The Road Not Taken

Kate Flora here, having just gotten off a plane from Boston to Washington, D.C. Being among the business crowd, with their briefcases and their suits and their blackberries and cell phones grown like appendages into the webbing of their hands reminded me that, had my life not taken a different turn, I could easily have been one of them.

Certain I started out to be one of them. I spent my first two years floundering around after college trying to find a decent job with my shiny new degree in English from Tufts University (actually Jackson College, the smaller, more selective part of Tufts for women). During that time, I left one job that I enjoyed (editing an alumni magazine) because my boss started chasing me around the desk. Then I got a job working at Tufts in the alumni office, only to discover that the guys from my class who were also working in alumni affairs were getting paid $2000 a year more than I was. That led to a sex discrimination complaint against the university, which led to a mysterious staff cut of–you guessed it–one. Me. And that led to law school, to be sure it never happened to me again, and to protect others.

After three years at Northeastern, in a class that was 50% women while other law school deans were still able to count their female students on their fingers and toes, I got my dream job of working for the Maine Attorney General. I worked in Human Services, chasing down deadbeat dads whose children had to rely on the state for support, bringing abused and neglected children into state custody, and generally being the girl in the white hat. I went on to represent the Human Rights Commission, various boards like the Board of Registration in Medicine, writing legislative opinions, and working on the Maine Indian lawsuits.

I did get up in the morning and put on my suit. I carried the briefcase my father had given me for graduation. I did drive down to Boston to observe the Mashpee Trials, and fly to Washington, D.C. to do research on early Indian treaties at the National Archives. It was very glamorous. I stayed in a fleabag hotel with dead mice in the corridor. I watched Judge Skinner snooze on the bench as James St. Clair held forth in the courtroom in Boston. I got up at the crack of dawn and drove to courtrooms all over Maine. I learned to lurk in the parking lot to see what vehicle the deadbeat arrived in, so that when he got on the stand I could ask: How did you get to court this morning. Far too often, the guy who wouldn’t feed or clothe his kids had arrived in a brand new, expensive truck.

Once, driving on an icy winter day in a ridiculous Plymouth Fury from the motor pool, the car from hell in winter conditions, I sat and spun my wheels instead of entering the intersection when my light turned green, and was saved from a heavily loaded logging truck that ran the red light.

I loved my job. Loved representing the people of Maine. And planned to eventually become a judge. But I had the small problem of a serious boyfriend, also a lawyer, who lived in Boston and wouldn’t leave. That eventually led to living in Massachusetts, where I always felt like I should have a sign above that Mass. license plate that said, “NOT REALLY.” The way Maine people feel about people “from away” helps explain why I’m so happy to be on Bailey Island.

The fork in the road came when I had two small boys at home and a job as a private practice attorney. One morning, driving them to daycare so I could go and have a nasty fight about blistered paint on a tennis court, I had an epiphany. I was sitting at a traffic light, thinking that sensible adults should have been able to work this thing out without paying lawyers to speak for them, and decided that my priorities were misplaced. I was paying someone else to care for my kids so I could do stupid things like this.

That led to the decision to stay home. Which led to the scary thought: But I’ve always worked. What will I do? Which led to starting a mystery, ten years in the unpublished writer’s corner, and now, twelve published books, twelve short stories, interviews in literary magazines, and nearly three decades sitting alone, in my chair, staring at a screen. It’s a job I can do in my nightgown and my phone rarely rings.

Do I sometimes wonder about the choice I’ve made? Of course. I still miss the law, but I also love being a story teller. And the beauty of having gone to law school is that I don’t have to be glued to a cell phone, carry a briefcase, and catch a lot of airplane colds to still have contacts with the law. When I need someone to answer a legal question I’ve got all those classmates, and all those former colleagues in the AG’s office and elsewhere. When I have a legal question, I dig out my cell phone, put on my suit, and take a lawyer to lunch. I explain my character’s situation, and get ready to take notes. And it turns out that they think it’s a hoot to get to be the lawyer for one of my characters.


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3 Responses to The Road Not Taken

  1. Deanna says:

    Great article. Life sometimes leads you to where you should be.
    Congratulations to Paul Doiron for his nomination in the 2012 Reviewer’s Choice Awards!!!!

  2. lil Gluckstern says:

    What a wonderful post, and how courageous of you. (And how talented). It’s a wonderful story of what women can do!

  3. sandra gardner says:

    great story, Kate! You sound so sensible– in figuring out what was really important to you relatively early on and deciding to do it. If I have any regrets at all, is that it took me a long time to figure out my priorities and get to writing seriously, starting with journalism.
    Good for you! And good for those of us who get to enjoy your great mysteries.
    sandy gardner

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