Monthly Archives: July 2015


I’m standing under the steely gaze of a five-foot eight French-Canadian demanding to know why I’m walking even more funny than usual.

Her  perfectly sculpted eyebrows dart skyward under her trim pixie hair-cut.  I stutter under her scrutiny, confessing that I broke my toe.  I assure her, It’s actually much better.

“Co-reen —-” she scolds me.  “What did you do to yourself?” she demands to know.

I start into the story of how I had a really important telephone call to make, while she guides me over to the Nu-Step at the far end of the physical therapy gym.  The eyebrows arch higher as I tell Dr. Claude that I needed just to finish the call as I walked through my living room and then —

“Really, Co-reen?  Really?  Have you not learned?”  My PhD credentialed North-of-the-Border-hailing taskmaster gestures to the seat.  As I sit, she adjusts the level back down to one from the “position four” level to which I had graduated before the moment two weeks ago when I allowed myself to topple head-first on the living room floor, with my cell phone gripped to the side of my head.

Two agonizing five-minute Nu-Step sessions later, I’m over at the parallel bars, back down to the yellow band, the easiest of tensions.  Dr. Claude is telling me a story about her son and summer camp, as she eyes my pitiful, back-to-square-one attempts at form.  I finish the session in the Weight-Band-Torture-Chamber, with Claude on a rolling stool talking about her vacation and planning my two last beatings before she prepares her report for the spasticity guru at Stanford.

I find myself apologizing for hurting myself and losing the ground we had gained all summer.  Claude breaks into a smile, dawn on a stormy morning.  “It’s okay, Co-reen, my dear,” she trills.  “I forgive you.”

Ah, absolution.

I left the clinic with a spring in my wobbly step.



The pile of shoes that I can’t wear still sits beside my bed.  It has been too blessed hot to work.

My beloved little cabin-room at the top of this bungalow holds the heat until late in the day, after the sun has set and the steaminess of the adjacent unfinished attic releases itself into the roofline.  I keep intending to do something about the mess upstairs, but I haven’t yet.  The coats still sit on the rocker, the little pile of outdated capris clutters one corner, and the shoes might just be breeding.

But I’m not angry with myself.  I carried the accumulated water cups down to the kitchen and laundered the towels.  I’m letting myself have a little slack.  The broken toe has not yet healed, and it’s 95 in the shade.  My philosophy of living needs to mellow.  So I skirt the unfinished chores and don’t complain.  Life continues.


Circles and turning

A new figure has appeared in  my neighborhood.  He has a thin frame, steely hair, and wears sandals.  He walks slowly down the street, past my house, both ways — south, then north.  He smiles often, nods, and sometimes bows slightly with his hands held in front of him when he sees someone coming down their walk.

Tonight as I left to go to a meeting, he spoke to me.  It’s a beautiful evening, he said, and gave that small bow of acknowledgment.  His dark skin and lilting accent tell me that he is Pakistani or Indian, probably an older uncle or grandfather of the family two blocks down from where I live. The wife of the household wears traditional garb when she stands with the children waiting for the school bus.  She keeps her eyes cast downward.

I returned the man’s greeting, then stopped to try to reinstate the sidewalk light which the rain and wind knock slant-wise.  He paused and observed my failed attempts.  I think it might be broken, I remarked, and he bowed again.  Yes, yes, I believe it is, he replied.  That happens.  Then he gifted me with a broad and toothless smile.  A rush of joy rose from some place deep in me, some place that it must have been hiding, waiting for this second, waiting for this turn of the earth, for this circle of the sun.

Well,  I finally ventured.  Have a good walk.  He grinned at me.  You have a lovely evening, too, please, he told me, and continued on his walk.

He left me with a sense that he would be greatly disappointed, should my evening not turn out to be lovely.  I find myself quite obligated to insure that this little man does not suffer disappointment.



I woke early today, in a quiet house.  I could hear nothing but the tinnitus, my constant sound track.  I listen to it idly, remembering that brief few weeks earlier this year when I tricked myself into thinking it had abated.  I close my eyes and let its rhythm overtake me.  It’s not so bad sometimes, my life’s refrain.  Today it trills like the crickets on a summer night in the Bootheel.

For some reason, my life flashed before my eyes last evening.  I stood on the porch, studying the bunch of plants on the table.  We’d gathered them so as to catch the rain but not topple off the rail in the storms.  Some of them need to be trimmed, but that’s too big a job for late night, or early morning.  It’s a weekend job and so I left it; and I don’t do it this morning, either.

The chores pile around me.  The clutter of shoes that don’t go over my broken toe still trips me when I rise at dawn.  On the floor under the sheaf of dangling slats in the broken blind, the pile of clothes that I want to give away has yet to be bagged.  On my rocking chair, a heap of coats from the downstairs hall tree slowly slides to the floor.

I stretch for a few minutes, standing in the breakfast nook, NPR blaring loud enough for the folks on the next street to hear but barely breaking through the symphony inside my head.  I reach, I bend, and reach again.  The swelling in my foot seems smaller; the black has gone purple; the ache just a bit less bothersome.

Back on the porch with my lukewarm coffee, I notice one plant still stands on the deck rail.  It’s got a good heavy pot, broad and stable.  Its flowers raise themselves in the morning air.  I’ve never seen anything like them; their  color intrigues me.  I study the blooms, violet, intense, fragile but enduring.  I snap a picture.  Some things bear remembering.

Then I go inside the house to get ready for work, while the music in my ears plays on, and the radio tells me what kind of day I’m going to have.  Dawn completes itself, and we head into morning.


Side effects

My fourth-grade teacher did not like me.

Miss DiLalo criticized everything about me.  She hated the two thick braids which hung down or got pinned with bobby-pins in a crown around my head.  She mimicked the way I walked and would cajole boys in the class into doing the same. Not boys who had befriended  me, but boys who liked her and ogled the span of thigh above her gartered stocking as she leaned on their desks.

Our section of fourth grade got stuck in the old grade school building next to the high school.  Miss DiLalo didn’t much care for the banishment.  She’d stare longingly out the windows, across the blacktop at the new Elementary School building with its wide expanse of yellow bricks.  In the red-brick building, four stories tall with spooky back corridors, we groveled under Miss DiLalo’s wrath.

One particular day, Miss DiLalo scolded my bad penmanship.  She took a red ballpoint pen and made a dark red check-mark on my cheek, to match your freckles, she said.  I did something I would not have thought myself capable of doing in response.  I back-handed her, right across the face.

She sent me home.  Screeching, raging, beet red, eyes popping, she grabbed me by the braids and dragged me to the entry way of her classroom and ordered  me out, sputtering, swearing, throwing my book bag after me.

I limped the 3/4 of a mile to our house, where  my hung-over father demanded an explanation. When I told my story, head down, saddle-shoes scuffling, tears welling in my eyes, my father sank to his knees.  He placed his hands on my shoulders, the only gentle touch which I recall from him.

Then he drove me back to the school and demanded that the teacher be fired for what she had done:  For the belittling, for the gouge in my cheek, for sending a little crippled girl struggling home without the brothers who usually saw to her safety, in the middle of the day, to what could well have been an empty house.

In December of last year, I started taking what I’ve laughingly called the world’s strongest anti-viral.  The intention of this drug is two-fold:  To stop the re-activation of the HHV-6 which caused the viral encephalitis which originally damaged me; and to ameliorate some of its symptoms.  I don’t yet know if the drug has done either.

But this I do know.  There is one unmistakable side effect, a phenomenon for which I have no other explanation, and one about which I have absolutely no complaint.  And it’s this:  My freckles have returned.


Can you see them? Look closely!



Of sons and birthdays

In case anyone is keeping score, my son Patrick has taken me to the emergency room more times than I have taken him.

For his end:  A rusty bolt through the shin at age 2; and a cracked skull at age 8.  I’m not sure the second case counts as the school took him, but let’s call it two.

For my end:  The night my foot got broken in a freak electric wheelchair accident; the time I knocked a hole in my head leaning back in a rolling chair; at least two asthma attacks; and a fall in the street that resulted in a broken hand.  That’s five, and there could be a few breathing episodes that I’ve forgotten.

He set the bar high for emergency room companions in the hole-in-my-head incident.  After an hour or more of waiting, blood spilling through my hair onto my jacket, Patrick approached the admissions desk and tried to persuade the lady to take me back.  She resisted and he said, loudly, My mom has a head injury, she’s on blood thinners, and she’s AN ATTORNEY. Or words to that effect.  Needless to say, I got wheeled to an examining room without further ado.

A year or so before that, when he drove me to the ER for the broken foot, he patiently watched as the lab technician tried to get blood from my difficult veins.  He finally spoke, quietly:  They usually use a butterfly needle in her hand.  

He was just sixteen, the ink on his driver’s license barely dry.  The technician followed his advice and got what he needed from me.

My son started life six weeks before his due date and entered laughing.  He had the usual childhood highs and lows, some worse than they ought to have been, some better than I expected.  The details of his life remain his to tell, though I have chosen a few to recount in my weekly blog and elsewhere.  Suffice it to say, that as with any child, his survival both thrilled and astonished me, not so much because of any deficiency on his part but due to my own lack of parenting skills and a few curve balls thrown by a universe with a wicked sense of humor.

Patrick surprised me by choosing a small Indiana university, and surprised the school itself by moving into his dorm room with an amplifier and three guitars.  He pledged a fraternity, found booze, immersed himself in literature, and engaged in some coming-of-age skirmishes which caused the grey in my hair to multiply.  But he made it, with a decent GPA and no arrests.  He walked across the stage to receive his diploma, albeit wearing dark glasses which I assume hid the bloodshot eyes of his last DPU hangover.

He came back to Kansas City uncertain and a bit lost.  But he found a job, secretly applied to graduate school, and a year after commencement, packed fewer belongings than I would have expected into his little Kia and headed for Evanston, Illinois and an MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen.

He is in LA now, managing two summer internships and learning even more about life as an adult.

Except for his very first “real” job, Patrick found every job he’s had with no help from me.  He bought and paid for the Kia he drives and the little Toyota he had before that.  For an only child of an essentially single mother, he has managed to become surprisingly independent in most of the critical ways.  I’ve been accused of doing too much for him, and sometimes I plead guilty to that charge.   But then I look at the ER tally, and I realize that the truth is not so simple.  He’s done as much for me as I have for him.

When I told a colleague’s wife that I was pregnant, in the winter of 1990, she looked at me with pity.  You’re going to raise a child on your own?  That’s going to be really really difficult.  Your life will be so hard.  I sighed.  Not the reaction I wanted.  But I had a come-back ready:  Really difficult?  So hard?  Great!  The first thirty-five years were sheer hell.  “Really difficult” will be an improvement!

I thought of that friend two years later, in December of 1992 when Patrick stood in front of the door to our apartment in his little baby blue jeans and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sweatshirt.  He shook his hands at me and said, I get the paper for you Mommy!  Your legs don’t work so good!  And he proceeded to open the door, toddle into the hall, and grab the Sunday newspaper by the edge to drag it into the living room.

Life has been challenging over the last couple of decades, and I’ve lost some critical battles.  But I’m not complaining about anything related to my status as Patrick Corley’s mother.

At 1:50 p.m. today, Patrick will have been in this world for twenty-four years.

Happy birthday, Buddy.  I could not be more proud of you, nor more glad that I chose to have you.  You’ve done well.  And I’ve not forgotten my promise to live to be 103 and nag you every day of your life, nor your rejoinder to annoy me every day of mine!  I’m holding us both to our pledges!

 Thank you for letting me bear witness to the man you have become.

Celebrate, my son.  You’ve earned it.    Rock on.

Patrick Charles Corley, Christmas 2014

Patrick Charles Corley, Christmas 2014

Silver linings and clouds

I’ve had a lumpy day.

I read that phrase somewhere, years ago.  I would credit its author if I could recall from where I stole the expression.  But original or not, it accurately describes how I feel.  So I’m here at the Mixx, a KC favorite for salads and sandwiches.  I have an order coming, for which I paid the upcharge to change the side from pasta salad or chips (standard) to kale veggie soup (sounds delish).  I’ve successfully logged into their wi-fi and I’m trying to figure out how to keep from complaining.

I gave that up, after all.

Today I called the Gas company to see if my (not late) payment which I made online “worked”.  I had not gotten a confirmation number so I figured an electronic glitch had occurred.  Of course, it took two rounds with an employee and a supervisor to confirm; and by the end of it, I was beside myself.  Utilities breed their employees at the same place that turnpike toll-takers live, I am sure of it.  They conspire to make even on-time payers feel small and worthless.  I barely resisted today, slamming the phone and calling the snippy supervisor a bad name though not with her on the line.  Golly gee whillikers, why on earth can’t they be human?  Oh, wait — am I complaining?  Just asking.

An attorney notified me late yesterday that her client is repudiating the mediated agreement for a case set to go to trial this Thursday.  Why  did she wait so long?  Am I being sandbagged or has she lost control of her client?  Either way, I found myself rapidly hammering out a Motion for Continuance while trying to remain cheerful, talking with my client, assuring him all was well.  I closed my door so no one would have to hear my failed attempts at calm.

Did I mention  my broken toe?  The doctor’s nurse ruefully said, I don’t suppose there’s any use in telling you to stay off of it, is there, Corley?  No.  There’s not.  They know me well.  I keep on hiking around, wincing, favoring that foot, wondering how people more disabled than I normally am manage without biting people’s heads off now and again.  Better folks than I am, Gunga Din.

You ask:  Is there a point to this. woman?  Or are you just angling for the sympathy vote, pretending not to complain but actually really letting the world have it!?!?

There is a point, and here it comes.

This morning I awakened to find a little message on my phone.  It said, I adore you, Ms. Corley — you are the Sunshine on my Facebook timeline!  This message came from someone whom I only know in the virtual world; a mutual friend connected us.  As far as I can tell, he’s happily partnered, solidly employed, a cheerful father and a prolific writer.  In other words, the compliment had no strings attached.  I messaged back to thank him, and asked what had prompted his note.  Came his reply:  Some things just need to be said.

This man reads my blog and has complimented my writing in the past.  I don’t get too many notes about my writing and I cherish each one of them.  I am a writer; writers write.  It’s what we do.  We work best when we can write, when the page fills with characters that string together to form our thoughts.  I don’t express myself well in oral conversation.  My writing holds the key to all of me.

So, as this rather long, lumpy days wanes, I look back on all of my efforts to be my best self; and all of my efforts to understand others undertaking similar quests.  When all is said, when all is done; when this day finally draws to a creaky close, whatever else I might say, I can make note that I’m the sunshine on someone’s Facebook page.

As silver linings go, that ain’t bad.



Storm passes; bullet dodged.

The last four days have been filled to capacity.  Friday’s walk the length of the Crossroads District resulted in a very lazy Saturday, which nonetheless ended with fireworks by the Scout in Pennway Park.  On Sunday, I managed to break only a toe while spraining the foot to which it is attached.

But I endured and limped to Trader Joe’s for snackage.   The lovely Ms. Vivian Leahy shared the first set of the Last Grateful Dead concert with me. After she’d bid me goodnight,  I fell asleep halfway through the second set, awakening with a start just as the encore played and thanks were tendered to the crowd at Soldier’s Field.

After a four-hour mediation and an afternoon of developing settlement offers, I made it home a half-hour ahead of the storm’s fury.  Now the rain has passed.  I propped my leg on a pillow for most of the evening, but I walked around a bit, doing dishes and checking on my plants.  The little foot has swelled again, and under its dark bruises, my toe throbs.  I’m Clay-County bound in the morning, and I can’t for the life of me think what shoe will fit over my mangled right foot.  But I’m not complaining.  It could be so much worse.  It has been so much worse.  And it’s gotten so, so much better.

My little dog stood guard during the storm, ever by my side, ever alert.

My little dog stood guard during the storm, ever by my side, ever alert.

Independence day

At a certain point in the existence of some people, the opinions of others cease to matter.  The stillness of the air soothes.  The tea simmers hot in the cup; the crumpets lie crisp upon the plate.  Newspapers sit forgotten on the table.  Eyes stare dreamily out the window, into the street.  Passing cars don’t disturb the calm; the ringing phone falls silent, unattended.  The chest rises and falls with each drawn breath.  A delicious chill runs down the spine.  The hand rests easy on the arm of the chair and the pen rolls across the table unbidden.  This moment:  this second signals my independence from the chains which have bound me for so long.  There are no fireworks in the sky, nor none within my mind, but a shooting star spans the horizon.  I am contented.


In praise of pakora

I spent the middle third of this century cooking.  I tried new things — including steak and hamburger, without success as I don’t eat red meat and never learned to prepare it.  But I have an adventurous soul in the kitchen and affixed my game face securely in place.  Those to whom I served my awful attempts appreciated the effort.  I also tried my hand at multiple-course meals, optional entrees, and dinner parties.

In the last year, I have developed an aversion to grocery-shopping. My food budget has doubled because I mostly dine out, including morning stops at QuikTrip for the Del-Monte fruit bowl and a gluten-free protein bar.  The staff at the Brookside Panera’s knows me by name and carries my food to the table without my asking.

Yesterday I learned that we needed to close the office today in order to give our secretary a paid holiday.  I acquiesced and started the three-day weekend with dinner at Chai Shai.  I had been craving pakora for weeks, since I shared a plate with Elizabeth Unger Carlisle.  I shot an e-mail to my friend Brenda Dingley, whom I know has had a horrid June, suggesting dinner out.  She hates to cook and was easily persuaded.

Now I cannot regret my choice despite its dreadful consequences.  My joints have swollen.  On top of that, my body apparently does not realize that Independence Day came early this year, because it jarred me to consciousness at 5:45 a.m.  But I am not complaining.  Had I not arisen at my customary time, I would have missed the first sweet hour of air on the porch of the Holmes house in the quiet of the sleeping neighborhood.  I would not have talked to a rabbit which ventured close to my steps or the robin which startled the bunny into motion.   The deprivation of an extra hour of sleep does not outweigh the joy of this peace, just as the ache which I feel this morning cannot make me wish that I had not consumed three beautifully fried pakora.  Some things are just worth the punishment we suffer from partaking of them.