I wish that I could say it has been a quiet week, here on the western side of my beloved state; and in some ways, I suppose, it has. I suited up and hauled exhibits for a trial which got bumped, making my late-night prep and early-morning drive a monumental waste of time except to reveal some difficulties in my evidence which I can now address. In the between hours, I brought Laura Little fudge to my mother-in-law who is recuperating in a rehab center; learned to e-file; and taught the second of three writing workshop sessions in my new guise as a writer's teacher. Those who can, do; those who can't, teach?
I started the week in St. Louis County, in Chesterfield, at a table in St. Louis Bread Company with my sister. While my husband dropped our number-three child in Webster Groves to catch his ride back to school post-spring-break, I ate salad with my sister and talked about a painting she found at a thrift store. "Eighteen bucks, and it's gorgeous," she gushed. We deployed my Google-tron and learned that the painting has a value of around five-hundred dollars on the open market, if original, which she believes it is, and if done by the painter whose work it appeared to be, whose signature appeared in the lower right-hand corner. She beamed at her find; and I felt a rush of love and yearning. "There are two kinds of people in the world," my father often told me. "Corleys, and people who want to marry Corleys. And you, my dear, are a Corley." Indeed.
I go about my business, most days, disconnected from my heritage. Then I hear a little eastern twang, in a voice over the phone or from the radio, and I find myself transported back in time. I crave contact with my kind: Corleys, yes, but St. Louisans. I tell people that I hail from Kansas City because I moved here in 1980, but in my heart, I still feel the sway as I rounded the curve of the Halls Ferry Circle, still hear the echoing rush of the muddy Mississippi just below my dangling feet, the year it flooded and I sat on the edge of the Eads Bridge in defiance of the police road block. I force myself to drive to Overland Park, damning its distance, but still conceive of the St. Louis Metropolitan area as being comprised of North Jerusalem, East Jesus, West of Everywhere, and South God's Country. I can't help it. I believe that its contours, thusly defined, might be imprinted on my DNA.
Most of all, I find myself wanting to mingle with people who share that DNA. I love my husband, and I particularly enjoy having parents again since mine died so long ago. I feel satisfied that I finally have the semi-large brood that I wanted -- a daughter, another son, flanking my birthson in age. That my son finally has siblings particularly satisfies me. I mean my family-by-marriage no disrespect when I say that I sometimes keenly feel that I am not one of them. I find myself orphaned, like a little patch of land which was once part of the mainland, cut off by a shift in the river's path. The village where I live has charm, but I search for a bridge. I stand on the river's steep banks, yearning, wishful. I love my town. But the mainland holds people whose chin matches mine, who share my childhood memories, whose voice echoes the cadence of my own.
And so, I reach for them. I traverse Interstate 70 more and more. I message them in social media; I send e-mails; I query after their lives. I look backward at the road which I have traveled, straining to identify forks taken that moved me further away from my siblings and later, from my son's aunts, uncles, and cousins. Can I go back? Do I get a do-over? Impossible; but perhaps, like the roads of Jennings, there exists a circle which I can use to bring myself back around, so I can take another road and still come home.
I hear the radio babbling about a snowstorm that will crash down on the interstate which I had intended to travel tomorrow to have dinner with my son and two of my nieces. We've acknowledged, via text and Facebook message, that our plans will likely fizzle. I throw a pillow at the radio, willing the woman to tell us that she's erred; the snow will miss all three of the towns: Kansas City, St. Louis, and Greencastle, Indiana. But she does not. Not as much snow as fell in Kiev, she acknowledges, But a major storm, across the state. Prepare yourselves.
I sit, drinking my coffee and listening to NPR. The bland voices rankle. I long for the harshness of those St. Louis vowels, the giggle of my sister, the easy smiles of the next generation of Corleys. I, too, have miles to go before I sleep, but none of them will be easterly, I fear, and I will have to endure another week or two without going home. Now the announcer talks about the St. Louis basketball team and my ears twitch, my heart races, and I think to myself: It's still there, the city of my other life; waiting for me, and those faces, with their familiar contours, will smile when I arrive. The thought sustains me.
My father-in-law ruminated about the phenomenon of modern marriage over dinner last evening. My mind wandered a bit, my thoughts taking a different direction but triggered by his observations. It used to be that you had a limited social sphere, he commented. And you were likely to partner with someone that had a lot in common with you. Now, you meet so many more people that you are more likely to marry someone whose interests are different from yours. You used to have so much in common with the people you married. My social sphere shifted just as he meant. The modernity of life took me some distance from my city of birth, to Boston, to Kansas City, to Arkansas, and back. I have no regrets about my choice of partner, even though we have such different backgrounds, our childhoods spent in such vastly different cities.
But I do regret that time and the coincidences of my life's events have left me on an island, gazing across a seemingly uncrossable distance at those who share my blood. My fascination with memories, with stories of the life I have led, and the lives of people I have met, comes down to this unwavering need to be among my kind, if only for a while, if only, now and then. Most of the time, I am content to live on my island. But the mainland calls me, and I cross the bridge, smiling as I pass the sign that announces I am entering St. Louis County. I am home.
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