Saturday, July 14, 2012

Saturday Musings, 14 July 2012

Good morning,

The heat finally eased its relentless grasp on our lives. For the last few days, the morning's cool has stretched later than it had for weeks, and rain kissed the surfaces of our world. My foggy mood cleared.

But then I opened the newspaper on Thursday, and learned of the passing of one of the legends of my younger years, William F. O'Sullivan. Billy O. The last of the group of heroes who welcomed me into this often brutal life of law. I remember him best on a bar stool, cigarette in one hand, rocks glass in the other; or standing off to the side in a courtroom crowded with dark-suited defense lawyers, in his muted green serge, short-clipped hair, crinkled, deep blue eyes. Never less than cheerful; never without his grin. Billy O.

For Billy O's sake, or to appease the rise of bile within me at the thought of his death, I donned a dress and drove to a Catholic Church in Waldo yesterday. I parked against a barricade of concrete rubble, and tip-toed round the sign that said, "Sidewalk Closed", crossing over on a red light, ignoring the glares of drivers who had the right of way. I drew in a long, deep gulp of sweet, cool air and pulled the glass door outward, stepping across the threshold of the one place I have promised myself I wouldn't have to go. But for Billy O's sake, I dared.

I slipped passed the obligatory funeral guy, in his poorly fitted suit and somber expression. I gently placed my card into the waiting basket, beside the picture of Billy O and his wife, gleaming with love, unconcerned with the lens turned upon them. I dipped one knee, as only cradle Catholics do, and slipped into a pew, lowering my small frame onto the hard wooden bench just about the time a man high above the congregation started the next decade of the Rosary.

My eyes drifted around the church. I saw familiar faces. Silent men, lawyers who shared a stronger connection to Billy O than I do, by virtue of their having maintained the bond and not let it lapse through dint of inertia. Clutches of weeping women, some of whom I think must have worked at the courts. At the front, rows of family, people I did not know, his children who were small when I last saw them, grandchildren born long after I slipped out of the wide, welcoming swathe of Billy O's charm and became just another lawyer he helped along the way, with a life of my own, and my own album full of disappointments, dreams, and devilment.

To the right, a flat screen displayed a steady stream of pictures of the event's of Billy O's life: days on the dock; weddings; parades; parties; stolen, quiet moments. Billy O invited me to a few gatherings in his home, back in the day, but twenty-five years, three marriages, and a grown child have accumulated in my own album since then, and I did not recognize any of the scenes depicted in his memorial. Did I call him a friend? He had been, I suppose; but more than that, a mentor, and someone whom I would have been better for having not let slip from the pages of my life.

I felt a sob escape my lips, and rose. That little dip of the knee; a turn; and I stumbled back down the aisle. I saw people whom I have known for decades standing at the back of the church. I squeezed a few elbows, smiled back at a few faces, then thrust myself out into the air of a late summer afternoon.

As I drove home, sobbing, I scolded myself. I knew that my tears were not for Billy O but for the worthlessness of my sorrow. I had heard that Billy O was sick. I knew that he had had several ugly bouts of cancer over the years. Even as distant as I keep myself from the lawyers who occupied those past days, who sat on those bar stools and drank those tumblers of Scotch, I heard that he had worsened. And I made no effort then, and little effort now. I scrawled my name on the bottom of a card, beside that of the husband he never met, and made the funeral guy get the book out even though he told me he planned to display it after the service. I wrote a little note to Billy O's wife on the line beside my name, and left. I cried crocodile tears, more for my own failure than for the loss of Billy O, I think.

I parked my car behind our house, and turned to walk up the driveway. At that moment, my son's old white cat slipped from behind a bush, and soundlessly collapsed onto the asphalt. I hastened my step, and dropped my pocketbook. I saw her face, and knew that death was not done with me. I spoke her name, and she opened her eyes, and I bent down to put my hands on her. With a shudder, she died. My first thought was of my son; my second, that she must have been waiting for me to come home.

When Patrick left for college, he extracted a promise from me not to let any of the pets die before he graduated. I felt the press of my broken vow. On the telephone, sitting on my porch beside his little cat's silent form under its towel shroud, I told him that if he had only graduated a year early, I would have been able to keep that commitment.

My husband came home and we buried Sprinkles in the little pet cemetery on the side of our house, by Tiger, and Chief, and Chocolate. Her grave marker is a large rock stolen from Yellowstone National Park by Patrick and his friend Chris Taggart. She rests under the branches of a mysterious but beautiful bush which grows there, the bush that shades all of our fallen pets in their last sleep. I said a prayer for her, and thanked her for her years of service to my family. I closed my eyes, and sent a little thanks to Heaven, where I am sure Billy O sits by the side of a celestial lake, his tan legs stretched out, a dust of sand on his bare feet, a cold drink by his side, grinning that Billy O grin, raising his clear blue eyes to the wide patch of sky above him.

Muguwmpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

RIP Sprinkles, our first pet, 08 June 1994 - 13 July 2012. A life well lived.

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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.