There are quiet moments when I think that I can hear my bones speaking to me, or perhaps, it is the voice in my head that measures the passing of my days. I shake my muscles and throw back my head, stretching, pushing for the depth of my strength, reaching for the limits that my muscles can endure. In the stark chill of an early morning rising, I bend, striving without success to lower my fingertips within whisper distance of my toes. I am content to reach my ankles and feel the strong pull of the reach against the muscles of my calves.
In the bite of wind on a Kansas soccer field, I watched a young man defend his goal last Sunday. He dove, as the goalie must; and at times he made the save, his lean arms snagging the ball, his sturdy, taut body sending it flying back into the field of play. I stood on the sidelines with his father, and on the playground, beyond another field, his brothers sent a merry-go-round on its endless flight. The goalie's father glanced backwards from time to time, checking on the little boys, then reverting his gaze to the game. A bungled play drew a soft, under-spoken word of encouragement; a clean save triggered a volley of praise into the cold winter air.
Afterward, we walked back to the cars, the tall father and the nearly-as-tall son at the front, the cheerful little boys coming next, kicking their soccer balls across the concrete walkway, and I a distant pace behind them. My muscles protested the hour spent in an inadequate coat without gloves, my hands stiff, my feet, in their cotton socks and low shoes, already starting to ache. I hugged them each, and watched as an earnest father and his happy sons rambled into their van, and kept watching, as the van made its way out of the soccer park and onward, to St. Louis, to their home.
A day later, I sat with another father in my conference room. This one had never lived with his children. On his own since age 17, once noted by the local paper as a teenager fighting to raise himself up from poverty and degradation, this father of two had come to me to help secure his rights to time with children whose mother had never disclosed their existence to him until she wanted child support. In front of me at the wide, round oak table, he nodded quietly as I explained an upcoming court procedure. Blue-tooth shoved in one ear, sincerity spread across his wide features, he narrowed his eyes and raised one hand as though to snag my words from the stale atmosphere of the office suite. "But when can I see my son?" he asked. "It's my daughter's birthday soon -- can I give her presents to her?" I met his gaze, then shifted mine away. I could not yet answer his questions. I stared instead out the window, at the billboard advertising a music release six months ago. I shook my head, feeling the high note of the stiffness born of age in my left shoulder. We finished our conversation and I placed my small, pale hand in his large dark clasp. "Don't give up," I managed. His nod did not reassure either of us.
The next day, I watched as a friend absently played with a tattered white scarf around his neck. "That scarf is too short," I told him, in the poorly heated old house on 39th street, where young Java barristas wear thrift-store fashions of my own youth and play too-loud cuts of 21st century rock. My friend shook his sturdy head of short, white hair and bent his lean old frame to confide that he had plenty of warmer scarfs, but this was the first scarf knitted by his youngest daughter. His long, rough fingers caressed the knobby surface of the tattered work, and I pictured the vibrant high-spirited filly that had sprouted from a sincere, intent child bent over knitting needles, struggling with each purl, each knit, each turn. My friend raised his head and our eyes met. "It's a lovely scarf," I admitted, as he pulled it around his neck and tucked its short length into his old wool topcoat.
Still later in the week, at my computer, in the still of my office, I traded messages with my son, eight hours to the east,as he struggled to re-write a short-story for the final assignment in his January-term English literature class. "What about this concept," he would ask, in the modern way we have of talking, words in a white window with its blue border, prefaced by pale notations -- "Patrick is typing. . . Patrick has entered text." That night, he sent version after version, each one with an added paragraph or a careful edit. "That's clever. . .that's maybe trite. . .re-consider that last" I would message, in the window at the lower right hand corner of the flat screen monitor on my desk, in the breakfast nook from which I have been addressing the virtual word for the last decade. On delivery of the completed story, the last punch of drama still resonating in the pit of my stomach: "Oh Buddy -- this is really, really good." Silence followed, ten or fifteen painful seconds of it, while the window told me nothing of what he thought, what he might say, until finally the pale notation -- "Patrick is typing. . ." preceded his simple reply: "Thanks, Ma."
My best efforts, the push of my years of experience, have not managed to orchestrate a parenting session for the father desperately wanting to connect with a ten-year-old son and an eight-year-old daughter. Not yet, not yet, I tell myself, But it will happen. My last act on Friday was to schedule a teleconference for Monday afternoon, with the guardian ad litem and the mother's lawyer, to confront her perpetual excuses for why she cannot bring the children to even a supervised visitation. As I terminate the call, I am reminded of my walk down that cold sidewalk last Sunday, and the sight of a father's arm briefly resting on the shoulder of a son of whom he is enormously proud. I remember my brother's quiet insistence that his youngest son finish one more spoonful of soup, at Panera's on 135th and Metcalf, earlier that day, and the long, slow look of child to father, measuring the sincerity of his father's words. My nephew took that last bite, and his reward came in the form of a hug from his father, and a tall cup of hot chocolate, which I later carried for him across the remnants of snow beside our cars, holding it as it grew cold, raising it to demonstrate that it still awaited him each time he glanced my way -- until we finally discarded it in the trash can next to the soccer field, just before my brother and three of his sons said goodbye and began their four-hour trip back out of my life.
Saturday, January 30, 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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