I started law school, officially, this week. We had some highly structured orientation for two days last week, but Monday was my first day of real classes. With real people. Who were all strangers.
Needless to say, I had the first day of school jitters. I couldn’t sleep the night before, I couldn’t decide what to wear, I had visions of Reese Witherspoon in glasses and a robe (why, oh why the shiny robe?) looking in the mirror and declaring herself “a serious law student!” I read about Jackie Kennedy, hoping to glean even an ounce of her grace and poise. I rolled over a threw a silent and minor temper tantrum that I couldn’t fall asleep, and then I mentally checked off all the items I needed to make sure made it into my giant, bulging, impossibly heavy school bag. I reminisced about first-days-of-school past.
I can’t remember much about getting ready for my first day of kindergarten. I do remember walking into the classroom. Many of the other students were already there, seated in groups around low tables with tiny, primary-colored plastic chairs. I think I was wearing a dress–in kindergarten, I would only wear dresses (this was during my short-lived and unfortunately-timed hyper-girly phase, which happened to coincide with my mom redecorating my room–I chose pink walls and carpet) and the only dress I can remember had a white top and a red skirt, so we’ll pretend that’s what I was wearing. I put my bag in the cubby hole with my name on it, and went to pick a chair.
Isn’t that always the most nervewracking part of entering a roomful of strangers? Choosing a seat makes my heartbeat speed up and my lips purse. I’m sure my eyes get wide and twitchy, like that stupid Felix the Cat clock, ticking back and forth, desperately searching for a seat that’s close to the front, but not too close, and seated far enough in that people won’t have to climb over me, but not far enough in that I have to climb over a ton of people to get to it. An empty seat that isn’t next to the girl who looks super chatty or the guy who looks like he hasn’t showered this week.
That’s pretty much a play-by-play of my inner monologue.
As a five-year-old, my most pressing instinct was to look for a kind face. I was surprised and elated to see a familiar one–my friend Annie from the babysitter’s, sitting at a table with an empty chair. Relieved, I slid into the seat and greeted her, only to be met with the worst phrase a paranoid-seat-picker could hear.
“Somebody’s already sitting there.”
My face fell. Apparently so-and-so had gotten up to go to the bathroom. “Fine, so-and-so,” I thought, “take your seat next to my friend. I’ll find another!” I brushed it off like it didn’t matter and stood up with as much dignity as I could muster, turning to face the rest of the room. 20 or so other children stared back at me. My heart raced and blood rushed through my ears as I considered having to ask for another chair, when suddenly I heard magic.
Nicole, my friend from Sunday School, was sitting at a nearby table! And the table had an empty chair! I practically skipped to the table and sat down across from her, smiling with relief.
While I didn’t happen to run into any surprise familiar faces on my first day of of law school, there were some similarities. I chose a seat in my first class and, being several minutes early, dropped my bag and hurried to the restroom. When I got back, my professor had arrived, and watched me walk to my deposited things.
“Could you move to the front? This is a small class.”
I nodded quickly and gathered my stuff, moving as quietly and unobtrusively as possible toward the front. When I sat down next to a tall girl with dark curly hair who had my same nervous look about her, I had a sense of deja vu. Much like it must have been on that first day of kindergarten, I smiled with relief. I smiled at her, and stuck out my hand.
“Hi, I’m Bonnie.”