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

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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.