Monthly Archives: October 2022

Things I Should Be Doing

At 7:30 a.m. on the Saturday of the last weekend in October, many tasks await me.

My mail-in ballot sits under a stack of oddments pulled from my leather backpack during the frantic search for the earrings that I took off right before surgery last week.  I haven’t put away the load of clothes that I ran through my combo unit on Wednesday or washed my assortment of leggings in preparation for the coming workweek.  Don’t get me started on the breakfast debris cluttering the counter; the sitting-room light cover gathering dust on my desk; or the half-made bed on which I collapsed, exhausted, after last evening’s laborious trudge from the garden meadow after the community movie night.

Instead of attending to any of those obligations, I spent an aimless hour scrolling through the automatically uploaded photos from my phone, social media posts from my friends with children and grandchildren of Trick-or-Treat age, and ruminating on my sister’s kindness.

I don’t begrudge that hour.  

The lost earrings disappeared in the haze of twilight sleep.  I bought them for myself at Vulcan’s Forge in Kansas City in one of the dark years between my last divorce and my dash west to safety from the memories which haunted me everywhere I turned in my beloved Brookside bungalow.  I quite liked those earrings.  They consisted of a single, delicate disk of blue stone — sapphire, I thought — welded on a thin sterling wire with a secure catch.  I bought them in a wistful moment to go with the sterling-and-sapphire necklace that my then-husband gave me for the last birthday we celebrated together.  He presented them without ceremony over dinner with his father at some Johnson County restaurant where my clothes looked as out-of-place as my wild Lebanese hair which, at the time, I was striving to let go naturally grey.

For a few years, I saved that necklace for special occasions.  Truth told, though:  I don’t have many of those.  I don’t go on dates.  I live in the California Delta, which defines casual.  So now I wear that strand whenever its color and shimmer will enhance the dress-and-legging-combination du jour.  Its silky feel against my skin never fails to raise a smile.  

I took the earrings off just before they wheeled me into the operating room to allow a surgeon to commandeer a slice of my right calf for diagnostic analysis.  I had left all of my other jewelry in the little safe at my hotel room just before my 5:30 a.m. Lyft ride to the Stanford Outpatient Surgery center.  The driver had made a pleasant observation about my being an early riser.  When he realized where I had asked him to take me, he drew to a sharp halt beside the car door which he had started to close.  Alone? he asked, in the startled voice which instantly told me that I could trust this stranger.  I admitted as much.  He held his hand above my arm as though he wanted to give me a gentle pat but knew that doing so would violate the rules of our relationship.  I thought I saw him shake his head just a little, with something like chagrin.

I wore those earrings every day because they fit so well and the clasp stayed securely shut.  I could rake a comb through my tangles, struggle out of a tight sweater, or sleep like a dead person without losing one of them.  So I didn’t think about them until the nurse asked if I wore any jewelry.  She waited while I disengaged their clasp and slipped them into the zippered pocket of my purse.

Or so I thought.  But a day or two later, when I realized that I still had not unpacked from my brief sojourn in Stanford’s grip, I could not find them.  Did I imagine the conversation with that white-clad attendant?  Had I taken them off at home, in the hotel, or in the cold, sterile environment just before the anesthesiologist flashed the Men-In-Black light which robbed me of any memory of the surgeon’s knife?

Two nights ago, I searched through the online shop of Vulcan’s Forge for something similar.  I have no business making a purchase for myself two months before Christmas, when I have friends and family for whom I want to buy gifts before my trip  home.  But I wanted earrings to replace the ones that I have determined no longer exist within my realm.  Call me selfish; call me sentimental; say that I create a false dialogue for the soundtrack of my solitary existence. Guilty, guilty, and guilty.

As I wended my way through Russell Criswell’s amazing merchandise, thinking about him and the custom work that he does as well as his pleasant personality and intriguing travels, my sister Joyce called.  I continued browsing while we talked.  I told her about my earrings.  Suddenly, I found a pair not exactly like the ones I lost but evocative of them.  I gasped and then excitedly explained.  But no, I ruefully observed.  I’m meant to be saving for my grim, future existence.  A few minutes later, I heard an alert on my phone.  My sister had sent the cost of the earrings via Venmo with a note, Merry Christmas, buy the earrings.

My coffee grows cold in the pottery mug sitting on the edge of the counter.  I’m still gazing at photos, remembering the moments in which I took each one.  Here I sat waiting for a boat to pass, while the Mokelumne River drawbridge stood open.  Here I pulled over to the ditch, gazing at a red-tailed hawk perched on the branches of the old tree that the county has been slowly dismantling over the last few months.  Here I leaned against my car to snap the crimson glow of the setting sun through the wires above the park.  

In a little while, a woman named Dani, who travels the country in her trailer with her service dog Smokey, will stroll over from the east side of the park.  We will take my car and tour the Delta before heading to Lodi so she can run a few necessary errands.  Somewhere along the way, we’ll stop for what my mother would call “a good lunch”.  Everything that I should be doing instead of writing and ruminating on the bumpy contours of my tiny world will have to wait until my return.

It’s the twenty-ninth day of the one-hundred and sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

The Four Questions

There I lay:  In yet another cubicle, for yet another procedure, with no family or partner beside me.  I had undressed, donned the over-sized hospital gown, and held fast to my glasses even as my clothes, shoes, and purse got tucked into a paper bag.  Now a perky woman settled into a rolling chair for a series of intrusive inquiries into my medical and social history.

After the usual drone about my current medications, any Covid exposure, my vaccination status, and my habits (bad and good), she raised an eyebrow.   Now I have four questions about suicide, she calmly informed me.

In the last two to three weeks, have you thought about harming yourself?

In the last two to three weeks, have you thought your family and friends would be better off without you?

In the last two to three weeks, have you considered suicide?

Have you ever attempted suicide?

I answered every question with the same firmly intoned response:  No ma’am.  Four times.  No ma’am, no ma’am, no ma’am, no ma’am.  I focused my eyes on hers, noting their clarity, the slightly hazel tint, and the fine lashes.  She didn’t look at her computer screen; she had these questions committed to heart.

The only trouble is, they are not the right questions.  Ask me this one:  Do you feel invisible?

Every goddamn day of my life.

A cheerful doctor followed her into the curtained area.  He acknowledged our prior meeting via video.  He signed his name on my right calf, sketched the size of the sample that he intended to remove, and patted me on the arm.  Another doctor took his place, and explained that they had nixxed the idea of general anesthesia.  Nurses circulated.  Someone wheeled me into the operating room.  I lay on the table, surrounded by figures in green.  I closed my eyes for a second and then, opened them again to see a woman bending over me.  She said,  You’re awake, good, how do you feel?

An hour or so later, my friend Jim and his mother pulled to the outside door.  An orderly helped me from a wheelchair.  We went to breakfast; and then, Jim and Mary said goodbye at my hotel room.  I drew the shade and lay under my wool jacket on the fresh sheets.  I slept for several hours and woke with a pounding headache and a throbbing leg.  Twenty hours passed, while I huddled in that room, eating delivered food and pieces of chocolate sent by Jim’s wife.  Shortly after dawn, I dragged my bags to the car and headed for the ocean.  I did not stop until I found a parking space on the shores of my Pacific.  I stood for a very long time while the fog lifted and the waves broke against the rocks below me.

It’s the twenty-second day of the one-hundred and sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Sunrise, sunset

My son spent a summer in Los Angeles, years ago, in college or graduate school.  At the end of the summer, he drove straight to Kansas City, never stopping.  He left LA in the dead of night and saw the sun rise over some mountain range.  He sent a photograph of it.  That started a kind of competition between us which I have continued, on my own it seems.  Who can find the most beautiful sunrise?  I let that moment overcome my worry about his sleepless hours on the road and what compelled him to make that long trip without stopping to rest.

The gallery in my phone burgeons with snapshots of dawn and dusk.  I used to carry a little Canon but the lenses in my phone surpass that mediocre technology.  As autumn overtakes my world, my workday ends closer and closer to the Delta sunset.  I watch the crows settle in the gathering darkness as the last crimson rays seep across the horizon.  When my alarm trills in the stillness of my tiny house, I contemplate sunrise over Lake Michigan and my son’s home in the city on its southern shore.  Sunrise, sunset.  Sunrise, sunset.  Quickly go the years.

He called me today, that boy of mine.  We talked about the biopsy which I have scheduled for the morning.  The scariest thing about the procedure is the general anesthesia.  Or perhaps, the two hour drive from my home on the San Joaquin to the Stanford facility at Redwood City.  I saw an horrific accident today coming back from lunch in Half Moon Bay.  When I texted my friends to make sure that they had gotten through before the crash, the answering assurance included this observation:  It’s why we say don’t take tomorrow for granted.  That must have happened within minutes of our passing through.

As I face yet another medical challenge, thoughts of my mother hover near.  Although the doctors called her death the result of metastatic uterine cancer, we knew better.  A careless doctor labelled her symptoms hysteria or maybe menopause, even though she’d gone through the change fifteen years earlier under his care.  He prescribed Premarin, known even in the 1980s to aggravate uterine cancer.  It did its job.  Then a careless surgeon caused damage which delayed radiation.  Mom died a few months later,  two weeks shy of her fifty-ninth birthday.

I bitterly raged against the men who treated my mother with so little care.  I could do nothing about the surgeon; but the gynecologist retired under pressure from Lucille Corley’s baby daughter.  I could not save my mother, but at least I could avenge her.

The new maladies with which I’ve been diagnosed have plagued me for several years, during which I mentioned their symptoms to several doctors.  I desperately wondered if my mother’s fate loomed large for me.  Not until I got referred back to Stanford did someone listen.  Now a whirlwind of specialists have taken charge of my disposable hours.  They tell me that I can see many sunrises with careful attention to my health.  I certainly intend to try.

It’s the twentieth day of the one-hundred and sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Morning Moon

For the twenty-five years during which I had my own law practice, I found myself drawn to flip the scene from time to time.  I sat in the client chairs to face my own normal position.  I went out into the waiting room and paced, alert for sounds of the inner office door.  I called into the front desk and asked to speak with myself.  The change in perspective reminded me of my purpose, of the people whom I served.

As I drove to work in the bright morning air yesterday, I chanced to raise my eyes to the western sky.  The moon shimmered in the rays of the eastern light.  From the side of the levee road, on the edge of an open field, my cell phone’s camera captured the lunar presence.  I had no idea what I might see in the images.  I did not expect to be reminded of my mission here.

The moon never protests her place in the sky.  She reflects what shines on her.  Yet she has her own presence.  Her surface contours speak of her character.  We castigate her potential for sustaining life, yet she draws the waters of our planet to and fro.  Our beaches bear gifts from her tidal pull, shells which our delighted children clutch in their small hands and shards of wood that we turn into benches.  We take her for granted, but she gives balance.  She casts her glow on our meadows and the cheeks of our lovers.  She kisses the dew as she abandons her subtle light to the brash blaze of her bolder sister.

After I had taken a few shots, I resumed my journey into work.  I turned onto 12 with the same caution.  I glanced at Mt. Diablo as I passed, the way I do every morning.  But when I got to the suite of someone else’s firm in the back office of which I work after decades of being the empress of the universe, I felt a difference in the spring of my step.  What did that poem say, the one which I memorized in kindergarten?  “Be the best of whatever you are.”  And oh, by the way — no moaning.  Just rise and shine.

It’s the twelfth day of the one-hundred and sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



(1) Remind me to tell you the story some time.

I Am Grateful

Now that I’ve told my sister about the frustratingly nonaccessible facilities and the waste-of-time pre-op anesthesia visit, the experiences don’t seem so annoying.  I slogged through it, voiced my opinion when asked, and ended my day at a charming little house in Santa Cruz.  The air bears the breath of the ocean.  I saw the glow of the setting sun on her surface.  Tomorrow I will drive to the boardwalk and sit on a bench.  Her voice beckons me.

My list of tasks looms like the low-lying fog that rolled into the bay this evening.  But in the morning, I shall wrap myself in a purple shawl and linger over tea.  The ripples of my intention will spread.  I’ve done enough that only a little effort will carry me through.  Later, I will find a place to sticker for Xander, my friend Beth’s son who tragically died, and for whom I carry little stickers which she sends us to take a bit of him to places he never saw.

On this morning’s drive from the Delta, I thwarted the GPS lady and took the backroad.  I tarried on the banks of the slough.  I turned off the radio, lowered the window, and aimed my camera at a proud heron.  He did not flinch.  If I had a mean streak, I would have set the phone to video and tapped my horn to capture his startled flight.  Instead, I murmured my thanks and continued towards the highway. 

After my gracious hostess got my bags into the little bedroom, I asked about vegetarian restaurants.  She wrinkled her brow and mentioned Cafe Gratitude.  “Perfect!”, I proclaimed; and off I went.  Now my leftovers sit on a shelf in the homeowner’s fridge.  They will make a nice breakfast, with a hot beverage, on the little deck that she mentioned I would share with her housemates.  “They just got married,” she informed me, with a bright twinkle in her clear eyes.  

In the restaurant, a sign asked for what I am grateful.  I made a list as I ate my salad.  My sister; my son; the folks at the park where I live; a job; a full belly.  A reliable car.  Dawn at the ocean.  Dusk in the Delta.  Twenty-five years beyond the grim life expectancy pronounced over my hospital bed.  A grey heron who posed for me, on a hyacinth-choked waterway, beyond the confluence of two great rivers.

It’s the seventh day of the one-hundred and sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

My alliterative life

Today my neighbor Robin remarked on my ability to keep going in the face of adversity.  She stood outside my vehicle with her little dogs.  We had stopped to chat about upcoming events, which segued into our common desire to strengthen community.  Although Robin has an infinitely sweeter personality than mine, she’s not quite the go-getting, brow-beating organizer that I’ve trained myself to be.  She wants me to lend that spirit to an effort to knit this row of tiny houses into a community within the park where we live.  For my part, I think it will take both of us:  Her lovely personality, and my relentless drive.

After our chat, I went into the house.  I answered a few texts; initiated several more; and sent a couple of emails.  With the last of the community garden tomatoes (which Robin brought me), I made a salad and sat at my table, idly reading an old British detective novel.  Outside my window, the sunset reflected in the windows of the house to my east.  That dwelling currently stands empty.  Its owners pursue graduate studies in the Bay area.  I miss them.

Night fell.  My son sent a message answering an earlier query.  I opened some business mail and scrunched my eyes in consternation.  Then I put it away; a trifling really, in the grand scheme of things.  Instead I scrolled through the gallery of my cell phone.  I’d seen a ship on the San Joaquin make its zug-zag crawl, confusing my sense of direction.  Beyond the abandoned crane, a murder of crows rose in the afternoon air while I watched from a turn-out on the levee road.  I waited, hoping the ship would come closer, but it must have been in-bound towards Rio Vista.  I pulled out onto Brannan Island Road and headed to Isleton.

My empty post-office box reminded me that I don’t really need it anymore.  We have post-office-issue boxes at the park now, and in any event, since I closed my law practice I have no need for a confidential repository of inbound items.  I haven’t quite let go of my identity as a Missouri attorney.  Somehow, that image has gotten intertwined with the heavy key on my ring.  I guess I’ll keep it for another quarter.  It’s certainly cheap enough.

I didn’t get as much done today as I planned.  The little piles of paper stare accusingly in my direction.  I meant to sort them.  I intended to work on my website, write an article about the upcoming events that I’m managing, and write a few thank-you cards.  Instead, I went for a drive, talked for ten minutes to Robin, washed a load of clothes which I haven’t yet dried, and finished an entertaining novel.  I wonder what Judge Peggy McGraw would think of my dawdling, she who once took judicial notice of my relentless nature.  Relentless, resilient, resigned.  

October crept up on me.  I woke to its second day with a feeling of astonishment.  How can the year be three-quarters gone?  What do I have to show for these nine months?  I gaze around me, mystified.  Wafts of chilly autumn air drift through the window, bearing slight sounds of nighttime in the Delta — an owl’s bold hoot, the skittering of creatures through the brush, the whistle of wind across the river.  I sit with my chin in my hand, balanced on one boney elbow.  

If I measure my life by the fullness of my heart, I’ve had a good run so far.  My high school class prediction led the world to expect little of me:  “In twenty-five years, Mary Corinne Corley will still be signing her name, ‘Mary. Corinne. Corley.'”  The backrow of girls onstage twittered.  They meant to insult me with that claim by implying that no one would ever bestow their surname on me through marriage.  Too right they proved to be.  I don’t feel the loss of that convention, but sometimes, like now, I wish this were a tiny house for two.  I’d like to show someone this photograph and say, “See?  I told you these ships snake across the land.”  And then we’d share a laugh, because sometimes the human eye sees no better than the human heart.

It’s the second day of the one-hundred and sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.