Ontario Law Student, Class of 2014
All my life I have known loneliness, difference, fringes. But, law school carves new wounds in my worn skin. As a half-black, half-white woman, I know too well how to survive as an outsider. Quick. Hide my sexual attraction to women. Hide my hatred of fact patterns. Hide the violence and poverty in my youth. Quicker. Hide my mounting $100 000 debt-load. Hide my inept hold of SCC decisions. No one can know. If they find out, they’ll throw me out of Osgoode. If they find out, I’ll go back to high heels & push-up bras, 14 hour days, and tips tips tips. If they find out, they’ll balk at my stupidness and the stitches coming open on my scars. No can know.
At Osgoode, no one is like me. I have eight brothers and sisters – two of whom have been hospitalized for suicide attempts. I grew up in a small town, so far North cars leak orange electric cords. My mother was a Trinidadian woman with a thick upturned accent and my father, an Irish carpenter from Northern, Ontario. I relate to artists and addicts. I was viciously beaten by my mother, and after, my “parents” at various foster homes. At 21, I became the guardian of my fifteen-year-old sister, and as a parent, I feel lost and useless. I have failed her, just as I will fail at Osgoode.
Here, everyone is smarter than me. I used to be the smartest person in every room. Everyone is beautiful, asks better questions, quicker, more efficient, more focused, and spare charisma rolls off them like golden goop. Did I mention their resumes are sprawling and embossed? Everyone is better – in every possible way. I can’t compete. I don’t belong.
I must succeed. This is my only chance. My family is counting on me. I have invested everything. I must get a B+ average. Without it, I won’t get a job. Without a job, I can’t repay my debt. I don’t have parents who will take me in. I have nowhere to go. If I fail, I will be homeless.
Exams are approaching. I am not prepared. Much of what I read, I am not sure I fully understand. Everyone has a firmer grasp on the material. I need A’s. NEED. No one understands. My peers have worked at the UN, speak multiple languages, have shiny white skin and perfect teeth and they speak in elongated bouncy sentences. Their parents are doctors or lawyers or judges or all three. They network and they have nicknames for Supreme Court judges. They study in groups or pairs and they smile a lot. Every day, I am busy trying not to fall apart. When I picture the blank screen in the exam room and the clock with the time running out and the unending fact pattern – I feel gritty all over. How did I get here? When did this happen? No one understands.
PAUSE. BREATHE. REBOOT.
She understands me. It is safe here. She listens and she nods. Words are uprooted like hard cancerous wads. In the middle of the counselling session at Osgoode, tears sway my sight and I lose track of the unending list of things I need to finish. There is a quiet growing – spreading through me – taking hold in my feet and the tips of my fingers. She reminds me that I am not alone. She reminds me that I have earned my spot at Osgoode. She reminds me to honor myself, my journey, and all the barriers I have torn down. She reminds me that I am loved. I hear myself say out loud, though I am surprised it is my voice so certain and proud, “I can do this.”
Here, in this warm chair with Kleenexes an arm’s length away, I learn strategies to keep the fear at bay. The counselling office is on campus, across from the library. When the tort cases, property law assignments and Law Students with Super-Powers empty me out, I find myself here. The isolation lifts like a vase and I begin to flower. Sometimes, I even feel the heat of the sun after, and I smile like the others, if only for a minute.
Counseling at Osgoode saved my life. It was the period at the end of my sentences. It was the ceiling that kept everything from collapsing in. You see, law school is a maze of switch-knives and dark pockets. Counseling showed me the map to the open air, the fresh water. Without it, I would still be caught deep inside the darkest parts of myself, afraid of exposure and walled in from otherness. It will never be easy. But, it can be easier. Counselling was the difference for me and it can be for you.