The sweet tinge of winter air kisses my bare shoulders as I bend to retrieve the Saturday papers from the front porch. Our black boy cat slides under my finger tips and whisks past me into the house. Hauling The WSJ, Barron's, and the Star into the dining room, I thunk my load onto the table and move into the kitchen to release our wiggling beagle into the backyard.
I've embraced the mundane with gratitude for the opportunity. A forgotten order at Spin, a local pizza joint, rewarded us with $20 in Spin bucks; that, with a ten-spot, made a lovely Friday date. We avoided talk of politics or religion, as we are a couple with divergent views in these areas, and focused on our respective businesses, our three children, and the coming First Friday at the professional suite which we share with another attorney and another financial consultant -- two Democrats at one end, two Republicans at the other, and a long hallway of wonderful art between the disparate fiefdoms. A charming balance, one we struck with conscious acceptance that opposites must, occasionally, attract.
After a long spell of silence from the heartland, I've had many telephone calls with my son in recent days. A part won in a student-directed performance of a play called "Big Love", the subject of which I have yet to ascertain. An A- on a paper. . .She said I needed to appeal to a broader audience, he told me. I wanted to reply, 'What the (expletive deleted)! You are my audience!' Listening, in my serene office eight hours to the west as the crow flies, I chuckle. I tell him to consider a more diplomatic phrasing, but I see his point. Then he begins to laugh and tells me that the cash machine at the Kroger in Greencastle, Indiana, has just given him a hundred dollars in five-dollar bills. That's my life in a nutshell, he notes. In the middle of nowhere, with a pocketful of five-dollar bills. When did my little boy get so wise? Has he always been this amusing?
When we terminate the call with our usual, "I'm going through a tunnel, Mom, you're breaking up", I sit for a second and think about myself at twenty. Like my son, I started kindergarten early: he was one month past his fifth birthday; I turned five the day before kindergarten began. Like my son, I was not twenty-one until my senior year in college, though unlike my son, I freely and openly drank alcohol as the pub on campus served everyone, regardless of age, a fact that I am sure the pub owners would deny, even all these years later. We also share a desire to write, and my decision to abandon that dream drives me to encourage him to embrace it. Just write, I tell him. Wait tables if you must, but don't convince yourself you have to have a 'real' job. Writing is a real job. Just do it. Thank you, Nike(tm), for giving me the catch-phrase with which I advise my son.
Two friends recently disclosed that they plan to seek publication of books on which they have been working for months, even years. I dust off the file containing my novel and scroll down through its pages. It's still not worth pursuing publication, I note; fiction just isn't my genre. I read a columnist in the local rag, who writes the kind of meandering essays that I favor, and think to myself, why can't I do this? and then I remind myself that I do, each week, and I feel the sigh which tells me that my little world has narrowed far beneath my dreams.
When asked my ambitions for our high school yearbook's senior page, I did not hesitate. To get a poem published in the New Yorker. My classmates ignored my stated dreams, and at the reading of the class predictions, of me it was said: Twenty years from now, Mary-Corinne Corley is still signing her name Mary-Corinne Corley. It was a cruel reference to their supposition that I would never marry, since mine was a generation which still routinely adopted the husband's surname on marriage. I never have done that, not in my three marriages, and I hasten to add that none of my three husbands sincerely wanted me to do so. But now, nearly forty years after the fact, I wonder if that prediction might not have inadvertently characterized my future: I will always be myself.
Last night, I woke my husband with this question: If I want to write about something that I know will upset people, but I really want to write about it, should I? Sleepy, he asked what the subject was. It doesn't matter what the subject is. Assume it will upset and disturb a lot of people. Silence descended on the bedroom. I don't know what to say, he finally ventured, in a groggy voice.
The writer's dilemma. Do I write about what draws me, regardless of the potential impact on others? Or do I self-edit, to avoid offending people, or disturbing their sensibilities? In the quiet of the late hour, with no barking dog interrupting the night time air, and only the tread of our youngest child and the quiet closing of his bedroom door to distract me, I reflected on the decision that confronted me. A memory of something I had witnessed surfaced several days ago, a profound and haunting memory, the description of which would unsettle anyone who read it, but especially so certain people who know the person involved. It dogs me, and my writer's instinct draws me to commit the memory to paper. But my heart suggests to me that my need to write about it should be suppressed in deference to the pain that such a terrible memory, even deftly rendered, might impart.
My husband's voice in the night: I'm sorry I wasn't more help. But he was, in a way, the very help I needed -- a silent, non-judgmental ear. Voicing the dilemma crystallized the answer. In the immortal words of my very, very dear friend Karl Timmerman: If you have to ask the question, you already know the answer.
And so, when breakfast had been made and eaten; and coffee had been consumed, and that third cup cooled in the Harvard mug beside me, I sat down at my computer and thought about my week. I reflected on the clients I have served, the cases I have settled, the times I have snapped at people and the chances I have taken that they will forgive me. And for reasons that escape me, I again remembered, as I had unexpectedly last night, a seventeen-year old girl in the physical therapy group at the hospital in the first week after my knee replacement.
Her parents stood behind her while she hoisted herself from a wheelchair and leaned against a walker. The circle of patients, all of us newly vested with an artificial joint on the same day, drew in a collective gasp at her bravery. She's standing! someone whispered, and indeed she was, just one day after a surgeon took the cancerous right hip out of her slender body and gave her one ostensibly impervious to mutating cells. We felt the pain that we perceived in the wince crossing her face. As a group, we held our lungs dead-still, and our walkers taut, our fists clenched on aluminum bars, as she slid forward, and took her first step.
I drifted to sleep last night with memories of that brave young woman replacing the disturbing images of which I had been drawn to write. I wondered what had become of her. Did the cancer return? Did she go to college? Has she gotten married? And just before I lost consciousness, I remembered her name, Heather, and I sank into dreams with a small smile lingering on my lips.
A poem for 2012
Did you need me? the innocent asked,
out of context, and I thought,
Do I need you?
When did I not need you?
Before I was born
Before I breathed
Before time tore me into consciousness?
When did I not need you?
There was never a time when I existed
that I did not need you.
c. The Missouri Mugwump, 2012
Saturday, February 25, 2012
Subscribe to: Post Comments (Atom)
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.
Post a Comment