After I left the profession, I talked about court reporting for years to people who love me. Strike that. I talked about it to every living, breathing creature until their eyeballs crossed.
People who loved me tried to help me change my view of it.
"Oh, my God. Are you still thinking about that? Everybody makes mistakes, so you made a mistake, forgive yourself already."
Except it wasn't like I'd taken a chance on an appliance in clearance. It was a thirty-five thousand dollar investment that haunted me for three reasons. First, I married that student loan. Second, I ruined my chance to study for another profession; and, third, well, I'm on a rant. The two reasons are it. The upside is that I admitted it. The downside was even if I shut up about it, my despair lingered just beneath the surface, eroding confidence, spurring me onto my next mistake.
Acquaintances in my present retail job perhaps thought that when I spoke about my court reporting career, it was braggadocio, like a bumper sticker on a station wagon that read: "My other car is a Lamborghini." And if it was, it was bullshit.
The road to acceptance and change began with first admitting the path that I traveled to court reporting school.
In an Irish Catholic family, one is familiar with religious pictures and statues. In a religious Irish Catholic family, it is hard to distinguish between faith and superstition, and sometimes decisions are made based on a sign that may or may not be from God.
In the early morning hours before I drove to the library to research careers, my brother, John, was outside cursing the squirrels whose sole fu*king purpose was to tear seedlings that he'd planted from the ground, and, instead of dignifying their destruction by eating them, mocked his effort by leaving them to wither and die.
The mailman walked up the path with a large, brown paper-wrapped package that was addressed to me, a gift from my aunt. It contained a print of St. Margaret Mary, kneeling before the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The colors were dark and spooky, triggering pipe organ music, like a soundtrack from a Vincent Price movie.
I squinted, holding the picture above my living room sofa, and recalled that Mom said furniture from different periods laughed at one another. It seemed the pedals on my flowered sofa were quivering and closing.
I placed the picture down and head for the library amazed, appreciative that my aunt thought of me, guilty for my reaction to the spooky picture, and ashamed because however scary it was, the picture had sacred intent.
Then, because my head wasn't 't fu*ked up enough, I cursed myself for making such a big deal out of it.
Why can't you be a normal, devout Catholic and just hang the picture on the wall and put a candle under it, fold fresh, green palms behind it?
Because you don't like the picture, Margaret. It's nothing against God or your aunt.
Yeah, but it doesn't work that way. What do I do with the picture now? Pretend I never saw it?
Maybe you'll leave it on the rectory steps and run away. Sounds like something you'd do.
"Oh shut up!" I mouthed, slapping my hand on the steering wheel, passing my neighbor in the opposite direction.
The librarian opened a career reference book to a man seated at a desk, a tape recorder in one hand and a long strip of paper draped over the other. My eyes were sucked, like a paper clip to a magnet, to the picture that hung over the man's desk. It was a more cheerful print of Jesus of the Sacred Heart.
The second sign in the path to my professional destiny had appeared, lighting up the first.
Sign number three was revealed when I learned that the school was a convenient distance from my house.
"You can set your own schedule, be home for your children, and cha-ching, make a lot of money," the admission officer said.
That's four. Score. I enrolled.
In my youth, I loved codes and foreign language. I'd studied Spanish, Italian and French, of which I remember zip. Court reporting theory was like learning a foreign language, then its slang and then writing it super fast, while my chair was on fire.
The blank keyboard contains half the keys of a computer keyboard. One must memorize the letters that the blank keys represent. The keys are then combined to form other letters; for instance, the four keys that represent T, K, P and W are combined to form the letter “G.” I l learned the combo theory early on, and there was still time to back out and not pay tuition. It was my cue to run like a seedling-destroying squirrel. But never one to run from an insane challenge, I stayed.
My relief from the daily speed test hell was English class. I wrote an awesome research paper on The Shroud of Turin: The Burial Cloth of Jesus.
I accomplished the goal, I passed the exams, interned and graduated with an Associates Degree. I began my new profession, and was home from work each day for my sons. They laughed when they found me slumped over a computer, sound asleep.
"Mom's working again," Matthew said.
I looked at the clock each day at four o'clock and dragged my body to the phone like the Dunkin Donuts guy.
"Time to call the agency." I scribbled the information I was given in my date book and placed the phone on the receiver. “Start praying,” I said, “I have an assignment tomorrow.”
My twelve year old son, Greg, tried to comfort me.
“Maybe the job will bust, Mom.”
I laughed. Job busts were the one perk that legitimatized my steep career investment.
“You’re right,” I said, “pray it will bust.”
My court reporting mentor and friend, Mindy, consoled me over lunch after a bad week:
“I know it’s stressful,” she said. She was the best thing that happened to my career. She taught me to write obnoxious lawyer's names on sticky notes and wear them on the bottom of my shoe.
“Just locating a bathroom before a deposition is often a challenge,” she said. Bathrooms were Mindy’s Ben Gay slather stations. My stress that week, though, was still entry level and included straining to read miniscule address numbers across six lanes of speeding traffic, getting lost, deciphering bad Mapquest directions, interpreters, whose accents were thicker than the witnesses, overlapping arguments, and low-volume testimony taken over a speaker phone.
I learned a lot about survival then, like that it was okay to miss the building and make a u-turn two blocks later. I also learned that all streets on Long Island go in circles and do not make sense.
“Get yourself maps of the boroughs and keep them in your glove box. Familiarize yourself with them.”
Mindy may as well have said to study the habititat and life cycle of a fruit fly.
After five years, and in order to relieve the occupational stress of court reporting, I began a fun part-time job in retail...
To be continued...