Monthly Archives: August 2017

Dear Universe

Dear Universe,

          Everyone knows that I write lousy poetry.  I lack the knack, if you will.  I also have no ability for short-story-writing, constructing plays, or authoring novels.  If I had to write something technical as a condition of release, I’d die in jail.

          But I give good letter, and passable essay.

          So, letter it is, then, because I have something to say.

          Dear Universe.

          It’s been a bumpy six decades.  Along the way, my innocence fell from me, a vestigial organ serving no purpose.  With it went a sheaf of grace, a smattering of wonderment, and the capacity for easy forgiveness.

          As I approach my sixty-second birthday, I look back at the last three years, my tenure in this forum — at least to date.  I realize that I might have reclaimed my human virginity – not the sexual kind; I lost that one bewildered night in 1973 in a SLU dorm room.  It’s history.  But my undefiled humanity seems to have resurged. I’m experiencing a rebirth of purity.

          So, I hereby take a stand.  For whatever time I remain in this existence, I change my allegiance.  I cross the line.  I no longer want to be angry.  Dear Universe, if we’re picking sides in the human equation, I declare myself to be on the side of love and light.

          When someone suffers, I want to ease their anguish.  This holds true even if they sag under the weight of guilt, the unwieldy burden of doing wrong to another including, yes,including those who have done ‘wrong’ to me.  When they declare that they have no idea why I would be nice to them, I want to whisper, “Oh, but I think you do.”

          And that reason?  Not because I want their guilt to multiply in the face of my compassion, but because I want them to relinquish guilt.  Because, dear Universe, see above.  I choose love.

          Many hours have seen me lament the burdens you have thrown my way.  Many days have drawn to a darkened close around my shaking shoulders.  My head sagged onto my arms on the cluttered table.  I raged.  I howled.  I groaned.

          But then the light rose in the eastern sky.  I took my coffee outside and watched the squirrels chase each other around the trunk of the gnarled maple.  I sank into the rocking chair and told myself, “Well, I made it through yet another night which seemed impossible to endure.”  Day after day, the same phenomenon.  I survived the unendurable.

          On a scale of Nirvana to Tragedy, I’m somewhere in between.  I’ve seen less pain than a starving child, and more, perhaps,  than the clueless man who slides across the bench seat of his rented limousine.  Or – maybe not.  I remind you, my eternal friend, that suffering is not a competitive sport.  I survived what you sent me to conquer, though at times I did so with a sour look and an angry thrust of my quivering chin.

          Dear Universe.  Let’s put that all behind us.  Let’s link arms, and sally forth, on the cobbled path to something more grand.  We might disagree on the expected contours of paradise.  I’d like an oak rocker; you favor a metal glider.  But we share one goal, and that goal makes all the misshapen trappings worthwhile. 

          Like me, dear Universe, you choose joy.  So, come along.

          It’s the thirtieth day of the forty-fourth month of My (oh-so-very-long, possibly incessant) Year [Striving, With All My Might, to Learn to Stumble Through Each Day] Without Complaining.  Life continues.


                                                          Faithfully yours,


                                                          Mary-Corinne Teresa Corley



All The Love We Dare Not Feel

I’m sitting in court, an hour early as I must be in order to get one of the six handicapped parking spots on the street in front of the courthouse.  As I dodged cars and slipped between people on the sidewalk, I strove to avoid the divots in the concrete.  Any slight indentation might fell me.  I’ve suffered so many broken bones and wrenched joints from the rocking of my spastic feet on uneven ground.

In an hour, I will ask a judge to take the next step towards normalization of my young client’s relationship with his father.  The man stands on probation for an injury which he claims resulted from an accident.  The evidence does not clearly establish whether the damage followed a regrettable mishap or an intentional ravagement.  Non-sexual in nature, the injury could well have been as the father describes.  The child, now six, could not be interviewed at the age of two when the event occurred.  We have no one’s word other than the man who did the deed.

Still, in the intervening four years, much as transpired.  For two of those, the child had no contact with his abuser, his father, the husband of his mother.  For the last six or so months, their interactions have been monitored by court personnel at my behest.  In that time, the man himself has been attending anger management classes as a condition of his probation.  Nothing has befallen his other child who still resides with him, the child of another woman with whom he has established a household while this case has been pending.

This is not the worst situation in which I have represented a child; far from it.  I’ve helped to terminate the parental rights of predators, drug addicts, and alcoholics whose actions resulted in profound and permanent damage to children who will spend their lives trying to reclaim their humanity.  I understand what those children suffer.  I have cowered beneath my own bed, listening to my mother’s sobs, waiting for the terrifying sounds and the brutal impact of relentless blows.  I know that anguish.

Even the single injury which the child in today’s case suffered outrages me.  I bring that indignation to every court setting.  But I let my lawyer’s instincts balance my survivor’s pain.  I know this boy wants a relationship with his father.  The father wants to make amends for what occurred.  This drama could have a happy ending.    It might even be that what happened was in fact an accident.  I will never know.

So we will take the story one more notch towards the outcome which we pray will occur.  We will loosen the restrictions.  We will wait.  We will watch.  We will pray.

Because of what happened to me as a child, I know that children who are hurt by their parents have a different view of life.   I’ve taken enough courses on the neuro-biology of trauma to understand why.  I also know first-hand how it governs our life.   We hesitate on the brink of every encounter.  We yearn for peace, for normalcy, for someone to slow  the crazy spinning of our world.  We long to surround ourselves with all the love we dare not feel.

Perhaps my client today has a chance for what all of us crave, whether what happened to him resulted from an accident or an isolated act of anger.  As I stand before the judge today and recommend that we move into the next phase, I hold that hope in my heart.  I remember, always, that HOPE FLOATS.  I will let it rise, and carry the fate of this child to the heavens.  But I will also stand watch.  I will be vigilant.  I will not fail him.  I will be his guardian until I know the need no longer persists.

It’s the twenty-ninth day of the forty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


These Precious Moments

A lot of ideas about today’s entry in this blog have been banging around in my head.  A few rose from my belly, sticking in whatever constitutes a craw.  They billowed in my throat and swarmed into the unsuspecting contours of my soul.

I beat them all down, rejecting each one by the standards of those three pesky rules:

Does this need to be said?

Does this need to be said by me?

Does this need to be said by me now?

I’m left with the unmistakeable grip of wonderment.  Can it really be this hard, finding something to share about my journey to joy? What do I want to tell you?

 Most of all, I want to warn you about the obstacles which have made me stumble, so you might avoid them if you can.

As I drift among the remnants of thoughts plaguing me today, the idea that I’m the guardian of anyone’s heart seems to haunt me.  I haven’t found it as easy to cherish and be cherished as I thought I would.  Mostly I hang back, loving and longing, like the child who cannot yet speak and turns her eyes toward you, willing you to understand.

The hollow sound of my footsteps haunts me by day; the lingering echo wakes me in the still of night.  i ask myself: Have I learned anything, anything at all, in the three-and-a-half years since I began this blog?  Or, indeed:  Did I learn anything in the fifty-nine years that came before this blog?

I owe many of life’s lessons to people who no longer occupy my small cadre of friends.  One taught me that time is our most precious commodity.  The fleeting moments which I have with those whom I love testify to the brevity of life.  Despite my will to live to be 103, I recognize that I might well be gone tomorrow.  Or you might — or you, or you.

I push aside everything that I had thought to say — the pithy quips, the sassy shots.  I’m left with this, and only this:  Take good care — of yourself; but most especially of anyone who opens themselves to you.

It’s the twenty-seventh day of the forty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



Platitudes with Attitude

I’ve been jumping from platitude to platitude my whole life.

My father started the trend with little hand-written signs displayed in his workshop.  My favorite said, “Despite the Hopes of Optimists / The Facts of Life Persist. /He who turns the other cheek / Gets hit with the other fist,”

I stood on a step stool to memorize this, beginning my lifelong quest for a platitude with attitude to govern my decisions.

My mother took church sayings and morphed them to suit her needs.  Thus, “See Those Christians, How They Love One Another” became “See Those Corleys, How they Love One Another”.  She insisted people should thusly exclaim when we roamed the streets, usually at night while waiting for our father to pass out. Only my mother would entertain the warped notion that our neighbors peered through curtains and thought anything other than Those Poor Children, What Is That Woman Thinking?

So I got through childhood with guidance like God Only Gives You As Much As He Thinks You Can Bear (mom) and Always Play The House Odds (dad).  Nana would extoll us to Make Your Bed Tight As A Drum, Neat As A Pin.  I’m not sure I understand that one to this day.  She would, I swear, come into our rooms and bounce a quarter off the bedspread.

The slogans got interesting in college.  As I’ve previously written, my cousin Kati and I invented a few social rules and corollaries, such as The More You Go Out, The More You Go Out.  I definitely lost track of my roots, including Do Unto Others As You Would Have Others Do Unto You, opting for the more flexible Run Like Hell and Don’t Get Caught during my hard-core single malt days.  But nobody got hurt too badly, and I cruised into law school on the coattails of advice like C=JD, my favorite lesson from Dean Pascal Bowman’s welcoming address.  Nobody believed him, though he certainly told the truth.  Check out my email address; I got mostly As and Bs but a few C+ and came away with my degree.  I’ve been ccorleyjd@something or other for decades, and for 25 years now,  The maxim got me there and I’ve kept it ever since.

Lately, I’ve added a few rules of my own.  For example, I have learned that When Somebody Attaches Strings To Something, They Usually Expect You To Pony Up.  The flip side of this one is, If They Won’t Do It For You Without Extracting A Heavy Price But Do It For Somebody Else For Free, They Don’t Place Much Value On You.  The note you hear in my voice might sound bitter but it’s intended to be rueful.

I credit Jennie Taggart Wandfluh for one of my favorite sayings.  She taught me a long time ago that Angels Can Fly Because They Take Themselves Lightly. Her mother Katrina Singsen Taggart frequently told us Don’t Sweat The Petty Stuff and Don’t Pet The Sweaty Stuff.  Problematically, most things in my environs either perspire profusely or seem insignificant by everybody else’s standards.  It leaves me scratching my head, wondering where, or if, I went wrong.

As I cruise into the last one-third of my life, I contemplate the signs which I pass along the way.  You Only Live Once flashes past time and time again, like the Burma Shave jingle.  It might be true, so I’ll take it to heart.  Interspersed among the Carpe Diems, I see something that touches my heart:  Don’t Regret What You Did For Love.

That’s a doozy.  I’m working on it.

It’s the twenty-fifth day of the forty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Of sisters and pakora

Some betrayals cut so deeply that only the soothing cadence of a sister’s voice and the rich goodness of fried food can provide even temporary relief from the anguish they cause.

The tricky thing about betrayal lies in the immutable fact that none of us have any right to expectations of others, and therefore, we really have no complaint when our (unreasonable) expectations are not met.  I’ve learned that lesson over and over, yet still, when the gut-kick and the knife twist stun me, I crumple.  I tell myself that I had no right to even a glimmer of belief that someone would follow what I would choose to have them do.  I know this.  My brain tells me over, and over.  Even when a relationship might, or could, or used to, carry a certain level of predictability, still, humans have free will.

So time and time again, I race to the phone and call one of my sisters — by blood or by choice.  Today I dialed Joyce, Brenda, and Elizabeth, and they all answered my call.  From St. Peters, my big sister Joyce strained to hear barely intelligible words between my sobs.  Even as I choked out yet another tirade of troubles, I knew the rank ridiculousness of my outrage.  But she never said, You knew this would happen eventually.  Instead she let me cry, and told me that I was made of sterner stuff.  We’re cut from the same cloth.  You’ll get through this, too, she assured me.

Then Brenda and Elizabeth, two good friends, cheerfully occupied a table with me at Chai Shai.  We talked of everything but the events which had sent me into a tail spin, of which I did not breathe a whisper during dinner.  I wanted their sunny smiles, and their quick wit, and their intelligent insights into the world around us.

And pakora.  Yes, I know, I’ve recently confessed my up-and-down relationship with food.  But golly, what brings more comfort but hot marsala chai and a shared plate of pakora?  We each took one, then another, and their voices flowed around me.  I claimed my peace.

So here’s to sisters, and tea, and pakora, and the sound of a thousand crickets chirping as I sit on my porch in the cool of late August writing these words.  Here’s to Amy, whom I will take to church on Sunday because she can’t drive and feels the need to attend.  Here’s to Sheldon, who texted me that he’ll be singing at Grace and Trinity but Paula will be at their Sunday service and I’m welcome to bring my friend.  And here’s to Miranda, who drove me to court and patiently waited while I attended a docket, just so that I wouldn’t have to find a place to park in the middle of the county’s annual tax sale.  And here’s to the sun, which set in the west tonight and surely will rise in the east again tomorrow, proving yet again that sometimes, reliance has not been misplaced.

It’s nearly night-time, at the end of a difficult day, the twenty-fourth day of the forty-fourth month of what might well be an endless string of months in My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

In the kitchen

Every few days, I go to the Brookside Market and buy bags filled with healthy food.  Carrots, celery, fruit, eggs, tofu, GF bread, rice cakes, sugar snap peas, grapefruit juice, and oranges; all the delicious components of a slenderizing, vegetarian diet.

A week later, I pick through everything that didn’t get eaten and berate myself for wasting time and money.

I actually only eat eggs, rice cakes, hummus, and apples.

I’ve reflected on my eating habits for hours on end.  I understand the dynamics of the single person’s culinary style.  It took a few months for me to stop making enough food for a family of four.  When I realized what I had been doing, I stopped eating at home altogether.  I spent hours at Panera’s with my laptop and my grandmother’s stash of handkerchiefs, under the sympathetic gaze of a woman named Tierra whose happy place, as described by her name tag, was home with her dog Jazzy.

I lost fifteen pounds in six weeks.

My weight rises or falls in a weird dance with my emotions.  One year, sadness sends me to the fridge; then a wild swing not to happiness but deeper sorrow draws me to the dark and I have no appetite for days.  Of course when the pendulum goes full swing, the pounds pile around my waist and my gut churns.  I’ve struggled with this pattern for the last twenty years, going from 90 to 180 to 100 and then climbing again.  This time, I’ve managed to stop myself at 120 and start the slow descent back to what works for my frame and disability.

In the kitchen this morning, I hovered in the chilly air drifting from the refrigerator thinking about breakfast.  I knew that eventually, I would scramble two eggs, pile the perfect pillows of richness onto a piece of toast, and nibble at the  open-face sandwich while sipping micro-waved coffee.  I tell myself that this week will be my time to throw out all the uneaten carrots and vow to buy only what I actually need and want.  I’ll send a donation to Feed The Children to remind myself not to be so wasteful.  At lunchtime, I’ll slice an apple and eat the little wedges with hummus, a combination no one but me enjoys.  In the evening, I’ll put deli-made guacamole on rice cakes and take it out to  my porch.  I’ll let the evening breeze wash over me.  I’ll watch the sun set, ignoring the branches cluttering my sidewalk after the most recent storm.  When it grows too dark to see, I’ll sit for a few minutes, then go inside to wash dishes.  In the kitchen.

Where I feel so terribly alone, like no place else on earth.

It’s the twenty-fourth day of the forty-fourth month of My  Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



From time to time, of an evening, I stand in front of my medicine cabinet quite distracted. The reason for my irritation lies behind the mirror, not in front of it. Five or six bottles rest on the shelf. The pills in them sustain, if not my life, then such quality as it has. And so, because they do, I resent the reach that I must make to take each one down in turn and shake their little bullets from the tube. But shake I must, and shake I do.

I meant to say some stunning words about the total eclipse of the Sun. Like everyone else, I jumped into a car and drove until I stood beneath the very spot where the sun would go dark just past one. I saw it too, despite the clouds which gathered overhead and the burst of rain which sent us diving into the vehicle in which we’d come so far. The rain stopped, the wind died, and the sun emerged from behind a wicked little cloud. We stood transfixed, camera raised, welder’s glass before our eyes protecting us from certain blindness. And when the earth went dark beneath the vanished orb, a cry arose, none the least from us.

I would have posted a picture, had I told that story. But then, the day wore on, and other places drew us. Now, in the dark of my room, with the wind battering the eaves, I stand in front of that terrible mirror and its horrible hidden offerings. The resentment which I often feel cannot be described. At least, I cannot describe it, mostly because of the shame I feel.

For who am I to harbor disdain for the drugs which keep me walking? How is it that I sneer at the two minutes of effort required to take those pills? The fact that I can still lift my body tall enough to hold my own gaze in the mirror should teach me not to resent the very medicine which keeps me standing. By now, I should be well able to forgo complaint especially for such a blessing.

Late this day, as my dear friend and I drove South, we took a detour which told me all I needed to know in order to reach and take those pills. I had thought that the sight of the total eclipse of the sun was the starkest and boldest that I had ever beheld. And then I stood and looked upon one last sight for the day. Not one, not just one, but 36,085. And counting. Never will I need another reminder of my good fortune.

It’s the 21st day of the 44th month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.

Leavenworth National Cemetery

Hope Floats

In 2005, I began a tradition that both delights and invigorates me.

I had never had a birthday party in my life, and that year, my then-husband Dennis wanted to throw one for me.  It would be my fiftieth, an occasion that seemed more auspicious for the decades of dire predictions about my imminent demise.

We planned it together, he and I and my friend Lynn Roberts.  We borrowed Jimmy Buffet’s fine song, “A Pirate Looks at Forty”, as our theme.  We bought a Jolly Rogers flag and a few trinkets, skulls and fake gold coins.  Lynn and I went silly with the invitations, sprinkling “Arrgh, Mateys!” in every line.

Then Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.  The stories of devastation, loss, and death flooded the news.  We read it outloud at the breakfast table, holding the pictures high for teen-age Patrick to see.  Our stomachs lurched.  We yearned to help.

An old friend, Joshua Dara, messaged that his north Louisiana church had taken in fifteen hundred refugees, sleeping in the church knave or farmed out to  parishioners.  A plan began to form.  We put a bucket on the dessert buffet with a sign thanking anyone for contributions to help defray the cost of housing and food for Reverend Dara’s ministry to those New Orleanians.

We raised nearly $2,000.00, thanks in part to a check from Bev Elving on behalf of her employer, Applebee’s.

It felt good.  So good, that I had a “double-nickel” party five years later to benefit the Children’s Miracle Network, which my son’s fraternity at DePauw University, SAE, had chosen as their charity of the year.

In 2010, I started Art @ Suite 100 with Penny Thieme and my colleagues at Suite 100, including my now-former-spouse, Jim MacLaughlin (who remains a stalwart supporter of the event despite our divorce).  We wanted to give local and regional artists the opportunity to show without gallery fees and to sell their art to folks who might not otherwise ever see their work.  Four years ago, we added an annual benefit to raise funds and awareness for survivors of family violence.  Our two charities straddle the state line, SAFEHOME in Kansas and Rose Brooks Center in Missouri.  The first year of the event, we basically threw a pot on the table, just as I had done at the inaugural CC Birthday Bash and Benefit in 2005.  We got donations totalling around $750, something like that.  It felt darn good to be able to divide the money between the two agencies, and know that we had taken them a tiny way closer to helping another survivor escape her abuser. (Yes, most domestic violence survivors are women or children, but not all, not all.)

We chose the quarterly art show in September for the timing of this benefit because my birthday is 05 September.  I was born on Labor Day, an irony that did not get past my mother.  I don’t need presents, and I don’t get too many these days.  My asthma prevents me from blowing out so many candles.  So why not “give my birthday” to these impactful programs?  it only makes sense.

The next year, 2015, we invited Jackson County PA Jean Peters Baker and Johnson County DA Steve Howe to speak at our event.  We added live music and an auction, though none of us had any experiencing running them.  We raised about $2,500.00 and it felt even better than the prior year’s result.  We knew that in addition to raising money, we had reached out to the community and raised their awareness of this insidious crime.

We did the same in 2016, adding Family Court Commissioner Martina Peterson and motivational speaker, survivor, and artist Jilli Nel to the agenda.  As always, our featured artists had a direct connection to family violence, as survivors.  In last year’s show, we included two men who had been raised in foster care due to abuse in their homes.  Their work still haunts me, and one of their pieces stands bold and beautiful on my dining room wall.  I could not resist “Ginger Peach” by Robin Thomas Hall.  Facing it, an amazing painting by our own Jili Nel speaks of eternity, a gift to me from my lovely and resilient soul-sister.

In 2016, we raised over $3,200.00.  Sweet.  Our gratitude for those who attended knows no limits.

So:  You own a calendar, at least on your phone.  You know that September 05th lurks just around the corner.  Due to various conflicts, we’ve scheduled the birthday bash and benefit a little later.  On September 23rd, we’ll strive to outdo all prior years and hit no less than $5,000.00.  That’s going to take all of us — including each of you, my friends.

This year’s theme is HOPE FLOATS.  I stole the name from my favorite Sandra Bullock movie.  I’ve made it our own.  I believe that hope will always rise, always take us with it, always keep us buoyed above the danger, the fear, and the flames.

I don’t want or need any material goods for my birthday.  In fact, I’m down-sizing as some of you know.  But I would like you each and every one to attend the next benefit for SAFEHOME and Rose Brooks Center, 23 September 2017, from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.  As always, it takes place at 4010 Washington, Kansas City, Missouri.  Our auction will be fabulous this year.  It will feature gift baskets that will make your date-night or family gathering a smashing success.  Our band, The Accidental Project, will be auctioning a private party performance.  Jilli Nel will run the live auction and Karla Hull will staff the raffle table.  A silent auction and the tip jars round out the giving opportunities.

Our featured artists all have survived family violence.  They have all thrived.  Their work powerfully portrays their commitment to hope, to their survival, and to sharing their dreams and their experiences with you.

I hope each of you can attend this benefit.  As always, I will greet you at the door.  Bring your check books and your cash.  The agencies will be on hand to tell you about their work.  PA Jean Peters Banker, DA Steve Howe, and Comm. Peterson will share their insights on survivors and the terrible circumstances from which they escape.  There will be food donated by several area businesses, a tip jar at the bar, and a wonderful assortment of auction raffle items.  The artists will be on hand to talk about and sell their work.  Each of the artists is donating to the auction and to the benefit.  The evening will be unforgettable.

If you can’t attend, but want to donate, please mail a check to me made out to SAFEHOME or Rose Brooks Center.  Put “Hope Floats” in the memo section and I will add it to the proceeds when we distribute them after the event.  Both agencies are 501(c)(3) and will send a tax receipt if you wish to have one.  My address is:

M. Corinne Corley
Corley Law Firm
4010 Washington, Suite 100
Kansas City, Missouri 64111

If you want to learn more about the event, click HERE.  A sponsor page is “under construction” and will go live soon, along with a list of auction and raffle items which we build as the donations come to us.

If you can’t attend and don’t wish for some reason to mail a check, then click on one of the agency pages and look for their “DONATE” buttons.  If you have a chance to make a comment, please note that your donation is made in honor of the Art @ Suite 100 HOPE FLOATS September 23rd benefit.  Thank you for that.

Last year, Ruthie Becker (one of this year’s featured artists) donated a painting of her daughter who is still in the throes of domestic violence.  I won that painting at auction, and will display it on my office wall the night of the September 23rd benefit.  As a survivor of chaos myself, long before that chaos had a name and a movement to combat it, this painting speaks to me as few others.  Its message tells me that I am right:  Hope Floats.  with all of us working together to help, everything will be all right in the end.

Our other featured artists, Lori Hooten, Jill Huxtable, and Amy Fisher each bring a unique voice to depiction of surviving and thriving after family violence.  I’ve seen some of the pieces which will premier at our event.  You don’t want to miss this.  You will not be able to walk among this poignant collection without being moved.

Moved enough to take out your wallet, we’re hoping. But even if you cannot contribute, or bid, or buy, please come.  I cannot tell you how honored I will be to see you walk through the door.  It will be my best birthday ever.

It’s the twentieth day of the forty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Please use the social media buttons to share this post and spread the word.  Here is the FACEBOOK EVENT..  Please visit the EVENT PAGE and tell us if you are “going” or “interested”, so that others will know that you support our benefit.  Thank you.

RIP 2014

Twenty-fourteen was a really bad year for me.  Fortunately 2015, 2016, and 2017 followed.  Each brought more chances to let the past fall away.  Each brought more days for finding joy, working hard, and learning.

I had some successes, some failures.  Children in Juvenile Court whom I represented found permanent homes or reunified with their parents.  Some parents whom I represented both “in big court” and “in family court” sailed in my small boat to a satisfying ending.  At times, I helped friends figure out what they needed.  I served a few meals, entertained my cadre of women now and then, and faced the world clear-eyed and open-hearted.

I met some awesome people in the last three years.  Some sat across a desk or a courtroom table.  Others hoisted pictures onto the walls of my office.  A few waltzed into my life on the arms of long-time friends or cradled in a car seat beneath a new parent’s beaming smile.

Disappointments abounded as well.  One of the most keen came recently, when I spent ninety minutes with a battered woman explaining the law which could protect her, only to learn that she has gone back to her abuser.  She claimed “he only hit [her] once” but the darkness of her eyes told me otherwise.  She had gotten her children to safety.  I sent her out of my office with a copy of “How To Survive The Loss of A Love”, and some intense advice to contemplate.  A week later, the mutual friend who introduced us let me know that the woman had gone “home”.

I can only pray that whatever happens will not require one of her children to hit the panic button while she lies bleeding on the floor.

I’ve not been what some demanded that I should be.  I’ve picked my way carefully through every challenge.  Though I’m sure some would disagree, I know that honor has been my guide.

Today I explained the concept of “gaslighting” to someone.  It isn’t just lovers who pull this tool from their arsenal.  Friends, co-workers, clients, spouses — any of these can try to convince us that our perceptions are not valid.  Today the person to whom I gave as good an explanation as I could responded with a series of  rapid nods.  He tells me it’s all my fault, she said.  When something goes wrong, it’s never because of him.  I understand, I told her.  I get that.  People hide behind their bitterness, their inability to deal with their own failures.  It can’t be their fault, so it must be yours.

I stopped blaming other people a few years ago — as 2014 drew to a close in fact.  I’m not even sure it’s about blame.  The slammed receiver, the hysterical voice, the knotted stomach — is it about blame?  Or just grief?  I understand that I disappoint some, but for my entire life, I have done everything with as much grace as I could  muster.   I had to assume that others did as well.  That guides me to put aside the twins of shame and blame. I give my best.  I measure carefully.  I stand beside you.  I watch you walk, and if you fall, I’m there as quickly as I can.

By the same token, if you brush away my hand and stumble forward, I’ll let you go.  You find your stride.  I accept when you don’t need me, or when you think I’m not enough.

I took these concepts out of 2014.  They’ve served me well these last three years.  I polish their shafts and slip them back into my quiver, and soldier on.

It’s the nineteenth day of the forty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

My new mantra. Thank you, Ms. McCarthy.





I keep hearing about the Opioid epidemic.  I ask myself, Do these commentators understand how this happens?  How a person can wake up one day and find themselves in an utter fog, devoid of connection, unable to focus or express emotion?

I experienced this awful condition.

I started taking painkillers in 1970 for menstrual cramps.  At the age of 15, my then-OB GYN prescribed Darvocet, a combination of Darvon and Tylenol.  Though I did experience heavy bleeding and severe discomfort, I don’t think that  I really needed strong prescription painkillers.

This is the same doctor who gave my mother Premarin in 1984 for a weird vaginal discharge despite the fact that she had gone through menopause about 15 years before then.  He told her she needed something for anxiety due to ‘female issues”. He ignored the green gunk spewing from her body.

She died a year later of metastized uterine cancer.  Even 32 years ago, an able doctor would have known that hormones aggravate uterine cancer.

So I should not be surprised that my measly cramps drew his pad to the steel desktop and garnered a scrawled signature.

Over the years, many doctors used various medications for the pain in my legs.  I got hooked on Valium long before the 60 Minutes expose.  As I aged, I began to juggle Percoset with Vicodin, ostensibly because the two drugs differently impact the efficacy of blood thinners, which I also take.

As the twenty-first century unfolded I had embraced these drugs as a way of life.  I juggled the pills, every four hours, alternating one pill from each bottle nearly around the clock.  In truth, the pain in my legs warrants remediation and no doctor questioned my need.  So I did the dance, and balanced my job, my child, and my marriage.  The fog began to raise its sneaky tendrils and entwine itself around my mind.

I entered my fifties full-throttle, working hard but struggling.  Probably I suffered from depression.  I spent seven weeks in the hospital after a knee replacement.  I recently read a report that my son wrote for fourth grade. It said, My mom got a knee replacement and if you think that’s easy, it’s not.  I succumbed to pneumonia the day after I got out of surgery.  The therapist dragged a humongous machine into my room, insisting despite my fevered state that I allow her to strap my leg into the vicious mechanism.  I lay with tears streaming down my face, flushed, wracked with labored breathing, sobbing.  You’ve got to make 90 degrees before we let you go home, they insisted.

I pressed the button on the machine by my side and a tired, listless aid brought morphine.

By 2005, I had gained sixty pounds and my drug usage had doubled.  My second husband had suffered a catastrophic accident, lying clinically dead for two consecutive four-minute periods.  I had become his caretaker for the fifteen months following that tragedy.  His resentment compounded my despair.  I started using the lovely opioids to help me make it through the night.

My pain arises from a post-encephalitic state.  But my drug dependence had a different origin.  My chaotic childhood, an abusive father, college-era rapes, a flagging self-esteem.  Spin the wheel and take your pick.

I hit 182 pounds six months before I learned about my husband’s newest girlfriend.  I stared at the throw-away cell phone that I found under the couch.  I leaned on the crutches that I had to use because he’d backed his motorized wheelchair over my foot and had broken my ankle.  The text she had sent him described their relationship in embarrassingly frank terms.  I called him at work and told him that I thought he should come home.  Right away.  While I waited, I took a pain pill from the bottle conveniently supplied by the Emergency Room doctor who had no idea about the stash in my bathroom.

After the separation, I decided to lose weight.  As the pounds dropped, the pain in my legs eased but I did not cut down on the Percoset, the Vicodin, and everything else that I stowed in the upstairs cabinet.  My pattern did not relent.

I lost the weight and came away from that marriage adept at driving under the influence.  I never exceeded either drug’s allowed dosage; rather, I persuaded my doctor to keep increasing the number of pills dispensed.  In truth, I needed some help with pain, but I took the drug mostly to avoid dealing with the shambles that my life had become.

I launched into Marriage Number Three weighing 101 and popping pills without stopping.  I didn’t talk to anyone about it.  Not my husband, not my sister, not my son.  No one knew. I am not sure that I even realized that I had become so entrenched in the use of those dangerous substances to abate my emotional instability.  Sadly, they didn’t really help any of the pain but the fog thickened and I could ignore what I felt.

So I cruised into the 20Teens disconnected — from love, from sex, from food, from friends.

Then my sister started PTSD therapy, and my mother-in-law began her long slow descent into dementia.  I tried to help them both and instead, failed them both.  Along the way, I jacked the drug dosage so high that my doctor summoned me into his office and quietly called me on the carpet.  My mother-in-law slipped away while my sister disgorged her terrible bile, story after story of the despicable acts that our father had done to her.  And of course:  To me.

The fog overtook me as the perfect storm hit.  But I could not feel a damned thing.

So I told my doctor:  I have to stop.  I talked to no one else about this.  He tapered me down; and by December 31, 2013, I took my last pill and threw away the bottle.

Six weeks later, my husband left me.  And I could feel every speck of the devastation that his departure levied on my shaky self.

It’s three years later.

I’m clean.

I stayed clean, including rejecting pain pills after a tooth abstraction to the shock of the oral surgeon.  I’ve gone through yet another divorce.  I’ve completely shaken the sad veil of that insidious fog.  I miss having a companion but I understand why he left.  I’ve let the hidden barbs of everything that I suffered rise to the surface.  I’ve extracted them, one by one, torturously.  The wounds festered and I applied whatever salve I could put to hand, but I’ve never gone backwards.  I haven’t turned to alcohol, or food, or street drugs although I’m sure I could find some.  My brain thinks, my nerves feel, my heart aches.

But I’m clean.


I hear that prescription drugs no longer account for most of the American Opioid epidemic and I’m glad for that.  But It’s real, nonetheless, whether from a pharmacy or a pusher.  So believe it. Fear it. Fight it. Watch for the fog and if it creeps into your life or that of someone you love, ignite a bonfire and burn it off. Your survival hinges on your willingness to jerk open the blinds and shine a blazing light into the bleakest corners.

It’s the sixteenth day of the forty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.