I cannot believe that I, the relentless stoic, have been in bed since Tuesday at 6pm when I came home from an afternoon of depositions and a morning in court. The flu that had been eroding the quality of my life and threatening my tenuous grasp on common courtesy, finally drag me so far down that I admitted I could no longer function.
Being sick provides some relief from every day life. With a stack of books at my elbow, under warm covers on the second floor, a cat asleep at my feet, I ignore the rest of the world. I can't see the laundry room; I don't know about the piles of dirty dishes; I leave the radio off.
My son returned to college on Tuesday. His last night home saw the beginning of a vicious cold snap here in Kansas City, and, coincidentally, the last gasp of the cat-hair-clogged "induction motor" of the seven-year-old furnace at the Holmes house. I last changed the filter in May at the start of the hot season; with that episode, my case of specialty filters had been depleted and come September, I could not find a new one. I called a few places, but didn't pursue it; eight-hundred dollars later, you can be sure that I am regretting my decision.
We heated two rooms with space heaters. Patrick graciously agreed to sleep in the TV room, and I pretended not to know that he secretly preferred to be where the X-Box 360 lives. After replacing the 9-volts in the smoke alarm, we each retired, closing the doors, shutting out the cats and the little Beagle. We had kept a fire burning all evening in my deep stone fireplace, and as the night gathered around us, the thermostat in the living room had registered 50. I reckoned it was 70 in the bedrooms with their raging space heaters. I damped down the fire, closed the glass doors of the fireplace, set the alarm, and crawled under the heavy black comforter in my son's bedroom.
When I awakened, the bedroom still held a burgeoning warmth. Smug, happy, I pushed back the covers and made to leave the room. Short-lived my security: A blast of frigid air overtook me in the hallway. Above the watery-eyed dog in her tattered old bed, the thermostat needle had fallen below the lowest indicated number, 40. I set the coffee to brew and awakened Patrick, who had fallen asleep without opening the couch to its bed position and huddled, his near-six-foot frame in an accordion fold, on the short love-seat under a cotton blanket, the stronger of the two space heaters set to full speed.
Patrick stumbled from the TV room, bound for the shower. I nursed a cup of coffee in the chilly dining room, having quickly dressed in the lingering heat of the bedroom now bereft of its heater which had been moved to the bathroom. A breaker switch flipped and half of the house succumbed to the overload, prompting me to scramble for a flashlight and trudge downstairs. Like its owner, my early-century bungalow protests when its nerves are stressed.
A half-hour later, my son shivered as I handed him a steaming mug half-filled with coffee, the other half being soy milk. "Is this how poor people live?" he asked, and my world spun round, clicking into sharp focus. "Yes," I told him. "It actually is." He moved back into the still-heated TV room, leaving me to the cold -- around me, through me, in me.
Patrick got to Indiana ahead of the worst weather that Kansas City has seen in several decades, which canceled schools, flights, and garbage collections. My furnace worked again by the middle of the next day, and I only had to spend one more night living in a marginal state. I had help -- several sweet sources of it -- and firewood, and an unexpected client fee that could be partly co-opted to pay for the offending part and a replacement filter. By Wednesday afternoon, my house hummed with the strong force of the newly repaired furnace, though I no longer hummed myself. I hacked, and sneezed, and moaned, and mucked about with the worst kind of self-pity that only the fierce of spirit can engender.
I'm now sipping my first cup of coffee in five days. I've lived on tea, Earl Grey, hot, plain, brewed strong from leaves in an infuser given to me for Christmas by one of my oldest friends, someone who has demonstrated a solid understanding of my nature. I've gotten online and paid my electric bill; if I can figure out Missouri Gas Energy's website, I'll pay that too. I managed to secure a continuance of Monday's trial despite the warning of opposition by the other side. Hope hovers within my grasp; I let it ease its warmth around me. I might survive. I finally slept in that heavy way that only codeine can induce, and when I awakened, this malady suddenly assumed its rightful proportions as a passing ailment not really worthy of all this hullabaloo.
Icicles still hang from my neighbors window, stark and dreadful; the walk has been cleared, and my car, but mountains of snow bank our walk and bury my bushes. I've got a lot do around the house -- laundry, year-end paperwork, that bothersome FAFSA. I feel the energy returning to my body. Ideas that have been rumbling in my brain for several days spring to the surface now and then. I'm thinking about the way poor people live: their empty cupboards; thin, worn coats wrapped around their children; fires that consume their shabby apartments when old wires do that which old wires will do when over-challenged. My life has always been about finding a deeper meaning; I've struggled to make a difference, and often felt that I do not. It might be that part of "high time" which can be described as "too late", and, certainly, I have obligations close to home which I must not neglect, including a recent and sincerely-meant promise to take better care of myself and show a bit more gratitude to all those elves who flocked to my door when I groused about being sick and needing food or water or an extra blanket.
But when those obligations have been met, and the mechanisms have been put in place to insure that their fulfillment continues, I'll be out in the community, looking for someone who needs that which I am able to give. This city offers many opportunities for a determined person, and I am nothing if not that.
Brookside, Kansas City, Missouri
Sunday, January 10, 2010
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The Missouri Mugwump™
- M. Corinne Corley
- 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.
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