Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I Want to Be Just Like Her: Inspiration, Death, and Rebirth

[Note to readers: This week we are running a series of posts that discuss what feminism means and how it has impacted our lives. Yet, as Dee of Power of Attorney reminds us, how we see the world and what we choose to do during our lives is much more influenced by our loves and our losses than by the particular wording of any philosophy we embrace. If feminism is the belief that women should be allowed to choose for themselves what type of life they will lead, then each woman will practice a feminism as unique as she is, and as unique as the women who have helped form her ideas of what women can be. Today, we are deeply honored to have Dee as a guest writer. These are her words...]

One thing all Jamaicans know is that Jamaica has one of the highest homicide rates per capita in the world. All of us have been touched by crime. While we don't exactly live in fear, we are alert, being aware of the fact that it can happen to anyone at anytime, at any place.


Like many lawyers I have met, I have always wanted to be a lawyer. Not knowing much about the job, I loved to talk, argue, debate - and of course I was right there on Paper Chase and Perry Mason; moreover my mother's best friend was a lawyer. Her children and I went to school together. She was divorced, attractive, independent, sole provider for her two girls and, in my young mind, strong. I loved to see her in her robes and read about her achievements. I thought I wanted to be just like her, and I set out to do it. From day one, I planned to do all the subjects that would get me accepted to the Faculty of Law. I even avoided a year in France just so that I could head-off to study law. To be honest, while a student I wondered whether it was for me, but hey, you can't let nagging doubts get you down - plus it cost a lot.


Eleven years after I was called to the bar - years during which I discovered that practicing law could be a brutal experience, where yes the money could be good but the hours and the colleagues mean and harsh, where lawyers were not necessarily ministers of justice - my mother's best friend was murdered. She was 60 years old. By that time, jaded and disheartened, my husband and I had set up our law practice together, hoping to find the experience more tolerable. This did not make it any easier.

You see, she was killed in her office. She was having lunch and some men who had visited earlier returned and killed her. Her throat was slashed. It was a brutish, brazen and horrid act. I realized later that while she was taking her last breath, I was on a plane to visit my mother. When my aunt called with the news, she couldn't get it out - she was crying and yelling and she hung up the phone. It took some time for me to get what had happened. This remained the situation for quite a while. There were many rumors, including that her death had some connection to politics.


I didn't go to court once. I read about it in the papers. One of her daughters went everyday. One day, while doing a consultancy, I saw a lady at the door. She said I looked familiar, I replied that she did too and she mentioned my mother's friend's name and stated that she used to work for her. She was there on that fatal day. For the next two hours, she outlined to me what had happened; how she observed the men when they made the first visit, how she inquired of them their business, how she herself ran in another office and the murders tried to beat down the door, how she called the police, how the secretary wouldn't let the screaming staff members leave the lunch room, how the secretary watched, how her boss tried valiantly to rush to the medical centre next door while holding her slashed neck in vain, hos the secretary had stolen from her boss, how the secretary held her by the collar and yelled, YOU YOU YOU when the police arrived, how she gave evidence for the prosecution, how one of the accused lunged at her in court.

Everybody has a right to legal representation, but for a few days these brutes who were innocent until proven guilty had a problem. No lawyer wanted to defend them.


Guilty! The taxi driver who took them to and from the office, one of the men who entered her office, and the secretary were all found guilty. The other man who had entered her office had escaped!!! He was subsequently killed while at his girlfriend's home. His killer was a lone gunman, the weapon, a single bullet from a gun. The secretary has since appealed to the Privy Council.


Life went on. In the ensuing months and year, she was often in our minds, We made sure to keep the office doors locked, we vetted our clients, we kept staff to the bare minimum, we called no threat empty. One of her old clients came to me and, after going through the file, I still managed to learn something new. She knew her stuff and was teaching me though she had gone. I remember how she stood up for me deadly calm, as she represented my mother in a suit against my father for child support, I remember her devotion to her daughters, her love of beautiful things, her beautiful home, her stylish dress, her calm disposition, her thrill as she purchased an old country home which she renovated. I remember the parties she held there. I remember the last time, watching her peel an orange for me and thinking that the knife looked so sharp. I remember that she was killed by hands holding a knife. I remember how she never seemed to shout, get angry, or sweat the small stuff' she always seemed so cool. When I remember how she loved life and how she had the courage to shape her world and live the life of her dreams, I still think that I want to be just like her.


Mächtige Maus said...

Dee, may I just say what a fabulous post this is. Thank you for sharing it in such an honest way.

Sally said...

That was very touching. It's a reminder that the people who affect our lives never truly leave us, because they keep teaching us and help us grow long after they've gone.

Dee said...

Thanks for your kind comments and thanks to La Pobre for the opportunity to share.

I'll do a short post linking to it from my blog.

Anonymous said...

That's a beautiful post! I"m so sorry for your loss, but I'm glad that she will always be with you and is teaching you still even after she's gone. This is the best way for her to still live even if she physically can't.