As we pulled into the driveway, twenty-four hours after backing out from it and beginning the trip to Hermann, Missouri, to attend my neighbors' wedding, the sun reflected from the architectural shingles on my bungalow with a poignancy that their manufacturer probably never predicted. The yard itself lies in the steep shadows of the old maple; and the porch, with its cathedral ceiling, and oak beams, casts its own shadow -- but one tinged with the light of the early afternoon, shining through high, arched windows, onto my front door.
We have made the gentle swoop into Kansas City from Sedalia, our last leg being on old Hickman Mills Road, through the city, past block after block of small, rundown houses. We made a brief pass through the Sedalia square, but its shuttered buildings and closed hotel coffee shop fell short of our expectations, so we went instead to the Starbucks on 50 Highway, sitting at a table next to a parking lot, with the sounds of traffic reminding us more of the hustle of Overland Park than rural mid-Missouri. The world turns, and the past of our grandfathers recedes beyond our reach.
I am still serene, though; still savoring the sweetness of Ivan and Phyllis' wedding. I have rarely seen love that shines from a man's eyes as Ivan's love for Phyllis shines; rarely seen a woman so brightly glowing with the knowledge, deep in her soul, that she can do no wrong in some one's eyes. We need not begrudge their happiness, because it is so effusive that it encompasses everyone who stands in their path; the seven groomsmen, the six ladies of honor, the parents, the precious flower girl casting red petals at the bride's feet through the entire ceremony. In our places, at the far right, in the auxiliary seating -- not family, exactly, just neighbors -- we catch the wide swathe of their passion for one another, and I find myself crying, which I swore I would not do.
We left when the dancing started, piles of food eaten, delicate cake nibbled up to the heavy, inedible fondant, champagne raised and sipped. We drifted out of the parking lot, passed rows of sturdy grapevines, down the road where families slept, in a small river town where dogs still roam at night, unfenced, unchained. We found the highway that took us to our waiting hotel room and spoke only quiet words, remarking on the coolness of the night, the sweetness of the ceremony, the clean good looks of another neighbor there with his own new wife.
Then my phone blipped -- a random text message, or an e-mail plopping into the inbox --and I was reminded of my son's request, the day before, for stories of situations from his childhood that he and I shared which I would describe as inherently comical. He was collecting a list for his acting class, and had eight, but needed ten. With my lily white spastic hands, I had texted back. Remember the time I left your Batman collection on the trunk lid, and drove that way for ten miles before we figured out why everyone was gesturing wildly to us? He quickly answered, Oh yeah, that was pretty funny! This sparked a memory of the night that an actual bat had gotten into our house. . . and your stepfather was racing around in his electric wheelchair with a broom, while I screeched, Get it out of here! Get it out of here! My son's reply came swiftly: I don't remember that at all, but it must have been hilarious!
My companion chuckled, deep in his throat, and I could not help but laugh along with him. We fell into an easy silence, neither of us feeling the least bit of discomfort sharing my story about my ex-husband, about something funny that happened while we were married, during a time when we could still be described as happy. You should have seen it, I remarked. I can really screech when I feel threatened, and that dang bat had swooped into the living room right onto my head. His amusement pleased me; and I hammed it up a bit, describing my son jumping from chair to chair, swinging a mop around, while the cat leaped on the mantle and I hovered in the middle of the room, pleading, Get it out! Get it out! Get it out!
What ever happened to the bat, he finally asked, as my giggles subsided. I thought a minute. We found it under the couch a couple of weeks later, dead and shriveled. I drew a long, deep shudder of air, and settled back against the window, gazing into the night, seeing beyond the passing blur of farms on the side of the road.
Watershed happenings do not rise to slap us against the sides of our heads, like a board wielded by a cynical messenger of fate. In fact, I have concluded that we rarely notice them as the occur; and often, only from the clear-sighted calm of later hours do we recognize our turning points. I see mine now, so surely: A moonlit night in Haiti Heights, when I slept in a truck bed and wrote my best poem; an afternoon when I heaved a bellyful of wine over a fire escape in Brighton, my roommate's sister holding back my limp, dirty hair; the dark of a St. Louis summer night, at Kingsighway and Vandiventer, when only the screech of brakes and the grim, wide eyes of the driver in the car that did not hit me brought home that I had run a red light. During none of these experiences did I realize the full portent of my actions, and only decades later, in the quiet of my own private post-apocalyptic lull, did I see the profundity of these moments.
And so, home from a glorious, simple, beautiful wedding that I am too fond of the couple to bitterly envy, I find myself closing my eyes and whispering, to someone, I am not sure who, and asking that we all find our own peace. My two ex-husbands; my boyfriend's former wife. The man who walked out on my only successful pregnancy. My cursed, tragic, doomed father. The law-school friend who cut me off for having too many problems after I got run over by an uninsured Iranian in a VW Cirroco. The Jersey girl, now a middle-aged woman with grown children teaching in Phoenix, who stole the curly-headed boy who later died of lymphoma, on whom we were all sweet in college, but for whom she had the more pure devotion. The callous, insensitive boss who fired me from the only job that I did not leave through my own volition. My first boyfriend -- Bradley Stephen Magee, who chose Suzie Travers over me because she got the gold star that should have been mine for memorizing and reciting Trees, by Joyce Kilmer, one Friday afternoon in kindergarten.
As the warm air kisses my skin, and the slight breeze dances across my face; as the sun slides, just slightly, slowly, into the west, and my little brown dog sleeps on the kitchen floor; on the day before my 55th birthday, slightly road-buzzed, and a bit maudlin, I forgive them all.
Saturday, September 4, 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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