When most people choose a school, a major selling point is usually not that there is one traffic light in the town. Yup, that was the first clue that my decision-making skills may be slightly defective. I chose Vermont Law School, which, no, is not at UVM in Burlington. It is the only law school in Vermont, and is located in the booming metropolis of South Royalton. Never heard of it? Hmm. South Royalton is a village about 20 minutes from anywhere decent, like Woodstock, or New Hampshire. Its claim to fame is being the birthplace of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church. He was born ¼ mile from the sheep farm I lived on, but I never drove the ¼ mile to check it out, because the nightlife there was just AMAZING. Even though we were 3 hours from Montreal, who needed to go there, when you had this:
This was what downtown looked like from October to April. Just in case you are thinking this is a joke, I want to point out that it is not as bumpkinville as it sounds. The building on the left of the green is the only bank in town, to the right is the post office, and behind that is the only bar in town (which was an excellent dive bar). The strip mall contained the only pizza joint, the laundromat, the old lady hair salon, and, after three years, I never set foot in the other shops so couldn’t tell you what they were. To the right was the law school, and then over the bridge you came upon the only traffic light and the road out of town. Or to the only inn (with a decent restaurant) and the maple sugar pancake place. That’s it. For three years. And yes, I hiked through two feet of snow to get to class in winter.
I chose this school because after working in Manhattan as a paralegal for a year, I figured I’d get my degree and make the big bucks. My plan to do this (cue the bad decision-making), was to go to the number one environmental law school in the country so inevitably President Al Gore would come knocking on my door and ask me to spearhead the effort to save California’s river otters.
It was a pretty lonely place. I made one friend there my first year, and that was my only friend the entire 3 years. I was ready to quit the first summer until I heard my archnemesis brother-in-law told my family I would quit. Well….$100,000 in loans be damned, I was going to prove him wrong. To make matters worse, days before my second year started I started dating my ex-husband and was engaged three months later. So really these poor decisions cost me $100,000 and 13 years of my life, plus the parole dealing with the stigma of a terrible marriage. In hindsight, I could have sold black market Sudafed to crystal meth dealers and received a shorter sentence.
It was not so bad though. Of all the lawyers I know, I don’t think any of them held classes along a riverbank because “nature”. I had a field ecology class that held class at the top of the highest peak in the state and tracked black bears. We had composting toilets. My contracts teacher gave away home-grown rosemary plants if you had the right answers in class. My criminal law teacher gave pro bono advice to the Unibomber to save him from the death penalty. My estates professor read a Robert Frost poem before every class. My commencement speaker was the one and only Bernie Sanders. My “thesis” was about the failures of the Canadian fisheries laws and how they caused the collapse of the North Atlantic cod stocks. And there was the added benefit of being so close to the cheap New Hampshire state liquor stores.
I don’t regret the time spent there. I don’t even regret the expense, although being a non-practicing lawyer I really wished I saved $50,000 by going to a state law school. I do regret meeting my ex-husband. He stopped my plans to spend a semester studying aviation law at McGill in Montreal, where I no doubt would have met and married a professional hockey player, and could have reformed Canadian fisheries law and not cared about my student loans. Hell, I could have spent more time in Hanover, NH and found myself a Dartmouth hockey player. That I do regret, every day.
There are many days though when I miss that quiet pace of life in Vermont. I don’t miss driving behind pickup trucks with dead deer staring at me for 20 miles between highway exits. I miss the quiet. I miss the smell of pine trees (and patchouli oil). I miss the “big city” of Burlington, which was like a quaint strip mall with a brick sidewalk and many white people with dreadlocks. I don’t really miss hearing phish and the Greatful Dead everywhere. I still wear my Birkenstocks because they are really fucking comfortable on my flat feet.
I hated being a lawyer, but I believe that this experience was important to teach me a lesson. Don’t ever do something because someone says you can’t do it. I could vacation there, but I didn’t need to do time for 13 years.