Saturday, July 20, 2013

Saturday Musings, 20 July 2013

Good morning,

The unexpected heat drives me back to the dining room table from the muggy porch. My morning sounds shift: the dryer, the washer, the distant sound of the barking dog; the occasional rustle of the newspaper from the living room, where my husband works the sudoku. Soduko? I've never been too sure which it is. My son awakened before any of us, and I found him on the front porch with a guitar in hand, and his cat sitting next to him on the cool concrete. Six a.m. Before the coffee finished brewing, he had gone back to bed and now sleeps, the gentle, whirring fan providing his white noise.

My affinity with sound sharpens as my ability to discern it wanes. I still hear the few old-fashioned flourescent bulbs which keen above me in stores that have not yet converted. Voices recede; I've had to learn to patiently request that people say again, say again, say again. My requests are met with varying degrees of impatience. Many erroneously deduce that I did not understand their meaning, and they start paraphrasing. My brain rejects the change: that's not what I heard before! I'm cultivating a "Miss Manners" smile, which principally involves the lower half of one's face. The eyes do not engage.

My suite-mate had surgery yesterday, and as I sit here, I say a little prayer of thanks that it went as well as it could. I've come to consider her a friend, someone whose presence in my life provides enrichment. She's had a lot to handle of recent days, and handle it she has, that Jane Williams, with courage and grace.

My mother-in-law has made it back to her skilled nursing facility after a harrowing ten days in the hospital. I sat beside her bed a day or so ago, watching her nibble the Laura Little fudge to which I have gotten her addicted. And in a flash, I found myself transported to another bedside, my mother's bedroom, in Jennings, 1985.

I hold a little cup of water and guide her hand to her mouth. She sits in a hospital bed which has come from Hospice. The cancer ravages her bones. A few days before, she had called me, voice trembling. Oh Mary, she whispered, calling me by my given name. The X-Ray technician broke my arm! I dropped everything -- my failing law practice could flounder a few days without me; my city courtrooms could be covered -- and drove to St. Louis to relieve my tired siblings and sit beside her bed. I can't recall a cast, but there must have been one.

She sipped the cool water that I had poured from the yellow pitcher. It sat beside her on a little wooden table. I waited for her to swallow, then shook another Demerol from the bottle, and folded it into her frail fingers. She raised it to her lips and shifted her eyes to meet mine. Brown gaze connected to blue. She took the pill, and I handed her another glass of water to wash down the medication. She swallowed; she could still swallow then. Later, we would all liquefy the pills.

I set the glass down on the bedside table and settled back in my chair. She glanced for a moment out the window, at nothing: the house next door, the driveway, the power lines. I waited. Willie Nelson sang to both of us on the turntable: You were always on my mind; you were always -- on -- my -- mind. I felt my mother wished to speak. I let the air between us be still; I waited for her words.

I think I'm getting addicted to those damn pills, she finally said. Her face suddenly turned back toward mine; those nut-brown Lebanese eyes bored into my Irish gaze. I felt a flood of disappointment and irony. I had expected a deep disclosure, something I could hold in my heart after her inevitable and impending passing. I shifted in my chair and broke away from her penetrating stare. Mom, I said, with a tinge of disappointment in my voice. You're dying, I don't think anybody cares if you're a drug addict. I stood, I paced; in the small room, a room in which her babies had been nurtured, a room that had once been half of a dining room, I looked in vain for a distraction. I did not know what I had wanted her to tell me but waves of anger surged through me.

Then I heard her voice: small, weak, a pale mockery of the voice that had always soothed me. I'm sorry, she said. I turned sharply towards her, standing over her, my body rigid and my mind raging. We stopped in that moment: My mother and I -- she in the bed where she would, in just a few short months, die; and I a few feet from her with arms clutched against my chest. And Willie Nelson crooned, over and over: You were always on my mind. You were always on my mind. Time stood still.

And then my mother laughed. The tones washed over me, a soothing tide, a flood of comfort as I huddled on a bleak shore. Imagine me! An addict! Me! I'm the most straight-laced person ever -- and now I'm a drug addict! Her frail body shook, not with pain but with laughter, and I felt my muscles melt and I fell into the chair, overcome with mirth, giggling uncontrollably. At that moment, my father opened the bedroom door. Everybody okay in here? He asked the question with a face gone grey with worry. Neither of us could stop laughing long enough to answer him. He shook his head and closed the door again. He'd seen us in this state enough times over the last few years to know that once we got to laughing we would not soon be able to speak a coherent word.

The other day, my husband visited a nursing home that one of his clients needs evaluated. He called me from the road, and told me, if I ever get so bad that I have to be in one of these places, just shoot me. Later, when I sat beside my mother-in-law's bed and my father-in-law asked how Jim's trip had been, I briefly debated whether JIm's father, Jay, would find the remark humorous. But I hesitated only a moment, then quoted the line, the lead bullet line, and for the next few minutes my father-in-law and I shared a belly laugh that amused his wife of sixty years even as she stared at us, uncomprehendingly, her bemused look a sweet unwitting echo of my father, as he quietly closed the bedroom door on his dying wife and her silly daughter, long ago and far away.

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.