Or, How I Began My 3L Year
I’m going to run for Congress. When I’m elected, the first thing I’ll do is maneuver my way onto the Senate Holidays and Observations Committee. From there, I’ll be ideally positioned to propose a change to our national calendar: moving New Year’s Day to September 1. We’ll be like one of those little, offbeat countries, like China, that celebrates the new year on a day other than January 1.
Who can summon up a sense of renewal and possibility on January 1? It’s cold and slushy outside. People are still stuffed with holiday treats. All we have to look forward to is sleepwalking through the short, gray days of winter until March, when things start looking up.
But everyone feels a kind of quickening at the beginning of September. It’s time to transition into the fall wardrobe. School buses reappear, coming out of their summer hibernation grounds in Nebraska. The lassitude of summer gives way to the briskness of fall. People get the urge to organize, to make lists and buy plastic storage tubs and clean out the garage.
Of course, I have a reason of my own for proposing to reschedule New Year’s Day. I’d like to draw the curtain on the worst year of my adult life. If we could start a brand-new year right now, that would be great. Thanks. We can call it 2007.5.
To be fair, last year (2006.5 and 2007.0) had some great times. My second, or 2L, year of law school was marked by a crushing amount of work, but lots of that work was truly engrossing. My classes were more interesting: the flow of ideas was faster, and the professors treated us like people instead of 1Ls. I felt more comfortable with my classmates and friends. The law building began to feel like home, so much so that I napped in my study carrel nearly every day.
I also cycled through a seemingly endless round of unsuccessful job interviews. My grades improved a bit, but not radically. The long hours and mental absence took an ever-more-dramatic toll on my relationship with my girlfriend. Fall was strained. Christmas was icy. We almost decided not to celebrate our seventh anniversary, and just a couple of months later, we decided to split up.
So she went to stay with a friend for a while, and I looked for an apartment and started packing up my clothes and books. We discussed custody arrangements for the pets. It was very mature and very civil and very, very sad.
August didn’t seem real. I worked as a research assistant during the day, then came home to my quiet, bare, spacious apartment. Half of me was missing — the half that improvised delicious meals, wore clothes that looked good together, and understood things involving numbers. I ate cereal twice a day, barked my shins on half-unpacked boxes, and thought, “What have I done?”
It’s hard not to wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t tackled law school and its attendant stresses, academic, financial, and interpersonal. Maybe we’d still be together, and our plans for a house and kids and eventual old age would still be in place. Maybe I’d have less gray hair and more optimism. Maybe I would never have had to get reacquainted with SSRIs.
But the other day, I was strolling to a nearby noodle place with one of my Law Review office mates. (That’s one of the most tangible pleasures of being a 3L on Law Review: as Board members, rather than lowly staff members, we get offices. Sure, there are five people and five desks crammed into each one, but we can lock the doors or lean our comfy chairs back or find other ways to demonstrate our superiority.) He asked, “Are you glad you went to law school? I won’t ask if you like it, ’cause that’s a dumb question. But are you glad you went?”
I hesitated. My smile came out as a grimace. “You know, I’m not sorry.” He waited. I struggled. “It’s cost me just about everything that was important to me. But it’s also made me who I am, and if I say I’m sorry I went to law school, then it’s like saying I don’t like myself now.“And I do.”
Copyright 2007, Sarah Petersen
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