Saturday, July 10, 2010

Saturday Musings, 10 July 2010

Good morning,

A fine layer of dust lifts and drifts as I walk through the living room to get the paper. The rain finally relented; the sky arches above my house: unbroken blue, unbidden beauty. I slept, last night, finally, though not unmedicated; this morning, I shake a slight grogginess from my brain as I push the stiffness from my limbs. The week brutalized me -- too many appointments, too many demands, too many worries.

But the cleanness of the morning invigorates me. With my cafe cup, embellished with a sketch of a Parisian waitress, and a little grey plate holding a toasted crumpet, I survey the slightly over-grown yard and the tangle of thriving vinca. I see nothing that displeases me, and a complacent existence which holds much of what motivates my daily struggle.

I drive through neighborhoods more wealthy than mine and gawk at houses that I will never own. That one! That one! My companion favors Tudor and Traditional, but I raise my hand to gesture at the Craftsmans, with their intricate gables, their unmistakable pillars, their wide front porches. I am not grand, nor are they. Humble, and sturdy, and enduring.

My son turned 19 this week. We celebrated at a Plaza restaurant but otherwise, the day held only rest for him. His job depends upon good weather, and Mother Earth did not cooperate this week. He spent the week doing chores for me, perfecting a Bach Prelude on both piano and guitar, and talking with his girlfriend who has been sentenced to a summer in Texas. This morning, as I came downstairs, I caught a glimpse of his lean, sprawled sleeping figure flanked by a trio of guitars on stands or in their cases.

I close my eyes, and Missouri fades. I stand, again, in a large bathroom, before a wide mirror. On the counter in front of me, the home pregnancy kit supplied by my friend Marjorie's pharmacist husband confirms what I had already concluded. I raise my eyes, and confront my self. I see no fear in the reflected eyes. I see knowledge, and excitement, and certainty.

My body grew to accommodate the life inside with alarming eagerness. After a brief, awful interlude that left Patrick without his intended twin, I suffered nothing abnormal in the way of pre-natal discomfort. I endured the distressed, discouraging warnings of others. My friend Valerie remarked, Single motherhood will be difficult. I shot back, Well the first 35 years of my life were sheer hell -- difficult will be an improvement. A relative, deliberately here unnamed, ungendered, unrelationshipped, suggested that I give the baby to a real family. No definition given -- but I knew that a "real family" included a husband. I barely spoke to that relative for years.

Because I had conceived two fetuses, and despite the loss of one, I grew enormously large. I had sufficient amniotic fluid for both babies, and the one which survived barely needed to move, floating instead in a comfortable sea of cradling fluid. I continued working, flying around America in impossibly small planes, walking farms saved by my shenanigans in court, picking at the heavy meals offered by grateful farmers, in true country kitchens -- in Arkansas, Illinois, Texas, Missouri and Tennessee. On a cold January night, ice on the windshield of a Cessna 150, me in a mechanic's jumpsuit beside the pilot, I experienced a staggering slide across a frozen field, because the nearest air strip to Brookfield, Missouri lay under a shroud of unploughed snow. I rode to the motel in a truck that had been hauling pigs, wearing rubber waders, wrapped in a canvas tarp.

The baby did not complain. In fact, many times, I called my doctor in panic because I could not feel him move. Because of Bill Clinton and Jocelyn Elders, health insurance covered 100% of any physician-ordered pre-natal care, and due to my age and disability, my obstetrician ordered everything. Amniocentesis, monthly sonograms after the 18th week, genetic testing at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. I had it all. And through it all, the baby grew, and pushed against me, in his wonder ball of water, letting me know that he controlled everything, as he would for the next two decades.

My first experience with labor startled me in a courtroom in Natchitoches, Louisiana. I did not recognize the tensing of my abdomen as labor until halfway through the day-long hearing at the end of which I had obtained a restraining order against the Federal Land Bank, prohibiting them from foreclosing on two-thousand rich acres just outside the city in Natchitoches Parish. The banker muttered to his lawyer as they exited, casting dark glances towards me. I grabbed my co-counsel's hand and hurried him down the courtroom aisle to our waiting pilot. We had the 206 this time, somewhat more comfortable than the 150, and I urged us forward, forcing the plane with the will of my protestations. I'm not happy about having this baby in Arkansas, I told my traveling companions. I'm damn sure not having it in Louisiana.

Our pilot flew for Sam Walton most of the time, just moonlighting with my firm, and he called his office. With the weight of Wal-Mart, he arranged an ambulance and an attendant, and I found myself squired with amazing efficiency to Washington Regional Medical Center from the Springdale, Arkansas airport. With sixteen weeks left in the normal forty-week gestation, the doctor stopped my labor and ordered me to bed rest. My firm responded by moving my entire office, computer, secretary, law clerk and file cabinets, to the bedroom of the small apartment that I had taken in town, leaving my Winslow home to renters who later stole my cherished, brand-new Earth stove.

For a few silly weeks early in my pregnancy, the doctor allowed me to contemplate natural childbirth. The third time my right hip spontaneously dislocated under the weight of my growing girth, that ridiculous plan fell from the agenda, and she scheduled a primary C-section for Monday, 08 July 1991. I went into labor on the morning of the sixth, contractions five minutes apart, and I summoned a friend to take me to the emergency room. The pains continued, unproductive -- the words they use to describe women's bodies astound me! -- until midnight. When I realized it was the 07th, I became enraged. I am not spending the rest of this child's life celebrating his birthday on the 07th! I wailed, clutching the mid-wife's arm. Stop this labor! Stop it now! She did not understand, but summoned the OB/GYN. I explained that his father's birthday was July 07th, and I did not expect to see or hear from the man who had made it clear that he wanted no part of this project. Sweat dripped from my forehead and fell on my friend Paula's hand as she stroked my cheek. They stopped the labor, but not because I demanded it; they reasoned that after 14 hours, if I had not been "productive", I was probably not going to be. I did not care why. I collapsed on the sweat-soaked sheets, grateful, exhausted.

I spent Sunday at home, pacing, restless. I repeatedly folded the tiny shirts in the white-painted dresser. I tied and re-tied the ribbons of the bumper in the crib. I fixed the tiny pillow in the cradle. I counted onesies.

At 9:00 a.m. on Monday, my secretary, Laura Barclay, and her husband Ron, came to get me. Laura served as my labor coach in the absence of male validation. She and Ron had no children at the time. Several years later, their joyful adoption of a sibling group would give them several marvelous years as "a real family" before Ron's premature and tragic death, from a hidden clot that had lurked in his brain since a minor traffic accident involving the unexpected appearance of a deer on a narrow side street in the town where he worked. But at the time of my childbirth odyssey, they did not have children, so my child became their child, just as he has become the child of every adult whose life he has touched in the nineteen years since his birth.

With Ron as photojournalist, Laura scrubbed and gowned, and I allowed myself to be pre-opped. I had not been given much choice -- I had an epidural, and would experience the procedure awake but desensitized. There came a moment of uncertainty when the doctor could not be found, but she hurried into the OR and apologized. She had been waiting for the Roto-Rooter man. The first half-hour of the procedure included a detailed account of the water in her basement -- how it looked, smelled and rose to the kitchen steps, and what the guy had done to rid them of it.

The midwife stood on the left; the doctor on the right. They cut through the various layers, and the midwife, in soft, lilting Irish tones, described the process for me. Though my hands were restrained in an apparent attempt to avoid contamination, I could move my upper torso. I could not see over the drape but Laura could, and I could see Laura, and that told me all I needed to know. Her eyes grew large, and round, and shiny. And then, at 1:50 p.m., on 08 July 1991, I felt something like a pop, like the sudden, giddy release of a cork, and I heard the doctor say, Well, look at this little guy, he almost looks like he's smiling at me, and then I heard my baby's first sound: laughter.

In the nineteen years since that moment, he has laughed, cried, mourned, and trembled with both fear and anticipation. I have become too familiar with doctor's waiting rooms, and the niceties of tax deductions for medical-care-related travel. He has excelled, and failed, and fallen in between the two extremes. He has grown tall, although not as tall as he would probably like. In my drive to earn enough money to support us, I have often gotten distracted from the daily business of parenthood. I have overlooked the need for haircuts, and new shoes, and have been gently reminded by a succession of teachers, the parents of his friends, and later, my son himself.

It has all been worth everything I have sacrificed. When a doctor gave me six months to live, I rejected his prognosis. My son is only five, I told him. I have to at least survive until he finishes high school. And so I have, and to my right, on the keeping shelf, is a 5 x 7 card announcing that Patrick C. Corley has made the Dean's List at DePauw University for Spring Semester 2010.

Once more, my coffee grows cold as I write. Someone asked me this week, to my amazement, why I became a lawyer. I answered with the honest truth: I wanted to write, and this seemed like a profession in which I could, perhaps, write and earn money. I laughed after I admitted this, reflecting on how wrong I had been on both accounts. But nearly two decades after that EPT told me that I was going to be a family, real or not, I have no regrets. The fullness of time has revealed the rightness of my decisions -- the big ones, at least -- and has given me anything I could have wanted, and more.

Happy birthday, Patrick. Thank you for making everything that I have suffered pale in comparison with everything that I have gotten in return. To those who stood by me -- Laura, and Ron; my sisters Ann and Joyce, who have always been here for me and usually before I knew that I needed them; Alan who has buried the bodies and persuaded me to accept that I gave birth to a musician; Penny, who persuaded me to accept that I am a good mother; Katrina, who took Patrick on many marvelous childhood adventures that my crooked legs could not pursue; and countless others, who should be named, but the naming of whom would make these musings much more maudlin and overly long than they already are -- to each of you, I can only offer eternal thanks, and relentless devotion.

Mugwumpishy tendered,

Corinne Corley

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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.