A long time ago, fifty years or more, I invented a place which I called "the state of Me". Its rivers and streams existed only in my mind. I could amble without interruption or care. In the world of terrifying sounds and sobs, my younger self closed my eyes and retreated into the gentle contours of the state of Me which only I could occupy. I did not mind being alone. The only other images which crowded my mind as I lay on the top bunk in the room which shared with my sister Joyce could send me into closeted hysteria so letting myself sink into the clouds in the state of Me seemed harmless.
If I lost my focus, my mind filled with an imaginary yellow crayon, the fat kind, from the primary school box. Broken, with a torn wrapper and black flecks, the crayon moved of its own accord, forming concentric circles. I huddled in the middle, feeling the weight of its fat blunt point bearing down on me as it made the inner dot, hard and crude.
By comparison, the state of Me held endless stretches of green, dotted with clumps of cheerful flowers. Tall old trees rose against the blue horizon.
After thirty-three years of practicing law, I understand what happened to me to send me into that daydream. Nowadays we routinely send our young clients or our clients' children to therapists who let them role-play. They toss water from cups and move dolls around in houses while the suburban housewives who went back to school after their children left home scribble in their notebooks about the poor kiddos. Back in our offices, we cast judgment on whomever we decide is at fault. We have our own notebooks, sometimes electronic ones. We write a few paragraphs and hit send or hand the letter to our secretaries to mail. When the condemnation hits its destination, somebody loses custody while somebody begins the process of adjusting to a new and desolate life. We don't have a lot of in between in my world.
Outside the courtroom, the new wife or girlfriend or the new man paces, glancing in the window now and then. A shrill judge, a pushy lawyer, a clerk without a sympathetic bone. The last word falls into the recorder and the gavel follows. The clean-cut attorneys pack their bags and snicker, pretending their amusement has some source other than the crestfallen parent. The winners pack fast, while the loser sits in stunned silence. Whichever professional has presented the unfavored case strains to hold back the post mortem until later, on the phone, with a cup of something hot on the table and a friend at the other end. Meanwhile the parent whose child will never recover from the trauma of the changes about to unfold sits in a darkened living room wondering where life took a nasty irreversible turn.
A prospective client once asked me what my win/loss ratio was. His earnest expression suggested that he could judge a book by its cover and an attorney by the number of ticks in the W column.
There are no winners or losers in this work, I told him. Just a reordering of life for the children, and the relentless need to carry on.
Life's like that, even here, in the state of Me, with a week's worth of coats strewn around the living room and a pile of old paper coffee cups on the floor of the car.