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Jacob Morgendorffer, Esq.
California's Northern Coast, Summer 1978
Helen's long brown hair was swirling around her head as the old pick-up truck rattled its way down the two-lane country road. The beaded leather band across her forehead doing little to keep wildly fluttering tresses from her eyes but the cooling breeze felt too good to consider winding up the window.
"I've been thinking," she said turning her face to her husband, Jake.
He inwardly braced himself. 'I've been thinking' was Helen's usual opening salvo announcing a major life change for the two of them. It was the harbinger of them moving to a commune in Colorado after they graduated from Middleton College. It presaged their move a few years later to Oregon before landing in California. She declared that, despite her earlier tirades against the institution, she wanted to marry him by uttering those words first. The phrase prefaced her proclamation a few months ago that she was disenchanted with the barely scrapping by, hand-to-mouth lifestyle they had been living for the last six years and that she was going to get on with her life by getting a law degree.
"Oh," he carefully said. "What?"
"I think you should go to law school with me," she replied.
Jake burst into laughter. Of all the things she could have said, few could have been more surprising.
"I'm serious," she said.
Jake swerved slightly to avoid a pothole. "C'mon, Helen. Laying aside the fact we don't have the bread for both of us to go to school, can you seriously see me in a courtroom. Would you want an idiot like me defending you?"
Helen rapped him on the shoulder with enough force to make him yelp. "Dammit, Helen," Jake snapped. "That hurt and in case you haven't noticed, I'm driving."
"You-are-not-an-idiot," she ground out. "I wouldn't have married a moron so stop saying that about yourself."
"Just ask the Old Man," he retorted.
Helen rolled her eyes. "Jake, you're twenty-eight. Your father, Buxton Ridge, all of that was a long time back. Let it go. "
Jake sighed. God knew he wanted to move on, just forget everything that happened before he was eighteen but he could not. Any little mistake he made instantly brought back the memories of Mad Dog Morgendorffer, his father, or his main tormentor from military school, Corporal Ellenbogen ridiculing him endlessly. They clung to his psyche like barnacles.
"Can you honestly see me in a courtroom," Jake repeated.
"No, I can't," replied Helen calmly.
"Then why do you think I should become a lawyer?" he incredulously asked slowing down as they approached their home.
She waited until he made the turn into the driveway of their small cabin. "You've been helping me prep for the LSAT," she replied as he turned off the truck. "You know as much as I do."
Jake hopped out and grabbed the box of groceries from the truck bed. "Yeah but if you don't think I'd make a good lawyer why in the world should I go to law school?"
Helen slid out of her side. "What I said was that could not see you in a courtroom, sweetie," she clarified. "I don't think that you would be very good at verbal arguments but the fact of the matter is that most attorneys spend their entire careers without ever appearing before a judge. You have other traits, tenacity, diligence, patience, empathy, an eye for detail, and a basic kindness that I think would work well for you in the legal profession or are you that enthused about working as a fishing boat roustabout?"
"I'm a deckhand," Jake retorted.
"For how much longer?" she asked. "The fishing industry is dying around here. So is timber. We are going to have to move soon anyway so why not move forward betting on our skills instead of looking for just another job somewhere?"
Jake followed Helen through the door to their home. There was not much to see inside the tiny house. Through an open door of a small bedroom, Jake spied a large bed and an old bureau. A tattered sofa of questionable comfort, a coffee table and a dinette set all but filled the slightly larger room that served as parlor and kitchen.
They had rejected the materialism of their parents but Jake could not stop the wave of depression that washed over him. The efforts of four years of college and six years of work yielded so little.
Helen watched him. She knew that her comments on the bleak economy of the area hit home with Jake. He worried endlessly about money. A decade of exposure to the ideas of the counterculture had in reality done little to change Jake's basic conservativeness. He agreed philosophically with her about the equality of the sexes but in his heart-of-hearts, he still saw it as a man's responsibility to take care of his family. That they were struggling just to make ends meet gnawed at him.
"I was thinking about getting a MBA," he finally said laying the box on the kitchenette's counter. "After you finished law school. By going back to school at night part time."
"Not a bad idea," Helen said. "Coupled with a law degree, it would open a lot of doors."
Jake shook his head sending fragments of a half-formed fantasy into oblivion. "Forget it. The bottom line is that with what we have saved and with me working my butt off, and you getting a part-time job, we might, just might mind you, be able to get you through school with the help of some financial aid but there is just no way we can afford the both of us in school at the same time."
Helen began to put the groceries away. Jake waited for a moment before starting to haul foodstuffs from the box also. He did not like stepping on Helen's plan but the realities were what they were. They had and/or could borrow or earn x dollars, twice that amount was simply out of the question.
He looked over at his wife but she remained silent, refusing to meet his eye.
"Just great," he thought. "Now's she's mad at me but what the hell can I do? Rob a bank?"
The two of them soon emptied the box of food. Jake broke the seals and folded it flat. Without a word, he went outside taking it around to the back of the cabin where they stored the recyclables. Dropping the flattened box down, he stared out at the woods. A couple of rabbits were feeding at the forest's edge while the vague shadow of something larger moved along a trail deeper into the trees. The urge to grab a backpack and follow whatever it was seized Jake but after a tentative step, he stopped and gathered himself. However, Helen chose to react, whether it be an argument or the silent treatment, he would brave it. After watching the shadow disappear into the wood, Jake turned back to the house.
Helen was sitting on the sofa when he reentered the cabin. She saw him plaster a small smile on his face but he could not force the wariness from his eyes.
"Jake, if there was a way that we could afford the two of us in law school at the same time, would you consider it?" she asked.
Jake sat down beside her. "Yeah, I would," he answered taking her hand. "But I'm sorry, honey, we just cannot afford it even at a public university."
"There is a way," she replied.
"Oh?" he asked.
Helen took a deep breath. "My father. He would pay for my part."
Jake blinked several times. Helen's relationship with her father was not as bad as was his with Mad Dog, they were, at least, still speaking to each other but it was a point of honor with her that she had not asked her father for anything since her college graduation no matter how dire were their financial straits. For her to consider such a thing astonished Jake. She really wanted him to attend law school with her.
Jake raised her hand to his lips gently kissing the knuckles. "Are you sure to want to do that?" he asked.
"Want to? No," she replied. "But neither do I want us scrapping by ten years from now either."
She leaned back onto the cushions before continuing in a tired voice. "I thought that we were pioneers, you know. That's what I get for attending a Mennonite college. I should not have embraced their ideals,"
"What are you talking about?" Jake asked.
Helen ruefully smiled. "I really thought that people would see how we were living, how we were adopting peace and love, rejecting violence and greed, the communal sharing, the simplicity of having and wanting only what was truly needed to get by, living in harmony with the earth then they would follow our example into a brighter future but we couldn't even keep our commune together for two years."
"Constant harassment by The Man drove everyone away," Jake snarled.
"That didn't help," Helen agreed. "But what killed it was too many wanted a free ride. They professed to be against cupidity but in reality they were plain lazy. They wanted someone else to work to provide them with food and shelter while they lay around smoking grass."
Jake nodded slowly. The commune was a dream for Helen but the truth for him was that he never liked it. He knew that he was little more than a poseur. Under the shaggy hair and sideburns, he remained a small town boy from Pennsylvania who was more at home at a county fair than an anti-government protest or in a room full of stoned hippies.
He pulled her legs onto his lap. Flipping her shoes off, he began to massage her feet. Helen purred in pleasure. After ten hours standing behind a counter at a health food store, Jake's fingers were better than sex and chocolate covered strawberries.
"You don't have to crawl to your old man for me," he said quietly.
"Not for you, for us," she replied unhurriedly her concentration more on the aching leaving her feet than on her husband's voice. "And it's not crawling. Every time I talk to Dad he has let me know that he is willing to pay for my return to school as soon as I give up the 'bohemian nonsense' as he puts it."
She did not add that her father's proclamation also always included the statement that if she was tired of being shackled to a pinko flake he would pay for a divorce.
Jake nodded slowly as his hands moved up to her calves. "If he's willing to pay for your half, I guess we can give it a try," he said less than excitedly.
Once again he would follow where Helen lead.