Friday, July 31, 2009

Falling Out of Perspective

A word about perspective--the precious, elusive thing that it is. Like wisdom, it usually comes with age and almost always too late to do anything but nod your head with a wry smile and lament what you could have done better. I could give you a number of examples, but most of them are simply too personal for this blog, so let's take an easy one--my ill-fated move to North Carolina at the age of 26, the day after I graduated from law school.

Let's be clear--I am not the faint of heart when it comes to moving. The child of an Air Force officer, I'd had seven houses and seven schools by the time I was fifteen. You do the math. So showing up in a new place, receiving the stares, the whispers, eating alone, faking nonchalance, disinterest, confidence, ingratiating myself to strangers, learning who to ask questions and from whom to stay away--all this was bred into me as strongly as my love for all things coconut (other than car air fresheners) and Jim Croce music, which is why I braved the first move of my married life with, well, what I thought was perspective.

As my husband and I drove the Honda Accord and Toyota Landcruiser from Arizona to North Carolina, it didn't occur to me that I hadn't lived in the south for, oh, 18 years. That I had become, in my own mind, a native Californian, that even Arizona (where I attended law school) was a little too far from home and right of center for my taste. I won't bore you with details of how difficult the move was and I'll only briefly share something that happened while I worked as an assistant public defender in a small, rural, town on the border of North and South Carolina and, if you think there's not much difference there, you're wrong.

After months of losing cases, trying to help clients with problems neither I nor anyone else could likely solve, and feeling generally eroded by representing the indigent in criminal court, Mary Jane Bryant's case was called. She was in her fifties, dressed to the nines--meaning she wore a bra--and charged with larceny for stealing lipstick, lingerie, and condoms from Kmart (I'm not making that up). It was not her first offense and a conviction would mean jail time. Not a lot, but I'm not sure the amount of jail time is really any one's first concern. As I was heading to the courtroom for her trial, one of the probation officers came running in and said "Mary Jane Bryant done fell out again!" And there she was in the middle of the courtroom, pretending she'd fainted, trying to stop her eyelids from fluttering, waiting for the ambulance, or whomever, to pick her up and cart her away to another day of freedom. It was mildly funny at the time, but more than anything I was concerned with what the judge would say because, you see, Ms. Bryant had apparently pulled this stunt a time or two.

I don't know what happened to Mary Jane Bryant and her larceny case because I quit my job and moved back to California to take the bar and start my career here. I wanted to leave North Carolina quickly as I could, but once I arrived home, I found myself talking constantly about this place I'd just spent the last two years. And now, with 8 years behind me and yes, you guessed it, a little perspective, I wish I could have seen the situation for what it was--a brief, colorful period in my life that would produce dozens of ridiculously funny memories, not to mention be the inspiration (one of them) for our second novel, Done Fell Out. If it's ever published, I'll be dedicating my portion to Mary Jane Bryant.

Unrelated post script - please note for the record my dear friend, you know who you are, the change in title. You can rest easy that there will be no raised beach scenes or purple cursive writing on the cover of this novel.

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