I Can See Clearly Now

by jkatejohnston

I got glasses to wear all the time, and no one noticed except my paralegal. I told her she looks really good in them too—ha ha!

Have I mentioned that I have a secretary and a paralegal? Two facts that almost make me swoon with happy self-importance. My favorite thing is when I’m not in the office and they sign documents for me, like I’m Donald Rumsfeld.

What surprised me most was my lawyer pals who only see me once a week for sewing Happy Hour (usually minus the sewing) at the office where I used to work and they still do. They know me very well, but when I showed up in full-time specs, they didn’t notice. Or maybe the glasses just look terrible and everyone’s being tactful. Or maybe they did notice something different but couldn’t put their finger on it and figured, well, she’s probably just older. I’m also sure they don’t read this, though I’ve hinted broadly enough. And they totally love me!

Anyway, my constant surprise at not being the center of attention at all times had a little spike. And I decided to work it into the first chapter of Volume II of my Hodge for the Defense series, as follows:

Chapter One: May I Be Heard?

When I finally got around to getting glasses, I realized that for the last half-decade or so I’d been seeing a pleasant blur of the world. Now I saw white twigs on winter sycamores. I read freeway exit signs long before the information ceased to be useful. I studied the ingredients list on the package of frozen udon noodles at Oto’s Market. Not that I could read Japanese, but the shapes of the letters, with their startling clarity, gave an impression of complicated order that I found reassuring.

And then there was my face. It had never occurred to me that I liked it the way it was. Not that it was pretty exactly, but it was me, the face I used to have long conversations with in the mirror. I’d stopped doing that years ago. Now, when I wanted to talk to myself seriously, I made bread. And this harder-looking face that came into focus when I put my glasses on—it was hard to believe it would ever be as much me as the face I was used to.

I tried to think of a suitable midlife crisis. I heard on the radio about a woman around my age with no partner or kids, who liked her life a lot, but wanted to give to others, so she donated a kidney to a stranger. I fantasized about that for a while. Also about getting my hair colored professionally. Also about joining (or, if it didn’t exist, founding) Lawyers Without Borders and travelling the world with my new hair, springing the oppressed from their prisons. But wasn’t the whole point of my midlife awakening to move beyond these messianic-makeover fantasies?

I thought about asking Jill what she’d done for hers, but I knew what she’d done: she’d become a foster parent at sixty, which wasn’t even midlife, especially considering that she was still smoking. And even though Josh was a great kid who hardly ruined her life at all, and even though I was at the very outer edge of reproductive possibility, the only thought I had about parenthood was: God Forbid.

I decided to class up my law practice by taking a few appeals. Appellate attorneys work at home and sometimes at the law library. They never go to the jail, and seldom see their clients in prison. When I applied for the appellate panel, I imagined myself curled up in my giant purple armchair with a mug of Mexican hot chocolate and a stack of transcripts, making notes of every little screw-up in the trial. Jill would be in her half of the office/attic/studio typing up witness statements or whirring away on her sewing machine. In winter, there’d be a fire in the woodburning stove, and in summer, well, maybe the air conditioner would be working better than usual.

It sounded glorious, but—writing. Ew. I’d never even heard of a Motion to Augment the Record. Then they became my life. How about a Motion to Diminish the Record? Or instantly vaporize it? And could I really be lonely for the jail? For the crowds of lawyers in home court, all jostling to have their cases called? For the long, hopeless, unbillable phone calls with moms and girlfriends? And besides, what was Jill supposed to do? Most appeals are limited to the facts in the transcript. Digging up fresh facts is what she does.

So when I got a call from the trial panel asking if I’d take one of the defendants in a misdo Fish and Game case, I jumped at the chance. Misdemeanors, hurrah! Prison’s off the table, and nobody died except fish, or possibly game. Besides, there were six co-defendants, which meant the case would drag on forever, because getting six defense attorneys to clear their schedules for trial would be nearly impossible. I thought about the long, easy, billable hours sitting in court waiting for other lawyers to show up and all but rubbed my hands together.

When I went to court for the arraignment, I was wearing my glasses out of the house for the first time, and I felt shy and teenagerish, expecting comments and compliments. No one said a word. These were lawyers I’d known for years and seen often. Were they being tactful? Did my glasses look that bad? Or was I, at forty-six, already invisible?

And so what if I was? Wasn’t invisibility a secret advantage, maybe even a superpower? Wasn’t Perseus wearing a cap of invisibility when he cut off the head of Medusa? (But he could take it off.) Or maybe it had nothing to do with age, and I’d never been the center of attention, horrible thought. Maybe people were just invisible, especially among trial lawyers with our big mouths and giant egos.

My new client, Galina Oblonskaya, had bailed out and didn’t show up. Just as well. I hate meeting clients for the first time in court. Besides, I knew nothing about the case, didn’t even have the file, always an awkward state in which to meet a client. The judge issued a warrant.

“Your honor, may I be heard?”

“Please.”

“Would the court be willing to stay the warrant until the next court date? I’m sure there’s an explanation for her non-appearance. I’d like a chance to look into it.”

“Her obligations were clear enough,” said the calendar DA, who knew even less about the case than I did. “She’s a no-show, plain and simple.”

“The warrant will be stayed until March 2. Good luck, Ms. Hodge.”

Then the judge and clerk were flipping through their papers, getting ready to call the next case, and the court reporter stretched her arms and hands. She caught my eye, pointed to her own glasses and gave a quick thumbs up. I silently mouthed, “Thank You,” realizing as I did that couldn’t remember her name—maybe had never even bothered to learn it and resolved that moment to make the second half of my life more about seeing than being seen, more about hearing than being heard.

That business of seeing a pleasant blur of the world is a lift from John Mortimer in Clinging to the Wreckage who said that when he wants to relax he takes off his glasses and enjoys an impressionist haze.

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