Saturday, September 29, 2012

Saturday Musings, 29 September 2012

Good morning,

I lumbered through a brutal week and skidded to a stop last evening, my brain numb, my legs beyond hope, my ego dizzy from satisfying moments alternating with dark seconds when I doubted the virtue of my very existence. I cannot even say that I suffered being dragged from a coma each morning, because worry tore me from fretful dreams hours before the moment when KCUR would have slammed into my subconscious. I would flip the switch to prevent its awakening my spouse, and stumble down the stairs, where even the old brown dog seemed confused by my early rising.

My most recent trial sputtered to a close an hour or two before the end of the three days allotted by the court. Highs and lows of the event include my losing my temper and accusing the opposing counsel of lying -- and learning, on the resultant recess, that she in fact had not, leading to my apologizing on the record with a grandiose tempered only by its sincerity. At other times, that ignoble occurrence paled next to a fifteen-minute dance with the judge, ending in his apology, the next day, for seeming to treat me more harshly than my opponent -- an apology somewhat dampened by his insistence on blaming my ineptitude at phrasing objections, a qualification that I neither disputed nor begrudged. He had, after all, also reversed himself on a ruling that resulted in the striking of a long series of questions designed to impeach my client, questions that I knew were improper. He hasn't given his judgment in the case yet, having taken it under advisement, but I am left with a sinking feeling that his reconsideration of that legal point signals his intention to rule against me. Cleaner record, less chance of reversal on appeal.

On each of the three days of trial, I took my mid-day meal at a nearby cafe, with pleasant, aromatic coffee and warm, good food. On the first day, I spent the noon hour preparing my client for cross-examination for the third or fourth time, fearing that his self-righteous indignation would play as guilt. On the second day, I traded pleasantries with a witness whom my client had identified in the days before trial as knowing both himself and the opposing party, with whom I had traded voice mails. The forty-five minutes during the noon hour allowed only a brief assessment of any contribution that he could make to my client's tale, but I took a chance and used his testimony. Only time will tell if he played well, but he certainly broke the tension, sandwiched between a vicious cross-examination of my client and the sad, unimpeachable, quiet utterances of my client's father. At noon on the last day of trial, I talked at length with my client and his wife about a pending motion to interview the children, filed a couple of years ago by my predecessor, which I knew the judge wanted us to withdraw. I ate half a brownie, drank three strong cups of coffee, and convinced my client that his daughter had been through enough.

Early each morning, and at the end of each day, I made the hour journey from my home to the small town where the trial took place. I tried each of the available routes, finding varying degrees of traffic and construction. Regardless of how I traveled, the trip took the same amount of time, and afforded me the same views of long, sweeping fields, small clutches of farm buildings, the occasional Quik Trip and the battered vehicles of fellow commuters. I sipped coffee in the car, once from home, twice from QT, and ate breakfasts of protein bars and grapes while I traveled. My six decades sat heavily, awkwardly, like the lead shields draped against me in my child-bearing years when I had to have X-rays. Adjusting the car seat had no impact on my comfort. I'm too old for this, I told myself, as the miles fell behind me. Too old to rise before five o'clock for anything but bird-watching; past my prime; on the downhill slope.

On the second day of trial, on a stretch of state highway resembling so many others, I experienced the peculiar sensation of confusion, a momentary lapse of coherence, when I could not have said whether I was, in fact, coming or going. I continued forward only because I knew that I had journeyed without stopping and so must be on the correct route. A mist hung over the fields on either side of me. I could have been anywhere, at any time: Newton County, Arkansas, on my way to Fayetteville; south of Kansas City, traveling to Memphis; or passing the long stretch of green before the "Watch For Fog" bridge, in mid-Missouri, on my way to St. Louis.

A trial is often the anti-climax for the lawyers conducting it. The hours, and days, and weeks before the judge raises the curtain by uttering the first words of the record consume the advocates who stage the play. By the time I unpack my trial bag, unloading files and tablets onto the counsel table, I have already played each scene a thousand different ways. I have already analyzed my performance, and relentlessly critiqued the evidence on both sides, as well as every decision that I have made since my client signed our contract. In half of the scenarios, the judge rules in my client's favor; in half, against us.

The truth, as the whole world knows, lies between what one side wants and what the other fights to claim. Family law cases have no clean resolution. No jury eyes the witnesses and says, "Find for the plaintiff, award fifty thousand dollars", and no judge's gavel ends the dispute. No check can be written to satisfy anyone but the lawyers who shuffle papers. There are no winners; and there are too many losers.

I used the extra hours on Thursday to settle back into my office routine. I drove the hour into town and parked in the space behind my customary place, behind a car with no handicapped license or placard, the driver of which obviously has no regard for the rights of disabled people or the sanctity of the law. I photographed his license plate with my too-Smart phone, uploaded it to Facebook with a caustic comment, and dragged my crippled legs from the cramped confines of my little Vue. Thirty minutes later, nursing a cooling cup of coffee, I answered my assistant's request that I talk to a couple of clients in the conference room with a long, heart-felt groan. But I went, and forty-five minutes later, as I shook the hand of a young father and Air Force corpsman who only wanted my assurance that I would fight for his right to see his son even when he went on active duty, I felt no remorse.

Now the weekend has already given me a pleasant dinner, a trip to the book store, and nine hours of much-needed sleep, albeit with an extra hit of pain medication to quell my protesting, lily-white spastic legs. My husband planted a kiss on my coffee-tinged lips and went off to tennis, leaving me to browse the paper, figure out what's happened to one of my favorite silly comics, and listen to the semi-annual pledge drive on the local public radio station. By and by, I will, with some reluctance, start the weekly house-keeping, but for the moment, I am content to pretend to read the headlines of the morning newspaper, and pour myself another cuppa Joe.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Musing Moratorium, Week of Saturday, 22 Sept 12

Due to being in Memphis for my stepson's family weekend and in trial next week, there will be no Musings this week. My apologies and thanks to all who read.

Mugwumpishly tendered,


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saturday Musings, 15 September 2012

Good morning,

The ten days since returning from vacation has finally subsided, life's anger at me for abandoning it appeased. I've endured the wrath of Murphy's law, that staggering, relentless dictate that no event should unfold according to the preferences of the participant. I barelled through the week and skidded to a shuddering stop last evening, quivering as I stood in place, clutching my wits about me. Friday. Friday. Mid-September, ten days after my return from the serenity of Lake Michigan, and my hair has turned several more shades of grey. What can I do, but laugh?

The radio softly murmurs in the other room. If I strain, which I don't, I can understand the NPR commentators and their guests. I let it continue in its reassuring, barely discernible tone, background noise to my quiet consumption of coffee. My mind wanders, back to Michigan, back to New Orleans, back to Wyoming, back to New Mexico. When people talk about their vacations, I demur. I've never been anywhere, I tell them, but it is not true. I've been from California to Massachusetts, from Montana to Texas, to Florida, Utah, Arizona, Colorado and many states between. I've just never been anywhere that requires me to have a passport, unless you count the time we swung over Mexico in a sky lift.

As I leaned on a wooden rail nearly a thousand feet over Lake Michigan at Inspiration Point in Arcadia, Michigan, my thoughts drifted to other elevated spots on which I have stood. A human-made rock cupola over a canyon in New Mexico; Pinnacle Peak outside Little Rock; City of Rocks State Park near Denning, New Mexico. I close my eyes to remember the glory of each, which I conquered my fear of heights and in some cases, my wobbly gait to see.

With eyes still closed, I remember standing behind a small clutch of tourists gazing on the Lower Falls in Yellowstone. A dozen feet to my left, my son and his best friend challenged my patience by pretending to slide beneath a lower rail, their teasing nearly too much for my mother's nerves. From behind me came the quiet, singsong cadence of some visitors from an Asian country. I did not turn, but enjoyed the universal tone of awe which told me their long journey had been rewarded.

Seconds later, I simultaneously heard a resounding snap in front of me and a gasp at my ear. One of the men from the group of Asians darted forwarded, pushing through the several rows of bodies, diving low. My heart pounded in my chest as I found my balance. My brow tightened. The voices behind me quickened, their pitch rising, excitement crackling as their cameras fell, forgotten, dangling from thin straps, against shirts, jackets and dresses.

My son's form, hastening forward, caught my peripheral attention. His face bore the stamp of fear, and I began to suspect the source of the commotion had something to do with me. Not me, though: my then-husband, who had been at the rail, in the cursed rented portable electric wheelchair that we had brought on the journey. As the people in front of me pushed aside at the urging of my son's arms, the pounding in my heart stopped; the rise and fall of my chest froze; and any grievance I had ever had against my spouse vanished.

The bolts on the wheelchair had broken, and the frame collapsed. Dennis' six-foot frame had pitched over the bottom rung of the iron railing, his trajectory a direct path to a stunning end on the floor of the valley of the Falls. The slope of the falling water measures 300 feet, but the craggy surface of the valley lies further down. By any measure, his pitch forward would have been fatal, and as my son prodded the tourists aside to let me move forward, I realized that the only thing between Dennis and death was the strong hand of a small man from a country whose language I could not speak.

He tightened his grip on Dennis' belt and heaved backward, my son holding the unsteady chair to allow his stepfather's savior to at least settle Dennis somewhere. My heart resumed its beating. I let my eyes stray over the side of the bars through which Dennis had toppled, tracing the straggly vegetation as it vanished into the dark depths of the valley's edge. I flicked my gaze back, watching the serene waters of the Lower Falls in the near distance. I did not feel able to tear myself from the starkness of that scene, but I eventually pulled myself from the edge and joined the small group surrounding my husband.

My son, his friend, and the rescuer dragged the worthless wheelchair and its occupant back to our vehicle, Dennis muttering thanks and expletives with equal fervor, the Asian tourist demurring, Patrick and Chris chattering with the nervousness of young teens.
Hands pressed hands with the warmth of gratitude; the man settled my husband, then joined his family. A member of their group raised a lens and took his picture, and all these years later, I realize that in some album, on the other side of the world, in careful characters, his wife has doubtless written Papa with the man he saved in America.

I am afraid of heights. My son had to take my hand and persuade me of the safeness of the Royals stadium, the one and only time I went to a game there. But I crossed a fog-shrouded bridge on Grandfather Mountain because Patrick and his friend Phillip wanted to make the journey, and I did not want them to go alone. I climbed to that rocky point in New Mexico to watch eagles soar out of sight into the depths below us, because my son, age 7, could not make the hike alone. I rode the old lift to the top of Jackson Hole Mountain, standing at 10,000 feet just to gaze across at the run down which my son and his friend rode rented bikes. And to show my son the beauty of the upper Rockies, I took the trip that brought me to the edge of the lookout over the Lower Yellowstone Falls, where my long, frozen gaze memorized the fall that my fellow traveler would have endured, but for the swift intervention of a stranger.

The understanding man with whom I am enjoying the last half of my journey through life just refilled my coffee. In a little while, I'll surprise someone who doesn't expect me to appear in the place where she is, and I will luxuriate in the joy on her face. Several states east of me, and a bit north, Dennis and his girlfriend will, I hope, be enjoying a quiet weekend, at his farmhouse in Killbuck or her city home in Akron. On the road between us, Patrick occupies a space in the flat lands, not realizing that his mere existence has made me conquer my fears, time, after time, after exhilarating time. And in Japan, or China maybe, a man grows old just as we all do, remembering, I hope, the beauty of America.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Saturday Musings, 08 September 2012

Good morning,

After a day and an evening of standing, more or less continuously, on arthritic feet in cheap shoes, my toes complained far into the hours when I should have been sleeping. Vanity lulled me into believing that I could tolerate these cute little wedge sandals. So I wore them to court, and to breakfast with a friend at the incomparable Ginger Sue's where the biscuits are divine, for a full day of lawyering, and to the liquor store. Then I stood in them and greeted the steady stream of visitors to the opening of the newest art showing in Suite 100, the professional conclave that my husband and I created two years ago. By ten o'clock, I sat on the side of my bed, rubbing reddened toes and massaging Burt's Bee Balm into the balls of my feet. Ridiculous.

And instantly, without warning, my mind flies back to the single time that I tottered on three-inch heels. Rochester, Minnesota. 1980. My brother Frank's wedding. I have a few photos, yellowed, curling, in an album in the one box that escaped a 1984 apartment flood and the rising waters in my current basement, the year that river rats overtook Kansas City, when rain fell in unrelenting sheets, forcing the Little Blue River over its banks and into the inadequate storm sewers.

I wore a black print dress to that wedding, and stood in tall, cheap, black patent shoes on the arm of the man who squired me that year. As thin as I am now, back then, I weighed 25 pounds less. The Corley clan formed a ring at the center of the reception in the bride's parents' back yard, adult siblings and our parents, maybe a brother-in-law and a small grandchild or two. I cast a backward glance outside our closed circle, at my brother's new in-laws and their friends. I did not speak of the divide, but felt its cold depths.

I realized my father had drifted away and into the house. Some instinct pulled me after him. I found him sitting on a sofa in the living room, holding a wine glass. I sat beside him, searching for the right words to softly mutter, worrying that he might be drunk, hoping that he was not.

Did I ever teach you how to hold a wine glass, he asked me, without warning. My gaze fell on the stem that I held. No, Pops, I acknowledged. You never did.

He raised his right hand, dark wine shimmering through the crystal. I transferred my glass to my left hand and mimicked him. We laughed at my efforts to crook my little finger as he instructed. He spoke my name, urged me to try again, and I did, my hand poised in the same way as his. We sat, on the sofa, at the Reeves home, in the quiet of the living room, an ounce or two of wine and a couple of decades between us.

Weeks later, an envelope arrived at my apartment in Kansas City. I slid a half-dozen photographs from between two rigid pieces of cardboard. I shuffled through images of me and the boyfriend with whom I had, by then, parted ways in a flood of tear-drenched betrayal. My unknowing mother did not mean to wound me by sending those along. I hurried past them.

The last picture had been taken just at the moment when I had finally gotten what my father had been trying to teach me. My hand rises in a perfect mirror of his. We gaze at one another, my chin a delicate version of his own, my button nose reflecting his Irish profile. My curls fall to my thin shoulders. He wears a navy blue suit and a dark tie, and I wear my black dress, legs crossed at the ankle, feet clad in those ridiculous shoes, frail arm contrasting with his more sturdy one.

I have no other pictures of me with my father. In another photo album, I stand in the dress I wore at my first wedding, caught unawares, fury on my face. That man is NOT walking me down the aisle! I had told my sister, at precisely that moment. Her hand rests on my arm. Calm down, she whispered. He'll hear you. I told her that I did not care. My brother Stephen would take my arm, and guide me past the congregated friends. Just tell him.

On a shelf in my office, my parents turn to smile at a photographer as they dance at some other child's wedding. My father's face shines. My mother's smile is sweet. There are no children in the picture. When I sit at my desk, I can study them, and I often do. I don't know what answers I seek. I am not even sure what questions I am asking.

This morning, the throbbing in my feet has subsided. The blisters look more painful than they feel. The offending shoes, discarded, look innocent. But I know better. I won't be fooled again.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Mugwump Muses

Good afternoon,

At 9:05 p.m. on 9/5/55, my mother let me slip quietly and without fanfare into the waiting arms of the doctor. My father, not to be outdone, celebrated by buying 9-0-5 beer at the 9-0-5 liquor store at the bottom of the hill on McLaran Avenue, just down from our house, in Jennings, Missouri.

My mother and father told me -- and I have always believed it to be true -- that Mother wanted to name me "Mary Kathleen" and Dad wanted to name me "Bridget Corinne". They also told me that my original name was "Bridget Kathleen", and that I was to be called "Bridget Kay". The change to "Mary Corinne" came, the story went, after a week or two, when Dad got to writing combinations on a cocktail napkin and decided "Mary Corinne" looked better. Since "Corine" was the great-grandmother after whom I was thusly named, it seemed a good change, as she was alleged to be a strong and capable single parent, having been widowed, a model that I later needed, as I raised my son alone for at least half his life.

I am fortunate to have been born in 1955 rather than 1945, for in 1957, I contracted what later was identified as a virus. At the time, they thought "polio" and then "multiple sclerosis", but settled on a diagnosis of "hereditary spastic paraplegia", which apparently has long since been discredited in favor of various conditions which have come to all be associated with one or the other virus. But at age 18 months, I essentially stopped walking. I'm told my knees swelled, and had to be drained. My mother used to say that someone, I am not sure who, dragged my little sick body around in a wagon. I'm assuming it was one of my older sisters, though I've never asked if any of them remember doing so. Had I been born a few years or a decade earlier, I probably would not have lived. Medicine -- specifically tetracycline -- kept the infection at bay.

I don't think they expected me to live. But live I did. I spent my childhood in Jennings, attending Catholic school and feeling ostracized because I "walked funny". An older sister shared my affliction; I don't know how she felt, but I always thought that people were staring. Boys did in fact follow me home wobbling and making loud, rude noises. Girls shunned me. I attended an all-girl Catholic high school, and suffered many indignities at the sniping mouths of girls who probably now wish they had been nicer.

The forty or so years since high school seem like a blur. College; a brief, surreal time in Boston; graduate school; lobbying in Jeff City; law school here; and a long, strange trip to this day. I sit at my computer, fresh off of twelve wonderful days in one of the most beautiful places in our nation -- Ludington, Michigan -- where I met many lovely people who welcomed me into their homes just on the strength of my smile and my affiliation with my husband and his sister. I walked in cool water, lounged on warm sand, ascended scores of steps to view Lake Michigan from atop one or the other look-out (inhaler at hand) and read novel after novel from the rocking chair on the screen porch of my sister-in-law's summer home, Maryland Cottage in Epworth Heights. I breathed. I slept. I contemplated few things more serious than whether to eat out or stay in.

Through the wonders of modern communication, a hundred people, most of whom are known to me in real time, have wished me returns of the day. My son phoned; my other son, my son-by-marriage, phoned; and message upon message arrived in my inbox. Rather than dreading the return to my desk, I am pleased to be here, opening mail, drinking coffee, sending replies of appreciation to those who have written with good wishes.

In two days, my father will have been gone for 21 years, almost my son's entire life. In eight months, my son will walk across the stage at DePauw University, exit, stage left, into his own independent life. In two years, I will be older than my mother was when cancer claimed her.

I have been searching for something pithy to share. What comes to mind are the words that Robert Graves put into Claudius' mouth:

Some say that I am half-witted. Well, that might be so. Why is it then, that I have survived to middle age with only half my wits, while thousands around me have died with all of theirs intact? Evidently, quality of wits is more important than quantity.

I'm off to have a quiet dinner with my husband. I thank each and everyone of you, again, for taking the time to send me birthday greetings. I cannot properly express how much it means to me, to be the subject of even a transient thought, let alone well-remembered. I am humbled.

Mugwumpishly yours,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Saturday Musings, 01 September 2012

Good morning,

To my left, between two soft muslin curtains, I see a glimpse of calm blue. In recent days, I have watched waves rising taller than my beloved husband slam against him, and imagined, from my safe distance, his exhilaration at withstanding their thundering force. I saw his strong hand briefly rest on the shoulder of his life-long friend, a woman our age, both of them so familiar with the beaches onto which these waves break that memories have formed, and faded, only to be rekindled each year on the shores of Lake Michigan. The woman's husband and I sat and watched our spouses walk the waves, and were content.

I realize that I've been in this lovely place for more than a week. Sand dwells in the crevices of my shoes. My swimming suit flutters on the line. Grey shows in the roots of my hair at the carelessly drawn parting, but I pay it only little mind, giving idle thought to calling for an appointment when I return to civilization. I've only had one or two political squabbles with my conservative husband since he joined his sister and me several days ago; on most else, we agree, and for the most part, we've deliberately kept our breakfast dialogue to more pleasant subjects. Our children; the sand dunes; the sweetness of the morning air. Important stuff.

By mid-week, I divested myself of my umbilical tie to the office. Do you realize that I am on VACATION, I e-mailed my office after the tenth or twentieth small request electronically arrived from them. For the first few days, I had spent several hours each morning attending to my clients' needs, belatedly realizing that nearly everything I had done could have waited or been delegated. I told my receptionist as much, and sent a terse note giving guidelines as to what should be copied to me, and what should not. And then, I set to relaxing in earnest.

I watch the car ferry disappearing towards Wisconsin. I am charmed by the idea that the highway which bisects these northern states ends on the shores of this gorgeous resort and continues on the other side, with the cars destined to traverse it carried on the decks of the ferry while their drivers and passengers lounge and chat for the length of the journey. We are a stubborn race: we find a way to get where we want to go, even to the point of traversing one of the largest bodies of water in our path.

A man stops to greet me, having risen from the wicker chairs surrounding small wooden tables. His group meets daily, to drink coffee and discuss events of the day. He mentions that I should encourage my husband to join them on Monday, and I agree to do so. A hand stretches out to clasp mine. I am a stranger here, having only come for less than a handful of years, but this man welcomes me as though I am a life-long resident. Ironic, that thought, the thought that I am made to feel so wanted in a place that I have never thought to be.

On the porch of this old hotel, a camera lens is raised. I've done that, too: pointed the small eye of my cell phone towards the vanishing edge of the world, and tried to capture the stunning expanse and the awe in my belly. I upload the resultant image without any hope that I have done justice to the grandeur, and with less conviction that I can ever convey the power of what I see. I've walked alongside the Lake, and above it, on the high walk, gazing down over the tops of houses which they call cottages but which seem grander than the name implies. I stand against the railing and lean out far enough to see the flags raised over the sidewalk below me, and feel the sharp intake of my breath. I cannot say whether I have succumbed to asthma or joy.

I walked to the Lighthouse, and remembered photographing my son sitting on the wall beside the aged structure, a half hour or so after he learned of a friend's murder last year. His grim, stunned expression lingers in the place where he sat. I gazed the distance to the shore and thought of him, off in the Midwest, moving beyond the boy that he was and getting comfortable in his adult form. The world has turned a full round and I have returned to in the same spot, with the same shedding skin, the same slight wince, the same feeling of vague unease. The overlay of calm might be deeper; the cast of my gaze might reach farther; the inward peace might be surer.

A scant few days remain of my sojourn in this place. I intend to make the most of them. I will walk back to the cottage on the low walk, and find my husband. He has a favorite chair on the screen porch, and I imagine him there. I will take his hand, and walk down to the beach with him. We will talk of nothing more challenging than the evening's plans. The wind will rise to caress our faces. And I will speak his name.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Epworth Heights, Ludington, Michigan
01 September 2012

The Missouri Mugwump™

My photo
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.