The Tale of the Angry Ex

During law school, I became involved with a woman some eleven years my senior. She also attended law school, two classes behind me. She was a divorcee whose two children lived with their father in southeast Arkansas.

For some reason, in my twenties, I always related better to women who were older than I was by a decade or so. I never really related as well to the women my age. My two best platonic female friends in law school were substantially my senior, and my only sustained dating relationship was with this rather older woman.

We met in the way I met most people outside my class in law school. Because I had proven a good student, I was asked to give a talk to the incoming first year class on how to "outline cases", a law school term for a particular form of distillation of course material. I considered the talk singularly unsuccesful, as the nervous and over-earnest kids largely missed what I felt was trademark gurdonark somewhat subtle understated humour. It was like speaking to a room full of high IQ coffins. But my friend told me that she had developed an attraction for me then; I couldn't quite make it out, but I believe it was that I seemed to her like someone authoritative.

My great ambition during law school was to graduate and become a law professor. I imagined holding forth Socratically for forty years, writing obsure little articles in land grant university law school journals, and being treated with that curious deference with which law professors are treated. To further this ambition, I volunteered to tutor kids who were either having trouble or who profiled as kids who might need help (read: special admits).
I had scored a brilliant success with one fellow, who was nearly flunking out after his first semester, and then with my tutelage on exam technique, improved to easily pass and actually move near the median of his class. His grandmother back in New Jersey used to send me a box of saltwater taffy each year. Now that I think about it, my first effort in this regard was an informal volunteer effort, when I started a study group largely to help my friend Jeff (who now owns recover from a wretched first semester. Jeff's mother gave my mother azalea bushes. My third effort, a fellow named Austin, also worked out well, although I do not think I worked any miracles for him in the way I had worked them for others, and I received neither taffy nor azaleas. My technique? I favored cutting through the complexities and just simplifying things. I am not very smart, really, but I am good at making difficult things sound simple.

One day, I was sitting with my friend Jeff in the break room in the "old courthouse" building, one of our law school buildings,
when he introduced me to this woman. Jeff is one of those in-born conversationalists, and I seemed to be father-confessor to the world in those days, so it was not long before she was confessing to us that she was completely lost, and had no idea how to learn the material. Jeff suggested I tutor her, and I readily agreed, as I enjoyed tutoring. I had not even the remotest thoughts of romance at that time.

The tutoring sessions went well; I'd go to her apartment, we'd eat a meal, and then we'd plow through first year contracts, torts and property law. After about six weeks, though, Jeff pulled me aside and said "I think she likes you", although in Jeff's 1982 vocabulary, the word "chick" may have been in that sentence someplace. She had apparently asked Jeff about my availability. After our weekly study session that week, she and I went to see a movie. We became a couple.

One night, when we were studying, her apartment doorbell rang. A trim man some years older than me, but a little younger than my friend, stepped through the doorway. I was introduced as a study partner. The man was not friendly, but he was not belligerent. He left after a time. It proved to be the fact later that he was an ex-boyfriend, involved in federal law enforcement, and not fully adjusted to the fact that his relationship with her was over.

Some weeks later, my girlfriend and I were studying at night in the law library. We got in my car after we finished, and just sat talking for a while. Suddenly, I felt my driver's side door open.
It was the ex-boyfriend opening it. He grabbed my coat lapel, assured me "I should have killed you before when I had the chance", and instructed me to get out of the car so that he might try again. I was petrified, but I was able to put on a veneer of cool. I had no wish to fight this man, who seemed to have been drinking. I forced on a calm, assured voice, and told him gently but firmly that he did not wish to do what he planned. He continued to grasp my coat, harangue me, and threaten me. I continued to quietly reply that I was not interested in a fight, and that it was not in his best interest. He kept talking and kept talking, but eventually, he let go, she got out and talked to him before she drove away, and I got to drive home unmolested.

I lived a life of raw fear for a few weeks. I looked in the rear view mirror for his odd orange car (he worked undercover). I consulted my parents, who suggested I ask the lawyer I'd clerked for the previous summer for advice. Should I go to the man's employer? Should I report him to the police? Ultimately, I did nothing, other than worry.

When I left Little Rock, I left that relationship behind. As for my girlfriend? I heard from her years later. She married the abusive man. They had a kid. It didn't last. The last time I talked to her, she was teaching business law.

The Tale of Gorging on the Gift Basket

I've worked reasonably hard for much of my career. For years, I was convinced that I could be excused all the social graces and niceties because I just worked so hard. My house was always a wreck, my suits and shirts always a mass of wrinkles in need of pressing, and I could never take vacation time off because I convinced myself I had no time. I did take Saturday afternoons and Sundays off, and drove the country roads of north and east Texas, listening to Prairie Home Companion, and gasping at the incredible scenery I would find by heading down rural roads.

I was not remarkably productive as a profit-making unit despite working long hours, because I could never bring myself to bill the client for all the time I spent. Thus, I got into a situation in which my hours billed statistics looked like merely reasonable hours, and yet my time spent was all-consuming of my life. I was so miserable sometimes that I dreamed of changing fields. I liked my practice well enough, but I hated being that rumpled, poorly shaven somewhat misfit guy who was always exhausted.

I met my situation not with courage, though, but with self-deception. In law school, I had realized early on that lawyers in small, consumer-oriented firms had lives with reasonable work hours and a real service orientation. I spent two summers working for just such a small firm. But after law school, I took a highly paid job, and I became too addicted to the money. I had bought a home after doing inadequate research, and a Dallas economic bust sent its value plummeting. In fact, I could have sold it and paid the shortfall from my savings, but I convinced myself that I was "trapped", because I seemed to revel in the melodrama of being able to keep from improving my life by changing firms. Eventually, I became a difficult person to work with, very demanding and very stressed. Secretaries would work to avoid having me assigned as their boss, because I was so demanding.

One tiny incident fills me with shame and symbolizes so much of that era. Our firm had an SF office then. One night, after a long day of work on a matter pending in SF, I returned to the SF office.
I was starving. Now SF is a place in which restaurants diverse and wonderful are always a short walk away. But I spotted that one of the fellows had a gift basket of chocolates he had received. Although he was not there, I actually opened his gift basket and
began to eat his chocolate. I did not eat it all, and I apologized the next day, but it was clear to me and to him that I had considered his property available to me because I was in a position of greater authority. The sheer arrogance of my believing that my stress and busy schedule justified invading his space staggers me.
I of course offered to replace it, but he of course declined. I have felt in his debt ever since. It's a tiny thing--and yet it gives me an "is this the dagger I see before me" every day.

The Tale of the Lowly Snob

I was one of those kids who never was popular in school. I credit myself that I was unwilling to do the things that let me fit in, but the reality is also that I was clueless as to how to fit in, and dreadfully self-conscious. I was always so far behind the other kids socially, as I matured both physically and emotionally much later than most other kids did.
I remember in eighth grade the kids used to sit behind me in class and put little paper wads in my hair, because it was a time of thicker, longish hair (mine was short in context, but would be considered long today), and I did not shampoo my naturally greasy hair often enough at that young age. It became a game--how much paper can we get in his hair before he realizes we've done it? I was such a misfit! Once, a kid with a bully streak sat behind me in science class and ground a pencil lead into my back like a drill. I did not take any action to stop him from doing so, as fighting would have been against my "always behaves in class" credo. But as I walked out, I burst into tears. The teacher went and pulled my tormentor from class. Feeling betrayed, he challenged me to meet him by the town hay warehouse on Saturday for a fight. I had no desire to fight him, and I was quite afraid. But I feared the loss of face more. I showed up. He did not.

In my senior year of high school, I was in my second year at a new, larger town. During my social studies course, I sat next to Eunisia. Eunisia had just moved to town from California. She was a nice women who was very Californian to my Arkansas perception. She had long, straight hair when everyone had the feathered hair and perms of that sordid disco era. She spoke of things I now would call new age, and her make-up sense was more "children of hippies" than "south of the Mason-Dixon line". She was not at all bad looking, but she was perhaps too plain to fully compensate for the ways in which she did not quite fit in. She "ran with" kids who were considered just a bit wild (and here I'm afraid that social class fit into it someplace).

We sat next to one another in class, and we spoke each day, because she was pleasant and a good conversationalist. I spent much of that class looking across the room, though, at a woman named Jennifer who was on the tennis team, a frighteningly beautiful girl with short, jet-black hair, who looked as if she had stepped from every adolescent fantasy I ever had. Jennifer dated the football team's star fullback, and essentially had no idea I existed. Meanwhile, Eunissia and I became friends in that "we sit in class together" sense.

One day, our teacher asked us to team up with someone else for a class project. Eunissia, with whom I'd spoken every day, turned to me and said "well, Bob, do you want to be partners?". Suddenly, a wave of fear crept through me. What if people thought we were going out? What if people looked down on me because they looked down on her? I must admit that the fact that I had never kissed a girl, and yet I imagined Eunissia to be midly "fast" figured in somehow, although in hindsight I cannot imagine why that should ever have mattered one bit--there was never a hint of romance. What I do know, though, is that I turned to her and said, in one quiet, quick word, "Rejected". I then went and partnered up with a "good girl" who
sang in our local youth church choir group with me.
I will never forgive myself for this quiet act of casual cruelty and snobbery. I was such a social misfit, but not so great a misfit that I could not exclude someone perfectly nice.

Eunissia asked me to write in her yearbook, and I gave her mine to write in. I wrote to her that I was sorry. She wrote in mine that I was really a nice guy.
She was so wrong, and I was such a heel.

I met Eunissia a few years later, where she was working the cash register at the discount store.
She had replaced her California accent with a solid Arkansas accent, and her hair was no longer blonde, but a permed dark "country girl" look. She knew who I was, but it was as if we had never known each other.
Really, I suppose, we never had--except she knew, and I knew she knew, how awful I was to her.

The Tale of the Slaughter of the Innocents

I never made it past Tenderfoot level in the Boy Scouts, perhaps because our Scout Troop never really clued in much on merit badges and the like. We had a wonderful fellow who served as our troop leader, and we met in this really cool wooden house on the outskirts of town, right by Gurdon pond. We'd have evening meetings in which we played games in which we played an odd form of rugby involving rolling a giant log past a goal line, or this game called "grab the bacon", a sort of "grab the ball" game (also with rugby references, though far less violent) involving a tied up sports sock.

Our troop went on a campout in the deep pine woods, near a little pond. I had my Scout uniform on, and an official Scout backpack, Scout compass, and Scout knife, in a hip leather holster.

During our hike around the area, someone happened upon a wild turkey with a clutch of turkey eggs. Wild turkeys were quite rare then, as hunters had all but hunted them out. The game and fish people were in the process of restoring them. We all kept hiking, and walked on to pitch tents and make camp.

The next day, I was walking down the trail when I happened upon several of my fellow scouts near the turkey eggs. It turned out that they had decided, in an act of sheer malice, to destroy the eggs. I was a timid, rules-obsessed kid, so I started to walk away. One of the guys, a cool guy named Mike (needless to say, now a preacher), said "oh, no, Bob, you're going to join in, too". I had all the spine of a jellyfish among these more popular, more worthwhile in every way kids. They handed me the pointy stick they were using. I raised the stick high, and imagined I could feel a powerful evil take hold of me as I rammed the point home among the eggs. The eggs were destroyed.

I felt guilty for years about this. I spent my junior high years literally in tears on a frequent basis.
I am a person who feels guilt easily, and it never relented. As I sit here now, it is welling up in me again. I did not tell my parents about this for a year or two, until I broke down in tears one night at home, just after a Scout meeting in which a new team leader had said "this must not have been very good scouts" when being told about the problem.

I have no excuse for what I did. I just went along, and destroyed those eggs. I hesitate to say I learned anything from it all, other than perhaps that I was not a good person.