Darkness clings to the room around me, and to the world outside my window. I have awakened earlier than I needed to be awake, but I knew, when I fell asleep a few hours ago, that an unidentifiable longing restrained me from the relaxation that I craved, pulling me into a watchful unease.
Four of us drove from Kansas City to Branson yesterday, to attend a planning committee meeting for next year’s Solo and Small Firm Conference. I settled into the back seat beside my neighbor, our husbands occupying driver’s seat and shotgun. Thirty miles east of home, my cell phone rang. Glancing at the face, I saw my sister Joyce’s name. Odd, I told myself, and answered with the inevitable question: What’s wrong.
She told me that our brother Kevin had had a stroke.
None of us can claim to be young. Kevin just turned sixty – a fact that I ascertained by adding four years to the milestone that I myself have recently attained. Heart attacks, arthritis and strokes appear in our family medical history on both sides, so we expect such maladies to plague in our generation. But I am not ready.
I leaned against the seat, listening to the details, sharing them with those around me, calling my brother’s lady to hear more – and all the while thinking, Not yet, not yet, not yet. I am not ready to lose another brother.
The room around me fades to a darkened bedroom in Boston, thirty-four years ago, and the gentle sounds of the hotel air conditioning yield to the timorous voice of my twenty-two-year-old-self reaching out to my mother across the miles between Massachusetts and Missouri. Moving here was a mistake, I told her. I want to come home.
Less than a day later, my brother Kevin arrived on South Street, outside the door of Number 27, in my mother’s car. He rapped upon our apartment door, and gruffly greeted me, asking if I had gotten everything packed. I gestured to a couple of suitcases and a few boxes of books, more than I had carried with me on the plane eight months before, less than he had expected me to have accumulated. Easy as pie, he said, and hauled the lot downstairs in one trip.
I took him out to dinner before we left, to the No Name Restaurant on Pier One. He cheerfully consumed a huge plate of clams, fried golden, and downed a steaming cup of coffee. You’ve got to order it black, I cautioned, or it will come with milk in it. “Coffee, regular” meant thick and white, with whole milk. He marveled at such folly as polluting one’s coffee,and lit a cigarette, sitting at the counter, lean and wiry, quick eyes taking in the noisy surroundings. I guess we better get, he finally told me.
He drove the entire way. We pulled into a truck stop for a few hours, parking between two semis and across from a highway patrol car. By the beam of the dome light, I could see the napping trooper, his head nodding over a clipboard. We cracked our windows to let the cool autumn air whisk away the smoke from my brother’s cigarettes. I slumped against the window, feeling like a failure, worrying about my boss’s reaction to the cowardly message I had left on her answering machine. I can’t do this, I can’t switch to working nights like you want me to do, I can’t find a new apartment when my roommates move, I can’t live here. Thanks for everything.
I shared the apartment of two actresses in Brighton, near Boston College from which each had recently graduated. When word of our building “going condo” had come to us by way of a printed notice slipped under our door, the two of them got a house together in which, I was told without ceremony, there would not be room for me. We advertised for a roommate, not a sister, the dark-haired Marian bluntly informed me while blond Melanie stood beside her, expressionless, unyielding. My face froze in a glittering smile. I had thought we were friends. They had shared their social outings, invited me to cast parties, introduced me to men. I shuddered at the realization that I had been a bother to them.
My brother Kevin drove the whole way back to St. Louis. As we descended into the river valley east of downtown, I squinted into the strong rays of the rising sun. The place looked foreign, like the set of a movie, or an illustration of a science fiction novel. Home. He exited to take the I-70 loop into North County, and I began to worry about the look on my mother’s face, the disappointment in her eyes, the condemning shake of my father’s graying head.
None of that came to pass.
Kevin pulled my shabby belongings from the trunk of Mother’s car, and urged me down the steps into her waiting arms. Welcome home! My mother held me for a few moments, as my brother pushed the front door wider to accommodate his burden. I followed him into the living room, where my father sat in his recliner, sparing me only a brief glance that told me nothing of what he might be thinking. I brought your baby girl, my brother told him, and my father replied with a sound that told me nothing.
Later, after my brother had slept for eight straight hours on a bed in the sunroom, we all sat down to a dinner of salad and egg rolls. We traded only pleasantries, as though I had not been gone for more than half a year. Then, with a couple of hugs and a few gruff words of encouragement, my brother went back to his own apartment, leaving me to figure out how I would get my life back on track, feeling numb, my only clear thought a sort of grand relief that he had rescued me.
In the next few years, my brother Kevin made several other forages into the world to fetch other siblings. It became a kind of family joke in those days, at least between my mother and me, that Kevin’s job in the family was that of a St. Bernard, finding brothers and sisters who had gotten too far from the warmth and light of home. But I was the first to be saved, and I remain convinced, all these years later, that I would have spun out of control and fallen off the earth, if he had not tethered me and hauled me back into breathable air.
He lies now in a hospital bed in Washington, Missouri. I have talked at length to his lady and exchanged cell phone numbers with her. I have arranged berth with friends who live nearby, and transportation to the area should I need to get there swiftly, before Sunday, before another crisis. I have done all I can. But I am prepared to do more, for my debt to him is great, and my love for him has never been more clear to me.
RIP Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley, 09/10/22 – 08/21/85
Happy Birthday Hot Lips Mama!!
Saturday, September 10, 2011
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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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