By Virginia Amis
We waited in the formal living room, many women dressed in light summer dresses that showed toned and tanned arms, men in slacks and linen jackets. Elaine and Bill had invited us to share a magnum of French wine, purchased their first year of marriage forty years ago. This was their celebration, a time to drink the good wine.
I sat down on the edge of the sofa, sipping the less-expensive wine Elaine was serving until the big moment, wishing the festivities would begin. Elaine and Bill were my good friends, but I barely knew the other couples. I worked while most of the women present played tennis and golf. I had not been asked to join their lunches or club meetings. We recognized each other enough to nod and smile, enough to know who was married to whom. The men stood together on the other side of the room, disregarding us.
I wished it were time to leave.
A tall, sandy-haired man, a decade older than me, walked by and touched my arm. All the other women looked up to acknowledge him. He spoke only to me.
“Hey, partner!” he said.
Heads turned. I lifted my glass and smiled. “Hi, Jim.”
A brunette woman wearing a mauve sleeveless dress cut narrow at the waist nudged me in my side. I felt sure she did not know my name. Her head tilted to the left as she spoke. “Partner?”
* * *
Growing up in a housing project in Pittsburgh in the late 1960s, I shared a room with three sisters. Our three brothers shared another bedroom. Baby sister slept in a crib in my parents’ room. We managed with one bathroom.
“We are so crowded I have to go outside just to change my mind,” my mother quipped.
Even so, one dream managed to grow through the sidewalk cracks. My father told it to me nearly every day.
“When you grow up, you will get a scholarship and go to college.”
We often had no money for the electric bill. Mother always fed us children before she took a bite. I wore the same dress for all of fifth-grade, a red wool jumper, pretending it was a school uniform. Joining Girl Scouts was out of the question. I watched my friends carry their flutes and clarinets home from school and wished I could collect enough pop bottles to afford to rent an instrument.
Even so, I saw myself attending college because my father said it would happen.
My mother was too busy raising children to guide my early schooling and my father’s union jobs had him working nights, sleeping most days. Older sisters stepped in to parent but, soon enough, they were busy attending to their own lives. I nearly flunked eleventh-grade chemistry and my math scores were a disaster. Classmates talked about what colleges they would attend. I looked at my Algebra grades and wondered who would want me.
Nevertheless, I clung to my father’s words. College was my future.
At some point, the Universe slapped me on the side of my head and told me to take charge of my schooling if I wanted college in my future. I listened, worked harder, saw good results. The University of Pittsburgh offered me some scholarship funds, but not for the local campus. If I wanted their money, I had to attend the Bradford Campus, several hours north, and pay for my own room and board. Summer wages would not cover that expense and my parents had no money to help. I tearfully declined.
For the first time, I doubted my father’s words.
The next ten years saw me stopping and starting my undergraduate degree–stopping when the school grants were not enough to cover tuition, books, rent, and food, and starting when I thought I could afford a few classes. To support myself, I found jobs in a greenhouse, a furniture store, and as a fitness instructor, always with an eye on returning to my studies. When I could afford to take classes, I went first to a local community college, accessible by bus, for morning classes and worked every afternoon. When I could afford a car, I attended a university, taking one or two classes per semester.
Year by year I chipped away at degree requirements, finally finishing, then delighted when I was admitted to law school. Attending at night and working during the day, I finished my coursework and passed the Bar Exam. My fellow students and I were at a bar waiting for results, drinking our courage, when we heard the good news. Jubilant, but still poor, we toasted our success with the house wine, while inside my head my father’s words rang true once more.
* * *
“Yes, ‘Partner,’ “ I said to the confused woman, whose expression indicated she still did not understand. “I’m a lawyer. Jim is my law partner.”
Four years ago, when Jim’s prestigious firm first offered me a position, he told me he would be pleased if I were the first woman partner of the firm. Just that week his prophesy had come true.
The confused woman’s mouth might have stayed in the shape of an “O” had Elaine not tapped her wine glass for everyone’s attention.
It was time to celebrate with the good wine.
© 2023 Virginia Amis
VIRGINIA Amis has published stories in Perspectives Magazine, Reminisce Extra, 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022 Scribes Valley Publishing Anthologies, Beyond the Norm, Where Tales Grip, and Story Harvest, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, For Women Who Roar, several Writing It Real Anthologies and in 101words.com. Her characters are inspired by family, the extraordinary people she has had the pleasure to meet, and by the beauty of natural surroundings near her Pacific Northwest home.
Virginia — what an incredibly moving essay about will-power, determination, and the refusal of allowing our situations limit our ambitions. Your impressive low-key reaction to being referred as partner is absolutely fantastic! You piece made me somewhat teary given that in so many ways, I managed similar impediments — of course, with but ONE sibling. Wonderful writing, V!
Thank you, Marlene. Your writing inspires me!