Saturday, June 27, 2015

Saturday Musings, 27 June 2015

Good morning,

My blogs have become predictable, apparently.  A friend described these musings to someone by quoting my normal opening -- a description of my stumbling entry onto my front porch clutching my mug of coffee.  It rang true. 

These musings started as five a-m mutterings, the summer my second husband left for the last time and my son went to Mexico for six weeks.  Here at the Holmes house alone,  I found myself turning to writing as a solace and an exploration.  I watched the sun rise and shared stories, usually in a vein that one critic publicly described as feel-good fluff.


On the tails of my third divorce, yesterday seemed filled with irony for me.  I can't give you fluff today; I can only give you what flows from my heart.  These are, after all, the musings of a Missouri Mugwump, and musings do as musings will.

I heard the news about the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of marriage equality shortly after 9:00 a.m. while standing in a judge's chambers in Clay county, chatting with other lawyers there for pre-trial conferences.  All of us were family law practitioners, navigating clients through the disentanglement of their failed marriages, seeking guidance from the judge to whom their cases were assigned as to issues derailing settlement.  My phone buzzed.  I glanced at it:  A message from the HRC telling me that love had won.

I shared the news with the lawyer standing next to me, then drove to my satellite office a few blocks from the Liberty Square to meet with a twenty-one year old mother of two in the midst of her own divorce.  I've been appointed to serve as guardian ad litem for their disabled daughter amidst accusations of medical neglect by the father. 

I met with her and her lawyer for an hour, then headed for Kansas City and a meeting in my main office with a client whose case is set for trial on Monday over issues of custody and parenting of a second-grader whom she shares with a man to whom she is not married.  I understand this kind of case:  My son's father and I never wed.  In fact, though, he did not fight for rights -- rather, he vanished, sending the small court-ordered support check every month for nearly 18 years but otherwise doing nothing.  But this woman has a different problem.  Her son's father abused her but seems to parent reasonably well.  Hard to imagine letting a boy spend several nights a week with someone who treats the mother like uncherished property; but such will be the case.

I cooked dinner in the evening, for Jessica and myself.  Jessica stays at my house at present, back in Kansas City due to the return of her mother's cancer.  She's on the heels of a six-month stint in Hawaii where she worked as an under-water photographer.  Now she visits her mother daily, spends time with her son, and helps me here at the Holmes house.  We sat on the porch after dinner, eating sea salt caramel ice cream and talking about marriage.  I tell her that I think everyone should be allowed to marry.  She agrees.  My laughter is tinged with rancor as I mention my own inability to hold a marriage together.  She's gentle in response to that note.  She does not disparage me, she does not let me freely disparage myself.

As the night drew around me, as the lightening bugs flashed and the pesky little mosquitoes nibbled at our skin, I thought about the same-gender partners whom I have known.  I glanced across the street at a quiet house with an ivy-covered lawn.  There lives Freddie and Suzie, two women so alike that I've never been quite sure which is which.  I bought my house in 1993 and they were a couple then, and are a couple now, living with their now-grown adopted daughter.  They have weathered nearly twenty-five years together, including almost fatal cancer that one of them -- I honestly do not recall which -- suffered five years ago.

Next door to me, Scott and George wear wedding rings.  I think they got married in Iowa.  Their household includes a little dog named Poodle.  They mow the lawn, come home with groceries, visit parents, have dinner parties.

In Arkansas, Carla and Molly have been together several years more than a decade.  I'm so used to them as a couple, I can barely recall Carla in the years before Molly, though I have known her twice as long.  They married two years ago on the eastern seaboard.  They raised Carla's daughter together, my accidental name sake, Maria Korinna.  I visit them once a year, sharing Sunday brunch when I go to Fayetteville to get away from stress in Kansas City.  Their marriage seems so solid that I could not even fathom calling it anything but real.  Constitutionally protected or not, their marriage felt right.

 Years ago, two women lived in the house to the south of mine where now a young banker lives.  Patty and Terri shared a car, a bedroom, and a landline.  Patty worked from the upstairs room as an accountant and Terri had a medical practice nearby on 63rd Street.  My son saw them as a couple in his youngest years, before he ever had a stepfather, before any preconceived notions of marriage could infect his thinking.

When Patty told us that she and Terri had found a bigger house, one with a separate entrance for the room that would be Patty's office, Patrick listened with his normal serious expression.  The three of us stood in the shared driveway between our houses.  I felt a sense of loss.  These women had been good neighbors to me, comfort for the exit from that home of Marcella Womack who had been the last renter there before its out-of-state owner sold to Patty and Terri.  I would miss them.

Before Patty turned to go back into their house and resume packing, my little boy put his hand on her arm.  Can I ask you a question, Patty, he said.  She squatted down beside him, her face to his level, and said, Of course.  He lifted his small hands and put one on each of her shoulders.  He peered intently at her, their eyes holding each other.  I could not imagine what he would ask.  And then he spoke.

You and Terri love each other, don't you?

His gentle voice broke the stillness of the summer day.  Patty's eyes briefly closed and something electric moved across her face.  She put her arms around my son before answering, holding him to her.  She released him but kept him close as she replied, Yes, yes we do.  We love each other.  Patrick nodded.  He patted her shoulder; she stood and turned her gaze toward me.  Tears flooded her eyes.  A smile rose to my face.   We'll miss you guys, I told her.  She could only nod.

Before sleeping last night, I watched the entire video of President Obama's eulogy to Reverend Pinckney.  I listened to the strains of Amazing Grace as he led the assembly in prayerful song.  Then I scanned the Internet, gazing at photos of buildings and monuments lit with rainbow-colored lights.  Amazing, indeed.

I've lived nearly sixty years.  I've loved a half-dozen times, including one man who fathered my child and three whom I married.  I've mourned a brother, a mother, a father, parents-in-law who treated me like a cherished child, and the loss of love three-times over.  I've grappled health issues and personal insecurities.  I've driven my son to the Mayo Clinic for the last-ditch treatment that ended up saving him from malpractice and I've flown to the edge of the world to see a doctor whose efforts are either curing me or killing me, I don't yet know which.  And I've sat on my porch, morning after morning, for twenty-two years, watching the world change from green to gold to brown to white, and back again when spring broke through the bitter cold.

This morning I feel as though we've turned a click closer to paradise.  Love wins.  As it always should.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Saturday Musings, 20 June 2015

Good morning,

The day weighs heavily on me.  I feel the rend in my back where I fell, backwards, suddenly, while dressing on Thursday.  Though I managed to prevent my head from striking the sharp edge of the platform bed frame, my posterior fared worse.  I landed on my scale --  a certain irony in that! -- and heard a crunch as I tried to rise.  Now those degenerated disks which I yearn to ignore  scream in anger when I walk.  And I must walk:  I've striven all my life to do just that.  So I remind myself:  it's not cancer, it's not MS, it could be so much worse.  I pull a half-dozen pairs of shoes from the closet, trying to find some which provide enough support and can cushion the blows as each foot strikes the pavement.  The pain plagues me but I keep walking.

My physical therapist, she of the bold spirit and beautiful French-Canadian accent, widened her eyes as I told the story later that day.  She guided me to the machine on which the day's session would start, all the while admonishing me to be more careful! Something about the widening of her eyes as she spoke reminded me of someone else but I could not place the look until the middle of last night when I happened to be awake, reflecting on my week, and a memory returned.

I had never had a job quite like this:  Day camp coordinator, for the city of Jennings.  I've gotten the job by using my parents' address, even though I live in the city.  It's 1978 and I am twenty-two years old.  I have no more experience with coordinating a day camp than I have with much else.  But I take the job anyway.  I need the money.

My staff consists of a handful of sturdy, tanned college students, both male and female.  They do the real work.  They organize the volleyball, the softball, the running around chasing dodge balls on the parking lots.  I manage the schedule and the arts and crafts, and make sure the supplies get locked into cupboards at the end of the day.

We also have  a soccer coach.  He tells me he's a refugee from a South American country.  He says he's a star back home.   I watch him showing the children how to kick a soccer ball and I can believe that he's a star.  It's in his bearing.  

At the end of each day, I hand out water to the children and make sure they're hydrated after their sessions in the sun.  They brush sweat from their foreheads and blow on each other's faces.  It's hot, sticky, and bright.  We stand under the pavilion and wait for their rides home.

My soccer coach tells me one night that he could help me, if I wanted help.  I'm not sure what he means.  The last child has waved from the car window and I'm locking the supply closet, shutting off the lights in the small office and the restrooms.  He walks alongside me.  When I turn to look at him, puzzled, his eyes widen and he gestures to my legs.  He can't seem to find a word for what he sees.

Ah, yes.  I understand.

He tells me, There's equipment at the high school, I could show you.  I search his face for signs of duplicity.  This could be a ploy to take advantage of me, after all.  But he seems genuine.  I shrug.  He takes that for assent and says, Let's go over there now. We drive in tandem.

For the next thirty minutes; for thirty minutes a day, five days a week, for the rest of the summer, we do the same thing.  We send the children home then drive to the high school and he works with me.  His voice is calm, sweet, encouraging.  He speaks to me like an older brother would speak to a frail little sister.  He guides my feet into the straps of foot pedals.  He adjusts the bent of my body as I strain against the lightest of weights.  He encourages me, in accented English peppered with his native language.

And I do, indeed, improve.   The tightness of my legs eases.  A bit of normal tone appears in my calves.  I wobble less.  My teacher seems pleased.

When August comes, when the camp session draws to a close, he suggests that we set up a time for me to work with him even though I'll be back in graduate school.  I have given him nothing in return for what he has done except my thanks, which he gestures away.  I don't really understand him.  I tell  him I will do that, that I will get in touch with him.

The fall passes and I do not call.  I'm busy.  I have a full load of seminars and my drinking buddies have returned from their summer pursuits.  I  fall into a routine of class, work, and clubbing with the occasional one-night stand thrown into the mix for distraction.  Whatever benefit I have gained from my summer activities dissipates.  

Around Christmas, I think of the man and wonder if there's a chance he might work with me again.  I phone the high school.  The secretary falls silent for a few minutes, then asks who I am.  I tell her my name, I tell her that I ran the summer camp.  I sense a change of mood on the other end of the phone just before she advises me that the soccer player had to go back to his country.  She offers no further explanation and I ask for none.

I have the decency to feel a little ashamed.

 In a few minutes, I will take my aging dog to the vet.  She'll have her annual check-up and I'll talk to the doctor about the weakness in her hind quarters.  At eleven o'clock, I'll present myself at the Y of which I am a new member.  I have an appointment with someone on the staff there, a "wellness" review, a free service offered to members in order to help them make the most of the facility.

I've had a long run, nearly sixty years.  I've had a lot of help along the way.  My first physical therapist, who also taught yoga, instilled in me the firm conviction that I should breathe.  The therapist in Arkansas guided me through pregnancy, figuring out how to compensate for the lack of medication which I could not take, lest I lose the one baby that I would ever have a genuine chance of birthing.  A brave young woman, a hospital therapist at St. Luke's Hospital, worked with me tirelessly through the seven weeks which I spent in the hospital after my knee replacement.  My French-Canadian, with her bright eyes and mischievous air, has taken up the baton. 

But of all of these, I owe the most to my South American soccer star, whose gentle voice and kind smile remain with me, even though I have forgotten his name.  He believed in me.  And he believed in me without asking or receiving anything in return -- which is good, because  I had nothing to give.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Saturday Musings, 13 June 2015

Good morning,

Four hours into my day, I've hauled trash down for the neighborhood Dumpster Day and spent forty-five minutes at the Y on the machines which my neuro-physical-therapist thinks could keep my legs working for another few years.  The people at the Y on Saturday have all reached the stage at which one's doctor looks over the edge of his glasses and makes that telltale sound with his tongue which could mean anything from "you've got terminal whatever" to "get off your butt, lady, you're killing yourself with inertia".

Across from me, a woman in the latter category wipes sweat from her face and raises a bar with her legs.  Her midsection speaks of bowls of chips.  I'm reminded of the handfuls of popcorn that I ate yesterday at the office -- first instead of lunch, then, after shaming myself into eating a bowl of lentils, as dessert.  I watch her lean over the edge of her seat and pant.  I lean, too -- to move the peg to a heavier setting and do ten more repetitions.

Through the window of the exercise room, I can see a boot camp class running in circles, flapping their arms, kicking their heels, rotating their shoulders.  I'm struck by the irony of it all.  Our lives have devolved to the point at which we must pay a monthly fee to have somewhere to move.  I feel my heart pound and I let the foot bar fall idle, breathing, noticing the strain through my lower legs.

A man strolls onto the floor in black work-out clothing.  From my seated position, he looks to be nearly seven feet tall.  His hair has gone grey but the muscles ripple along his arms as he stretches to prepare himself.  A serious air hangs around him.  He draws his brow tight, shakes his head, bends, stands.  He catches me watching him and holds my gaze for a few seconds, until I look somewhere else.  When I turn back, he has walked over to a weight machine and started his routine, his back toward me, the set of his shoulders signalling his resolve.

The woman across from me slumps against the back of the seat of the machine that she's been using.  From somewhere behind me, a man approaches her and they speak.  She shakes her head, closes her eyes, stops.  I see him place a hand on her arm and my heart contracts.  They stand, silent, the woman still shuttered, still with her tightly closed eyes.  Then she smiles, and he murmurs something close to her ear.  Her smile broadens and she wraps her hands around the handlebars, beginning to move again, as her husband seats himself on a weight bench nearby.

A family barrels through the front door, dashing to some activity deep in the building.  I see the people moving around me but I cannot hear them.  I move my arms -- out, in, out, in -- pushing thirty pounds of pressure.  The bootcamp folks go round and round, contorting their bodies, while their trainer runs behind them.  Her face glistens as she calls out words that do not reach me.

When I have done my forty-five minutes, I leave the building.  The door closes behind me and I stand on the sidewalk, wondering why in a building full of exertion, I did not hear a single sound -- nothing from the televisions above the steppers, nor from the pool; no shouts from the work-out room; no grunts, no music, not so much as a solitary sigh.

Then a rush of cars move past on Troost and my ears open.  Birds sing as the sun journeys from dawn to noon, brightening the morning around me.  A shudder runs through my body.  But I step off the curb and walk over to my car.  As the heavens open, as rain begins to fall, I make my way home.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Saturday Musings, 06 June 2015

Good morning,

My long day ended with a sleepless night.  I rose early, shaking fatigue from my shoulders,  pulling my robe around me.  As I stumbled downstairs, I remembered the emptiness of the coffee tin.  I let the dog out as water boiled for tea.

Out on the porch, I watch the clouds gather.  Days on end of thunderstorms broke for the twenty-four hours of the quarterly art event.  My prayers answered, the event wildly successful, my night over, I am content despite my weariness.

I think of the few real conversations I had last evening.  I spent the party stationed by the entryway, greeting each visitor, cajoling them into signing the guestbook, handing out title sheets for the work displayed in the show.  But I took a break or two and mingled; and afterwards, I dined with a handful of people and there, too, fell into real conversation.

Now I'm thinking about those exchanges, re-living them, wondering, second-guessing.  Did I say too much?  Did I ask too few questions?  I summon the faces of those with whom I talked, and strain to decipher the message in their eyes.  Did I show empathy -- or self-absorption?

And suddenly another party post-mortem comes to mind.  And I am falling, lost in a decade forty years dead, traveling home from a party with a man who squired me around in those days for reasons that I did not understand then and fathom even less from this distance.

In the gloom of the car, he asked me if I had met anyone interesting at his department Christmas party.  I thought a minute and admitted, yes, I did talk to a few people.  I studied his profile: broad cheeks, slender nose, thin lips, chiseled chin.  Wariness overcame me.   This man spent his days pursuing a combined PhD and MD at Washington University and his evenings in the living area of my studio apartment.  We had been keeping company for a few months.  I had yet to feel at ease with him.

I saw you talking to Doctor. . .He spoke the name of one of his  professors.  I reflected a moment, letting a block or two slip behind us.  I turned back towards him, suddenly wary, my heartbeat quickening.  A rush of fear gripped my innards.  But I cast aside whatever premonition held me back and admitted that the conversation had indeed occurred.

What did the two of you talk about, he asked.

I hesitated, then said, My job in Jeff City, mostly.  I summoned an image of the little professor, bow tie, tweed jacket, frizzy hair.  Kind eyes.  He asked me what it was like to talk to legislators, to travel back and forth.  He asked about grad school.  I fell silent.  I realized my conversation with the man at the party had actually been quite pleasant, the highlight of the evening.  My apprehension faded and I turned back, smiling, remembering how nice it felt to be regarded as even vaguely interesting.

Did he  happen to mention -- my friend's voice grew steely -- that he had just been awarded a Nobel prize for his scientific research?

I felt the door slam; heard the lock slide into the bolthole; shuddered as the chain slipped onto its bracket.  No, he didn't, I said.  The car slid into a parking space and the engine died.  I looked through the glass at my apartment building, its sturdy brick rising into the dark night.  Are you coming up? I asked, not sure which way I wanted his answer to go.

I don't think so, he said.  He made no move to get out of the car. He kept his hands on the steering wheel while I struggled with the door, lifted my pocketbook from the floor, buttoned my coat, stepped onto the snowy street.  He pulled away before I stepped onto the sidewalk.  I watched his car until the taillights faded.  Then I went into my apartment building and stood beneath the stairs, suddenly unsure of whether I could climb them.

Now Jessica comes onto the porch and tells me about a strange dream she had last night.  Here in the present it is not winter; there is no snow beneath my feet.  But the thunder rumbles.  Our day of respite from the rain will soon be forgotten.  And the conversations which trouble me, the words that I might regret saying, will linger only slightly longer.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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.