Two cups of coffee haven't cleared my head. The week slugged me, again and again, mostly at the office but also with the new, wild dizziness that no one has explained or cured. Ah, middle age. Its foibles drive me crazy; or perhaps I began life crazy, and find myself here in my fifties despite that fact. I'm reminded of a line from the BBC production of Robert Graves' "I, Claudius": "Some say that I am half-witted. Well, it might be so. How is it then, that I have survived to middle-age with only half my wits, while thousands around me have died with all of theirs intact? Evidently quality of wits is more important than quantity."
I spent half of the week working on a settlement in a sad, weighty custody case. I don't know if it's settled, yet, but I accept that I've done what I can. The makings of a settlement in this case heavy with tragedy have been meticulously nurtured, partly by others, partly by me with my client. She sat in my office yesterday, tension evident on her face, in the set of her shoulders, in the glistening tears hovering on her lashes. My career in metaphors: a tear suspended from the corner of one eye, waiting, waiting; a hand raised with beckoning fingers, reaching, reaching. In a sudden flash, I find myself back on my mother's couch, decades ago, talking to my Uncle Bob.
When I was a first-year law student my contracts professor mercilessly hounded me, every day, peppering me with questions. I asked him once why he always called on me, without fail, every class period. "Because I know you will be ready," he explained. "Great," I responded. "I'm never doing the reading again, so you can stop now." His face lit; the ends of his mouth curled, and he placed his hand on my arm. "Now I will pick you for sure," he cautioned, and so he did. But Contracts never daunted me.
My father's youngest brother carried their Father's bearing and title. Both lawyers, both head of the John L. Corley Insurance Company, both quiet, strong men; or I so understood. My grandfather died before my parents married. I had only my father's word for the comparisons. Uncle Bob had divorced and spent a lot of time alone. He came to my parents' house on this particular Sunday for what he called "a good, home-cooked meal". After dinner, he called me to come sit by him, tell me how life was treating me. We talked about the practice of law. He settled back on the cushions and described his world, the reviewing of documents, the drafting of agreements.
"Contracts are easy," he assured me. "Elements of a contract: Offer, acceptance, bargained-for exchanged, consideration, capacity to contract, lawfulness of purpose, and compliance with the Statute of Frauds." I fixed my eyes on his face. For a moment, only he and I existed. My father reclined in his usual spot, paying us no mind. Rattling noises drifted from the kitchen. My uncle's gaze held mine. I noticed we shared the same grey-blue eyes. Fissures scored his face, the deep lines of living, or character, or grief; I never learned.
"So I should be a contracts lawyer," I asked. He shook his head, and turned away. His voice dropped, and I strained to hear him. "Do what you love," he said, finally. "Don't take the easy road. Do what you love." A shudder coursed through his body. He rose, and called to my mother that he had to leave. She came from the kitchen, wiping her hands on an apron, leaning forward for his brief embrace. My father stood; they clasped hands, and then my uncle left.
I tried to find the date of my uncle's death online but could not. I'm not sure when this Sunday dinner happened; I only know that I got an A in Contracts and positively killed the essay on the elements of a valid contract. And now I sit here, before this little tablet's docking station keyboard, and though far in time and place from that moment in my mother's living room, I see my uncle's face, his steady, haunted look. We were told that my uncle died when his fragile heart gave way while he was lifting his motorcycle about to ride home, maybe from work, from the store, from a cocktail party -- I don't know. My father hid his tears and would only say, "My little brother died doing what he loved." I close my work week with the memory of Robert Corley, and the clear conviction that I have followed his advice.
Saturday, January 25, 2014
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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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