Saturday, October 3, 2015

Saturday Musings, 03 October 2015

Good morning,

It's been quite a week.  The microwave died, I succumbed to the claustrophobia of too much furniture, and I lost my temper with a client.  I lay on the couch like a beached whale at five o'clock yesterday, tension gripping my bruised rib and the damaged muscle beneath it.  Two Advil and three Tylenol four hours apart had yet to ease the pain.  I knew that I should not get one more restaurant meal but the refrigerator held only yogurt, bottled water, and some wrinkled cherry tomatoes.  My hair hurt. I wanted nothing more than an order of something hot and fried; and sleep.

As I lay there, waiting for Jessica to come home and provide some moments of distraction, a sudden flash of my mother's face seemed to light the room.

Standing in the doorway of our Jennings home, as she had stood a hundred thousand times.  She wears her uniform: a stiff white polyester dress, scuffed worn nurse's shoes.  Her cloth purse hangs from one shoulder, dragging her cardigan down along her arm.  A pained expression mars her olive skin, clouds her brown eyes.

Three of her children lounge in the living room with the Grateful Dead blaring from the stereo.  None of us could be called lazy.  We have jobs; we do reasonably well in school.  But at that moment, no scent of cooking wafts from the kitchen and my two older brothers and I lay around listening to loud music.  There's no sign of the little boys; my father has retreated to his workshop in the basement.

Kevin stirs first.  He's seventeen and by far the most responsive to my mother's needs in general. He pulls his lanky frame vertical and reaches for a bundle in my mother's arms.  She yields to him; but the easing of this burden does not pull the worry from her face.

"Will somebody start dinner," she says, and walks past us through the door into what used to be a dining room before the Corleys outgrew such luxuries.  She walks through that bedroom to the back bedroom beyond it and clicks the adjoining French doors shut.  The boys and I look at each other without speaking.  We do not need words.

The three of us go into the kitchen and rummage in the fridge.  We take out a package of ground beef, pull some spaghetti from the shelf and start water boiling.  The meat goes into a cast iron skillet with bacon grease.  Mark breaks the red clumps so they'll brown evenly while I start taking down plates to set the table.  Kevin has gone outside to find Frank and Steve.  Silence emanates from the basement, a sign that my father has discerned my mother's arrival and sits on a stool smoking, waiting for the next thing.

I'm laying the silverware when I hear the sound which we all dread:  My mother's sobs.  I slip through the linen closet door into her bedroom from its back entrance and stand in the dimness, watching her form shake under an afghan on the bed.  She's discarded her shoes and uniform, lying in her slip and stockings.

"What's wrong, Mom?" I ask, not really wanting to know.  I sit on the edge of the bed and place my hand n her forehead.  By thirteen, I understand her life enough to know that the reason for her tears might be simple, but it might be so complex as to frighten me.  

I wait.  Finally she pulls herself up, leans against the headboard, and pulls me to her.  Neither of us speaks for a few minutes, then she lets go of me and dabs her eyes with a handkerchief that she's clutching.

"I cashed my paycheck on the way home," she begins.  "I pulled away from the teller and stopped in the parking lot to count the money.  I realized that she had given me six hundred dollars too much."

She stops.  I think about that sum, six hundred dollars.  I do not know then what six hundred dollars might buy, what burden it might ease for my overworked mother but it seems like a lot.  I wait for her to continue.

"I looked at that money.  I thought about you kids.  You need shoes.  You need clothes.  You need food.  I held that six hundred dollars and sat in  my car and thought."  She pauses.  "Then I got out of the car, went into the bank, and told the manager what had happened.  He took the money and thanked me.  He turned away.  And that was it."  A long sigh riffs through her body.

Just then, the sound of the dinner bell breaks the dimness of the room.  My mother hugs me.  "Go wash  your hands.  I'll be there in a minute," she says.  I move to do as she directs, but as I start to slip  through the makeshift back passage through the closet, my mother speaks my name.  I stop and look over my shoulder at her small body, standing now in the unlit bedroom.

"Don't say anything," she whispers.

And I never did.

This morning I calculated all the money that I've spent on restaurant food in the last twenty months, during this time when my emotions raised a wall between me and the kitchen; when I've stood in grocery stores feeling so desolate that I could not push the cart nor fill it with items that I would be unable to cook anyway -- vegetables which would be doomed to rot, bread which would grow mold.  A month ago I began to feel able to cook again; able to slice, dice, saute and simmer.  Doubtless what kept me from the kitchen could be called depression.  I labelled it "situational sadness" and resigned myself to eating out instead of getting therapy.  But today I feel differently.  Today I think of my mother anguishing over her meager salary, crying about her choice between honesty and groceries.  I feel ashamed by the hundreds of dollars that I've wasting indulging myself on pakora, Panera's, and pizza.

The sun floods my neighborhood with the sweet light of an autumn morning.  Cool air wafted through the open window all night, while warmth drifted through the register.  I have to schedule routine maintenance for the furnace.  Piles of laundry stand in my closet.  The crowded furniture must be weaned and the living room made comfortable again.  I stretch my shoulders and feel a twinge of pain beneath one breast, where the healing rib still protests.  I think about my mother, though -- imagine the smattering of age spots on her hands, the deepness of her brown eyes, the lock of hair which always fell across her forehead.  I have her strength in me.  I carry on.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Saurday Musings, 26 September 2015

Good morning,

A warning twinge often courses through my legs just before they collapse, and that happened today at 7:25 a.m., right after I put the crystal cup of yesterday's coffee in the microwave and en route to the front door to check for our boycat on the porch.  I hit the floor just west of the piano, flailing for a hand-hold, scraping a chair across the hardwood as I tried to grab its seat and missed.

I lay on the floor for several agonizing moments before I realized that I had stopped breathing.  My mouth gaped open but nothing emerged:  Not sound, not an exhaled stream of carbon dioxide, nothing.  I've broken a rib, it's going to hurt like hell but BREATHE DAMMIT BREATHE, my brain screamed but still my lungs did not heave.  Panic immobilized me.  My face started to numb; a cloudy haze rose around me and I thought, Jesus Christ Corinne, You can't die because you fell and broke a rib, breathe woman.  With a great internal lunge, I pushed my chest out and felt a cough rise, and a moment latter, I lay on my belly gagging.  Shards of something that felt like glass rip through my chest, signalling that indeed, I'd probably broken a rib but by God, I had made myself breathe.

And suddenly I whipped back in time to 1982.  On 09 February 1982, a crazy (self-described) Persian in a VW knocked me into the air, sending me catapulting three stories above the Tivoli.  I slammed down on his hood and through his windshield.   Seven weeks and a surgery later, my mother and a social worker flanked my casted body discussing whether I should be discharged to my fourth-floor apartment or a rehab unit.

Social worker:  What if there's a fire while she's still in this cast?, gesturing as though towards a piece of rotting meat.  How will she get out?  She won't be able to get down those four flights of stairs.

The rotting meat's mother:  You don't know my daughter. 

It turns out that without a court order, a social worker could not actually prevent me from leaving the hospital when medically discharged to do so.  Perhaps my youth prompted me to stubbornly insist; perhaps I'm just the kind of person that rises to a challenge; perhaps my insistence foretold a later brand by a frustrated spouse of doing whatever the hell I wanted.  Regardless -- home to the fourth-floor flat went I, the rotting meat, with only a landline and an unlocked back door to provide help if I fell.

A few days into my recovery, I hit the floor just inside of the locked French doors to my balcony.  As my crutches slammed and skidded out of reach, I found myself grateful that they hadn't shattered the glass panes.  They came to rest about ten feet from my position.  I lay panting, trying to calm myself, shifting the heavy weight of the toe-to-hip cast on my right leg and the ninety-pound body around it.

Silence gathered in the air and settled.  Somewhere in the building, a phone rang for several long minutes.  I thought about the telephone in the kitchen and the one beside my bed, twenty-five feet away -- it might as well have been on the moon.  Chance might bring a friend sauntering up the back stairs; my next scheduled visitor would come at ten in the morning.  I contemplated lying on the floor for seventeen hours and decided that I needed to figure out how to stand.

I surveyed the living room.  I had a green fake-leather recliner, two parlor chairs (badly in need of re-upholstering, I noticed), and a heavy wood coffee table that looked almost sturdy enough to bear my weight.  It would have to do.  I began inching towards it, lamenting the dust on my robe, hearing my Con-law professor's query to my mother early in my hospital stay:  Was it her good leg or her bad leg?

My mother's reply echoed in my brain as I slithered across my floor:  I didn't know she had a good leg.

She doesn't.  Nor good arms, and her torso isn't  much better.  But she's stubborn and she's determined and she's going to get off this floor.  Ten minutes later by the leering clock on the end table, she's made it to the coffee table and grasped its edges.  You'd think hauling ninety pounds and a full-length cast eighteen inches off the ground would not be difficult but it can be.  With a neurological system that inhibits the smooth cooperation of your muscles and a weakened, post-surgical state, the process defies that simple easy tug to vertical stance.  But in the end, the disposition of which a Jackson County Circuit Court judge would one day take judicial notice as being relentless prevailed, and I hauled myself to a sprawled position across the coffee table and lurched far enough forward to get momentum and throw myself backwards into the recliner.

I started laughing, then, but the laughter quickly morphed into long jagged sobs.  A wave of raw emotion washed over me.  My body quaked.  But then the quake, as all  quakes do, subsided and I lay, shuddering, trembling, panting, and eventually, still.

A half hour later, I heard a clumping on the back stairs and felt the floor quiver under a rush of motion.  Steve Hanlen and a friend roller-skated through my apartment, one holding a six-pack of beer, one holding a bag of take-out.  Round and round the living room they skated, calling my name, scolding me for not rising to meet them, settling in my spindly chairs with their wild grins flashing.

We ate; they drank beer.  Steve got me a glass of water and after we'd eaten, lifted me from the chair and helped me into the restroom.  He asked if someone would come to assist me that night.  I shrugged off his question and put my arms around him.  Thank you for this visit, Steve, I whispered.  He returned my embrace and did not speak.  Then, me settled back in my chair, rubbish for the back dumpster in hand, the two of them clambered back down the fire escape and  skated away.  .

Thirty-three years nearly to the day: I lay on my living room floor in Brookside and tried to figure out how to get myself vertical.  I could have called for Jessica; I could have slid twenty feet into the dining room to drag my cell phone from the table.  I told myself that I would do one of those things if I could not get up in ten minutes.  I had no way of knowing when my deadline came.  But years of being in this predicament helped me figure out a way to get off the floor.  I scooted over to the couch, pulled the throw pillows down to the floor, wiggled on top of one of them, and then flipped my 115 pounds over to steady my broken artificial knee on the pillow.  Thus padded, I willed my torso, now screaming from the surely-broken rib, onto the couch, and leveraged the top of my body to its cushioned surface.

From there, sitting was a cinch.  Standing, not so much, but I could smell the coffee and so, eventually, quivering, nearly crying, I got to my feet and made my way towards the nectar of gods in my purloined crystal cup in the microwave.

Out on the porch, I thought about that awful commercial -- Help, I've Fallen And I Can't Get Up.  I reflected on five pounds that I still have to lose to get to my ideal 110, and how much harder everything has become since I started gaining weight again.  I lamented the loss of my landline with its phone-in-every-room.  I drank warmed-over coffee; read the news of Mr. Boehner's resignation and the Royal's abysmal loss; and breathed.

About halfway through the comics, I decided that my rib is not broken after all.  And that I had another good story to tell.  I thought about Steve, roller-skating through my apartment on 43rd Street.  I remembered the last time we got together, just a few months ago, at the 75th Street Brewery on one of his visits north from Texas.  I wondered if I had ever told him how close he and his friend came to finding me helpless on the floor.  I whispered, outloud, there on the porch, Thank God he came! and went inside for another cup of yesterday's Joe.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Saturday Musings, 19 September 2015

Good morning,

Something pulled my mind back to St. Louis, to the middle chunk of the 1970s when I stumbled around the campus of St. Louis University pretending to be self-assured.  Whether my throwback resulted from the disturbing   news that a friend from that time died eight months ago without my having known, or from my recent trip to Stanford with its mixed bag of predictions, I cannot say.  But here I sit:  the small needlepoint cushion of my chair hard beneath me, the lovely bones of the secretary rising above me, but my focus blurred, my mind pulled away.

It's 1976; September.  The colorless room around me holds folding tables, metal chairs, posters, piles of pamphlets.  I'm not on the Student Council but I'm in its office.  The Student Body President, Jim Foster, has recruited me and others to work on one of his projects.  I'm not there because of any passion about the subject.  I'm a hanger-on.  I'm the skinny girl with the mass of brown hair chunked around her face and the awkward clothes.  I'm the senior who has not done much for herself: mediocre-plus grades not good enough for honors but not terrible; non-speaking parts in drama productions, during one of which I had to be rushed to the hospital because of a nearly-fatal spider bite; the girl who will always drive, who never has a date, who walks across campus with her head down to avoid the stares.

That girl.

Donna Pilla sprawls on the table-top of a student desk beside me.  We've known each other for a while; we went to the same high school.  I like her but am secretly jealous.  She holds her body in an easy way, assured, confident.  No task confounds her; no male's presence flusters her.  She has bone-straight hair, dark like mine but streaked with natural highlights.  She flips her bangs back in ways that I can never emulate.  

We're talking about the future.  Our graduation date looms -- spring 1977, although in the end, I will bolt a semester early.  But I have not yet elected early-graduation.   Right now we're talking about what we'll do after we have our degrees.  I have few options.  I derailed a special education teaching career by dropping the requisite Ed. courses.  By sheer virtue of accumulation, I have managed to cobble together a major in Psychology with a minor in Political Science though the school does not actually recognize minors.  If I stayed through May, I could switch majors to Philosophy because I had a crush on a professor in that department and exceeded the required three courses.  I took eight, getting an A in every one.  Two more would put me in major-range.

But I want out.  I've had enough of the booze, the parties, and the pretending.  Panic rises every time I wake, competing with my hang-overs to cripple me.  I cling to the edge of the precipice not knowing why I have not yet hurled myself over.

Donna stretches her legs over the back of the desk and lifts her arms above her head, rolling her shoulders.  I sit in another desk, straight-backed, rigid.  "I think we might be early," she says.  Then she looks at me.  "So, you applying to grad school?"

I shrug.  I don't admit that I haven't thought about my career.  Her eyes stay on my face.  "I see you as a writer," she tells me.  "I see you years from now, in an apartment in New York, in bed, a typewriter on your lap, writing stories and poetry.  You won't be able to walk but it won't matter.  Your writing will be famous and everybody will want to know you."

She slides off the desk and wanders around the room, moving a book, fiddling with a shade at the window, stacking a pile of brochures that had slid onto the floor.  She shakes her clothes on her body in an easy movement, settling them back into their casual drape.  I do not speak; I do not move.  I do not betray myself by letting my tears fall.

"I've always seen you like that," she continues.  "Maybe I'm a romantic."  She laughs while I fight the rise of bile.  I force myself to meet her gaze, hold my eyes steady, wait for more.  But just then, the door bursts open and a small crowd comes through: Jim and his friends, out of class, ready to get started, loud, laughing.  And Donna turns away.

I go into the bathroom and vomit for fifteen minutes.  I don't come out until cold water has restored whatever composure I carried into the place.  I use water from the sink's meager flow to smooth the veil of hair that shelters me.  I hold my wrists under the faucet until my pulse throbs.  When I finally come out, Donna and the gaggle of guys have gone; only Jim Foster remains.  

"There you are," he remarks.  "We thought you left.  We saved you a list of places to take these pamphlets."  He holds out a stack surrounded by a rubber band.  I take the bundle and the assignment sheet, and turn to go.  Jim calls my name, and I halt but do not look back.  

"You okay?" he asks.  I have no answer.  

Nearly four decades have slipped away since that September.  I don't know where any of the people whom I knew then live -- St. Louis, I imagine.  Jim went to law school; I don't know about Donna.  I left that place in December 1976 and began my journey to here, to now.  Donna got it wrong.  I can still walk and nobody wants to know me.  Few people read what I write.  And I don't own a typewriter.

But I'm still that girl.  In the cold of the autumn morning, with my doors opened wide to let the air find its way through the house so I can breathe, I sense her in every fiber of my being: that girl who joined committees looking for meaning; the girl who fled a pre-teaching session because she could not bear the site of all the handicapped children; the girl who tried to act, to volunteer, to lose herself in sex and alcohol and the loud music in the summer quad.

The girl who found herself bent over a bathroom sink retching from fear that she had no greater fate than loneliness.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

 To those of you who have read this far:

I make no apology; not for what I am, nor for what I have been. 
 I make no apology for telling the story of who I was then 
and who I am now.  
I speak so that others will understand --  
understand the face in the mirror or the face at the window.  
I speak so the man on the platform 
might hope to understand
 the glimpse of the passenger whose forehead 
touches the glass on the train, 
as it trundles by in the night. 
 I speak for those who cannot bear to open their mouths 
and can only stand silent. 
 I speak for you.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
One Conversation Can Save a Life.
In Memory:
25 December 1959 - 14 June 1997

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Saturday Musings, 12 September 2015

Good morning,

My bones ache and my joints have swollen, but we have only a few hours of prep work left before the benefit for SAFEHOME and Rose Brooks Center which is being held at my professional suite tonight.  As I sit waiting for yet another generous soul to drop off her auction item contribution at my house, I contemplate the blessings that have come  my way this week.  Though my neck groans when I move; and the ringing in my ears has risen to a crashing crescendo over and over, never dulling to less than a roar; still, the week on balance has been good.

With eyes closed, I sit, thinking of other weeks that did not end with this pleasant feeling, this warmth, with the small smile that never leaves my face.  I listen to the birds twittering on the branches hanging near the porch, the song of morning drifting through my home.  I let myself drift, thinking of days which linger dimly in memory, faded photographs at the bottom of a box.  Days of which I rarely speak; days that I understand shaped the woman whom I became, my quivering nerves, the way I hold my body tight within itself when tempers rise.  I speak of the form that those days molded but not the days themselves.

Yesterday's home visit to two children whom I am appointed to represent brought the edges of my past closer to the forefront.  The nine-year-old sat nearly rigid in her chair, seemingly all right with my gentle questioning but answering in terse tones, disavowing memory of events just a month or two ago.  She let her smile shine when talking of school, of cheerleading, of her Nona; but one eye drifted towards the front door when asked about arguments. I sensed the iron hand of her mother's coaching.

Not so the five-year-old, whom no one expected me to interview.  She slid her thin form into the dining room chair and shook her dark blonde curls.  I asked her if she knew why I was there.  She shook her head.  I told her my job was to protect children.  Her face lit; she broadened her smile, and told me, Oh, that's really nice of you!  I felt a little bit ashamed.

This little one had not been told anything about my visit.  On account of this, I think, she did not know to withhold information.  She freely described a day when her mother kicked a hole in the front door.  But one good thing about that! she chortled, brightly.  See how pretty our new door is?  Do you have such a pretty door?  I admitted that I did not.  I said that my door knob did not look so bright as hers.  She thought a moment and said, You could take a baby wipe and clean it.  I promised that I would.

I asked her if she had seen any other fights.  Her eyes widened and she acknowledged that her parents fight all the time. She said, One time in the car, Dad yelled at Mom and Mom hit him like this -- gesturing, her hands flailing rapidly -- Except not in the air, she hit him on his back!  She turned back towards me.  I asked her how she had felt when that happened.  I felt sad, she replied, and the sorrow overtook her face.  I felt sad, too, for a moment; sad for her, sad for all the children, sad for myself.

I asked her who she trusted to keep her safe and she told me three names, including neither of her parents.  She told me she had trusted her dog, but he died; and now they have a new dog.  We talked for a while more, and never in the minutes we spent together did this little thing show any hesitance to share with me.  I got the flavor of her mother's relationship with the man who did not in fact father these two girls but did father the child whom the woman carries.  They operated in chaos, not yet full-blown abuse, not yet the state where children lie quivering in the dark, in their top bunkbed, imagining their world as a fat yellow crayon drawing concentric circles until the child inside has been trapped by the dirty grey wax.

All that's left is to see if I can orchestrate a diversion on the road that I see this family taking.

This evening, those who attend the benefit at Suite 100 will help raise funds to support two area programs that work with survivors of domestic violence.  That term, "DV" as those in the business call it, did not exist during my childhood.   But when I first worked as the assistant to the Legal Services lobbyist in Jefferson City, helping pass the Adult Abuse Remedies Act which gave Missouri its civil orders of protection, we knew the phenomenon even if it did not yet have its fancy title.  We carried copies of Scream Quietly or the Neighbors Will Hear by Erin Pizzey, a collection of letters from victims of abuse, fresh off the press, raw, telling.  Armed with statistics from the fledgling corps of abuse professionals, we knocked on capitol door after capitol door.  We tried to explain why the bill was needed, why those enmired in family violence deserved their vote, how it could be acceptable "to exclude a man from his home".  At the end of each day, the lawyers from LAWMO in Kansas City and LSEMO in St. Louis, along with my boss, volunteers from mid-Missouri, and I, dropped exhausted in the offices of the state representatives and senators who backed our effort.

That bill took three years to pass.  By the last vote, I had already enrolled in law school.  I did not get to attend the final session in which the General Assembly narrowly approved the legislation.  But for the next 35 years, I would see the statute evolve:  Its early survival of a constitutional challenge; the women killed after being denied a protective order; the ones killed with the granted order clutched in their hands.  I've heard all the criticisms of these orders of protection:  It's just a piece of paper, it cannot protect anyone from a bullet, chief among them.

And that's absolutely right.  The only thing that can protect those still caught in the cycle of domestic violence is society's support for their efforts to escape, for the dreams they have of being something other than a victim -- of being a success story on their own terms; of surviving, of thriving, of making a new and peaceful life for themselves and their children.

If someone reading this has the evening free, please join us at the BEER & BBQ benefit this evening, 4010 Washington, Suite 100, Kansas City, Missouri, 7pm to 10pm.  Bring your spare change and checkbooks to donate to help fund SAFEHOME (Kansas) and Rose Brooks Center (Missouri).  If you cannot come, due to other obligations or distance, please donate to one of these shelters or a shelter in your town.  If you cannot donate, consider volunteering.  And if you, or someone whom you know, live each day with the terror of violence in your home, please:  Reach out.  Call a shelter in your town or the national hotline: 1-800-799-7233.  There is no shame in needing help; and there might be salvation.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

In her most compelling role, Farrah Fawcett played the role of Francine Hughes, who lit on fire the bed in which her abuser slept and went to trial for his murder.  This movie and Ms. Hughes' story changed the way society views domestic violence.  In my childhood, an abuser got little attention and less punishment.  Hitting your child or wife qualified only as a misdemeanor, and police could not arrest without a warrant unless they saw the act occur.  No other protection existed.  No social workers came to the house to check on the children, let alone remove them, just because they came to school sleepless from roaming the streets all night waiting for their abusive parent to pass out; no teacher called anyone if a child showed bruises or signs of emotional distress.  
Thank God, times have changed, though not yet enough.  We have far to go; and we must go there hand-in-hand if we want to succeed.  
For statistics on domestic violence and more information about getting or giving help, please visit the website of the National Coalition Against Domestic violence, HERE.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Saturday Musings, 05 September 2015

Good morning,

What an astonishing world!  I awakened this morning to a Facebook message of birthday greetings from a man who once managed my IRS installment plan and, now retired, has befriended me in the virtual world.  When I opened the browser on my laptop to write this blog, the Google doodle for today commemorated my birthday and took me to my own Google profile (which I promptly edited!).

On a whim, my friend Jessica and I have come west to Denver for the Labor Day weekend.  We're ensconced in a room found on Airbnb, a virtual room-renting directory which provides connections that would not be available but for the Internet.  This one has not been a rousing success, being slightly less commodious than the listing description portrayed.  But it has a Keurig and free wi-fi.  It's a learning experience.

Our first glimpse of the Rockies from the highway made us giddy.  Jessica took pictures with her "real" camera and a grainy shot through a dirty windshield with my phone.  Today we will drive to a park so she can bike with a friend, and I will continue to Westminster to have lunch with my stepdaughter Tshandra and meet her husband, Sean, and my fairy granddaughter, their six-year-old Grace.  The mountains provide a backdrop to one of the most idyllic birthdays I could have imagined, at this age, at this stage, given everything that has unfolded in the last year.

It's no secret that I did not expect to be alive at sixty.  That I am still astonishes me.  Though I've famously bragged that I promised to live to be 103 and intend to do so, in truth when a doctor gave me six months to live, seventeen years ago, I believed him.  I've been told there is no medical reason that I'm still walking; one doctor shakes his head every time he sees me and calls me a marvel.  Every lab test finds a new active virus; I've reached the point where I don't want to see the reports -- just tell me what I have to do to keep trucking.  Or plodding -- I'm content with that.

I still wear the blessings bracelet that my friend Jane gave me, and which I cast aside last year when my world fell apart.  I reclaimed it this spring and intend to honor its calling every day.  Today, my blessings can barely be named in all the whitespace that this blog post has to offer:  A son who checks on me daily and still asks my opinion yet has grown wise enough that I usually rely on his; a vocation which brings me extraordinary satisfaction even though it also affords me the occasional ulcer attack; a comfortable home, quaintly appointed, on a street where people know my name; health insurance (though expensive, it has broadly covered so much that I can't believe the company nets any profit on me!); the shared sons and daughters whom I hold in  my heart, even the ones whom I do not see; and friends -- an amazing number of friends, without whom I do not think I would have survived the last eighteen months.

I have two blogs in which I record different types of meanderings.  The "Saturday Musings" typically recount stories of events which I have experienced or observed.  "My Year Without Complaining" chronicles my attempt to foreswear moaning and seek a joyful life.  Today the two here merge, and I hope those who read this will tolerate some self-indulgence.  It's my birthday -- may I be forgiven a little sentiment?  I hope so; I hope so.  And thank you for it.

As you wander through your Labor Day Weekend, I urge you -- each of you, all of you -- to count your own blessings.  You don't need a string of beads on silver to do so.  Cast your eyes around you.  Even if you don't have that which you think you want, I feel certain you will find many people around you for whom to be thankful; circumstances that provide some measure of pleasure or fulfillment; comforts which cradle you in your most weary times.  I hope you will be thankful for all of these, especially the loving faces of your partners, children, and compatriots.

I offer you one of my favorite quotes, taken from The Little Prince, by Antoine d' St. Exupery:  It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.  What is essential is invisible to the eye.

My birthday wish for each of you, on this, the sixtieth anniversary of my entrance into this world, is that you will see with your hearts and fully appreciate the wonders of your world -- as I have done, though perhaps too little, perhaps too late.  I am immensely grateful for everyone that has come into my life, including those who have exited.  The fabric that I call myself has been enriched by each and every thread woven into it.  I would not wish away any piece of what I've been and done.  I'll take it all, from the pain to the pure; from the frightening to the fabulous.  It's all connected, it's all glorious, it's all my life.  While the benefit of backwards gazing gives me pause to reconsider some of my choices, still, when I sit in the quiet of my birthday morning, I feel nothing but immense gratitude.

Here, in this space, in this place of thankfulness, I intend to dwell for each and every day that presents itself.  I hope you can do likewise.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

The sneaky Ms. Jessica Genzer left this on the counter last night for me to find this morning.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Saturday Musings, 29 August 2015

Good morning,

Last night's storm cleansed the air.  The heaviness on my chest has eased.  Yesterday I resisted the temptation to deploy either albuterol  or nitroglycerin, pressed by some inner instinct, perhaps my body's barometer.  When the first lightening flashed, Jessica and I looked at each other with some keen mixture of wonderment and confirmation:  Here it comes.  The hammering rain started moments later.

The storm intruded on my sleep, calling troubled images to rise from the murks where they linger during daylight hours.  On waking I paced around the room, flexing cramped calves, lamenting choices that inevitably drew me to this moment in time, this configuration of events.  I fell back asleep before dawn and awakened, tense and knotted, at ten past seven.  Now I am on the porch where I have been for two hours, with only a cup of coffee for protection.

That I am in my nightgown reminds me of my grandmother Johanna Ulz Lyons, who sat on the patio of the home that she and her husband, my grandfather Delmar Lyons, built in a new subdivision south of Springfield, Illinois.  She always wore her full slip.  She said one of the benefits of home ownership was the right to do as you pleased in your home but she waited until the sun sank on the other side of the house before she went outside, with her cigarettes and a drink.

I raise my coffee and feel the line of my arm.  My eyes close; I deliberately hold them shut, and hear the clink of the ice in Nana's drink.  What, Nana? I ask, and I am ten; I am eleven; I am eight.  I am the child formerly known as Mary, and I am spending the summer with my Nana before I start fourth grade.

I know there will be shoes.  I heard my mother talking in the living room before she left to return to St. Louis.  "She needs shoes, she always needs shoes."  I scuff one foot over the other.  The heat rises in my face.  I know how much trouble I am; I assume I cost my mother a lot of money because I don't walk right and I have to go to the doctor a lot.  I hear Nana's reassuring voice.  I know there will be a trip to the shoe store next to the Sonotone House of Hearing, my grandparents' hearing aid business.

I go out of the kitchen and stand on the patio.  The corn rises high and heavy in the field next to their house.  My grandfather keeps the neighborhood children out of the crop in exchange for the right to unlimited ears of the sweet corn.  We eat it with slathers of butter, melted butter that runs down our chins and drips on our T-shirts.

After my mother leaves, my brother Mark lures me down to a creek at the end of the dirt path beyond the subdivision.  He shows me crawdads.  I slip in the mud and land on my bottom.  I don't mind; the sun shines on my face as I tilt my body backwards and let my foot-long braids dangling in the brownness of the trickling water.  I know my grandmother won't scold me for being dirty.  She'll just toss my clothes in the washer and snuggle me into a nightgown, then we'll say prayers and I will fall asleep on the sofa bed in the den.  My brother took the guest bedroom but I don't care; I like the fold-out mattress, the stack of books on the side-table, and the reassuringly small confines of the room with its solid closet and thick carpet.

I listen to the night noises through the window and think about turning nine.  Back home in Jennings, I worry about starting fourth grade while I'm trying to sleep, but here in Chatham, the start of the school year seems distant and unthreatening.  I hear Nana and Grandpa moving through the hallway.  My door has been closed except an inch or two; the hall light shines bright enough for me to find the bathroom if I need it.  My brother, two years older, has a later bedtime than I do but I don't care about that, either, for the solitude of the little den comforts me.  I spend most of my evenings reading even before we pull out the sofa bed and straighten the sheets.

On Monday morning, I go into work with Nana and sure enough, we go next door to the shoe store.  She buys me a pair of Bass Weejun penny loafers and a pair of saddle shoes with solid ties. I suppress my dislike of the saddle shoes, which I know I have to wear because of how I walk.  She tells me to save the penny loafers for Mass on Sunday and to wear the saddle shoes to school, but she lets me wear the loafers from the store, and slips bright shiny pennies into the slots. Then she takes me to Strong's for lunch and I have stewed chicken and blueberry muffins with honey butter.  My chest tightens after lunch; we walk that off.  No one has yet figured out that I'm allergic to honey.  We think I have eaten too much and the walk back to the office will ease the sensation.  I hold my grandmother's hand.

When we get to the crosswalk, she says, "Put your best foot forward, Mary."  I ask her, "Which one is my best foot?" and she smiles down at me.  "Why, the one which is going first, of course."  And we step into the intersection, me in my plaid shorts, my T-shirt, and my new penny loafers; she in her crisp cotton dress and a pair of beige pumps.  The lunch time crowd of businessmen and office workers flows around us.  In that very moment, I am perfectly content with every speck of my world, and I don't even notice the pain in my legs, or the limp, or the stares of people.  For all I know, they could be admiring in my beautiful grandmother, and I would not blame them one iota.

I see that nine o'clock has come and slipped away.  In three hours, I have to be at my office to meet the Google Fiber installer; in three days, I have Trial Three of Four that were scheduled for this two-week period.  Trial one got continued; trial two settled; trial four will be relatively painless.  But in trial three, all hell will break loose.  A mother and a father will be tempted to spend hours on the witness stand hurdling accusations at one another, with three lawyers riding herd on the testimony, and a judge ferreting through the emotions to find the facts.  My heart sits heavy at the prospect.  I plan to try to stench the blood flow as much as humanly possible, and direct it towards healing rather than more pain.

Last night's storm brought to mind the closing scene of The Glass Menagerie.  Laura, the daughter, leans down to extinguish the candelabra with which she and her gentleman caller have lit the room when the electricity has failed.  Her brother, stage right, watches her from a place distant in both geography and time.  He laments her simple fragility, and his own inability to protect her.  He tells us of his flight away from home and the sadness of his mother and his sister, whom he cannot escape.

I would have stopped, but I was pursued by something.
It always came upon me unawares, taking me altogether by surprise. Perhaps it was a familiar bit of music. Perhaps it was only a piece of transparent glass. Perhaps I am walking along a street at night, in some strange city, before I have found companions. I pass the lighted window of a shop where perfume is sold. The window is filled with pieces of colored glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colors, like bits of a shattered rainbow.
Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes ...
Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be !
I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger -anything that can blow your candles out !

[LAURA bends over the candles.]

- for nowadays the world is lit by lightning ! Blow out your candles, Laura - and so good-bye.

[She blows the candles out.]

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Saturday Musings, 22 August 2015

Good morning,

The east shines with the risen sun.  Coffee at my side, paper skimmed and tossed in the recycle box, I sit in my old rocker listening to the call of the crow in the maple. I lingered over-long asleep today, whether from the effects of the anti-viral or just exhaustion, I cannot say.  But eight o'clock drew near before I lurched down to the kitchen and now an hour has lapsed.  A jet slices the sky with its wake of noise; a strange bird whose song I cannot place chirps in the gutter above me.

I passed a milestone this week, the thirtieth year since my mother's death.  But I also seem to have stepped beyond some point that I had not seen coming, the point at which my emotions dropped jagged to a harrowing depth and began their climb back to the soft expanse above me.  I can't say how it happened because I did not see it coming.

On my trip to California, I experienced three aggravating falls when the trunk of my rental car flew into my face and knocked me backward.  The first time this happened, I lay on the parking lot for an eternity, wondering what I could grab to hoist myself upright.  The second time, the hotel owner stood near and instantly lifted me from the pavement.  On the third occasion, a young desk clerk did the same.

But that first time, outside Room 102 of the Stanford Motor Inn, I lay for some moments caught in the sensation of eternity, of falls suffered, of other ground beneath my back.

Our driveway in Jasper, Arkansas.  1988.  I've parked the Buick Century wagon and Chester has gone into the house with a grey cloud over his head.  We argued on the way down the mountain; not a serious argument, but one tainted with unspoken burdens -- his joblessness, my yearning to return to the city, the lure of his land on Reynolds Mountain where we've begun to build a road but on which we cannot afford to build a home.  

I sit in the silence of the vehicle.  I think about going into the house and calling my father.  I run one finger around the steering wheel and gaze out the window, seeing the large yard, the sheltering hedge, the roof of the building beyond our rented property.  Through the passenger window, I see the separate entrance in our home which leads to the little room where I'm trying to have a law practice, in a town of six hundred which already has four lawyers.  I lay my head against the headrest and close my eyes.  I try to remember why we came to this place, why we left Kansas City for Little Rock and then came Northwest, to the mouth of the Buffalo River and the little town which serves as Newton County's seat of government.  I feel certain that it seemed like a good idea when we were packing, but sitting in the driveway, in  my blue Buick, amidst the lingering simmer of my husband's anger, I cannot recall any of the arguments on the pro side of the debate.

I get out of the car and close the door.  Then I see my  pocketbook sitting on the floor and reach for the door handle, pulling it towards me -- and I go flying backwards, landing flat on my back in the grass, holding the handle, lying, unable to move, with the keenness of the cloudless sky above me.

I hear the door to the house slam open and the thud of Chester's boots on the driveway.  Then I feel him lift me, feel his hands beneath my body and the warmth of him as he sets me on my feet.  We stand, facing one another for a few seconds and then I hold out my hand which still clutches the door handle.

"How could this just come off?" I ask him.  He looks down, and then, reaching out, uncurls my stiffened fingers and gently removes the piece of broken plastic from my clutch.

He gazes at me, raises one hand to brush my hair from my face and replies, "Accumulated stress."

And then we go into the house together.

Now, here, in this place far from those Ozark mountains, I have relived that moment.  I greet the neighbor's house-guest who strolls down the driveway en route to the sidewalk and reach for my coffee, draining the cooled liquid.  I raise my hand to feel the lump on the back of my head which I got when I fell in the bedroom on the evening before I left for California, the injury which those three parking lot falls inhibited from healing.  I cross one foot over the other and rock the chair -- the chair which I rescued from the trash so many years ago, when a law school classmate packed for her return to the East Coast and could not fit this last item in her U-Haul trailer.  Cars drive by, the noise which they make signalling that the drivers have ignored the speed limit.  I hear a train whistle, faint and long; a siren, closer; and the birds in my maple -- always, the birds.

My friend Brenda walks by on her way to yoga class, calling my name, lifting her arm in a cheerful wave.  I sing out in reply:  Good morning!  Did you get your brother to the airport? Off to Yoga?, and then she is past, yoga mat shouldered on one side, arms swinging, shoulders set.  I think about getting another cup of coffee; about going to the Y; about cleaning the house.  But for a moment, I just sit and breathe.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.