Saturday, October 13, 2012

Saturday Musings, 13 October 2012

Good morning:

The week has drained slowly from the pages of my calendar, swirling around my feet, crunching beneath my heavy shoes. I shrug away the days, push them from my face like an unwelcome scarf. I sling my bag -- this bag, the bag that I left in the coffee shop, the bag with my phone, and my notebook, and my insurance card -- I sling my bag onto the seat of my car for the short journey home. Friday. . .and my pajamas await, and a man sits on my couch, watching his spooky serials and scrolling through the messages on his phone.

Night settles into my bones. I close my eyes. Morning threatens from a short distance. When it comes, I will slide the flat strap of my bag back across my chest and shuffle down to the car. I will drive to a coffee shop to meet with a client, and spend several hours explaining why the offer we got is a good one. If my explanation falls on deaf ears, I will prepare her to testify, while her anxious father watches her children, and the coffee cools in our cups.

Between my heavy obligations, I will do laundry, and make dinner, and slurp down some fat-free yogurt. And my heart will beat in its regular rhythm, a bit out of sync. It's always been that way. I've been asked: Do you know you have an arrhythmic heart? And I answer, Yes, I know that. I already know that.

Perhaps my heart beats the way that it does because of the hundreds upon hundreds of steps I have walked. My malformed feet have taken me so many places. . .

. . . Through corridors, beside black girls called ugly names at my high school: I hear the hard echo of hatred in the voice of a senior. She looked at the name I had drawn for "Secret Santa", the name of the classmate for whom I would anonymously leave little presents and cards for the three weeks until Christmas vacation. My upperclass friend spat out an unfamiliar word. I cannot bring myself even to type it. I had to ask my mother what it meant. She threatened to wash my mouth out with Ivory soap just for repeating the terrible syllables. She explained that it was a horrible label for people whose skin was considerably darker than mine. I felt a warm flush spread through my body. I didn't know, I told her. I cried. I befriended the girl for whom I served as Secret Santa, and abandoned the student who had used the awful slur to describe her.

. . .Up the steps of my first apartment in St. Louis, with my friend Hank, while the incredulous landlady stared, and the next-door-neighbor emitted an evil snicker. Later, when she gave me notice to vacate, the landlady said, We can't have none of them kind hereabouts. I wasn't sure what kind she referenced. She uttered another word to describe people with brown skin; a different label, just as vicious. My stomach lurched; my face flamed. I filed a complaint with the city and won; enough to pay for the deposit and first month's rent in a new apartment. I don't know where Hank is now; or what became of him. I don't know if he knows that I took a stand in his honor. The landlady didn't flinch as she answered the hearing officer. She admitted what she had said, confessed the grounds for eviction as being Associated With Persons Protected by the Equal Rights Provisions of the Relevant State Statute. I don't think she understood why she lost.

. . .Into a Plaza restaurant, with my friend Joyce, at lunch time. Our names on the waiting list, we watched party after party seated ahead of us. When we finally inquired, the hostess sneered. We don't do salt and pepper here. 1980. Kansas City. The Plaza, for crying out loud. Another complaint; another recovery; this time we donated it to Freedom, Inc.'s not-for-profit Impact Development, which matched minority, poor, or disabled residents with needed services.

. . . To a county clerk's office, where the clerk himself, when asked the minority population, replied, with a complete lack of guile, We got one family, but they don't give us no trouble. I met that family: White grandparents, a white mother, and two bi-racial children. The treatment they received at the local public school drove them to attend school one county to the north. Arkansas, 1987. Not Atlanta in the 50's. But not much different.

. . . Around and around the streets of Kansas City, in a high-top Dodge with a wheelchair lift, looking for a curb-side parking space, in a world that had only parking garages and nothing available into which we could fit the vehicle and drop the lift. One more complaint, twenty-seven spaces designated, but quietly, with no fanfare, lest the city have to admit its remission. 1999, Missouri, nine years after the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

. . . Into a courtroom behind two women who had joined together to raise a child, only to be shunted back out. The law would not recognize their co-parenting of their daughter, an orphan from China who would otherwise have had nothing but a small cot in a room with twenty other cots, tended by a minder responsible for room upon room of children, each with a pile of neatly-folded clothing on a cot such as this girl had had. It's the twenty-first century, people! Get over it!

. . . In the lobby of Juvenile Court, with family after family struggling to reclaim their children. Well-meaning, tired, with empty pockets, tattered bus passes, a dusty wallet containing nothing but food stamps. Haunted eyes, strained foreheads, worn shoes. How do we treat the poorest among us? That is how we shall be adjudged.

I'm still reeling from a meeting that I had this week, in which I learned of something terrible that a client of mind did --- years ago, it is true; but the thing was so terrible, and his attitude towards it even worse. It isn't that he thought he had engaged in acceptable conduct. It's that he thought nothing of it; he regarded it with indifference. He had not even mentioned it to me. I read a report during the meeting in which I learned of his awful act. I held my tongue. After the meeting, I took him aside, and I said, Did you do this? and he shrugged. He actually shrugged.

When you come home one autumn night, after a journey of a thousand steps through a life of passionate engagement, having just discovered that you are fighting for the rights of a man who committed an atrocity of which he himself speaks dismissively, every other brave act you have undertaken loses meaning. And so I am left, at the end of this cold, bitter week, with nothing to show for my life but a sore throat, a slightly elevated temperature, and a packet of forgotten dreams.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

1 comment:

  1. A friend sent this to me. Thank you. This posting is a gift. My heart goes out to you. I feel like I've been most of the places you describe, in one way or another.

    Jo-Hanna Read


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.