Saturday, February 20, 2016

Saturday Musings, 20 February 2016

Good morning,

I always have a cup of something warm at hand, and today coffee sits in one of my collegiate collection mugs, on the little clay disk that Patrick made in his pre-school days.  The sun has not yet risen.  The dog still sleeps.

Last evening, I completed a form for yet-another-specialist, this time an audiologist at Stanford.  When I got to the "Vertigo Questionnaire", I could have started the "yes" circle at the top of the page and looped them all.  But I answered each individually.  Halfway down, one stood bold against the page:

Are you ever worried that your dizziness will cause other people to think you are intoxicated?

A montage of painful memories clutters my mind.  Not my dizziness, I said, outloud, to the empty room.  Not that.  Not that.

I  am walking  across St. Louis University's campus, eighteen years old, under a waist-length sheath of knotted curly hair, wearing frayed bell-bottom blue jeans and an army jacket. My stomach knotted, my heart pounding.

I had not anticipated the size of the place, nor the hordes of students, the rushing bicycles and blaring radios.  Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.  Other than short trips to rural Illinois, I had only left Jennings, my hometown, twice before my college days.  I had taken the train to Washington, DC to visit my sister, and I had flown out to Denver for the same purpose during the week of the McGovern election in the fall of 1972.  Even being  driven to the wrong DC quadrant by an unscrupulous cab driver late at night did not prepare me for walking across a crowded college campus.

In the days which followed that first frantic encounter with the underbelly of academic life, I learned to walk with my head down, watching my feet, clutching my notebooks.  In the warm autumn days, the quad teemed with groups of students.  They flopped on the ground, flipped skateboards on the sidewalk, and drilled Frisbees through the air.  I stumbled past all of them, from dorm to lecture hall, from the parking lot to the Student Union.

My progress yielded not the catcalls bestowed on other females but disgusted muttering.  Watch it, someone would bark at me, as they rambled down the sidewalk, swinging a heavy satchel.  Get out of the way, would you?  came to me from a swiftly moving bike.  I dodged and darted.  Sometimes I fell.  Often I fell.  No one leaned down to lift me from the ground in those days before being disabled got some measure of coolness, the days before the ADA.

Are you drunk?  The most-asked question, despite the time of day.  Professors, grad students, my contemporaries, maintenance workers.  I never bothered to tell them that when I was drunk, I never walked anywhere.  I just slid further down in my chair and grinned at whoever sat nearest.

I had not really dated in high school, not in the way of my classmates.  I had a couple of boyfriends who had been friends of my brothers.  But I had not "gone to Prom", nor worn somebody's senior ring or letter jacket, signs of the time showing you were no longer single.  I did not expect much more from college.  I had not changed; I understood that most folks don't like to date people like me.

But one person did, and I greedily accepted his invitation.  He came to get me -- driving from his family's home in Webster Groves all the way into the city in his Gremlin.

A block from campus, an Oldsmobile ran a stop sign and slammed itself into the passenger door.  An hour later, clinging to a fireman, I listened as the jaws of life wrenched me free of the gnarled metal that had been the little car in which we rode.

In the following weeks, I learned to walk with a new twist, a dislocated hip.  My guardian angel had cloaked me in her protective arms and I had escaped any other injury.  But oh, that hip!  It popped out of joint with a dogged capriciousness that defied prediction.

And now the memory rises higher, and I see myself:

I'm walking down the hallway of my dormitory.  It's midnight.  I've just come upstairs from the vending machine in the lobby. I carry a diet Coke and a Snickers bar.  Protein and Caffeine, I called the snack, when I walked back into the lobby of the women's dorm beyond the security guard. He smiled and went back to his book, a work-study student putting himself through college guarding girls who defied his presence by sneaking their boyfriends through the basement windows.

I take the elevator to the second floor and start walking to my room. Suddenly I am down, staggering against the wall.  The can of soda skitters down the carpet, coming to a halt against a closed door.  I hear the echo of the thud and then silence.

My situation seems hopeless.  I lean against the wall and close my eyes, waiting for the long shudder of pain to subside.  I listen for signs of life, of other girls coming from their evenings at the library or in the boys' dorm on the other side of the lobby, or one of the floors of co-ed housing in the tall building in-between.  But no one comes for a long, long time and I begin to cry.

Just then a group of girls rounds the corner and sees me.  Oh thank God,I think, and call out to them, Can you help me?  But they hurry into a room at the other end of the hall. I hear someone say, She's always drunk, just  ignore her, and then, the hallway falls silent and empty.

An hour goes by and I'm still there when the R.A. comes back to her room and finds me.  She hoists me up and carries me into her room and calls the campus medics.  She holds my hand while they load me on the stretcher, and followed in her car as the ambulance took me back to the very hospital where the firefighters and medics had rushed me after they freed me from the metal trap.  That R.A. sat with me while the ER doc examined my X-Rays, wrote a prescription, and scribbled on my discharge papers.  Then she took me back to the dorm and settled me into my room.

We didn't have cell phones yet, but we all had phones in our room and she pulled mine on its long cord to sit on the floor beside me.  Then she slipped away, just before dawn, just before the pain medication pulled me down into a delicious fog, an abyss from which I would not emerge for decades.

Now the sun has risen and my duties call to me.  Today we have a "closing reception" at my Suite for the artists whose work has shown there since December.  I have laundry to do, and plans to make for tomorrow's Rotary workshop and my trip to California on Wednesday.  I place the completed audiology questionnaire in the blue folder where I have print-outs of all the reservations for that trip.  I drain the last of my coffee, and then, the day begins.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.