The Lost Summer: The Bar Exam, Magical Cell Phones, and Brazilians

Summer 2003 was hot. Or maybe it was cold. Maybe it was unseasonably humid and hordes of mosquitoes swarmed the city. Maybe people died that year because of record-setting heat, which was dangerous in high-crime neighborhoods where people locked themselves in the “safety” of their apartments only to roast from the inside out.

I don’t know because I took the Bar exam that summer.



Weather? What weather? I paid no attention to it or the news or my family. My beloved Grandmother died, but I was so frothed up about the two-day test that I balked. I didn’t go to her funeral. Like Ethan Frome swerving before he hit that tree, I told Southwest Airlines “I won’t be needing the ticket.” Then, I sat at the glass dining room table staring at my shoes wondering, “What will become of me? Who misses their grandmother’s funeral for a test?” Next thought: “What’s the difference between larceny and trespass to chattel?”

The first morning of the two-day exam I woke up several hours early to review my flashcards. How silly. We were told to wrap up our studying the night before and then let go. Either you know it or you don’t, they said. I decided I didn’t. I flipped through my color-coded, handmade cards, letting the ones I answered correctly fall to the floor like dandruff. It wasn’t about learning; it was about saving myself the agony of regrets that began “If only I’d studied a little bit harder.”

The second morning, I let go a little. I only reviewed a few esoteric concepts while I blow-dried my hair. I tossed the stack into the trash when I was done. It was my boyfriend’s birthday, and the celebration would begin as soon as I tackled 100 multiple choice questions covering all of American law. We had a reservation for one of those places where waiters rove around with slabs of juicy beef sides and slice it onto a warm plate right before your very eyes. Brazilian, I thought, like the waxing.  Ghastly on so many levels, but what did I care? The bar exam would be over.

With only one hour left in the test, I started to obsess about my cell phone. (If your cell phone rings during the test, you automatically fail.) I had taken my battery out of my phone and put it into a separate bag, but suddenly it seemed plausible that somehow it might have put itself back together and rung while I was trying to figure out this stupid question about the use of lie detector tests. I kept thinking I heard it ring.

Ohmygod, they’re going to come and kick me out of the legal profession before I ever start.

I finished the test and avoided other law students as I bee-lined to dinner where I hoped that heaps of meat might soak up my anxiety and bring me back to myself, the person who disappeared the second I cracked open my first study guide back in May.

I was a wreck through dinner.  I started every conversation with “do you think I answered the lie detector question correctly?” The anxiety clung to me like a rash.

The next morning I had the house to myself.  A Thursday.  I sat on the balcony for hours staring at nothing.  I felt the weather for the first time in weeks.  It was a cloudless, vibrant day, the sky so blue I couldn’t help but imagine God’s paintbrush.  I read the newspaper cover to cover, including the obituaries.  I called my family members and reintroduced myself.

I was back.



36 thoughts on “The Lost Summer: The Bar Exam, Magical Cell Phones, and Brazilians

  1. when you commit to something, you really commit. why you’ll never give up your manuscript… or anything else for that matter. you’re no quitter. but dang isn’t it just so nice when you’re done… (i don’t sleep anymore) 😉

  2. That phone thing sounds like exactly something I would do! Thank god they didn’t threaten us with automatic failure for a phone ringing. Then again, I took the bar exam with about 7 million people in the Javits Center so they would have no idea whose phone was the violator. Oh heaven those days are behind us. But you never forget. I have details about that summer so vividly burned in my brain – that shit is a toxic rite of passage.

  3. Oh my god. This gave me flashbacks to that summer, and to sitting in the cavernous Javitz Convention Center in New York with 10,000 other people furiously writing answers to essay questions. I will never forget that summer as long as I live. The day after the test, and much of the rest of the summer, is just a hazy memory, but I remember every detail from the day BarBri started until I walked out of the convention center after I filled in that last, hateful scantron bubble.

  4. I can’t even imagine a test of that magnitude. I can however imagine worrying that my phone put itself back together when I wasn’t looking. Actually it’s more like I can remember worrying about such things.

  5. Of all the things I’ve heard about the bar exam…yeah, this sums up how I’d imagine it to be. It’s sort of making me glad I decided against law school.
    But this was a very fun – if anxious – read. I agree with Jen ^ about the cell phone part. Very funny. 🙂

    • There are lots of reasons to go to law school, and lots of reasons not to. The bar exam undoubtedly falls squarely into the category of REASON NOT TO GO.

      On Thu, May 15, 2014 at 10:28 AM, Outlaw Mama wrote:


  6. My fallback to any test like that is to go into extreme CALM mode. It’s apathy, really. In fact, that’s my fallback to most stressful situations. Probably why I get so wrapped up and passionate about other things. Do I win for weirdness now?

    • Yes. You’re weird like my husband. He goes so strangely clam like you are describing yourself when he’s stressed out. I sort of wish I had that and less psychosis.

      On Thu, May 15, 2014 at 12:35 PM, Outlaw Mama wrote:


  7. Oh god, you had me at “I don’t know because I took the Bar exam….” I think my Bar summer it rained a lot. I don’t know. I was raising a puppy, too.

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