Author Archives: ccorleyjd365

That Kind of Person

I’ve always been the kind of person whom you can take at face value.

If I were going to be duplicitous, I’d get a better line.  I’d present myself with more appeal.  I’d polish my smile, put a lilt in my voice, and learn a few more gaudy adjectives.  

That I speak my mind cannot be denied.  I’ll compliment you, call you out, lift you to the heavens, and drag myself down with the coldest assessment of my worth you’ve ever heard.  I don’t mince words.  That comes to disaster at times.  A woman once asked me how I liked her curls.  I meant to ask if she had gotten a permanent.  Instead, my true sentiments twisted my tongue and I blurted out, “Did you do that on purpose?”  

I’m the kind of woman who gathers the leftover flapjacks at the community dinner to freeze.  Popped in the toaster, spread with sunflower seed butter, adorned with cut peaches alongside strong, dark coffee, they make a wonderful breakfast.   But I can’t bend to retrieve coins which slip from my spastic hands.  So I invented the concept of Angel money. I leave the scattered pennies for the guardians who have protected me through every challenge.  

I’m not the kind to shrink from my mistakes.  I tend to overplay them.  I rewrite every dialogue until I hit upon the better way of phrasing something — less abrasive, more kind.  Then I watch for a chance to apologize and rephrase.  I’ll listen when others do the same.  I like do-overs.  I’m not sure it’s forgiveness, exactly.  I recognize, after six decades, that we’re all just stumbling through the weeds, looking for a path to paradise.

The other day someone confessed to being uncomfortable with my disability.  I used to get that line a lot.  I don’t know if people accept differences more these days or whether they no longer readily admit their disgust.   I thought we’d gotten more tolerant but maybe bigotry has just gone underground.

I accepted the person’s pronouncement.   Later, I mentioned the exchange at my community dinner.  One of my neighbors said, Would you want to be friends with somebody who rejects you like that?  A fair point.  But what I really want is to step out onto a level playing field, where the color of one’s skin, the size of one’s bank account, or the gait which propels one across the street play no part in anyone’s judgment of your worth.

I’m that kind of person.

It’s the seventeenth day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Speak to Me of Joy and Sorrow

On Joy and Sorrow
from
The Prophet
by Khalil Gibran

Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the reassure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Note:  At times, I strain to find words which will not betray my mission.  On such occasions, I turn to those more articulate and less bumbling than I. 

It is the eleventh day of the seventieth month of My [Endless] Year [Learning to Live] Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 Tyler Island, Saturday, 11 October 2019.

Seasons

The tule fog returns to the Delta.  It drifts around the river bend and settles on the fallow fields.  Rising early, I spy little wisps of it in the treetops of the meadow behind my house.

Soon the Sandhill cranes, the snow geese, and the trumpet swans will descend on the flooded fields.  We will wake to their cries and huddle on the side of the road, taking picture after picture of the graceful arc of their morning flight.  In the evening, wide swathes of them will settle on our island; and the smaller birds will cling to the bare branches of the ancient trees.

In a few weeks, I will celebrate the second anniversary of the delivery of my house.  I walked around the little lot on which it sits today, thinking of the exhilaration in my heart as I waited that November morning.  In the weeks which followed, I had packing to do, and my house to sell, and cases to finish before I could follow along.  By the time I arrived here a month later, what passes for winter had taken hold of Northern California.

I feel the nip of winter now, but it has not yet made its presence truly known.  The hornets still swarm around the corrugated metal roof in the afternoon warmth. One of them bit me today, a sharp sting like electricity, sudden and brief but fierce.  My finger swelled.  I grabbed my phone and called a neighbor.  He came and did a little triage, assuring me that I didn’t need medical care.  Embarrassed, I thanked him, and waved as he continued on his way to work.  I went inside and collapsed into my chair, tears falling unchecked down my face.  

Today I burned the better part of four hours editing some of my old Musings.  I hope to make a book of them.  The need to leave something tangible presses heavy on my heart.  I haven’t much to show for six decades on Earth.  A few satisfied customers.  Some distant friends.  A handful of memories.  Walls laden with pictures, fading now, in broken frames.

Night has fallen.  I don’t know what to make of this sensation that time has gotten the best of me.  I’m suddenly overwhelmed with sorrow and something so very close to regret.  I started this journey to joy on 31 December 2013, three months after my mother-in-law laid down her uncomplaining head and died.  That same day, I took my very last prescription narcotic after forty-five years.  I forged clear-headed into 2014.  

The contours of that new year and each one since stood sharp and cold against the pages of the calendar as they drifted to the ground.  Today I clutched those crumpled pages, and the pages of the half-dozen happy years which preceded them.  I ought to burn the lot, but there are some lovely moments recorded there.  I smooth them out, one by one, and sit amidst the memories, in the silence of my little house.  I wonder, for the thousandth time, where it all went wrong and whether any glimmer of hope remains.

It’s the eleventh day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Taken 10 Feb 2019. I will be watching for their return.  They flock to the same fields year after year.

Life’s measure

A little pile of rings sits on the place mat.  I slip them from my fingers whenever I wash dishes.  The stones might loosen and wash down with the suds; I might damage the settings.

I sit and study them after I’ve cleared away the debris of my late lunch.  Here is the sapphire that belonged to my mother-in-law.  My favorite curmudgeon told his daughter to ‘pick a good piece of your mother’s jewelry for Corinne.’  All the finest stuff had already been sorted and shifted.  She divided a matching set between my then step-daughter and me — I got the ring, Cara got the earrings.  When I found out, I offered to return the ring so her set would be complete.  She declined.  I’ve worn it ever since.

Here is the Thai piece that my brother’s daughter gave me when I came to help her last year.  She drew her emaciated body from the bed to rummage through her jewelry box.  ‘I want you to have this, Auntie,’ she whispered.  ‘It’s one of my favorites.  Take it. . . think of me when you wear it.’  She died a year later.  I wear her gift nearly every day.  At times, my fingers swell and I can’t find one on which it is comfortable; but it usually fits, and I truly do think of Angie when I see it.

The sterling silver spoon ring, I got more than fifty years ago.  I sent in a fistful of Minute Maid Orange Juice pull-tabs and the cost of shipping.  My mother didn’t expect the prize to be so grand.  We marveled over the thought of a company sending genuine silver through the mail for the pittance that we must have spent.  We’d normally buy the generic brand, since money had to be carefully budgeted.  But I had seen the advertisement and begged.  This ring, too, adorns my hand most every day.  It reminds me of my mother and the smile that illuminated her tired face when I opened the package.

I lift the final ring from the table.  In truth, I don’t often wear this one.  I have about twenty rings, all sterling or karat gold.  I bought this amethyst to give someone, but the person went from my life before I could.  It doesn’t fit me, really; but it’s a fine ring from Vulcan’s Forge, my friend Russ’s jewelry store in Kansas City.  My ownership of it makes me a little sad, though.

I lift the lid of my jewelry box.  So many lovely pieces — earrings, rings, necklaces.   I study the lot, wondering if my son will ever want any of it.  I try not to think of my collection as cold comfort.  It’s just jewelry.  Stones and metal and bits of crystal.  None of it measures my worth.  I close the box and turn towards the stove, where the kettle furiously whistles and the Chinese tea waits.

It’s the tenth day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

It’s Only A Paper Moon

Many years ago, my friend Cecil got me a Canon AE1 from the police property room annual sale.  I tried to learn photography but failed.  My brother Mark appropriated the camera, remarking, I know what I’m doing, you don’t.  It’s that simple.  I never again tried to take pretty pictures.

Before I left Kansas City, a videographer of my acquaintance who shall go unnamed chided me for “stealing” other people’s pictures from the internet to illustrate this blog.  The scolding settled in my craw.  Finally, though knowing my failing eyes and trembling hands could never be the tools of a photographer’s trade, I nonetheless acquired a little Canon, with an auto feature and a basic zoom lens.  Since then, I’ve become obsessed with the eyes of hawks, the necks of egrets, and the fat bodies of cooing pigeons.

Tonight’s moon drew me to the pavement in front of my tiny house.  I fumbled with the tripod, and finally, battling the inevitable tremor, snapped dozens of frames of the half-moon high above the park in which I live.  My shoulder froze as I tried to depress the shutter without disturbing the angle at which I had positioned the camera.  Finally the chill got to me, and I went inside.  

It’s only a paper moon, I suppose; but it reflects the light of the sun as she sets an hour away, on the far horizon, over my Pacific.

It’s night-time, on the fifth day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Pathways

The internet inundates me with messages of encouragement.  Put the past behind you!  Move forward!  Take control!  I set down my tablet and gaze out the window, past my neighbor’s tiny house, into the pale sky.  I think I’ve evidenced a willingness to follow these suggestions.  I’m not sure that the people who give such advice have any idea what real life holds for some of us.

I drove the levee road to Highway 12 and onto Lodi mid-morning yesterday.  Traffic moved swiftly and the draw bridge stayed down so I made good time.  I honked under the tender’s house as I traversed the Mokelumne.  My friend Demi Stewart works that bridge.  I never know if she hears my signals.   I keep honking, though.  I send my greetings into the air and smile as I continue eastward.

At my primary care doctor’s office, I sat waiting for the news, good, bad, or ugly.  I came to discuss all those points at which my body declines — my knobby, numb toes; my finicky digestive system; the sluggish thyroid; the varying blood pressure.  She keeps me over-long.  She asks a myriad of questions, then gives the sort of advice which nobody really likes.  Drink more water, eat your vegetables, move more, take vitamins.  “I know it’s hard for you,” she assures me, nodding her lovely head beneath its beaded scarf.  “Just do what you can.  I’ll see you after the new work in San Francisco.”

Ah, San Francisco!  Shining city by the sea, where the young, efficient specialists rub their hands together and grin when I cross their threshold.  New health insurance, new doctors, new theories about why my body twists and quivers.  Not this!  Not that!  Not what those other guys said!  They roll their eyes southward, to the now-discredited High Mucky-Muck Guru who once held court at Stanford.  Fired, he has been; not for failing to properly treat his patients, but for mistreatment of his staff and colleagues.  So here I am, consulting a whole new Infectious Disease department, with their youth and their efficiency and their disdain for twenty-year old theories.  

It exhausts me.

Back home last evening, I stowed the new bottles of Vitamin D, Calcium, and B-12 until the lab results and the determination of how much and what to take.  I heated water for tea and spread goat cheese on a rice cracker.  My gradual weight loss has been documented, encouraged, and applauded.  I demurred in the face of praise.  Eight years ago, I weighed 103 and wore a double zero.  I don’t care about size; I value the lessening of burden on my spastic legs.  I’ll get back down, though maybe not that low.   I don’t need to be so thin that you can’t see me when I stand sideways.  I just need to reach a healthy weight.  The doctors agree.  Drink more water, eat your vegetables, move more, take vitamins.

A friend posts on social media about a spinal implant for pain control.  I’m happy for him.  As for myself, I’ve surrendered any hope of controlling pain.  I shove the offending sensation to the back of my mind’s cupboard and keep moving.  I drink more water.  I fill my grocery cart with cabbage, cucumbers, and kale.  I park a little farther from the front of the store and carefully tread across the asphalt, keeping my shoulders lowered, my head held high, and my best foot forward.

It’s the fifth day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Excused Absence

Dear Friends, Family, and Fans:

As noted on Social Media:

I haven’t been regularly blogging because I’m still exhausted from the broken clavicle and working FT. My brain writes as I struggle to find a comfortable position in which to sleep but I don’t have the energy to record the doubtlessly brilliant passages. I’ll regroup and resume by and by. Thank you for your good thoughts and well-wishes. 

Meanwhile, here’s a picture of a tanker in the San Joaquin to enjoy, this second day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Pain scales and other false equivalences

The inevitable strained conversation fell of its own weight on the emergency room floor.

On a scale of zero to ten, with zero being no pain and ten being the worst pain you ever felt, how do you rate your pain?  The nurse stood, alert if slightly bored, while I pondered how difficult to be. 

I guess it was more of a failed metaphor than a false equivalence, but still.  I don’t play those games.  This perky girl in the Winnie-the-Pooh scrubs probably can’t even fathom what “ten” might be for many people, including me.  And I have never, since before my ability to recall, lived at zero.  Even on morphine.  Even on Vicodin.  Even sprawled on a futon with a bottle of wine tipped on the floor beside me, listening to the rain hit the window sill and wondering if I should get up to close the blinds.

I don’t rate my pain that way, I hazarded.  She closed her face.  I continued.  My pain scale is, thirty-two breaks in my leg from going through a windshield backwards, to watching my mother’s agonizing death from misdiagnosed cancer after it hit her bones and her brain.   I paused.  The current, new, acute pain, this probably broken shoulder or whatever it is, can be described as tolerable by comparison.

I can give you a pain pill, she said, somewhat wearily I thought.  I declined.  Tylenol? I nodded.  She went out, scribbling on a piece of paper which she shoved in her pocket, probably a note which read HELP that she’d stick in her windshield when she went out for a smoke.

Two days later, home from the hospital with an ineffectual sling, thyroid medication which seemed to have nothing to do with my fall, and a discharge note telling me what doctors to see, I lay in bed and thought about the ache in my ribs. 

No breaks there, the doctor had assured me.  Except those two old ones.  I stared.  I had no memory of ever breaking a rib at all, let alone two.  I didn’t say so, though; hospitals tend to get a little cranky if they think you’ve got unexplained injuries.  The broken clavicle didn’t need surgery but every body who came into my room offered narcotics, including the floor nurse who couldn’t get an IV started and muttered to herself as she gave me fluids in the line started by the ambulance guy.

I didn’t take the scripts they offered, except for the thyroid stuff.  I threw the sling away after three days, mostly because it held my arm at the wrong angle no matter how many times I adjusted it.  

A week later, I sat in the ortho guy’s waiting room listening to two little boys talk Spanish to their mother.  One of them had a pink eraser stuck on the end of his finger and he kept coming over to me and poking my broken arm with it.  His mother said, No, no, but I smiled, and assured her that I didn’t mind.  I drank bad coffee from a Styrofoam cup and offered the kid some crackers.  He giggled and said something that I couldn’t understand, and poked me again.  I think he meant to be kind.

The X-Ray technician said, Where’s your sling?  I nearly launched into a lengthy explanation of awakening in the night gasping for air because the strap had wrapped itself around my neck.  Instead I met her eyes and replied, Actually, it’s on the floor of my car.  She didn’t ask why.  I expected her to write one of those little HELP ME! notes but she just slammed a metal plate against my back and snapped, Don’t breathe, don’t talk, don’t laugh, don’t move a muscle.

The doctor shook my left hand, told me that the break still didn’t need surgery, and suggested that I come back in a month.  I thought about that.  Can I use my arm, I asked.  He said, You can bend it, but don’t  carry anything.  I nodded.  On the way out, I gave the lady my debit card for the $75 co-pay and waggled my nose at the little boy, now clinging to his mother’s arm and rolling the eraser around with his tongue.  He burst out laughing.  His brother had a pink cast.  A nurse patted his head and said, I know it’s the wrong color, and the boy did a one-shoulder shrug and said, I don’t mind.  I like it.  His mother beamed.

I sat behind the wheel of my car for a long time, staring at the crumbling brick of the building and thinking about the pain in my shoulder.  The doctor touched the spot where the bone now protrudes and told me that the bump would go down, eventually. 

I looked at my left hand, where I once wore a wedding ring.  When I fell on 63rd street, I screamed at the ER nurse who wanted to cut the ring off.  My husband will kill me!  I yelled.  He paid a fortune for this thing!  She put my crushed finger in a bowl of warm water and I eased the diamond over the knuckle.  After the surgery to put the shattered bone back together, the therapist said not to resize my ring for a year.  I got divorced before then, so it didn’t matter after all, except in some weird alternate universe where I still stand over sudsy hot water, vomiting from the pain and the pressure and the fear, clutching a diamond and sobbing, I got it off, I got it, he’ll be so pleased.

Today I walked for the first time without my cane.  I don’t normally use it.  Since my falls, I’ve felt that the extra help would be important.  But I gingerly stepped from my car to the grocery store, keeping my stance wide, holding my weak right arm close to my bruised ribs.  When I got to the checkout line, I asked the sacker not to load the bags too heavy.  Pretend I’m your grandmother, I suggested.  He rolled his eyes, and the cashier said, stop that.  The kid loaded my bags in the cart and shuffled over to the next line.  I whispered to myself, On a scale of zero to ten, how bad does that kid’s disdain feel?  I shrugged, thought about my mother offering up her cancer for the pain in my legs, and went out into the California sunshine.

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

My son made these two stained glass pieces when he was at PS1 Elementary School. They hung in my kitchen window in Kansas City for twenty years or so.  Now they hang in the window of my tiny house.  I’m sharing the photos just for your enjoyment.  

Confluence

The rivers flow together here, the San Joaquin, the Sacramento, the Molekumne.  Eventually they all flow into the sea, sixty miles west of my little island.  I stand at the turn to Jackson Slough and watch the tankers move towards that broad expanse of blue.  I take my comfort knowing that my Toyota can make the trip so quickly that by nightfall, I could hear the soothing song of the Pacific.

Sunset comes earlier, as it happens.  The world turns.  The tallest tree in the meadow has already shed her leaves, and now stands slender and bare with the glow of the sun behind her each evening.  Now the new house next to me blocks that view but I can step to the north in the meadow and partake of it any time I like.  I can stand in the shadow of the California oaks and the weeping willows.  I can let the sight of them soothe me.

An early morning text from an old friend reminds me of the Midwest, the south, the past.  Didn’t you live near Winslow, Arkansas, he asks.  Indeed I did.  In some other life, I dwelt on the banks of a different river, small and slender with its bed of flagstone.  At that spot, I first reveled in the quickening of the child who clung to life within my crooked belly. Nearly three decades ago, I walked without shoes in the shallow, shimmering cold water, just before the spring thaw.  I did not feel innocent then, but in my memory, that woman lived a carefree, blameless life. See how cautiously she moves?  See the tender curve of her hand around the small bulge?  See the flicker of movement along the bank, how it draws her eye as she guards the babe within her from any danger?

The heat of a lingering summer still troubles those around me, but I see signs that winter sits around the bend, waiting for us.  My broken bone begins to heal.  I can use my arm again, though I must be mindful.  This reminder of my fallibility could shake me, but I will not let it.  I have promises to keep; and miles to go before I sleep.  I cannot afford to falter.

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

I took this just before the final casting of her leaves to the meadow below her.

 

Change, or something like it

At eighteen months, I sat down on my bottom and said, “I no walk anymore, it hurts, Mommy.”

At five, I earnestly recited “I think that I shall never see / A poem as lovely as a tree” one Friday, for which accomplishment my best friend took credit on Monday and received the teacher’s last gold star.

At eight, I walked the streets at midnight with my brothers and sisters as my mother sang church songs while my father raged and smashed dishes in the living room of our home.

At ten, an older boy jabbed me in the crotch, saying, “Ah, a ripe one”, to my everlasting embarrassment as my little brothers helplessly watched the tears fall on my flushed face.

At thirteen, I huddled in a bathroom stall listening to classmates ridicule my walking, my flat chest, and my crooked teeth.

At sixteen,  I shuddered as my mother announced to my relatives that she assumed I would never be able to wear her white wedding dress.  To this day, I cannot say whether she didn’t think I’d ever marry or thought I had already lost my virginity.

At eighteen, I bowed my head listening to a doctor pronounce that I would be bedridden by twenty-five.  That same year, I screamed all night as I withdrew from an addiction to the Valium which that same doctor had first prescribed for me shortly after my fifteenth birthday.

At nineteen, I submitted to a popular fraternity boy’s determination that he conquer my body as part of his initiation.

At twenty-one, I fled St. Louis, hoping for a fresh start on the Eastern Seaboard.

At twenty-two, I huddled against the passenger door on the long drive home from Boston.  A few months later, I had my first miscarriage on the floor of my mother’s bathroom.

At twenty-five, I learned about infidelity in the doorway of my own bedroom, when I came home early from my first day of law school.

At not-quite-thirty, I watched my mother’s coffin lower to the ground and stared across the rend in the earth into my father’s bleary eyes.  I saw a reflection of my own, and made the decision never to use alcohol as a crutch again.

I married for the first time at thirty-one.  I divorced for the first time at thirty-four.  In between, I had my second miscarriage and learned a little more about not being thought beautiful enough.

Two months shy of thirty-six, I finally gave birth to a child for whom I have not been the most perfect of mothers, by a long shot; but who, nonetheless, has turned out to be an amazing man.

During his life time, I have married and divorced two more times; and some other stuff happened — like —

—-  I successfully asserted a claim against the Catholic Diocese of St. Louis on my own behalf. . . 

. . . and I gained eighty pounds. . . which I then lost. . .

. . . and I championed the cause of scores of abused and neglected children, who reminded me so much of my self and my siblings that I can only hope to lay claim to a piece of their redemption. . .

. . . and I wrote a thousand pages, a million words, a sheaf of bad poetry, all looking for some answer buried deep within me.

At fifty-eight, I weaned myself from prescription opiates after forty-three years of using narcotics for pain.

At fifty-nine, I stood silent in the face of an accusation that I was too broken to love.

At sixty-two, I walked away from a haphazardly comfortable life cobbled together from bits and pieces, and began anew two thousand miles away on the edge of the world, within breathing distance of the Mother sea.

At sixty-four, I looked into the mirror and for the very first time smiled without reservation at the woman whom I beheld.  Despite her broken clavicle, her wobbly legs, her solitary status, and the paucity of material goods with which she surrounds herself,  she seems at long last to have everything she needs within her reach.

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

 

For the last two weeks, I’ve had to do most personal chores with my non-dominant hand due to my right clavicle being broken.  I did a search for “combing your hair with one hand”, and found an amazing number of videos from which I did take some good tips.  The one which I found the most inspiring is HERE.  By inspiring, I mean in the damn-girl-I’ll-never-bitch-again sort of way.  Watch it, you’ll see what I mean.  I also watched THIS and THIS. From the second of those, I figured out how to clip my hair right after I got out of the hospital. 

All three of these influencers struck me as incredibly brave.

In the above-appearing picture taken this morning, besides a goofy smile, I wear my first one-and-a-half-armed French braid.  Pardon the strap slipped off my broken ‘beauty bone’ for comfort.

#lifegoals #mytinylife