Once again, I have awakened in the gathering light with a sense of thankfulness. Lying on flannel sheets, beneath a pitched, knotty-pine-paneled ceiling, a wide bank of windows surrounding me and the warm air from my furnace filling the room with gentle comfort, I drift in a haze of pre-consciousness. As I slowly shake away the grip of sleep, I sense the reassuring, familiar noises of the 1542 square feet that I call home. On the first floor, the dog snuffles at the closed door to my sanctuary; the boycat mewls in the television room beside his empty dish. I slide from beneath my mother's Ohio Star quilt and slip into a cotton robe, pulling a clip into my hair and pushing my glasses onto my face. With a flick, the stairwell is illuminated, and I trudge, tipping a bit to the side to brace myself against the rail, down to the kitchen, where I am soon rewarded by the strong scent of ground Arabic beans, and the steam of water hissing from the coffee-maker's mechanism into the pot.
My Friday has been spent as my Fridays often are: a brief court appearance, then back to the office to force myself to do some much-needed paperwork, which I abandoned before noon. I garnered a pleasant several hours with my artist friend Penny Thieme and her charge-of-the-day, a brilliant, beautiful nine-year-old whom I call Hanna Banana. We filled and re-filled our cups with Fair Trade coffee from Revocup, and I feasted on curry chicken salad, while at a high table behind us, Hanna ate a blueberry muffin and wrote a short story about an orphan who is curious about her parents' origins. The cafe slowly filled with the twenty-first century sound of clicking keys and low, murmured conversation seemingly thrown into the air, but really tendered to the flickering blue of the earpieces magically communicating to distant companions through small, flat rectangular objects innocently sitting beside mugs of cappuccino. Nibbling on one side of Alice's mushroom, the world grows smaller.
Later, standing in an Italian deli after seeing an early movie, I felt my stiffened legs shudder, and found that I could barely manage to take so much as one step. This phenomenon has plagued me for years, the result of more decades of spasticity than doctors believed my body would be able to endure. The funny thing about spasticity and me centers around our symbiosis: I cannot take an anti-spasmodic, because my condition, curiously, deprives me of the ability to strengthen myself sufficiently to stand. That is to say, my spasticity keeps me vertical.
The server placed my spinach salad on the table, and my companion brought water, silverware and napkins. As he quietly began to enjoy his pasta, glancing at me from time to time with the look that I have come to associate with gracious hesitance, the woman behind him caught my attention.
I first noticed her hands. Long, bent and blemished, one held a knife while the other attempted to manipulate a fork. I lifted my eyes to her face, seeing a fine bead of sweat across her brow, beneath the carefully curled hair. Her eyes, half-closed, focused on the food in front of her, the piece of pizza that she strove to cut. As I watched, a section of crust skittered off her plate, landing on the floor behind my companion. I quickly averted my eyes, hoping to avoid embarrassing the woman as she bent over to retrieve it.
My dinner companion noticed that I had not begun to eat. Is something wrong, he asked, though he knew that I felt poorly and might have assumed that my pain prevented me from enjoying my dinner. No, I told him. I was just watching the lady behind you, she seemed to be having dexterity issues, and I was sympathizing.
I met his gaze. I cannot, with certainty, say what he thought at that moment. A connection flowed from me, to him, to the elderly, awkward diner behind us, and back, full circle. His compassion for me, for the predicament with which I have learned to live but which sometimes overwhelms me, inspired my compassion for her, for the strong young woman whom she doubtless once was, who still lives in the straight back, the deliberate hairstyle, the impeccable clothing. As I cut my pickled beets, and the tender, seasoned grilled chicken, I found my pain to be not less, but less bothersome.
And, then, today, in the quiet of my morning home, freshly brewed coffee within reach, I opened an e-mail from a friend, and read about his own reckoning, in a situation where he stood with a group of financially secure individuals and gazed upon a panhandling poor person. Caught between their self-righteous snickers and the mournful entreaty of the man on the corner, as he and his group crossed, my friend faced a choice: give, or don't give. I can only guess at his decision, because he told me the story and then admonished me: If you are faced with such a choice, please, throw a few dollars in the hands of the beggar. He did not tell me if he had done so. Rather, he noted -- If I did, and I tell you, I am bragging; if I didn't, and I tell you, I am a hypocrite. Point taken, my friend. Point taken. Another nibble, and the world shrinks again.
The blower's noise rises and the house grows even warmer. The grey of the morning sky has deepened, but I cannot tell if it will snow or rain. The earth of my county remains solid; I do not feel the hard rumble of after-shocks, the walls of my home have not suffered from relentless and insistent shifting of the ground beneath them. The cat sleeps in front of the grate, basking in the heat which emanates from it, oblivious to his impending appointment for shots. I am comfortable, in my house, in Brookside, with its poorly installed vinyl kitchen floor, its chipped door frames, and its hopelessly stained hardwood. In a few minutes, I will, with no small measure of reluctance, make a list of the day's chores. I will rinse the breakfast dishes, and wipe down the counters, my mind already tabulating the items on my Saturday to-do list. I'll get dressed, shove the cat in his carrier, and drive to the vet's office, where I will grouse under my breath about the cost of shots. I'll talk myself out of getting a scone at the Oak Street Bakery, and come back home, to an afternoon of laundry, and house-cleaning, and maybe a quick trip to Lawrence to learn about a grant for which Penny wants to apply.
But for now, I think I will pour another cup of coffee. I will prop my feet on the cedar chest in the television room, turn on a cooking show, and after a while, I might just fall asleep.
Saturday, January 23, 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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