I get on the elevator and press door close. I don’t want to share the elevator, especially not with the the woman at the end of the hall, the woman my coworkers have dubbed “the crazy lady.” She talks the whole way down. She says “god bless you,” and tells you about “her girls,” the girls she’s saved from abortion.
I don’t want to talk about it. I’ve been at work all day. I don’t want to talk about abortion, or think about it, or argue about it, or imagine these girls, who come in seeking the ‘free abortion alternatives’ as advertised on the subway train. They’re nervous, probably, scared most definitely, they’ve perhaps made a decision, or perhaps not. Either way they’re in a tough spot, and I don’t want to think about it.
“Hold the door!” Her voice sounds out from the end of the hall. I pretend I can’t hear, I’m listening to music, I don’t look up, but reach over and press the door closed button. Just before the doors can finally close, the crazy lady’s assistant sticks her purse in the door. Then she holds it while the crazy lady locks up.
I apologize. “I couldn’t hear you,” I say, and gesture to the headphones. She smiles. She seems nice. She must be new. She won’t last long, I think, the nice ones never do. The crazy lady gets on the elevator, presses door closed. This time it obeys, the doors close, locking me in the elevator.
“Oh hi!” She says. She recognizes me. We’ve worked on the same floor for years.
“Hi,” I say.
She reeks of tobacco, and perhaps whiskey, although the thought that she sits in her office getting tipsy while counseling desperate young women about abortion alternatives makes me cringe. I ignore it. We descend toward the lobby.
The doors open on the 11th floor.
I hate the 11th floor. I hate the bright colors on the wall, and the skinny attorneys with too much foundation. I hate the rolling legal briefcases, and the harried look on the lawyers’ faces. I hate them when they come in each morning, I hate them when they rush out to court, I hate them when they leave at day’s end, swamped with work, wearing disheveled but well tailored suits. I hate when they talk about their clients with an aloofness that belies a hardened emotional barrier between personal survival and caring for them.
I have no good reason to hate them. They probably do good work, and I bet they don’t get paid too much for it. They work with kids. They are a law firm for children.
A mother gets on, carrying a Manila envelope. She ushers her young son in ahead of her. He’s a little older than my son, he finds a spot up against the wall. The crazy lady from upstairs tells him he has a great big angel on his shoulder.
“Thank you,” says his mom.
“It’s so bright!” she says, “that angel’s so bright I have to put on my sunglasses to look at you!” She puts on her sunglasses. The assistant giggles, she can’t tell if she should join in or be embarrassed. She won’t last long.
“Thank you,” says his mom.
“He looks like you, don’t you think he looks like her?” she asks me. I pretend to not hear. I still have the earbuds well-lodged inside my ears.
“People say that,” says his mom.
When I was a kid I had an attorney. I don’t remember how old I was, but it was before my brothers were born, so I must have been less than 11. His name was David Kahalis, and we had private meetings.
“He’s your attorney,” my step-mom said proudly, “he’s here to advocate for you.” She thought this was great, that I should be glad to have my own advocate. “You tell him what you want to do,” she said, “and then that’s what the judge will consider.”
I didn’t really believe it, so I didn’t spill to David Kahalis. I didn’t know what to tell him, what to talk about. Given the circumstances, I didn’t know what I wanted, because what I wanted wasn’t possible, given the assorted variables. What did it matter what I wanted? The adults would decide, and I would adjust.
He brought me back to the conference room after we’d had a private meeting. Dad, step-mom, and step-grandmom were all there. We all sat facing the door, David Kahalis at the head of the ovular table. Ovular to be inclusive. My dad and David Kahalis spoke in low voices. My step-mom and I stared at the door, my step-grandmom held my hand. My mom walked in. She looked scared, and a little fierce. She didn’t smile at me. She could see what she was up against. My step-grandmom took my hand and led me out of the room.
“We’ll let them talk,” she said. We went into the hall. I looked back at my mom. My step-grandmom never let go of my hand. “It’s too hard for you,” she said. And she held me close.
Decide, adjust, decide, adjust. Whatever it was that I wanted, I would keep wanting it no matter what happened in the conference room. I would have to adjust.
I always feel for these kids whose destiny lies on the 11th floor. And some days, like today, I can’t construct that barrier between myself and the kids on the 11th floor. It feels like I’m being led to the elevator, with some decision about my life hidden inside a manilla envelope. It feels like I’m adjusting all over again.
Tomorrow I’m taking the stairs.