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The Death of Hope

April 7, 2011

       My office is simple, a desk, chairs, filing cabinet, computer and phone.  There are no personal adornments.  No art from my daughter, no pictures.  There’s nothing for a client that’s sexual predator or wants to teach me a lesson to see about her. 
       My desk faces away from the door, which makes me a little uncomfortable.  Not Feng Shui.  There are two reasons for that.  First, there is a mass of wiring along the wall my desk rests against that would be exposed.  Second, I like to think I have no barriers between my client and me.  Of course, the sterile emptiness of my office might make that ironic.
       The only feature of any significance is a post that goes almost down the center of the room.  Inside the post is the plumbing for the personal bathroom of Judge Wells.  Every time the Judge uses the toilet.  I can hear the water running through the pipes.  I’ve thought of charting the flushes to see how regular she is.
       Its hard not to laugh when I’m meeting a client and the sound of rushing water fills the room and they look around trying to figure out what’s going on.  I tell them “A difficult case just got decided.”  Most of them don’t get it.
       The phone rings in my office; it’s a single ring, which means it’s almost assuredly a client.  I’m ready to go home, turn on the T.V. and see what I can find out about the homicide on the local news, but against better judgment I pick up the phone.
       “Hello, this is Adam.”
       “Adam?”  The voice hesitates – a man’s voice, slurred slightly by alcohol.  I recognize the voice.   He really isn’t a bad guy, I kind of like him, the way you kind of like a smelly three legged dog you see at the pound that’s a little pathetic and desperate to be liked.       
       Despite the fact that he’s one of my better clients, I’ve been dreading the call; I knew it was coming.  “It’s Adam.  You’re calling about your case.  You received the Supreme Court’s decision on your appeal.”
       There’s a long pause, “Yeah, what’s it mean?”  My client has a learning disability, but he’s not stupid.  He knows what the decision means, but he’s hoping he’s wrong.
       “The Supreme Court upheld the decision to terminate your rights to your son.  We lost.”  In addition to felonies, I get to represent parents in Child Protective Actions.  If the State feels a child has been abused or neglected, a petition is filed in the court to protect the child and try to get the parents involved to become minimally adequate parents.  If it looks like the parents aren’t going to be successfully, a public defender gets appointed to represent them as the State tries to sever the legal rights of the parent to the child.
       Having the State strip you of your parental rights might be the worst thing ever.  You lose your child because of something you did.  Not a random act or unforeseen tragedy, but a personal failure.
       I get the pleasure of telling my client that the court ended his rights to his son, I appealed and lost.
       There’s a longer pause, then a fragile hope in his voice.  He’s pleading, “My son’s my whole world, Adam, where do we take this now?”
       If your son’s that important, then why couldn’t you stop the drugs and alcohol?  I told you that it was either the drugs or the child and you picked the drugs.  But I don’t say that to him.  What’s the point? 
       “I’m sorry, but that’s as far as I can take it.  I wish it wasn’t that way.”
       “Oh.”  He doesn’t say goodbye, just hangs up the phone.

            Every morning on my desk is the usual pile of letters, new files, motions that need to be signed and orders.  Sometimes there are newspaper clippings.  Today is one of those days.
            At the very top of the stack that is waiting for me is an obituary with the standard grainy photo.  Ever notice in obituaries or memorials they always use the most recent photo they can find?  It’s as if the earlier versions of you are gone, no longer you.  Your life is summed up by what you are at the end.  As if the goal is to be old.  Which is funny because when I really look at myself in the mirror, which most of the time none of us do because we look at ourselves without really seeing, I expect to see my face when I was going to college so many years ago.  It takes a moment to identify myself.
            I recognize the face of my client in the obituary.  It isn’t really a surprise.  I spoke to him two days ago when he was asking about his son.  When I told him that he had lost his rights as a parent and wasn’t getting them back. 
          He was found dead of an apparent drug overdose, but it wasn’t an accident. 
          I know that. 
          It was suicide. 
          I was probably the last person he spoke to. 
         His last word was “Oh.”  The death of hope.
         Could I have done more?  Yes.  Would it have made a difference?  Probably no.  Absolutely no?
         To be a public defender, you have to be conceited.  Proud.  Arrogant.  Not the fragile arrogance of a prosecutor.  It isn’t hard to think too much of yourself if you win all the time.  It takes a special type of arrogance to believe in yourself despite loss after loss, with only the occasional win, the partial victory.
        The obituary is four small paragraphs summing up my client’s life.  I have this uncanny feeling that his death is just the beginning.  I know its just superstition, to believe in premonitions.  I also know that when a basketball player has a shooting hot streak it can be easily explained by random probability patterns based on the shooter’s scoring average and has nothing to do with being “on.”  I know this, but I don’t believe it. There is more to human experience than science and randomness can explain. 
        More than science will ever explain.
        Science is a religion.  It has its own tenants: like everything can be explained and understood.  It believes if you name something, like Adam named the animals, you define it and if you define it, you understand it and have power over it.  Someday it may say what we are, but it will not be able to say who we are, unless we let it.  A world with complete understanding is a world without wonder.
        So I know this is just the beginning.  A promise of things to come; death is our constant companion, but it’s a more immediate feeling.
       “I see you killed another one.”  Susannah says behind me.  Didn’t hear her.  That’s the problem with having my desk facing the wall. 
        I turn around, the obituary in my hand.  That isn’t funny, yet I start a joke in return. “I was just wondering how I messed up.”  She’s standing in the doorway, leaning against the door jam; her head tilted slightly, a half smile on her lips.  Standing still in the doorway is called framing, it’s a way to make people notice you, make you seem more attractive.  There are other ways to frame yourself, but that’s the most obvious.  The next time someone comes to a party and pauses in the doorway, they’re being manipulative.
        Susannah Shepard is one of “Charlie’s angels.”  It’s a standard joke around the Court that my boss, Charlie, only hires women.   I wonder if that makes me Bosley?
        She raises one thin eyebrow.  I wish I could do that.  She hasn’t moved.  There’s something about the way she holds her hand at her side that makes me envision a cigarette in her fingers, the smoke curling around her.
        As a rule, I hate cigarettes, most of the time women smoking look coarse, but there’s something about the way she smokes that’s both dangerous and sexual.
       She looks coy.  Susannah’s attractive, if a bit severe, thin with more hip then bust. Smoking is starting to line her face.  Foundation conceals the tiny wrinkles and the light dusting of freckles over her nose.  She dresses in soft colors, which I’m not sure if that’s to soften her looks or camouflage her coldness.  “You’re feeling remorse?  You used to tell me people make their own choices.” 
       Used to. 
       She doesn’t need my support anymore.  When she started as a public defender, she used to call me at night in a panic about things that happened to her clients.  She was desperate to help them and all twisted up inside with stress because the problems were so great, so insurmountable.
        I’d listen to her; encourage her while telling her that their problems weren’t her problems.  She made her choices and they made theirs.
        She doesn’t need me anymore for that.
        That was one of the things my ex hated.  I gave my time and energy to my co-workers and that didn’t leave enough for her.  I get called all the time by my co-workers needing to talk, not just Susannah.   They don’t call anyone else.  They call me, or come to my office and the words come tumbling out.
        I’m not sure why it’s me.  I doubt it’s my winning personality.  The one skill as I lawyer that I’ve perfected.  I carry lots of secrets.  I probably have more links in my chains then Marley’s ghost.
        I give her look of affronted dignity.  “Don’t insult me.  Obviously I went wrong somewhere.  If he’d killed himself sooner, I wouldn’t have had to do the appeal.”
        Chortling, she comes all the way into my office and sits down.  “You’re a sick bastard.”
        “Part of my charm.  Its why you find me so lovable.”

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