Line in the sand is a metaphor that means, “I’m not going past this point, mothertrucker.” Wikipedia has the origin of the phrase perhaps going back to biblical times. Being a Texas transplant, I’m more familiar with its usage at the Alamo. The story goes that Colonel William Travis and his troops were completely surrounded by the Mexican army (led by General Santa Anna), when Santa Anna sent a messenger to Travis demanding surrender (or alternatively, death). Travis called his troops together and, proclaiming that he would rather die than surrender, pulled his battle sword and drew a line in the dirt. Travis asked for volunteers to cross over the line and join him in battle—and certain death. All but one of the defenders crossed the line to join Travis, including Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett. Travis then let Santa Anna know of his decision by shooting a cannon in his direction. Santa Anna sent a musical reply in the form of El Degüello (translation “throat cutting” or “no quarter”). (If Santa Anna’s men actually played El Degüello as the battle ensued, it probably sounded more like this.)
All of this is an interesting, albeit dramatic, introduction to the current state of my employment at BigLaw. When we left off, BigLawBoss was becoming more firmly entrenched in an extramarital affair, and I was brainstorming about ways to use this information to my advantage. Knowledge is power, as they say. Since that time, BigLawBoss has taken to disappearing from the office approximately 1.5 days per week. For example, he’ll leave on Tuesday at noon, and reappear on Thursday morning. Sometimes he provides excuses (meetings with contractors, dying friends, visits to elderly father, dying or dead distant or fictional relatives, doctor’s appointments). The staff and his close colleagues (including me) respond with a wink and a nod.
Meanwhile, BigLawBoss suggested I might want to assist a partner in another office (we’ll call him BigLawAholic) on a new case. BigLawAholic’s massive new matter involves a particularly demanding client, and he needs help. Help, as it turns out, has meant fourteen to sixteen-hour days, with (mercifully) breaks for sleeping. During my initial ten days on the case, I didn’t have time for grooming, or driving to the office, or cooking. I didn’t leave my home. I woke up, turned on my computer and, continuing until bleary-eyed and brain-dead, I fell into bed. During this period, I had visions of quitting. I had visions of getting hit by a bus, followed by a peaceful recovery in the hospital. I had visions of offing myself. (But I decided quitting was a better alternative.) During the apex of this ordeal, BigLawBoss was Hiking the Appalachian Trail.
We finished the project last Friday evening and I spent the weekend recovering. While I was not hit by a bus, I felt like I had been. It was a beautiful weekend last weekend, and I was too exhausted to get out and enjoy it. I hunkered down and binge-watched season five of the Walking Dead. (How’s that for symbolism?) After a brief respite on Saturday, BigLawAholic began blowing up my inbox again on Sunday morning. On Monday, I played catch-up on some other cases. BigLawAholic was not pleased to find my attentions diverted thusly, and he proceeded to chew me out. On Tuesday, I plopped down in a chair in BigLawBoss’s office. I told him how the little project with BigLawAholic had turned out. I told him BigLawAholic had me swirling around in his BigLawBlackHole. I told him I was too old for this shit. I told him,
Not to be dramatic, but if this is my new normal, I’ll leave.
BigLawBoss got the message and called BigLawAholic to intervene. Whereupon, BigLawBoss found himself swirling dangerously close to also being sucked into BigLawBlackHole. You see, BigLawAholic needs more help, more manpower to service demanding client. And so he attempted to enlist BigLawBoss to work on BigLawBlackHole. BigLawBoss declined. How could he agree to getting sucked into BigLawBlackHole? It would impede his ability to disappear into the recesses of his girlfriend’s vagina for days at a time. People at the top of the pyramid would begin to notice his odd comings and goings. He would have to become accountable. And so, BigLawBoss said, “No thank you, BigLawAholic. No BigLawBlackHole for me.” I hoped that his goal of intervening on my behalf was not abandoned in his efforts to save himself.
The week proceeded relatively peacefully, and it appeared BigLawBoss’s attempt at intervention was moderately successful. I was beginning to think I’d escaped BigLawBlackHole for the weekend. (How in the hell had I started working all these weekends? Before we merged with BigLaw five years ago, I rarely worked weekends. And now, slowly and insidiously over the past five years, it has become the norm.) BigLawBoss spent the latter part of the week AWOL, and as of 6:00 p.m. Friday evening, I was free. Or so I thought. At 6:15 an email appeared in my inbox from BigLawAholic:
Big new project. We need to get started first thing in the morning. We need to get this to Demanding Client by Monday.
I was surrounded. There was no escape. It was surrender or die. And so I pulled out my sword and drew a line in the sand.
I can’t this weekend. I have committed to [do this very important thing that I cannot reschedule].
BigLawAholic said he understood. As do I. I understand I have committed BigLawSuicide. I understand my compensation, and perhaps my days, are numbered. The emails continue to fill my inbox this morning, unabated. But I will not surrender. And I imagine that I hear, in the distance, the team playing El Degüello on their BigLawBugles.