Lorna clicked her office door shut, confident no one would open it without first knocking, sat down at her desk, shut her laptop, put her head down on her crossed arms and sobbed. Her shoulders shook so hard that they jiggled the antique pearl earrings that she hadn’t taken out since she inherited them from Big Momma two years ago. Big Momma didn’t have much, but she ensured that each grandchild was left with something special to remember her by. One of the worst “whippins” of Lorna’s life was when Big Momma caught her playing dress-up and wearing Big Momma’s pearl earrings—the only piece of real jewelry that she had. So, it was particularly special when they arrived in the mail a week after they buried Big Momma at the Eastside Cemetery – the same place where just about every Black person who ever lived in Tulu, North Carolina was buried. Lorna wondered, “What would Big Momma say were she alive: her Grandbaby, the first one in their family to even go to college, was just named the first Black Partner of Glackman, Steinman & Polk.”
Glackman, Steinman & Polk or GSP was the third largest law firm in the world. Lorna had started there as soon as she graduated from Harvard Law School. She moved to Atlanta owning only the two suits that she had bought from Nordstorm at their half yearly sale, owing $200,000 in student loans, and accompanied by only her 11-year-old Honda Accord and her best friend, Tish. The night before her first day, Tish spent four hours unwinding the braids Lorna had worn for the past six years, put a Dark & Lovely relaxer in her hair, and cut it into a cute, “corporate-looking bob” as they watched reruns of Martin and drank peach wine coolers.
They didn’t even bother going to their respective rooms that night, but crashed right there on the couch like they used to during their days at Tuskegee University, when as many as eight girls would somehow fit on two twin size dorm beds, talking well into the night until they all fell asleep.
Surprisingly, she wasn’t nervous when she first arrived at the impressive all glass and marble building the next day. She had been the valedictorian of her high school, graduated summa cum laude from Tuskegee University and was the Articles Editor for the Harvard Law Review. She knew that she had earned her place. She approached the security guard, a White balding man in his mid 50s, outfitted in a dark blue uniform, who checked people’s badges to see if they had rightful access into the building.
“Good Morning. I’m Lorna Johnson and I’m new and need to get outfitted with an identification card.”
“Morning there, Mr. Hartford,” the security card bellowed with a large smile out looking at someone over Lorna’s shoulder. “Did you see that game last night? I think this just may be our year,” he chuckled.
While he talked, more of the building’s inhabitants flowed past him, sticking their badges under some contraption and then getting a passing wave from the security guard. The security guard continued his conversation for a bit longer about the Falcons game and then finally looked at Lorna.
“No way you are getting in here without a security badge,” he said, entirely too loudly. Passer-bys begin to look at Lorna. Feeling out of place, her first reaction is to apologize and re-explain the situation, but she remembered something that Big Momma used to always say, “Don’t try to reason with someone who enjoys being unreasonable.“
Lorna looked at his name badge and evenly spoke, “As I said before, my name is Lorna Johnson. Today is my first day as an Associate at GSP. I need a badge. Julie Yeagman was supposed to send you my paperwork. If I am not mistaken, I see it right there on your desk. Now, let’s handle this promptly, so I won’t be late on my first day. We all know how important first impressions are, now don’t we John Williamson.
Within 5 minutes, Lorna’s picture was taken and she was upstairs ready to start her first day at GSP.
She couldn’t believe that was 10 years ago. She couldn’t believe that she was now a Partner.
She knew that the staff was expecting to toast her and the other 3 newly named partners in the lobby in 15 minutes, but couldn’t pull herself together. Why didn’t she feel happy?
Lorna picked up her head and pulled the cosmetic bag out of her tan Helmer Bag and began to touch up her makeup. She dialed her parents number—one that hadn’t changed in 50 years—and heard her mom’s voice after the first ring, “Johnson residence,” she chirped.
“Oh, Hi SugarFoot! I was just thinking about you cause Judge Judy just went off. These folks need to stop buying people cell phones. I just don’t understand it. Judge Judy tell ‘em time and time again, but these dummies just keep doing it. It makes no sense. Lord, I guess all we can do is pray for ‘em. Do you ever have to handle cases like that, baby?”
Lorna chuckled to herself. No matter how many times she explained to her mother that she did corporate tax law, her mother always asked her about the various cases on Judge Judy and Divorce Court. One night around 11:00, when Lorna’s phone rang and she saw that it was her mother calling her stomach immediately sunk as she figured that there was some sort of family emergency. Instead, her mother was incensed about some Law & Order episode and wanted Lorna to validate her opinion.
“No mom, I haven’t handled any cell phone cases lately”, Lorna replied. “How are you and Pops?”
“He’s as ornery as ever—saying his hip is bothering him and he can’t go to church. But it seems to me that if he is able to make it to bingo at the fire station he should be able to make it to church. That man! I keep telling him that I’m going to leave him and become a cougar,” then she cracked up at her own joke.
“How you doin’, Sugafoot?” she asked again once she collected herself.
“I’m good, mom. I just called to let you know that I was named Partner at my firm today,” Lorna said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster.
“Oh baby, that’s wonderful!” her mother said in a voice that let Lorna know that her mother knew that it was an accomplishment but wasn’t completely sure what it was. “You be sure to send me all the information, so I can have it put in the church bulletin. I know it’s wrong, but you know that I love bragging on my babies.”
“Okay, momma, I will. I love you.”
“Love you too, Sugafoot.”
The talk with her mother gave Lorna the smile and pep that she needed to go down to the lobby where half of the firm was already gathered. She glided past John Williamson, the security guard without speaking (even 10 years later, Lorna hadn’t forgiven him. She knows her mother would be disappointed) and joined the other three newly named partners at the far end of the lobby. Robert Hastings, the Head of the Atlanta office got up to the podium to make the speech and give the toast. When he got to Lorna, he said, “GSP is committed to diversity. We have long valued the importance of attracting and retaining lawyers of all races, backgrounds and colors and have reached to find them. I remember meeting Lorna ten years ago during law school recruiting. She was a little bit unpolished, but we saw talent there. For ten years we have invested in her, mentored her along, and ensured she was getting good work and opportunities. Our clients have increasingly demanded diversity in their counsel, and we are committed to meeting that demand. Welcome to the Partnership, Lorna!”
And then ended, “Now let’s all raise a glass to all of our new partners.”
Raise our glasses? I want to throw my fucking glass, Lorna thought. I graduated from a better law school with better grades, was on Law Review, and worked twice as many hours as most of you assholes in this room! But, instead she smiled, she accepted the congratulations, and inconspicuously left as soon as she appropriately could.
“Girl, let me tell you about these whack motherfuckers,” she said as soon as Tish answered the phone. Tish had gotten married seven years ago and now had three kids.
“Hold on one minute, girl. Let me put on a movie. Sounds like you need my full attention. Okay. What in the hell is going on?”
Lorna started to tell Tish the story when she interrupted her, “Stop right there—you made Partner! Oh my God! I’m so proud of you, Sis! You so deserve it! Go girl! Whoop! Whoop!” she screamed.
“Thanks girl, but I’m just so pissed off about Hasting’s speech. I feel like I’ve given my life to that place,” Lorna said, and just at that moment she knew why she had been so sad earlier.
“Do not let those assholes steal your joy. How many times have they said some dumb shit like that? Remember that time that partner Steve said something about you being hired based due to Affirmative Action? You let him know that your alma mater, Harvard, and his — Georgia, don’t even recruit the same caliber of kids! You can’t let their ignorance ruin your confidence.
“You are right. Thanks girlfriend. I’ll call you later this week, Lorna said as she was pulling into the driveway of her townhouse. She walked in the door, kicked her shoes off at the door, and immediately went to her room to take off her clothes and put on her pajamas. She grabbed last night’s Chinese Food out of the refrigerator, reheated it, poured herself a large glass of Cabernet in one of her Olivia Pope glasses, and curled up in front of the TV.
“Cheers,” she said before take her first big gulp.