Saturday, January 26, 2013

Saturday Musings, 26 January 2013

Good morning,

My first moment of irony for this grey Saturday came as the version of G-mail that I have loaded onto my tablet crashed four times.  With a moue of disgust, I abandon the effort and open a browser window on my eight-year-old Mac while the Saturday trash collectors bang the recycle box back to the driveway's edge and lumber towards the neighbor's house.  Life in the 21st century sometimes challenges my old brain.

The tennis player has already gone, signaling that I've lingered too long over my second cup of Italian coffee.  I've clucked about the local feature-writer's castigation of those who apply their ancient double standard to our outgoing Secretary of State, and chuckled at the antics of the kids in the Cul-De-Sac.  The Saturday after a long tiring week draws feebleness to the foreground.

The anti-abortion sentiments that choke my inbox remind me of my mother's caustic comment when a woman repeatedly shushed her one Sunday morning, displeased as the parishioner evidently was with my mother's proclivity to explain her own position to me as we listened to the priest.  To the shock of the lady who did not like my mother's talking, my mother told me in a stage whisper, "Now there's one woman whose mother should have considered abortion."  But her point related not so much to the undesirability of the woman's existence as to her rudeness in not tolerating the parental lessons that the priest himself encouraged.  My mother welcomed all life.  We knew this from an early age:  If you're ever pregnant, she'd scold, I'll raise the baby until you're able to take over.  When I had a miscarriage in her bathroom, anguished and single, twenty years old and emotionally unready for whichever direction the pregnancy took me, my mother held me close and murmured my name over and over again.  If she felt secret relief, she did not show it.

Another mother sat in my office yesterday, giggling, beneath a knitted cap, huddled in her ski jacket, clutching her cell phone and trying to remember the address of the most recent apartment where she has been given refuge.  An appointed case.  Her children, four and two, reside with their grandparents.  My client has never completed high school and has an IQ of less than 70.  Her behavior mimics that of a child, with little understanding of the potential loss of her parental rights and no appreciation of the impact of her inability to meet the state's demands for her behavior.  Earlier this week, she left a message with my secretary that she could not afford to buy birth control pills.  I resisted the temptation to give her money that she might well use for candy or soda instead.

Other mothers have sat in the same chair, in other offices, in other buildings.  The haunted eyes of one will  never fade from memory.  She, too, had two children, but no grandparents to take them, and so they fell into the system.  The mother, whom I had been appointed to represent, suffered from schizophrenia.  She had taken up with a band of undocumented immigrants of some Hispanic origin, and gave each of the resulting babies a slew of  Spanish-sounding names.  She told me she thought in Spanish and realized that she must have been stolen from Mexico as a baby.  If so, she had been sired by a Norwegian and borne by a Dane:  Blond, blue-eyed, fair-skinned, she resembled no one of Mexican descent that I have ever known.  She came to me twice with a tale of being pregnant again; both times, the supposed pregnancies fizzled.  Once she told me she had an abortion; once she whispered only, I lost the baby.  I held her close both times, and let her sob against my chest.  Even against my size 2 body, her frame felt fragile and tenuous.

That client finally disappeared.  I had a Guardian ad litem appointed for her.  We agreed that there was no good reason to prolong the outcome.  The court terminated her parental rights.

Good women choose to end pregnancies because they judge themselves unable or unwilling to parent.  Others should have that option so as to avoid the hollow-eyed desperation of my schizophrenic client.  These precepts persuade me.

A cluster of cousins, Catholics most, post on Social Media that the termination of a pregnancy is murder.  An old friend who raised a trio of children on her own after a nasty divorce hotly agrees.  My niece queries, Have you ever talked to a fifteen-year-old who has been raped, and wants an abortion?  I have!  I periodically insert a judicious comment, merely suggesting that each viewpoint has merit.  The pro-lifers loudly protest that the only legitimate pronouncement is theirs, because any other opinion promotes murder.  The pro-choicers seem to be somewhat more considerate, encouraging a civil debate, pointing out the factual inconsistencies in the life-begins-at-conception argument, quietly noting that no analogy quite jives with the fact that the growing cells, whether human yet or not, lie within a host who has not always chosen for the pregnancy to occur.  I see both sides.  My opinion remains the same:  It is a difficult issue, one that each person should be able to decide for herself.  I cannot liken all abortions to murder.  It just does not play; I cannot make that leap, though I understand why others do.  It all depends on a basic assumption that some present as fact without the ability to be sure. 

In the end, I bypass the sixth commandment for the words of Matthew: Judge not, that ye be not judged.

The trees rise above the roofs of my neighborhood, the bare limbs grey against the slight blue of the sky.  Matching green houses march  northwardly on the street behind me, their white trim bright in the dim light of the wintry morning.  A mound of laundry awaits me.  I put aside weighty thought, and head downstairs, to brew another pot of coffee, while the Car Guys dispense easy wisdom from the radio, and the sounds of traffic drifts towards me from the east.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Saturday Musings, 19 January 2013

Good morning,

A wide expanse of grey smoked glass signifies that I sit at a strange desk, in a town far from my home, a four-hour jaunt away from Brookside and our weekend responsibilities.  Small noises behind me alert me to the kind presence of our weekend host, his spouse and mine still sleeping, a small black cat sniffing at the bedroom door, wanting to curl beside her sleeping mistress.  Grand Lake, Oklahoma.  We've come to a place where I sleep the sleep of the welcome guest, with nothing more demanding to do than choose between coffee and tea for breakfast.

Dawn begins to filter through the tall, leafless trees outside the window, the sweet light of a morning that promises to be unseasonably warm even for the southwest.  I feel only slightly creaky today.  The face in the mirror of the guest bedroom, with its greying eyebrows and its myriad of fine wrinkles, appears slightly less tense than my winter morning face typically does.  What shall we do today, we've been asked, after a delicious dinner served by the same smiling waitress who cheerfully invented lunch for a non-meat eater during our last visit here.  We shrugged, Jim with his legs stretched on a large soft hassock bigger than most of my living room chairs.  A tour of the small plant that our hostess manages; a lazy trip to a Civil War battlefield; an hour in the hot tub.  Who cares? We're on vacation.

At home, the Christmas decorations rest in their plastic bins, on a dusty shelf in our basement.  I've weathered the holiday season with only a small amount of angst.  Our nest has emptied again, the visiting boys and the relocating daughter all journeyed out a spider web's path to the berths of their own new years.  I see a pinch of worry at the corner of my husband's eyes.  He briefly concedes that he misses his children.  My own boy, the boy born to me rather than the one acquired with my nuptial vows, has gotten past the stage when calling his mother prompts him to feel clingy.  I get a text or an email, a picture, a link to a poem he thinks I will like, almost every day.  Thank God.  The parent-shame phase lasted overlong.

That face in the mirror drifts before me as I wait for the coffee to finish brewing, the sound of it calling me to the smooth granite counters.  Except for the blue eyes, that face might be my own mother, gazing at me from wherever she rests in eternity.  In an instant, I sit again at her breakfast room table, trying to explain why my boss has required me to write a letter of apology to a co-worker.  I didn't do anything wrong ,I whine.  She's too sensitive.  I am twenty-two, more than old enough to know how to treat people, beyond the age when Saturday morning visits to my mother should be consumed with sniveling.  It can't be all her fault, her gentle voice tells me.  You need this job. Grad school is expensive, your apartment might be cheap but you still have to pay rent.  You can't come home again, she does not say.  I've adjusted to an empty nest already, her tone suggests.  Don't screw this up.  She sets a plateful of warm schmarrn in front of me, its luscious batter lightly browned and lathered with  the sheen of butter overcast by the sparkle of cinnamon sugar. I sullenly spear a piece with the side of a salad fork, and slip it into my mouth, cradling its warmth against my lips as I chew.  Thomas Wolfe be damned; I could eat this stuff forever, as long as my mother cooked it in her heavy cast iron pan, and served it beside a steaming mug of cocoa.

I grumbled over that letter for an hour.  In the end, I slashed the self-righteousness under my mother's slightly amused watch.  She had no need to speak; the perennial message shone from her eyes.  I set aside my cloak of denial, and admitted that I had been wrong, that I had been unreasonable and rude.  My mother could draw the feelings of shame from me as swiftly as she could reduce me to sniffles with the gentle touch of her spotted, worn hands.  I disdained of the accumulation of wealth, but if my mother approved of my moral choices, I felt like a king in his counting house, gleefully tossing each coin on a growing pile.

And now my thoughts stray back to my son, to the soft questions he poses over the wonderful medium of the Internet:  Have you seenRust and Bone yet? Did you listen to that song I sent you? How is the dog?  I hear again the gasp which escaped from his lips when I called to tell him of the death of one of his childhood heroes.  I was just talking about him yesterday! he protested, because remembering someone damn well ought to keep them alive.  I had no comfort to spare; I could only listen, just as I could only type concurrence in a mournful chat with my ex-husband an hour earlier. We should have done more.  Yes.  We should always have done more.  We have never done enough.  Just write the letter, my mother admonished, in her kindest voice.  You should have done more; you hurt her feelings; you know better.

As we drove the last miles to this retreat yesterday, my husband at the wheel, we floundered a bit, the map being too vague and his memory failing to supply the intricate details of the county roads.  I gazed out the window at the pastures with their small stands of livestock nibbling on the dry grass.  What harm would befall us, were we to get lost for a half hour?  I remained silent while he glanced back and forth at a troubling intersection, finally choosing one direction over the other for no reason other than it seemed to be correct.  And it was.  As we recovered the speed of sureness, he thanked me for not getting anxious.  I shrugged.  One small step towards redemption, my wobbly foot on the high road at last.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sorrowful Musings

I recently learned that someone whom I once knew fairly well killed himself. The unfortunate reality is that he killed himself five months ago, at a time when I was out of town on my first-ever extended vacation. I had lost touch with this individual for the last several years, the last time I saw him being 2010.  A couple of months ago, prompted by my ex-husband with whom I remain friends, I started trying to "find" him again; without success, I know now, because he had died last August.

We all "knew" that my friend suffered from depression, alcoholism, and despondency.  I let him slip away from my life, from inertia, laziness, or because my daily interaction with him stemmed from a social communion that was splintered by my divorce and his, and by the aging of our children who no longer attended the same school or matriculated in the same social group. Those might be "reasons", but to me, now, they are actually just "excuses". This person and I had known each other for something like thirty years, and I just let him drift from my life, even knowing that he could damn well use my friendship.  I mourn his loss.

I share these observations so that you may have an opportunity to take away a lesson from my feelings of inadequacy and failure.  Please do not let the people in your life drift away, especially those who most need you.  This is not my first experience with suicide, as you might recall -- my youngest brother killed himself.  I have the same sense now that I had then.  My friend's suicide is not "about me", any more than my brother's suicide was "about me". But I am left with the stark realization that I might have made a difference to my friend, had I made the effort -- which I easily could have done.  I felt this way, as well, when my brother died.

Suicide is a personal choice, that some say is a selfish act.  I know it is often a last, desperate attempt to be pain-free.  If we can reach out to someone suffering from such pain, we can, perhaps, make a difference to them.  If you know of someone who seems despondent, suffers from depression, has begun to pull away from his or her normal social circle, reach out to them. If you do not feel competent to do so, alert someone else in their lives.  You might make a difference. You might help them see another way to deal with the overwhelming pain that hounds them.

Mugwumpishly -- and sorrowfully -- tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Saturday Musings, 12 January 2013

Good morning,

Other than my epileptic brown dog, I'm the only sentient being in the Holmes house today.  My spouse drove a Penske one-way to Omaha with our daughter's belongings, her silver-bullet car behind the vehicle as they journeyed north for the start of the next phase of her life.  I spent last evening padding around the house in black velour, rubber-bottomed slippers and a new pair of leopard-print pajamas, a size too large but cozy and warm, one-hundred percent polyester imitation coziness.  I watched one of those movies whose endings you see coming halfway through, with a glimmer of foreshadowing and a nuanced glance.  I cried anyway, laughing with the bitter sweetness of the heroine's move to mental health while her hospital romance assumed his old room in the ward where they had met. 

My stepdaughter's voice on the phone a few hours later, eager, alive, brilliant, pulled me back nearly four decades, to the drive from Logan Airport in the car of a young man who provided a temporary berth for me, in the weeks after my early college completion, December 1976.  Seventeen inches of snow had fallen that day, David told me; twenty more fell through the evening and night.  I could not sleep; I could hear icicles forming, snow settling, wind rattling the window near my pallet on the floor.  I set my glasses on my suitcase and closed my eyes.  

I had not known what Boston would be like, but I certainly did not anticipate the biting cold.  I took the Green Line to Boston College, where I planned to enroll as a graduate student in September. On the strength of my anticipated matriculation, the lady in the Student Life Office allowed me to peruse the "help wanted" and "roommate wanted" listings.  I left a couple of messages, scheduled an interview, then trudged back to the T stop in borrowed galoshes, clutching my Midwestern attitude to my chest, huddled in a thin wool coat and the scarf my mother had knitted for me.  The matching gloves sat at the bottom of my pocketbook, one thumb too big, the other too narrow, a little finger misshapen.  I wore instead a cheap pair from K-Mart.

Within a week, I had agreed to rent the third bedroom in a Brighton second-floor apartment, from two actresses who worked mundane day jobs and auditioned as an avocation.  A week later, I started work as the receptionist in a temporary personnel agency, the St. Louis branch of which had been my summer job during my last two years of college.  My old boss sent a letter of reference.  I did not tell them of my plans to begin my graduate studies; they promised that hard work would draw me upward in rank and pay.  I felt only a little shabby for the deceit.  I needed to work.

For the next few months, I learned to board a subway without falling, to avoid the glances of dubious strangers, and to take the Red Line out to Cambridge where I found myself frequenting the Harvard Co-0p.  I did a stint as a relief secretary at IBM, which ended when I told my boss that I would Xerox something for him.  The sales rep who had placed me apologized for ten solid minutes while I stood miserably by her desk.  She slammed the receiver down.  I resumed my place as the suite receptionist, and no one used me for an assignment again.  Instead, I started scheduling nurses and CNAs to the night shift, keeping the lists of available personnel in neatly printed pencil on yellow cards with printed columns.

By February, I had begun to party with my roommates.  I dated a banker who turned out to be gay.  I drank with unemployed actors and collected bets on the waiters at the Cafe Vendomme:  This one wants to be a rock star; that one came from Iowa.  When one of my roommates got a part in a local performance of "Look Homeward, Angel", I chugged red wine and got sick on the fire escape of the community theatre.  My date, fastidiously disdainful of my weakness but thankful for the cover that I provided on Sundays with his conservative family in Worcester, held my shaking frame while I gulped air and made excuses about bad chicken salad purchased from a downtown food cart.  I fooled no one.

In the sweltering summer, on a torpid July night, I huddled against a pillar in the subway station, miserable and lonely.  I glanced across the way, meeting the eyes of a man more miserable than me only because of the bent in his back and the curl of his spastic hands.  He wore an odd hat, dingy plaid cotton, with a ragged brim.  He held my gaze, then slid a crooked finger along the side of his face.  His gesture could have meant anything.  I took it as pity.

I sank against the seat, feeling the sweat soaking my suit jacket.  The train lumbered out to the suburbs, raising to trolley level, sliding into Cleveland Circle.  I limped towards our apartment, 27 South Street, my stomach tightening.  Our landlady had given us thirty-days notice, and my flatmates had already advised me that they did not want me to join them in their new apartment.  My misery sickened them.  We advertised for a roommate, not a sister, they told me.  

A few hours later, my boss telephoned.  They had decided to change the schedule, and assign me to the midnight shift, requiring me to journey downtown in the swaying confines of an empty train car, enter a locked office building, and organize the lists of nurses available to work in the morning as each hospital called.  The job would not become automated for twenty years.  In those days, nothing could be done remotely.

The prospect of moving to a dingy studio, working alone through the night, and finding new friends overwhelmed me.  I dialed the office answering machine and rasped out my resignation.  I called my mother; and started to drag a jumble of books and clothes from the bedroom closet.  In St. Louis, My brother Kevin slid into the driver's seat of my mother's vehicle and headed east.  I was coming home.

A few weeks later, I staggered from the sun room of my parents' house, foggy from a late night, to find my seventeen-year-old brother hunched over a coffee pot waiting for it to perk.  He shifted his bleary eyes towards me.  Neither of us spoke.  My desolation rose, gagging me, spewing into the silent kitchen.  In that moment, the long slow slide downward began.  It would only end when I hit so close to bottom that I might as well have died.

I think of my stepdaughter starting her new life, in a new town, at a new employer, in a new apartment with her boyfriend.  Not for her the stacked suitcases serving as a bedside table to a pile of blankets on an air mattress.  Though I feel gratitude, even now, for the welcome David showed me and the months that Marian and Melanie let me borrow their lives, this gratefulness mingles with a stronger sense of relief that Cara's journey has begun with more hope than I felt, in that brief, half-year, my Boston odyssey.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Saturday Musings, 05 January 2013

Good morning,

A woman reads from her newly released book in the background, a book about children whose parents failed to care for them.  I've switched on the radio too late to hear if she speaks of herself or invented characters.  But I do hear this much:  Now that her parents have been buried, "at least we know where they are".  She chuckles, and in response, I venture a small smile.  Certainty measures our lives, and spins our difficulties into gold.  Tarnished gold, sometimes, to be sure; but nonetheless, something to treasure.

My week soared and plummeted.  A difficult war lost; an uphill battle won.  New clients in the book; old clients abandoned from frustration at the rare but annoying failure to pay.  A judge retires; a new judge takes her docket, and sits on high, hands in a steeple before his face, gazing down at me, wondering if I will prove a thorn in his side or a boon to his management of troubling issues.  Film at eleven, ooh, ahh, ahh.

One child of our home throws his belongings onto the backseat and journeys to the rest of his life, on the last day of a fading year.  Within twenty-four hours, he's pictured with a clutch of laughing, hugging friends in the back of a limousine hailed on the streets of Chicago.  Thirty-five dollars for eight of us, he texts me, a day or so later, when the fog of an all-night celebration lifts.  His mother's heart sings:  no one drove after over-imbibing, his first New Year's Eve of legal age behind.  Come on, Mom, he chides.  I know better!  You taught me better!

Those who can't do, teach.  I close my eyes and see myself on many a New Year's Eve of decades gone by, always alone, always intoxicated, always driving.  Before my 25th year, the hard slam of a board against the side of my head sent me staggering from a fog of ignorance. I swore that never again would I take the wheel of a two-thousand pound dangerous instrument after having so much as a drop of alcohol.  I never killed, I was never injured, and the only damage came to my sweet little MG Midget which sustained a broken axle.  But I placed myself, a few passengers, and the rest of those on the road in jeopardy, startled to consciousness by the sound of screeching brakes and the horrified stares of other drivers, some no doubt scared sober by seeing me run a red light at Kingshighway and Vandeventer at one a.m. on the first day of 1980.  Any lessons that I've taught my son came honestly to my playbook.  I know better, Mom.  You taught me better.

Little Christmas looms.  In the home of my childhood, the wise men would be waiting their move forward by a small hand.  The Feast of the Epiphany signaled time to take down the Christmas tree, place it on the curb wrapped in yards of jute, and carefully stow the ornaments in their large cardboard box.  My father wound the lights around a contraption made from a wire hanger, the mechanism by which he insured the ease of use in the next holiday season.  Tinsel strewn on the front yard in puddles of melting snow; neatly packed gift boxes and smoothed sheets of wrapping paper beside the trash can; drying cookie tins in the drain basket.  And the visitors brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the sweet-smiling baby in his bed of straw.

Tomorrow the second son of our household will follow his stepbrother's example, motoring from Kansas City to the town In Tennessee where he attends college.  A week later, his sister's move to Omaha will be effected, my husband behind the wheel of the u-haul, she in her little car behind, up I-29 to her future.  And we will become empty nesters, me for the second time, him for the first.  Sheets will be washed and restored to the beds; stray socks taken down to the laundry, then tucked into the dresser drawers, forgotten until spring.  Our funny little dog will settle back into her routine, the young people who pet, walk and tease her all gone away again.  My husband will move his exciting business endeavors  closer to fruition. I will start working on the book that I  promised myself to publish this year.

And every once in a while, a text message from far away, or a picture on Facebook, will  make my heart race.  I will think of my mother, waiting for her children to come home, two sent to rescue two; one sent to rescue one; another struggling to reach home while the wind races round and the sirens blow.  Our own stories drift to their quiet end, and our children now take center stage. As the home fires burn, I reassure myself that our children's scripts will have happy endings, because of the lessons we have taught them.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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.