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On Memories Lived and Living

“One cannot, in reality, suffer from memories all the time; one can rest and enjoy oneself in the intervals” – The Eternal Husband, Dostoevsky

Siobhan woke up, soaked in sweat in the darkness of her apartment. City lights snuck in under her curtains, flickering shadows across her dresser. It was another hot summer night, and she had turned her air conditioning up so high it was, as her father would say, cold as an ice box, and by that he meant the huge ice lockers that stored the day’s catch. As a child her brother had locked her in the ice box where she shivered and screamed, and by the time her parents came to the rescue her lips had turned purple. She looked down at her fingers, which would occasionally still go numb.

Her mind floated into a discovery room, now a week past, when she fought with a smiling, snarky witness and duplicitous opposing counsel – so nice outside of the discovery but a shark during it – and never got the admissions she wanted. Even with her carefully prepared questions, some the exact same questions her mentor had asked so smoothly and effectively on another file, she got nowhere. How did her mentor do it so effortlessly, and finish in a few hours, when it took her the whole day, nothing achieved? How had her mentor divvied out questions like a whip, slapping punishment with every lash? Her questions felt like play slashes from a foamy nerf sword, falling feebly even when they landed. She had forgotten to follow up on answers and her missed questions haunted her. Why didn’t she ask about what he did when he found out there was something wrong with the corporate accounts? Why didn’t she ask about what exactly was wrong with the accounts? Would this go to trial and her incompetency be revealed? She had already gone past the stage of worry about her job – her firing, she thought, was a foregone conclusion – but, she prayed, for her reputation to be saved from the scourge of her mistakes.

Siobhan sat up and combed her hands through her mussed hair, sticky and stiff. She drew her hair into a ponytail and lumbered over to her dresser where she put on shorts, socks, and sneakers. She drank some water, took a deep breath, and opened the door into the harsh light of the hallway.

Her mind flashed back. “What the fuck are you doing?” Her articling principal had asked her. Given a tight turnaround time, she had spent hours slaving away on a factum, eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the firm, for five straight days. Her articling office-mate was not the only who noticed. The managing partner, a former Senator and a rainmaker – nay, a kingmaker – by all accounts, had remarked on the fourth day that she was working hard, and beamed. She had never felt so proud in her life. When she read through the opposing party’s factum she found numerous issues that had to be attacked head-on, even though her articling principal had said not to. “Focus on the positive argument!” the principal had said. But she disagreed, and met with her principal, proposing that she include counter-arguments. The principal listened for a few minutes, interrupted her, insisted on not doing so, and turned away and began typing on the computer. The meeting was over.

And so, here she was, four months later, the task long completed and forgotten, when the principal called her into the office and berated her for not including the counter-arguments. While yelling, slamming down his book, and cursing, the spit spraying forth like a Yellowstone geyser, the principal complained about spending the whole night re-working the factum from scratch. Shocked, she took out her notebook and told the principal how they had met months before and she had asked specifically about this issue, and had been instructed not to do it. She asked if he wanted to see the notes. The principal sat confounded, quietly said no, and turned back to typing on the computer. She rolled her eyes, and looked up at the harsh lighting from the flourescent lights. The meeting was over. As she walked out, she said to herself, “That’s what the fuck I’ve been doing.” And wished she had said it out loud.

Down the hallway and the elevator, not a soul in sight, she stepped out into the city night and began to run. She could smell the lake air, and headed down the path to the water. She looked up, inexplicably, at a tree and stared into the glimmering eyes of a Saw-whet owl, staring back at her.

She remembered her mother’s death. Laying on the hospital bed she had held onto Siobhan’s hand, her grip weakening. She had made Siobhan promise to try and be happy, to let go of the little things, to enjoy life a little. Siobhan was always a little feisty, fighting her older brothers with her fists and her words, never backing down. She was the one who screamed at the stranger who tried to charm her brother into taking candy, who slapped the boy who kissed her out of the blue, who chose law in the city when everyone else stayed home. Her mother talked about how important it was to meet a wonderful husband – like Siobhan’s father – to walk with her in life. As energy sapped out of her, her mother told Siobhan that she had chosen a difficult path as a lawyer, and she advised against it. It was a man’s world and a crushing living, worlds apart from their farming life. They prayed together quietly, their heads touching, crying. And when Siobhan leaned in for a kiss, her mother suddenly gripped her head in her hands with strength she did not know she still had, and whispered, “but if you’re going to do this, give them fucking hell”.

Siobhan ran faster into the dying dusk.

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