Read an Excerpt from ‘The Center Cannot Hold’

It’s ten o’clock on a Friday night. I am sitting with my two classmates in the Yale Law School Library. “Memos are visitations,” I announce. “They make certain points. The point is on your head. Have you ever killed anyone?”

My study partners look at me as if they—or I—have been splashed with ice water. “This is a joke, right?” asks one. “What are you talking about, Elyn?” asks the other.

“Oh, the usual. Heaven, and hell. Who’s what, what’s who. Hey!” I say, leaping out of my chair. “Let’s go out on the roof!”

I practically sprint to the nearest large window, climb through it, and step out onto the roof, followed a few moments later by my reluctant partners in crime. “This is the real me!” I announce, my arms waving above my head. “Come to the Florida lemon tree! Come to the Florida sunshine bush! Where they make lemons. Where there are demons. Hey, what’s the matter with you guys?”

“You’re frightening me,” one blurts out. A few uncertain moments later, “I’m going back inside,” says the other. They look scared. Have they seen a ghost or something? And hey, wait a minute—they’re scrambling back through the window.

“Why are you going back in?” I ask. But they’re already inside, and I’m alone. A few minutes later, somewhat reluctantly, I climb back through the window, too.

Once we’re all seated around the table again, I carefully stack my textbooks into a small tower, then rearrange my note pages. Then I rearrange them again. I can see the problem, but I can’t see its solution. This is very worrisome. “I don’t know if you’re having the same experience of words jumping around the pages as I am,” I say. “I think someone’s infiltrated my copies of the cases. We’ve got to case the joint. I don’t believe in joints. But they do hold your body together.” I glance up from my papers to see my two colleagues staring at me. “I...I have to go,” says one. “Me, too,” says the other. They seem nervous as they hurriedly pack up their stuff and leave, with a vague promise about catching up with me later and working on the memo then.

The next day, I am in a panic, and hurry to Professor M., pleading for an extension. “The memo materials have been infiltrated,” I tell him. “They’re jumping around. I used to be good at the broad jump, because I’m tall. I fall. People put things in and then say it’s my fault. I used to be God, but I got demoted.” I begin to sing my little Florida juice jingle, twirling around his office, my arms thrust out like bird wings.

Professor M. looks up at me. I can’t decipher what that look on his face means. Is he scared of me, too? Can he be trusted?

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