Saturday, July 2, 2011

Saturday Musings, 02 July 2011

Good morning,

The fragile truce that I cultivate with the vagaries of my flawed humanity disintegrates and I lie awake. Heady tones of a philosophical conversation echo around me. Before sleeping, my husband and I speculated on the cultural significance of art and its intrinsic worth. What do you value most, I asked him. Within the context of our ruminations, he understood that I was not angling for a compliment, and he answered honestly: Freedom.

I contemplate this notion as I struggle to keep my mind from fully awakening. My effort having failed, I rise, and ease the tortured muscles of my crooked back down the steep stairs, onto the main floor of our home. My son's cat yowls at his bedroom door, and I nudge it open enough to let her gain entrance. He greets me, taking ear buds out and pushing aside his laptop. Are you hungry, I inquire, though it's a silly enough question most of the time, especially so in the witching hours.

A few minutes later, I hand him a make-shift vegetarian taco salad, brush off his thanks, and return to the kitchen to let the dog back into the house. I notice that the ambient temperature has only slightly dropped. I pause on the back porch long enough to mark the distant sound of fireworks from the east and the rumble of a helicopter overhead.

Yesterday afternoon, my son and I sat without talking through the long crescendo of The Tree of Life. In the soft darkness of the Tivoli, I felt a flood of memories overwhelm me -- the twitch of fear at the raised voices of my childhood; unbearable love engulfing me while I huddled in my mother's determined embrace; later, stark shock as I clutched a telephone receiver to my ear and asked, which brother? The movie's narrative followed strikingly familiar contours, mirroring in many ways the tumbled path of my life -- uncanny, unreal, unrelenting and astonishing.

I am transported back in time by one scene of the movie in particular, in which the family celebrated the 4th of July. I feel again a small line of sweat trickle between my narrow shoulder blades, in the heat of an Independence Day decades ago, long forgotten. I see the shadowy angles of my brothers' faces, as they wave sparkler after dazzling sparkler high above their heads to slice through the summer night. I press against the brick wall on my mother's porch, far away from the blazing flare that my father has jammed into the ground. Its crimson flames shoot straight into the inky sky. A rush of terror floods through me; delicious, delirious. I grip my brother's arm. Firecrackers burst, brief and furious.

Hours later, I lie in the bottom bunk bed in the room that I share with one of my sisters, and listen to my parents arguing. My siblings sleep. Alone, I huddle under a thin cover in the stifling heat. The air stirs only when the oscillating fan spans in my direction.

My father's voice rises as my mother's tone descends. I cannot breathe. I wrap my arms around my chest, and squeeze my eyes more tightly closed. I will them to stop the dance that never ends for them. I bargain with God. I doubt that anyone hears my promises, but still I make them: Don't let him hit her, I pray, and I promise I will be good for the rest of my life. I fall asleep, still holding myself close, still murmuring my endless litany of shame.

In the morning our yard is strewn with the litter of our festivities. I rise before anyone else, before my mother, before my father, before my seven brothers and sisters. I slip into a pair of sandals and go outside in my pajamas. I gather the trash and dump the bucket of water down the driveway. I stuff discarded wrappers, spent whirligigs, and the rubble of flares and sparklers into a brown paper bag, and cram that into the steel trash can. I sweep away the ashes of snakes that my brothers lit at the top of the cement stairs in our front yard. By the time my mother shuffles into the kitchen to start the percolator, I am back in the house, sitting on the sofa, reading.

She greets me in her most quiet voice, the one that she uses when she does not want to disturb my father. I answer her in kind, and she lowers her body to rest beside me. Happy 5th of July, she tells me, and I snuggle against her frail form. I couldn't sleep last night, I admit to her, and I feel the tension in her response. It's okay, she assures me. Everything is okay.

I believe her because I want her to be right. As the smell of coffee rises around us, I bury my nose in my book, and she lights a cigarette. Our whispered pact binds us together; our lies keep us chained to our place.

The house falls silent around me now. I hear the occasional burst in the distance, as others who do not sleep salute our nation's independence, or their own wild natures, or, perhaps, just use the holiday as an excuse to strap small, discarded toys to firecrackers and destroy them. I think about freedom, as my husband sleeps, and the country girds itself for an onslaught of unbridled celebration.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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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.