It is summer time. It is beautiful. Every day, the skies are bright, the air is clear. Every day, you arrive late to class. Stacy usually has breakfast, or at least coffee, waiting for you. She jokes that you will never make it on time. You fall asleep during the lectures, or spend significant chunks of time perusing facebook, or your still fairly active xanga site, or myspace. You check your email a half a dozen times by the first break. You imagine yourself lying on the beach. One day you leave after the second break, and actually go to the beach. On another day, you go straight from bar review to the Bronx for a Yankees game. You get drunk with your cop friend and somehow wind up in Harlem at your sister’s apartment, drinking Sam Adams Cherry Wheat and talking shit. When you wake up the next morning, it is already 10 am. Your sheets smell like stale beer. The night before the exam you receive four voicemails. All the guys you like, or who like you. They all say good luck, you’ll do great. You know you won’t.
It is winter. You have a tutor. You are the site director this time, since Stacy, of course, passed on her first try, and has since moved into a tiny studio on the Upper East Side and begun her fancy big-firm job. You are glad you don’t have to pay for the course again, but the students annoy you. One student is a guy who graduated from SJU the semester after you. He is older and seems like he must have been a construction worker in his past life. He is foul-mouthed and has rough hands that he slams down on his desk whenever he gets frustrated. He yells at you as if it is your fault, somehow, that he does not understand the material. You practice essays and realize you know absolutely nothing. You order a pizza and eat the whole thing in one sitting, then throw it up; not on purpose, but just because you feel gross for having eaten the entire pizza. You stay up until 5 o’clock every morning, sleep until noon, then head to school to read before preparing for class. You try to study on weekends but the words are unintelligible. You have a crush on the Israeli kid who stands outside and smokes during every break. You don’t like smokers but he has eyes the color of fresh grass and he smiles at you all the time, rubs your shoulder when he thanks you for letting him take out a DVD. He is all you remember when you sit down during that first morning. He will pass, you know it.
Summer again. You are working. You like your job. You attend a re-taker course at BarBri headquarters in Times Square. Every Sunday you sit in that small space with other people like you, people who have failed. You listen to their insipid conversations. They are inconsiderate. They spread their belongings all across the narrow tables, refuse to move them even when more students enter the room, searching for somewhere to sit. The guy behind you kicks your chair, repeatedly. You turn to look at him. He isn’t even tall. You think of Ellen, who sat behind you in homeroom and was at least 5’11. She kicked your chair a lot but she didn’t mean to, and she apologized. This guy refuses to make eye contact with you. And keeps kicking your chair. You don’t belong there. On breaks you go down to Sephora. Before the end of July, you have three new bottles of perfume. Hermes Kelly Caleche is your favorite.
Another winter. You take the full bar review course. From 9 am until noon, you are in class. From 2 pm until 10 pm, you are at work. You are tired. You begin to wonder what the fuck you are doing. The rest is blurry.
Another winter. Your tutor insists you will pass this time. “You’re so close,” she says. But she says this every time. You do what she tells you. You can’t afford to pay another $3,000 for bar review, so she gets you a copy of the paced program to do on your own. You do some of it, but not most of it. You don’t want to. You are tired. On Valentine’s Day, you sit alone in your mother’s kitchen and take a simulated MBE. You get 60 questions correct. Out of 200. You throw your study materials on the floor. They stay there for two days. When you are not studying, you are shopping online. You buy two pairs of Levis. Ten bottles of nail polish. A Rachel Rachel Roy dress that you never wore and cannot find. A Rory Beca dress that you also have not worn—but you’ve rocked the belt with other dresses. Then there is the painterly dress from ModCloth that is slightly tight around the hips. You haven’t worn that one either, but only because when you try it on, it looks like sausage casing. You don’t send it back because you are convinced it will fit one day. During that winter, you gain ten pounds. Still, even with the extra weight, your new boots and leggings are comfy and sexy during the exam.
Preparation. What preparation? On the morning of the second day, you run into Helena, who you had met during a previous attempt. She says you look hot, like you’ve lost some weight. You have, because you’d purchased a treadmill and got on it three times a week to get rid of last winter’s ten pounds. The cute security guard notices how hot you are, too, because he asks for your number. For a moment, you hesitate. He is a security guard. He is light-skinned. He is tall. Then you remember you’ve failed the bar exam five times. Your only boyfriend was about the same complexion. And you can’t help that tall guys find you adorable. You give him your number. He calls a few days after the exam, and takes you to see The Adjustment Bureau. You cry in the movie theater and wipe your tears quickly, glad that you wore waterproof mascara. By the time the scores are released, you’ve already deleted his number from your phone. He texts to check on you, but you don’t answer.
Sixteen points. Sixteen points. Sixteen points. Sixteen points. Sixteen points. Sixteen points. Sixteen points. Sixteen points. Sixteen points. Sixteen points. Sixteen points. Sixteen points. Sixteen points. Sixteen points. Sixteen points. Sixteen points.
This is all that stands between you and the e-mail that says, “Congratulations. We are writing to inform you that you have passed the New York State bar examination,” or whatever the fuck it says. You don’t want to take it again. Your mother gives you a speech. Your aunt calls from Trinidad. She also gives you a speech. You don’t want to take it again. But they cajole you into it with their caring voices and soft pleading. You agree to take it. You transfer the last $3,000 out of your savings account into your checking so you can pay BarBri, again. You book a flight to Trinidad and stay with your aunt for a week and a half. In the mornings you get on your mat and do some sun salutations before her fiance offers you breakfast. You eat quickly as he hovers. When you’re done, you drag your books up to the studio apartment in her backyard. All morning, from 9 am until noon, you study. Then you take a break to eat the lunch that Michael sets out for you. This life is so simple. You get an hour break, then head back up to finish studying. You usually spend another five hours up there. You get a lot done. You finish all of the MBE questions in the book. You’ve never done that before. Michael’s church family raises their hands to bless you. “Don’t worry. You will conquer that exam.” You spend one day at the beach in Pigeon Point. You can feel the melanin percolating in your skin. Under that sky, over that sand, you promise yourself you will not come back to this country unless you are there to enjoy it.
On the first day of the exam you want to cry. Why is this your life? It has been over five years since you graduated from law school. You are surrounded, again, by these strangers, who argue over the statute of limitations for medical malpractice. When anyone asks you a question, you reply, “I don’t know.” Because you don’t. You are tired. You don’t care anymore. You don’t want to be there. You’d rather be at Pigeon Point, eating curry crab and dumpling. These people, you are not like them. You don’t care. You cry as you walk back to 8th Avenue to catch the E train home. Then the Asian lady offers you her seat, thinking you are pregnant. You laugh. It is the icing on the cake of your miserable day.
The second day isn’t much better, but you are wearing a pretty blue dress and an expensive statement necklace, so you feel good. Afterwards, you meet a friend and she makes you shrimp scampi and gets you tipsy. “This is it,” you tell her.
This is it.