Looking back, Laura and Jillian Manning were the only employers who ever really treasured her.
They trusted her and treated her like an equal.
There was no junior partnership at their office. There was work and the appreciation of work.
When Teresa mentioned to Jillian Manning how she didn’t mind starting from the bottom to prove herself she waved this humble idea with a huff.
“How many times are you going to start from the bottom? You’ve been a junior partner for too long. You’ll be a partner”.
Teresa found her confidence back. The Manning women were a couple of tough lawyers who had a very exclusive clientele and offices in the best part of town. They charged astronomical fee for their time and expertise and were proud of their name. Teresa learned that the first thing that she needed to do was find her confidence back in order to be appreciated by anyone.
April saw her mother happier than she had ever been. She asked and Teresa couldn’t really answer the question. It seemed stupid that her job made her so sad in the past and it seemed just as stupid that something as basic and essential as a job was making her happier now. She laughed when April asked if she was seeing a new man. She told her that her new job kept her so busy that no man would be able to accept that he came after her work.
Teresa was given independent cases from the beginning. This ensured confidence in the courtroom. Jillian had trained many women before she trained her daughter, Laura. Laura was Jillian’s true prodigy, in every way. Sometimes Teresa wondered what it would be like to be raised by a woman like Jillian.
Teresa had never had strong female role models. She had always been her own light and guide. Her mother was a second generation immigrant who had worked small jobs and had too many kids from two men to pay any attention to how Teresa was doing. When Teresa told her family that she worked as a lawyer they couldn’t completely grasp the idea. Then they finally did when she brought her mom to her offices one day.
But more than anything she loved how she could be her own child’s mentor. April took her advice and applied it. From men to career to clothing to employment issues, she took Teresa’s advice fervently and Teresa gave it freely. After all this was a big reason for her relentless head-first, repeated dive-backs into life. To be a model for her child.
Jillian Manning and Teresa grew close. She mentored her for much more than just law. She made her realize that building her own practice should be her ultimate goal and prize. She encouraged her to look for office spaces. She went to look at one that Teresa liked particularly.
“It’s nice”, the older Manning said after critically appraising the office space, “but it’s not warm. Lawyers should have warm offices. Most attorneys have very cold offices and I find that to be an immediate mood killer”.
“I felt the same way”, Teresa said, “but I didn’t know if to trust myself”, she laughed self-deprecatingly, “You know how I find trusting my instinct so hard”.
Jillian continued to inspect the office. Then she abruptly said,
“Why do you think that is?”
Teresa felt a little sadness inside. “May be because I’ve been passed up for others all my life. May be because life hasn’t been fair to me”.
Jillian nodded her head. “I think you’re right. But let me ask you something. Would you have doubted yourself if things had always gone your way? You would’ve been the same person that you’re today. Would you still have been just as doubtful of yourself?”
Teresa thought for a few minutes. Then she smiled and said,
“I wouldn’t know, would I?”
“Teresa! Life teaches us lessons so we can be successful. What we do is become cautious because of life lessons. Which is good. But there is something like over cautiousness. That kills our spirit and our oomph. You don’t want to kill your oomph. That is all you. That makes Teresa, Teresa. If that oomph is lost then you might as well be working in a corner store, living off of base salary, doing a job that you will likely not love”.
“You make it sound like I’m so special”.
“But you are”, Jillian looked at her with her ice-blue eyes with deep wrinkles in their crevices, “There is only one you. Only you are you. Anyone who fired you or broke up with you won’t find another you. They might find a better or worse partner but that won’t be you. So you are special.”
Teresa smiled. Jillian and Laura weren’t warm women. They never talked more than needed. They didn’t have large social lives. They did have a very promising career. And sometimes Teresa thought that it was serendipity that she had met them. They had shown her the way through life and work.
Teresa signed an office space in another part of town a week later. She didn’t take anyone with her to make the decision for her. Jillian was proud of her.
Her practice was thriving in the first week and was a featured practice soon. She went to a local lawyers’ association annual dinner and before she knew it she had come face to face with James.
He smiled like a friend. Teresa missed him. It had been five years but she missed him. She hadn’t seriously dated anyone and had thought of him often.
“Heard you have your own offices now?” He asked with the same friendliness in his voice.
“You heard right”.
“You never called me or returned my calls or my text messages. Didn’t you want to know how I was doing?”
“No”, she said truthfully.
He laughed. The same infectious laughter, the same easy manner, the same boyish charm.
“Teresa! Can we have dinner tomorrow? I’ve really missed you”.
Teresa wanted to say yes but she couldn’t. James’s sudden interest in her bothered her. She had very few people on her way up who actually rooted for her. He wasn’t one of them.
“Why would you want to date me? You should date a robot. Who doesn’t cry when it’s passed up for a well-deserved position. Who doesn’t bother if things are unfair to it. Who doesn’t care if it has to model its life for a child. That’s the thing you’d have to take to dinner.”
She walked away, leaving him in stunned silence.
Teresa could hear April running into the kitchen.
“Mom!” She started breathlessly then went to the fridge to get a cup of water. She looked excited and her eyes were bright.
“I confronted my boss.” She said after catching her breath. “I confronted him and said I deserved to be promoted to senior editor. He didn’t know what to say. Then he refused. I resigned”.
“You resigned, April?” Teresa said disbelievingly.
“Yes I did, Mom. But I had already spoken with a lawyer and I’m going to sue them for promising me the position four times and then after I met deadlines and did things that were certainly outside of my job description, they discarded me for someone else. I have also told my boss that I’ve cleared my desk out and that he can look for someone else to attend to all the creative work I was doing for his four magazines for the salary of one. My lawyer says I have a case. Thanks, Mom. I’m so glad I talked to you. I couldn’t have done it without having you as an example. The way you left that Patterson’s job gave me so much strength. I asked myself why I can’t have so much integrity! Why I can’t value myself! If my mom had so much integrity when she was younger than me then why can’t I do it? That gave me so much strength, Mom”.
Teresa’s looked at her daughter, gobsmacked.
Integrity? That was never even something that she had set out to model for April. She had consciously worked to show her child grit, resilience, work ethic, consistency, tenacity but integrity? That one April picked up on her own. When was she showing integrity?
As if from around her she heard Martha’s light, soothing voice,
“Your child knows what you do for her. Only she knows. Sometimes even you might not know what she’s learning from you”.
She heard Jillian’s deep, booming voice,
“Teresa! There’s something about you. You look like an easily scared person when you speak but you convince people without presenting evidence that you’re speaking the truth. That’s a rare quality. You come across as a person of integrity and that’s a soul thing. You have it in your soul”.
She heard Laura, who had become a friend over the years, laughing with Teresa while they both watched the waves crashing into their feet,
“Teresa! Only you could’ve told my mom what was wrong with her reasoning in that case. She trusts you more than she trusts me. She says there’s something about you that makes people want to know you and believe you”.
She felt a warm glow in her heart. Some days she missed a man, a carefree life and a house full of more kids. But if the journey through her life gave her the integrity that her daughter was shaping her life after, then she wouldn’t trade it for anything.