69. Love and War

69. Love and War

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Happily Ever After

Love and War

People always want to know who won.

When I tell them my husband and I met when we were opposing attorneys on a case, that’s always their first question.

“Who won?”

“You decide,” I say. Then I tell them the rest.

I was an aggressive young associate, newly hired by my law firm and anxious to prove myself. John was a seasoned pro who worked for another law firm in the same building. When I found out he was opposing counsel, I was nervous. I’d seen his name on countless appellate decisions and knew he was far more adept at this type of case than I was. I decided that what I lacked in skill and experience, I would make up for with hard work and bravado.

I devised a campaign of daily badgering: discovery requests, legal motions, correspondence, phone calls. If I wasn’t satisfied with how quickly he responded, I walked down the hall and pestered him in person. I was relentless — a terrier yipping at his heels. My client and my boss loved it.

But somewhere along the way I started to like him. Maybe it was the way he overlooked my obvious lack of sophistication and treated me like a serious adversary. Maybe it was our verbal sparring that often left me walking away with a stupid grin, as though we’d been flirting instead of arguing. Whatever the reason, after a few months on the case, I decided my adversary was a decent guy. If we’d met under difference circumstances, I might want to see where the flirting could go. But since we were opposing counsel, ethics prevented us from becoming personally involved. Romance was out of the question.

One Friday afternoon, John left his office without giving me a set of documents I needed to review over the weekend. I tracked him down at home and demanded he turn over the materials to me that day.

“All right,” he said, “I’ll have them at my house tonight.”

Skeptical, but not wanting to back down, I said, “Fine. I’ll be there at 7:00.”

That night changed everything.

Some people claim an instant familiarity with a place or a stranger, convinced they must have been there or known each other before. Walking into John’s house, what I felt was not déjà vu, but more a sense of how things could be. I felt instantly at home, as I never have any place before or since.

The house was small, with wood floors and walls decorated with a strange combination of quilts and antlers. The furniture looked lived-in without being shabby. The place was modest, warm and comfortable — not at all like some of the palatial showcases I’d seen other lawyers strut through.

Seeing him in that environment, I felt more comfortable around John, too. Even though it was his house, it felt like neutral ground. I didn’t have to act so tough anymore. I sank onto his couch and felt myself relax.

“So what’s your story?” I asked, and he gave me a brief sketch of his life.

My answer to the same question was much briefer: “Work. That’s all I do.”

“I used to be like you,” John said. “Trust me — it can’t last. You need other things.” He told me he was happiest when he was backpacking or sailing, running the power tools in his workshop, or simply puttering in his vegetable garden on the weekends. What a curious idea. I had always thought weekends were for more work.

I wished I were there under other circumstances. I wanted to talk longer. I wanted to know him better. But eventually duty called. I stood and held out my hand for the papers.

“I don’t have them yet. Let’s take a ride.”

He drove me in his nine-year-old Honda station wagon (more bonus points — a modest car) to a house a few miles away.

“Come on,” John coaxed. I followed him to the door.

John’s client answered. It’s hard to say who was more shocked, the client or me.

“You know Elizabeth,” John said. His client raised an eyebrow, but politely shook my hand. Then he handed John the papers I’d wanted. John handed them to me.

Years later John confessed that what he’d really wanted to say when his client opened the door was, “Look! I have captured their queen!”

And it was true, he had.

My way had always been to rush into a relationship then see it flame out a month or so later. That couldn’t happen this time. Being on opposite sides of a case forced me to get to know him slowly. I had the chance to see his character in action — his integrity, loyalty, honesty. By the time our romance began, I was already sold.

We had two choices: Wait until the case was over to pursue a relationship, or plunge ahead. If we weren’t going to wait, one of us would have to withdraw from the case.

The next day I told my boss. He promptly fired me.

John’s client still swears he paid John to date me, just to get me off the case. He says they both knew I was trouble.

Another lawyer took over for me and eventually the case settled. By then John and I had already been married three years. Good thing we didn’t wait.

John and I have been married ten years now. We still live in the house where I felt so at home that night. There are still quilts and antlers on the wall, and we’ve only just now replaced the couch where I sat one Friday evening and wished I could know this man better. I still badger my husband at times, and he digs in his heels when I’m wrong. Ours is a marriage of negotiations and compromise, of flirting when we seem to be arguing. A worthy opponent, it turns out, makes a wonderful spouse.

So who won?

No doubt about it: I did.

 

~Elizabeth Rand
Chicken Soup for the Working Woman’s Soul

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