn't enthusiastic enough, that it's an honor and a privilege to work for him and the court -- repeated it about ten times. What does that mean?"
"You, not enthusiastic? That's ridiculous. You may not love every minute, but you are a very enthusiastic person. I can't understand what he's trying to tell you."
"Me either. He did not have a single thing to say about my performance or the quality or quantity of my work. I think it all has to do with Kimberly. She's in there all day chatting him up. She doesn't do any work until he goes home. Instead, she spends the day entertaining him. I think he's decided that's what he likes. He wants to be babysat. He's cranky that I have a life and that I work during business hours, then when I finish my work, I choose to come home to you rather than stay in his office until he's ready to go home. I didn't know that babysitting was something he wanted." All of a sudden I thought I might have an idea of what the problem was.
"Sam, I understand. The Judge doesn't want to go home to his wife. It's so obvious -- staying later, making his wife go on trips without him, and following her in his own car whenever they go anywhere; and that's just the stuff I know about."
"You may be right, although I'm not sure that's all of it. But whatever it is, I don't think there's much for you to do about it -- you could stay longer at work to appease him."
"I guess, but what am I supposed to do? Sit there and twiddle my thumbs? I get all my work done during the day. I want to come home, go to the gym, do stuff that we want to do. I would understand that it was a problem if I wasn't getting my work done, but that isn't it. I'm almost finished with everything that can be worked on right now. I think he couldn't complain about my work, so he's looking for something else."
"I know, I don't understand it either, but you need to ride this out for your career. Try your hardest because you need him as a reference."
The next morning, there was a blizzard in my office from all the memos on my desk. From the tone of the memos, I discerned that the Judge felt the atmosphere in the office was way too lax. The first memo called for a staff meeting each week, along with a form to fill out and give to the Judge after said staff meeting -- I didn't know whether it was to keep him up to date or just to show that we did indeed have a meeting. The next memo required us to log in all the phone calls to the office, type up an explanation of what the call was about and the action taken or needed. One copy of the phone call was to go in the file and a second copy directly to the Judge. The last memo was titled "Form and Style Issues." It addressed such grievances as placing "the" before plaintiff or defendant -- verboten in this office, the usage of similar words such as effect and affect, and placement of commas and apostrophes. It seemed that the Judge took any mistake in something given to him as an affront. He was adamant in the memo that the mistakes of form and style stop.
I wanted to cry. I sat down at my desk and squeezed my eyes shut to keep the tears from forming. How had this great place become a nightmare overnight? What had I done? My stomach was in knots. I couldn't even get excited about a cappuccino.
I want a different job -- as far away from all of this as possible. If only I could be like Oprah. That was it -- the perfect job for me. I want my own talk show! I would be great. I'd have makeovers, style shows, and interesting topics. I could do it. That is the ideal job for me. Mentally I started planning shows . . . I have a friend from college who has made it as a country singer. He'd be perfect to have on! The son of my mother's old high school boyfriend is a comedian -- that would be a real audience pleaser. I have a friend with the National Gallery of Art. He's interesting and funny -- after a couple of drinks -- the green room could provide his favorite thing. A little lesson in culture would give me a whole new angle.
Then, Prada and Kate Spade would be sending me their stuff to wear on the air. I'd ask my assistant to try and get Ralph Lauren to let me wear his stuff. And Caroline Herrera -- I'd look great in her stuff.
I would have my own trainers. Sam and I could have a house in Santa Fe and something in England. A great warehouse apartment in New York . . . with one huge room. I could have all windows on one side with a couch and two chairs on each side. That would be a great place to entertain. Then I would make another area on the other side with a couch large enough to be a bed so that Sam and I could really have room to cuddle while we watched TV. I would make a nook with "my man and his dog chair" as a place to read. I'd need a second story for a couple of bedrooms and a great bathroom with a huge bathtub. We could do the kitchen with stainless steel so that it would be more city-like. We'd have to have a table that seats at least ten to entertain properly once I'm famous.
Yes, this was perfect. It would be a few months before I'd have plenty of money so that Sam could find his perfect job, but I wanted to have what I could have as a talk show host. A job I loved and was great at.
"What are you doing?" The Judge had dropped a large stack of documents on my desk. The perfect chandelier I had placed over the extra long dining table was gone. I was back from my ultimate life to my current, very crappy life. I'd better think of a way out of this quick!
That night, the Judge told me I needed to stay until a phone call came in from the parties on one of our cases.
"I want to know the dates they're giving for a site visit."
"No problem, I'll be here."
"I want you to stay until you hear from them. Then call me on my cell phone and let me know what they had to say."
The Judge left that day at four o'clock. Celia left at five, and Kimberly left at five thirty after a long argument with her boyfriend. I could only hear part of it, but she seemed less than pleased that he was going to go watch football at the ESPN Zone rather than go with her to some happy hour. I heard her slam the phone down and then slam the door. I sat at my desk playing solitaire. Sam called at six.
"I'm going home," he informed me. "Want to meet at the metro?"
"I can't. I have to wait for a phone call."
"I think the Judge is testing my 'enthusiasm,'" I replied irritably. "He told me he wanted me to stay for this phone call to come in and call him with the information once they called."
"Oh, I see." Sam was clearly annoyed. "He's going to play those kind of games, huh?"
"It would seem."
"Well, stay tonight, but don't get sucked in after this. I'll see you at home."
"OK, I'll call you after they call."
I sat around and watched the clock tick the minutes by. Six-fifteen came, then six-thirty. I had played all the Spider Solitaire I could stand. Finally at five 'til seven, the parties called.
I called the Judge, but I just got his voice mail. I knew he couldn't access his voice mail, so I hung up and called his house. I got a machine again, so I left a message. Just to cover myself, I sent him an email that had a timestamp, and left a message on his desk. Then, I packed up my stuff and went home. I was completely and totally exhausted.
When I got home, I burst into tears. "I hate it! It's awful."
"I know," Sam said softly, stroking my hair. "You can do this. Start looking for a new job -- every day, just like you did when you were at the school system. I bet you have something great in no time flat after a clerkship."
I nodded; he'd made me feel a little better.
It became clear that Judge Von wanted to force Celia and me to stay later and later in the evening. He would come up with projects right before we normally left, all things that could have been done much earlier in the day. Not once was it something that came up late, it was always an item that had been around earlier that day or even for a day or two. He started staying later and later in the evenings.
The Judge spent all day talking into a little recorder and then had Celia transcribe his thoughts. There was this constant sound in the office like the teacher on Charlie Brown. I couldn't make out what was being said, but the Judge was constantly talking.
Whenever Celia or I would go in to say goodnight, he would look up at the clock, look at us and say "Oh, OK then." No matter what time it was -- like he couldn't believe we were actually going home. "The stress is going to kill me," I thought every night as I saw his face look at the clock.
It wasn't long before the relationship between Kimberly and the Judge seemed to take a new turn. Kimberly always managed to arrive before me, but I was refusing to give up going in for our morning chat time even though the reception I received was quite chilly. I was not going to end up like Jim. One morning, as I was coming in with my cappuccino, there was Kimberly dressed in the height of fashion, wearing a crisp white suit. She was standing when I arrived. I was just setting down my purse and going into the Judge's office when she asked.
"Do you think this skirt is too short? I thought it might be too short or too see-through. Can you see my panties? They're pink lace from Victoria's Secret."
I dropped my coffee. A dark stain appeared around my feet. I realized that my feet were burning. I tried to move, but everything was going in slow motion. I couldn't take my eyes off of Kimberly who was twirling around making a show of pulling her skirt tight across her ass so that you could indeed see right through it to her underwear.
I was struck dumb and completely immobilized. Then I heard the Judge's response.
"No darlin', you look gorgeous in that suit, so thin. You can't see a thing."
I swallowed in a vain effort to push the bile back down into my stomach. I turned and ran down the hallway to the bathroom where I promptly vomited the non-existent contents of my stomach.
As I swirled the water around in my mouth, I tried to sort out how to deal with this situation. I decided that it was best to ignore it for the time being. Perhaps it would blow over. Maybe it wouldn't affect me -- fat chance. I walked slowly back to the office from the bathroom. I want to quit! Please let me get another job so I can quit!
When I stepped inside the office, I took a deep breath and went straight into the Judge's chambers. I put on my best smile.
"Good morning." I figured they would see through my forced cheerfulness, but they were too engrossed in one another to care. It was obvious that I was interrupting. It was decision time, should I turn and leave or sit down like I normally did? I sat down.
No one said a word. We all just sat there looking at one another. This is so uncomfortable! I have never been in a situation this tense. Do I get up? That would seem very strange. What do I do? Think! Say something!
"Did you have a good evening?" I asked the Judge.
"I was here until around 9."
"Why?" I asked, bewildered; there was nothing due.
"There's a lot to get done." He was glaring at me like I was a wicked little kid. I was very confused about what he thought was going badly.
"Oh." I could not think of an appropriate response. "Well, I better get to work." I stuttered, stumbling up and over furniture as I fled the room.
As I sat as my desk, gulping down air, I realized that I was really meant to do something creative. I would design handbags! I never could find the exact purse I wanted. I would make better purses than were available. Like a doctor's bag in a mock crock with a great silver clasp -- I hadn't been able to find one. I would make it and it would become a rage. That would be perfect for me. I would be creating.
Sam and I could live in a brownstone in the Village. I would make it darling and then it could be on one of those HGTV shows like Small Space or whatever they call it! I would find antiques at flea markets and add things like marble tabletops. I could make the wall look like marble for the entrance and put up columns to give a more regal effect.
We could put fireplaces in every room to make it homier. It would be a cozy space with wonderful mantles and gorgeous artwork over the mantles. I could buy a Chagal -- that would really be a conversation piece.
Maybe we would have a backyard, I could make it a Moroccan paradise. I would put in lots of those votive candles in red glass along the back wall. Perhaps we could get ivy to grow around the candles. I could get huge water resistant pillows on the ground so that we could lounge out there, eating grapes and drinking wine. I could add a bar for parties! That would be fantastic.
We could have parties that go indoors and outdoors. We'll need a barbeque grill for skewers of shrimp and chicken. We'll live around the corner from a great bakery, and I'll go and buy fresh bread during the week and for parties and get croissants on the weekends so that we can lounge in bed and read the paper.
What a great life! I would be so happy that way. Sam could work at the Stock Exchange. He'd love the power rush, I'm sure. Yes, I will design bags. No more stress. That was it! I knew my life would be perfect.
Later that day, the nightmare got worse. The Judge called me into his office.
"What are you working on?" He demanded.
"Well, those two takings cases, the pay case, and the contract dispute."
"I want a memo by the end of the day describing in detail where you are on each case and deadlines for each thing that needs to be done."
As I walked back to my desk, I felt my stomach sink to the floor. All I could recall was my previous conversation when the Judge gave Jim deadlines about how he had never done that before. I really couldn't understand it -- I'd completed all the old cases on the docket so we were completely caught up. His attitude was totally confusing.
I looked up as I passed Kimberly's office. She was smirking over whatever she was pretending to read. At that moment, I was certain that she was going behind my back telling the Judge that I was somehow not doing my job. She was planning my demise; I could feel it.
The next day, as I reached my desk, I saw a memo from the Judge. It read: "The docket is reasonably current, but we are making too many mistakes. These are careless errors. These mistakes are in the public domain, and it must appear that we are careless or don't know better.
"I like an informal atmosphere, and I have never discouraged conversations before. But trying to do office work at the same time may be contributing to the problem.
"Clerks will draft memos on any matter I need to know about before we discuss them. This too is a departure from previous practice, but I hope that it will result in a tighter focus and more disciplined thinking. It will also give us documentation for the file. The file should be brought in with any memorandum.
"Working for the judiciary is an honor and a privilege. It is not like many jobs and it definitely is not 'just a job.' That's the way I view it, and I expect that you do too."
I went out at lunchtime to get some air -- feeling claustrophobic in that office. I wandered around, walking a few blocks. Barnes and Noble! I had forgotten a bookstore was just around the corner. This would help. I could wander around the books for a while. Nothing like a little shopping expedition to make me a new woman.
I walked in and spied the magazines. A magazine could be a little present to myself for having such a bad day. The front of one of the magazines heralded an article called "10 tips for Getting Along Better at Work." I snatched it up and bought it. I returned to work buoyed with some of their ideas. One was to learn everyone's favorite donut and bring it to work. I went back to the office and did some nosing around. The Judge liked jelly donuts, Celia said she was a fan of chocolate and Kimberly loved powdered sugar.
I got up early the next morning and hurried to the bakery. I bought a dozen donuts -- two of everyone's favorites and half a dozen different types for good measure. Then I practically ran to catch my train. I got on just as the doors were closing. Sinking down into an empty seat, I thought my feet were really hurting. I pulled down the heel of my shoe to reveal a blister the size of a quarter. Not a good start, I mused.
When I arrived at work, I limped up to chambers, opened up the box of donuts, took a deep breath and walked into the Judge's office. Kimberly was behind his chair rubbing his shoulders.
"Have a donut," I suggested, extending the box, trying to smile. They were so sickening. I couldn't believe she was touching him in public. Had they no shame? Why did I have to keep working here? I would spend the entire day sending out resumes.
The Judge was selecting a donut when Kimberly said, "I'm on a diet; I couldn't possibly." She's a size two and never gained an ounce, this was simply another form of her treachery because the Judge removed his hand.
"I shouldn't," he proclaimed. "They're terrible for you."
I felt so dejected. I shuffled out, desperately trying to avoid moving my foot, ankle or shoe. I had to find a band-aid.
"Celia, will you have a donut?" I asked, fearing the worst.
"I can't," she almost wailed, "I started Weight Watchers last night. Sorry!"
I knew she meant it, but it didn't make me feel any better. I sat them down on the front table where they remained all day, untouched. The next morning I came in. No donut box. I figured the cleaning people probably took them. I walked toward the Judge's chambers to say good morning. Kimberly was conspicuously absent.
" . . . Had donuts," I heard him say as I walked through his door. "Someone brought them in, so I took them home. I've got work to do. I'll talk to you later."
He looked at me. "What?" He asked aggressively.
So much for him saying thanks for the donuts, I realized wearily. "Just came in to say good morning." I faltered, trying to smile. "Where's Kimberly?"
"She ran to the pharmacy for me. I need that takings opinion on my desk ASAP."
"The defendant hasn't replied yet. It isn't due for another week."
"We don't need the reply. You can do it with just the motion and response. No reason to wait around for it, doing nothing, being lazy. It is time to get some work done." He swiveled completely away from me. I stuck my tongue out at him.
This is it. I'm not going to work on anything but finding a job -- as soon as I get that opinion drafted. Then, job-hunting every minute of every day until I get out of this place. I don't care what I have to do. It could not possibly be worse than this job. I slumped at my desk; my eyes were forming little tears. I scrunched them up in an effort to avoid crying.
I'll just take a peek at eBay to get me going. I need some new dining chairs. I wonder if they have any good ones. Twelve pages! I love furniture. I could own a furniture shop! That would be fun.
I opened a second window to see if there were any jobs in interior design around. Hmmm . . . they all required a degree in interior design. Maybe I'll go to night school as soon as I get a different job. Then I could play with furniture every day. That would be so nice.
Sighing, I turned my attention to the brief. The faster I get this done, the sooner I can begin looking for jobs.
At lunch, I walked down the street hoping to find a new direction for my life. I needed to find some help. I saw the Borders again and went inside. The cover of Cosmo screamed, "Buy me!" with the cover article entitled "How to Find Your Perfect Job." I sat in the back munching on a biscotti taking the quiz. It said I needed a creative outlet to appease my inner child, then work would not need to be as fulfilling. That night, I went out and bought a paint set.
I sat up my easel in the kitchen over a bunch of newspaper. Next, I put all our fruit in my favorite yellow and blue bowl in the center of the table. Finally, I opened up my new painting set, put on the smock they suggest I buy and selected a brush.
"What are you doing?" Sam asked.
"I can see that. Why?"
"To release my inner child so that I won't need work for my sole means of fulfillment."
"First, where did you get that crap? Second, I've seen you try to draw, and not to be unkind, but I think painting is going to be way out of your league. I love you, but art is not your strongest suit. And third, but most important, what is going on?"
I slumped forward, a big tear running down my cheek. "The Judge and Kimberly," my voice was shaking so badly I didn't think I could get the rest out. I fell into his arms sobbing.
He walked me into the bathroom and washed off my face. "Shh, stop crying. Let's go out for dinner, and you can tell me all about it."
Once I had fixed my face, we walked out the door and down the few blocks to our favorite French bistro. Sitting down at the table with a little glass of wine, I felt myself relax for the first time in weeks.
"So," Sam queried, "what's going on?"
"I don't totally know," I confessed, mulling over what was happening. "The Judge is very friendly with Kimberly. He seems to hate me. Nothing I do is OK. I didn't realize how bad it had gotten for me. I guess I thought it would get better." It was all tumbling out so fast that Sam had to reach over and touch my lips to get me to stop talking.
"Wait," he urged, "you aren't making any sense. You told me there was tension between you and the Judge, that he seemed different. You also said that Kimberly was way too flirtatious. What's changed?"
I told him about walking in and hearing Kimberly ask if the Judge could see her underwear.
"That's sick. Really sick," Sam shook his head. "I don't like that one bit. He never hit on you, did he?" Sam's eyes flashed dangerously.
"No, not that I know of!" I reassured him, patting his hand very quickly. "Of course, I probably wouldn't know." I flashed him a smile. "You know what my friends used to say, I'm like a deer in the headlights when it comes to being picked up."
Sam laughed. "I was lucky I guess, I didn't have to pick you up. You started flirting with me right away," he said teasingly.
"That is not true. You started flirting before me." I was laughing. I felt like I hadn't laughed in years. The world always seemed to weigh a million pounds when I was in the office.
"Seriously," I divulged, "the other problem is that he's been giving me deadlines. That's what he did to Jim. That's how it all started, and you know, it went from bad to worse to whatever is worse than that! Today he told me he needed this opinion ASAP, and they haven't even finished briefing it."
Sam furrowed his brow, just like he always does when he is thinking hard about a problem. "Well, you can't quit," he declared, scowling, "I know it really sucks, but this is a must do for your career. You're stuck. You'll have to figure out ways to make it bearable. Try to do the best work you can, and stay out of Kimberly's way. Let them flirt, and try to be as ignorant as possible."
I nodded, knowing it was true. I couldn't leave a clerkship because I had to have the Judge's good recommendation. This was the first job that I would put down forever on a resume; it was the position that would be my career foundation. I had to do it and be as good at it as possible.
In the morning, I looked over my work and realized that I had a couple of issues to discuss with the Judge. I was shaky around him, but I had a couple of requests for additional time and other administrative matters. I put the stack of files together, reached for my pad and paper, took a deep breath and went into his office.
"Hi," I said smiling.
"Yes?" He wasn't smiling back.
"I just have a couple of issues to discuss with you."
"Where are the memorandums that accompany the files? I don't want to just talk about it. I want you to put something on paper along with the file and bring it in for me." The tone in his voice was so nasty, I had to bite my lip to hold back the tears. I couldn't do anything right anymore.
I was totally stunned. For a year and a half, I had come in almost daily with simple administrative issues, not once had he wanted anything but a quick synopsis. He had no real interest in administrative matters. The orders would be a sentence long; it was just mundane stuff.
I gathered up my possessions and hustled out of his chambers. That's it. I will never again drop in the Judge's office to discuss any matters with him. I am going to put everything down on paper. No more mornings. I give up. I never want to speak to him again. I will never leave myself exposed again -- CYA mode's begun.
Week after week went by with similar occurrences each week. Memo after memo flooded in about what I was doing wrong. I was so hurt and confused. He never had a single complaint in the first year. I hadn't changed anything I was doing, if anything I was getting better. I didn't get it. What happened between us? The Judge and I no longer chatted at all. When I came in the mornings, his door was shut -- to be certain I wouldn't try to intrude. "I've never felt this frustrated in all my life," I thought wearily.
I applied for job after job, but just like before, I got no response. I didn't have a clue what to do -- about the Judge or jobs or anything. I just wanted to curl up on the couch and pretend none of this was happening.
One evening, at a law school alumni party, I was visiting with a few attorneys working at the Department of Justice, hoping to make some good job contacts.
"So, you're clerking for Judge Von?" One of the men asked me. I recognized him from around the court, although we'd not had him in front of us.
"Yeah," I responded, feeling better about my job prospects.
"You have a co-clerk, right?"
"Yes, Kimberly Douglas," I replied. "Her boyfriend is with the DOJ, do you know him?"
"I don't think so. You're married, aren't you?"
"Yes," I said uncertainly. This was turning out to be a very odd conversation.
"You've been there for quite a while." It was a question, but not really.
"Yes. This is my second year."
His smile reminded me of a wolf.
"Is it true?" He asked eagerly. I noticed that a few other people had turned to look.
"Is what true?" I asked, suddenly feeling very nervous.
"Is he having an affair with your co-clerk?"
My mouth dropped open while I tried to keep my face devoid of expression, but I was thunderstruck. Don't say anything! Don't show any reaction!
"I don't know anything about that," I responded, with a little squeak. I tried to think of something witty or charming or a quick change of subject, but I was totally blank. I knew they could see me sweating it out. They all knew I knew something was up. Run away!
Then someone else stepped forward. "I hear that ol' Von is working long hours with her." They all chuckled while they waited for a response.
"I don't know," I stammered weakly, "I usually leave between five-thirty and six, so I can get to the gym pretty early." I was getting desperate. People were coming over, flocking around. I hadn't actually moved, but I felt like I was being backed into a corner. What to do, what to do? How could I escape?
"I saw them together." I heard, rather than saw the woman that said this. Suddenly, like a wave, the crowd turned toward her. Although I desperately wanted to hear what she had to say, I wanted to get away even more. I turned and quickly walked away to find Sam. He was chatting with some guys around the bar.
"Having fun?" He asked. It was clear he was having a great time. "We're just talking politics."
I sighed. We could be here for weeks if he was debating. "We've got to go," I hissed.
"Why? You love these things, and you need to make some contacts. Hopefully someone can get you out of the clerkship sooner." He was clearly bewildered by my behavior.
I pulled him over so that I could whisper in his ear. "I'm being asked questions about the Judge's relationship with Kimberly," I whispered as quietly as I could.
I pulled back to look in his eyes. Dismay was quickly followed by malevolent glee. "Go stoke the fire. That should take some pressure off of you if rumors about an affair start flying. That should keep the Judge busy too."
I knew he was kidding, sort of. It would never do for the Judge to find out I'd had anything to say on the matter. I hadn't found a job, and I couldn't handle the current one getting any worse than it was now.
"You know I can't," I was cross and said it more tartly than I intended.
"I know." He looked hurt. "I was just having some fun."
"It's OK," I said, putting my hand on his arm and then his cheek. "I'm just getting a little strung out over the whole situation. I'm sorry I snapped at you. Just take me home, 'kay?"
He smiled and put his arm around me and led me out the door.
The next week, Kimberly and I had to attend some appellant hearings on previous cases. We were in the Judge's office discussing the arguments, when she boasted, "Judge, the other judges couldn't take their eyes off of me. I could feel them staring at me through the entire argument. You know how the men on the circuit are, they all love gorgeous women."
My first thought harkened back to junior high school -- gag me with a spoon! Was she seriously speaking these words? Who could buy such garbage? I looked up to see an expression of adoration on the Judge's face. Oh, please God, no.
"I'm not surprised. Whenever we're in the courtroom all the lawyers stare at you. It must happen to you all the time. You're really something to look at."
Not that Kimberly is bad looking, but she's no model either. I couldn't believe this. I knew I was staring at them, but I didn't care. They had to be insane. Forget it. I'm done watching this.
"I'll write my notes in a memo for you," I muttered quickly to the Judge as I got up and left. I didn't care anymore -- I just couldn't sit and watch it.
Later that day, I received a nasty memo from the Judge stating that I was using the word "there" as an expletive in my draft of an opinion. I wanted to go in and tell him that "there" was not an expletive and then give him a litany of words that were. Instead, I made corrections and gave him a new draft. Things were going from bad to worse here on the job front.
I hid in my office. Now, I knew why Jim hid in his. I felt very guilty for my feelings about him. First, I had looked for a new job, but as the psychological torture wore on, I started looking for a new career. I've never loved being a lawyer. There had to be something where I could be happy, less stressed, away from all of this. I had thought about new careers before, I just didn't know what I wanted or how to make it happen. All I wanted to do was escape -- this place, this job, the Judge, Kimberly, my life. So, I spent my days talking on the phone. I called my mother, my friends, Sam -- anyone I could talk to for a few minutes. The phone was my escape, and escape was my daily routine.
In the morning, I would get up and prepare by picking one of my favorite outfit. If I was going to spend my day waiting for something nasty to happen, I would do it in style. I figured the least I could do for myself was to look good.
Next, I would think of something fun to do during the day. I made plans for lunch with at least one friend a week. I knew that being gone every day would cause me even more pain, but I was determined to have some contact with someone who liked me, besides Celia and Sam, at least once during the work week. Besides, the fun of spending a Friday sitting down in a restaurant eating, gave me the pleasure of anticipation all week long.
I treated myself to something at least once a week, planning for these treats weeks in advance. Sometimes it was as simple as a new lipstick or nail polish. The next time it might be a new suit or shoes. Often I would go and browse the bookstore, buy a coffee and take travel books to a table and plan vacations I would never take.
I discovered LuxuryLink.com and would pick out destinations and read the extravagant things included in the vacation during the day as a break from my reality -- the ocean in Tahiti or the mountains near Banff. I was a world traveler right at my desk. I spent each day waiting for the next cataclysmic disaster; I would do anything to give me a break, a lift, a light at the end of the tunnel.
Every day, I arrived to another memo. They all seemed to deal with the same issue -- mistakes. The Judge continually harped on mistakes. He never wanted a single thing on his desk with a typographical error. No spelling or punctuation errors allowed. "It is not my job to catch mistakes." However, the more he raved about mistakes, the more I seemed to make. I was frantic about finding them all. Celia and I would read each other's work over and over combing them for any error.
But error-free work was not enough. I started receiving the memos I attached to the files back with edits -- he wanted words substituted. Why edit a memo? I wanted to know. He kept telling me, "I like a particular style. I'd like to see you writing in that style." Yet any time I changed from using pronouns to specifying the parties, he would change his mind. I'd receive yet another memo outlining his style preferences, which changed like the wind. I had a headache every day. I would go out in the morning around ten and buy some Advil and a cappuccino or a Coke. At noon, I needed more Advil with lunch. I took a third dose with tea. Great, I was going to be a drug addict, just like the Judge. Maybe that was his grand plan. Perhaps I should take up biting my nails. Would that help my anxiety? My mother suggested I get a doctor to give me Paxil or something. Sam refused. "You don't need drugs, you need to spend your time finding a new job and doing the best in this job so that he will give you a good recommendation."
When I brought to the Judge's attention that he seemed to change his mind about style choices, he said cryptically, "Certain things lend themselves to a different sort of style." I could never figure it out.
Out of frustration, I sat at my desk and made my first call to a career counselor. Surely someone could help me escape this place. I looked up career counselors online. There were a number that catered to lawyers wishing to leave the legal field. Well, that was me! I called the first one on the list.
"So, what would you like to do?" The counselor asked me.
This was the problem -- I wanted to do lots of things. Depending on when you asked me, I might want to be a fashion designer or have a morning coffee show or maybe I wanted to be on the radio or an interior decorator. The list went on and on. I would fantasize about it for weeks on end. Of course, in my fantasy, I was always good at it, always successful. It was fun, a far cry from the dreary practice of law.
So, that day, I was thinking I wanted to do something like hosting NPR's All Things Considered.
"I want to be a radio host," I told the counselor. "Something like All Things Considered on NPR."
"I love NPR! That would be a fabulous career for you! We can help you hook you up with the right people, help you put together your resume and cover letter, and give you what you need to get the job of your dreams."
I noticed a trend in what he was saying. There was a lot of work for me in this whole process. The counselor would "help me" do all these things.
"How much would this cost?" I was curious, especially with what seemed to be me doing all of the work.
"It depends on what services you request."
Not a good sign. I like upfront prices, no guessing on what it could cost and certainly no dancing around the issue.
"Give me a ballpark range," I was trying not to be difficult, but I sensed my blood pressure rising.
"Again, it is based on the services we perform."
"Well, it sounds like I'm going to be doing all the work. You kept saying you were going to 'help me' do all these things," I said it much more bitingly than I'd intended.
"We give you a great deal of services," the counselor responded icily. "It costs between $3000 and $5000."
I nearly choked. Were they crazy? I was going to pay that kind of money and not be certain I'd end up with a job at the end of the deal? Instead I informed him, "I'll have to think about it and talk to my husband. Thank you for your time."
So much for someone else finding a job for me.
I received a memo on Monday morning stating that the Judge wanted to discuss a case about six o'clock that evening. We had nothing scheduled all day. It was clearly a ruse to try and make me stay later than normal. Unfortunately, Sam and I were having some work done on the house. He had left his keys for the workers to use and push back through the mail slot when they finished. If I stayed, he'd have no way to get into the house. I could have stayed with some advance notice, but today I had other things to do.
I went in to tell the Judge that I could not stay that evening. But I stopped at the door when I heard Kimberly's voice.
"Judge," she spoke with so much sugar I was sick from here, "our sex life is waning. Do you think it is because we moved in together? I can't figure it out."
I had a fleeting hope that he would throw her out of his office.
"That's what usually happens. It can't stay hot all the time. You'd get burned. These things die down some. It is sometimes more like being friends than lovers."
I had heard enough. I'd tell the Judge I couldn't be there tonight some other time.
Later that day, I did find him alone.
"Judge," I said tentatively, "I got your memo, but I cannot stay tonight. We have some workers at the house today, so Sam left his keys with them. I have the only set, so I have to meet him at home to let him in."
The Judge turned on me. I'd never seen him look like that -- the cartoon caricature of anger, beet red and if steam could have been emanating from his ears, it would have been. He did not even speak, just strode out the door. I felt like I'd been scalded with hot water.
I went out and looked at Celia. Her face told me she's heard it all and understood my astonishment that he had no comprehension of the necessity of letting my husband into our house. I went out and bought myself my favorite chai latte and combed through the purses the street vendor had. A red bag would definitely brighten my day.
I was working on an opinion where I tried and tried to discuss the issues with the Judge. He ignored me or told me to figure it out on my own. I finally gave up and wrote the opinion. He hated it. I know that he trashed it, but he never said a word to me. He would never discuss it with me nor would he let me read the opinion he eventually wrote. It was the worst sort of degradation. Over the many months I worked there, I had completed at least a dozen opinions -- opinions upheld by the Circuit. I wanted to scream, "What more do you want?" But instead, I just felt small, cut down by the enormity of not being allowed to fix my own work.
Out I went to buy myself a new OPI color. If anything could get my spirits up, it had to be that! When I arrived at the store, OPI had just put out a new collection. I bought every color. After all, if one could make me feel better, ten would make me feel ten times better!
I did my nails and toes that night, trying each of the new colors, but try as I might, it didn't make me feel better. I was hurt, disappointed and distraught. I felt jumpy and dreaded going back to work every night.
Sam watched me. "Is that helping?"
"No. I don't know if anything will help. I can't kill him. I seem unable to find a new job. I just want to quit. I never want to see that man again!"
"I know. I'm sorry. I was sure with this on your resume you'd be able to find a job in no time."
"I know. Me too. I can't believe I still can't find a job. I don't know what to do."
I arrived the next morning to find the nastiest memo yet from the Judge on my desk about "mistakes" in my latest draft. Couldn't I get my tenses right? Didn't I know how to use the English language?
It was very uncomfortable to be around Kimberly and the Judge, whose conversations bordered on risqué. They shared inside jokes intended to make anyone in the room with them feel left out and left regularly to do "errands." We were always admonished not to mention anything if the Judge's wife should call.
One day, I was sitting in my office trying to complete another opinion. The Judge had set a frenzied pace for getting them out, allowing no changes in the schedule, no matter what. He would get our meeting memos and set deadlines, whether the case was ready or not. Often, we'd have oral arguments set for a date and he would make the deadline for writing the opinion prior to the arguments. I pointed this out.
"You can write the opinion anyway. You have the briefs. It is laziness not to go ahead and get the writing started. If the arguments make any change, we can always adjust the opinion as needed later." He was pushing with a cattle prod. I was running ahead to keep from being shocked again.
Prior to the new frenetic pace, we would often wait a week or two after the oral arguments to begin writing an opinion spending our time thoroughly discussing the issues. The Judge had always wanted a copy of the transcripts before so that he could make specific reference to the arguments made. Now, it was all about the timing.
So, I watched the clock, trying to complete an opinion that had not been fully briefed by the parties. The defendant was asking us to get rid of the case, the plaintiff had told us why they were wrong, but the defendant still had another week to respond to the plaintiff's arguments. The Judge wanted the opinion that day.
I was re-reading it for errors at three o'clock in the afternoon. The Judge seemed to materialize in front of my desk snarling like a rabid dog.
"Are you finished yet?" He acted like I was behind.
"I'm just reading it through again checking for mistakes." I was trying to be cordial, but I turned to jelly every time he came near me now. My hands started to shake, my palms started to sweat, I felt light-headed and queasy.
"Give it to me." He snatched it from me. "You're finished now." He walked out and handed it to Celia to be published.
The next day, I received a memo that read:
"Please look over this opinion that Judge Mitchell wrote denying summary judgment. I'm not certain I agree on the merits, but that is not the point of this memo. I want you to read this carefully and note how it is organized. The background, facts and law all follow in a logical sequence, and the writing is concise, crisp and clean. See how easy it would be to outline this opinion.
Read all of the opinions that are circulated by other judges. Note the cases that are written well and seem to be authoritative, and more importantly those that are not. Learn from them. I expect this sort of analysis and writing in your drafts, unless there is some reason why you cannot write at this level. If that is the case, let me know."
That was the end. I couldn't take it anymore. My only goal was to get out of there. I'd been there long enough. Clearly, I was never going to get a great recommendation from someone who could write something like that to me.
The Judge and Kimberly left about three o'clock that afternoon.
"The Judge is coming over to my house because the plumber is coming. He doesn't want me to be alone with a strange man," Kimberly told me as they left.
"If my wife calls," the Judge addressed Celia and me, "tell her I went to have a haircut. Don't tell her where I am." We stared at their retreating backs as they laughed and joked on the way to the elevator.
"Oh my gosh," I exclaimed, "Can you believe that?"
"I am not lying to his wife!" Celia was rolling her eyes and shaking her head. "Is he crazy? That isn't part of this job description."
"You shouldn't have to do that."
"I know. But I'm a single mom and this is my only income. What do I do?"
"Hope and pray she won't call."
Celia tried to smile, but it wasn't funny enough to crack the stress, pressure and frustration the Judge was putting the office under.
Every day I came in and looked for jobs, pouring over the paper, scouring every job site on the web and telling everyone I could think of that I was looking for a job. I'd never been more desperate to get out of a situation.
More astonishing than anything to me was the fact that Kimberly continued to see her boyfriend. About halfway through the year, he asked her to marry him and she accepted. Their fights continued, however, and often spilled over into the office. If she was angry, Kimberly was likely to yell at anyone, even the Judge.
She would scream at the Judge if she didn't get her way. Slamming doors were a regular sound in our office. I walked on eggshells all the time. We never knew when one of them would explode. Constant tension was in the air.
I tuned it all out by playing game after game of spider solitaire. Then I found a game site on the web and played mah jongg until I was cross-eyed. I couldn't focus on any one thing. I bounced from playing a game, to searching for a job to calling friends on the phone. Often I was hugging the phone with my shoulder while I played a game of FreeCell. I was so fragmented; it took me an hour to write any memo to put with a file. I understood why a beaten dog cowers when it walks to the master who beats it -- it's compelled to go but the fear is overwhelming. I stayed on the verge of tears. Each new memo that returned bleeding with nasty comments was like a knife in my back. I didn't think I could stand the mental anguish.
I rose each day and did yoga. I tried to calm myself with tree pose, camel pose, any pose, but calm eluded me. I stood in front of my closet each day trying to dress for the new battle. Should I appeal to him by wearing a bright color? Would the red suit draw him like the running of the bulls? If I were ugly would that be better or did his obsession with attractive women make it easier on me if I looked pretty? Decisions, decisions. I never knew the right answer. No matter what I did, the attacks kept coming.
The Judge was making new demands every day, not just for me, he was an equal opportunity jerk. Because Celia was a single mother, she had made it clear when she interviewed for the job that one of her really big deals was getting out of the office at five o'clock every night to get home to her daughter. He started finding new projects that had to be done before she could leave each evening at about quarter of five. Celia and I guessed that he wanted someone to stay with him at the office and baby sit him so that he didn't have to go home.
The pinnacle was after Kimberly's wedding. She invited all of us, so Celia went with Sam and me. We couldn't resist -- like moths drawn to the flame. During the reception, Kimberly got up and took the microphone.
"I'd like to introduce my best friend to give our first toast. He is the man I can talk to about anything, the person I go to for advice, my confidante and counselor -- my boss, Judge Von."
I was grateful no one was looking at my face or Celia's because I know we both looked as if we had been poisoned. A wave of nausea hit me with a force I didn't know was possible. Celia looked as if she might faint, grasping the table with both hands. We were stunned. Did she have no notion of what was appropriate? What about her poor new husband? I wondered, what did he think about all of this?
Kimberly chose to get married in June, because that was the typical bridal month, two days before her birthday. So, she was on her honeymoon on her birthday. I came in on the morning of her birthday to the sound of the Judge on the phone -- today he'd left his door open.
"A dozen roses. Yes, I want the card to read, 'To the most beautiful bride I've ever seen. Happy Birthday.'"
Sending roses to a new bride on her honeymoon was beyond crass. Judge Von had outdone himself this time. I turned to go, but the Judge saw me.
"By the way," he barked, "I know it is early, but I've decided the new clerks need to get started so they won't be the disaster I've had to deal with this year. Your last day is next Friday." With that, he turned back to his desk.
Slumping against the doorframe, I was totally speechless. The stress of everything and the hurt made me feel sick, but there was a touch of relief beginning to flutter in my stomach.
Even though I was supposed to finish two months from now, I was incredibly grateful to leave their totally bizarre relationship behind. As I went downstairs to get a soda, I would have sworn my heels were clicking out "must, must go, must, must go."
The day before my last day, I bought myself a new pair of shoes as a goodbye, but nothing could replace what I had lost with the Judge. He was the master of the undercut. The man worked hard to make me feel like nothing I did measured up without ever saying a word. I don't know if he intended to damage my self-esteem, but that's what happened. Never once saying thanks or good job, his refusal to confront anything -- work, personalities, his requirements for the job -- made it impossible to function in any environment that he occupied. What is it they say happened without a shot being fired? That's how the Judge won, by destroying me in small pieces. No corrections, no suggestions for improvement, just nasty, tacky memos used as a slap in the face.
When I walked in on the morning of my last day, chaos was the order of the day. The Judge's son was in his office. Even though the door was shut, I could hear the entire conversation.
"I've heard from half a dozen people that you are having an affair with your clerk, Kimberly. I don't care if it is true -- I want you to stop seeing her! I want you to get rid of her. I cannot believe you are doing this to mom and to me and Anne. I'm embarrassed that you are my father."
"We are not having an affair. I have done nothing wrong."
"I don't give a damn if you are actually sleeping with her. It looks to everyone like you are. You are a laughing stock among your peers."
"No one has said anything to me."
"Of course not! They aren't going to accuse you to your face, but I've been hearing things for quite some time. The thing is it reached Mother yesterday, and that is going too far, even for you."
"I have committed no impropriety."
"You are an egotistical son-of-a-bitch, sitting in your opulent office, staring at yourself in your black robe in the mirror. I know that you think that if you haven't touched her that nothing is wrong. Besides that, you believe you are untouchable, that your federal judgeship is a mantle of protection around your reputation. But it isn't. Your reputation is ruined from this scandal, whether or not it is true."
At that moment, the door to the Judge's chambers opened. His son stormed out without a backward glance. I heard the Judge pick up his phone. "Don't come in today." I knew he was talking to Kimberly. "My son is a little upset. I'm going to smooth everything over at home today, so just take some time for yourself. Do something fun, go shopping. I'll take care of everything."
I was fascinated to see what would happen. I heard the Judge in his office, ice cubes clinking in a glass, liquid being poured. I wondered what he was going to do next.
I went to the task of cleaning my office and preparing it for the next clerk, wanting to leave her with as much information as possible, in the hope that she could have an easier time than I had. So, for the next two hours, I cleaned and typed memos. The office was totally quiet, unusually quiet.
I peeked into the Judge's office. He was sprawled on his sofa, mouth open, a little drool oozing down the side of his mouth. There was an empty vodka bottle on the table and an empty glass in his hand. I didn't know what to do. Should I try to wake him and make certain he was OK?
I vacillated on the issue. In the end, I decided to try to wake him, I was too worried that something was really wrong with him. I shook him gently on the shoulder. No response. I tried again a little harder. Still nothing. I shook him harder.
"Judge, are you OK? Wake up!" Nothing.
I was alone in the office, so I couldn't ask Celia or even Kimberly what they thought. I decided to call 911.
When the medics arrived, they couldn't rouse the Judge either.
"What meds is he taking?" I showed them the drawer where he kept his medications. There were at least twenty bottles in it.
The medic looked at me. "Is he taking all of this?" He was incredulous.
"I really don't know what he takes or when. I see him pop pills sometimes, but I really don't know much about it."
The medic scooped up all the pills. "You did the right thing calling us. It looks like he is a drug addict. Drinking all the vodka along with the pills caused him to put himself into a coma. He could have died if you hadn't called us."
I was quite pleased with myself. Nothing like saving your enemy from death. I smiled. I had the rest of my last day alone -- I was due for a little peace and quiet.
Kelly was taking over my clerk position.
"I am so sorry," she told me the last time we had lunch. "I hate it that you have to leave early."
"Don't be. I'm not," I told her.
I found out the next week that she was sorry because she had been e-mailing the Judge since her internship with us that she wanted the clerkship. I was forced out early because she wanted to start early. Dismayed, I couldn't believe the little bitch had pushed me out of my job. She was supposed to be my friend. We'd gone through the whole Jim problem together. Now, she'd slapped me just like the Judge.
I was angry and hurt, but she'd get what she asked for working with Kimberly and his highness. "You're on your own, Kelly!" I hoped it was worth it to lose a friend over this job.