Monthly Archives: August 2014

My Sunday, postscript

I read a story in the Newton County (AR) Times once which described a local personage as having stepped into a depression, about which I have previously written.  I envisioned the individual sitting morosely at the local coffee shop, his head  sunk down on his open palms, until I read the rest of the article and discovered that he had been walking in a pasture and twisted his ankle.

For a long time thereafter, we referred to a sad day as one in which we stepped into a depression.  Not to make light of real depression, of course; just to make light of a difficult experience, momentary, fleeting, and manageable.

Today, I realized that I had stepped into a depression and that I had begun to sink into the muck of the quick sand in its recesses.  I snatched my pocketbook and tablet and raced out to the car, desperate for distraction.  Heading north on Holmes, I turned west on 59th, thinking of frozen yogurt and good air conditioning, two solaces that aren’t too fattening or unrealistic.

And there, at the intersection of what-ifs and what-is, I saw Logan, the five-year-old who charmed me at the Public Library yesterday, walking with his mother.  She could only have been his mother, with her olive skin, black pony tail, and sturdy legs.  I let them cross, then rolled down the window and said, “Hello, Logan!”

His mother turned, and Logan did as well.  A smile dawned across his face but confusion overtook hers.  One does not expect one’s pre-K child to have adult friends unknown to you.  I hastened to explain that I had met Logan with his grandmother.  Then she smiled, too, and Logan said, “You saw me again!” which I had promised him I would.  “I’m Monica,” said his Venezuelan mother.  “Corinne,” I told her, and then the car behind me honked.  “Goodbye, Logan!” I called.  “Have a nice walk with your mother!”  Logan beamed, and waved; and I waved back.  I could see the edges of the depression into which I had stepped falling beneath  me as I lifted myself and continued on, to the frozen yogurt and my writing project.  My heart filed with joy, though I felt tears flow down my cheeks which I could not explain.


My Sunday so far

I awakened before my phone alarm rang and thought about the evening’s activities that brought me home too late for eight hours of sleep but feeling rejuvenated.  My friends Ellen and Jerry had orchestrated my joining them at a blues lounge to hear other friends perform. This was no easy task, since I can’t drive at night and they live 30 miles or more north of the club while I live 20 miles south of it.  We rendezvoused, and Ellen drove my vehicle back to my  house at midnight with Jerry behind in his truck.  Hugs all around, and five minutes later, I fell asleep, knowing that their friendship still cloaked me like soft cashmere on a winter’s night.

At nine this morning, I called Jabez MacLaughlin, my father-in-law and favorite curmudgeon.  He reported feeling well enough for an outing and I scurried around, showering, dressing, and heading out to the car with a Dustbuster and a trashbag to make my old vehicle presentable for transport of an honored guest.

We got him, his jacket and his walker in the Saturn and made the short drive to Murray’s Tables & Taps, which serves a classic breakfast befitting of a classic man.  We spent a pleasant ninety minutes drinking coffee and eating eggs prepared exactly to order.  He threw all caution to the wind and spread jam on his toast.  What use cancer if you can’t put aside nutrition once in a while and just enjoy yourself?  I say, go for it; have ice cream for breakfast if you want, and Jay agrees.  While we were on the subject of indulgence, we agreed that I would bring  a healthy ration of his favorite Laura Little fudge (Penuche, in case you’re visiting) when I come next time.

I took him home, chatting all the while about how he’d like to frame a photo of his wife, the type of frame, the layout.  We agree on the suitableness of his choices — I would agree with Jay on just about anything, now, but I don’t have to lie as his taste is impeccable, as usual.  We kiss at the door to his kitchen and I remind him to close the garage door.  Then, by a miracle, my cantankerous ignition flares on command and I head to get the flowers for Joanna’s resting place and on to the cemetery.

While I’m there, cleaning the debris from the last arrangement and applying a little of what my mother would call ‘spit polish’ to the headstone, I lose my car key.  I look in vain, after arranging the roses and taking a photograph.  I’m laughing as I search.  I’ve delivered Jay’s special message to Joanna and talked with her a bit, and I’m reasonably sure that she’s got my key.  She wants me to linger.  “Okay, Joanna.  What is it?  An accident that might otherwise involve me, if I didn’t tarry?”  I’m not surprised that she keeps her own counsel.  I picture her lifting her eyebrows a bit, rolling her eyes upward and slightly to the side as though to say, “Maybe.  Maybe.  Who knows?”  After ten minutes, I see my key, sitting on the ground a foot or so from her headstone, where I swear it had not been just seconds before I found it.  I touch her resting place and thank her, for whatever calamity she’s spared me.

I drive home, then, thinking that as soon as I am there, I will start my housework.  But when I get to the house, the impatiens which I just watered this morning look wilted and I know that I’ve got to water them again.  I feel my mouth curl a bit in annoyance,  as I turn off the alarm and enter the house. I’ve not left the air conditioning running, so I close the front door firmly behind me against the day’s heat while I go and fill the water bucket.

I’m halfway across the dining room, balancing the full can, when I hear the alarm panel talk to me:  “Front door is open.”  It does that, my alarm system — it tells you when a protected zone has been breached.  I stand stock still, replaying in my mind the resounding “thud” that I had heard when I entered the house and closed that door.  Someone had followed me; the only question remaining centered around that person’s intent.

I stepped forward and peered around the archway of the dining room just as a little breeze rose outside.  A shower of flower petals from the porch plants wafted through the doorway, which otherwise held no one and nothing.  At least, no one and nothing visible to the human eye.

After a few minutes, I felt the tension in my shoulders relax, and I continued with my task, secure in the knowledge that Joanna had just sent her love to me with a gesture which she knew that I would certainly recognize as coming from her.

Joanna's resting place, this  Sunday, 31 August 2014.

Joanna’s resting place, this Sunday, 31 August 2014.


I sat at a table in the lobby of the Plaza branch of the KC Library with the intention of creating an Excel spreadsheet of my sad medical history to send to the gods of Infectious Disease at the Mayo Clinic.  I dallied, watching people come through the door.  A curious pair caught my attention.  The grandmother barely hoisted a large re-usable grocery bag filled with books.  The little boy wore a small Spider Man backpack.  And together they eyed the empty chairs at my table.

I gestured.  They did not hesitate.  It developed that the boy, Logan, lives a few doors down from a good friend of mine, and not far from my own house.  Within a few minutes, my hands fell idle as Logan told me about the books he had read and which they would now return; his favorite Super Heroes (Batman and Spider Man), and a bike trip that he’d taken with his parents in which sometimes he sat in the back of his father’s bike, and sometimes he didn’t, when he was too tired.  I gathered a side-car had been involved in the adventure.  They stayed the night somewhere exciting.

After he had consumed his yogurt and started on his peanut-butter-and-graham-cracker sandwich, he asked his grandmother if they would be getting new books soon.  His grandmother stood and asked if I would watch Logan for a few minutes while she returned the sack of books.  I wasn’t sure how Logan’s parents would feel about such an arrangement with a virtual stranger but knowing myself to be trustworthy, I assured her that I would not mind.

Logan continued to chatter but kept his eyes fixed on his Nona, who returned the books and then headed for the ladies’ room.  I saw him lift a bit, off his chair, as though to try to discern her whereabouts through the half-wall blocking his view.  Suddenly, his attention swiveled to the front doors and he exclaimed, “That looks like Jonah!!”  And sure enough it was: A school chum and his mother, who looked quizzically at me and said to Logan, “Who are you here with?”  I answered for him:  “He’s with his grandmother; she’s returning some books.”  I could see her skepticism.  I did not blame her.

They reluctantly left Logan to this strange middle-aged lady whom they did not recognize, and Logan began to tell me all the names of Jonah and his mother, his mother and father, and other people in his life.  When he identified one as “Angela”, I told him that I had a cousin named Angela and possibly a niece, though I get those second-cousins once removed a bit confused.  “What is a niece?” said Logan, and I began to wade through that configuration about the time his grandmother returned, and they packed Logan’s little bag to go off to the children’s section.

I turned back to my dreary task, wondering what books Logan would select, and remembering another five-year-old, long ago, who had a Spider Man backpack of his own.  But no grandmother.

Yossarian’s dilemma

Yossarian posses a dilemma for the medical staff in Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22″…  He lingers in the hospital, not getting well enough to discharge, not worsening sufficiently to cure or expire.  This foreshadows the dilemma   of the dead man in Yossarian’s tent (he never reported and died before he could officially be counted as having arrived, so his things cannot be moved) and that grandest of dilemmas, Catch 22.  Catch 22 goes like this:  Fliers can only be grounded for being crazy; crazy people don’t want to get grounded; the battle-weary fliers who ask to be grounded are obviously sane or they would not make such a request and therefore, they cannot be grounded.

That’s some Catch, that Catch 22.  The best there is.

When I last applied to be a patient at the Mayo Clinic, they  rejected me at the outset, sending me a letter essentially stating that I was too sick to treat.  The rejection advised me that they only accept patients whom they they can help, and my neurological state defies improvement.

So, I was too sick to justify treating me; but if I were not that sick, why would I ask such an august facility as the Mayo Clinic to help me?  Ah.  Catch 22.

But now,  I’m in a much better position.  I’m just sick enough  with my reactivated virus to pose a challenge, but not so far gone as to prompt instant rejection.  They asked to talk to my doctor, and thereafter, to see  my records.  I’m faxing releases and hoping for the best.  I might have found my way around my own personal Catch 22.  It took a bit of poking at the parameters of Yossarian’s dilemma, but that’s okay.  If it gets the job done, I’ll  happy.


What is it, then: a lie or a dream?

Here’s another paint color story.

When my sister Joyce got married, I moved into the front bedroom of our house alone, the first time I had a bedroom to myself in our small, overly-populated home.  She helped me decide on paint colors, and we told our mother that I wanted a pale yellow, the same shade as a particular green bench in our house — only yellow.

My mother bought the paint and started the painting while I was at school one day; in retrospect, I assume she must have taken a day off of work to do so.  When I got home, the transformation had nearly been finished, and my room now gleamed in pale blue.

“You couldn’t find yellow?” I asked my mother.  She looked down at me from the ladder on which she stood.

“The name of the paint was ‘cornflower’,” she replied.  “I didn’t realize that cornflowers are blue.”

It was a pretty color, nonetheless, and as blue has always been my favorite color, I had no objection to it.  I slept in that blue room for the next four or five years.

A lifetime later, when my mother lay in a rented hospital bed in the middle bedroom of that same house, dying, I entertained her with a lively   rendition of that story. If she had ever recalled that event, she no longer did, and found it amusing.  We shared a laugh about the folly of her younger self.  After a few minutes, she sobered, turned to me, and said, “Sometimes you think you’re getting one thing, and it turns out, you’re mistaken.”

She closed her eyes and fell silent.

We sat together within her silence.  I don’t know what went through my mother’s mind.  As for myself, I thought about awakening, and how it feels to realize that everything you believed might be a lie.

Or a dream, that still has a chance of coming true.

Sunny side of the street

My living and dining rooms now sport a pale yellow color.  I expected cream but being a fan of Edward Albee’s “American Dream”, I understand that wheat is beige and beige is tan.  This definitely says lemon drops to me, a sweet kiss of sunshine edged in shiny white enamel.

The hallway and bathroom will be the color of the thin spring grass that sprouted above the leaky water line in my childhood backyard.  I recognized the color as soon as I saw the cut-in, arriving home from work today.  The large mirror that has hung on the dining room wall for many years presently sits on the dining room table  Hopefully, the painter will re-hang it tomorrow.  The pictures have been carefully returned to their hooks in the living room wall; as has the Hmong piece and all of the knick-knacks, each of which has a story that I could tell you, if you let me.

i have never been a big fan of yellow.  But I like the freshness of what I see, the clean surfaces, the bounce of light off the pale hue.  As I sit on the couch, noticing that the room seems somehow fresher, I reflect back on a difficult week and hope for a better tomorrow.  Perhaps I’ll take a cue from the painter’s pallet and stroll down  the sunny side of the street.

P1000213 (2)

Hmong piece. My flash makes the wall look more pale than it actually is, as shown in the next photo, which was taken with my laptop’s camera.

The Queen in Yellow.

The Queen in Yellow.



Nothing much happened yesterday; and in a way, everything happened.  The day held moments of calm and quiet; moments of joy; and moments when some of my saddest thoughts besieged me.  I spent two hours with my favorite curmudgeon, which made the whole day worthwhile, made every other bad thing bearable.

It’s another day, another chance to follow my grandmother’s advice and put my best foot forward.  I still don’t know which one is my best foot.  I’d ask her and she’d just smile.  And now the metaphor has become hopelessly entwined in a scene from the days after my car accident.

One of my professors asked me if it was my good leg or my bad leg. My mother, sitting beside my hospital bed, laughed.  “I didn’t know she had a good leg,” said my mother.  Indeed.  But that same mother scoffed at the social worker who didn’t want to agree to my discharge to a fourth floor apartment in which I lived alone.

“What if there was a fire,” the worker worried.  “How will she get out, being unable to walk?”  My mother laughed again, the same sound.

“You don’t know my daughter,” she assured the woman.  “She’ll get out.  Believe me, she’ll get out.  She’s got strong survival instincts.”

God, I pray each day, I hope my mother was right.

Peaks and valleys

I’m sitting at Aixois, over coffee and my computer, trying to tear myself away from the cool summer morning and the rustle of the wind in the trees.  I haven’t succeeded in doing much of anything today, except getting out of the house and having a pleasant conversation with my dog’s vet, who sits at the next table reading about Iceland.  She and her husband leave for their tenth anniversary gift to themselves on Sunday and she’s cramming for the journey.  I’m jealous but don’t say so; I’ve never even had a passport and don’t expect to ever need one.

I marvel at the perfect formation of the tree in front of me, which has been pruned beyond recognition.  The other trees seem more joyful, wild and daring, dancing in the breeze.  The one which has been pruned does not move, not so much as a quiver.  I’m sure that’s a metaphor for something.

The waitress brings another cup of coffee along with a radiant smile.  I notice she has a slight limp, but carries herself like a queen.  I feel another pang of something sadly close to envy and pull myself together, just in time to see a woman saunter around the corner in a dress that would make Jackie O cry, and tall platform shoes.  She’s swirled her hair into a grand chignon and carries a small leather clutch.  Oh, Crestwood, Crestwood, you have such wonderful residents!  And they all eat breakfast at Aixois, on Wednesday, with the light air buffeting the stretching, messy, cheerful trees but skirting around the one which someone has bent to their obsessive will.

I gather my things, finally convincing myself that I need to go to the office.  I’m feeling uplifted today.  I’ve spent my time staggering around the depths of tragedy, and I’m on the uphill side of the week.  Peaks and valleys await me.  I’m shopping for sturdier shoes and a stout walking stick.

Hi, I’m Corinne; and I’m a recovering victim.

Everybody say it with me:  Hi, Corinne!

Of what am I a victim, and how have I entered recovery?  Ah, these are very good questions.  I wish I had some sweet little stories to tell you, that I could describe prosaically, charming you, my readers, my friends, my supporters.

Not so.

My father was an alcoholic who was a mean drunk.  I got it less than my siblings, true enough; for two reasons, I think.  First, I was not a strong child, and I think everyone pampered me because of my early illness.  Second, my dad had a soft spot for me, so he treated me somewhat differently than the other kids.

But we all got it, to a greater or lesser degree, and we all witnessed it, including many terrible, awful events that don’t bear reducing to print here.

And so, I’ve mentioned, also, one situation that contributed to my status as victim — that early illness, at age eighteen months.  My sister suffered what presumably stemmed from the same source, though she has not undergone the testing that identified my early illness as a viral encephalitis, the culprit being, we now know, the HHV-6 virus.  The virus  damaged my CNS, which resulted in spasticity in my legs, to a lesser extent in my arms, and a very slight and manageable speech delay.

In high school, I also experienced a further insult:  Abuse by a Catholic priest.  I successfully pursued a claim against the Diocese in the mid-1990s. At that time, I was the only survivor of clergy abuse to negotiate a settlement with no requirement that I keep confidential the perpetrator’s name, details about the events, or the principal settlement terms.  (There were only two terms which we protected.  Although those terms related to his ‘punishment’, it was I who said they should be sealed.)  A few years later, I testified before a committee trying to decide whether he should be allowed back into parish service.  The ignorance and patronizing attitude of the committee further damaged me — a feeling shared by others there to testify on the same day, albeit about other perpetrators.  I conversed with several who experienced the feeling of degradation that the committee’s attitude triggered in me.

Through my college and graduate school decade, I immersed myself in encounters of a rankly self-destructive nature.  Abusive men, alcohol, superficial and demeaning friendships — I gathered these around me like a coat of armor, or a hair shirt. My wild and terrible life both punished me for my unworthiness and protected me from facing my fears. My dark decade left deep, festering wounds and disfiguring emotional scars.

I continued in this vein, struggling through my thirties and forties, failing at business, marriage, and in general, inviting a cloud of malaise which continued to hide my quiet desperation.  In 1998, when I started menopause, that dang virus awakened and began ravaging me.  I clung to the seesaw, brave one minute, wildly resentful the next.  My personality soured; I threw myself into lawyering and gave my compassion to my clients and my child, not succeeding at much else, hoping that whatever happened to me, the work that I did and the young man whom I reared would be my legacy.

Through all of these experiences, I found some fabulous people.  I’ve written of them here and in my Musings:  People who love me, people who help me, people who stand by me.  I won’t call their names, lest I forget one.  The people whom I love mean everything to me.

But for fifty-eight, no, fifty-nine years, I’ve gravitated to victimhood in every final analysis.  I hear the nauseating whine in my voice:  “How can you do this to me?  Why is this happening to me?”  This orientation of suffering stains my life and pulls me down, dismissing the feelings of others and any consideration of their wants and needs.

I’m here, now, though.  This quest not to complain invokes a greater desire — the desire to become a recovering and, ultimately, a recovered victim.  I am not saying that I don’t genuinely experience the lash of the universe, nor the loss of control and the true pain of suffering.  Nor am I implying that I suddenly surpass others in my ability to respond with virtue or selflessness.  Not so, not so. Nor do I suggest that asking for help implies victimhood; everyone needs help from time to time.

I just want to stop looking at everything and everyone as persecuting me.    I don’t want to wallow in a desperate feeling of being attacked any more.  I just want to live every day of my life with the simple understanding that some things will go the way I want them to go, and some things will not.  When I face events that threaten to derail my dreams, I want to acknowledge the situation without grousing around for a way to turn the unfortunate fork in my road into a referendum on how mistreated I am, or a song of woe about how pitiful I am.

I want to walk that path of grace I’ve mentioned, knowing that I will encounter potholes; overhanging brambles; and sudden downpours.I also want to hold fast to the knowledge that when the rain passes, sunshine will surround me.

Hi, I’m Corinne.  I am a recovering victim.  

This is my first day in recovery.


Looking for greener grass

I gravitate between gratitude and looking longingly across the fence at the neighbor’s lawn, covetous, envious.

At any given moment, I might be feeling gladness in my heart for living to be nearly 59; the next second, I relapse, wishing I had worn braces so my teeth would be white, even, and graceful when I smile.  I sit and watch ALS ice bucket challenge videos, including those which feature victims of the terrible disease, and thank God, the universe, and all powers of positive thinking that the disease which plagues me moves slowly and with halting starts.  Then, I waken in the night with its symptoms raging and curse my fate.

I know how fortunate I have been, how blessed.  At eighteen, a well-meaning doctor — actually, a cardiologist for whom my mother worked — opined that I would be bedridden by 25.  At 40, another medical professional suggested that my psyche ruled my body and its vagaries would be my undoing.  Two years later, still putting my best foot forward, I received a chilling prognosis:  Sure to die in six months, pack your kid’s stuff, close your practice, film at eleven, ooh, ahh, ooh.

I’m still here.  I get that.  I broke my fast this morning with two sons whom I dearly love: One whom I bore, and one whom I borrowed, very different men but both so dear to my heart.  They live separate lives, distant from each other but bonded by their shared connection with me.  Over Panera’s breakfast, my stepson and my “birth” son laugh, talk of shows and movies that they both enjoy, and examine the coming junior year of the one, who describes himself as on the downhill slope of college.  I mostly listen, smiling, happy, suddenly realizing that for all the weirdness of my late-life status, I find myself nonetheless surrounded by the greener grass.