The morning has a depressive and uncertain sort of feel to it. As the day begins, all of my parts are in order. But I know that when night falls, the surgery will be over. Some significant part of me will be removed. Come tomorrow I will make do with what remains. I am calm. But I am also frightened. Responding to this crisis is not a choice I want to make.
And so I prepare to say good bye to a paralegal who has been with me for the better part of 17 years. It is inconceivable to me that she will leave. Yet I know it is true. I will have to learn to function as a lawyer without the daily friendship and support of Gail Stemborski.
When she came to see me the other day, I could tell something was amiss. Her voice had dropped an octave, and she looked sad. We've been through a lot together. I've attended funerals and weddings for her family members. I've had to ask her to watch my back when family crises of my own made it unclear to me how I would get from one day to the next. What crisis looms? I wondered.
"I have bad news," she said.
I swear my heart stopped. When Gail speaks, I listen. Despite the hectic rush of trial preparation and screaming phones, I closed the door to my office.
"I've decided it's time to retire." She was nearly in tears.
My first reaction was one of joy, and I told her so. She is a good woman. Her children are grown and gone. She and her husband have their health. There is twilight left in the years. They should take the time to enjoy one another's company and the setting Sun. There are only so many days before blind fury crushes us all. Seize the day.
But then it hit me, hard. She is leaving me. I want what is best for her, but I cannot let go of my own needs. She has been so constant, so faithful, so dependable that I cannot conceive of an office without her.
Trial lawyers cast big shadows. We enjoy being stars in dramas involving other people's lives. But not one of us can stand alone. I cannot recall the number of times Gail has organized a file for trial. After all the years, she can do it just so without being told: a file for each witness, statements organized chronologically. And she somehow manages to keep track of all the odds and ends I seem to misplace daily. I imagine she has a repetitive nightmare consisting of my starting each sentence by saying: "Gail, have you seen...."
"You know," she told me as we sat staring into a chasm, "in all the years we've been together, we've never spoken a cross word to one another. I have always loved coming to work." And I have loved having her in my life.
I am tempestuous and difficult. Somehow, Gail saw through that all and knew how to get out of the way of my ineptitude. In all our years, I cannot recall ever being cross at her. She simply knew how to make me feel comfortable, and had the uncanny gift of putting my chaos into perspective. Did I take all that for granted?
I do not know what she saw in me. And I do not know what I did to deserve such a faithful friend.
The lucky among us have a Gail in the office minding the store while we are out grabbing headlines and glory. I think we sometimes forget that we are really only as strong as the links forged by the arms of those who love us and support us.
I know I feel weakened today. I am heading out to court as soon as I finish this column. Gail is here now. But what if I don't make it back before she leaves? What if I cannot say goodbye to a colleague I have come to love and cherish?
The fact is that I do not want to say goodbye. I want her to remain forever. And so she shall, in some silent place. But the silence will be nurtured today with tears. So let me say here what I cannot summon the courage to say face to face: "Thank you, Gail, and fare well in the chapter that begins today. I will miss you."
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.