Tag Archive | Bar Exam

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.



Sweet Dreams, Grandma

I missed her funeral because it was 48 hours before the Bar Exam, which is just as lame and short-sighted as it sounds.  I didn’t know it then, though, because I was frazzled from weeks of studying. I just couldn’t get my head out of my ass long enough to consider the regret I would feel if I missed her funeral.

It was weeks before I understood what it would mean to choose not to celebrate her life with my other family members because I wanted to take another practice exam.  My parents let me off the hook when they called to tell me she had died. Don’t worry, we understand about the Bar Exam. She wouldn’t want you to miss that.

The morning of her funeral, I checked flights one last time from the library.  I replayed my last conversation I had with her.  I had visited her in the assisted living home, where her freedom and stature both kept shrinking.  Her eyeglasses looked huge against her emaciated face, and her energy for criticizing the staff’s dedication to Jesus Christ was less vigorous than normal.

Something made me mention marriage that afternoon.  As in, “Grandma, I may never have one.”  Then, I cried and started to apologize to her through gasping sobs. “I am so sorry that I will never get married. I am sorry I am sort of a fuck up.”  She studied me as if I suddenly started speaking Sanskrit.  She had never said a word to me about getting married; she never shamed me for being terminally single. I guess that was my issue. She listened with a perplexed look on her face, and she patted my hand as I steadied my ragged breath.

We both knew she would not live to see me in a union blessed by the State.

The dreams started right after I passed the Bar Exam.  In them, I was always crying and she was always sitting beside me, listening without looking directly at me.  She didn’t offer me comfort, but I woke from the dreams feeling consoled.  I dreamed of her once a month.

I assumed the dreams proved theories about why funerals are important for closure.  I was walking around with an unhealed heart yearning for closure.

Then, one morning in the queasy first trimester of pregnancy, I found myself on public transportation reeling from the heat and stench.  I was going to be sick or faint, but I was trapped on a slow-moving train with Chicago’s unwashed masses. I crouched down to catch my breath, hoping that someone would know what to do if I passed out.  A tiny, old woman reading a religious book saw me faltering.  She didn’t speak English, but she convinced the man sitting next to her to give me his seat through pantomime.

CTA Train (image from http://www.visitingdc.com/airports)

CTA Train (image from http://www.visitingdc.com/airports)

I slid next to her. “Thank you,” I said, as I rubbed my stomach to indicate I was pregnant.  She patted my hand, just like my Grandma did in every single dream.  Choked up from hormones, I fought the tears as we rode the train together the rest of the way without looking at one another.  I imagined telling her, “You look like my Grandma who passed away several years ago. I dream of her every month. I missed her funeral because I was busy preparing for a career I probably won’t want in a few more years.”

We rode in silence.

And I haven’t dreamed of my Grandma since.

Hooking up with the fine folks at Yeah Write. Grandma would approve.