By Rachel Gamez
There is a poster hanging in the courtroom that says, “Nobody said it would be easy; they said it’d be worth it.” If you want something badly enough, you can have it. Just don’t give up.
I never wanted to go to college. I loved high school only because I was very popular and was the drum major of the band. I begged my parents to let me take a semester off when I graduated high school, but they wouldn’t hear it. I took some basic courses at the University of Houston, only because I had a scholarship. I was placed on academic probation my second semester and ended up dropping all of my classes and taking out loans to cover the classes.
I didn’t know what a court reporter was until I was involved in a major car accident. I had to give my deposition. I ended up paying more attention to the girl in the corner typing than to the questions I was being asked. When the deposition was over, I asked her where she learned to do that. She told me Alvin Community College.
I immediately went home to do the research. I found out there wasn’t much schooling required, the salary was amazing, and I would be hearing a lot of gossip.
It sounded perfect. I went and checked it out the next day. I got enrolled and took theory in the spring of 2008. Theory was a breeze for me. Some liked to call me a “mutant.” I didn’t practice as much as I should have; however, I did have to practice. In the summer of 2008, I only passed one test at 60 words per minute. I left the class in tears, many days telling myself, “I can’t do this. I’ll never make it.”
It was not easy.
When I was trying to register for the fall of 2008, the college told me that I had to bring my transcripts from the other schools I had attended. I went to the University of Houston to obtain my transcript just to find out that I still owed them $800. I was devastated. I didn’t have that kind of money. So I went back to work. I worked two jobs in 2009 to save the money to pay off the university.
That’s when I met my future husband. He saw my machine when we first moved in together. He started asking me about it, and I told him the story. He helped me pay off the university so I could go back to school in 2010.
So, in January of 2010, I took theory again. I couldn’t have been happier. I was on the right track for life. I knew what I wanted to do, and there was nothing that could get in my way — so I thought.
A month into my second time taking theory, I found out I was pregnant. I was devastated again. I had always wanted children, but not yet. Not before I had a job or was even married. My mother is a very religious person. I thought she would never talk to me again; however, she was actually very excited about the baby, just disappointed that I wasn’t more careful. My boyfriend and I had a very long talk, and we decided that as long as he was working, we would be okay. He assured me that I could finish school and not have to quit.
I’m not sure how much my teacher, Ms. McCartney, tried to enforce “don’t get up during dictation,” but she was very understanding about my getting up and down all throughout her class. I can’t tell you how many times I ran to the bathroom because of morning sickness. I’m still trying to figure that one out because, for me, it was all-day sickness. Regardless, I got through theory and passed my tests at 40 words per minute, again.
Four months into my pregnancy, I started the 60-80 class. Most of the morning sickness was gone, and I was glowing. I felt beautiful. I finally had the feeling again, the “I can do this” feeling. I took on a job at a local daycare to help my boyfriend with the bills while I still could. I still was not practicing like I should have been. I would practice on the weekends, but not during the week. By the time I went to school then work, I was exhausted, and most days I went straight to bed. My boyfriend would bring me dinner in bed and force me to wake up and eat.
In the fall of 2010, I was in my 100s. I was due November 1. My plan was to get as far as I could and then just miss the end of the fall semester. I passed my last 100 test five days before having my son.
Despite doctor’s orders, I went back to school two and a half months later in the spring of 2011. I hadn’t touched the machine in three months. The 120s murdered me. It took me a whole semester to get back in the groove. I was pumping breast milk in the bathroom on the 10-minute breaks, and I was hurting from having given birth. It was miserable. The 120s class was the only speed class that I had to pay for twice.
I got married in February 2011, just a small get-together at the courthouse. The week before registration for the fall 2011 semester, my husband got laid off. I applied for financial aid. They told me that my student loans from the University of Houston were in default, and I had to get them in good standing before I could qualify. Thankfully, my mom was able to help me make a payment and get them back in good standing so I could qualify for financial aid.
In my 160s, there was a misunderstanding between the professors and me. That was the day I started practicing just to get out and be done. You know what I found out? Practicing really works! I got through my 140s and my 160s in one semester. I thought to myself many times, “Why on earth did I wait so long to start practicing? I could have been done by now!”
In the spring of 2012, my family and I were just sitting down to eat dinner when there was a banging on the door, followed by a loud voice screaming, “Get out! Get out!” I put on my shoes, grabbed my son, and we walked outside. There were so many people outside. It took about 10 minutes before my husband and I saw it: The building was on fire, and it was quickly moving our way. I told my husband to run and get our folder with our important papers, but the firemen wouldn’t even let us close.
It was windy and raining as we watched everything we owned go up in smoke. I couldn’t believe it. As the fire reached our apartment, it was then that I realized I had never taken my school things out of the car. My machine and my computer were safe! For a moment, I was relieved. They moved all of us into the office where the apartment complex got everyone dinner, and we sat and waited for the Red Cross. After a walk-through, we were informed that everything on our second floor was a total loss and most of everything on the first floor. The only things we walked away with were the clothes on our backs, a box of pictures that were in the downstairs closet, and my dishes.
That night, the complex got hotel rooms for everyone in our building. I sent an email to the only teacher that I had contact information for, informing her briefly of what was going on. I showed up to school Monday morning to make sure the teachers knew what was going on. I was definitely going to miss a few days while we tried to figure out what to do. I spoke with the teacher I had emailed. She asked me what I needed, and all I could think of was “everything.” I needed money, clothes and toys for my baby, groceries, a bed, a crib — everything.
On Wednesday of that same week, I returned to school. The teachers led me to a room. When they opened the door, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The room was full. I stood and cried. I never expected anything, but there, right in front of my eyes, were clothes, pots, pans, toys, lamps, bedding, a stroller, a high chair, and so much more. It was truly unbelievable. You never really know how generous people can be — and those people will never know how much they helped us.
Despite all of that, I still finished my 180s that semester and managed to pass the courtroom class. In the summer, I took the written part of the state test. I passed, and it was such a relief to have part of the test out of the way. I was practicing more and more, and I started to realize that I was able to write a mock. So, I typed one, just to see how it would go. I ended up passing the mock, my 200, and my 225 all at the same time. I passed the rest of my tests during the summer of 2012 and qualified to take the state test. It was such a relief because I was out of financial aid and would have had to pay cash for the next semester. My husband was still off and on with work. Things were getting harder and harder, and I was stressed out about passing this test because I not only wanted it, I needed it.
I took the test in September of 2012 and failed it by 13 errors. I can’t even begin to tell you how heartbroken I was.
Around the time I got into my 180s, I started to notice a bump on my finger. It didn’t hurt, so I just ignored it like it was nothing. In December of 2012, it really started to bother me. I went to the doctor and asked him what it was. He said it was a tumor that was almost damaging my nerves, and he wanted to remove it before I permanently lost feeling in my right hand. I asked him several times if I would be healed by January because that was when the test was held. I had already signed up to take it, and the hotel was already booked. I wasn’t about to miss it!
I had the surgery on December 12, 2012. I couldn’t move the finger or get it wet or anything. It hurt so badly for the first week. I regretted having the surgery at first. I couldn’t practice for two weeks. I took the test on January 12, 2013, and completely bombed it.
I started practicing every day after that. I was writing everything — from the books I was reading to the news I was watching on TV. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t practice. I passed the state test in April 2013. I was in the grocery store when I got a text, “Results are on the website!” I checked my phone and screamed and jumped up and down in the grocery store.
Life as a reporter for me couldn’t be better. The only regret I have is not practicing more and earlier so I could have gotten out faster. I had everything standing in my way, and I did it anyway. I would love to talk to any one of you. If you have questions or need support, or a pep talk, or anything, just email me. I’ll be happy to help anyone I can.
Rachel L. Gamez is a court reporter in Webster, Texas. She can be reached at RachelGamezCSR@yahoo.com.