Saturday, December 26, 2015

Saturday Musings(tm), 26 December 2015

Good morning,

My sluggish body moves around the house wondering why I feel like a truck ran over me.  I cast my eyes downward, to the DearFoam slippers into which I have eased my sore feet.  My son found perfect presents for me:  these slippers; FarberWare kitchen shears to replace the ones which somehow vanished from a drawer; an excellent five-inch kitchen knife with a sheath and comfortable handle; a stuffed giraffe to remind me to use non-violent communication; and the promise of Neko Case loaded onto my phone and a cable to play her through the Prius's auxiliary function.  This last came when I confessed that my Neko Case CD which he gave me two years ago seems to have gone the way of the kitchen scissors.  My ghost  perhaps? But who knows.  Both are gone; and he's seen to their replacement.  I wiggle my toes in the soft fuzzy warmth of my new slippers and remind myself how lucky I am.

How blessed.

We dined at McCormick & Schmidt last night; and tonight we will eat at the Carnie table, north of here, in warmth, and light, with the Carnie children laughing around us.  Our friend Ellen Carnie has invited us to dine with her and her son's family.  Tomorrow, we will serve our family-by-choice at our home.  We've had a wonderful Christmas so far.  I can only see it continuing.

Patrick asked me last night, are you sure you can afford this restaurant? I had planned it, of course.  I'm not wealthy.  We have done several lunches-out this week and he's protested each time.  Mom, you shouldn't be spending money on me.  In days when he worked, he would pay for lunch and shake his head, waving his hand if I tried to contribute.  But grad school has gotten serious, this second year, and he has no time for a job.  So he has put himself on a budget and taught himself to cook.  He often calls with questions but also found  a website with video and humor:  Now he shares those recipes with me.  We spent time in the kitchen this holiday.

Over dinner last evening, I asked all the questions about screenwriting that had been hammering in my head as I watched him progress in his graduate program for the last year.  Technical questions; questions about the industry; questions about writing.  We talked as two adults, back and forth, listening to each other, following the flow where it led.  By dessert, I understood the rightness of the course he has chosen.

Last night before sleeping, a memory broke loose from the rubble at the bottom of my mind and struggled to the surface.   My mother stands at the front door of our home in Jennings.  I'm behind her, small, my hand on her leg.  I peer around to see what she sees: a cardboard box.

She pulls it into the house.  It's filled with food.  My mother says, They must have gotten the wrong house.  I don't know who would think we needed food.  I stare at the bounty.  One of my older siblings walks into the room and starts rummaging in the box.  Ann, maybe; or Adrienne.  Mom, we can use all this, look, there's a ham.  Mother starts to cry.  Her body crumples.  She sinks into a chair.  She shakes her  head; she wrings her hands.  It probably was meant for someone else.  But there is no one else.  They look for a note or some indication of the source of this gift while I watch them.  Finally my mother lifts the box from the floor and takes it into the kitchen.  Any talk of returning it has been stifled.

I never use the expression "don't cry over spilt milk", because I once saw my mother kneeling on our kitchen floor doing just that.  Shards of glass cut her hands as she tried to stench the flow from the shattered bottle and salvage some of the precious liquid.

My son and I started yesterday at Hope Faith Ministries, standing at the entrance to the bustling room where hundreds of homeless persons received a sit-down dinner on Styrofoam plates served by red-shirted volunteers with glowing faces.  The clientele coming through the doors passed through security, frisked by a laughing young man who made the undignified process as pleasant as possible, despite the gun on his belt, despite the filth of their layers of clothing, despite the bags they dragged into the place containing God knows what, their treasures, their lives.

I clasped their hands and wished them Merry Christmas.  They gazed at me, at the many strange faces in the row of greeters and servers.  Used to wandering into the place unobtrusively, they accepted our help but sometimes with suspicion.  One man studied my eyes before shaking his head but most took my hand and held it.  They read my name and thanked me.  I guided each person to one of the younger volunteers -- my son, or someone else -- who seated them and placed a small printed menu in front of them.  We did this for two hours.  I have never found a better way to spend Christmas morning.

As I sat at the restaurant table, I compared the look of our meal with the food that I'd seen at Hope Faith.  I know that I'm blessed.  I can afford the fanciness of restaurant service.  I can pay for the groceries that I will put on the table for my friends tomorrow.  I am not wealthy; I never learned to manage money.  I don't even really value it, not for itself, not in the way that I've seen in this world where the measure of  a man is often his net worth.

But I understand that money makes my life comfortable.  It sends me to California for my treatment at Stanford; it pays for the health insurance which covers that care; it keeps the furnace roaring and the Prius's motor churning.  I get that.  I love my work as an attorney, but I do it mostly to pay the bills and I accept this fact of capitalist society.  We earn our keep.  We make our own destiny.  Hopefully we get help when we need it and I've had plenty of that, too; and I have not forgotten my own guardian angels.  They stand with me when I stand for others; their love flowed from me to every person whom I greeted yesterday, through each cold hand, into each pair of lonely eyes.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

By coincidence, three pairs of mothers and sons worked the door at Hope Faith Ministries yesterday.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Saturday Musings, 19 December 2015

Good morning,

The tree stands at the window, its lights twinkling.  I had the timer in my hand for two seconds but got distracted by the prodigal son and now we have forever-lights, day or night, on or off.  I choose to leave them shining.  I'll find the timer when I clean, I'm sure; sitting on the mantle, or behind a picture on the piano.

Last evening my son and Brian carried a small dresser upstairs and settled it in its new place in my snazzy dressing room. Brian Martig, the carpenter/friend/fellow-Rotarian who rehabbed my upstairs attic and bathroom, vacuumed the last dust from his seven-week odyssey at the Holmes house, drank an Oatmeal Stout with Patrick, and bid us good evening.  He will return; his equipment stands in my garage and needs to be organized and taken home; he has a few trim pieces to install; he's put a temporary lamp where a light fixture will be.  But his second child will be born on Monday.  The little fixings can wait until January.

Today holds house-cleaning, laundry, new-closet organizing, and Christmas shopping.  My heart still hums from last evening's successful creation of muffin-tin frittatas and pan-roasted Brussel sprouts with Patrick.  We used Chef John's mini-quiche recipe and made six large frittatas, three with chorizo, three meatless.  We sauteed the chorizo in one of the newly re-cured cast iron pans, and the veggies in another.  Hot pan, cold oil, just as my mother taught me.  I felt a bit reluctant to eat while Brian still worked, but I offered him dinner and he declined.  The three of us had shared pizza on the previous evening.

Last week the ghosts of Christmas Past haunted me but this morning I feel contented.  I've been doing these musings for more than seven years.  They have evolved from what someone once described as "warm fluffy stories" to a generous if uninvited helping of my life's philosophy.  The Musings and My Year Without Complaining often seem to blend together. I've let go of the past more and more this year.  So many stories have been told.  So much has found its way to this virtual page.

But faces rise in my mind still.  Tender moments of today connect themselves to the thread of sweetness running through my life.

Christmas  Eve, 1973; Incarnate Word Hospital; St. Louis.  Those of us without spouses or children volunteered to work the late shift so that our co-workers could see the glow of Christmas morning from home.  I sat at the desk transcribing the day's orders in the way that we did back then, before computers invaded every workplace.

A heavy-set woman settled into the chair beside me.  Mrs. Turner; her first name escapes me all these years later.  She had straightened hair in the way of black women of the day.  A pink uniform smock strained across her shoulders.  Lilac lipstick made a crooked swathe on her mouth.

I had not worked with her before that night.  I moved a bit to let her reach for the chart she wanted.  I offered her coffee from the pot behind us.  She took the mug, wrapping slender, red-tipped fingers around its warmth.   You don't have any place to be tonight either, she said to me, in a tone which implied either resentment or despair.  I mentioned my mother and father; tomorrow's breakfast and dinner.  Presents under the childhood tree.  I didn't say that I had not had a meaningful conversation with my mother for four months.  I left out the part about the slammed phone, the sharp words, the September sabotage of my good relationship with the better of my two parents.

Mrs. Turner showed less discretion.  I had me a family once.  The bitter words could not be stopped. Christmas, presents, roast beef, everything.  I waited.  My listening skills needed sharpening but   I could hold my tongue even at eighteen.

The unit had fallen silent while the nurses and aides walked its corridors in their soft-soled shoes, checking on the sleeping patients.  Mrs. Turner and I staffed the nurse's desk, shuffling paper, sending orders to the pharmacy, keeping notes and paging doctors.  The late shift demanded less of us and so we had time to talk.

Mrs. Turner shifted in her chair, a short woman with a ponderous frame.  Yeah, I bet you don't know who I am.  I did not.  I tilted my head forward, a gesture modeled after my mother.  She took this as leave and continued.  I was married to Ike Turner before that woman.  That woman.  Tina Turner?

I tried to picture the type of man who would marry both a ward clerk at a small Catholic Hospital and a pop diva.  My imagination failed.  My skepticism flashed across my face and Mrs. Turner slapped her mug on the desk.  It's true, I can prove it.  She hauled some papers from a handbag stashed in the footwell of her desk and shoved them towards me.  All I could think:  She carries her divorce papers?  I gently pressed them back into her hand just as the first tears fell.

You got no idea what it's like to be left, she whispered.  I did not, then, though later, so many heartbreaks later, I would understand.

I had never previously put my arms around a woman not related to me except the very old, at the nursing home where I volunteered.  I did that evening.  I felt her shudder against my chest; felt the ripple of her pulling herself back together.  I moved away. I filled her coffee.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a little sumpin sumpin in that sludge, she said.

The elevator door opened just then; and the director of nursing came towards us with a tray of cookies.  Merry Christmas, girls, she trilled.  Mrs. Turner took a handful.  I shook my head but set the tray on the counter.  Our DON asked about the patient count, the events of the evening, where the staff might be.  Mrs. Turner answered all her questions as the senior clerk on duty while I finished what our conversation had interrupted.

When we were again alone at the desk, Mrs. Turner faced me and asked, You won't tell nobody I cried, will you?  I shook my head.  We went back to our work, to the business of running the ward, as the overhead lights dimmed and the strains of Silent Night drifted from the speakers overhead.

I don't know if Mrs. Turner still lives.  If I am sixty, she must be ninety.  I don't know if she truly married Ike Turner. I didn't read the papers she thrust at me.  I tried to find out once, decades later, on the Internet.  I did not satisfy myself.  I let her memory be; I allowed her to remain the wronged ex-wife of a flawed charismatic star. Her face has receded into the dimness of lingering memory, a face seen in a gloomy hospital ward,on Christmas Eve, when I was young.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Saturday Musings, 12 December 2015

Good morning,

A grey sky stretches above me as I stand at the backdoor and wait for the coffee to warm in the microwave, yesterday's leftovers poured into the crystal cup which a friend's daughter left at my house and my friend let me keep.  I cradle the cup  in my hand and slide into a dining room chair to eat my banana and scroll through news sites, social media, and e-mail.

Late yesterday, I settled my Monday trial, so rather than work this weekend, I can enjoy myself.  Jenny Rosen has invited me to a Hanukkah party.  I plan to shop for Christmas.  I might nag my son via e-mail about his potential arrival date for the holiday.  Fun stuff.  I wonder how my client from Monday's trial will occupy her time this weekend, in her small apartment, still confused about the end of her twenty-year marriage.  I worry about her.  Her fire might smolder and then inflame, fed  by the stacks of paper showing her husband's treachery, the pages of her diary filled with stories of loss -- her birth parents, her adoptive parents, her fostering aunt and uncle, her husband -- the last on the heels of a half-million dollar inheritance that he hid from her until the discovery phase of the divorce action.

A red and green pile of presents on the buffet reminds me that I have not yet dragged the artificial tree from the basement.  I'm debating.  I bought that tree more than a decade ago, closer to two; when the pulmonologist cautioned against my breathing live cedar with my uncontrolled asthma.  I used oxygen then:  a condenser when seated; a portable tank on the move.  I returned the tanks long ago, and the condenser accumulates dust in the basement.  My favorite curmudgeon used it for a while, but otherwise it sits idle, on a shelf in the basement next to the boxes of ornaments.

This week also saw the end of a five-year divorce action in which I'd represented the wife for only the last six months.  Her husband has finally been consigned to a Missouri prison cell.  A judge levied two consecutive seven-year terms on the man  for savagely stealing his step-daughter's innocence.  With the conviction, he ran out of funds.  His divorce lawyer withdrew and we set the divorce for disposition.  I thought the judge might cheer as he spoke the formulaic words with uncharacteristic vehemence.  He apologized to my client for the long wait.  She tendered a thin smile.  I gestured her to wait for me while I got copies of the judgment.   I found her standing with a friend's arm on her shoulders.  Not cheering.  Not gleeful.


On the radio, I hear news of the first Saudi election in which women can vote.  I find this astonishing.  Though Saudi women still face a ban on driving an automobile, perhaps their voices will rise and finally be heard.  My cynical mind wonders if the Saudi election board can tell which ballots came from women.  I wonder if the segregated ballot box holds a shredder.

I have no plans for Christmas Day other than perhaps to watch a movie with my son.  We can spend Saturday at Carnies' Honker Springs Farm.  On Sunday, the usual suspects will gather at my table.  Scrooge and I share nothing except our ghosts of Christmas Past.  I don't need threats to move me to give, but spirits haunt me nonetheless.  I'm growing old.  I have sixty years of memories, each of which crowds for a place on my page.  I ignore them all, at least now, at least in the weak sunlight of a wintry Saturday.

A woman posted something nasty on my Facebook page this week, an admonishment that I would be condemned if I did not accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior.  She might be right, I suppose; though as I told her, I have lots of Jewish friends who beg to differ.  Her ugliness saddens me.  I let her statement stand and watched my friends rise to logically refute her contention.  Eventually the debate slipped into the depths of the social media morass.  But I continued to reflect on her assertion.  I cannot fathom a divine entity which limits acceptance in the way that she described.  "Divine" and "limit" seem incompatible.

It's human beings who judge, not divine ones.  I contemplate and find wanting the man who cast his wife from their home when his finances took an unexpected upturn; the man who ravaged his stepdaughter; the men who grudgingly allow their wives and daughters to vote while still denying them the right to drive themselves and their children through a day's activities.  But even though I feel confident in my judgments, I suspect that if there is a divine entity, he, or she, or it, opens a path to forgiveness even to those whom I condemn.

In thirteen days, much of the Western world will celebrate a Christian holiday commemorating the birth of a child in Bethlehem, a city which lies in Palestine, 93% of whose current residents belong to the Muslim faith.  Meanwhile, the world reels from the terrorist acts of Islamic extremists followed by angry retaliation -- the burning of Muslim mosques, the rejection of Syrian refugees, the assault of Muslims in subways and on city streets.

Society flags under the weight of shame.  I see it in my practice and I hear it on the radio.  The fact that any of us can still celebrate anything in the face of all this pain astonishes me.  And yet we do.  We do.  My clients will find a way to overcome their personal pain; the Saudi women will smile in glee beneath their veils.  Their eyes might reveal nothing, but their hearts will beat a little more wildly.  I will celebrate Hanukkah with Jenny Rosen, her boyfriend and his family, and a host of their friends.  I'll celebrate Christmas with Episcopalians.

Even though, as we all know, I am a recovering Catholic.  Life continues.

Mugwmpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Saturday Musings(tm), 05 December 2015

Good morning,

I know that the 6th Annual Suite 100 Holiday Open House succeeded last evening.  The Harvester's collection barrel groans under the weight of the donations brought by our guests.  The tip jar to benefit the charitable works of the Waldo Brookside Rotary Club filled with "folding money".  Though we bought too much food, as usual, the yummiest stuff got completely eaten and I myself will eat the leftover cut fruit and veggies, so I'm okay with the excess.

My phone died about forty-five minutes into the event, so I'm still waiting for the photos taken by others as the crowd grew.  I stood at my customary spot, but didn't badger folks to sign a guest book this year.  But the turn-out overwhelmed me.  Each of the five professionals who office in Suite 100 had plenty of guests from their individual lists, and a large contingent of friends of our featured artists arrived throughout the night.  The weather cooperated.  My colleague, Jenna Munoz; and our "sweet" suite secretary, Miranda Erichsen, worked like the fierce lionesses whom I know them to be, and the place looked gorgeous.

I am contented.

I have difficulty with the holidays.  Today I find myself thinking of a Christmas season when I drove from Jasper, Arkansas, to St. Louis to see my father and my siblings.  I made the journey alone, leaving early one chilly mountain morning and arriving with stiff, sore muscles, struggling from my Nissan Sentra, regretting the infrequency of my stops along the way.  My father stood on the porch in the cold of the evening air, watching for me, worried.  He carried my bag to the front bedroom while I wandered through the house.

I walked among the photos and china still arranged by my mother's hands, though she had been dead for more than two years.  I touched thick dust on the surface of her mixing bowls.  The silence of the breakfast room saddened me.  I went to bed heavy with an inexplicable regret.

My father fixed breakfast for me after a night of little sleep.  I surveyed the bacon, the bright yellow yolks of the fried eggs, the toast spread thick with butter.  My father studied me, waiting for approval.   I summoned radiance into my face and lifted the fork, thinking of the fruit and yogurt which I normally ate, quelling a shudder.  One day of this won't kill you.

We talked of my attempts to start a law practice in the rural county where marriage had brought me to live.  I described the portable kitchen which Chester, my husband, had built to go on tour with a theatre company, that tour being the  reason for my solitary journey.  I knew my father would be delighted with the intricacies of the large box on wheels with its built-in propane cooker and its cubbies for dishes.

The story took us through the meal, then we fell silent.  We carried the dishes to the kitchen and then I shooed my father into the living room, where I knew the crossword puzzle from the day's St. Louis Post-Dispatch awaited him.  He pretended to be offended, feigning reluctance to leave me to the dishes.  But he went.  Moments later, I heard him settle into the worn recliner, easing into the depression that his body had made over the years.  I could picture him reaching for his pencil; for the folded newspaper; for a cigarette.

I ignored the portable dishwasher, organizing the dishes by category the way my mother would have.  Glasses and cups into the sudsy water first; pots and pans last.  Everything had its place in the drain basket.   I had been well-schooled in the process, standing first on a tall wooden stool, too little to reach the sink but old enough for chores.

I felt my mother's eyes on my back as I gazed out the window at the neighbor's yard.

The orange sliding board had long since vanished, snatched by the same twister that had uprooted the old tree at my parents' place.  But I could see children climbing on it; my younger self, the neighbor girls, our impatient brothers.  I could see the boys climbing in the treehouse, high on the thick trunk of a long-dead tree.  Their shouts drifted through the kitchen window so many wistful years later.

I wrung out the dishcloth and hung it on the side of the sink.  In the living room my father looked at me as I sat on the couch.  I could not bring myself to sit in the upholstered chair beside my dad's recliner, the chair long empty.  I did not look on the floor beside my mother's chair to see if her knitting bag still sat there.

What will you do today, my father asked, though I had told him several times over breakfast.  Frank is having everyone over for dinner, I said, for the fourth or fifth time.  He nodded.  We both knew that "everyone" did not include him.  I asked if he needed me to do anything, and he put the newspaper down.  Yes, he nodded.  I've got some things of your Mother's for you.  My stomach lurched.  But we all have our rituals, the dances of our grief.  He needed this.

We spent a couple of hours in the room where my mother had spent her last months.  He had already sorted out what he planned to give me.  I touched the ironed handerchiefs, pressed and folded by my father's hands.  I held my grandmother Corley's housecoat against my face, picturing my mother wearing it, her hair in rollers.

My sisters and I had divided my mother's small jewelry collection after her death.  We had cleaned out the closets, donating her clothes to the church.  I had taken her record collection and turntable home with me after her funeral.  But my father had kept the more intimate things for a time when he felt more capable of sorting through them. He had been raw back then, whereas we had been numb, or drugged, or drunk, and the sorting had come easy for us.

Not so on that New Year's Day in her bedroom with my father.  I felt the roar of grief rise in my ears and fell against the wall.  My father pretended not to see and kept pulling her things from drawers.  He could not stop.  He had planned this purge.  He pretended that the desire for me to have something of my mother drove him but we both knew better.  I let him go.

Later that day, I sat in my brother's house watching my siblings and their families.  I had nothing to say, and they spoke around me.  We had little in common.  On the surface our lives might parallel, but I had constructed my existence from the fragile fibers of fraud, and they knew it.  They did not ask about my "job"; they briefly inquired about Chester's tour and then the seam of their solidarity closed and I stood on its outside.

I slipped away when no one noticed and went back to Jennings, to my parents' home, and told my father that I could not stay.

He fretted while I shoved my clothes and my mother's things into my suitcase.  He reached into his wallet and gave me the Standard Oil charge card which he never used, not having a car, not having  a driver's license.  He made me promise to call when I got home, and then stood in that same spot as I pulled away from the curb.

It snowed the entire way back to Jasper, including after I crossed state line, thickening as I drove higher into the Ozark Mountains.

Two days later, my sister Ann called to ask me why I had left.  I imagined my siblings looking around, wondering, before turning back to their shrimp gumbo and the chatter of their easy camaraderie.

In the last two years, my sisters-by-birth have risen to the urgent challenge of my need.  They have stood with me, with my sisters-by-choice.  My brother Frank has visited my house and brought his children into it, the second wave of children, the ones that he and his wife adopted.  On Thanksgiving day, my sister Adrienne sent an early morning text to her siblings including me.  I feel like part of their family now as I never before have felt.  It's taken sixty years but my path has finally led me home.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Saturday Musings(tm), 28 November 2015

Good morning,

In three hours, our table will bubble with the laughter of people who have broken bread with us so often I cannot count the times.  This will be our third celebratory meal this weekend, which began on Thursday at the Taggart table.  Yesterday we brunched at an elegant home on the Plaza.  Having the prodigal son home has considerably improved my social life.

I pad around the house with a crystal mug of coffee, making a list in my head of what must be done.  Write the Musings, clean the bathroom, cut fruit. . .My thoughts drift back, to my mother's home.  I remember the piece of paper divided into eight segments, one chore on each. My siblings and I grabbed one slip apiece and dashed off to get our assigned job done before the cousins arrived.  When the timer goes off, start your chore! The heady fragrance of roasting turkey and allspice filled the air.

I'm thinking of other Thanksgivings.  Oddly, among my favorites stands the Thanksgiving of 1988, which my first husband and I spent in the mountains with no running water and only intermittent electricity.  We made Cornish Hens on a wood-burning stove and kept warm next to the fire.

I can't remember the Thanksgiving of 1990.  I know I spent that Christmas in Missouri, first driving to Kansas City then taking a train to St. Louis, across Missouri during an ice storm, not quite three months pregnant and feeling wretched.  But I have no memory of Thanksgiving.  Did I go to the Kesls' house?  Stay home in Winslow, sulking?  Did I drive to Kansas City?  I cannot recall.

During Thanksgiving weekend when I was about eight, my mother told us that she was going to sort through our clothes to take hand-me-downs for the poor children.  I'll take anything you can't wear any more, and the church will make boxes for families who don't have anything to wear for Christmas.  She instructed each of us to look through our drawers and in the big sliding door closet, and gather things to donate.

Most of my clothes had come from my sisters or our Behan cousins.  But I had gotten a grey flannel coat from my grandmother.  I stroked its little velveteen collar and straightened its pocket flaps.  Nothing else new hung in my closet.  My small collection of dresses had all been first worn by other girls.  But that coat had its tags on it when I got it!  My stomach lurched when I thought about some other child wearing it to church on Christmas Day.

I slid the coat from its hanger and brought it over to my bed.  I folded it flat, so flat; I straightened its edges and slid each little covered button into its hole.  Then I hid it under my pillow.

We filled a huge cardboard box with blue jeans, shirts, and sweaters.  Someone hauled the box out of the house when the collection ladies came.  I ran back to check on  my coat: no one had found it.  I leaned down and smelled the fabric, my eyes closed.  I had had it for two years, but it  I could still smell the perfume of the tissue paper in which it had been wrapped when I found it in the box on my birthday.

I slept with the coat under my pillow for three days before my mother figured it out.  She came to kiss me goodnight that Sunday, asking if I had gotten everything ready for the return to school.  She saw the edges of the coat when she bent down.  She held it out and looked at me, lifting one eyebrow, not speaking.  I didn't want you to give it to poor children, I whispered.  I'm sorry.  It's just so pretty.

My mother sat down on the bed and gathered me into her arms.  We sat like that for a few minutes.  Then she stood, crossed the room, hung up my grey flannel coat and closed the closet doors.  Goodnight, Mary, she said, and then turned to the little boys who slept in their maple beds across the sunroom.

Each fall, I clean my closet out.  I take anything that I don't wear, or which no longer fits, and bundle it into a black trash bag.  I pin matching items together so the thrift store people will know.  I haul the bags downstairs to the car, and drive them to the DAV, City Union Thrift, or Goodwill.  I don't spend a lot of money on clothes myself. I often shop at consignment stores, just because I know I can get designer brands for a pittance.  But I take care of my clothes, and I know they can be used by someone else.  And I try to make sure that the clothes which I donate are clean and neatly folded.

The grey flannel coat disappeared some time that winter, after the snow fell, during Christmas break.  I don't know what happened to it.  I wore it to midnight Mass but never saw it after that.  I never asked my mother.  It probably didn't fit me anymore.  I never owned anything like it again; nor did I have anything new again until the pants suit that my Mother bought me for my eighth grade field trip, other than the shoes from Nana and the pajamas from Grandma Corley.  In the years since then, I've wondered about the little girl who got that grey flannel coat in the donation box.  Did she like it as much as I had?  Or did she wish for something new?  Did she yearn for something no one had worn before her, something she chose from the racks in a department store, with an attentive clerk hovering around her mother, asking if they needed anything, rushing to find other sizes, other choices, while elevator music played and the overhead lights flickered.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saturday Musings, 21 November 2015

Good morning,

An early Ping tells me that someone wants to communicate with me, and I reach for my phone.  Ellen wants me to know that she has the flu and I should not come to the farm today.  I had learned this from her friend Jerry late last night.  We exchange messages for a few minutes.  She says she regrets having to cancel my visit and miss Thanksgiving at the Stony Point Church.  I send little hearts and type, "Feel better" several times.  Then her little icon stands silent and I lie and listen to the wind blow.

I brought a new flag to the grave of my favorite curmudgeon yesterday.  The first one vanished, no doubt blown off its metal pole.  This time, I made a kind of lock from twine, something that should keep the flag from slipping off the end and skittering across the lawn into the lake.  I brought fresh flowers for Joanna, placing them in bottled water and a cemetery vase from Michael's.  The brass one has not yet been replaced.  I think to myself for the tenth time:  What kind of person steals brass vases from a grave?  I would really like to know.

Driving down Holmes Road after my cemetery visit, I suddenly think about my mother's grave.  She lies in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, with my father, my brother, my niece, and a host of Corley relatives.  I have not gone to visit my mother's resting place in many years, not since we laid my brother Stephen's ashes there, with a picture of his daughter, a pair of Cardinals tickets, and a Grateful Dead sticker on the side of the brass box.  I tried to find Mother's grave once but got lost in the cemetery.  On the other hand, I drive to Jay and Joanna's resting place by instinct now.  I cannot explain the comfort that I take from my visits.  I don't quite understand it myself.

But my mother's spirit haunted me yesterday, and a memory rises within me.

We're at a cemetery.  I can't say which one, we visited so many.  Mother collected graves like others collect glass, or stamps, or musical instruments.  Mom would stroll among the old raised stones and crouch before the broken angels.  She traced the names of dead children with the red raw fingers of a woman who has scrubbed too  many pots.  

I carried the wax paper and knife in a paper bag and walked beside her, waiting for her to decide which stone to memorialize with a wax paper rubbing that day.  I stepped between the graves, shuddering, apologizing in my mind to anyone beneath my feet who felt defiled.  Mother had no such qualms.  She sat with crossed legs on one person's grave while studying the Bible verse on the grave next to it.  I hovered in the background, her daughter, but not like her.  

"Mom, come on, you know I don't like these places," I said finally.  But my mother merely smiled and stood, shaking her head, beaming at me, continuing to wander among the dead.  

She found a baby's grave and reached for the wax paper roll.  "Oh look," she whispered.  "Just a few weeks old."  She leaned down and spread a length of paper over the headstone and held it in position while she rubbed the blade of the knife across it to make the impression.  Then the piece of paper went into a folder in the paper bag and we moved away, looking for someone else to visit.  I stepped around the baby's grave with care.  I felt my lips move; felt my heart cringe.  A prayer like a sigh escaped from me and wafted to the heavens.

When my mother had had her fill of visiting the long-dead relatives of others, we walked back to where she had parked the car.  She sat behind the wheel for a few minutes, not starting the engine, not rolling down the window.  She turned to me.  "Will you come visit me, after I'm gone, when I'm buried? When I'm in the ground?"

"Mom, don't be maudlin," I snapped.  "Besides, you know I don't like cemeteries.  They creep me out. Don't ask me questions like that."

She looked away from her teenage baby girl and gazed across the green expanse, with its dots of stone and its towering angels.  I don't know what she thought.  She did not say.  She started the car and drove towards the gates, pausing to look for traffic, illuminating her turn signal.

"It's okay if you don't come," she finally said.  

I did not believe her.  I shifted the paper bag to the floor of the car and turned towards my own window, away from my mother.  "You're not going to die," I told her.  "You're going to live to be a hundred and fifty, and you'll visit me in  my grave and say, 'Oh look Mary, the lady beside you is named Irene and died in childbirth.'"

My mother laughed. "I won't say that.  I promise.  Besides, a mother should not outlive her children, it's not natural."  I didn't answer her.  She pulled in front of our house and stopped the car.

"Thanks for going with me," she told me.  I shrugged.  "No, really -- I mean it.  Thank you. I know you think it's weird, taking these stone rubbings, visiting cemeteries, reading about the lives and deaths of people we don't know."  I turned to look at her then; I did think it was weird and I didn't understand it.  But I didn't say so.  I just said, as quietly as possible, "Let's have a cup of tea."

We left the car and went into the house, me carrying the bag of rubbings and supplies, my mother swinging her home-made corduroy purse.  We lingered on the front porch, talking only of the living, until the sun set and the dregs of our tea grew cold.  Then we went, together, into the kitchen, and began to make dinner.  

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

The gravesite of my favorite curmudgeon and his beautiful wife.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Saturday Musings(tm), 14 November 2015

Good morning,

As I listen to the NPR reports about the attacks in Paris, I feel a little shabby.  The deaths of so many people make my life seem trivial; the terrible suffering on the streets of Paris overshadow any small problem that might plague me.

Nonetheless, I sit drinking coffee, eating GF granola, and thinking about my Friday.

The day began as days begin:  Alarm rang, startling me from a terrible dream, but it was just a dream, and it quickly faded.  I threw together the accouterments of an ordinary life -- warmed over coffee, sweater dress, food dumped in the dog's dish on the back porch and the cat's dish out front.  Boots zipped, pocketbook draped cross-body, computer bag slung over one shoulder; out the door, down the driveway, struggle into the world's smallest rental car.

I drove north to my auxiliary existence in Liberty.  Once through the square, I slid into the handicapped spot on the curb by the courthouse.  I saw a hand raise on the sidewalk, and returned the greeting of one of the Clay County judges.

Ten minutes later, I mingled among lawyers who have adjusted to make a space for me at their Bar.  My friend Pat entertained me with an account of the case she would be trying later that morning.  Another female lawyer described her foot surgery, without seeming too disappointed at having to wear flip flops to in-chambers pre-trial conferences.  A clerk offered to get coffee for me.  I complimented a nattily dressed young male lawyer whose striped socks matched his pocket-square.

By 9:30, I settled  myself at  a table in Morning Day Cafe.  I couldn't get on the Internet so I moseyed up to the counter for password advice, and chatted with a cartoonist sketching while he ate his breakfast.  Ten minutes later, he stopped at my table and gently laid a sketch down,  For you, he said softly, presenting me with a depiction of a cat and a rabbit sitting in a coffee shop using a laptop which had a carrot for an emblem.  A giraffe peered through the picture window in the background, a window strikingly similar to the one behind me.

I put my hand out to touch his arm.  Wait, please, I begged, scrambling in my bag for something to give him in exchange.  My fingers curled around one of my more successful types of Law Firm pens, and I gave that to him.  That's me, I said.  Thank you for this picture.  He smiled and made his way out the door.

My friend Pat came after her trial and had a cup of coffee with me.  We argued over who would pay the bill; she claimed it was her turn but I demurred, since she had not even eaten. She let me buy  her coffee, swearing that she would retaliate by getting my lunch next time.  An ordinary exchange but I left smiling.

At the building where I've had an office for the last few months, I followed another lawyer into the building after parking behind Pat's car.  I discovered that someone had hung a beautiful blue wool coat on my office door, and left a bag of clothes.  I lifted the top item and gasped at the soft  beauty of a pale green shawl.  At that moment, Trish Hughes, another lawyer who had, until this month, owned the building came into my office.  You left me this beautiful coat, this lovely shawl, didn't you? And she admitted that she had.  I thought they looked like your style, and I don't wear them anymore.

A glint on the collar of the coat caught my attention.  It's an angel pin! I gasped.  Did you know about me and angels?  She said she didn't; the pin hid a little flaw which she showed me.  You don't have to keep the pin if you don't want it.  Ah, but I do.  I do.

An hour later,  a client sat in my office and cried about the difference between what her husband was telling her and what his lawyer had said to the judge and recited in the husband's proposed parenting plan.  He said he would not take my girls from me, she whispered.  I didn't even have a box of Kleenex to offer her.  I could only gently guide her to a state of calm with a strategic plan which might or might not work.  When she had left,  I stepped into Trish's office and asked her to help me load everything she had given me into the car.  Thank you for asking me to help you, she said in her lovely voice.  I could not reply; I would have broken down.  I hugged her though; and promised  that I would see her next week.

In the afternoon, I presented myself in the Outpatient Radiology department at North Kansas City Hospital for a chest x-ray.  Undress to the waist and take off that necklace, the technician directed.  I stood in front of her and contemplated making an admission; I did not like to do so, but I had no choice.  I can't unfasten this necklace, I told her.  If I need to take it off, you'll have to do it.  She looked at me with something that I felt wanted to be distaste.  But then, for some reason, she relented.  I saw the moment flicker across her face.  Maybe I reminded her of her mother; maybe she remembered what drew her to patient care in the first place.  She stepped behind me and undid the tiny catch of the chain holding the smokey topaz which I rarely remove, and laid the lovely thing on the counter beside her clipboard.

After the test, she just as carefully refastened the chain around my neck.

I got a tea in the coffee shop where I have, on several occasions, sat and cried.  But yesterday I felt no need for tears, only that bone-deep chill of approaching illness. The Earl Grey flowed through my body and warmed me, if only briefly.

Back south, in Westport, at the car repair place, I told the woman behind the counter that I would not drive the rental car again.  Can you call them, please, and tell them to come get it?  She asked if I had had car trouble as she dialed the number of Enterprise Rental three blocks away from her establishment.  Yes, I did; the cabin space is so cramped that I could not see over the steering wheel and I struggled to get in and out of the vehicle.  I fell out of it onto a parking garage floor.  She stared at me as though thinking, perhaps, that I had lost my mind.  But she made the call.

The manager of the car place transferred my bags and the lovely blue coat into the Prius and shook my hand just as the manager of the car rental outfit pulled onto the lot with a crumpled rental car.  He strode across the lot.  Mrs. Corley, he called.  I hear you had some problems with our rental car, I am so sorry.  We stood by the Prius while I explained the vagaries of having a spastic body, of shoving that body into a tight space.  It was not the end of the world, but I just reached my limit of endurance.  He apologized; he gave me his business card; he told me to let him know if I needed anything in the future.  Then he, too, shook my hand, and I got into the Prius for the drive home.

I pulled into my driveway, noticing the ten bags of collected leaves grouped around the tree on the parkway.  What nice neighbors I have, I said, out loud, to no one.  Earlier in the week, I had received a text from Scott Vaughn, one of the men next door, telling me that he would rake my leaves before the approaching city collection date.  And sure enough, he had.

I stepped from the car with the motor still running, my cell phone connected to the charger which I had left all week in the Prius.  I started toward the front porch with my two bags: the computer bag in my right hand, the bag of clothes in my weaker, sprained, left hand.  And I felt the twinge which tells me that I'm going to fall, and fall I did.  When my head smacked against the backdoor of the Prius, my first thought was this:  If I have to take it back for more body work, I want a bigger rental car.

I lay on the ground amid the few autumn leaves which had drifted down from the nearly naked tree, in the hours since Scott had done his work.  I peered at the grey-blue sky, wondering if it would rain; thinking about my cell phone eight feet from me inside the car, on its charger, sitting in the change tray.

I had inched my way as far as the edge of the vehicle when I heard a voice and knew that I  would be rescued.  Brian Martig, my fellow Waldo-Brookside Rotarian and the contractor working on my house, bounded down the stairs, scooped me from the ground, and steadied me against the Prius.

Eventually, the Prius parked, I made my way into the house.  I shook the leaves from my back, onto the living room floor.  I climbed the stairs to talk with Brian about the day's progress. I admired the finished plumbing and tested the LED lighting that will span the length of the attic closet that Brian designed and built.  I lowered the drawbridge entryway, marveled for the thousandth time over the ingenuity of its design.  I studied the amount of illumination cast from within the new closet. I voiced my thoughts about the position of the light switch.  Then Brian packed his tools and made his way home to his wife, his son, and the promise of his unborn daughter.

I watched an episode of Chopped.  I perused the Internet news of Paris.  I gave my son advice over the phone about refrigerated meat.  I listened to voice mail from my friend Brenda.  In the silence of the house, I thought about angels.  I have no lack of them.  In fact, I concluded, for such an ordinary woman, with such a mundane life, I seem to  have angels around me in abundance.

On the strength of that conclusion, I set the alarm, and went to bed.

Mugwumpishly tendered.

Corinne Corley

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Saturday Musings(tm) 07 November 2015

Good morning,

This musing will be shorter than usual.  I'm typing with a sprained left hand which I'm told is riddled with arthritis.  I'll be examining voice-to-type software; it seems my wrists, like the rest of me, have aged quicker than the average human.  C'est la vie, I suppose.  At least I can see the computer screen again, with my new specs.  One lens has to be remade but even with one eye slightly off, my vision has considerably improved.

Struggling to my feet yesterday, something that grows increasingly difficult, I thought about my mother.  She's been gone half my life and I think of her far less than I do my father-in-law, whom I only knew for five years but whose death deprived me of a parental love of rare purity.  But nonetheless, my mother's voice echoes in my mind.

At nine years old, I tried to persuade my mother to enroll me in a dance class.  We stood in the kitchen nose to nose.  My stubborn nature compelled me to jam my little fists on my hips and glare.  I could not understand her refusal.  There was no charge for the first few lessons; I would have been willing to stop after that if we could not afford to pay.  I just wanted to try.

Mother pursed her lips.  She raised her hands and placed one on each of my shoulders.  Her eyes closed.  She drew me against her chest.  Mary, oh Mary, my sweet baby girl, she murmured.  I felt a sob run through her body.  A warm flush rose in me, spreading through my stomach, settling in my lungs.  I could not breathe.

I pulled back from her then.  What's wrong, Mom? I asked. I followed the path of two single tears dropping from the corners of her eyes down her olive cheeks.

She shook her head.  You'll never be a dancer, Mary, she told me.  I felt my eyebrows draw together.  But why? I asked.  Why can't I?  She did not answer.

My mother turned away from me then; she told me, go set the table for supper.  She lifted the lid of the pot on the stove and stirred its contents, letting the fragrant steam waft into the kitchen.  I did as she asked, getting the silverware from the cabinet across from the basement door and the plates from the cupboard hanging on the wall.  My brothers and sisters wandered into the breakfast room and took their places at the table.  My dad came up from the basement.  Mother and I sat down last. Neither of us spoke as the prayer was said and the food was passed.

When my mother had received her cancer diagnosis in 1984, all of us started spending more time with her.  Walking in her garden one Saturday, a soft autumn day much like the one outside my door today, I asked my mother if she remembered my yearning to be a ballerina.  She paused, then sank to the park bench.

I do, she admitted.  I deeply regretted not letting you take that damn class, she told me, then, for the first time. I should have let you dance.

We fell silent.  After a few minutes, she reached to take my hand and we sat together in the afternoon air.  I don't know what she felt.  She never said; and I never asked.

Mugwumpishly tendered.

Corinne Corley

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Saturday Musings, 31 October 2015

Good morning,

Scott Simon tells me that it's Weekend Edition on NPR news. I munch on a rice cake with chunky almond butter and eye my coffee with suspicion.  I have at least two medical conditions which will protest my ingestion of this French Market chicory roast, but it pleases me to drink it.  I take the risks.

Last night's loss by the Royals to the Mets only slightly dampened the gathering which I attended.  Hard-core  believers, Rotarians and their spouses, ordered pizza and blue drinks (on special) and chatted as only folks in their middle-age can chat.  I drifted between the clusters of four or five, welcomed at each table but staying nowhere for long.  I do not feel excluded but I do not feel like inserting myself.  I'm fine with flitting.

Now it's Halloween and the day of Game four of the World Series.  I've been invited to a costume party.  I don't have a plan but I have five or six hours to devise one.  I'll get a mask and wear a long dress.  People can ruminate over what I portray.  While I'm at the paper goods store, I'll buy a bag of candy to give the little kids who will knock on my door before seven, if any remain in the neighborhood.  Whatever is left, I will take for the children sure to be at the party with their parents.  I'm practicing to be a grandmother; grandmothers always carry treats for the kiddos.  Grandmothers and old maids.

I think about Halloweens gone by: My son as Batman; Power Ranger; a hobo; a zombie.  One year we trick-or-treated with his daycare provider in her neighborhood with her husband and their children.   She left a large tin bowl of candy bars on their stoop before we trudged away to start door-bell ringing.  I questioned the wisdom of that but said nothing.  What would stop the first kid to arrive from taking the whole lot?  Nothing, I supposed; nothing but manners.  I wondered about that.  I must have been more of a skeptic than Diane.

The last year that anyone went out into the neighborhood from my home must have been 2004.  I had a  rule that begging for candy stopped at 13.  That year, my son and his friends put on costumes and trick-or-treated for UNICEF with the Alongis, a family which lived on nearby Rockhill Road whose boys were near the age of mine.  Kathy Alongi came dressed as a lion.  I painted the faces of my son and his friends.  Dennis, my husband at that time, clipped a tail to the back of his wheelchair.  Kathy's husband Joe did not wear a costume but he carried a large flashlight.

I stood on the steps of our porch and watched them walk into the night, holding the collection cans.  Kathy wore a padded coat over her lion's fur to guard against the light rain.  The five boys scampered ahead:  Phillip and James Alongi, my son Patrick, and the friends who formed my son's village, Chris and Maher.  Kathy's frail arm linked through Joe's sturdier one.  Dennis in his power chair brought up the rear, twitching tiger tail catching a swirl of leaves from time to time.

A wave of tenderness washed over me as I stood on the steps of the Holmes house, watching that funny little group walk into the night to collect coins for charity.  When they had vanished around the corner, I went back into the house and raised the shades, so that any children who ventured into the night would know that they were welcome.

Now I hear a story of a man's death in one of our most recent terrible wars, described by his brother. U. S. Marine Rafael Peralta received the Navy Cross for shielding several Marines from a grenade in November 2004 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.  I switch over to a Wikipedia site and read about the varying accounts of Sgt. Peralta's death.  I think, It doesn't matter which version is accurate.  This man, an immigrant from Mexico who enlisted as soon as he had his green card, died fighting as a member of our Armed Forces.  When I realize that this man died two weeks after my family's UNICEF Halloween, I wonder about life.

While we were counting the money which the boys raised that day, Rafael Peralta prepared to go into a situation far from home.  He willingly strode out into the frenzy, into a fight which he did not inspire but in which he engaged wearing the uniform of his adopted country.  He took his last breath on the sands of Iraq, far from home, far from the nation which he embraced, far from my little house, where I now sit, furnace roaring, radio playing, autumn leaves drifting to the ground outside my open blinds.  What a world.  What a world.

Mugwumpishly tendered.

Corinne Corley

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Saturday Musings(tm), 24 October 2015

Good morning,

Except for the ringing in my ears, the neighborhood has fallen silent.  Jackhammers assaulted our air far into Friday evening, shattering the silence, driving me off my front porch.  I closed windows and doors, turned the television volume higher, and called the police.  But progress evidently marches forward despite the ruination of the environment of those who've made Astor Place home for decades.

And now I am thinking of progress; of houses raised, of buildings demolished, of trees torn from their roots.  When I get back to St. Louis, I search for apartments where I laid my head after nights of drinking or late hours at the library but all have succumbed to the whimsical dictates of urban planners.  I wonder what my parents' house looks like now; I remember my house in Winslow, Arkansas which Brian, Trudy, and I saw a few years ago.  On Monday work begins on my upstairs bathroom here.  I'll take pictures before the contractor starts his work.  Future owners of this house will want to know where it began.

Where it all began.

A by-the-week apartment on Russell Blvd, east of Jefferson, St. Louis, Missouri.  Summer 1974.  I enter the stairwell with a bag of groceries, my pocketbook, a handful of keys.  The apartment door opens on the front stoop of the building into a stairwell the leads directly into my living room.  I kick the door shut with one foot, rattling the glass, and start my climb.  I'm 18; as strong as I will ever be, because I'm working as a camp counselor out in Jennings where my parents still live, using their address to qualify for the job.  The soccer coach has taken me on as a mission and is teaching me tricks on the weight machine.  The stairs to my apartment seem almost easy.

A little group of neighbors had been standing in the yard of the four-family flat when I parked on Russell.  My landlady stood among them.  They eyed me but offered no help.  I twitched the sheaf of hair on my back and smiled as I walked beyond them.  Their conversation resumed when I unlocked the door. They probably find me arrogant but I don't care.  I know I'm not.  I'm just  a different kind of person than they are.

It's that way, in St. Louis, in the 1970s.  If you come from the County, the folks in the City find you perplexing.  And vice versa.  North Countians like me don't evoke as much suspicion as those from West or South County, but we're still considered oddballs.  Outcasts.  Interlopers.

My friend Hank has invited himself for dinner.  I like Hank.  We met during my first year of college and became friends over drinks at the Pub.  He's strong and smart and funny, and we've never even hinted at dating or romance; we're just friends.  An eighteen-year-old girl who's moved from Jennings to the city to go to SLU needs man-friends; he's walked into a few tense situations and steered me out of trouble.

I need a friend more than ever, this particular evening.  I've ended my first-year-of-college relationship with a man who accused me of dumping him because of his race.  "You think I'm breaking up with you because you're black?" I asked.  He glared at me.  "Do you think it took me a year to notice?"  

Three days later, the exchange still stung.  Hank understood.  He listened for hours on the phone.  He knew first-hand that I had no prejudice based on skin color. He'd heard about Ray's insecurities, about my concern that dating me had lulled him into overlooking his medical school studies and his obligation to the Army which paid his tuition.  He knew that I had made my decision after agonizing debate, mostly with him on the receiving end of my logic.  He'd asked me, finally, the day that I did the deed:  "Do you want to keep dating him?  Because all that sounds like flim-flam to me.  You want the man?  Find a way.  You don't want him?  Let him off the hook now."

A rap on the door breaks my reverie.  I look down the stairwell, see Hank, start down.  I reach the entry just as the argument erupts.  The landlady and two men from down the street have confronted Hank.  I can hear the harshness in their voices as I open the door.

Hank looks at me.  I meet his eyes; grey to brown; knowledge passing between us.  He shakes his head just enough for me to see, slightly enough for me to ignore.

"Is there a problem," I ask.  Three voices start; two stop.  The neighbor men defer to my landlady.

"We didn't want this. . . guy. . . to bother you, Miss Corley," she simpers.  She doesn't say "guy".  She uses a word that never crosses my lips.  A word that starts with "N" and ends with "Not-Our-Color".

I gaze at her stocky figure, the lopsided hem of her cotton dress, the piles on her sweater, the stiff pincurls marching across her head.

"He's not bothering me," I reply, voice quiet.  "He's my dinner guest."

I  open the door wider and gesture for Hank to enter.  He shakes his head, touches my arm, moves to the stairs and start to climb.  He knows me well.  He knows both that I will say something and that it would do no good to caution me.

"Something wrong?"  Just two words, from tenant to landlady, spoken beneath her shocked stare and the snarls of the men standing with her.

"We don't like that kind here," she snaps.  She trembles; powder falls from her cheek to her bosom.

I assume the look of someone determined to resist.  "What kind," I ask.  "Handsome? Young? Smart?  Or is it cops you don't like; my friend is a police officer.  Which kind is it you don't like here?"

"A good girl oughtn't put herself out for one of them kind," she tells me, and her condemnation hangs in the air between us.

I hear my name called, and turn.  Hank stands at the top of the stairs.  "Come on up here, woman, I'm starved and you know I don't cook."  He's willing me to avoid the confrontation.  I let him have his way; I close the door.

At the end of the week, the landlady gives me a notice to vacate.  She's dumb enough or bold enough to state the real reason on the hand-written letter shoved in my mailbox.  I take it to the city.

She's made to pay my moving costs and a fine, which I offer to split with Hank.  He declines.  But he's proud of me. Funny thing:  The note she wrote complained that I had a black boyfriend.  And she meant Hank.  We both find that hilarious.  As for Ray, I don't get to tell him.  He drops out of medical school and leaves the area.  It's Hank who helps me pack; Hank who comes to the city housing hearing; Hank who carries my boxes up to my next apartment. 

Every young woman needs a friend like Hank.

Forty years later, I can still tell you Ray's whole name but I've forgotten Hank's surname.  I can picture them both: I see Hank most clearly standing in the doorway to my apartment stairwell.  The yard and the landlady and the neighbor men loom beyond the glass of the front door.  Hank wears a blue polo shirt, jeans, and a brilliant smile.  It occurs to me, now, looking down on him from this greater distance, that Hank might have been gay.   Wouldn't that have shocked the old biddy.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Saturday Musings(tm), 17 October 2015

Good morning,

I challenged myself yesterday and as a consequence, every fiber of my being screams with a weird combination of fatigue and wonder.  In the midst of my third or fourth mid-life crisis, I joined the newly-formed Waldo Brookside Rotary Club, volunteered to be its secretary, and in that capacity, came to the District Governor's Conference for District 6040 of Rotary International.  Yesterday, I walked among Rotarians sporting years and decades of Service Above Self, perpetual smiles, and staggering volumes of palpable goodwill.  Now  I sit in my hotel room, at 6:30 a.m., two hours before the day's plenary session, paper cup of bad single-brewed coffee at my side, and ponder.  I cannot recall joining anything for decades and the experience confuses me.

This entry properly belongs in my other blog, "My Year Without Complaining", and perhaps I should post it there.  I have no lovely memory rising to be told today; no pithy lesson crowding to flow from my fingertips.  Just the weather report, more of what graced us yesterday:  Sunny with a slight threat of doggedly-determined, localized, salty rain.  Like Eeyore, my perpetual inner gloom breaks to the surface so often that I wear it like a coat of fur, in need of a thorough brushing, tangled with old burs and brambles.

When I arrived at the conference at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, a man strode forward with hand outstretched.  Welcome, welcome!  So glad you came.  I suppressed the desire to ask him why on earth my arrival would evoke delight.  I grasped his warm hand and let him pull me forward to the registration table.  Within minutes, I had been counted, labeled, and sent into the lounge to await the first session.  Soon other Rotarians began to gather, mostly in clumps of three or more; many pairs of spouses; all with easy smiles and pleasant airs.

A group of six pulled me into their midst; also from Kansas City, but downtown, an old club.  They greeted me with the mantra that I would soon hear from every mouth:  Oh, you're in the NEW club; we've heard about you all!  You meet at night!  In a bar!  And you have fifty members!  But these folks expressed no envy, nor apprehension that our success might threaten their clubs' images.   Their family grows with each addition and that pleases them.  It is not a competition.  It is a collaboration.

And here among these Rotarians, I have no failures to hide.  They do not judge me; and not just because they do not know me, but because judgment does not come naturally to them.  All day, people opened their groups to include me, or moved to my table so that I would not be alone, or took my arm to lead me to where their companions had gathered.  Here among these people, I might harbor feelings of loneliness but I could never say that I have not been deliberately included.  These people take me into their fold not because of anything that I have done or failed to do; nor because of any status that I have assumed.  Are they like this because they are Rotarians?  I suspect they are Rotarians because their natures compel them to be this open, and the core values of Rotary tolerate nothing less.

By evening's end, I found myself in the hospitality room sponsored by one of the St. Joseph clubs, eating a cherry mash and watching the Royals shut-out Toronto.  When the game ended, one of their members took a group photo.  I moved to get out of the way, being the only stranger in the room by that time.  Oh no you don't, get back there; you're an honorary St. Joseph Rotarian now! exclaimed the photographer, and I stood beside a man in a Royals shirt with a large grin on his face.

Many facets of my existence trouble me.  The looming shadow of my failures hovers overhead, a perpetual storm warming.  But  among these Rotarians, a new sensation begins to ease itself through the thunderous bank of clouds.  I do not recognize it.  It might be peace.  I'll need to muse on that a while.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Yours truly, with Mark Landes, Waldo-Brookside Rotary Club VP/Pres. Elect and Elizabeth Usovicz, the KC Plaza Rotarian who helped organize WBRC.  Both of these folks have been so kind to me that I wanted anyone who reads these musings to meet them.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Saturday Musings(tm), 10 October 2015

Good morning,

In a living room just west of Main, in a home on our historic preservation registry, two musicians traded songs last evening.  One hailed from Chanute, Kansas; the other from down in Springfield.  I let their music roll past me, let the deft picking and the light strumming caress me but not linger.

One of them introduced a song by mentioning a small town with a store advertising sandwiches, beer, and bait.  His words caught my mind and sent me careening back in time.  I leaned against the tall back of the wooden chair, rested my hand against the grey soft fabric of my sweater, and remembered.

I squirm on the thinly padded, unrelenting metal of the trolley car seat.  My eyes close; I let the rhythm of the trundling train rock me.  We're above ground, now; but somewhere near Copley Square we'll go underground.  My unfocused eyes face the window but the images on the other side of the glass make no impression on me.  Piles of dirty snow battle with pedestrians on Commonwealth Avenue; the cars of morning rush hour nudge each other forward, downtown; and the opposite way, to Boston College perhaps, or maybe home, eagerly, after the graveyard shift.  

The massive line of ancient train cars screeches to a stop, somewhere, not yet underground, but I'm not sure where.  I press my face against glass tinged with the Massachusetts winter.  I wonder why I've come so far from home, just to languish in this wicked lonely place, this January of snow.

I see a sign on the far side of the roadway, spanning the top of a store which bustles with morning commuters.  The sign broadcasts the store's offerings:  NEWSPAPERS MILK FRIENDS DRUGS GIFTS ETERNAL LIFE. No punctuation.  Just a string of words.  I turn away.  The train moves forward and then, down below the surface, flickering lights signalling that we've engaged the underground.  Passengers begin to collect themselves to disembark as we journey to our last stop.

I see that sign every day.  I edit it in my head.  I add verbs; I make paragraphs; I write a poem.  When I come above the subway station at the stop for my dreary office job, I sit on a stool at the Mug n Muffin, writing haiku about finding friends while reading the newspaper, standing in the aisles of that store.  I imagine touching the shelves of candles, candy, and cigarettes.  I pretend that I've been invited to a party and stop at that store to buy a hostess gift.  What would I get her, this Boston lady who simply had to have me complete her dinner table in her elegant home on Beacon Hill?  Something fragile, something edible; a bottle of wine.  All available at the store which I see from my window as I make the commute from 27 South Street down the B branch of the Green Line towards what I did not want to do but which seems to be my destiny. Or at least, my fate.

One Saturday, I take the trolley to Copley Square and wander off Comm Avenue.  I stumble on a small string of stores with kitsch names and stylized window-dressings.  One bears the announcement, i natural, in large lower-case letters like an e e cummings title.  I push its door inward and step into a fog of fragrance.

The woman coming towards me clearly has her feet firmly planted in the sixties.  Her dress flows further than any dress I have ever seen except at a wedding; and her hair streams in long golden curls down her back.  I stop in the middle of the showroom and let her come to me.  

She does not speak but places one hand beneath my chin.  "Oh you are so young," she says.  I consider that she speaks more rightly than she knows but do not comment.  "Your skin needs these products!"  She cradles my elbow in the crook of her arm and draws me to the counter. 

She coaxes me to a chair and takes a series of bottles from beneath a glass counter.  A lid lifted; the odor of almonds; the scent of sea.  Cucumber scrub; flower petal lotion; citrus cleanser.  All the while she coos and flatters, quietly though, not too overwhelming, seemingly sincere.  I know I am being boondoggled but the cold of a Boston winter far from family sneers at me and this woman, this holdover hippie chick -- she stands between me and the icy silence of this frightening new world.

I leave with a little bag filled with the products which will keep me looking twenty-two, for which I've paid nearly a week's wages.  Before taxes.  I'm slightly ill when I board the trolley back to Brighton.

In the apartment which I share with Melanie and Marian, I stow the meager collection of skin-care products in my uncle John's old yellow suitcase which serves as my dresser.  It stands on a wooden chair inside the closet.  Another wooden chair holds a lamp and my journal, next to the bed.  I lie down, fully clothed.  I curl under the quilt that Mom Ulz made from tailor's squares and close my eyes.  

NEWSPAPERS MILK FRIENDS DRUGS GIFTS ETERNAL LIFE. . .I fall asleep reciting this mantra over and over, in the cold Massachusetts winter, in a room with no heat, not two months after finishing college.  No one disturbs me.  I sleep until Sunday and wake to an empty apartment and a note from my roommates who have gone to brunch.  "We tried to wake you," they had scribbled.  I'm skeptical but I make coffee and eat a cup of yogurt, watching the snow fall, wondering why the hell I came here.  

That afternoon, I take the trolley downtown and have my hair cut short, razored, shorter than Liza Minelli's famous style, shorter than a man's in the back with an upsweep of bangs that I had her paint blonde.  As I watch the winding locks of my natural auburn fall to the floor of the salon, I close my eyes and breathe the lingering fragrance of cucumber on my face.  It is a smell which I will never again be able to bear.

Jessica and Addao have already left for their camping trip.  The Holmes house fell silent as soon as we had the bundles of food, sleeping bags, and pillow loaded into the back of the Prius.  Now I have a day of possibility.  Laundry stares at me from two baskets in the bedroom; the winter sweaters still peak from their plastic bins.  I've had a half cup of coffee.  The dog is outside but she has not been fed, nor have I eaten breakfast.  But I sit at the secretary, feeling again the sway of the subway car, the frigid glass against my skin, the tightness of my muscles as I learn to pull myself inward during the crowded commute.  The stores flash past with their boasting lures:  NEWSPAPERS MILK FRIENDS DRUGS GIFTS ETERNAL LIFE. . .and I wonder, still, what the hell I'm doing here.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Saturday Musings, 03 October 2015

Good morning,

It's been quite a week.  The microwave died, I succumbed to the claustrophobia of too much furniture, and I lost my temper with a client.  I lay on the couch like a beached whale at five o'clock yesterday, tension gripping my bruised rib and the damaged muscle beneath it.  Two Advil and three Tylenol four hours apart had yet to ease the pain.  I knew that I should not get one more restaurant meal but the refrigerator held only yogurt, bottled water, and some wrinkled cherry tomatoes.  My hair hurt. I wanted nothing more than an order of something hot and fried; and sleep.

As I lay there, waiting for Jessica to come home and provide some moments of distraction, a sudden flash of my mother's face seemed to light the room.

Standing in the doorway of our Jennings home, as she had stood a hundred thousand times.  She wears her uniform: a stiff white polyester dress, scuffed worn nurse's shoes.  Her cloth purse hangs from one shoulder, dragging her cardigan down along her arm.  A pained expression mars her olive skin, clouds her brown eyes.

Three of her children lounge in the living room with the Grateful Dead blaring from the stereo.  None of us could be called lazy.  We have jobs; we do reasonably well in school.  But at that moment, no scent of cooking wafts from the kitchen and my two older brothers and I lay around listening to loud music.  There's no sign of the little boys; my father has retreated to his workshop in the basement.

Kevin stirs first.  He's seventeen and by far the most responsive to my mother's needs in general. He pulls his lanky frame vertical and reaches for a bundle in my mother's arms.  She yields to him; but the easing of this burden does not pull the worry from her face.

"Will somebody start dinner," she says, and walks past us through the door into what used to be a dining room before the Corleys outgrew such luxuries.  She walks through that bedroom to the back bedroom beyond it and clicks the adjoining French doors shut.  The boys and I look at each other without speaking.  We do not need words.

The three of us go into the kitchen and rummage in the fridge.  We take out a package of ground beef, pull some spaghetti from the shelf and start water boiling.  The meat goes into a cast iron skillet with bacon grease.  Mark breaks the red clumps so they'll brown evenly while I start taking down plates to set the table.  Kevin has gone outside to find Frank and Steve.  Silence emanates from the basement, a sign that my father has discerned my mother's arrival and sits on a stool smoking, waiting for the next thing.

I'm laying the silverware when I hear the sound which we all dread:  My mother's sobs.  I slip through the linen closet door into her bedroom from its back entrance and stand in the dimness, watching her form shake under an afghan on the bed.  She's discarded her shoes and uniform, lying in her slip and stockings.

"What's wrong, Mom?" I ask, not really wanting to know.  I sit on the edge of the bed and place my hand n her forehead.  By thirteen, I understand her life enough to know that the reason for her tears might be simple, but it might be so complex as to frighten me.  

I wait.  Finally she pulls herself up, leans against the headboard, and pulls me to her.  Neither of us speaks for a few minutes, then she lets go of me and dabs her eyes with a handkerchief that she's clutching.

"I cashed my paycheck on the way home," she begins.  "I pulled away from the teller and stopped in the parking lot to count the money.  I realized that she had given me six hundred dollars too much."

She stops.  I think about that sum, six hundred dollars.  I do not know then what six hundred dollars might buy, what burden it might ease for my overworked mother but it seems like a lot.  I wait for her to continue.

"I looked at that money.  I thought about you kids.  You need shoes.  You need clothes.  You need food.  I held that six hundred dollars and sat in  my car and thought."  She pauses.  "Then I got out of the car, went into the bank, and told the manager what had happened.  He took the money and thanked me.  He turned away.  And that was it."  A long sigh riffs through her body.

Just then, the sound of the dinner bell breaks the dimness of the room.  My mother hugs me.  "Go wash  your hands.  I'll be there in a minute," she says.  I move to do as she directs, but as I start to slip  through the makeshift back passage through the closet, my mother speaks my name.  I stop and look over my shoulder at her small body, standing now in the unlit bedroom.

"Don't say anything," she whispers.

And I never did.

This morning I calculated all the money that I've spent on restaurant food in the last twenty months, during this time when my emotions raised a wall between me and the kitchen; when I've stood in grocery stores feeling so desolate that I could not push the cart nor fill it with items that I would be unable to cook anyway -- vegetables which would be doomed to rot, bread which would grow mold.  A month ago I began to feel able to cook again; able to slice, dice, saute and simmer.  Doubtless what kept me from the kitchen could be called depression.  I labelled it "situational sadness" and resigned myself to eating out instead of getting therapy.  But today I feel differently.  Today I think of my mother anguishing over her meager salary, crying about her choice between honesty and groceries.  I feel ashamed by the hundreds of dollars that I've wasting indulging myself on pakora, Panera's, and pizza.

The sun floods my neighborhood with the sweet light of an autumn morning.  Cool air wafted through the open window all night, while warmth drifted through the register.  I have to schedule routine maintenance for the furnace.  Piles of laundry stand in my closet.  The crowded furniture must be weaned and the living room made comfortable again.  I stretch my shoulders and feel a twinge of pain beneath one breast, where the healing rib still protests.  I think about my mother, though -- imagine the smattering of age spots on her hands, the deepness of her brown eyes, the lock of hair which always fell across her forehead.  I have her strength in me.  I carry on.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Saurday Musings, 26 September 2015

Good morning,

A warning twinge often courses through my legs just before they collapse, and that happened today at 7:25 a.m., right after I put the crystal cup of yesterday's coffee in the microwave and en route to the front door to check for our boycat on the porch.  I hit the floor just west of the piano, flailing for a hand-hold, scraping a chair across the hardwood as I tried to grab its seat and missed.

I lay on the floor for several agonizing moments before I realized that I had stopped breathing.  My mouth gaped open but nothing emerged:  Not sound, not an exhaled stream of carbon dioxide, nothing.  I've broken a rib, it's going to hurt like hell but BREATHE DAMMIT BREATHE, my brain screamed but still my lungs did not heave.  Panic immobilized me.  My face started to numb; a cloudy haze rose around me and I thought, Jesus Christ Corinne, You can't die because you fell and broke a rib, breathe woman.  With a great internal lunge, I pushed my chest out and felt a cough rise, and a moment latter, I lay on my belly gagging.  Shards of something that felt like glass rip through my chest, signalling that indeed, I'd probably broken a rib but by God, I had made myself breathe.

And suddenly I whipped back in time to 1982.  On 09 February 1982, a crazy (self-described) Persian in a VW knocked me into the air, sending me catapulting three stories above the Tivoli.  I slammed down on his hood and through his windshield.   Seven weeks and a surgery later, my mother and a social worker flanked my casted body discussing whether I should be discharged to my fourth-floor apartment or a rehab unit.

Social worker:  What if there's a fire while she's still in this cast?, gesturing as though towards a piece of rotting meat.  How will she get out?  She won't be able to get down those four flights of stairs.

The rotting meat's mother:  You don't know my daughter. 

It turns out that without a court order, a social worker could not actually prevent me from leaving the hospital when medically discharged to do so.  Perhaps my youth prompted me to stubbornly insist; perhaps I'm just the kind of person that rises to a challenge; perhaps my insistence foretold a later brand by a frustrated spouse of doing whatever the hell I wanted.  Regardless -- home to the fourth-floor flat went I, the rotting meat, with only a landline and an unlocked back door to provide help if I fell.

A few days into my recovery, I hit the floor just inside of the locked French doors to my balcony.  As my crutches slammed and skidded out of reach, I found myself grateful that they hadn't shattered the glass panes.  They came to rest about ten feet from my position.  I lay panting, trying to calm myself, shifting the heavy weight of the toe-to-hip cast on my right leg and the ninety-pound body around it.

Silence gathered in the air and settled.  Somewhere in the building, a phone rang for several long minutes.  I thought about the telephone in the kitchen and the one beside my bed, twenty-five feet away -- it might as well have been on the moon.  Chance might bring a friend sauntering up the back stairs; my next scheduled visitor would come at ten in the morning.  I contemplated lying on the floor for seventeen hours and decided that I needed to figure out how to stand.

I surveyed the living room.  I had a green fake-leather recliner, two parlor chairs (badly in need of re-upholstering, I noticed), and a heavy wood coffee table that looked almost sturdy enough to bear my weight.  It would have to do.  I began inching towards it, lamenting the dust on my robe, hearing my Con-law professor's query to my mother early in my hospital stay:  Was it her good leg or her bad leg?

My mother's reply echoed in my brain as I slithered across my floor:  I didn't know she had a good leg.

She doesn't.  Nor good arms, and her torso isn't  much better.  But she's stubborn and she's determined and she's going to get off this floor.  Ten minutes later by the leering clock on the end table, she's made it to the coffee table and grasped its edges.  You'd think hauling ninety pounds and a full-length cast eighteen inches off the ground would not be difficult but it can be.  With a neurological system that inhibits the smooth cooperation of your muscles and a weakened, post-surgical state, the process defies that simple easy tug to vertical stance.  But in the end, the disposition of which a Jackson County Circuit Court judge would one day take judicial notice as being relentless prevailed, and I hauled myself to a sprawled position across the coffee table and lurched far enough forward to get momentum and throw myself backwards into the recliner.

I started laughing, then, but the laughter quickly morphed into long jagged sobs.  A wave of raw emotion washed over me.  My body quaked.  But then the quake, as all  quakes do, subsided and I lay, shuddering, trembling, panting, and eventually, still.

A half hour later, I heard a clumping on the back stairs and felt the floor quiver under a rush of motion.  Steve Hanlen and a friend roller-skated through my apartment, one holding a six-pack of beer, one holding a bag of take-out.  Round and round the living room they skated, calling my name, scolding me for not rising to meet them, settling in my spindly chairs with their wild grins flashing.

We ate; they drank beer.  Steve got me a glass of water and after we'd eaten, lifted me from the chair and helped me into the restroom.  He asked if someone would come to assist me that night.  I shrugged off his question and put my arms around him.  Thank you for this visit, Steve, I whispered.  He returned my embrace and did not speak.  Then, me settled back in my chair, rubbish for the back dumpster in hand, the two of them clambered back down the fire escape and  skated away.  .

Thirty-three years nearly to the day: I lay on my living room floor in Brookside and tried to figure out how to get myself vertical.  I could have called for Jessica; I could have slid twenty feet into the dining room to drag my cell phone from the table.  I told myself that I would do one of those things if I could not get up in ten minutes.  I had no way of knowing when my deadline came.  But years of being in this predicament helped me figure out a way to get off the floor.  I scooted over to the couch, pulled the throw pillows down to the floor, wiggled on top of one of them, and then flipped my 115 pounds over to steady my broken artificial knee on the pillow.  Thus padded, I willed my torso, now screaming from the surely-broken rib, onto the couch, and leveraged the top of my body to its cushioned surface.

From there, sitting was a cinch.  Standing, not so much, but I could smell the coffee and so, eventually, quivering, nearly crying, I got to my feet and made my way towards the nectar of gods in my purloined crystal cup in the microwave.

Out on the porch, I thought about that awful commercial -- Help, I've Fallen And I Can't Get Up.  I reflected on five pounds that I still have to lose to get to my ideal 110, and how much harder everything has become since I started gaining weight again.  I lamented the loss of my landline with its phone-in-every-room.  I drank warmed-over coffee; read the news of Mr. Boehner's resignation and the Royal's abysmal loss; and breathed.

About halfway through the comics, I decided that my rib is not broken after all.  And that I had another good story to tell.  I thought about Steve, roller-skating through my apartment on 43rd Street.  I remembered the last time we got together, just a few months ago, at the 75th Street Brewery on one of his visits north from Texas.  I wondered if I had ever told him how close he and his friend came to finding me helpless on the floor.  I whispered, outloud, there on the porch, Thank God he came! and went inside for another cup of yesterday's Joe.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Saturday Musings, 19 September 2015

Good morning,

Something pulled my mind back to St. Louis, to the middle chunk of the 1970s when I stumbled around the campus of St. Louis University pretending to be self-assured.  Whether my throwback resulted from the disturbing   news that a friend from that time died eight months ago without my having known, or from my recent trip to Stanford with its mixed bag of predictions, I cannot say.  But here I sit:  the small needlepoint cushion of my chair hard beneath me, the lovely bones of the secretary rising above me, but my focus blurred, my mind pulled away.

It's 1976; September.  The colorless room around me holds folding tables, metal chairs, posters, piles of pamphlets.  I'm not on the Student Council but I'm in its office.  The Student Body President, Jim Foster, has recruited me and others to work on one of his projects.  I'm not there because of any passion about the subject.  I'm a hanger-on.  I'm the skinny girl with the mass of brown hair chunked around her face and the awkward clothes.  I'm the senior who has not done much for herself: mediocre-plus grades not good enough for honors but not terrible; non-speaking parts in drama productions, during one of which I had to be rushed to the hospital because of a nearly-fatal spider bite; the girl who will always drive, who never has a date, who walks across campus with her head down to avoid the stares.

That girl.

Donna Pilla sprawls on the table-top of a student desk beside me.  We've known each other for a while; we went to the same high school.  I like her but am secretly jealous.  She holds her body in an easy way, assured, confident.  No task confounds her; no male's presence flusters her.  She has bone-straight hair, dark like mine but streaked with natural highlights.  She flips her bangs back in ways that I can never emulate.  

We're talking about the future.  Our graduation date looms -- spring 1977, although in the end, I will bolt a semester early.  But I have not yet elected early-graduation.   Right now we're talking about what we'll do after we have our degrees.  I have few options.  I derailed a special education teaching career by dropping the requisite Ed. courses.  By sheer virtue of accumulation, I have managed to cobble together a major in Psychology with a minor in Political Science though the school does not actually recognize minors.  If I stayed through May, I could switch majors to Philosophy because I had a crush on a professor in that department and exceeded the required three courses.  I took eight, getting an A in every one.  Two more would put me in major-range.

But I want out.  I've had enough of the booze, the parties, and the pretending.  Panic rises every time I wake, competing with my hang-overs to cripple me.  I cling to the edge of the precipice not knowing why I have not yet hurled myself over.

Donna stretches her legs over the back of the desk and lifts her arms above her head, rolling her shoulders.  I sit in another desk, straight-backed, rigid.  "I think we might be early," she says.  Then she looks at me.  "So, you applying to grad school?"

I shrug.  I don't admit that I haven't thought about my career.  Her eyes stay on my face.  "I see you as a writer," she tells me.  "I see you years from now, in an apartment in New York, in bed, a typewriter on your lap, writing stories and poetry.  You won't be able to walk but it won't matter.  Your writing will be famous and everybody will want to know you."

She slides off the desk and wanders around the room, moving a book, fiddling with a shade at the window, stacking a pile of brochures that had slid onto the floor.  She shakes her clothes on her body in an easy movement, settling them back into their casual drape.  I do not speak; I do not move.  I do not betray myself by letting my tears fall.

"I've always seen you like that," she continues.  "Maybe I'm a romantic."  She laughs while I fight the rise of bile.  I force myself to meet her gaze, hold my eyes steady, wait for more.  But just then, the door bursts open and a small crowd comes through: Jim and his friends, out of class, ready to get started, loud, laughing.  And Donna turns away.

I go into the bathroom and vomit for fifteen minutes.  I don't come out until cold water has restored whatever composure I carried into the place.  I use water from the sink's meager flow to smooth the veil of hair that shelters me.  I hold my wrists under the faucet until my pulse throbs.  When I finally come out, Donna and the gaggle of guys have gone; only Jim Foster remains.  

"There you are," he remarks.  "We thought you left.  We saved you a list of places to take these pamphlets."  He holds out a stack surrounded by a rubber band.  I take the bundle and the assignment sheet, and turn to go.  Jim calls my name, and I halt but do not look back.  

"You okay?" he asks.  I have no answer.  

Nearly four decades have slipped away since that September.  I don't know where any of the people whom I knew then live -- St. Louis, I imagine.  Jim went to law school; I don't know about Donna.  I left that place in December 1976 and began my journey to here, to now.  Donna got it wrong.  I can still walk and nobody wants to know me.  Few people read what I write.  And I don't own a typewriter.

But I'm still that girl.  In the cold of the autumn morning, with my doors opened wide to let the air find its way through the house so I can breathe, I sense her in every fiber of my being: that girl who joined committees looking for meaning; the girl who fled a pre-teaching session because she could not bear the site of all the handicapped children; the girl who tried to act, to volunteer, to lose herself in sex and alcohol and the loud music in the summer quad.

The girl who found herself bent over a bathroom sink retching from fear that she had no greater fate than loneliness.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

 To those of you who have read this far:

I make no apology; not for what I am, nor for what I have been. 
 I make no apology for telling the story of who I was then 
and who I am now.  
I speak so that others will understand --  
understand the face in the mirror or the face at the window.  
I speak so the man on the platform 
might hope to understand
 the glimpse of the passenger whose forehead 
touches the glass on the train, 
as it trundles by in the night. 
 I speak for those who cannot bear to open their mouths 
and can only stand silent. 
 I speak for you.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
One Conversation Can Save a Life.
In Memory:
25 December 1959 - 14 June 1997

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.