Posted by Debra Solomon Baker on April 17, 2012
The piece was inspired by the Wydown Writer’s Retreat. At that retreat, I reflected on the following question, which is one we ask our students to consider as they study literature: How can a person’s decisions and actions change his or her life and the lives of others?
So, I am hanging out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on some boat (a boat? Is this fiction or nonfiction you are writing, Debra?) with friends (What the heck were their names?) in the summer of 1990. (Crazy brain–Why do you remember that eight years ago, you only ordered six turkey sandwiches, not seven, and that your colleague, Johanna, was left turkeysandwichless at some meeting, but you don’t remember the details of this fine tale?). Anyway, we were traveling across the country together, from Nashville to Portland and back around again, in our got-our-diplomas-from-The-University-of-Michigan post-graduation hurrah. I had my 3.8, I had my embossed maize-and-blue paper, I had just 21 years behind me and 5,000 more years (at least) to come. Ah, glorious youth.
And so there we were, on that boat (maybe), no-name, no-name, no-name, and me, a soon-to-be George Washington University law student. I had done well enough on my LSAT, despite my pre-test slumber party with Ihavesuchacrushonyou Ron, (but that’s another story), had picked out my D.C. apartment, and I was gonna be a Professional (please note the capital P) and Dad was all proud and Mom was all proud, their daughter was gonna be a Lawyer, defending the rights of the meek, of the oppressed, and all that. Yup, I was gonna be all that.
And I got off that boat and must’ve found a pay phone because were there even cell phones back then? (Come on, Memory). Oh, yeah, maybe there were that kind with the crazy antenna, but I’ve never exactly been Ms. Cell Phone Pioneer, so, for me, it would’ve been some phone booth where I dialed my parents down in Boca Raton, Florida, and said, “Dad? I know I’m supposed to start in a few weeks, but, umm, I’ve decided not to go. To law school.” Silence. “Dad?” “Dad?” “Dad?” And he said, when you make a decision, you stick to that decision, that’s what you do, Youngest Daughter, that’s what you do, and maybe I cried, probably I cried, and I said, no Dad. Not this time.
And, I hung up the phone, and screamed to the mountains, I’m free. Do you hear me? Free. And then the girls and I dove into a seven-layer yellow cake with chocolate frosting, flirted with muscley young men in the next campsite, drank cases and cases of Budweiser, and, and, and, and…
No. The truth is that I have no memory of what happened after I hung up that phone. None.
But I do know that that decision changed my life. And, I guess, it also shifted the lives of the 1800 others, some still not-yet-born, who, one day, would be sitting in a classroom listening (or not) to Ms. Solomon Baker’s voice, urging them to look, look, look at the beauty of this sentence, at the power of that word, at the stunning courage of some fictional lawyer named Atticus Finch.