catelin: (Default)
( Aug. 14th, 2007 09:36 pm)
It's been a long week at a child abuse conference. Imagine a week of classes filled with all the horrible ways that people can hurt children. It's awful, but probably one of the conferences I most look forward to every year. It's always amazing to me how much I still have to learn after doing this for such a long time. And it's nice to have a week where I can see that there are literally hundreds of people who speak my language, have the same nightmares, the same frustrations....

The only disappointment I had was overhearing a DFPS worker (from another state, thankfully) talking about the families she deals with as "those" people. She was talking about the kids too. "Those" kids. It was a jarring reminder of how marginalized these poor wee things are, how fucked from the very beginning, and how there are still bureaucratic creeps in the world who truly believe that these kids should be able to just get their shit together. Never mind all the issues of poverty, class, race, etc. I really wanted to punch her right in her puckered, self-righteous face. Instead I just politely asked her name and where she worked. Heartfelt and disappointed letter to her supervisor to follow shortly.

It's when I spend weeks like this that I realize why my writing tends to be sappy and focused, perhaps overly so, on love and loyalty...on every corny beautiful thing in the world. It's because I tend to write as a counterbalance to what I see that is heartbreaking and monstrous. It is my soul's cure for all the muck.

So please forgive my sometimes annoyingly keen eye for the loveliness in all of you. It truly is what keeps me breathing most days.
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catelin: (Default)
( Aug. 11th, 2007 08:20 pm)
For my friend S., the man who sometimes cannot see his own magnificent wings.

Compass

I have watched your journey from a distance,
marveled at the movement of you, sweet traveler,
blessed and cursed with the burden of the
changing landscapes of your own body.

I have held my breath as you wrestle
with deep waters and dangerous currents,
always with such an acute sense of the cost,
marked with sacred heart, bone, and gristle
of how you are finding your way to shore.

I have hoped for you to see yourself
as twilight—the most beautiful and brave
time of the day, where the world would quietly
give way to you without question or judgment.

I have silently applauded your steady navigation
through streams of self-doubt and longing, never
being so vain as to see yourself—a bona fide prodigy,
to have become the man you are without ever having
had the chance to be the boy you should have been.
catelin: (durgapink)
( Jan. 29th, 2007 10:28 pm)
It’s funny how sometimes the things of most consequence to us happen so slowly that we hardly notice them. I lost my voice and I can’t even remember when it happened. I just know that I reached a point where I had nothing to say. I suppose it was not so much nothing to say as nothing that I wanted to say out loud. I didn’t want to say out loud how ashamed I was—about my failed New York minute marriage, about the fact that I’d walked away from my life here so cavalierly and gave up a job I loved for something that quickly turned into nothing at all. I was working so hard to get back to being myself again, but it never seemed to get any better.

Being a defense attorney for the last two years was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I did the best I could, but my heart was never in it. I turned down more work than I took, some by choice and some because I was simply conflicted out of it. Most of my best friends are cops and prosecutors and there was a lot of work that I couldn’t take because I still had people calling me for advice on cases in the middle of the night. I still worked teaching cadet classes at the Sheriff’s academy. But because I was on the “other” side, I nonetheless endured the slights and snubs of a lot of people who’d once had nothing but good things to say about me. I had no benefits, no health insurance, and no steady income. I woke up every morning worried about money and dreading the work I had to do to make ends meet. I finally cashed in stock that had been a gift to me from my grandfather—money that I had earmarked for my kids and sworn I would never touch—just to pay the bills. I kept telling myself that I was learning from this, that difficulty is always a test of character. I had been through harder things before and come through just fine, but over the last couple of years I felt the buoyancy that I’d held to so tenaciously through other hardships slowly seep out of me. It was a slow leak that came dangerously close to leaving me flat.

For months, there had been the possibility of going back to work at the D.A.’s office, but it was never a certainty. There were elections to get through, changes to be made no matter what the outcome. The worst part of it all was how badly I wanted it, how badly I feared not getting it. If it had just been me, I wouldn’t have been so worried; but with kids to provide for and no safety net, it was difficult to practice any sort of detachment from the desire for a place that was home to me for so long. Starting up the roller derby league probably saved me. I took a leave of absence this season. I was worn out, both physically and emotionally by all the work I’d put into it. Still, I was glad for the escape it offered me from my problems. I am proud of what it has become and the fact that I created something that is still going strong without me, like a child that I managed to raise well enough in spite of all my bumbling.

Aside from my children, the cases I deal with have been the focus of most of my days. I work exclusively with persons crimes now and I love what I do so much. I look forward to Mondays again. It’s no wonder I missed it as much as I did. It’s still hard for me to believe that I’m back, even now that I’m settled in to my new office and have been gleefully slogging through the mess of cases that were waiting for me.

I went to lunch with a friend the other day whose path has mirrored my own in a lot of ways, though for very different reasons. He’s finding his way back to the fold as well, hopefully sooner rather than later. We talked about how I learned a lot of hard lessons over the last three years. I almost lost everything that means anything to me—professionally and personally on a lot of levels, but I am finally feeling things settle back into place.

I still get the occasional flashes of fear that something will come and take it all away—that having my life back again is just temporary. I have learned from this, though. That seems to be the one thing that I can always do in any situation. I endure and I find ways to be better. I’m much more measured in the way that I see change in my life now. I hold more to the things that are precious to me and am not so quick to sacrifice familiar rhythms for the transient rush of the next new thing. I am still fearless in the ways that matter, and I still believe in myself. Every day fills me up now and confirms what I have always known...that my particular odd combination of tenacity and hopefulness will always be what saves me in the end.
catelin: (Default)
( Apr. 26th, 2006 05:26 pm)
In a criminal case, the victim has a right to make a statement after the defendant is sentenced. This is called the victim's allocution. It is the single time that the victim is able to address the defendant directly, to speak her mind, to spill out everything that she's been choking down for months and months. I was witness to many of these allocutions when I was a prosecutor. Sometimes they were quiet, almost whispers. Other times, they were raging storms--screaming, crying, shaking of fists, pointing of fingers. There were some who wished the defendants peace; others wished them dead. No matter what, they were always heartbreaking. It was hard to watch and not feel like an intruder. Hard to see a person bearing the unbearable.

Today, I was on the other side of the courtroom for my first victim's allocution as a defense attorney. I'd been dreading it for weeks, knowing that this time I was going to be sitting next to the person toward whom whatever was coming would be addressed. I wouldn't be able to get up, I wouldn't be able to leave if I couldn't bear hearing it. I would have to sit there, on the side of the person who had caused so much pain to others, because that is my job. That is part of what I have to do and I knew that I would simply have to get through it somehow. My greatest fear was that I would not be able to do it. What if they hated me too? What if they thought that I was somehow now a part of what caused them so much grief? How would I face them? I couldn't even think about it without crying.

I prepared my client for what was going to happen the best that I could, explaining the process and letting him know what to expect. I told him that part of making things right was letting the family express their sorrow, their anger, their loss, anything that they needed to say. So I sat there today, next to my client, and listened to a mother tell how the last words from her son were that he had just proposed to his girlfriend--how he was going to spend the rest of his life with her. And he did. Three hours later, they were both dead. I looked at her as she spoke, thinking that it would be wrong of me to look away; that it would be disrespectful not to soak every bit of it in. I could feel tears coming and I knew the harder I tried not to cry the more they would come. So I sat and listened to her story, with tears rolling down my face. I felt ashamed, like I had no right to cry for her son, but I couldn't help it. I thought of my own boys and how no mother should ever have to bury a child.

It was in this moment that life showed how it is full of unexpected grace. She addressed me from the witness stand. For a second I froze. I steadied myself for her anger at my tears, for the presumptuousness I would have to cry for her son when I represented the man who had caused his death. She looked at me and said, "I know this is hard for you. I want you to know I don't blame you. It's okay."

Then she moved from the witness stand and came to my table and put her hand on my arm, nodding to me before she went back to her seat in the audience. It was one of the most heartwrenching experiences I've ever had, but I am glad that I went through it because it left me with the certainty of the good in people. I found out later that she had been told about me before the allocution by some of the people in the courtroom--about my past with other cases, about the sort of person I am. I have always been humbled by the way the people I work with care about me, by the way they consider me family and look out for me; but this was so unexpected and such a kindness to me that I am still a little shaken by it.

So my day in court is done. My client thanked me before he was taken back to the holding cell. The families said their goodbyes to each other and returned to the lives they are trying to piece together. The fact that I managed to get through it pales in comparison with the other people who had to get through it as well. Still, I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else today other than where I was.
catelin: (breathe)
( Feb. 15th, 2006 08:48 am)
For the first time in a long time, I hate waking up in the mornings. I tell myself it's stress--job, money, relationships, derby...you name it. I wake up and in that instant that I realize I'm awake, everything comes crashing in on me and all I can do is wish myself back to sleep. Of course, I don't have the luxury of being that self-indulgent so I pull myself out of bed and slog through the day as best I can. I've been smoking too much again, which doesn't help anything and only serves to make me more disappointed with myself for treating my body so shabbily. I know there are times in life where everything seems difficult, where everything pushes us to the verge of panic. I also know that this will pass. Still, I can't quite place my finger on what's making me feel so out of balance. I suspect it's the failure to make time for myself to be quiet. Everything is always such a jumble in my head these days that I find it hard to be still and reflect on anything. Movement is what has always pushed me through the rough spots, but that doesn't seem to be working this time. I keep thinking I'll have time to rest once this or that is finished, but the next thing pops up and I keep running in mini-crisis mode day after day. It's time to slow down a bit and I'm going to start to put the brakes on a little each day until I get my equilibrium back. Life should never be merely a blur of hard places and things.
catelin: (Default)
( Jan. 11th, 2006 10:52 am)
I’ve been making my peace lately with something so profoundly difficult and painful that it’s taken over a year to even be able to talk about it. I finally have had to let go of the idea that I will be going back to my old job. When I left Texas, I left behind a career as a senior felony prosecutor at an office that I loved. One of my best friends took over my position, and I was happy to know that my cases were being looked after by someone I trusted to do a good job. Even after I left, I still had people calling me for advice on cases. I still worked on appeals when they needed me. I still talked to everyone and knew what was going on from day to day. I still was connected, even from over a thousand miles away.

I came back and went into private practice out of necessity. I had a house payment to make, children to provide for, and no other real choice for a way to make a living and still have something that looked like my former life. I have done well enough. Still, I have spent the last year or so with one foot in my old world. I suppose that was to be expected. Most of my best friends still work at the D.A.’s office and my own cases take me there at least a few times a week. I walk by my old office and see my things still there—my old Persian rug, my silly Saturday Night Fever light switch on the wall, all the various odds and ends that I left to mark my place in some way. I still go out to lunch with everyone just like when I worked there, I still banter with my old boss, I go to the conferences with all of my old friends. It’s like I never left. Except I am not there.

So I’ve lived and worked every day with this awful yearning to be part of my past. I’ve watched people move up and around, knowing that if I’d stayed I would have likely been at the top of the small county ladder. I have felt stupid for leaving and too proud to ever admit to anyone how much I missed it, how much I missed the work and the rhythm of it all. There are only a couple of people who know how much I’ve wished things could go back to the way they were. There hasn’t been a day when I didn’t think about it. I really was making myself sick about it—resenting each new hire, trying their cases in my head like a sad little armchair quarterback.

But the truth is, you can’t go back…not to any place that you’ve already been. Even if I got a call tomorrow offering me my old job, it wouldn’t be my old job. It would be something entirely different from what it was, something entirely different from what I remember. The reality of it would probably be a bitter disappointment compared to the version of the job that I’ve held in my head all these months.

I realize now that it’s time to let go of my past and move ahead. What I’ve been doing to myself isn’t healthy or fair…it’s been very much like sleeping with an ex-lover just often enough to keep old wounds from healing. It’s time to put my whole heart into what I’m doing now. It’s hard to let go of something that I loved so much, but it’s time. I’m more than a little disappointed with myself that it’s taken me so long to move on from all this. I have been so blind to the benefits of what I have now that I’m ashamed to have not appreciated it more. I don’t have to stop loving what I did, but I have to put it where it belongs—in the past—so I can get on with the present. I’m lucky to have so many beloved old lives to look back on. I’m blessed to have the opportunity for new lives ahead of me that I can’t even yet imagine. I don't have to let go of the people, but I have to let go of that place in my memory where we were all together in a certain way. I have to let all of us find our new ways to be with one another. Spring will be here soon as a physical reminder that things begin again and again. And so will I, begin again, with who I was in better perspective with who it is I am becoming.
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