Saturday, September 26, 2015

Saurday Musings, 26 September 2015

Good morning,

A warning twinge often courses through my legs just before they collapse, and that happened today at 7:25 a.m., right after I put the crystal cup of yesterday's coffee in the microwave and en route to the front door to check for our boycat on the porch.  I hit the floor just west of the piano, flailing for a hand-hold, scraping a chair across the hardwood as I tried to grab its seat and missed.

I lay on the floor for several agonizing moments before I realized that I had stopped breathing.  My mouth gaped open but nothing emerged:  Not sound, not an exhaled stream of carbon dioxide, nothing.  I've broken a rib, it's going to hurt like hell but BREATHE DAMMIT BREATHE, my brain screamed but still my lungs did not heave.  Panic immobilized me.  My face started to numb; a cloudy haze rose around me and I thought, Jesus Christ Corinne, You can't die because you fell and broke a rib, breathe woman.  With a great internal lunge, I pushed my chest out and felt a cough rise, and a moment latter, I lay on my belly gagging.  Shards of something that felt like glass rip through my chest, signalling that indeed, I'd probably broken a rib but by God, I had made myself breathe.

And suddenly I whipped back in time to 1982.  On 09 February 1982, a crazy (self-described) Persian in a VW knocked me into the air, sending me catapulting three stories above the Tivoli.  I slammed down on his hood and through his windshield.   Seven weeks and a surgery later, my mother and a social worker flanked my casted body discussing whether I should be discharged to my fourth-floor apartment or a rehab unit.

Social worker:  What if there's a fire while she's still in this cast?, gesturing as though towards a piece of rotting meat.  How will she get out?  She won't be able to get down those four flights of stairs.

The rotting meat's mother:  You don't know my daughter. 

It turns out that without a court order, a social worker could not actually prevent me from leaving the hospital when medically discharged to do so.  Perhaps my youth prompted me to stubbornly insist; perhaps I'm just the kind of person that rises to a challenge; perhaps my insistence foretold a later brand by a frustrated spouse of doing whatever the hell I wanted.  Regardless -- home to the fourth-floor flat went I, the rotting meat, with only a landline and an unlocked back door to provide help if I fell.

A few days into my recovery, I hit the floor just inside of the locked French doors to my balcony.  As my crutches slammed and skidded out of reach, I found myself grateful that they hadn't shattered the glass panes.  They came to rest about ten feet from my position.  I lay panting, trying to calm myself, shifting the heavy weight of the toe-to-hip cast on my right leg and the ninety-pound body around it.

Silence gathered in the air and settled.  Somewhere in the building, a phone rang for several long minutes.  I thought about the telephone in the kitchen and the one beside my bed, twenty-five feet away -- it might as well have been on the moon.  Chance might bring a friend sauntering up the back stairs; my next scheduled visitor would come at ten in the morning.  I contemplated lying on the floor for seventeen hours and decided that I needed to figure out how to stand.

I surveyed the living room.  I had a green fake-leather recliner, two parlor chairs (badly in need of re-upholstering, I noticed), and a heavy wood coffee table that looked almost sturdy enough to bear my weight.  It would have to do.  I began inching towards it, lamenting the dust on my robe, hearing my Con-law professor's query to my mother early in my hospital stay:  Was it her good leg or her bad leg?

My mother's reply echoed in my brain as I slithered across my floor:  I didn't know she had a good leg.

She doesn't.  Nor good arms, and her torso isn't  much better.  But she's stubborn and she's determined and she's going to get off this floor.  Ten minutes later by the leering clock on the end table, she's made it to the coffee table and grasped its edges.  You'd think hauling ninety pounds and a full-length cast eighteen inches off the ground would not be difficult but it can be.  With a neurological system that inhibits the smooth cooperation of your muscles and a weakened, post-surgical state, the process defies that simple easy tug to vertical stance.  But in the end, the disposition of which a Jackson County Circuit Court judge would one day take judicial notice as being relentless prevailed, and I hauled myself to a sprawled position across the coffee table and lurched far enough forward to get momentum and throw myself backwards into the recliner.

I started laughing, then, but the laughter quickly morphed into long jagged sobs.  A wave of raw emotion washed over me.  My body quaked.  But then the quake, as all  quakes do, subsided and I lay, shuddering, trembling, panting, and eventually, still.

A half hour later, I heard a clumping on the back stairs and felt the floor quiver under a rush of motion.  Steve Hanlen and a friend roller-skated through my apartment, one holding a six-pack of beer, one holding a bag of take-out.  Round and round the living room they skated, calling my name, scolding me for not rising to meet them, settling in my spindly chairs with their wild grins flashing.

We ate; they drank beer.  Steve got me a glass of water and after we'd eaten, lifted me from the chair and helped me into the restroom.  He asked if someone would come to assist me that night.  I shrugged off his question and put my arms around him.  Thank you for this visit, Steve, I whispered.  He returned my embrace and did not speak.  Then, me settled back in my chair, rubbish for the back dumpster in hand, the two of them clambered back down the fire escape and  skated away.  .

Thirty-three years nearly to the day: I lay on my living room floor in Brookside and tried to figure out how to get myself vertical.  I could have called for Jessica; I could have slid twenty feet into the dining room to drag my cell phone from the table.  I told myself that I would do one of those things if I could not get up in ten minutes.  I had no way of knowing when my deadline came.  But years of being in this predicament helped me figure out a way to get off the floor.  I scooted over to the couch, pulled the throw pillows down to the floor, wiggled on top of one of them, and then flipped my 115 pounds over to steady my broken artificial knee on the pillow.  Thus padded, I willed my torso, now screaming from the surely-broken rib, onto the couch, and leveraged the top of my body to its cushioned surface.

From there, sitting was a cinch.  Standing, not so much, but I could smell the coffee and so, eventually, quivering, nearly crying, I got to my feet and made my way towards the nectar of gods in my purloined crystal cup in the microwave.

Out on the porch, I thought about that awful commercial -- Help, I've Fallen And I Can't Get Up.  I reflected on five pounds that I still have to lose to get to my ideal 110, and how much harder everything has become since I started gaining weight again.  I lamented the loss of my landline with its phone-in-every-room.  I drank warmed-over coffee; read the news of Mr. Boehner's resignation and the Royal's abysmal loss; and breathed.

About halfway through the comics, I decided that my rib is not broken after all.  And that I had another good story to tell.  I thought about Steve, roller-skating through my apartment on 43rd Street.  I remembered the last time we got together, just a few months ago, at the 75th Street Brewery on one of his visits north from Texas.  I wondered if I had ever told him how close he and his friend came to finding me helpless on the floor.  I whispered, outloud, there on the porch, Thank God he came! and went inside for another cup of yesterday's Joe.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Saturday Musings, 19 September 2015

Good morning,

Something pulled my mind back to St. Louis, to the middle chunk of the 1970s when I stumbled around the campus of St. Louis University pretending to be self-assured.  Whether my throwback resulted from the disturbing   news that a friend from that time died eight months ago without my having known, or from my recent trip to Stanford with its mixed bag of predictions, I cannot say.  But here I sit:  the small needlepoint cushion of my chair hard beneath me, the lovely bones of the secretary rising above me, but my focus blurred, my mind pulled away.

It's 1976; September.  The colorless room around me holds folding tables, metal chairs, posters, piles of pamphlets.  I'm not on the Student Council but I'm in its office.  The Student Body President, Jim Foster, has recruited me and others to work on one of his projects.  I'm not there because of any passion about the subject.  I'm a hanger-on.  I'm the skinny girl with the mass of brown hair chunked around her face and the awkward clothes.  I'm the senior who has not done much for herself: mediocre-plus grades not good enough for honors but not terrible; non-speaking parts in drama productions, during one of which I had to be rushed to the hospital because of a nearly-fatal spider bite; the girl who will always drive, who never has a date, who walks across campus with her head down to avoid the stares.

That girl.

Donna Pilla sprawls on the table-top of a student desk beside me.  We've known each other for a while; we went to the same high school.  I like her but am secretly jealous.  She holds her body in an easy way, assured, confident.  No task confounds her; no male's presence flusters her.  She has bone-straight hair, dark like mine but streaked with natural highlights.  She flips her bangs back in ways that I can never emulate.  

We're talking about the future.  Our graduation date looms -- spring 1977, although in the end, I will bolt a semester early.  But I have not yet elected early-graduation.   Right now we're talking about what we'll do after we have our degrees.  I have few options.  I derailed a special education teaching career by dropping the requisite Ed. courses.  By sheer virtue of accumulation, I have managed to cobble together a major in Psychology with a minor in Political Science though the school does not actually recognize minors.  If I stayed through May, I could switch majors to Philosophy because I had a crush on a professor in that department and exceeded the required three courses.  I took eight, getting an A in every one.  Two more would put me in major-range.

But I want out.  I've had enough of the booze, the parties, and the pretending.  Panic rises every time I wake, competing with my hang-overs to cripple me.  I cling to the edge of the precipice not knowing why I have not yet hurled myself over.

Donna stretches her legs over the back of the desk and lifts her arms above her head, rolling her shoulders.  I sit in another desk, straight-backed, rigid.  "I think we might be early," she says.  Then she looks at me.  "So, you applying to grad school?"

I shrug.  I don't admit that I haven't thought about my career.  Her eyes stay on my face.  "I see you as a writer," she tells me.  "I see you years from now, in an apartment in New York, in bed, a typewriter on your lap, writing stories and poetry.  You won't be able to walk but it won't matter.  Your writing will be famous and everybody will want to know you."

She slides off the desk and wanders around the room, moving a book, fiddling with a shade at the window, stacking a pile of brochures that had slid onto the floor.  She shakes her clothes on her body in an easy movement, settling them back into their casual drape.  I do not speak; I do not move.  I do not betray myself by letting my tears fall.

"I've always seen you like that," she continues.  "Maybe I'm a romantic."  She laughs while I fight the rise of bile.  I force myself to meet her gaze, hold my eyes steady, wait for more.  But just then, the door bursts open and a small crowd comes through: Jim and his friends, out of class, ready to get started, loud, laughing.  And Donna turns away.

I go into the bathroom and vomit for fifteen minutes.  I don't come out until cold water has restored whatever composure I carried into the place.  I use water from the sink's meager flow to smooth the veil of hair that shelters me.  I hold my wrists under the faucet until my pulse throbs.  When I finally come out, Donna and the gaggle of guys have gone; only Jim Foster remains.  

"There you are," he remarks.  "We thought you left.  We saved you a list of places to take these pamphlets."  He holds out a stack surrounded by a rubber band.  I take the bundle and the assignment sheet, and turn to go.  Jim calls my name, and I halt but do not look back.  

"You okay?" he asks.  I have no answer.  

Nearly four decades have slipped away since that September.  I don't know where any of the people whom I knew then live -- St. Louis, I imagine.  Jim went to law school; I don't know about Donna.  I left that place in December 1976 and began my journey to here, to now.  Donna got it wrong.  I can still walk and nobody wants to know me.  Few people read what I write.  And I don't own a typewriter.

But I'm still that girl.  In the cold of the autumn morning, with my doors opened wide to let the air find its way through the house so I can breathe, I sense her in every fiber of my being: that girl who joined committees looking for meaning; the girl who fled a pre-teaching session because she could not bear the site of all the handicapped children; the girl who tried to act, to volunteer, to lose herself in sex and alcohol and the loud music in the summer quad.

The girl who found herself bent over a bathroom sink retching from fear that she had no greater fate than loneliness.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

 To those of you who have read this far:

I make no apology; not for what I am, nor for what I have been. 
 I make no apology for telling the story of who I was then 
and who I am now.  
I speak so that others will understand --  
understand the face in the mirror or the face at the window.  
I speak so the man on the platform 
might hope to understand
 the glimpse of the passenger whose forehead 
touches the glass on the train, 
as it trundles by in the night. 
 I speak for those who cannot bear to open their mouths 
and can only stand silent. 
 I speak for you.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
One Conversation Can Save a Life.
In Memory:
25 December 1959 - 14 June 1997

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Saturday Musings, 12 September 2015

Good morning,

My bones ache and my joints have swollen, but we have only a few hours of prep work left before the benefit for SAFEHOME and Rose Brooks Center which is being held at my professional suite tonight.  As I sit waiting for yet another generous soul to drop off her auction item contribution at my house, I contemplate the blessings that have come  my way this week.  Though my neck groans when I move; and the ringing in my ears has risen to a crashing crescendo over and over, never dulling to less than a roar; still, the week on balance has been good.

With eyes closed, I sit, thinking of other weeks that did not end with this pleasant feeling, this warmth, with the small smile that never leaves my face.  I listen to the birds twittering on the branches hanging near the porch, the song of morning drifting through my home.  I let myself drift, thinking of days which linger dimly in memory, faded photographs at the bottom of a box.  Days of which I rarely speak; days that I understand shaped the woman whom I became, my quivering nerves, the way I hold my body tight within itself when tempers rise.  I speak of the form that those days molded but not the days themselves.

Yesterday's home visit to two children whom I am appointed to represent brought the edges of my past closer to the forefront.  The nine-year-old sat nearly rigid in her chair, seemingly all right with my gentle questioning but answering in terse tones, disavowing memory of events just a month or two ago.  She let her smile shine when talking of school, of cheerleading, of her Nona; but one eye drifted towards the front door when asked about arguments. I sensed the iron hand of her mother's coaching.

Not so the five-year-old, whom no one expected me to interview.  She slid her thin form into the dining room chair and shook her dark blonde curls.  I asked her if she knew why I was there.  She shook her head.  I told her my job was to protect children.  Her face lit; she broadened her smile, and told me, Oh, that's really nice of you!  I felt a little bit ashamed.

This little one had not been told anything about my visit.  On account of this, I think, she did not know to withhold information.  She freely described a day when her mother kicked a hole in the front door.  But one good thing about that! she chortled, brightly.  See how pretty our new door is?  Do you have such a pretty door?  I admitted that I did not.  I said that my door knob did not look so bright as hers.  She thought a moment and said, You could take a baby wipe and clean it.  I promised that I would.

I asked her if she had seen any other fights.  Her eyes widened and she acknowledged that her parents fight all the time. She said, One time in the car, Dad yelled at Mom and Mom hit him like this -- gesturing, her hands flailing rapidly -- Except not in the air, she hit him on his back!  She turned back towards me.  I asked her how she had felt when that happened.  I felt sad, she replied, and the sorrow overtook her face.  I felt sad, too, for a moment; sad for her, sad for all the children, sad for myself.

I asked her who she trusted to keep her safe and she told me three names, including neither of her parents.  She told me she had trusted her dog, but he died; and now they have a new dog.  We talked for a while more, and never in the minutes we spent together did this little thing show any hesitance to share with me.  I got the flavor of her mother's relationship with the man who did not in fact father these two girls but did father the child whom the woman carries.  They operated in chaos, not yet full-blown abuse, not yet the state where children lie quivering in the dark, in their top bunkbed, imagining their world as a fat yellow crayon drawing concentric circles until the child inside has been trapped by the dirty grey wax.

All that's left is to see if I can orchestrate a diversion on the road that I see this family taking.

This evening, those who attend the benefit at Suite 100 will help raise funds to support two area programs that work with survivors of domestic violence.  That term, "DV" as those in the business call it, did not exist during my childhood.   But when I first worked as the assistant to the Legal Services lobbyist in Jefferson City, helping pass the Adult Abuse Remedies Act which gave Missouri its civil orders of protection, we knew the phenomenon even if it did not yet have its fancy title.  We carried copies of Scream Quietly or the Neighbors Will Hear by Erin Pizzey, a collection of letters from victims of abuse, fresh off the press, raw, telling.  Armed with statistics from the fledgling corps of abuse professionals, we knocked on capitol door after capitol door.  We tried to explain why the bill was needed, why those enmired in family violence deserved their vote, how it could be acceptable "to exclude a man from his home".  At the end of each day, the lawyers from LAWMO in Kansas City and LSEMO in St. Louis, along with my boss, volunteers from mid-Missouri, and I, dropped exhausted in the offices of the state representatives and senators who backed our effort.

That bill took three years to pass.  By the last vote, I had already enrolled in law school.  I did not get to attend the final session in which the General Assembly narrowly approved the legislation.  But for the next 35 years, I would see the statute evolve:  Its early survival of a constitutional challenge; the women killed after being denied a protective order; the ones killed with the granted order clutched in their hands.  I've heard all the criticisms of these orders of protection:  It's just a piece of paper, it cannot protect anyone from a bullet, chief among them.

And that's absolutely right.  The only thing that can protect those still caught in the cycle of domestic violence is society's support for their efforts to escape, for the dreams they have of being something other than a victim -- of being a success story on their own terms; of surviving, of thriving, of making a new and peaceful life for themselves and their children.

If someone reading this has the evening free, please join us at the BEER & BBQ benefit this evening, 4010 Washington, Suite 100, Kansas City, Missouri, 7pm to 10pm.  Bring your spare change and checkbooks to donate to help fund SAFEHOME (Kansas) and Rose Brooks Center (Missouri).  If you cannot come, due to other obligations or distance, please donate to one of these shelters or a shelter in your town.  If you cannot donate, consider volunteering.  And if you, or someone whom you know, live each day with the terror of violence in your home, please:  Reach out.  Call a shelter in your town or the national hotline: 1-800-799-7233.  There is no shame in needing help; and there might be salvation.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

In her most compelling role, Farrah Fawcett played the role of Francine Hughes, who lit on fire the bed in which her abuser slept and went to trial for his murder.  This movie and Ms. Hughes' story changed the way society views domestic violence.  In my childhood, an abuser got little attention and less punishment.  Hitting your child or wife qualified only as a misdemeanor, and police could not arrest without a warrant unless they saw the act occur.  No other protection existed.  No social workers came to the house to check on the children, let alone remove them, just because they came to school sleepless from roaming the streets all night waiting for their abusive parent to pass out; no teacher called anyone if a child showed bruises or signs of emotional distress.  
Thank God, times have changed, though not yet enough.  We have far to go; and we must go there hand-in-hand if we want to succeed.  
For statistics on domestic violence and more information about getting or giving help, please visit the website of the National Coalition Against Domestic violence, HERE.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Saturday Musings, 05 September 2015

Good morning,

What an astonishing world!  I awakened this morning to a Facebook message of birthday greetings from a man who once managed my IRS installment plan and, now retired, has befriended me in the virtual world.  When I opened the browser on my laptop to write this blog, the Google doodle for today commemorated my birthday and took me to my own Google profile (which I promptly edited!).

On a whim, my friend Jessica and I have come west to Denver for the Labor Day weekend.  We're ensconced in a room found on Airbnb, a virtual room-renting directory which provides connections that would not be available but for the Internet.  This one has not been a rousing success, being slightly less commodious than the listing description portrayed.  But it has a Keurig and free wi-fi.  It's a learning experience.

Our first glimpse of the Rockies from the highway made us giddy.  Jessica took pictures with her "real" camera and a grainy shot through a dirty windshield with my phone.  Today we will drive to a park so she can bike with a friend, and I will continue to Westminster to have lunch with my stepdaughter Tshandra and meet her husband, Sean, and my fairy granddaughter, their six-year-old Grace.  The mountains provide a backdrop to one of the most idyllic birthdays I could have imagined, at this age, at this stage, given everything that has unfolded in the last year.

It's no secret that I did not expect to be alive at sixty.  That I am still astonishes me.  Though I've famously bragged that I promised to live to be 103 and intend to do so, in truth when a doctor gave me six months to live, seventeen years ago, I believed him.  I've been told there is no medical reason that I'm still walking; one doctor shakes his head every time he sees me and calls me a marvel.  Every lab test finds a new active virus; I've reached the point where I don't want to see the reports -- just tell me what I have to do to keep trucking.  Or plodding -- I'm content with that.

I still wear the blessings bracelet that my friend Jane gave me, and which I cast aside last year when my world fell apart.  I reclaimed it this spring and intend to honor its calling every day.  Today, my blessings can barely be named in all the whitespace that this blog post has to offer:  A son who checks on me daily and still asks my opinion yet has grown wise enough that I usually rely on his; a vocation which brings me extraordinary satisfaction even though it also affords me the occasional ulcer attack; a comfortable home, quaintly appointed, on a street where people know my name; health insurance (though expensive, it has broadly covered so much that I can't believe the company nets any profit on me!); the shared sons and daughters whom I hold in  my heart, even the ones whom I do not see; and friends -- an amazing number of friends, without whom I do not think I would have survived the last eighteen months.

I have two blogs in which I record different types of meanderings.  The "Saturday Musings" typically recount stories of events which I have experienced or observed.  "My Year Without Complaining" chronicles my attempt to foreswear moaning and seek a joyful life.  Today the two here merge, and I hope those who read this will tolerate some self-indulgence.  It's my birthday -- may I be forgiven a little sentiment?  I hope so; I hope so.  And thank you for it.

As you wander through your Labor Day Weekend, I urge you -- each of you, all of you -- to count your own blessings.  You don't need a string of beads on silver to do so.  Cast your eyes around you.  Even if you don't have that which you think you want, I feel certain you will find many people around you for whom to be thankful; circumstances that provide some measure of pleasure or fulfillment; comforts which cradle you in your most weary times.  I hope you will be thankful for all of these, especially the loving faces of your partners, children, and compatriots.

I offer you one of my favorite quotes, taken from The Little Prince, by Antoine d' St. Exupery:  It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.  What is essential is invisible to the eye.

My birthday wish for each of you, on this, the sixtieth anniversary of my entrance into this world, is that you will see with your hearts and fully appreciate the wonders of your world -- as I have done, though perhaps too little, perhaps too late.  I am immensely grateful for everyone that has come into my life, including those who have exited.  The fabric that I call myself has been enriched by each and every thread woven into it.  I would not wish away any piece of what I've been and done.  I'll take it all, from the pain to the pure; from the frightening to the fabulous.  It's all connected, it's all glorious, it's all my life.  While the benefit of backwards gazing gives me pause to reconsider some of my choices, still, when I sit in the quiet of my birthday morning, I feel nothing but immense gratitude.

Here, in this space, in this place of thankfulness, I intend to dwell for each and every day that presents itself.  I hope you can do likewise.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

The sneaky Ms. Jessica Genzer left this on the counter last night for me to find this morning.

The Missouri Mugwump™

My photo
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.