Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday Musings, 31 March 2012

Good morning,

The distant sound of a train echoes around me. My wakefulness draws me to the computer's keyboard. With a press of the mute button, I mask the ticking of my letters, so that nothing I do lends itself to the otherwise still aura of the bedroom. Night time, Brookside, another sleepless night.

I feel a tantalizing chill through the open window which carries the gentle fragrance of an early spring. The height of the room captures the breeze coming off the neighbor's trees, triggering a mild lament at the deliberate loss of our old cedar and the bold mimosa which I had cultivated from a volunteer sapling. In their place, a clump of holly barely clears the height of a dainty woman. No breeze stirs this shrub. But behind our house, beyond the ugly fencing that my neighbor installed, tall, old limbs toss the night air in my direction.

I recall an autumn night in Montana, when I descended from Glacier Park in the stillness of All Hallows Eve, past rows of white crosses marking tragic losses on the highway, past skittering, costumed children running from house to house on the deliciously eerie streets in a series of minuscule towns. I think of a summer evening on a stone porch in Boulder, my young son seated on the bench beside me, playing with trucks as I half-listened to the murmurs of a heated conversation inside the house. The argument had nothing to do with us. We had come along on a road trip to take my son's friend for summer visitation with his father. Those in the house fretted about the logistics of the exchange: the length of the visit; whether we should return at the visit's end or let the boy come home, alone, by plane, by bus, by train. They argued amongst themselves before delivering the child to his father the next morning; it was all war strategy, I thought, idly, lifting my face to the warmth of the summer night. Futile, destined to failure, a distraction from the grace of the mountains around us.

Rummaging through my cedar closet a few days ago, I found an envelope of pictures taken at a mountain festival, held in Arkansas, in the rolling hills above Jasper. I ran my finger along the shiny photo paper, over the faces of people whose names I can no longer remember. Sorting through the small stack of photographs, I shivered, feeling again the prickling of the summer sun, the rise of a light burn on my skin. In one photo, a wiry, slender woman's long black braid falls forward over her shoulder as she hoists folding chairs from the back of a pick-up. Nearby, a man stands on the middle rung of a ladder, glancing over his shoulder, crinkling his leathery skin in a deep, uncensored smile just as the shutter clicks. I can still feel the soft crunch of dirt under my feet, still hear the dancing tune of a fiddle, the call of children on the hill above the community center. I can almost taste the tender corn, roasted in its husk inside an old metal drum, basted in peanut butter that oozed out of the foil wrapping and ran down my fingers. I can smell the pungent fragrance of home grown tomatoes sprinkled with fresh, tender basil.

On a mild evening this week, I drove home from work through the Plaza. The slow traffic near Brush Creek irked me. As I waited for a traffic light to change in my favor, I glanced out of the open passenger window and saw a woman walking behind a small girl. The little one bent forward, golden curls sweetly arranged around her thin, pale face. She wore a light spring coat over a ruffled skirt that clung to her knobby knees. Her frail arms strained, each tiny hand gripping the frame of a wheeled walker, which she pushed forward as she took halting, painful steps. I could not see the woman's face. But I could see the child clearly. I judged her to be about four. The light changed, and I drove slowly by the two. The mother kept a few paces behind her child, watching but not interfering. I noticed the glint of metal braces encasing the child's legs. I tried to find her in my rear view mirror as I made my way over the bridge, but the traffic surged, blocking my view. I continued on, subdued, my irritation slipping away.

Outside my house, the train has long since continued on its journey and the night has fallen quiet. March did not come in like a roaring feline, and it is exiting, this March of 2012, like a languid river carrying a gliding longboat on an unhurried journey. April Fool's Day beckons; Easter rides its heels. I close my eyes, leaning toward the open window. If I hold myself impossibly still, taking long, deliberate breaths, I can capture the scent of lilacs, washing over me, on an early spring night, in Brookside, in Kansas City, as I wait for sleep to offer its elusive embrace.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday Musings, 24 March 2012

Good morning,

When I awakened this morning, I had in mind to write about my brother Frank.

I'm not close to my brother Frank. I admire a lot of the choices he has made, and I find the length of his marriage, the number and quality of his children, and the passion that he has for his career, to be more than admirable: I find them wondrous. But what I planned to share this morning had nothing to do with the man he has become. Rather, I wanted to tell people about the boy that he was, decades ago, in a small suburban home, where I lived with my brother Frank and my other siblings, and our mother, and our father.

Specifically, I awakened with the memory of my brother Frank bringing me a tray of vanilla wafers one evening, as I lay in bed writhing from the perceived agony of my first menstrual cramps. He did not understand why I was sick: At nine, he had no concept of this particular ailment, the province of teenage girls and other female creatures. Earlier in the day, he had accused me of faking. She doesn't look sick, he complained to my mother, after she shifted my kitchen duties to his slender unwilling shoulders. As the night fell around our home, he had a change of heart. He brought me that tray with a plate of vanilla wafers, one of several universal panaceas in our families; and the comics; and a cup of hot tea.

I'm not sure why that memory surfaced as I drifted in and out of sleep this morning, listening to the faint stirrings of my beloved husband on the first floor of our small home. But regardless of what prompted that recollection, I found that ruminating about my brother Frank eased me into a pleasant state of mind, where I like to dwell, where I like to persuade my friends to dwell. The latter phenomenon prompted my resolve to describe that evening, when I sat down to this aging laptop, with Scott Simon's voice murmuring in the background.

And then I came downstairs, to a waiting cup of coffee, and the newspaper, and all hell broke loose.

I found myself latching onto the second thought that rose to mind as I awakened: That I needed to let my husband know that he would be responsible for making dinner on Monday, because I planned to go to the vigil for Trayvon Martin, which I rightly believed would be held on Monday at 5:30 p.m., by the Fountain on the Country Club Plaza. I checked the newspaper and the article confirmed my recollection from the prior evening's perusal of Facebook. And then an argument ensued, between my conservative husband and my liberal self.

He opined that our country needs to move past "racism". I do not disagree with this concept. But we do seem to disagree on whether shooting a young boy because he is wearing a grey hoodie and walking in a neighborhood at night, after apparently describing him with a racial slur on a 911 call, is an act of racism. We also seem to disagree on whether it is reasonable to fear a person simply because he walks in your neighborhood at night, wearing his God-given skin and a grey hoodie probably purchased by his mother at the local Target. We also seem to disagree on whose "fault" it is that the shooter feared that slender-looking, brown-skinned boy, and whether that boy's killing should have national significance.

I found myself shaking. I have four nieces and nephews who are African-American; a great niece with gorgeous brown skin; and a niece and a nephew who are Asian. Anyone of them might look "scary" in a grey hoodie late at night, through certain filters, through the lens of certain societal assumptions. Hell, my own son, with scruffy unshaven mug and wild curly hair, has often walked the streets of Brookside in such a hoodie, late at night, when life overwhelmed him and he could not sleep. He does not have brown skin, but in the dark, can that be seen? Could he not be the victim of those same societal stereotypes? Just as my son, late at night, at a casual, fearful glance, could fall victim to those stereotypes, so could any one of my three nephews, sons of my brother Frank and his wife Teresa, both of whom are teachers in the St. Louis area, good practicing Catholics, whose children -- two biological and five adopted -- form their own little United Nations.

I understand the point that my husband clumsily tried to make. He opines, with some degree of validity, that if it is true that there have been crimes committed by a significant number of young black men wearing hoodies, then it might be reasonable for a person, aware of that statistic, to be fearful that a young black man wearing a hoodie is "yet another criminal". At least, I think that is what he was trying to say, and if that is so, then I see the point of his argument. He further opines that our world needs to move past the idea of race as a factor in our decision-making, and I certainly agree with him on that point.

But I cannot tolerate the use of racial slurs, or the shooting of a young man, apparently solely on the basis of his skin color, the fact that he wears a grey hoodie on a cool night, and his presence on the streets of a neighborhood where he is thought not to belong. From what I have read in the newspaper, which includes quotes of the shooter, these are the factors that prompted the shooting, and if that turns out to be true, then the act stands as one of the more appalling and tragic occurrences that I have ever witnessed -- and I have witnessed quite a few and read about even more.

My husband is a good and thoughtful man. I love him, even though at times we confound each other from our divergent ends of the philosophical spectrum. Even though he doubts that I listened to him, I do understand the essential point that he tried to convey to me. I see how his reasoning can flow. If a bunch of gimpy white women have robbed banks, and a gimpy white woman walks into a bank as I plan to do shortly after opening bell today, it's understandable if the teller gets a little jumpy. But this particular teller did more than get jumpy. He verbalized the stereotype, if the 911 tape says what it seems to say. I believe, based upon what I have read of his actions and statements, that George Zimmerman spoke from a festering foundation of racial bias. And I believe, based upon what i have read of his actions and statements, that George Zimmerman used his racial bias as an excuse to draw his weapon and pursue a slender young boy simply because that boy violated a rule that the shooter felt should be honored.

Trayvon Martin dared to be black, after dark, on a street where being black after dark apparently violates the sensibility of the neighborhood watch.

I wish we could, as my husband exhorts, move past race. But we have not. As long as there are ugly words used to describe a seventeen-year-old boy on the basis of his skin color; as long as people assume that your skin color predicts your probable behavior; as long as people feel that they need to protect themselves from someone simply on the basis of skin color, we have not moved past race. And as long as such people escape the consequences of their horrible assumptions, we will not.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Friday, March 16, 2012

Saturday Musings, 17 March 2012

Good morning ---

--- For it is morning, though just forty minutes into the new day, the feast of St. Patrick.

In times past, I always wrote my Saturday musings between midnight and sunrise. I do not sleep well, and writing affords me a distraction during which, sometimes, I can release the tension in my shoulders and spew enough rambling thoughts onto paper to quiet my brain. This night, having closed a book two hours ago, I find again that something -- perhaps the tensions of the week -- will not let me rest. I get out of bed; I reach for my glasses, and I sit, in my old oak chair, at the scarred writing desk, with only the glow of the laptop's screen interrupting the inky air in the bedroom.

A few years ago, one of my friends told me never to write about pain. We don't want to hear about your crippled hands clutching a coffee cup, he noted. Write about happy things, he pleaded, via e-mail, which I read on my porch an hour or so after one of my musings, no doubt with references to aches and clutched mugs, landed in his inbox. I shook my head, then, and shake my head now, thinking about the volumes I could author just on the subject of suffering.

A half hour ago, I heard a familiar sound: the snap of gunfire. I listened for the answering wail of a siren. I told myself that the retort might have had nothing to do with violence, except the sudden jarring of a malfunctioning exhaust system. I thought about other times when I've heard gunshots -- on the farm where I learned to handle a firearm; in the KU Med Center emergency room where a doctor and a patient's mother fell to shotgun blasts, one just paces away from me; on a North Carolina mountain, almost a decade ago, where my son took turns with a neighbor boy shooting a Winchester rifle, while I sat in the van, worried that something would go horribly wrong.

As I pause, thinking about the glint of steel, the weird yelping of one of our city's new police cars starts, grows louder, then abruptly stops, just east of me, in the direction from which I heard the shooting. Now more wailing penetrates my sanctum; I think a police car must have turned onto my street. I worry about my neighbors. My children are both gone, and my husband is beside me. The dog sleeps in the dining room. I know my family is safe. But the sounds of violence grow close, and I am suddenly afraid.

There's a gun somewhere in Ohio still registered in my name. I recall the heft of it, and the anxious look of the dealer who sold it to me. He couldn't know that I did not intend to keep it in my possession; he worried that a small woman like myself might fall victim to a statistical reality, killed with her own weapon. I think about that gun and wonder if we would be safer if we had it. We live on one of the easternmost streets of Brookside, close to tired, dingy neighborhoods in which gun battles seem like a viable solution to all kinds of problems.

I hear a car door slam. I picture a uniformed officer standing beside his patrol car, small flashlight in one hand, the other hand on the butt of his weapon. I have seen this pose often enough to trust my imagination of it. Two patrolmen will have exited their vehicle, and they will follow a silently acknowledged routine. They will venture slowly down the block, shining their lights between the houses, never far from each other or their radios. Others will join them, and their methodical sweep of the area will awaken any dog that spends its nights outside. I do not hear barking yet; but I know that I will.

My neighborhood itself is fairly safe. We live close to the east/west dividing line though, and regardless of how much the city tries to erase it, that line persists. On one side, the crime rate staggers; west of the line, crime drops to a more manageable level. I did not invent this distinction nor do I relish it. Where do you live, the questioner asks. And the answer is one of two responses: East or West of Troost. But I live so close as to be neither, really; it's like the Gaza Strip of Kansas City, a thin corridor just west of Troost but close enough so that we can hear the gunshots and the answering rise of the siren's call. I took my stand here; I raised my child here; but I am not blind, or deaf, or dumb.

Outside my house, the night noises have reclaimed the air. A swell of cicadas serenade me. I lean over the keyboard and try to isolate what keeps me awake this night. Is it the ache in my artificial knee? is it the throbbing of one of my various badly healed broken bones? The arch of my right foot, which I broke dancing the chicken dance at my first wedding -- or my left ankle, snapped in a freak wheelchair accident? My right elbow, broken at the Minnesota state fair in 2008? Maybe it's one of several fingers that I've splintered over the years, none of which I got treated, all of which have become gnarled and twisted, throbbing in rainy weather or if I have to type a longish sort of brief.

I tilt my head, listening for the stir frantic activity in the streets outside. I shift, easing the pressure on my degenerated hip, and think about my editorial friend. I think about the mixture of grief and glory that sustains me; one step forward, a half step backward. I reflect on the book that I finished this evening, a book about forgiveness. I close my eyes, focusing on a distant sound which I soon recognize as yet another siren.

One son has gone to the Humana Festival in Louisville. The other son is with a friend's family on a cruise to the Caribbean. Our daughter lives south and west of here, in a quiet apartment complex, far enough from the Troost corridor to be generally safe. None of our children will be caught in the web of anger that ensnares the shooters and their victims, east of Troost, in a part of town where the siren still cries, and the distant roar of traffic rises and falls as the night wears on. I take what comfort I can from knowing that all three of them right now sleep beyond the reach of a surely tragic destiny.

The hour grows late. The next four days hold the heavy burden of a contested custody trial. Now that I think about it, I realize that my wakefulness stems from a familiar amalgam of work-related stress combined with the brutality of life beating on my sorry body. I'm realistic about this; I know that without the contrast of pain, pleasure would seem less wondrous. But I need my sleep.

So I take another pill, and go back to bed. The sirens become my lullaby, as I slowly drift into unconsciousness.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saturday Musings, 10 March 2012

Good morning,

On a rare evening with no family, I stood in a crowd close to 200 circulating between the two locations of the VALA Gallery -- to the west, "411 Weeping Women" in the Gallery proper; to the east, a photographer, two ceramicists, and one of two resident artists in the VALA Community. I watched my friend, Gallery founder / director Penny Thieme, move among the visitors, beaming, still awash with happiness at the afternoon's technical run-through in preparation for the Evening with Richard Bach that she has planned for May. I marvel at the wonder of this powerful woman who rose from the ashes of disbelief in her capabilities to become a successful photographer, painter, and a one-woman dervish who has brought art to Mission, Kansas with a zeal that has left an indelible mark that will transcend any future fate of her Gallery itself. She might move, lock, stock and easel, to the Crossroads; she has her eyes on New Mexico; there is a trip to another continent for a major project in the not-too-distant future. But wherever she goes, one thing cannot be erased, and that is the change that Mission has experienced because of the awakening that Penny Thieme coaxed this sleepy Johnson County burg into accepting.

I stood on Johnson Drive as the crowd began to collect, outside my Saturn parked at a blue-painted curb. I watched the visitors drifting into the open door of the Gallery, and thought of my friend sitting amidst boxes in the first house she rented after leaving the home she had made with her husband. A divorce she resisted loomed in the not-too-distant future at that point; tears flowed down her cheeks as she asked herself, asked me, asked her absent husband, why can't you just be the man that I love? a question not susceptible of satisfactory reply. She would not stop asking that question for a year or more, until the Court had put its signature on the end of their marriage and she had moved, yet again, further north, away from Olathe, the southern Johnson County town where she had lived during the years when she believed herself to be happy.

Where she might have been happy.

Where she stopped being happy.

Last week, two clients spent a couple of hours apiece sitting in the same chair in my office, back-to-back appointments separated only by my record-fast ingestion of a Panera's salad. The first client, a woman, lamented the vagaries of her ex-baby-daddy, whom she perceived as hounding her, taunting her. There is some factual basis to her contentions: he and his friends sent her pictures by text of a wildly exciting Key West vacation. Having a great time! their messages said. Glad you're not here, she read into them. She consumed a full box of Kleenex before we got to the real purpose of her visit: a pro se motion to modify that she had filed last month, which she had suddenly realized she could not prosecute without my help.

Round two, a man trying to get divorced. His soon-to-be-ex wife had spewed her fury on page after page of unvetted materials attached to the back of her interrogatory responses. Her endless castigation of his character means little in the broader context of the disposition of their meager assets. He wouldn't let me go to graduate school, she complained. "She wanted to get a Master's Degree in Musicology and go to other countries as an unpaid Music Missionary," he explained. "If I had had the money to pay for graduate school, I wouldn't have supported that goal at that time in our lives, when we had children at home." He was emotionally distant from the kids, she accused. "I probably wasn't a touchy-feely kind of Dad," he countered. "And I worked long hours so she could stay at home." A cracked mirror, a distorted reflection, with no possibility that I can cast a backwards light to understand how close to "reality" either recollection comes.

In the early afternoon yesterday, I volunteered to help prepare the Gallery for its Second Friday opening. While my head bent over a task, the better to see it with my aging eyes, the door opened. I heard someone greet me and looked into the sunshine streaming through the picture windows at the front of the Gallery. I couldn't determine the identity of the back-lit figure until he spoke my name, and I realized that my first ex-husband stood just a few feet from me. This frequently occurs: His brother still works with me; I am still friends with others in his family; he is, when all is said and done, the best carpenter in Kansas City and he built the porch on which I love to sit year-round. Hello, Chester, I responded, and then each of us went back to our respective pursuits -- he lends his skills to the Gallery on the same volunteer basis as I, each of us but two in the flock of moths who gather around Penny Thieme's flickering flame.

A while later, a friend of his daughter lent her own hand to the clean-up, grabbing a mop to rinse the hard-wood floors. Amy, do you know Corinne? Chester asked, and she shook her head. Meet Corinne Corley, my ex-wife, he said, gesturing in the broad way that only a theatre person can successfully employ. I saw the shock cross her face. A seventeen-year-old doesn't think about someone being friends with their ex-wife, nor does she consider that her friend's father might casually introduce a former spouse that she didn't even realize he had. I laughed. His ex-wife, and a person in my own right, I countered, and then the tension slipped and harmlessly splintered on the damp floor as Amy laughed with us.

An hour or so later, I called my stepson, who, with my husband, traveled to Minnesota for a scholarship interview at St. Olaf's set to occur this morning. Tell your Dad that I spent the afternoon working at the Gallery with my ex-husband, I said, a request that he promptly and dutifully fulfilled. Chester? came the query. I confirmed the guess. He doesn't seem too worried, said my stepson, and I assured him that a state of unworriedness was a proper response.

One thing I have learned from a couple of decades as a family law practitioner is to open my life to changing relationships. No one is perfect, and everyone disappoints us if our expectations of them exceed their capabilities within the context of our relationship with them. When the relationship reconfigures, the person will likely fulfill our reconfigured expectations, and shine in the new context within which they fit.

Some relationships, however, cannot reconfigure. A parent might not be as crucial to a child's daily life when the child attains adulthood, and the child might consider the parent "more friend than father", but the relate is still one of parent to child and will always be. If a parent does not meet the child's expectations, a schism eternally lies between them. Only forgiveness can span the gap, and even forgiveness cannot replace what the child has lost.

As I sat across from my weeping client this week, I found no words to comfort her. I did, however, find a piece of advice that might help, and I shared it. You need to take back the power, I told her. You've given him control and you need to reclaim it. She protested, I don't care about him! As I handed her a fresh Kleenex, I suggested to her that she was deceiving herself. You don't cry this much because of someone about whom you don't care, I gently observed, and her sobbing increased.

To two children who reached out to me in recent days, lamenting the distance and cruelty lying between them and their parents, I had less sure advice. She's your mother, she loves you, I told one. He's your father, he loves you, I told another. I don't think I convinced them, and they went away less comforted than my distressed client had done. I am left, at the end of the week, with the feeling that I should have gotten a Ph.D. in psychology to accompany my J.D., and to wonder if there is a university which will accept my on-the-job training in place of a dissertation.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Saturday Musings, 03 March 2012

Good morning,

Mixed news on a lovely Saturday morning: CVS apologizes for prescription errors that might have put children in jeopardy; tornadoes devastate towns in a long swathe that starts 100 miles south of my son's Indiana college town and moves down to Kentucky; a driver going the wrong way on an Interstate kills four, including three sorority sisters in one of three vehicles caravanning to the airport. Film at 11, ooh, such sorrow.

I write at the old desk in my second-floor room, blinds still closed against the early sunshine. I'm only half-attending to the noises of morning: my husband moving around as he prepares to leave, the dog snuffling in her bed downstairs, the chattering of the radio. I'm feeling a bit beaten; my body flags, pushed beyond its limit this week. Perhaps I should not have skipped my Gentle Yoga class; perhaps I did not consume sufficient quantities of water. Possibly, I am just growing old more rapidly than I care to acknowledge.

On balance, my week went well. But I confronted a first for my law practice: A client came to court in Elmo pajamas and fuzzy black slippers. Words truly failed me as I beheld her attire. She slumped her tall thin frame into the plastic chair beside me, and I struggled to think how to tell this nineteen-year-old mother of two that how she presented herself would materially affect the speed with which her children returned to her. I could see that she had no clue as to the folly of this last, small choice.

Later in the week, at a reception for the latest artist to share his works with my professional suite, I told this sad story and someone in the group asked where the children had been placed by the Court. In their grandparents' care, I assured her. She thought for a moment. The maternal grandparents? she asked. I said that yes, the maternal grandparents had the children. Another minute or two of silence. The same ones who raised your client? Your client who doesn't know better than to come to court in pajamas? Those kids don't stand a chance.

I had not thought of that. I had been so focused on the much greater good of the little ones not living on the streets with their mother, or in an apartment with her "boyfriend" of ten days. I realized, suddenly, that the grandparents might be, by far, the lesser of two evils, but it cannot be assumed that they are actually a good choice. The thought discouraged me.

The faces of all my appointed clients surrounded me in an insistent chorus as I tried to sleep last night. They were all there, loud, accusing, plaintive. I beheld each one in turn, become increasingly wakeful, increasingly tense, increasingly morose.

The mother of two who thought she was Hispanic because her children's fathers had been. I think in Spanish! she once insisted, from her blond, blue-eyed and earnest countenance. Her baby-daddies' families had sheltered her when she ran away at twelve, trying to escape abuse which followed her from her mother's house to the home of the aunt with whom the Kansas court had placed her. The undocumented workers cleaning the railroad tracks that passed over the viaduct beneath which she had taken refuge heard her quiet, muffled sobbing, and brought her to the abandoned houses in old Olathe where they themselves squatted. Ten years and two children later, a wild-eyed look testifying to unmedicated paranoia, she sat in my office and tried to explain how she had become Mexican, a process of reverse integration that I could not comprehend.

I drove another client to the rundown Craftsman bungalow on the east side in which she had once lived with her five children, and from which she would soon be evicted because she no longer qualified for Section 8 housing. On a frigid day in December, I could not let her take public transportation back from court, and broke my normal rule to avoid personal contact with appointed clients. The house looked as though it had potential. With a loving hand, and a little yard work; a paintbrush and a broom; the modest house on its poor but well-tended block might have been a charming place.

My client hesitated for longer than felt comfortable before opening the car door. I began to wonder if the address in front of which I had stopped was the correct one. She might not even live here, I mused. Maybe she already got kicked out, I told myself. But then she turned her broad, moon-shaped face towards me, and briefly looked directly into my eyes. I just wanted to make a home, for once, she said, with a long sigh. Then she got out, and quietly closed my door, and hauled her heavy frame up broken concrete steps, clutching the iron pipe hand-rail which swayed under the pressure of her weight. I drove away in the grey light of mid-winter, without looking backwards to see whether she made it even as far as the stoop.

Another day, another trial. A mother of two young girls, second and third grade as I recall. My client lived with a notorious drug-dealer and a late-night raid resulted in her arrest and later conviction. I had to writ her out from a federal correction facility for the trial which resulted in the termination of her parental rights. By then, the children had been living in another state for months, with a woman whose personal and professional list of accomplishments nearly qualified her to adopt my son, to say nothing of the two little daughters of a convicted meth addict. My client sat in clothes that I had procured for her, into which she changed after the guard reluctantly removed her shackles, in a small room behind the commissioner's chambers. Tears streamed down her face through the entire proceeding, including the fifteen painful moments when she sat in the witness box and tried to explain herself, against my advice, against all reason.

In my large corner office, with its oak table, the picture of my grandfather, and the framed Lafayette Square posters that I salvaged from the debris of my brother's life, I stood last evening talking to a couple of first-year law students. Impossibly young, with light, bright eyes and smooth, eager faces, these 1Ls exclaimed at the nontraditional furnishings surrounding them. This doesn't look like a lawyer's office, they cried, with a tone that told me that they could not quite believe what they saw. I'm not sure if "not looking like a lawyer's office" seemed desirable to them, but I thanked them, and turned the conversation down safer avenues.

Later, straightening our lovely suite after the artist's reception we held last evening, I reflected on the concept of not looking like a lawyer's office, and by extrapolation, not looking like a lawyer. That description has never more aptly applied to me. I own only one suit, which I bought second-hand for seven dollars. I catch my unruly Lebanese curls in a big plastic clip on the back of my head, and only under duress. I don't charge by the hour and I never bill for time spent talking to my client on the phone or even for meeting with them face-to-face. I'll never be rich. I never turn down Juvenile court appointments.

And I am still haunted by each and every one of them, when I lie in bed at night, blind without my glasses, clearly seeing, nonetheless, the eternal pleading on the faces of the unrestful ghosts which crowd around me.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

The Missouri Mugwump™

My photo
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.