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

No comments:

Post a Comment

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.