Saturday, October 1, 2016

Saturday Musings, 01 October 2016

Good morning,

The roller coaster month of September glided to an uneventful stop last night and I stumbled from the car, hands grimy from clutching the bar, stomach lurching, hair whipped into a mass of tangles from the ferocity of the wind as the car plunged and climbed.  I staggered to a corner and collapsed, bruised and battered from the ride but exhilarated.  I celebrated with a warmed-over gluten-free pasta and a half-cup of Talenti Sea Salt Caramel ice cream, both consumed amid the bedraggled, neglected plants on my porch with murmured promises of dead-heading, watering, and re-potting this weekend.

I think of my son's childhood in October.  I see him and his friends dressed in Batman costumes, Power Ranger uniforms, as creepy ghouls with painted beards.  Slinging bags for candy, they would set out down the sidewalk, first in our neighborhood, then in south Kansas City or Roeland Park.  An adult would straggle behind them.  Occasionally we'd trick or treat for UNICEF.  As they grew older, we'd let them go out alone.  We would watch them depart, standing on our haunted porch, cobwebs hanging down around us, Irish coffees at hand.

The worst Halloween was 1998, the year of the Brutal Diagnosis.  In February I had been told that I had six months left, maybe a year.  I had grown pale and weak with an undiagnosed ailment.  I struggled to keep myself and my son afloat, surrounded by friends, the new man in my life at the time whom I would eventually marry, and a host of doctors leaving instructions at the Emergency Room to admit me if I came within five feet of its automatic doors.

That Halloween, nurses brought buckets of candy around to each room.  Any occupant awake enough to converse received a stash for dispensing to visitors.  I committed to letting other patients' children bother me.  An aide helped me wash and struggle into street clothes.  We pulled the curtain clear across the sleeping form in the next bed, an old woman who hollered throughout my sleepless nights.

Mona brought the boys to see me, Patrick and Maher, my son and hers.  Seven and eight, still too young to really understand my countless trips to the hospital.  I barely understood them myself and I'm fairly certain the doctors didn't either.  The boys came into my room with slow steps and timid faces behind their Halloween masks.  They held out their pillow-cases for the candy which I dropped by handfuls.  Maher scampered out again, but my son moved closer to me and offered a piece of chocolate.  I took it with the same seriousness, thanking him in a voice pitched low to match his.

You unwrap it for me, I said, and he did, carefully, folding the paper and setting it on the bedside table.  I broke it in half and offered one piece to him.  I scooted over and let him sit on the edge of the bed, his small body barely disturbing the thin mattress.  We chewed without breaking the stillness of the nearly dark room, while the woman in the far corner slept beneath a mound of covers in her bed by the darkened window.

Patrick finally spoke, clearing his small throat, aiming for a stage whisper.  Are you coming home tomorrow, he asked.  He pushed his Red Ranger mask to the top of his head.  I could see his eyes, wary, sad.  I had no answer but I lied.  I'm sure of it, I answered.  The doctors say I'm already better.  They had said no such thing.  They didn't even know what was wrong with me and weren't the ones who would eventually figure it out.  But this was my son whom I had left alone with a man he'd known for a handful of months, who had moved into our home just two weeks earlier.  How could I tell him that for all I knew, he'd be living permanently with Auntie Mona by Christmas?

My deceit soothed him, I supposed, for he slid from the bed and moved towards the door, re-positioning his mask.  As he went out to join Maher in his Trick-or-Treating at the Nurse's Station, my son briefly turned towards me.  I'm being really good, he told me, the words falling in trembles.  I strained towards him but he did not see as he scampered into the hallway.  I let my hand fall, and closed my eyes, while the gloom gathered around me and my neighbor's gentle snores filled the room.

Eighteen years later, the crimson leaves have begun to float from the umbrella maple to settle on the front lawn of the house in which my son spent so many troubled days and nights.  All of those faces have gone from this  place now, leaving only their ghosts to keep me company.   The autumn unfolds and the days of the year grow short.  I pull my shawl close around my shoulders, pour another cup of coffee, and stand on the porch, watching those ghosts cross the lawn, smiling in the chilly air of a perfect morning.

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.