Saturday, October 15, 2016

Saturday Musings, 15 October 2016

Good morning,

Another Friday evening saw me at dinner with one of my friends who keep me young, a sister-from-another-Mother who shares so much of what I believe:  Passion for helping; liberal politics; independence; fierceness in her loyalty and  her dedication.  Patricia Scaglia has pursued her life in ways that I would have done, had I not taken a couple of unexpected turns. So dinner with Tricia livens my week, but she's a couple of decades younger than I am.  I come home later than this middle-aged woman probably ought to do, and sleep far beyond my usual hour of rising.

This morning as I stand dismayed at the front door, beholding the determined rise of the sun over the neighborhood, I spy a postcard peeking from a pocket of my purse.  I slide it from the zippered compartment and stand holding it, looking at the front, reading what it says on the back.  I lower myself into the chair by the secretary, take a sip of coffee from my crystal mug, and let myself drift back to the day that the postcard evokes.

I won't tell the whole story.  I've written of it before today.  A new job; a drive to Westport to celebrate; a step onto the street in my new suede pumps; a driver blinded by the setting sun.  Crash -- body flying into the air -- angel in the heavens saying, It's not your time. Law Student Run Over By Iranian, Film at ten, ooh, aaaah, ah.  But the days afterwards, I rarely think of them.

My first bed at Menorah that evening flanked three others in a six-bed triage area at the old Menorah Hospital in the city.  I lay beneath a thin sheet with my right leg cradled in a humongous contraption to stabilize the 32 breaks, splinters, really, you know? and the crushed patella plateau.  I could barely see without the contact lenses which had popped from my eyes as I flew through the sky, with no one to break into my apartment to get my glasses.   I lay in misery, at once furious and forlorn.  Nurses and aides fussed around me.  A doctor stood over me, explaining that swelling prohibited surgery.  A police officer leaned down, telling me something. I could not discern his words.  Somebody muttered over and over and over: Hail Mary full of grace.  Hail Mary full of grace.  Hail Mary.  Hail Mary.  It took me a half hour to realize that my cradle Catholicism had arisen but had been dormant so long that I could not remember the next line of the prayer.

A figure loomed, holding a piece of paper and a Bic pen.  Sign here, sign here, said the voice, with an accent so heavy that it barely penetrated the fog of pain.  Just then, one of the ambulance guys snatched the paper from the man's hands, and a scuffle ensued.  When the commotion quieted, the paramedic who had peeled me from the asphalt sat beside me in a folding chair.  He told me that the driver had been arrested, that he had been there trying to get me to sign a paper saying I had not been hurt.  Hospital security had escorted him from the premises.  A guard would watch over me through the night.   He held my hand as the nurse administered a redeeming shot and I slipped into darkness.

By morning, my parents had come and persuaded my landlords to let them into my apartment.  They brought my glasses, a nightgown, a book of Walt Whitman poetry, and the engulfing comfort of their love.  Visitors began to troop into my room.  Law professors, classmates, my landlady, a handful of the happy hour partiers who had comforted me until the ambulance came.  Summer Shipp, who had seen me fly past her window from her office on the second floor, sat by my bedside for hours that first day.  She told me about calling the police because she had seen my body on the way down and thought I had jumped from the roof of her building.  Law student commits suicide, Film at ten, ooh ahhh ah.  But I had not jumped.  I had been catapulted with such force that I flew more than two stories towards the heavens.

The man whose sunset-blindedness had caused him to hit me did not come back.  Maher Altalathina, his name.  He had told the officer that he came from Persia and had no insurance.  Persia.  I pictured his olive complection as I lay in my bed.  His dark hair, his stocky body, his urgency as he tried to get me to sign a hand-written release.  My Syrian grandfather raged against the fellow when he heard about it.  What kind of man won't accept the consequences of his actions, he asked my mother.  He gave her money to help with my bills while I couldn't work.  He called me from his home in Springfield and told me he loved me. He told me to let him know if I needed anything else.

Summer Shipp continued to visit.  She told me that she and other business owners had petitioned the city for some kind of traffic controls at the intersection near where I had been struck.  They've put up a flashing yellow light, she assured me.  They're dong a study.  We're going to get a real traffic light, we hope.  I don't remind her that I had crossed between corners; I had jaywalked.  I had parked at the curb halfway between Broadway and Pennsylvania on the north side of Westport Road, and stepped into the street.  Her exuberance stayed my words.  I had become the symbol of her crusade.

I spent the next couple of months being moved from one room to another in the hospital as we waited for the swelling to abate enough for restorative surgery.  My friend David Frye brought my textbooks and tapes of our classes.  Other friends gleefully invaded with contraband -- bottles of wine, slabs of cake, steaming hot pizza.  Roommates came and went as I enjoyed a respite from whatever my life had become that I could not handle.    I never wanted for company.  In some weird way, those two months did more for my self-esteem than the two preceding decades.

As spring approach, Summer Shipp continued to visit me.  One day she brought me the letter from the city advising that the traffic signals had been approved.  She sat by my bed and told me that nobody would ever have to go through what I experienced.  There would be a proper walk signal.  Her flushed and gleaming face conveyed her sense of justice having been served with me as its poster child.

I left Menorah Hospital in a cast from ankle to crotch, a bottle of narcotics, and a flutter of worried admonishments from the hospital social worker.  She thrust a list of phone numbers at me, placating her own instincts which cautioned that releasing me to my fourth-floor apartment could be a mistake.  My parents drove me home and stood behind me as I crutch-walked all the way to my door.  I fell asleep in the green recliner while my father unpacked groceries and my mother put clean sheets on my bed.

The weird thing about being disabled most of your life is that when you're made more disabled, it almost seems like just desserts.  From that time in 1982, my right leg slowly degenerated.  Twenty years after the accident, an orthopoedic surgeon removed my knee and replaced it with the last of the old-styled artificial knees.  Another fifteen years have gone by; that mess of metal and plastic has not worked right for years, and the leg which we once laughingly called "my good leg" struggles to keep pace with its weaker mate.  But since the function of my artificial joint sits far down on the list of things that plague me, I hoist it when it locks and rub it when its phantom ache rages.

Sometimes I use that accident to explain the way I walk.  What happened to you, lady? children will say, in Target, in the grocery store, on the corner downtown when I'm struggling into court.  I didn't look both ways when I crossed the street, I say, in a serious voice.  I didn't cross in the crosswalk, like we're doing now.  I didn't hold my mother's hand.  With wide eyes, they tighten their grip on the fingers of their harried parent.  That won't happen to me, they say, and hurry away.

Now the city has decided that the traffic signal at Westport Road and Pennsylvania "does not benefit traffic flow or pubic safety".  Thus, they "have determined that the traffic signal should be removed".  I can hear Summer Shipp spinning in her terrible grave.  The angels above Westport are preparing for double-duty.  They're standing by, waiting, to separate those whose time has come from those who must stay, here on earth, for at least one more day.

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.