One Year Later
“Ouch! MOTHER FU…”
I’m about to scream a string of profanities, but my boss Jed is standing beside my desk, glaring at me, so I bite my tongue as I hop on one foot, massaging the other.
“I mean, Mother Theresa!” I wince and force a smile.
Jed gives me a funny look.
My foot is throbbing. I was in such a hurry to get to my office, I didn’t notice someone had placed a pile of folders and papers to recycle on the floor just outside my door. I managed to gracefully step over them, but then tripped at the last minute, hitting my foot on the corner of my filing cabinet. Smooth. So embarrassing. Jed witnessed the entire fiasco.
“You’re late, again, Allie,” Jed Rubicon frowns at me, his silver-haired brows furrowing. Jed’s a name partner at Rubicon, March & Morgan.
“I know, and I’m sorry. The subway was delayed,” I say, knowing full well that’s not a good enough excuse when you’re female and working for the most senior partner in one of the top law firms in the city. My commute from our home in Briarwood has been the same for five years: take the F from Briarwood-Van Wyck one stop, then transfer to the E train at Union Turnpike. The subway ride is 30 minutes when there are no train traffic or other delays, but this morning I hit ‘snooze’ twice, and there was no Dan to shake me awake. I just haven’t been able to get my shit together since the divorce.
I place my laptop case on my chair and pull out a folder. Please let this help the situation. Please.
“I was pouring over these last night. I think it might help us with the Dalton v. Steiner renewable energy appeal?”
Jed opens the file and silently reads the section I’ve highlighted on the top two pages. “This is excellent work. Excellent, Allie. I’ll show these to Don. We’d like you to work on this case with Joan. Try not to be late again, okay?” he says as he leaves, not bothering to close my office door behind him.
I was holding my breath the whole time Jed was speaking. I breathe out a sigh of relief, then sit back in my brown leather chair, letting it swirl around so I can look out at the cityscape.
Downtown New York, on a grey Monday morning, dirty December snow piled up on the sidewalks. December snow is so much prettier that first time it falls, fluffy and full of Christmas promise. Now it’s just gross brown slush that reminds me of my failed attempts to make Gram’s homemade Christmas gravy look and taste like hers. Somehow, it also reminds me I haven’t done any shopping yet, and Christmas is this Friday.
I don’t want to think about Christmas. I’ll be a single parent this time, and still not partner. I thought after seven hard-working years here they’d finally consider me, but Joan told me she didn’t feel I was ready yet.
Ready? I’ve billed 2400 hours a year for the last decade, missed half a dozen funerals, and haven’t taken a week’s vacation in three years. I’m well-respected by all the other associates. Even my jerk of an ex said I was a shoe-in for partner this year. When I make gaffes like being late this morning, though, it’s like I go ten steps backward (for the record, I walked in at 8:05 a.m., and I worked until 8:15 last night, but never mind). I feel like Don, and especially Jed, are poised and ready to mark one more strike against me on their secret tabulated system: Operation Oust Allie.
I’ve never worked on a case with either of them. They’re always making me work with the one female partner in this firm: Joan Morgan. Do they think only women can work together? I don’t get it. I also don’t like Joan. She’s always trying to trip me up. It’s like she doesn’t want any other woman at this firm achieving what she’s achieved. We have enough obstacles in our way in the workplace. Why can’t women build each other up instead of tearing each other down?
I’ve noticed Joan only wants to work on the corporate cases, with the big players. I know I need those kinds of cases for exposure, but the reason I went into law was to help the little guy. I want to help those wrongfully accused, and people screwed by companies.
Remember that woman whose thighs were burned by McDonald’s coffee in 1994? She became a joke around the world, an overused example of a frivolous lawsuit, but if you read up on the case, Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, you learn the poor woman was 79 years old and that, in fact, her entire pelvic area was severely burned. She required skin grafting for her third-degree burns, but she couldn’t afford to pay her hospital bills, and felt she should also be awarded for her pain and suffering, so she sought legal help.
Some joke: The jury applied the principal of comparative negligence and found that McDonald’s was 80 percent responsible for the incident and Liebeck was 20 percent at fault. Though there was a warning on the coffee cup, the jury decided that the warning was neither large enough nor sufficient. They awarded Liebeck US $200,000 in compensatory damages, which was then reduced by 20 percent to $160,000.
I wish I could attack that kind of case. I want to help clients who can’t afford to pay a lawyer, but our firm doesn’t take on pro bono. “Billables, little girl. Focus on the billables.” That’s Jed’s daily mantra. I should sue him for calling me a little girl all the time. FFS, I’m 42! The three of them are only ten years older, but they act like that puts them in an exclusive club. Once, I told Jed I didn’t like him calling me that. He just laughed.
A laugh. A good, long, belly laugh. That’s what I need this morning. Everything went downhill when Dan called me at 7:35 while I was running to catch the subway. I haven’t smiled since.
I swear he does it on purpose. He calls when he knows I’m rushing off somewhere, in public, or with the girls, so I can’t call him a Delusional Douchebag again.
I realize name calling is highly immature, but I think I’m entitled. I think that’s mild, considering he left me for our marriage counselor. I wish I hadn’t picked up the call this morning, but it didn’t have his distinctive “ASSHOOOLE!” ringtone my best friend Trixie bought me a few weeks after our divorce was finalized. It’s hilarious, but it gathers a lot of stares from passersby if it’s on its loudest setting, since it’s a woman’s voice.
“ASSHOLE CALLING! AN ASSHOLE is calling! You don’t have to pick up!” a woman’s voice calls from out of my coat pocket whenever it’s Dan.
I know the ringtone is sexist and crude. I know not all men are assholes. Some women are assholes. But my ex is indeed an asshole, and the ringtone makes me giggle when not much else has this year, so I’ve kept it.
This morning, though, the ringtone didn’t make me laugh, or startle me. It was a Bleeep, Bleeep sound, like I’d been floating in the pool and just dropped my phone in, which I wouldn’t mind doing some days. Some days, I am far too connected.
I picked up.
“Allie James,” I answered, short of breath from running in two-inch heels. I wish I’d just worn my sneakers. A woman in a matching red hat and scarf glared at me, I suppose for managing to say my name while sprinting in cute shoes. I grinned and kept on running toward my stop.
“Al, it’s me. We need to talk about Christmas.”
“Dan! What number are you using?”
“It’s Lori’s. I’m at Lori’s. Anyway…”
“Why do you have to rub it in my face at Fucking Early in the Morning? Why?”
“Al, I’m not rubbing it in your face. Life just happens. I didn’t plan this. You know that.”
“I know one thing: she planned it. I just read about this similar case in London, where the marriage therapist was actually sued, for manipulation. I could sue, you know. I should sue.”
“But you won’t. You’re not that woman. You’re too kind-hearted. Besides, she lost her license, you got the house, what more do you want?”
“Dan, if kind-hearted translates into letting you walk all over me, you’re wrong. We’re not going to let our girls suffer because of our mistakes. Got that?”
“Yea, well that’s why I called. I wanted to see if the girls can join me and Lori at her parent’s cabin upstate over Christmas. Maybe for a week, so you can still celebrate New Year’s with them after? You can tell the girls Stephanie’s joining us, and it has a hot tub.”
An entire week, alone. When the girls were little, I’d have put down the phone and done multiple cartwheels over it. Just getting a chance to poop on the toilet without being interrupted was rare back then. But now? Now they’re 17 and 19, and when they aren’t arguing over who gets the car or the shower, we have a lot of good times together. This plan would leave me all by myself over the holidays.
A few weeks ago, when we were discussing how we’d manage Christmas, they both admitted that they wanted try to forgive their father and get back to how things were a year ago. They’d avoided him and Lori for half the year, and were only now starting to socialize with him on weekends. Lori’s daughter Stephanie is a year older than Emma, and the three girls have been getting along rather well, considering the circumstances.
“Lori is okay once you get to know her,” our youngest, Emma, said after they returned from dinner that night at Lori and Dan’s new apartment. “We did Wii dance with Stacey, and Lori had homemade pizzas for us!”
“She really does love him, Mom,” Kayleigh added with a slight frown. “They just went about the whole thing wrong.”
None of that was easy for me to hear, and that they were enjoying Lori’s cooking but were never big fans of mine sent my emotions over the top. I excused myself and went to bawl my eyes out in our half bathroom. I’m by no means ready to forgive Dan, but if they can find forgiveness in their hearts, I’m not going to stand in their way. He’s their father.
What would I do with myself with a week alone? Certainly the girls would want to spend Christmas Day with me, but a ski trip with a new friend their age would be hard for me to one-up for the holidays. I could feel my heart beating hard and fast inside my chest cavity, and it wasn’t because I’d just missed my train.
“Dan, I’m late for work. We’ll talk about this later. And next time, call me on your own fucking phone.”
I turned off the cell, slipped it into my coat pocket, and took a firmer grip of the hand rail. The 20-something thin, blonde woman beside me with bright red lipstick looked down, as though she hadn’t heard the conversation. Excellent. Being pitied by a Taylor Swift lookalike just made me feel shittier.
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