It is pretty hard to scandalize me. Generally I’m skeptical of moralistic takes on the universe having seen even in my tiny corner of it the depths of human depravity and finally been disabused of the notion that there is a silver lining to every cloud, a lesson to be learned, a benefit to somehow be sieved from the detritus. That’s not to say that I dismiss all absolutes, not at all. To the contrary, sometimes absolutes are all you have.
But when it comes to infidelity I am up to my eyeballs in shadow and relativism and I admit that there comes a time when I toy with scandal and play with the chance of exposure, all in the name of lust and love and ambition, when I become an adoring acolyte to a man seemingly above reproach, who on closer inspection turns out to like sex at least as well as he likes the first amendment. Probably better.
When I first meet this man, my judge, I am fresh out of law school, thirty years younger than he is and star struck. He stands tall, over six feet, portly tending to fat, hawk-nosed and bespectacled, not handsome so much as monumental in a dignified, statesmanlike kind of way, all intellect so I imagine, when he hangs his black silk robes around him and walks to the worn leather chair in the courtroom, how I admire him, his calm, his wit, the depth of his knowledge and compassion. He is no ordinary judge, he is magnificent in my eyes, another Louis Brandeis. “Counsel”, he admonishes from the bench, with wry insight, “Move on, we’ve spent an hour on this point and I think we understand”, winking at the jury. I am awed by his knowledge of precedent and human nature.
In our private moments, when his robe is hanging on the back of the door and his sleeves are rolled up and he smokes a cigarette very sophisticatedly, I sit at the library table across from his desk in the oak paneled chambers where he writes his decisions and eats his lunch. “Karen”, he calls out “can I have a cup of coffee?”, and I hastily put down my research notes and push the heavy law books to one side and run down the hall to fill his mug, two sugars, no milk, and bring it to him, honored to be of service but feeling like his intellectual match too, reading cases, scrutinizing legal arguments, sitting on the sidelines in the courtroom as he reigns, scratching out first drafts of his opinions. I am paramount his student, yes, but also his peer I imagine, discussing the law over egg salad sandwiches.
Being a judge is lonely because the code of ethics limits freedom to socialize with someone whose fate you may determine. Years ago, it used to be more relaxed, old boy network and all that, but modern times are stricter and as a result a judge and his law clerk often have only each other to talk to. So when I work with the judge, we are together almost every day from morning until closing time, four thirty or so when I drive home and he, that term of court, walks to his motel to watch television and read case files. We finish countless hearings and jury trials during our year together, divorces, personal injury lawsuits, and one shocking murder that takes three weeks to get to verdict and is attended by flocks of national press. And I swear, as close as we are, as mutually dependent as we become, it never occurs to me that the judge is a sexual being.
It isn’t until years later, when I am an associate in a big firm, with my own office and a secretary I share with only two other junior lawyers, that I fall in love with my judge, and look back at my clerkship year with him and wonder how I could have failed to notice that this intellectual giant is actually quite ordinary when it comes to sex and conclude that if a man is not one’s father he does not inevitably qualify as a father figure.
The judge is now presiding in the very city where I have just begun to practice, home to a small legal community where he and I meet often, sometimes have lunch together, sit next to one other at bar meetings, resume our friendship. Other lawyers never look askance because it is common knowledge that he is my old mentor. But somewhere, somehow, we move with the tiniest increments from colleagues to lovers, and one day I lean against him as we drive to a meeting and am startled into arousal at this casual touch, then find myself kissing him as if we were on a first date, and I although still cannot really associate him with sweaty sex, we find ourselves in his hotel room, me still his acolyte but this time serving a naked god.
Our affair is short, it is difficult to find places and times to meet, and then a new term begins and he moves back to his home city for the next court assignment, no more motels and restaurants in out of the way villages for us. Honestly, it is a relief because I am confused and bewildered by the complicated logistics and emotions of the affair. I am scared of being found out but don’t have the courage to tell him that I want to stop. And when I attend my judge’s funeral some years later, I am distracted, hating his mourning wife and sorry I came.