Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saturday Musings, 15 December 2012

Good morning,

Ten days remain between us and December 25th; and as the steam rises from my coffee cup, I think of what I have left to accomplish.  Three hearings, perhaps a fourth judging by a message left on Friday by a desperate prospective client; a half-dozen presents to buy; the tree to finish decorating; and meals to cook, including finding a recipe for palatable gluten-free cookies.  In between those tasks, there are clients to harass for payment so that I can afford all those presents; and year-end taxes to turn my salon-colored hair grey; and one or two outstanding judgments to draft. 

And as I raise the mug to take another sip, internally grumbling, my eyes chance to fall on today's banner headline, and the fretting falls away, leaving only a well of gratitude.  One word spans the columns, in three-inch type:  Horrific.

When our suite-mate rushed into the office to tell us about the massacre in Connecticut, my stomach lurched.  Dear God, not more children killed, but my prayer came too late.  And as I sat in front of my computer screen, a wellspring of conflicting emotions flooded my chest:  Those poor babies; that monster; how are the parents going to struggle through this?

And one other thought rose unbidden, a kind of emotional deja vu, which sent my heart's call to the children huddled under those desks:  How terrified they must have been.  And I sank back, back, back two decades, to the path I trod down a hall of Kansas University Hospital, behind a rapidly striding doctor.  A path of which I might have spoken here before today, but one that repeats so often in my mind, so rarely described, that I see now, I should take others down that path with me, so that one kernel of truth might be exposed.

A friend had taken me to KU because I felt pains in my "right lower quadrant" and my temperature had elevated.  Neither of us knew with certainty what the signs of appendicitis might be.  We each had memories of rudimentary instructions in first aid class, and the pain combined with the fever seemed to suggest trouble.  So off we went, two recent transplants to Kansas City, to the closest hospital.

An overworked resident suggested that I might have hours to wait before lab results confirmed or dispelled our worries. I decided to go out into the waiting room and release my friend.  No cell phones in 1981, but I assumed that a nurse would let me call my friend to come get me when they decided I could go home.  So I pulled my jeans onto my skinny legs, exited the exam room clutching the hospital gown closed, and turned right.

The emergency room corridors formed an inner square with the exam rooms on the outer perimeter and the nurses' station sitting squarely in the middle.  I could not know that precisely at the moment when I acted from concern that Joyce would spend the entire night slumped in an uncomfortable chair watching reruns of old sitcoms, Bradley R. Boan entered the emergency room armed with a shotgun and a bad disposition.  He then lurched forward a few steps, into the very corridor which I traversed.  Between him and me, Dr. Marc Beck strode, long-limbed and intent, chart in hand, probably not even watching ahead of him, oblivious to the fact that there would be no more Christmases, no more patients, no more life.

When the shotgun blast sounded, I dove down an intersecting corridor and ran towards what I believed to be the exit. I had chosen badly:  I found only an abandoned waiting room, chairs strewn with jackets, coats, and magazines. I stood against the wall, frantic, listening to the screams, the shoving of furniture, the hurrying into rooms, the barring of doors.  A second blast, as Boan dispatched with a patient's mother sitting in a wheelchair to the right of the entrance, savagely and senselessly,

And then:  an eerie silence, punctuated only by the occasional ringing of an unattended phone.

I gazed in front of me, at my own grim face reflected in a darkened window.  I realized that if I could see the reflection of the corridor in the window, anyone coming into the corridor could see me. I dove for the closest door, into an examining room, where I waited for what seemed an eternity, alone, under the examination table, the door blocked by a cart that I had shoved in front of it.

The evening progressed: eventually, all of us were herded into one room, and later, escorted to the dark parking structure in which KBI agents had shot light after light, hoping to flush out the suspect whom they thought was hiding there.  As it happens, he had long since fled, and would not be captured until he unleashed his fury on another place of healing: a church.  He would be caught, tried, and unsuccessfully attempt to blame  mental illness.  Conviction affirmed, film at ten.

As I sit in my dining room, 21 plus years later, the terrible tragedy in Connecticut raises the hairs on the back of my neck.  Grief draws tears:  grief for the children whose lives ended with the deadly accurate aim of a ruthless murderer.  But grief also for the children huddled nearby under desks, in corners.  Layer upon layer of pain will unfold in their minds, drawn forth as they mature, bubbles rising to the surface, or foaming beneath the cool plane of their passive faces.  Time after time, they will ask themselves the question that lurks in the gloomy corners:  Why them?  Why not me?

Years after my brief encounter with a killer's rage, I stood in the bathroom at my home in Winslow, Arkansas.  The drug store kit had shown a solid "plus", foretelling the birth of my son.  Eyes met reflected eyes.  The chill of winter surrounded me; the future loomed, with its sleepless nights, its momentary flashes of regret, its joys, its triumphs, its fears.  As I stared into my own future, shining in the light of my reflected countenance, I felt the surge of survivor's guilt that I can never shake.  So much has happened to me, so many things that others could not bear.  A chaotic childhood.  A few lost years, drowned in single malt.  Some ravaged relationships, a few that left scars, some that left bruises that faded only in the corporal world.  Shot at, run down, left for dead. 

And yet, still living.  Where others bled and died, I rose, a crippled Phoenix, with tattered feathers, and flew on, sometimes knocked off course, but still soaring.  Why them?  Why not me?

The coffee pot sounds three bells, telling me it has shut off.  The crickets which sing in my inner ear raise their voices.  The rest of the house stands silent.  One glance tells me that the headline has not changed:  20 children still lay in the morgue, six adults to watch over them forever.  In an hour or so, a friend will pull into my driveway, and we will go sit over brunch, warm food in our bellies, steaming tea in a pot, chasing away the cares of the week with the same sort of ease that a lunatic ended the lives of twenty-six innocents.

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.