Saturday, June 25, 2016

Saturday Musings(tm), 25 June 2016

Good morning,

Like the little child sitting halfway up the stair, all sorts of funny thoughts run round my head this morning.  My brother's face has haunted me all week.  He died nineteen years ago this month, alone on a piece of land in St. Charles County, amid the trees and columbine.  I see his face in my son's face; I hear his voice in Patrick's speech.  I don't know if the kinship between them really exists or if I imagine it.  I strain to follow every nuance, watching for dire connections between my only child and my baby brother -- in June, especially, the time of year when my brother laid down the burden of his life and walked away.

I heard an interview this week with a writer who talked of being cautious in mentioning the living in her essays.  She would tell her side of any story of her life, but leave out mention of the other person or his point of view.  She dealt with how she felt about divorce but never touched on what her former spouse might have experienced.  It's not my story, she said, or words like that.  I understood what she meant.  Here I talk of how I feel and what I experience but the other characters in my plot stand like cardboard cut-out figures.  I describe my roller coaster emotions but avoid the events which push the cars over the curves, fearing that I will embarrass someone.

Embarrassment.  I ask myself, Is that an emotion?  Something said on social media this week resonated with me:,  I have spent much of my life embarrassed or being an embarrassment, the person wrote.  A warm flush overtook me.  Oh, lady, me too, I cried outloud into my empty bedroom.

Me too.

A locked room inside my head holds my most humiliating moments.  My first period -- crimson soaking clear through my uniform skirt; me stumbling down the hall supported on either side by teachers.  Falling during high school graduation; again when I received my college degree.  My mother strode towards me after my law school commencement, loudly proclaiming, I couldn't tell which one was you, because you did not fall -- until the very end, on the stairs.  Then I recognized my little girl! She thought herself clever.  My face froze.  My classmates, clustered around their own parents nearby, turned away. Their voices dropped.  I imagined what they must be saying, but I never knew for certain.

After my knee replacement, I struggled in the physical therapy room.  I had pneumonia but had not been confined to the hospital bed.  Fever burned in my chest; snot ran from my nose.  I sat on the exercise table straining to comply with the therapist's request.  She bent her own healthy leg to demonstrate, handed me a tissue, urged me to keep trying.  I blotted my nose and willed myself to quell the despair.  But I could not.  Great sobs wracked my body and I fell forward, hopeless, helpless, into the arms of a woman half my age.  She wrapped her body around me and let me cry.  I felt the room stir; an aide came forward but the young woman holding me gestured him away.  I let myself go and wailed until I felt the anguish subside.  Then she helped me scoot into a wheelchair and they took me back to my room.  I buried my face in my hands as we passed the other patients.

I spent seven weeks in that hospital trying to reach the requisite bend.  I never succeeded.  I went home with the instruction to keep trying.  The therapist who had been so kind to me had gone on maternity leave long before my discharge.  She left without coming to say goodbye.  I never got to thank her.

The winter we lived in Jasper, the external, above-ground pipes froze with me alone in the house.  I had no idea what to do.  I called my father and he instructed me to get a bale of hay.  I went to the local feed store and stared in dismay at the stack of bales.  I had no idea how to get it home or open it once there.  Tears rose in my throat.  I can only imagine how I looked to the clerk but within an hour he had loaded a bale of hay in his own pick-up.  He broke it over the frozen pipes and spread it to warm them.  He refused the twenty which I held out to him as discreetly as possible. He shook his head and told me to call the store if I didn't have heat by the afternoon.

I stood in the driveway huddled in my city coat and watched him drive off, wishing my brothers were there, wishing my husband had not gone on the road, wishing I were stronger.

A light year ago, in high school, at the Father-Daughter dance, I took pictures of the girls in their pretty dresses with their handsome fathers.  I was the only one who had no companion.   Each of my classmates in turn stood before my camera, posing for the yearbook, preening, striking that girl pose while leaning on their fathers' arms.  After I finished, I sat on the steps between floors of the high school, listening to the music.  I closed my eyes and pretended that my father had come home sober and had put on a suit coat to take me to the dance.  Two girls entered the stairwell above me. I heard them snickering; I heard my name.  I did not turn around and after a while, they left.

Truth told:  My father had stopped me on my way out of the house and asked if I didn't want him to take me to the dance.  His stale breath assaulted me.  I stared at his unshaven face.  God, no, I spat at him, and walked away.

I only peak inside the lock box in which these memories live.  Beside them dwell so many more; darker ones, times when I miserably failed as a human being.  Yellowing sheaves of paper bearing long letters of apology that I've penned.  Hurt looks on others' faces.  Sinking feelings in my stomach.  I let these memories stay buried.  I pull through the tiny crack of the barely opened lid, all the lessons that I have learned but I quickly snap it shut against the faces of those whom I have wounded.

It's 7:30 on a Saturday in June.  In a few hours, a friend will come to stay at my house.  I've fretted all week about this visit, because  I have stayed at her beautiful home.  This house, though cute and sweet, and all of those things that people say when they come here, pales in comparison with hers.  She dismissed my worries.  She says she does not judge people by their furniture, and I believe her.  But still.  I keep on cleaning, hoping that the smell of Pine-Sol will redeem whatever faults lie beneath its pungent mask.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

A snapshot taken on my porch this morning.

Today's blog goes out to JANE WATKINS, who knows how I feel.
Jane, Jane:  Your beauty and your goodness flow from you. Fear not.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Saturday Musings, 18 June 2016

Good morning,

The boy has been back for a nearly a week but leaves this morning.  Sleep came easily last night, despite the pounding of my heart, the swelling in my feet, and the heaviness in my chest.  The symptoms seemed more related to the salt in my dinner than that little electric current which riffs through my chest and defies the demands of two different medications.  I breathed through it and I survived to the dawn.  Sixty can pose challenges; but here I sit, with my crystal mug of coffee and the keyboard in front of me on the secretary's pull-out desktop.  I'll take the gift of another day.

Yesterday we watched our neighbor's grandchildren running in her yard, blowing bubbles and darting beneath the spray of the hose.  Patrick said, we played like that didn't we, and I nodded, Yes, indeed, you did.   We stood shoulder to shoulder on the front porch, except that his shoulders stand six inches higher than mine and he towers over me.  My little boy.

Brenda came to dinner and a better companion for my intellectual son could not be found.  They share a love of literature and linguistics; and they fell into a discussion of a Japanese film maker from the 1940s which required consultation with Google twice.  I think my son was shocked that one of my friends could know so much about subjects of such interest to him.  I sat and listened.  I know nothing of any of it except I'd seen The Seven Samurai, a hundred years ago, in college.  I got a check-mark for effort and the conversation continued with a technical discussion of the cinematography.  I could not stop smiling.

For several days this week, Patrick filled my dining room table with folded laundry and "dry flat" blue-jeans.  I drifted in and out, watching him sort, discussing job-interview attire, looking at websites of places with which he has interviews scheduled.  We watched the online Bernie Sanders speech.  We went to breakfast at the Opera House.  He hung my Rainbow flag and carried my recycle to the curb.  The dog sat at his feet for four days and slept in the back bedroom to keep an eye on her master, whom she greets with as much eagerness every time he returns -- even now, even with visits six months apart.  Patrick makes his home in Illinois now, in an apartment in Evanston not far from Northwestern where he's just earned an MFA.  Depending on the job search, he'll be there for at least another year.  Nothing remains of him in this house except a box of artwork from elementary school, a few mementos on the keeping shelf, and a basket of clothes that I'm authorized to donate.

Oh, and his mother's heart; the fluttering, jittery, dancing heart that beats in the chest of the woman who gave birth to him twenty-five years ago next month.

I pad around the house with my mug of coffee.  I stand over this small laptop and think of several stories that I could tell about the prodigal son.  Once he got stung by a bee, and when I ran outside to help, he calmly advised me that I should call the neighbor kids' mother, because "she would know what to do".  Another time -- age 4 -- he walked through a dark, snow-filled night to that neighbor's home to get help because I had fallen in the backyard.  He'd often stand in the breakfast nook making faces at me when I cried over bills, hoping that his mother would laugh.  Later, much later, he drove me to the emergency room with a broken ankle; and another time, with a gashed head.

Now he sits at the dining room table discussing Akira Kurosawa with my friend Brenda and sipping a California Merlot which he selected for our Chai Shai carry-out dinner.

In a couple of hours, Patrick will pack his Kia with the clean, folded laundry; and load his bike on  the rack we bought a decade ago for a trip to North Carolina.  I've already stuffed some cash in his pocket, as did his aunt Joyce.  I know he does not need my money; he's been frugal, and he works, and he's been self-supporting for two years.  But that's what parents do.  We give our children what we can.  We teach them our values, and our tricks for survival, and shower them with love.  In the end, what is left we fold and press into their hands just before they depart, hoping it keeps them safe all the way home.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Saturday Musings, 11 June 2016

Good morning,

The sun scolds me for my late rise.  I have no good reason for sleeping late.  I took Friday off of work thinking that my son was coming to Kansas City for the weekend.  Inspired by his impending arrival, I planned to clean house and do laundry.  But Thursday evening he called and said, I just have too much to do, I'm not going to make it, and suddenly none of the preparations mattered.  Instead, I slept late, read a book, spent a couple of hours in a coffee shop with my computer, and went to the cemetery.  In the evening, I moped.  That took about three hours and I went to bed at 10, and fell into a heat-induced slumber. My last conscious thought related to the filter for the air conditioner that I did not buy yesterday.

I'm thinking today about being twenty-two and moving to Boston.  I don't know what possessed me to leave St. Louis after finishing college other than my friend David Sotkowitz offered me a pallet on his floor.  So I shoved a few things in my Uncle John's suitcase and boarded a plan on my father's birthday, two days after Christmas, a week after the end of my last semester of college classes. I swore to my mother that I would be home in May to walk with my graduating class.  I  had the promise of a temporary job with a company that had employed me one summer in St. Louis, and an acceptance letter for Boston College's graduate program in political science, starting in September.  I had cut my hair and painted blonde streaks in it.  I had a winter coat but no boots.

The day I landed, Boston had fifteen inches of snow on the ground.  Twelve more fell during the night.  I lay under the sleeping bag, snuggled against a radiator beneath a window, watching the heavy flakes fall from the dark sky, wondering what in God's name I had done.

In the morning, the world had assumed a crystalline grandeur.  I stood at the window, mesmerized by the stillness outside.  I could not imagine walking in nearly thirty inches of cold white crustiness.  I rummaged through the suitcase, wondering what clothes I could wear.  I peered at my coat, adequate for St. Louis, but completely wrong for what I saw outside the glass pane between me and all that snow.  David took me out to breakfast. I huddled over a cup of coffee, my new mantra rolling over and over in my mind:  What the hell was I thinking?

A day later, I took the T downtown and met the folks where I would be working as a receptionist, a company that provided temporary staffing.  I filled out all those tax forms that go along with a new hire, unsure of what they meant.  I had worked several other "real" jobs in the last seven years, at hospitals, one at a publishing house, one for the city of Jennings, the one for this same company in downtown St. Louis.  But I had always asked my mother what to claim, how to fill out the withholding form. I did my best and handed it to my new boss. She said, Let's start you on Monday.  She paused. You might want to get some warmer clothes over the weekend.  She told me, I have an assignment for you out in Cambridge for a week, and then I'm putting you on our front desk.  I liked that idea.  Fewer people to get to know; fewer chances to fail.

I thanked her and took the elevator down to street level and went out into the Massachusetts cold.

On every street corner in Boston back then, there could be found a Mug and Muffin.  I went into the closest one, at ten o'clock, my business concluded and nothing else to do.  I sat at the counter, huddled in my thin synthetic Camel's hair coat.  I pulled its tie around me and wrapped my scarf tighter, and ordered coffee.  Regular? the waitress asked.  I looked at her, wondering what "regular" meant.  I nodded, then stared dejectedly at the pale brownness in the mug she placed before me.

Apparently, "regular" meant "with cream".  I took a bite of my cinnamon muffin and told myself that I could abide polluted coffee just this once.  I heard my father's voice uttering that word, "polluted".  Don't pollute your coffee, he would complain.  Nor your Scotch.  One of his pearls of wisdom, along with "always play the house odds" and "never draw to an inside straight".  Useful advice.

A man settled on the stool beside me, jostling me just a little.  I pulled my elbows closer to my body.  Then he said, cold enough for you, and I thought, that's not a Boston twang, and I turned to ask if he came from the Midwest.  Kansas, he grinned, as the waitress dropped his mug on the counter and pushed the sugar towards him.  He gestured towards my own cup of milky sludge and said,  Let me guess, you take your coffee black.

And then we both laughed.

I didn't last in Boston.  I spiraled downward, lower and lower.  I gained weight from all those muffins, and I drank too many unpolluted Scotches.  I shared an apartment with two actresses and tried to make it until September when classes would start, but I couldn't.  I went home, dejected, disappointed, discouraged.  I understand, from the insight of nearly four decades later, how different my life would have been had I stayed.  But I also understand how hard it is for some of us to forge a new identity when we disdain the hair shirt that has been our one reliable adornment.  In the bottom drawer of my buffet, in a box of photographs and old birthday cards, I keep a letter that my brother Stephen wrote about trying to start over in New Orleans.  I don't recall receiving the letter.  But I understand what he felt.  I understand all too well.  Still waters run deep; troubled waters run the deepest, and their rapid currents hold the most danger.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Congratulations to Northwestern University's Newest
Masters' Degree Recipient:
Patrick Charles Corley
MFA -- Writing for Stage and Screen
June 2016

In Memory: 
Stephen Patrick Corley, 25 December 1959 - 10 June 1997 
Fare thee well, Stevie Pat. I love you more than words can tell.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Saturday Musings, 04 June 2016

Good morning,

I write late today.  The Quarterly Art @ Suite 100 event combined with client duties kept me on my feet almost constantly for the past forty-eight hours. Sandwiched between two physically grueling days, five hours of sleep in the witching portion of Thursday night did little to forestall inevitable collapse.  I melted into a pool of sobs 'round midnight last night, eight hours ago, and finally slept from one to six.  Now I wait for two eggs, easy scrambled, at a French cafe while Brookside residents clad in summer khakis sip lattes and read the New York Times.  At a nearby table, two indignant women debate the comparative merits of their co-workers, to my slight disgust.

Just as my breakfast arrives, the Hospital Hill run begins to trickle through Brookside and everyone on the patio turns to watch.

The coffee warms my belly and the potatoes sit comfortably against my teeth.  I enjoy breakfast.  I missed dinner yesterday and put half my lunch into the refrigerator.  I find that only morning food and morning dining appeals to me.  I often put nut-butter on crackers for nibbling on my porch and I frequent tables like this one, with the chattering of others drifting towards me.

I sip coffee and wonder if the women behind me know how clearly every word comes into my aged ears.  Outside the window, a man who resembles a lawyer with whom I have done bitter battle raises a cell phone to his ear, while his ginger-headed companion munches on a piece of thick-cut toast.

My mother would have loved this place.  I sit here in her stead, a year older than she ever got to be, resembling her only in the fierceness of my passionate defense of others, and the brittleness of the heart that beats in my breast.  I have my father's fair skin and the deftness of word that comes down through the Corley blood.  His broken spirit flutters its wings in some cave within my brain.  The worst of both of them and the virtues of neither form the warp and the weft of my fabric.  My flag cannot flutter in the wind; it hangs heavy on the pole.

I have been often warned that I need therapy, mostly recently this week by one who claims to love me.  I shake my head.  A client recently confessed that she does not "do" therapy well and I find kinship in that admission.  Perhaps my healing would not have left such ragged scars if I had done the bulk of it with guiding hands.  Perhaps many would have been spared the brutality of my unhealed ravings.  Lacking that ministration, I am told, I remain difficult.  I concede the point.  I keenly feel my shortcomings but just as surely understand that such paths sadly cannot bear my weight or the peculiar stumbling of my clumsy feet.

Yesterday I heard Michelle Norris talking on the local public radio.  She spoke at UMKC's conference on women of color.  Her interview focused for the brief moment of my listening on The Race Card Project.  Inspired by that exchange, my thoughts wandered to my brother Frank who has five children and one grandchild who can be called persons of color.  I reflected on comments about life that I read on Frank's Facebook page.  He seems so joyful.  He seems at peace.  I envy him.

I who find myself unable to eat in the afternoon and evenings have plowed through eggs and potatoes, with a full piece of that thick bread spread with macerated raspberries.  I've drunk two cups of French Roast and pulled the bowl of fruit closer.  I know I will finish it.  I eat while my appetite presents itself, and as the day wanes, and I can no longer abide the smell of food, I will have some nourishment to sustain me.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

The Missouri Mugwump™

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