The porch lured me, with its preening plants and the soft call of crickets. Our stubborn boycat nibbles on food at the other end; I see he has a new battle scar but he wouldn't let me examine it. Since he became an outdoor creature four years ago, he has gotten into some damaging scrapes but comes home nearly every morning to be fed. I watch him settle onto the cool concrete for a morning nap. He ignores my gaze.
Wakefulness claimed me at four this morning. I rose, pace, pondered. I don't know which more troubled me: the spasming in my legs or the melancholy in my heart. Eventually, I meditated myself back to quietude and slept until the sun kissed my eyelids through the open shade at half past six.
I found myself measuring the past this week, day by day, decade by decade, town by town, house by house. I saw a picture of my first shared daughters, standing on either side of their father in a reunion for which I had long lobbied. My spirit soared with gladness to see their image, the smile none had been sure would dawn with their coming together. I studied in particular the younger daughter, Tshandra Michelle, now forty, with a beautiful daughter of her own. I see her mother's face stamped there, though she carries her father's mark as well. On the far left, little Gracie raises her arms and her face heavenward and I think: Joy lives in that one. I hope the child's joy springs back a generation and embraces her mother.
I close my eyes and see that mother's teenage face, spiked hair, black fingernail polish, defiant glare. We're standing in the small lobby of the Springfield, Missouri airport and she's telling her father and me why her mother's sent her back to us. Or why she believes her behavior got her shipped back to the wilds of Newton County, Arkansas. We drive back to Jasper without talking much, with the radio playing, and Shelley -- as she was known then -- fuming.
We had had her for the prior summer, down in Little Rock, along with her cousin Sarah, she of the golden hair and the sunny disposition. Her mother begged us until we agreed to tell her that she and her husband had separated. The news had not set well with my stepdaughter. She had been a toddler when her birthparents had divorced, and she barely knew her father. Her stepfather had moved into the void left by Chester's parting. Now she found herself living in Chester's home again, with his new wife again, and I feel certain, even now, nearly three decades later, that she dreaded the prospect.
She rummaged in her backpack and unearthed a plastic bag and handed it to me. "Here," she said. "I finished it." I smoothed the wrinkles caused by a hasty hand and extracted the muslin still caught in the embroidery hoop. "Live a little, Laugh a lot, Love enough". A cross-stitch piece; I had bought it for her after much debate the prior summer in Little Rock. I turned, I smiled, and I thought, for just one moment, that her steely countenance relaxed.
Back in Jasper, with the clean mountain air surrounding us, Chester settled her onto the sleeping room that we had made of the screened porch while I started cooking dinner. I heard murmuring; her father's voice, then hers, rising, strident. I quelled my apprehension and stirred the hollandaise, made the salad, set the table. The three of us tendered small talk over the food, across the divide. We didn't discuss what had happened back home; we didn't mention the differences we saw in her.
She stayed with us for just a handful of weeks, that time. But in that month, I came to love her. I didn't know if anything I did or said in that time reached her, but I got her under my skin and in my heart, that first shared daughter, and there she has stayed with her tender nature and her steely spine.
A couple of lifetimes later, Tshandra reached out to me on Facebook and we became steady correspondents. At the same time, I started teaching a Writers' Workshop at the VALA Gallery, at which Chester had become a resident artist and general handyman. He and I started a long, loosely choreographed dance number entitled How Can I Get My Daughters Back, with particular emphasis on Tshandra Michelle. He led the dance but occasionally, I would send us into a spin. His line: "I Did My Best", juxtaposed against my chorus: "She's Your Daughter, Chet, Just Apologize For Leaving Her".
Then their mother died and the dance accelerated, with the daughters out west now having their own places in our frenzied waltz. Reclaiming Tshandra and Kimberly became an imperative. The music rose to a crescendo now and again, with Chester banging on his drum and Tshandra trilling the gentle, elusive line of the flute above his bold bashing. For my part, I turned the pages, occasionally striking the triangle with its wand.
So here they were, in my Newsfeed on Facebook a few days ago: One of three shared daughters who live in my heart, with her half-sister Angelica on her right, and her father and sister standing in the middle of the tableau. My soul sang. I studied the figure of Grace, Chester's granddaughter, Tshandra's daughter. I saw that she carried no taint of two generations of angst which came before her making. I saw the happiness on Tshandra's face, this brave young woman; and my heart, which has had its share of sorrow, felt light and easy. Remembering that picture now, I find I can let go of the melancholy, if only for a morning, because of reunion in Colorado among people whom I will always love.
Here in Kansas City, the sun has fully risen but the air is still sweet. The neighborhood has come to life and my coffee has grown cold. Pablo, the boycat, has wandered off and workers on some nearby street have started a noisy project. I rise, stretch, and move toward the house and another cup of coffee.
Saturday, August 9, 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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