The sky sheds tears today, whether of joy or sorrow I cannot discern. I stand on the porch and watch my flowers shudder, raise their stalks and stretch into the nourishment. I go back into the house and get the coffee which I have warmed in the microwave. I leave the front door open so the breeze will stir the cobwebs and disspell the stale air.
I did a home visit yesterday to a young man who shares two children with the wife from whom he is divorcing. The children, age 3 and 2, clung to their father through most of the visit, occasionally drifting to their grandmother or me. The older child, a girl, does not walk or talk due to a chromosomal abnormality. She weighs only eighteen pounds. Her prospects have not yet been determined. Surgeries await her, far beyond even my imagination. She peered at me with luminous eyes, and when I spoke her name, she reached for me, climbing onto my lap, clinging to my long hair. Her father said, Watch out, she's stronger than she looks, she'll pull your hair hard, but I did not mind. She nestled into the crook of my neck and against my chest, gazing at my face. Her mouth curled into a cupid's bow.
My mother told me that my older brothers pulled me on a cart through the hallways of the hospital before my own first surgery. My right knee, grossly swollen, could not bear even my slight weight. I don't remember this. But I do remember being made an honorary member of the Club of Children Who Eat Dessert First by my father, after some doctor told them that I had to gain weight. Calories are calories, they told him. Decades later, when my dear mother-in-law wanted only ice cream, I told my favorite curmudgeon the same thing. Give her ice cream, Jay, I would say. Calories are calories. And he did.
Just as my father had.
When I saw this little girl, my gut tightened and I flashed to the judge who had appointed me as her guardian ad litem. I think I know why I got chosen. He knows I'll do right by this child.
I drove from that child's home to my Liberty office thinking about a piece of pie my father served me one time. While my siblings ate tough, cold calves' liver, I nibbled the edges of my mother's flaky crust, letting the juices of the filling soak into each tender bite. I sat to my father's left, on the girls' side of the table. Some nights, my father raged, lashing out at elbows with the flat side of his table knife, sending one or the other of us downstairs with our plates to eat in the old coal room. He took table manners seriously, did Richard Corley; and he took back-talk even less well. Until my mother had the walls of that old coal room scrubbed clean and taken down to make way for modern heating, any child disobeying the meal time rules would spend some scary moments standing at the doorway listening for my father's tread on the basement stairs.
But that pie set before me by my father, how I savored it. I ran the tip of my tongue over each tine of the fork, then took another minute segment of the wedge into my mouth while my brothers watched. The onions on their plates congealed and our father scolded them for lingering. Finally, I took the last bite and set my fork down on the plate, grinning around the room, meeting my mother's eyes. She shook her head and my throat clenched. Then she stood and told my brothers to clear the table; and she brought everyone dessert.
My father served a second piece for me.
One day early in my first year of law school, one of my classmates hollered at me to wait for her as I got on the elevator. Students were usually required to take the stairs. The elevator worked with a key, and only faculty got one. But an exception had been made for me.
As this woman followed me onto the elevator, she said, I wish I had a key to this thing, you're lucky, Corinne. I faced her as we rode to the top floor. I'll make you a deal, Deborah, I snapped. You can have my key, if you take everything that goes with it.
She asked what I meant.
You've got to take the pain, the open stares, the leg cramps, the feeling of being different in a weird and awkward way, different in a way that you can never overcome. You've got to take the nasty remarks of men, the laughter when you fall, the uneasy glances of people skirting around you in the hallway. I stopped. My chest had tightened. My face felt flush. The small space held the heavy burden of my resentful words.
The woman turned away from me, staring at the door, no doubt praying for it to open. Well gosh, Corinne, I just meant I wanted to be able to use the elevator, you don't have to get all shitty on me, she said. When the door slid back, she bolted. I let her go while I tried to calm my breathing. I waited until I felt sure she had darted into her classroom, then slowly made my way down the corridor, dragging my sad right foot, the weight of my bookbag banging against my other side.
I hear the rain falling on my deck, hear the rumble of thunder and the whisper of wind. I close my eyes as the storm overtakes my city, and lightening splits the sky.
Saturday, July 18, 2015
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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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