Saturday, January 14, 2012

Saturday Musings, 14 January 2012

Good morning,

The radio murmurs in the background, emitting the gentle cadences of the morning commentators who people my world and have for many years. Their voices soothe me as I stumble around the kitchen, grumbling about the poor quality of my sleep, trying to keep my focus on the blessings in my life but momentarily distracted from that endeavor by self-pity. A man describes a hiking trip and the vibrant color of the woods through which he walks in the Adirondack Mountains. I stretch my neck and think about an upcoming Yoga class, hopeful for its positive impact. Another Saturday, another week, another seven days of tallying -- one for the W column, one for the L column or maybe just for the grey space in between. I never stop second-guessing my efforts -- as lawyer, mother, wife and friend. I never stop feeling that I fall short of a goal so painfully unattainable that my fingers ache as I stretch toward it and I only understand its virtue in the cold pit of my stomach.

I heard a story on the local public radio yesterday about a production at the Theatre for Young America. The subject of the play strikes close to home: bullying of disabled children. The idea of a hearing-impaired actress in a wheelchair playing a lead role so engaged me that I nearly struck a construction barrel and had to jerk my wheel hard to avoid collision.

I swear I experienced a flashback, to West Florissant Avenue, the long mile through Jennings, Missouri from the Catholic elementary school that I attended to the small bungalow in which I lived with my seven siblings and my parents. All those years ago, I huddled into my coat, book satchel thudding against my thin legs, and tried to ignore the gaggle of boys behind me. The trio staggered, arms swinging to and fro, guttural sounds emitting from their skinny necks. They called my name, and laughed, falling against each other as I quickened my tortured pace. I watched the houses as I passed, hoping for an adult to come out, see my tormentors and scold them.

Across the four-lane roadway, I saw the shamrocks on the shutters of the Clarke home and silently pleaded to Mrs. Clarke: Come on, come out, and call me over! Come on, I begged Marie and Carolyn, the daughters of the family, one my age and one that of my older sister. Born in Ireland, the Clarkes had clear and definite ideas about the proper behavior of children, and I felt certain that the conduct of the three boys who followed me would not rise to their strict expectations. But the door stayed closed; the house stood silent and forbidding. Keep walking, it told me. You'll have no safe harbor here.

I rounded the corner of my street, and the boys went by, hooting and dancing, thrilled with the impact that their behavior obviously had on me. I stood and watched them as they climbed the hill, beyond the corner gas station with the familiar figure of its attendant on a metal folding chair near the front door. He watched them, too, and then, with a quizzical glance in my direction, lit another cigarette. I turned away and trudged home.

The following Sunday, my mother and I walked home from church together. I felt the familiar lurch in my gut as my three torturers fell in step a half block behind us, oblivious to the potential of my mother's wrath. Their laughter drifted forwards. I quickened my pace, my legs jerking harder, protesting the strain of my speed. Slow down, my mother cautioned. You'll fall. No one had heard the word "disabled" in the early 1960's. My sister and I had a "walking problem", which the doctors claimed had "unknown origins of a genetic component". On that Sunday, I had no concern for labels, and only cared about whether my mother would realize that the children walking behind us created their entertainment by imitating me.

Three or four blocks into our walk home, my mother figured out what was happening. She stopped, turned, and stared at the boys. They stood still, wide-eyed and aghast. She took a step toward them, and they flung themselves in reverse and ran towards the church, their derisive laughter floating back towards us and settling on my miserable shoulders.

My mother looked at me. Does that happen often? she asked. I shrugged. She took my answer for confirmation and placed one hand on my face, cradling my cheek. I'm so sorry, she whispered. I knew she blamed herself. How could she not? She thought that she had failed to give me sturdy genes, and she knew that she had failed to give me a life that afforded me a chance to ride home in the sheltering confines of an automobile. It's okay, I insisted. Don't worry about it. I don't mind those guys, they're stupid anyway. I come from a long line of comforters. I spent my life lying to my mother. I never stopped. I never told her how I really felt, not once, not in all the 30 years we shared this earth. It's no big deal, I repeated.

She put her arm around me, and we started home again. After a few blocks, I realized that our physical proximity had caused her to limp in step with me, and I began to smile. I snuggled against her, poking her ribs, swaying my hips in time to her broken step, until she got the joke and began to giggle. We capsized against each other, chortling, holding on and howling. We slowly made our way down the street this way, sashaying, laughing, high-stepping, as the thin Sunday traffic slipped by, and the man at the gas station sat in his rickety chair and smoked his cigarettes, calmly gazing on us as though, perhaps, he understood.

The news has ended, and the Car Guys are now dispensing automotive wisdom. The morning rises around me, with its sharp clear air and its breathtaking freshness. With a long sigh, I glance at the clock, and think about the day ahead of me. The house sighs with me, and on the first floor, the old white cat curls on my son's abandoned pillow, and settles down to sleep.

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.