Saturday, April 13, 2013
Saturday Musings, 13 April 2013
More times than I care to admit in recent weeks, an otherwise seemingly competent adult has sat in front of me, denouncing the other parent of their adored children. I often stare at them with a fixed smile and a hopefully sympathetic air. Sometimes their proclamations of rejection have merit. Other times, they do not. Either way, I listen, nod, and push my pen across a lined pad, wondering where the truth lies.
A day or two ago, the person sitting across from me was my own ex-spouse. We conducted brief business unrelated to our short marriage. Business completed, we talked of other things. We share common friends, and both of us are involved in a local artists' cooperative. I know all three of his daughters, and regularly communicate with one. His brother works for me. Our connectivity continues, evolves, transcends the two or three years during which the law recognized our union. We are friends.
As we talk, time falls away. I stand again in a large, clean kitchen, far south of here, in Arkansas. One of my siblings talks to me on the phone in strident tones, exhorting me to come home for Christmas. I could not imagine why. I had lost contact with half of them in the three years since our mother's death. I had felt distant from them in the decade prior to her illness. I felt judged by them. I did not believe we shared common values. I did not feel that they cherished me.
I hung up the phone and turned to Chet, my then-husband. They want us to come for Christmas, I tell him. We can stay with Steve and Tracy. Steve shared my status as black sheep. I knew I was safe with him. Chester looks askance, one eyebrow arched. I don't think I like the way they talk to you, he tells me. His words have a petulant air. Socializing with people whom he believes mistreat me pains him. I shrug. There is nothing I can say.
We pack a few things for the drive to St. Louis. I cast about for presents for my brother's new baby, a house gift for my brother and his wife, something for my father. We plan to get gifts for other family members once we get there and find out who we will see. Money is tight.
In the apartment where Steve and Tracy live, we throw our bags down in the extra bedroom. We take turns holding the baby, wonder in our eyes. This child unmistakably wears the Corley stamp. My brother bounces her, cooing her name over and over. Chelsea Rae, Chelsea Rae. I do not see beyond his pleasure, ignore the tightness in his jaw and the dark circles under his eyes.
At some point, the camera captures a perfect image of Chester with the baby in his lap, his head turned towards someone just out of the frame. His hand rests in the baby's arm, gently holding her, making sure she sits firmly but without any restraint. Her perfect smile, her tiny fingers, the Corley chin. Chelsea Rae, Chelsea Rae.
On Christmas, we hand around the presents, some hastily purchased in the Central West End and wrapped on Steve and Tracy's kitchen table. My other brothers scoff at the site of "Corinne" written in Chester's feathery script on his gift to me. "Who's this person?" they ask. "Our sister's name is 'Mary'." No one thinks they are teasing. Chester refrains from engaging them in a game the rules to which he can never be privy. But we don't stay too long. The way I have fallen into my old role as the semi-disrespectful baby sister troubles him. He knows that if we stay, eventually, he will tell them what he thinks of their derisiveness over the name that I had been using since the age of 15. It is, after all, he would tell them, my great-grandmother's name.
We drive back to Arkansas not knowing that we will never again visit my family together. I went alone the next Christmas, because he had a tour. By the following year, he and I had split. But all of that had not yet happened, as we coasted into town in the dark, quiet hours, that first Christmas. I really don't like the way your brothers talk to you, he tells me, in the stillness of the car. I recognize his tone. I lean my face against the cold glass of the window and let a faint smile arise.
The years, which had fallen away as I listened to the careful cadence of my ex-husband's voice, crowd again around me. I rise from my desk, and he also stands. We've concluded our business, and we've mused about the various potentials for his next life move. He's told me about the beautiful boxes he has begun to build, with his agile artist's hands, and the keen eye with which he guides those hands to make cuts so perfect it takes your breath away. We talked about his daughters, the two he lost, and the one given to him as a second chance. He's described the move that he and his wife contemplate. We've speculated on the potential that the lost daughters might one day let him back into their lives, and I've stared into the deep, flawed gleam of his eyes, and seen the longing. It's lived there for so long, I'm sure he mistakes it for an old friend.
We walk out to the lobby, and I touch his arm, just for a moment. Then we nod, and he strides down the stairs, bracing his shoulders against some unseen burden. I watch until the door closes behind him and he disappears around the corner.
As I settle back at my desk, and skim a message from a client who seethes with rage against her former spouse, the father of her son, I find my eyes drifting to the window. I see my face reflected in its pane, relieved of twenty-five years of life's travails, in the dark of an Arkansas night, the highway passing in silence as a soft melody fills the car around me, lulling me to sleep.
I cannot bring myself to endorse any more hatred. I push my chair back and take up my old ceramic cup, and go in search of something hot to drink.
The Missouri Mugwump™
- M. Corinne Corley
- 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.