If the sky allowed, I could see the weak winter sun higher than usual as I sit to write. I have allowed myself a solid eleven hours of sleep after one of the most arduous weeks of recent years. As I made my weary way home from court yesterday, I could feel the weight of work settling with intent on my spindly shoulders, across my fragile back. I had had enough. I was going home.
On the narrow city street, heavy trucks wind their path through my neighborhood, their occupants hopping down from the pondering beast to snatch the trash or the recycling. The noise of their grinding gears perforates the steady whooshing of my furnace and the ticking of the keys beneath my fingers. Around me, the floors have a gathering grime from lack of attention, and a fine layer of dust and dander sits on shelves, tables and the smooth backs of my oak chairs.
I have had crowing victories and orchestrated acceptable but bittersweet compromises this week, and the stench of near-defeat combines on my tired frame along with the intoxicating aroma of success. I have suffered no failure other than the unavoidable battering that any family law litigant must suffer to some degree, though even that inevitable collateral damage seems to me to be too high a cost to pay for untangling oneself from a bond meant to be eternal. While I would not trade my practice in Love's aftermath for a less emotional area of law, at times I wish that I could leave my clients' stress on the entryway to my office suite, and abandon their problems after five, as I might a discarded draft contract left waiting to be examined after nine a.m. on the next working day.
The city workers have completed their round on my street, and quiet descends onto my home. I hear the steady hum of the computer's fan, and an occasional sigh from the hound in her bed. The black cat, with one bad leg served by three strong ones, has mewled until the front door swung open to let him back into the fresh air, and I can only hope, for the sake of his human servants, that this is not the adventure that is his undoing. I cannot cage him, just as I cringe at seeing a wild bird caught and foisted into a cage. I cannot curtail his freedom, and so, knowing each foray might be his last, I allow him to choose.
My sister called last evening and mentioned that her blood pressure had sky-rocketed. I cannot even fathom what that might mean, since my own normal blood pressure is a dizzying 90/60. Hovering at 170/123, she murmurs, and I feel my own heart race. But I am a Corley, and so, as Corleys must, I disdain to speak of fears. Well, if you die tonight, can I have the quilt that Mom gave you, I ask. She giggles. You're terrible! she protests. If I die tonight, do you want me to tell Dad hello? comes her reply. Dad? How about Mom!, I protest. Or Steve. . . and don't forget cousin Judy!!! And then we are helpless with laughter, picturing her impending reunion with a host of equally irreverent Corleys clustered around a celestial percolator. She admits that she didn't get a quilt when Mom died -- she got our mother's afghan. Even better! I say. I got a quilt! I wanted the afghan!!! She assures me that I can tell her daughter, if she dies tonight, that I get the red afghan that our grandmother made for our mother. Oh, and don't forget to tell Mom 'hello', I urge.
I think her blood pressure might have been nearly normal by the time we finished talking.
I closed my own eyes and let the flood of fatigue overtake me after our call. I felt my body sink against the bed, and a haze of sleep rise to claim my brain.
On Thursday, I had basked in the sweetness of victory. I had pushed against the righteous indignation of a mother trying to prevent the normalization of her daughter's relationship with my client, and the righteousness of our position had prevailed. He had his first Friday overnight in several years last night as a result of his own diligence in pursuing unnecessary but certainly not unhelpful efforts to rehabilitate a problem that I believe never existed, which remediation he had agreed to undertaken at a time when he had no counsel. Whether the remediation was needed or not, he had completed it, and in the face of his former spouse's efforts to deny him his due, the judge, hearing our evidence, so decreed, and lifted the restrictions. I felt gratitude to have been even the instrument of this accomplishment, and made my way back to the office with the exhilarated feeling that is more reward than any payment could ever hope to be.
I looked into the eyes of defeat yesterday, in the person of a federal police officer at the moment he finally realized that his marriage was over. A sturdy, stocky fellow, with shaved head, a broad back, and a Fraternal Order pin on his lapel, this man had come into my office last summer with two requests: I want my kids and I want my house. In a day of intense negotiations with a respected colleague from parts East of here, I hammered out an agreement whereby he remained in his home, has his children three nights of each seven one week and two nights of seven the next, and pays a reduced but still high child support to his part-time teacher, much beloved, now former spouse. At hour four, the deal nearly done, and standing in the hallway in the Independence Courthouse, this man -- who learned to do braids on his own, and select dresses for his delightful daughters, and who was injured on deployment to Afghanistan while his wife, at home, launched the affair that would trigger her filing for divorce -- capsized into his brother's arms with anguish while I stood by, having no more clue how to console him that I ever have at such moments. After losing his wife to her desire not to serve as a patient Army wife any longer, he had also lost his career to that busted knee, and for the rest of his life, he will have bittersweet memories of both.
I do not know how I am supposed to be detached at such times. I cannot. I will not.
And yet, I appeared calm. I waited for his return from the sidewalk to which he had retreated, and when he returned, he spoke the words that I had counseled him to utter. All right, he said. Do it. And so, we did. They each climbed into the box and swore to tell the truth. She agreed that the marriage was irretrievably broken and could not be preserved. She forswore her right to maintenance, agreed to joint legal and joint physical custody, agreed to a reduced child support, and to the division of the stuff with which the marital home, now to be his, had been furnished. He assumed the seat after her and consented to the final brush of the scrivener's pen on a chapter of his life that had only brought him pleasure, or that he saw as only pleasurable now that it was closed. He carried my case to the car, and gave a whoop of relief while clasping his brother's out-stretched hand. And then he walked away. I heard the crisp chirp of his car alarm as he approached and climbed into it. I sat, unable to move, for some long moments, before starting my own car, and heading towards the highway.
Saturday, February 20, 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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