Saturday, October 22, 2011

Saturday Musings, 22 October 2011

Good morning,

A helicopter hovered over my bedroom last night. The phone rang; a friend with a police radio advised that a robber had bailed from a moving vehicle two blocks from my house during a police chase. A dozen uniformed officers and numerous patrol cars had created a perimeter surrounding our block. Take cover, he said. Make sure your doors are locked.

My husband and I rose from near-sleep to call our youngest boy and ascertain his whereabouts. Near home, he advised. His father strode out onto the porch to stand watch, just yards from a searching officer, in tense darkness. By the time all settled around me, and the morning agenda had been planned, I could no longer sleep.

I am privileged to live without fear most of the time. I know that many cannot say as much. Around the world, children lie on thin pallets inches from their siblings and parents, the stench of poverty settling on their hungry bodies. I believe that countries still exist in which threat of reprisal inhibits the exercise of what I consider entitled speech. Travesties and terror exist. But they do not dwell in my home.

The sound of Morning Edition murmurs behind me. A grey sky rises over the neighbor's roof line, the color of putty, the color of their satellite dish. I live in mundane oblivion and complacency, bothered by nothing more aggravating than the occasional peak in an otherwise flat line of crime. I read the headlines and make a funny sound with my mouth that suggests arrogance. I do not think, there, but for the Grace of God, go I. Rather, I reject the notion that any of these sad stories could ever carry my name.

With my SmartPhone, I track the progress of my son's Fall Break odyssey. From West Virginia, where he saw mountains devastated by coal-mining; to Asheville, where he briefly rested among the majestic slopes of enduring hills; to Nashville, on a quest for music and good food. He sends me periodic messages to mark his journey, as we agreed. My motivation for our arrangement is to be assured that nothing has befallen him. He has a more basic desire: To keep his mother's calls at bay. I can't miss you if you won't stop calling me, he quips, with only half a laugh.

I cannot help but draw parallels from his youth to mine. I left home at 18 and returned only briefly, for a handful of months, a half a decade later. I called my mother one day to let her know that I was going to be home late. If you aren't home by 5, she snapped, don't bother coming home at all. I never did. A friend drove me out to the county to get my clothing; we were denied access by my father, and I started from scratch. Eventually, Mother relented and invited me to dinner. We spoke in colder tones than I had known possible. She told me that on the day of our break, she and my father had purchased an air conditioning unit for my bedroom. I gazed at her as she talked, unable to formulate a response. I could only shrug. I was glad to be out. With the clouded sight of youth, I evaded her questions but greedily snatched her Tupperware of leftovers, hauling it back to my temporary berth in the offices of a youth group of which I was a member.

The social worker who ran the group encouraged my rebellion. I won't name him: he still lives, as far as I know, with his wife in a western suburb of St. Louis. But at the time, probably estranged from his family, he had taken refuge in the same large, drafty apartment as I. I did not speak to him of myself. I listened to his stories and found them fascinating; eyed his lanky frame in jeans and work shirts, bending over an acoustic guitar, and thought him glamorous. I close my eyes and wonder what he could have been thinking, letting a young woman squat in an unfurnished bedroom at the back of an office rented with tax free dollars. I don't know, even now, if he thought about it at all. Perhaps he was just being kind.

I spent the next semester in a borrowed dormitory room courtesy of my employer, the Financial Aids Office. By June I had decamped to a sublet, and in the fall, I started my second year of college as one of three young women in a rented townhouse east of campus living with furniture bought at Vet's Village, walking to and from class, existing on precious little more than air-popped corn.

I spoke yesterday with my former receptionist, who has gone back to school. I inquired after her progress. It's okay, she said. I waited. She continued, I mean, it's school, it's not supposed to be fun, right? I laughed. Now she tells me. My ignorance of that concept might explain my stunning lack of progress in my middle years. I had too much of what passed for fun while I attended college. I never took anything seriously, not my studies, not my friends, not the haunted look of a boy that my cousin and I passed back and forth between us like a toy, who died too young of the cancer that plagued him at the time, the cancer of which he never once spoke to either of us.

As our youngest child searches for a good fit for his own post-secondary studies, I think about my miserable existence in that time of my life. I would have said I was happy; I thought I was smart. We drank in the pub, drove too fast, and snuck people in and out of the gender-segregated dorms. We had no political beliefs. We had no drive. Our aimlessness sent us into a wide orbit, nearly directionless, from which I was a long time returning.

I shake the past from my shoulders, and glance around the room. There is dust to be banished, laundry to be done, and plants on the porch that have not been watered for days. Whatever my life has or has not been, this is what it has become. A middle-class existence, in a cute house, in an old neighborhood uncomfortably close to one from which crime occasionally intrudes on my existence. The great American novel will have to be written by someone else. I no longer expect to have a poem published in the New Yorker. But a couple of states south of here, my legacy sleeps in a Nashville hotel room. He writes better than I ever thought of writing, and in the spring, his first play will find voice in a playwright's festival. And I will become immortal, if only by virtue of his DNA and the fierceness of his writer's passion.

Mugwumpishly 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.