Monthly Archives: November 2021

Another Year of Giving Thanks

In Novembers not too distantly past, my dinner table would hold two-dozen, with folding chairs and tables extending its capacity.  Family-by-choice tucked napkins in their laps and indulged my insistence on the Corley tradition of announcing “thankful-fors”, youngest to oldest around the circle.  A turkey would be carved, dressing heaped into a serving bowl, cranberries of all types passed from hand to hand.  After dinner, one of the guests would whip cream while another carried pies to the table.

In other years, my son and I joined the gathering in the homes of friends who would have graced our table.  We sometimes drove from house to house, sharing two dinners or arriving somewhere in time for dessert and coffee after a day of laughter and sharing.  Decades ago, I cooked Thanksgiving Cornish hens in a wood-burning stove in the Arkansas Ozark mountains.  In my college days, I collected kindred misfits without nearby family for potluck in a south St. Louis apartment.  Just three years ago, I drove to Oakland for crab and vegetable soup.  

But wherever I dine on Thanksgiving Day, my mind drifts to my childhood home, to Jennings, Missouri and my mother’s table.  Eight children, two parents, occasionally an aunt, an uncle, or my mother’s parents.  We donned our church clothes, did our allocated chores, and murmured grace in a mumbled chorus.  A little hope curled in my heart, a yearning that chaos would yield to calm.  I lowered my head and reflected on what I would say after my little brothers chortled their gratitude for turkey legs and pumpkin pie.  I wanted to express what I felt deep within some place where my secret dreams slept.  I usually clenched and simply said that I was thankful for my family, not a lie but rather less grand than I intended.

When I told my sister Joyce that I intended to sell my house, close my law practice, and move to  California, she did not predict my certain failure.  She suppressed speculation on my waning sanity.  She refrained from persuading me to change my mind.  She merely lifted one eyebrow in my mother’s image and asked if my tiny house would have a guest bed.

The GPS lady took me out of the way yesterday, around a dark levee road to the back entrance of the Sacramento Airport.  I thought I could see my sister in the blaring lights of the baggage claim area but a surly officer scolded me for hovering.  I made another circle.  Then I clearly saw her, outside now, watching.  I waved away the same agent as he approached my car.  I pointed to my big sister, standing on the sidewalk with a suitcase adorned with llamas and a pink backpack in which, I happened to know, she had likely stowed a Betsy Johnson crossbody adorned with roses and skulls.  He yielded as she approached.

An hour later, we teased each other over breakfast at the Flag City Denny’s.  Behind the waitress’s mask, a smile bloomed and lit her eyes.  Joyce and I cannot spend time together without making new friends, over-tipping, and finding thrift-store bargains.  Whatever difficulties had torn the glee from my week melted away, forgotten in the happy air.  I asked the server, Can you tell we’re sisters, and before she could respond, Joyce added, and she’s the snotty one!  We all three laughed.

Joyce and I will dine today at the Ryde Hotel on the Sacramento River.  We will doubtless find lots about which to giggle.  We will put aside troubles and trials.  We’ll ignore any diet that either of us might otherwise pursue and help ourselves to seconds, extra butter, bountiful sides, and multiple desserts.  As the afternoon wanes, I will ask her for what she is thankful.  Her response matters less than the fact that she has flown two thousand miles to answer our perennial question in the adopted of home of her baby sister.

It’s the twenty-fifth day of the ninety-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.


Heart Monitor

I finally made it to the cardiologist whom I had not seen since before the start of the pandemic.  I ran out of my two cardiac medications about six months ago.  I know the condition with which I’ve been diagnosed can’t kill me. It causes discomfort but that mild and occasionally accelerating flutter does not mean “call 9-1-1”.  But the “Corley heart” has killed quite a few, so I keep tabs on the situation.

Going without heart pills for six months gives me a new perspective.  More importantly, it allows this cardiologist to get his own baseline.  He did not scold me. In fact, he leapt at the chance to make his own record.  He knows that SVT won’t kill me.  VT can; SVT will not.  So you live with the discomfort, you try ablation, or you take one of the pills that I’ve had prescribed for more than a decade.  The fact that I did not drop dead over the summer tells him that the diagnosis is likely correct.  The monitor which I’m wearing for the next two weeks should provide more input.

Monitors have changed since I last wore one.  No more long wires and sticky pads.  No more heavy box to hang at your waist.  I’ve got a six-inch strip adhered to my chest and a button gizmo snapped in the center of it.  I press that button if I feel “a symptom”, and a list of one through seven in a log where I record the event.  My favorite is “7. Other”.  I seem to fit into the “other” category at almost every level of my life.

So now, along with working 32 hours per week, planning our Holiday Market, getting ready for my sister’s visit, and battling cobwebs, I’m trying to distinguish heartburn from heart palpitations.  I realized halfway through the first full day that I’ve essentially trained myself to ignore what my body feels.  The muscle cramps in the night; the pain in my gut when I accidentally eat cheese; the perpetual headaches; the burning in my legs; I push all of these to the darkest recess of consciousness and grimly trudge forward.  Now that I have to attend to one small center of my physical universe, my mind spins a counter narrative.  That’s not tachycardia.  That’s lunch.  No, don’t push the button — what if it’s just an asthma attack?  They’ll read the chart and say, ‘This woman has no heart issue, she’s just bored.’

On the rare occasions when I have to present myself to an emergency room for an actual injury, I resist the triage nurse’s inane query about my level of pain.  “Zero being no pain and ten being the worst pain you ever felt, how would you rate your pain today?”  Uh, what?  Here’s my pain scale:  The haunting disconnect from pushing the Vicodin prescription to its extreme versus my mother’s long, slow death from metastatic misdiagnosed uterine cancer which hit her lung, bones, and brain before death finally soothed her.  My understanding of “ten” might be different than that of the nurses in those over-crowded ERs.  

Wearing this heart monitor gives me an idea, though.  Why can’t someone invent a device to monitor emotional heart sensations?  Like, on a scale of zero to ten, how much joy are you feeling?  What quantum of grief?  How much in love are you?  How sad?  

Push a button here, in the center of your soul, and jot a note.  11/21/2021, 9:30 a.m., Homesickness surge.  At a distant monitor, a technician turning the pages of a magazine and wondering what her spouse packed in her lunchbox suddenly notices a blip on your screen.  Danger! Danger!  Imminent heart-sick attack!  Send help!  She dials a number and sends your next-door neighbor down the front walk to knock on your door with a batch of chocolate cookies.

How cool would that be?

In the meantime, I’m going to take another stab at showering without getting this monitor wet.  Later, I’ll haul the Harvest Market vinyl banners into the community room and use the backs of them to make Holiday Market signs.  By and by, I’ll get out my trusty stepstool, and take another stab at the ash and dust which has accumulated in the upper regions of my tiny house.  My big sister is coming to visit me for Thanksgiving.  When I see her walk through the doors of the Southwest Airlines Passenger Arrival gate, my heart will beat against my chest as happiness surges through its chambers and sets it dancing to its own wonky beat.

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

My big sister Joyce Corley and me, April 2021, Vallejo Ferry Terminal.

Lies I tell myself

I creep down the stairs from my tiny bedroom to the first floor.  As I clutch the railing, I tell myself, Don’t fall, girl; if you break your neck it will be weeks before someone thinks to check on you.  I shake my head as a litany of names scrolls across the invisible screen, starting with my sister, the woman for whom I work, the lady who manages the kiosk in the park.  I cross two feet to the stove and start the kettle.

Later I pull on a pair of slacks.  My eyebrows raise.  They seem tighter than last winter.  So I’m finally a size large, I mutter.  I knew that I had gained weight but  had no idea how much.  But since the garment now fits well, I wonder what brand it is; perhaps I can find another pair.  I look at the tag and grunt in surprise.  Size Small.  Small.  Not large — small.  I allow myself a brief, tight smile.

On the phone last evening, I heard a question posed by my sister about my day off as an attack on my worth.  That mantra has reverberated in my skull for years.  You don’t do enough; you don’t work hard; you failed at everything you ever tried.  Whose voice?  So many.  I blurt out, I’ve lots to do tomorrow!  I might not be going to work-work, in the office, but I have so much else on my plate!  My sister tells me she didn’t mean to sound critical; she just wanted me to have a good Friday.  I know that; I recognize that she, of all people, understands my efforts to succeed.  We talk through my defensive disclosure.  She stays with me until we can talk easy again.  

I once finished dressing for a date, only to have my waiting companion say, Is that what you plan to wear?  I looked down at my outfit and admitted that it was.  Do you have anything else? he asked.  I gestured to my closet and replied, Yes, but it all pretty much looks like this.  I spent the evening studying the other women at the cocktail party, wondering why my attire fell short.  Years later, I still question my clothing choices.  My closet has shrunk from a ten-foot walk-in to a twenty-one inch cubby, but it still pretty much all looks the same:  apparently not quite right.  When I get dressed in the morning, I tell myself it does not really matter.

I stretch my fingers out above the keyboard of my laptop.  My knuckles seem larger.  I don’t have arthritis, but the spasticity in my hands has taken its toll.  I see the same brown spots that my mother bore in her later years.  I study my broken nails.  The inner voice whispers, those look terrible; good grief, woman, don’t you own a file?  I probably do; but I have never been one for such tasks.  Nobody looks at my hands anyway, do they?  

My heart flutters.  After a long, pandemic-driven hiatus, I’m visiting the cardiologist next week.   His nurse will do an EKG.  They will ask me how I’ve been feeling.  They will patiently wait for my response.  I will look out the window for a long, steady moment.  Then I will tell them, I’m fine.  

It’s the twelfth day of the ninety-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world. — Helen Keller



The time in between

I pulled a drawer too far out on its rails today and the entire contents preceded the drawer to the floor.  The long breath that I drew did not quite  sustain me as I lowered myself onto a bench and started retrieving paperclips, pens, and micro-disks from beneath the cabinets.   With everything gathered back into the compartments of the wooden organizer, I started to calculate how I would lift myself to chair level.

Most people bend and crumple with age.  My body began to curl within itself so many years ago that I have no memory of any other condition.  I haul myself from the floor, clutching the post of my stairs.  With an angled lean, I snag the drawer with one hand, balancing it on my knees.  It wavers and I let go of the rail to steady it with both hands.  I ask myself, what will you do it it falls again?  The answer comes, sort it again, put it all back again.  My inner laugh sounds almost rueful.

I will never understand the glibness of the able-bodied.  They drop something and retrieve it without a second thought.  As for myself, I invented an entire mythology to avoid the struggle of stooping for dropped coins.  It’s angel money, I would tell my small son and his friends.  If you leave it on the floor, the angels will come.  At a certain point, I’d tell them, now you can gather all the angel money.  I’d let them use their finds to buy what they wanted.  My son put his in a piggy bank and paid for his own souvenirs at Disney World.

Two motorcyclists drove past our park this afternoon, slowing their pace as they drew even with my row of houses.  I stood by my car and watched their progress.   When they got beyond our community, their engines raced.  A murder of crows rose from the wires above me.  The cacophony of their call cut across the air.  A flutter of leaves drifted from the towering oak.  I remember complaining about life in Arkansas, about the open space and the simplistic rhythm of the days.  At thirty-two I yearned for the smog, noise, and grime of the city.  I couldn’t wait to escape.  Now I shudder at the folly of such impatience.

The radio blares with accounts of conflict, death, and sorrow.    I dump my groceries on the counter and stand to listen.  A young girl describes the crowd pressing forward at a Texas concert where eight people died.  I shake my head.   The story fades and a woman starts talking about coming to America from Afghanistan.  She describes hiding from the Taliban; the sudden loss of freedom; the fear; the terror.  I turn the radio off.  Standing in the silence, I feel the rapid irregular beating of my heart.

I breath; in, out.  I lower myself into a chair.  I study this small dwelling in which I have crafted an existence.  In my old house, my traditional house, my lovely 1258 sq. ft., hundred-year-old bungalow, someone once asked me, Don’t you want more for yourself?  I shook my head then; I feel the motion again, now, here.  Quite the contrary, it seems; I wanted less.  My heart slows, then finds its  own wonky rhythm.  One day that missing beat will fell me, but today is not that day.

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