To Hell and Back
By: Cody Grosshart
It was a Wednesday morning in late September, and I was perched on the far right corner of the last row of the classroom. It was a location so remote that the roll sheet never even made it up that far. I thought that I was hidden from the world, that I was going to make it through this battle without a scratch. In fact by 8:30 a.m., I had already made it halfway though the Socratic shelling that had pulverized the left column of the classroom. You never forget the look of pure exhaustion and self-disdain on a student’s face after the debris and smoke settle from the quizzical bombardment.
I had been up late the previous night reading, reviewing, and revising every writ, remedy, and right that I managed to wrangle down with the rational side of my brain. Caffeine had no affect anymore, at least not a positive one. I was still trying to decipher the native tongue to make sense of all this tortious, jurisdictional, litigious, solidary, felonious, “offer and acceptance” drivel. I had clawed my way through footnotes, endnotes, sidenotes, sticky notes, and my own notes just to notice that I was as unhinged, unsettled, and unbalanced as I was after my first rotation on the case material.
As I tried to trail behind the “therefores” and “wheretofores” that the professor left thrown beneath him at the podium’s feet, my mind had gone askew. I couldn’t keep myself from playing out the day’s list of tasks: grocery shopping, reading for contracts, washing clothes, researching memo, washing dishes, reading for traditions, walking the dog, eat food, read assignment, do laundry, outline memo, wash dishes, read, eat, read, laundry, read, outline, read, READ, READ.
It was truly unsettling how softly that sound came sailing over the waves of quick gasps and short breaths that fluttered through the classroom. I had endured the hurling of my full birth-name in that direct, rapid, staccato articulation fueled by pure parental exasperation countless times, but those experiences never prepared me for the still, clam, asphyxiating tone and timbre of my first cold call.
As I looked up, the air left the room and took with it all sound and vibration. I was stuck in time with a lack of breath as the professor came around from behind his podium with his hands pulled behind his back all the while staring at the ground with his sadistic glare. He looked up at me and started to speak, but I couldn’t make out the words. Suddenly, they began to hit me in rapid succession – “You are representing the . . .” I was just able to catch my breath when the last word barreled into my chest… “defendant.” It knocked me back into my seat, back into the realization that despite all that reading and preparing, I knew nothing. I had no answers. I was want of thought.
I was terrified. I went through a disheveled review of everything I could remember from the semester as the professor paced in a circle and detailed an outlandish hypothetical situation. I ducked behind my casebook hoping to gain cover from the brunt of the attack, but it was to no avail. The professor had locked on his target, and it was now my turn to stand in judgment of my academic worth. My entire sense of being was suspended above me fatally vulnerable to the accuracy and quality of my response. The weight of everything that I had done and everything that I would ever do was pushing down on my shoulders.
Once he finished speaking, the professor offered me a welcoming smirk. Although still in shock, I opened my chest and began to speak. Each word, phrase, and sentence stumbled down the stadium seating carrying with it the weight and fear of disappointment and failure. Once I regained control of myself, I paused for silence and took survey of the damage that I had undoubtedly caused. A few of my classmates looked back at me with a mix of empathy and disbelief. The professor’s smirk melted away as I spoke, and he now stood tall with his left brow raised and his right thumb propping up his weary, bearded chin. He took one calculated step back onto his right heal and pivoted to the center of the room to launch an appeal for another student’s opinion.
To this day I cannot recall the verbiage that shielded me through that endeavor. I will never know if I what I said was even close to a correct answer. Thinking back on this experience time and time again, I have come to realize that the answer was never the goal of the exercise, but merely the means to a greater end. Thankfully, my first cold call has not had the negative influence on my future that I feared. Instead, it planted in me a seed of fortitude. From that point on, I’ve continued to foster and grow from that seed the roots of academic and personal strength that I will use to withstand any storm that I face in my career. For that, I am eternally grateful.