Saturday, July 9, 2011

Saturday Musings, 09 July 2011

Good morning,

A pleasant rumble in the distance heralds the impending arrival of the truck that will haul my neighbor's rented dumpster from our shared driveway. We have taken our allotment of space in the wide blue receptacle. My husband and son swung sledgehammers and wielded long pry bars to dismantle the old, unused ramp, slinging the rotting wood posts over the rusted edge of the dumpster. My neighbor tore down his decrepit deck, and we all hauled broken chairs, obsolete machinery, and the shreddings of weeds accumulated over the winter in our respective backyards.

My week brought an unusual amount of stress, and I am slow in unwinding from the press of it. I feel as though I have been lying on the broken asphalt with the full trash container resting on my bones. I've managed to settle a difficult case, finish a troubling trial, and manipulate other hearings and conferences to maximize my clients' positions. But my professional accomplishments this week have been at considerable personal cost, in lost sleep, aching muscles, and the undue shifting of burden to my husband's shoulders.

As I sat at a small restaurant yesterday, awaiting the opening of the courthouse, I watched a man struggle down the sidewalk outside of City Hall with the recognizable sway of a lawyer whose attache case has been filled beyond its normal capacity. He trudged with a familiar determination, south, towards Jackson County's tall edifice, without a smile, without an ease to his shoulders, a quiet determination claiming his features. I sipped passable coffee and glanced at the translated foreign novel that I had tucked in my handbag, letting its pages drift closed, having little appetite for its disturbing passages. Morning, Kansas City, the end of a work week.

I gathered my own heavily laden bag, slugged down the last of the cold coffee, and tucked my cell phone into a side pocket of my purse. I started down the sidewalk in the path of the man whose dogged steps I had observed. Ahead of me, a thin secretary hobbled on stilted slingbacks, a swirl of smoke coiling around her head. She reached to press the button to activate the cross light and started out into the street before the signal changed. I hovered behind her, balancing my load, watching the slight swish of her short skirt, listening to the snap of her heels on the surface of the street.

When the light alerted me to the prospect of safe passage, I started out, seeing that the girl ahead of me had already started east, across the next road, in a hurry to begin her work day. I tried to discern, from the way she tossed her spent cigarette to the curb, whether she liked her job or not. She glanced back, and the set of her jaw settled the question. A slight wind ruffled the edges of her hair and she smoothed it down with a brisk, annoyed gesture. I smiled, but she had already turned away and started up the ramp to the courthouse door.

An hour later, I learned that the mother of my client's son had left the jurisdiction on the heels of a positive drug test. The guardian ad litem held the evidence out for her attorney, me and the judge to see. We had already stipulated that the results would be admitted, after the first day of trial when each parent accused the other of addiction. My client's test came out clean. His ex-wife's did not. I had put months and hours into the case, and had already presented a half-day of grueling evidence. In the interim, I had prepared the rest of my case with hours of tedious effort. But her cowardly run for a shelter out of state put an end to the controversy. After an hour's additional consultation in chambers, and a brief spate of testimony about the rehabilitation program that I devised and the guardian approved, the case ended. I saw it as a hollow victory; my client already had his son, and now that son had lost his mother. Mid-day, Kansas City, one step closer to the weekend.

I reversed my steps and hauled the heavy briefcase back to my car. I slung my jacket to the back seat, and pulled out a protein bar. I knew that I had already passed the mark for a full day's charge in the city garage, so leaving held no urgency. I quietly chewed the only sustenance that I had yet eaten, and thought about the grim look on the faces of my client and his wife. Neither felt that they had won. Both understood the overbearing sadness of the day.

As I sat in the handicapped space on Floor six of the garage, looking south over the grunge of downtown, I contemplated the ways in which the day should have been a happy one. Twenty years ago that day, my son came into this world, and he entered laughing. His happy arrival followed 34 weeks of good health for me, the best physical shape that I had ever found myself enjoying, before or since. I disdained coffee and alcohol, ate a balanced vegetarian diet, and avoided places where people smoked. Despite an annoying weight gain caused by an unfortunate medical reality -- I had miscarried my son's twin, but my body produced enough amniotic fluid for two -- I was able to walk without pain medication, aided only by the occasional use of a cane and the T.E.N.S. unit for which Blue Cross had shelled out big bucks.

I munched the Zone bar, in the car, in the parking garage, at the end of the morning's appearance, and thought about the many times my son tried to enter this world far too early. I experienced labor the first time during a hearing in Louisiana. The second time, I was moving from my country house to a rented apartment in town. Later, I felt twinges that came hard and fast, two days before his scheduled birth by primary Cesarean six weeks before his due date. My mid-wife decided to let me labor, as the delivery would be occurring so soon anyway, but when midnight rolled round, I demanded that she stop the process. His absent father's birthday was July 7th, and I would be damned if I would spend the rest of my son's life celebrating on that date. She relented, and the birth took place as planned, at 1:50 p.m., Monday, July 08th, 1991, at Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

I got the usual advice during my pregnancy. One kind soul suggested that I give the baby to a real family. Real? I asked him, holding the phone to my ear, shifting the discomfort of my growing girth. I don't think it gets any more real than this.

By "real", of course, he meant a family with a father and a mother. Fresh out of fathers, I quipped. He did not answer. I wonder now, two decades later, if that well-meaning person regrets his advice.

Another friend told me that being a single mother at thirty-five would be difficult. Oh good! I gushed. The first three decades were sheer hell; difficult will be an improvement. She didn't think so, but kept the rest of her thoughts to herself. I haven't seen that woman since my baby shower. She divorced her lawyer husband, who, it turned out, liked a little too much hanky panky. Difficult, I'm sure.

The mid-day sun poured into the parking garage as I started my car. I checked my cell phone, sent a text to my boy, and an e-mail to my office. I put the car in reverse, and started down the ramp. Earlier in the week, I had exited the same parking garage at the same time as the entire week's jury pool, and had spent 35 minutes in line, waiting so long that I nearly ran out of gas. I exited without incident this day, easing my car past the kiosk after paying, and merging onto Oak street.

Another day, another dollar.

Five hours later, my son, my husband and I entered the Kansas City Artists' Coalition gallery to see a juried show in which my son's godmother and my dear friend Penny Thieme had a painting exhibited. Seeing the other works and the many gathered guests, I realized what an honor the acceptance of her piece had been. I watched my tall, slender son stand beside his aunt Penny, shoulder to shoulder with his quiet, smiling stepfather. I sat in a chair next to a broad, puzzling painting of a woman's profile, and listened to the murmur of the visitors to the show. Evening, the River Market, another Friday, another weekend.

And now the warmth of a Saturday sun caresses my bare leg, as I sit on my porch and watch the neighbor build his fence. A middle-aged man drifts by on a bicycle, and a worker with one artificial leg backs a truckload of rock onto my neighbor's lawn. My American flag waves above me. In a little while, my family will come home from the various pursuits that have taken them away for the morning, and I will think about lunch. I shout a greeting to my neighbor and her granddaughters, and call out an admonishment to my whining dog. Then, I close the lid of my computer, and go into the house.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

1 comment:

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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.