Monthly Archives: August 2017

Crystal Clear

I didn’t get an award yesterday for what I did, but it felt good and that counts for a lot.  So, I’m not complaining.

I went into court wearing my usual bizarre hippie-lawyer clothes.  Splashy polka-dot footless tights topped by a knee-length dotted Ann Taylor shift.  I told myself that the tiny dots of my dress “read as a neutral” and hence did not clash with the leggings underneath.  I threw a white sweater around my shoulders and downsized to a small handbag, and called it quits with the fashion police.

My intention had been announced before the hearing started.  Of the six children under the jurisdiction of the Court, I represented  only one.  My client had been in the care of the Children’s Division for sixteen of her twenty months of life. An unexplained broken collar bone sent her to the system, following her four half-siblings.  A sixth child would be born a year later, remaining in her mother’s care but supervised by the state.

We’d passed the federal milestone for moving towards adoption or guardianship.  So we came around the table.  The judge sat on high, flanked by his clerk and the attorney for the juvenile officer.  From left to right:  Mom, her lawyer, the CASA volunteer, the Guardian ad litem for five of the kids, myself as GAL for the twenty-month old, one of the fathers, his lawyer, and the caseworker.

Dad number one, God knows where.  Dad number two, recently gunned down on a city porch.  Dad number four,  a quick in-and-out until he gets an appointed attorney.

The caseworker spoke her piece from the stand.  Questions from all lawyers came at her like the rapid spray of automatic gunfire.  The guardian ad litem for the first four children stood and recommended that their goal be changed to termination of parental rights.  She had her reasons:  Length of time in care; Mother’s meager progress; the death of one of the fathers.  Mother’s head fell into her hands.  She wept.

I had been prepared to follow suit as to my client.  But I found that I could not.  The caseworker’s evidence did not meet the standard for termination, and barring that, I could not recommend proceeding to that end.  I found myself inclined to see the mother’s upward climb towards independence, despite a few relapses in her behavior.  I know she expected me to condemn her, and I would have on the proper facts  But as it was, the attorney for the Juvenile Officer and I both spoke in defense of giving her more time.

It seemed crystal clear to me.  For once, I saw the potential for remediation of a mother who had let her train stall far from the station.  True enough, she still gets Section 8 housing, food stamps, and other government assistance.  But she starts a job on Monday.  She got a driver’s license for the first time at age 24.  She feeds and clothes her baby, and has overnight visitation with two or three children together each week. She’s taking her medication and had a negative drug screen after three in a row positive for alcohol.

When we left the courtroom, the judge had not yet ruled.  But I sensed hope in a place where hope seems all but absent most days.  I count that as a win.

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

Fifty Shades of Truth

Incessant writing provides a chronicle on which I can place reasonable reliance.  Thus my life has an unwitting portrayal of all that happened.  When someone tells me that events did not transpire as I recount them, I scroll through my nine years of blogging, my fifteen years of e-mailing, and my lifetime of scribbling.  I don’t need to play back the journal to the ones who deny what I recall.  It is enough to check my memory against my contemporaneous writing or theirs, and sit back, calm and quiet, amid my fifty shades of truth.

But “being right” has little intrinsic value for me.  I don’t review the paragraphs in order to prove my case.  Rather, I yearn to understand dynamics lest I relapse, or return to clumsy dealings.  I test my memory only to keep my progress pure.  When someone says that what I remember didn’t happen, are they mistaken or am I?  Is the discrepancy between our recollection simply a function of age or perspective?  Was I paying so little attention that I got it drastically wrong? Or do I recall it well, and can now proceed on lessons learned?

Back in my drinking days, I ruefully exclaimed that unfortunately, I never blacked out.  I made choices in my younger years that I would just as soon forget.  I can describe each shabby second.  The one-night-stands, the car accidents, the insistent signal to the reluctant bartender for yet another round.  That period occupies a grim corner of my mind but not a poorly-lit one.  I remember it all, to my deep regret and even shame.

Just so for that space near the end of my dependence on prescription drugs.  I missed some obvious signs in my discordant relationships. I misinterpreted events.  But I vividly recall the details of those events, even though I could not hear the silent lament of those who now look on that period of my life with bitter resentment rather than forgiveness.

The piles of paper on which I penned so many words drift around me.  I lift a sheet and glance at the faded ink.  Could I have loved more, and more kindly?  Of course.  Did I ignore collateral damage when the dominoes fell?  Certainly.  But the steps which I took were as I remember them, even though I sometimes wore blinders that obscured the faces of others as I stumbled by.

The past has taught me well.  The ransom it demanded has been paid.  I do not need to set any record more straight than the one on my healing heart.  To any who wish to rage at me, I extend my open hands but decline to place my head upon the block.

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

Here’s mud in your eye

I wouldn’t quite understand the expression, “here’s mud in your eye!” except  that I’m related to the Dr. Mudd who fixed John Wilkes Booth’s leg.  I’ve always known that “mud in your eye” means disgrace.

This week, mud has taken on a new image for me, as my neighbor’s front yard becomes a growing mountain of muck.  A new sewer line has been tucked into a twenty-foot crevice.

In the meantime, I’ve navigated the debris a few times, but last night consigned myself to park on the street behind the worker’s truck with its little blue heeler lounging on the tool box waiting to be fed and taken home.  I’ve interacted with the pup’s owner three times.  I’ve mentioned the handicapped spot in front (he moves the truck only as long as it takes me to go into the house) and waited while he pushed clods of dirt out of my path.  Yesterday morning, I assured him that I would not be back until 6:30, and invited him to use my driveway.

At 6:45, I pulled alongside the mess, glancing at the digger still straddling the shared asphalt.  I rolled down the window while the guy with whom I’d been conferring all week ambled over.  I asked how long before they planned to quit for the day.  He shrugged.  His eyes met mine.   I could see that he desperately wanted me to understand their dilemma.  No work, no pay; and the sun still shone.

I said, Pull your truck forward, would you?  I’ll park here for now.  I can pull it in back after you leave.  Gratitude oozed from his grin.

As I walked to the house, he told me his name and took off a grimy glove to shake my hand.  I asked him to let me know when they quit for the day.  I’ll holler at you,  he promised.

But of course:  When the sun had set and the motor of the old Ford rumbled to a whisper, the driveway could not be used.  Piles of mud drifted across its surface.  I stood on the porch listening to their anxious promises that they would clean it tomorrow.  Could I stay on the street tonight?

I nodded.  I don’t like it, but what can I do?  What can they do?  We shake hands again and I watch their weary bodies cross my yard and slip into the battered truck.  With the dog alert in the space behind the front seat peering from the window, they pulled  into the night and began their journey to rest.

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

Kindred spirits

One of the reasons that I strive not to complain involves my unswayed belief that if I live joyfully, I will live joyfully.

That’s a corollary of the Corinne Corley / Kati Behan Theory of Social Contact, which goes like this:  The more you go out, the more you go out.

Admittedly, the Theory of Social Contact evolved from a conversation held between two people undoubtedly suffering from self-induced cognitive impairment, but as a theory, it holds a considerable amount of water.  We learned (my cousin Kati Behan and I) that if we continued to paddle in the pool of potential amusing encounters, the stream continued moving and we drifted along with the current, occasionally dipping low enough to catch a few little fishies, take nourishment, and continue swimming.

Moving forward in life, I developed little side theorums to go with the original theory.  These included the dictate that Waitresses Come When You Light Up A Cigarette, now obsolete because smoking has been banished from restaurants.  I guided my early dating life by the original mantra, Men Are Like Streetcars, If You Miss One Another One Will Be Along In a  Minute.  That hasn’t worked in years, but it was a useful guide when I was twenty.

When it comes to the joyful bit, though, I find myself having to adjust the variables and tighten the controls in order to gather enough reliable data.  The problem centers on my cussed weirdness and established inability to squeeze my polygon contours into the diminutive round hole tendered for my use.  In short, the only real way that I can be joyful with any reliable consistency is in isolation, an odd-shaped peg lying on a shelf not really trying to fit into anybody’s idea of a life.

But then:  I’m sitting at my dining room table, surrounded by the jumble that is my downsizing-in-process.  And I’m eating a one-and-a-half inch rectangle of Baklava which I’ve meticulousy gauged for weight-loss documentation.  I sip orange-mango green tea, absent-mindedly petting the head of the old dog.  I focus my old eyes on a Kindle novel, one in a series which I’ve been obsessively reading to get me through some blue days.

And I see this:

“[Y]es, I own a house and there is stuff in there which I purchased, but I only bought a sofa and put it in my living room because I know that’s what people usually do with sofas and living rooms. Almost every choice I made, I made in order to bring myself closer to average.  The whole place is beige and white and magnolia and chrome and so blandly inoffensive it’s like a museum of my opposite.”

From This Thing of Darkness, by Harry Bingham.

I slump back on the chair.  I read the words again, holding them closer to my eyes this time, just in case I got lost in the sentence and they don’t mean what I think they mean, or say what I think they say.  But no, I have it right.  I’m reading a novel about a woman who considers herself just as different from the rest of the world as I do; a woman who has realized that she is not, and will never be, what other women are; who strives to at least appear to conform, at least in certain areas, accumulating home furnishings and clothing for the sole purpose of playing a part that might, eventually, help her to matriculate among other humans without seeming to be stark raving mad.

I’m not sure why knowing that someone can conceive of a character who feels as much an outsider as I do cheers me, but somehow it does.  I think perhaps I might be able to go to work tomorrow.  I might be able to summon a smile, and thank the person who holds the door for me.  I’ll mail a package, and answer phone calls, and eat something for lunch without spending a half an hour obsessing over whether I’ll gain an ounce if I do.  Later, when I’ve done whatever I can do to advance the causes of my clients, I’ll drive myself back home.  I won’t even worry about the people who glance into my car.  Let them think what they will.  I’m going to be joyful regardless.

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

My best self

A few years ago someone asked me what I wanted for myself in the future, and I said, to be my best self.  I’m fairly certain that I’m not not there yet.

All my old faults haunt me.  By now any casual follower of this blog could recite a litany of them, on bended knee, squirming on a hard priedieu.  I would not discount one iota of the recitation, no matter how cruel the intonation.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.  But surely at some point, even the worst sinner deserves absolution.

I suppose that forgiveness requires me to be contrite.  But I don’t feel it.  I trace the neuro-biological impact of my childhood and accept my fair measure of responsibility.  I’ve had six decades to overcome; or maybe, to be fair, four-and-a-half.  My siblings rose above the hand dealt to us, at least three of them really well.  Long-term marriages, stable jobs, beautiful homes, vacations in far away places requiring passports and vaccinations.  Only one suicide.  One late-life marriage.  One with a steady career though some lumpiness along the way, which she has overcome or at least, nearly so.  Another who might or might not be a drinking alcoholic but has a lovely partner who dotes on him.

And then, there’s me.   On the scale of rose-above-it to sank-beneath-the-surface, I cling to somewhere-in-between with dogged determination.  I have a passport but just got it last year and have only used it because Missouri driver’s licenses don’t qualify for Pre-TSA.  I’ve been married and divorced three times but remain on speaking terms with my stable of ex-husbands — or mostly; one’s gone rogue and the other posts on my Facebook page so I suppose that’s enough to qualify.  I’m self-employed, though I’m fairly certain that I’m the only person who would have given me a job before this decade.

You get the picture.  Muddle, muddle, muddle.  But muddle through.

So why can’t I apologize?  Why can’t I admit to my legions of detractors that by God, they have a point.  I could have taken my Jesuit education, shaved my legs, worn a real suit or at least matching separates, and clicked my way through a tidy career with 2.4 children (2.6 if I stayed Catholic) and a fawning husband.

The answer is:  Pick one to die.  Pick one to thrive.  Pick one to get enough right to look the part even though her insides are jelly.  Roll the dice and come up snake eyes.  Throw in a virus to which only .001% of folks fail to develop a natural immunity, a crazed Persian in an uninsured VW, re-routed wiring from that early trauma which impacts everyone a little bit differently, and you’ve got a cocktail that goes down smooth and freezes into noxious bile.

Yeah, you guessed it.  Some fumbling combination of nature and nurture that solidified into the female Frankenstein.  A gravely-voiced mildly benign monster who pens these missives by flickering 40-watt bulb, straining to put something worthwhile in every entry, often falling short but sometimes getting it right, even if by obvious omission.

Does this sound like I’m complaining?  It isn’t mean to be.  It’s me bunching my twisted knickers into a knot and hoisting myself from the muck and mire.  I’m swiping a gnarled hand across my sweaty face and slapping my hair back over my shoulders.  I’m staring in the mirror til my eyes cross and sticking out my tongue, hard and fierce.  I’m slapping my cheeks and pinching my arm until a welt rises and lava floods my face.  I’m looking over my shoulder at the sister leopard standing there and snarling, Okay, I got this.  And turning, sharp, before I see her sympathetic glance.

I’m stemming the tide.  I might be more than a few hundred days late and at least million dollars short.  But I have seen far worse fail to fell so many others.  I’ve seen meth addicts get straight and welfare mothers find jobs and get off the dole.  Get their children back.  Move out of one-room by-the-weeklies into two-bedrooms with a lease and a security deposit.  Maybe they have a resilience that I don’t have, but I’ve got some.  I’m digging deep.  I’m fighting back.

I’m stretching for my best self.

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



Post Script:  My friends, I write this entry not to denigrate any good that I’ve done, or my fine son, or any goodness inside me.  I write this entry to remind everyone, including myself, that it is possible to rise above adversity; that it is permissible to express frustration or fear.  I write this post to encourage myself, as well as everyone else, to persevere; to continue to put one foot forward whether it’s your best foot or not.  I invite you not to feel sorry for me, or to suspect me of self-flagellation, but to see that I recognize my potential even as I acknowledge that I’ve possibly not honored it.  And the reference to 2.4 / 2.6 children is a statistical reference to the average number of children in a family back when I was “of marriage-able age”, not to any perceived deficiency in myself for only having raised one.  Thank you.  With special thanks to a certain English professor who has turned out to be one of my number one fans.  Thanks, Andrea.  I appreciate you.


Today I started thinking about trust.

It began in a Family Support Team meeting where the father of a tiny child threw a piece of paper down in disgust, snapping.  This does not describe the woman that I’ve known for the last year!  He cradled his daughter while the professionals turned toward him with empathetic faces.  The infant’s mother flashed her eyes but only a handful of people in the room believed her, and none of them wore their names in little plastic holders on a lanyard around their necks.

I lifted the paper from the table, touching it, smoothing out the words dancing across it.  She stipulated to these accusations,  I said, as kindly as the early morning and lack of coffee would allow.  Then she had a lousy lawyer! he raged in return.

On the way back to my office, I thought about his anger.  He believed her to be the kind woman with whom he made that baby.  But I had read the reports:  Her other daughter’s fractured skull, belt buckle marks on her son, the flailing chain of her purse across his bottom.  That man had trusted her to carry the fruits of their affection.  Now a very different image assaulted his eyes.  I could not blame him for rejecting what he saw.

I hammered through the accumulated e-mails, searching for something that I could do which might improve someone’s life.  A dozen miles away, another father spoke into the phone, his motherless daughter cooing in his ear.  I told him what he needed to hear:  No, her grandmother did not sign the stipulation.  She’s still resisting the seemingly inevitable truth.  The law entitles him to his child upon the death of the other parent.  No one counted on the grandmother’s grief; no one thought about a body riddled in bullets, the shooter dead on the floor, two lives sacrificed to the tortured drama of a soured love affair.

The dying woman’s mother snatched up the two-year-old and clutched her to a heaving bosom for four weeks before my client gently took his daughter home.  Now we’re battling.  She wants to cling to the only remaining fragment of her flesh and blood.  Yet the father has a right to raise the child.  What do these words mean?  A woman opened her door to someone whom she thought she could trust.  Now the judge will have to decide between grief and public policy, as the angels wail.

I’ve only trusted a half-dozen people in my life.  I’m fairly certain each intended to honor the faith which I placed in them.  My burned fingers tell another story.  I touched the pan; flames seared my flesh.  Now I stagger, numb with shock.  But no blood seeps into the worn carpet under foot.  I wonder if I’m any less destroyed than the woman who fell upon the floor after that terrible barrage, lying in the silence with a look of shock upon her lifeless face.

I step around the litter of broken dreams.  But when I close my eyes, I know that in a moment, they will open again.  My lungs fill with air, however stale.  I’m juggling only a terrible truth, not the slam of a gavel’s irreversible pronouncement.  The silence around me can still be broken.

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

I’m told that eventually this stairway will be traversed by judges, so that they do not have to mingle with the rest of us to enter Family Court.


I’ve taken the route between home and my office five days each week, times fifty-two weeks per year, times seven years , not counting weekends, or special events, or mad dashes home to see if I failed to turn off the burner under the coffee.  Yesterday I swooped around a familiar curve and slowed, staring.  I considered pulling to the curb, but decided that my intrusion would be unwelcome, so I continued north.

But the sight of a woman sitting at a bus stop on the little seat of her walker still haunts me. Her grey hair lay flat against her small head, brushed a hundred times.  A pressed collar hugged a frail neck, tightly buttoned beneath a cardigan.  I saw my mother.  My sister.  Myself.

A block further north, in the long stretch of parkway, two men sat on a bench.  They looked like missing pieces of an urban landscape, one with withered pale skin, one with smooth skin black as night.  I watched a hand lift, gesturing.  Twin smiles beamed from their worn faces.  I saw my father, my brother, my son.

By the bike stand on the Plaza, a pair of young girls darted in front of my car with tennis bags over their shoulders.  The fresh blush of summer youth shone from their bodies.  I shook my head.  I judged their age at nineteen or twenty.  I did not recognize the styles they wore.  Nothing about their demeanor resonated with me.  But one turned her head just as she reached the curb and dazzled me with a grin and the quick flick of a thankful hand.

The light turned; I started forward. A siren’s wail stopped my passage.  Four cars slammed through the intersection, lights blazing, wheels swerving.  My hand lifted in a long-remembered cross.  A mumbled prayer escaped my lips right before the fifth car barreled passed.  When my heart quit pounding, I followed the other cars through the intersection with only a small wince of fear pulsing through my veins.

My little car eased to the curb and I cut the silent motor, safe at work.  I sat, just for a few minutes, watching the morning coffee hunters light and circle the doors of the Broadway Cafe.  They came out clutching cups against their chest.  I shook my head, then slid from the driver’s seat, grabbing my bag, settling my feet firm against the asphalt.  Another day began.

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

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I wasn’t sure if the grinning eight-year-old boy understood who I was or why I sat at his kitchen table hobnobbing with him and his father.

We talked about basketball, his new school, the places he’s lived, and how he felt about Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Kharim Abdul Jabar.  He raised thin eyebrows to learn that this old lady has seen the last two in that list play ball.  He talked about the swingset in the backyard (he’s too big for it), the hoop (he and his stepbrother play against Dad) and what he’s been doing this summer.  Every once in a while, his father added a gentle comment or I asked a question, interspersing the ones to which I needed answers with milder ones aimed at seeing the interplay between man and boy.

He pegged a few events as occurring before or after he “went to foster care”.  A flicker of pain crossed his father’s face each time the child casually referenced a dark time before the father and son reunion.  His father said, I thank God for that foster mother.  He reflected a moment.  I thank God for holding my boy in the hollow of his hands.

I broke a moment of silence to ask the child if he knew what “foster care” meant.  The boy looked beyond me, into a space where no one else could walk.  He drew those delicate brows together, and then the liquid pools of brown beneath them danced with light.

Yes, I do. He smiled.  Foster care is when the people give their own time, and their own money, and their own love to help the children who don’t have any parents to take care of them.

I felt a rush of chill throughout my body.  His father and I looked at one another.  I asked the boy if someone had told him that or if he just thought of it.  I thought of it in my own head, he replied.

I had no doubt.

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