I knew for sure, on that Christmas morning years ago, that there wouldn't be a pony waiting in my backyard when I woke up. While I was young enough to still gaze longingly at every horse in a pasture we passed driving down the highway, I was also old enough to understand that my parents couldn't afford the animal itself, let alone the cost of keeping her.
But I couldn't help it, I still went to bed the night before hoping. Praying that maybe Santa could be real just for this one Christmas Eve. That somehow a miracle would happen. I was still quietly heartsore when I woke up to the usual fare of toys and books and clothes the next day.
This is the nearest feeling I can convey to you all about being a public defender and losing a case.
By the time a case is on appeal (which is the part I do), it's already been lost at trial. Even a really good appellate attorney only wins something like ten percent of the time, and--even while believing with all my heart that due process requires a different result--I can often tell you exactly how I'm going to lose a case before I walk in the courtroom.
But, goshdarnit, I am an optimist. No matter how much I try, I can't ever squelch out that little bit of hope. That someone will hear me. That this will be my hail mary pass. One of these days that pony will be there when I wake up, I just have to believe it.
Friday morning there was no pony and I was (not so quietly) heartsore about it.
I stewed darkly in my office, ate three sea salt caramels, and commiserated with friends. Then I left a little early to go pick up the Kid for trick-or-treating.
My head was still in a bad place when I made the split second decision to take the old highway home. I thought maybe there would be some fall color left on the trees there, but they had already gone grey--"It figures!"--so I angrily blasted "Titanium" on my radio instead. I knew I had to come up with a way to purge my black mood before I got home to Sweet Husband and the Kid, but nothing was helping.
And that's when I came up on it. Just past a curve there was a young woman crouched on the side of the road, sobbing. Glass, metal, and the contents of a school bag were strewn across the highway--pink highlighters and textbooks mixed with angry chunks of side mirror--and an old farmer stood nearby, talking urgently into a cell phone.
Just behind the girl, a grey truck was suspended in the tree line, facing the wrong direction with the cab crushed down like a mangled can. I don't know how many times it must have flipped and spun to end up that way, but it could have been an advertisement for one of those, "This could be you! Don't drink and drive!" campaigns.
Steeling myself for something awful, I quickly pulled over. The farmer shouted that he had 911 on the line already so I went to the girl.
"Was there anyone else in the car?"
"Where do you hurt?"
She was crying hysterically. She was able to get out that she was nineteen and alone, but all she could really tell me, over and over again, was that it was her aunt's car and she was in so much trouble. I pulled back and eyed her for injuries, but other than a small cut on her finger I couldn't see a thing wrong with her.
I almost--but didn't quite--laugh with relief. "Oh honey, I promise you, no one who sees that car is going to be the least bit worried about it."
I held back her hair and tried to keep her warm while we waited for the first responders. And at some point while we were kneeling there in the ditch, a voice spoke in my head clear as the autumn sky:
"Chin up, buttercup, you aren't really having that bad a day."
Eventually, the siren trucks came, followed quickly by the girl's mother, who--small blame to her--started crying pretty hysterically herself when she saw the remains of the car her child had been driving. Once the EMT assured us that the girl really was going to be OK, the farmer and I allowed ourselves to be shooed away.
As I slowly pulled back out into the traffic that had built up, there suddenly wasn't room for anything in my head other than gratitude. Odds and chance be damned, her mother was going to get to take that girl home that night. She was literally going to walk away with just a scratch. It may not have been the miracle I was hoping for when I woke up that morning, but--as I mumbled in the general direction of the sky as I coasted towards home--"good enough".
I apologized to the Kid for being later than I'd promised, but he didn't even register it over his squeal of, "Is it time to go trick-or-treating now?!"
"Yes it is!" I told him as I stole a quick hug and peck on the forehead. And, with light hearts the both of us, we went and found his dada and did just that.