Monday, August 30, 2010

How to respond when the past intrudes on the present?

I'm getting invites now about once a week for my 30th anniversary law school reunion.

I'm not going.

I didn't much care for law school. I didn't make a lot of friends while I was there. I didn't like a lot of the folks with whom I came in contact there.

With time, I've come to realize that part of the problem was... me. I wasn't a very likable person in those days (whether I've improved, dear reader, is beyond the scope of this morning's discussion). I didn't particularly want to be in law school. I didn't particularly want to be a lawyer. I resented the fact that I'd backed into the profession because I could think of nothing else to do with my history degree. I wasn't overly happy about living at home again after the freedom of college. I drank too much. The girl I was crazy about dumped me.

Part of it was disappointed expectations.

My father loved law school. After graduating from high school in 1943, he'd tried to enlist in the Army. His buddy was taken -- and wound up wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. My father was rejected. His eyesight was pretty awful; I don't remember if the Army raised any other objection. But, with the Army not an option, my father went to college, graduating, as I would do, 31 years later, in three years. He started law school in 1946 -- and got drafted.

(Draftees were apparently not held to the same physical standards as volunteers. Or maybe the Army had become less picky.)

My father left law school and went into the military -- but only for about 10 months. My grandfather died and my father got mustered out.

He went back to law school.

The law school of my father's day was populated by World War II vets, many of whom had seen combat. As my father explained, someone who'd faced death at the hands of the Wehrmacht or the Japanese Imperial Army was not about to shrivel up and die because someone asked him to stand and recite the holding of a case. These vets had learned the value of cooperation and working together for a common cause and they applied their hard-earned knowledge to the mundane task of studying. My father's classmates weren't necessarily that much older than the kids I went to school with -- but my father's classmates were grownups.

There was no similar camaraderie in my law school class. I will never forget the first year research assignments: Students would have to look up and copy cases in the library. While it's hard for my 50-something self to remember, there was a time when I didn't understand the difference between "N.W.2d" and "S.W." or "N.E." or "N.E.2d." We might be given an official citation to a Florida case but have to retrieve the case from the West Southeastern Reporter. Anyway, rather than help one another out, my classmates did all they could to submarine their fellows -- all in pursuit of the extra point. Books were not shelved properly or hidden -- and one Class A Jerk razor-bladed a case out of a reporter rather than let his or her classmates find the case too.

So, if I was a Class A Jerk, and I probably was, I was not alone by any means.

And now we come to yesterday.

Oldest Son and I were both at the White Sox game. Oldest Son has weekend season tickets now, and he was there with his wife, Abby. I was there at the invitation of a friend. Both Oldest Son and I were then supposed to go to Youngest Son's football game. We met up as the Sox game ended.

Yes, most high school football games are played on Friday nights or Saturday afternoons in Chicago, just as elsewhere. But Youngest Son's team had been invited to participate in the "Kick Off Classic," where six good high schools were paired up for a tripleheader -- at Soldier Field. Where the Bears play. This was quite a nice treat for the boys -- and nice for the parents and relations, too, who have only seen the stadium on TV.

I hadn't been to Soldier Field since it was rebuilt. I think the last time I was there was nearly 30 years ago. I had tickets once, about 15 years ago, perhaps, but my mother had a heart attack and I never got to the game.

Anyway, I tried in vain to persuade Abby to join us for the evening, but she'd had her fill of sporting events for the day and she is a woman who knows her own mind. So, after the final out was recorded (damn Yankees indeed), Abby and Oldest Son and I headed for the Green Line from U.S. Cellular Field back to the Loop.

The platform at 35th Street was crowded, as you might expect when a close, sold-out game disgorges its patrons. Most of those taking the train stop at the closer Red Line, which runs up the median of the Dan Ryan Expressway at that point, but those of us who think we know something walk the extra couple of blocks for the Green Line. Also, Abby could change trains for home from the Green Line without having to leave the platform at the Clark and Lake stop.

I guessed correctly where the train doors would open and I was one of the first into the car, getting a seat for Oldest Son and Abby and getting one for myself as well. A lady sat down beside me, engaged in animated conversation with her friend, who was seated across the aisle of the car.

The lady beside me looked familiar. I wasn't sure why.

To converse with my son and his wife I had to swivel my head around. Thus I could see my seatmate while she had no particular reason to regard me.

As the train moved toward the Roosevelt stop, I could see Soldier Field sticking up above the rooflines. "If we were hoofing it," I told Oldest Son, "we'd just get off here."

"That's what I thought we were going to do," he said.

"No," I replied, as much for Abby's benefit as anyone's, "your mother doesn't want to drive over there so she's meeting us in the Loop."

Riveting dialogue isn't it?

But my seatmate also experienced, I think, a flash of recognition during this exchange. Now I could see her trying to look at me, without obviously looking at me. I quickly stopped talking and turned to look out the window.

The train pulled into Roosevelt and my seatmate and her companion got off.

As the doors closed, the tumblers clicked into place in my head.

"I think I went to law school with that person," I told Oldest Son and Abby.

I was glad she got off, though. If she'd ridden into the Loop, I'd probably have had to inquire. I could not remember any name. It would have been even more awkward.

Would you have done something differently?


Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

nope, not me, i'd have denied who i was! ha ha

smiles, bee

Steve Skinner said...

Not a thing!!