Saturday, December 11, 2010

Saturday Musings, 11 December 2010

Good morning,

Before me hangs a wooden star, on the front of which is the profile of an angel's head and wings, dark hair, elongated lashes, a small mouth beside a gentle splotch of red, possibly representing the kiss of a frosty morning. On the other side, a golden line, above which my name appears, and below which, the word "Christmas" and the year, "1958". I believe there are other stars like this, hanging in other homes, with the names of other Corley grandchildren. As mine gently rocks back into place, I cannot stop a slow smile from spreading over my face.

Beside the star is a more modern ornament, a red fish with blue polka-dots. This is a 2009 acquisition, from my friend Z, now decamped to parts northwest. My smile widens. To the left of the star is a glass bulb that Paula brought me from World's Window; to the right of the fish, a delicate paper circle, inside of which are what I take to be star flowers, a paper-cut-out from my sister Ann.

These are the decorations which hang year round in my nook, and what I see as I write, as I read e-mail, as I listen to the soft eulogy for Elizabeth Edwards delivered by an NPR commentator. I raise my coffee. I did not know her, but from what I have heard, she deserves the praise.

I've always had a weakness for selflessness.

Yesterday, a client sat in my office attempting to explain how one relapse did not change her claim of fifteen months' sobriety. I've been clean since July 2009, she said. A few minutes later, she admitted a November relapse. I shook my head. You have to start over, I told her. She looked down at the floor, having the gentle grace to be ashamed. I turned a page in her file, the slender batch of reports from the Juvenile court that came with my appointment. She'll never get her son back if she continues to drink, but her desire for the child has not overtaken her craving for cheap whiskey.

I close my eyes, briefly, with her still sitting in front of me. I think of a client in long-ago Newton County who walked down the mountain to save her son from her father's incestuous ravages. I see the face of the social worker who conducted that home visit and found the child's thirteen aunts and uncles, all mentally disabled, all drawing Social Security deposited into their parents' account, digging a latrine with spoons. The lines of his face deepened as he described the grime in the kitchen, the stench in the bedrooms, the standing pool of filth in the old outhouse. My last sight of that client when she tendered her son to adoptive parents has never left me: Joy mixed with resignation as she turned back towards her own enraged parents who had been denied custody of her eight-year-old for whom she made the ultimate choice.

I left that courtroom and trudged the two blocks to our home off the square, shedding my briefcase on the entry floor, tossing my purse on a chair, never stopping until I had exited onto the wide screen porch. I sat in my Shaker rocker, oblivious to the ringing phone in the little office at the front of the house. Below, the Buffalo River made its journey toward the slopes above the town. I could hear the swell of its spring flow, and smell the breeze coming off the trees rising from the river's banks. I could feel the cleansing water as though I had plunged my suit-clad person into its depths and surrendered to its pull. After a few miles, I would come to the River's beginning, and lay my body on the roots of the old trees there, leaving my feet in the stream, my shoes long since lost, my hose shredded and falling away. I could sleep at the source of the Buffalo; no houses lined the river's contours there, no camps, no roads. Certainly, no one wields a gavel onto planed and varnished oak high above the river's point of origins, nor anywhere along its route back down the mountain to the town.

If I persist, in three years, I will have served three decades at the Bar. In addition to hundreds and hundreds of private clients, I will have stood beside scores of appointed ones, mostly in Juvenile Court, mostly parents barely capable of dressing themselves let alone raising children. I have convinced mothers to sign over rights to children; I have required judges to preside over four days of trial before involuntarily taking such rights. On rare occasions, I have hammered a square peg into a round hole, and managed to pry a client's children out of the system. This week, I withdrew from the appointed case of a paranoid schizophrenic who loves her children but cannot bring herself to take the medication that would control her symptoms. I've represented her for two years, and managed to keep her visits scheduled for nearly two-thirds of that time, before she disappeared into the woodwork of the homeless. I did not feel triumph as I left the courtroom, nor relief. I felt only sorrow, and defeat.

I close my eyes, and summon my memories of that young woman in Jasper who saved her son. I see her oily skin, her stringy hair, her grubby clothes. And I see the light in her eyes, as her Joey reached to take the hand of his new mother.

The wooden star sways slightly in the draft from the window. The white cat is yowling to be released into the dampness of the day. I reach my hand to steady the dangling ornaments, and, with a shudder, and a long sigh, surrender my discontent to the contemplations of another day.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

1 comment:

  1. Corinne, do you realize how you honor those people that you have served by holding their memory in your forgiving consciousness? Important work you do and important memories you lift up to share with us. Your memories bless them and us.


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.