Saturday, May 19, 2012

Saturday Musings, 19 May 2012

Good morning,

The clear ring of a voice from the past heralded me as I listened to the unplayed messages on my cell phone. Corinne, it's Diana, I got your letter. . .she began, in an excited and instantly recognizable cadence. My mind flew to the past, to St. Louis, to the Central West End, where Diana and I first knew each other.

She was in college during my graduate school semesters, Fall of 1977 through Spring of 1980. We met through mutual friends, and I found myself drawn into her orbit. Small, spry and bubbly, with bright eyes and passionate beliefs, Diana went west at the same time I did. But while I stopped in Kansas City, she went as far as she could go without drowning: to Big Sur, California, where she homesteaded.

A few years later, she back-tracked a bit, landing in Moab, Utah. I heard about her exploits there over the years, by letter mostly, an endless stream of hand-made cards with hearts drawn in the margin. While I slugged from job to job, man to man, town to town, Diana built a tipi, lived without electricity, and constructed a gravity-fed water system. I worked in offices; she worked at the local co-op. Still the letters came. She called me her sister and signed each missive "love, di", in rounded, lovely printing that I would know to this day.

She struggled financially, but her difficulties did not prevent her from trying to help me. When I got run over by a car during law school and had to stop working, she stuffed some food stamps into a get-well card. She sent packages with small hand-made pretties. After the birth of my son, she made beautiful Mother's Day cards every year. And she visited, twice: Once in Arkansas, and once in Kansas City. She held my son in his infancy, and chased him around the living room in our Brookside home, when he was two or three.

I only have two photographs of my friend. She despised having her picture taken. I snapped one, once, and she turned away just as the shutter closed. Her arm is raised. She huddles into a heavy down jacket, standing next to the backroom door at the drug store where we worked during graduate school. I took her picture as an act of defiance, or maybe to goad her. My recollection of the reasoning faded with the Polaroid. The other photo shows a serene countenance, years later, when she had overcome her self-loathing.

In Moab, she lives in an area that once bore the designation Star Route, Castle Valley. At some point, the U. S. Postal Service gave her a Rural Route address but I still penned the storybook phrasing on the outside of her letters. Once, I lost the new address and called the Moab post office. I told them what I knew: Star Route, Castle Valley. After a silence, the old postal master chuckled. I haven't heard those old names in years, he said, and I felt shame. I told myself it hadn't been that long since I had written, but that was just an act of self-delusion. The fact is, Diana always honored our friendship more than I did.

Now my son plans a drive from Kansas City to Los Angeles, and I am searching for anyone whom I know on the route, to give him names, and numbers, and potential way stations. I tell myself that I had been thinking of writing to her anyway, and indeed, I did an Internet search for her a few months ago, to no avail. Now my motivation has increased, and time presses. I paid 95 cents for a People-Search online, and got the "new" address. But in the process, I learned that her mother died last year, and a shock of guilt washed over my soul. This is my oldest friend, and I let her slip away.

In writing, I only felt humility --- no sense of entitlement, no expectation that she would even respond. Though I could not imagine her tossing my letter in the trash, I would not have blamed her for doing so. I read about your mother, I hazarded, tapping my keyboard with care. I am so sorry. I enclosed a copy of my Mother's Day musing, hoping that any gap between us might be overcome with the common bond of mother-loss. It was a cheap trick, but all that I had. And then, I told her: Patrick is driving west in a couple of weeks. It would be great if he could stop to see you, maybe have a little rest from the road.

I can't say that I seriously expected the woman whom I had once known to reject such a request. The quality of her character could not have abated, even if the length of time since I last wrote would have justified silence, or a verbal shrug, a small metaphorical shake of her head. The Diana whom I knew would not stand on ceremony: A friend is a friend, a sister is a sister. And she did not disappoint. In her message, she welcomed my son to stop or to stay. She eagerly anticipated seeing him again. She thanked me for writing, she expressed joy at our reconnection. She said she loved me. She called me sister.

I could see her: Raising her hand to ward off the camera's eye; standing in my farmhouse kitchen in Arkansas; dropping a bedroll on the hardwood floor of my Kansas City bungalow. Her eyes remain bright; her skin tanned from hours spent out-of-doors; her manner gentle, like the wind that caresses your upturned face.

I listened to her message twice, three times, four times, feeling a curious mixture of unworthiness and relief. Then I dialed her number to return the call, as the tears began to flow.

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.