The Fledgling Practitioner

I lie in bed, eyes wide open staring at the ceiling like a twelve-year-old the night before summer camp. I had so diligently planned for eight hours of sleep, and now I am rolled on my side, staring into my hand at the blue glow of my cell phone staring back at me: 1:21 a.m. I select the clock icon and scroll another 10 minutes on the alarm wake-up time. I fall back into my pillow. I close my eyes. It feels like as soon as I set my phone down, I am picking it back up and turning off the alarm. I wipe my eyes and stare at the screen as my eyes come into focus: 7:40 a.m. I have just under an hour to get to my hearing where I am appearing on my own.

Still half-asleep, I step into the shower, feeling the deprivation in my light head and heavy eyes. I step over the tub and into the shower without first reaching in and testing the water temperature. Ice cold. I cower to the back of the shower and turn the faucet towards hot with my foot and toes. I turn the faucet too far and step into scalding hot water. I lunge for the shower head, pushing it straight down as my feet momentarily burn while the water tempers to a more manageable degree. The bathroom fills with steam.

I wipe my hand against the mirror, revealing a small glassy patch underneath the steam. As I lather my face with shaving cream the steam fogs back over the revealed patch of mirror and I repeat the process of wiping it away. I decide on a brand-new insert for my razor for the big occasion. 8:07 a.m.

I sit at the stop light looking in the mirror adjusting the small pieces of toilet paper stuck to my face with little red dots in the middle. The car honking behind me jolts me from the adjustment and I lurch forward as I push the visor with the mirror in it back into place. I merge onto Highway 99. 8:18 a.m.

The hearing is in twelve minutes and I am thirteen minutes away from the courthouse. I set the cruise control and pull up the collar of my button down dress shirt. I slide the tie underneath, pull back down the collar, and tug on both ends of the tie back and forth until it is comfortably in place. I steer with one hand while I construct the double Windsor knot I had learned how to tie the night before watching instructions on YouTube. I need the added symmetry. I pull into a space at the parking complex, get out, and wait for the elevator. 8:27 a.m.

Although it is still early in the day, I can already feel the heat emanating from the blacktop and the concrete sidewalks. The morning air is thick with anticipation for the day’s coming heat as I fumble with my briefcase putting my keys, wallet, phone, and every other thing I loaded into my pockets which must pass through the metal detector. The sweat builds on my brow and on my forearms under the weight of the starched fabric of my long-sleeve button down and heavy suit jacket. I slide my briefcase on the conveyor belt and walk through the metal detector. The alarm sounds. I give the deputy a half-smile and explain that I am wearing suspenders. He picks up his wand and instructs me to step to the side and lift up my arms. 8:34 a.m.

I step out of the elevator onto the third floor and I am punched in the face by the staggering heat in the courthouse. I tug at my neck line trying to squeeze air under my tie, reciting the name of my client in my head as I hastily make my way to my assigned department. 8:37 a.m.

I stand directly in front of the courtroom doors. I remove my handkerchief from my pocket and dab at my moist forehead. I slide my handkerchief back into my pocket and ready myself for a lecture on timeliness. I pull open the heavy courtroom door anticipating a pin-drop silence with all eyes turning to stare at me. Instead, I am pleasantly surprised to find the courtroom loud, in full session, and the gallery at capacity. An attorney is before the court intensely advocating for his client and no one seems to notice one more attorney in a blue suit jacket entering the courtroom using a handkerchief to wipe sweat from off his brow. 8:41 a.m.

I cross through the swinging door of the bar and hit my knee on it as I awkwardly catch my balance adjusting to the cramped space jam-packed with attorneys. Where they are not sitting in all available seats lined up against the bar railing, the jury box, and both counsel tables, they stand loitering in the doorway and spilling out into the hallway leading to an adjoining jury room where attorneys sit negotiating early resolution agreements.

I pull my briefcase close to my chest like a running back, making eye contact with the bailiff as I duck under the eye line between the advocating attorney and the judge. With my practiced “confident voice” I ask the bailiff if I may approach Madame Clerk. He offers a half-shrug followed by a half-nod. I approach and wait patiently. The clerk knows I am there, I know the clerk knows I am there, but I wait, unsure when to speak.

“Yes,” she finally says as she continues looking straight ahead at her monitor.

“I am here on the Joey Joe Joseph matter,” I answer.

She picks up a stack of files and shuffles through them. “Have you spoken with the DA?” I had. “Okay, the judge will call your case when he is ready.” I thank Madame Clerk, duck back under the attorney-judge eye line, and bee-line for an open seat that has momentarily been left vacant.

I sit there trying to remember what Code section allows me to appear without the client being present. I had reviewed the section just last night. I cannot remember whether it is 997 or 977. They both sound right. It is no cooler in the courtroom than it had been in the hallways, and the sweat now beads from my sideburns down both sides of my face. Nine-seven-seven, that sounds right. I can feel my undershirt sticking to my chest. Is it 997? My seat is right next to the entrance at the bar and I have to keep adjusting my briefcase to keep it out of everyone’s way as they pass in and out through the swinging door. I pulled out my phone to check the Internet for Code that gives me authority to appear. The little circle just spins and spins until the screen reads, “No connection available.”

I am having trouble breathing. I tug at my tie. Sweat flows into my eye, stinging it, forcing me to squint as the pain passes. I looked around frantically for a familiar face. Then suddenly I felt a rush of cool air and looked up as the attorney before the court begins his hearing stating, “Steve Steven Stephenson appearing 977 for my client who is not before the court today.” I wipe my cheeks and smile into my handkerchief.

As Mr. Stephenson is finishing his matter I go over the facts of my case for the hundredth time that morning. I mentally prepare for the judge’s forthcoming questions and practice my answers to the district attorney’s anticipated objections. As Mr. Stephenson thanks the judge and sits down, the clerk leans toward the judge, hands him a file, quietly says “Joseph” and looks out at me. My throat is dry, while the rest of me is soaked. I fear that when I speak, my voice will come out gravely like the first words in the morning before I have brushed my teeth or had a sip of coffee.

The judge looks down at the file and announces, “calling the matter of Joe Joey Joseph.” I stand and am surprised to find my legs able to bear my weight. I walk toward the open area where all the other attorneys had stood while addressing the court. I clear my throat.

“Dru Hunt appearing 977 for my client who is not before the court today.” Against my greatest fears my voice has not let me down. As quickly as I celebrate this small victory, I now realize there is much more to say. I go over the case in my head waiting for the inevitable question for which I would have no answer.

The deputy district attorney speaks next. “Ms. Deputy DA for the People, your Honor.” She sounds so poised, so seasoned. I am sure the next question will be my undoing. I have this looming feeling that I am an imposter on the verge of being uncovered at any moment. Like an English spy drinking in a Hofbräuhaus full of Germans.

The judge sets the file down and looks up at me. “And what are we doing today?”

What are we doing today? What are we doing today? How could such a simple question be so impossibly impossible?

I wipe my sweat from my face back into my moistening hairline. No time for the handkerchief. As I stand there as a deer in headlights the deputy district attorney answers, “I am only filling in for Mr. Deputy DA, he called in sick and is not available today.” What? Sick?

The Judge looks over at the calendar. “Understandable, there is a lot of that going around this week. About six weeks? July 7?”

The deputy district attorney answers first. “That is fine Your Honor. If he is not available for that day I will make myself familiar with the case and will be ready to proceed.”

The judge looks down at me from the bench. “Mr. Hunt?”

I nod my head. “If it pleases the Court, Your Honor.”

“It does please the Court. Does it please your calendar?”

I can feel the eyes from the gallery burning into my back. “The seventh is fine, Your Honor.”

“Then July seven, at 8:30 a.m. in this court.”

That was it? As the deputy district attorney sits back down she says, “thank you, your Honor.”

I follow suit. “Thank you, your Honor.” 9:13 a.m.

The bailiff hands me the pink copy of the minute order as I fumble with opening my briefcase. July 7? I slide the minute order into my briefcase, swing open the bar door, push open the heavy courtroom door and emerge out into the hallway. The same hallway that was stifling just a short few short minutes ago is now as pleasant as a temperate day in early April. I even think I can hear barn swallows calling in the distance.

I remove my jacket and fling it over my shoulder as I make my way back to the elevator. I greet every passer-by with a hello and a smile. I had done it. I had survived. I had walked through and come out the other side. As the elevator doors open and the occupants step out I hold the door nodding and welcoming each one as they exit. I step into the now-empty elevator and push the number one button as the doors slide closed in front of me. I stared at the round illuminated button with the number one on it.

Suddenly, I become conscious of the smallness of the elevator and the smoldering heat engulfing me. The Judge’s voice rings out in my head, “July 7, July 7, July 7….”

As I exit the elevator I have to lean against the wall as I feel my legs go weak underneath my body. July 7. In just four short weeks I will have to come back to court to do what was not done today. It would mean weeks of anticipation, leading to another sleepless night followed by a morning of intense anxiety.

I wipe the back of my neck with my handkerchief, hang my jacket on the coat hanger, insert my briefcase behind the driver’s-side seat and slide behind the wheel. July 7.

I roll down my window and hand my ticket and money to the attendant in the parking garage kiosk. I pull into traffic and turn my radio on just in time to hear the disk jockey lament, “…and if you are planning on doing anything over the Fourth of July weekend, don’t. All sources indicate it will be the hottest weekend of the year, peaking on July seventh.”

I turn off the radio, roll up the windows, and put the A/C on full blast.