The heat has broken, at least for one sweet morning, though the potted plants on my deck have shriveled despite the constant watering and desperate deployment of a spray bottle. A few petunias gamely struggle; the begonias sighed and died; the Gerber daisies have shriveled; one of the two bright pink plants, the names of which I no longer recall, turned to dusty shreds. The other has blackened buds, hard and sad, that foretell its pending demise. I should have brought the plants into the house when the heat wave struck, I tell myself; now it is too late.
In times past, when the children whose high, happy voices gave vibrant life to this home cavorted in the driveway, we dragged a large pool to the backyard, stood it in the middle of a twelve-foot wide sand pile, and created our own beach. A Little Tykes slide angled over the side of the pool into the shimmering water. In a box, in the attic maybe -- or on a high shelf in the basement -- pictures of those summers rest against old letters, fading drawings made from Cray Pas, and gilded, ribbonned, letters of commendation.
As I conspired with him the other day to orchestrate a repair to a much-cherished guitar belonging to my son, my friend Alan paused and raised his hand. Do you remember this, he said, palm turned towards me, keeping me still, while Alan summoned the memory. Do you remember when you said, "A boy? What on earth am I going to do with a boy?"
I lay in a gigantic heap, on a gurney, in a sterile room in Little Rock, at the University of Arkansas' genetic testing laboratory. A technician sat on a low stool between me and a monitor, with an ultra sound wand in one gloved hand, the head of the wand pressed against my belly. Do you want to know the gender, she asked. No, I don't, I replied. It's a boy! she crowed, unable to contain herself.
A boy? A boy? What on earth am I going to do with a boy?
I have my answer now.
With that boy, I learned so many life's lessons that they fill my heart and spill out into the world around me.
That boy announced, in a baby's voice, that he would be the one to get the newspaper from our apartment doorstep, the first winter we moved back to Kansas City. He could barely reach the knob of our front door, but turn it he did. He bent down to get the Kansas City Star for me, the January before he turned two, and each day thereafter until we moved in May. Your legs don't work so good, Mommy, he told me. Patrick get the paper for you.
When I fell on the ice at the end of our driveway, in the home we bought that year, he toddled down the street to our neighbors' home down to get help. He was two and a half.
When I tripped over a gutter hiding under the snow in the dog run one dark night the next winter, that boy felt that I had been outside too long, and telephoned the same neighbor. All ten of my toes were broken. The neighbor found me lying, nearing numbness, at the side of the house on a bed of crystalline snow.
At five, that boy reached down into a hotel swimming pool to grab my shoulder as I sputtered and struggled, gasping for breath, my spastic legs unable to propel me from the deep end. He held me out of the water, patiently waiting for someone to come. A passing guest saw this stunning tableau through the large glass window that fronted on the lobby, and ran into the pool area. Through my coughing, as I sagged against the concrete, I heard the man say, You did good, son, you did real good. Your Mom's going to be okay.
With that boy, I climbed a mountain, conquered my fear of heights, and stood on the edge of a canyon to watch a cluster of birds swoop into the depths from which we had come.
Beside that boy, I journeyed deep into Carlsbad Cavern, beyond the accessible trail, raising my eyes to see the wondrous formations above me, slithering through narrow passages, my hand in his small one, his seven-year-old frame leading the way.
I traversed uneven ground, leaning on a walker, with a newly operated knee, to see that boy receive his Arrow of Light, which to this day nestles in a box on my dresser.
I walked the halls of the Mayo Clinic with that boy, and watched him pedal his bike around a lake in Rochester. I laughed when he asked if we could live in that hotel forever. With that boy, I sat in a small office to hear the verdict: The doctors in Kansas City were wrong. Your boy does not have Addison's disease.
A year later, I ignored that boy's determined refusal to board a plane to Mexico, despite the weeks of planning, the months of speaking Spanish by text message, the doctor's clearance to travel, the hours of filling out paperwork for the scholarship. I ignored his expressions of apprehension. I knew the time for him to fly had arrived.
Six weeks later, I barely recognized him as he followed other passengers into the waiting area, with his dark tan, his once-long hair now in short, thick curls around his head. I was not just the tallest kid in the group, he chuckled. I was the tallest person in the whole country! Later, after we dropped off the friend who had ridden to the airport with me, he softly admitted: I am so glad you made me go!
I quietly listened to that boy tell me a classmate had said that he was "too white to go to this school", and I smiled, three years later, when that boy was elected president of his senior class. There were five candidates, he said, dismissively. I just split the vote. Still.
I slid into a ditch in a blizzard with that boy, en route to my cousin's funeral, our hearts racing. We looked at each other with something between terror and glee. With the white raging all around us, we crept up the exit ramp in our Chevy Blazer, slowly edging into the parking lot of a restaurant, where we ordered soup and waited out the storm.
That boy has walked me down two aisles, visited me in three hospitals, traveled to ten or twelve states with me, and invented characters and voices to make me laugh in times when my despair permeated the air.
I walked across urban Chicago campuses with that boy, assuring him that yes, he could manage far from home. I stood at the entry to a broad green campus, in Indiana, in March of 2009, and told him that we would find a way to make his attendance there happen.
I watched him struggle through that first year of college, and regroup, the summer after.
I watched him soar for the next two years, with friends, heartbreaks, good grades, and a crummy summer job from which he learned a valuable lesson. I have read the stories published under his name in his campus literary review, year after year. I've sat in a distant room, listening to the increasingly complex sounds of his guitar.
And a month ago, I packed that Chevy Blazer, and sent him off to Hollywood.
At 1:50 p.m., CDST, on Sunday, 08 July 2012, that boy will vanish. He will be 21 at that very moment. He will stand as he has always stood despite his many fears and trepidations: Smiling that slight, steady smile. Determined, strong, capable. And at long last, I will have my answer.
What on earth am I going to do with a boy?
Watch him grow to be a man.
Happy Birthday, Patrick Charles Corley. My pride in you is boundless.
Saturday, July 7, 2012
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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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