Author Archives: ccorleyjd365

Another Day

I pulled onto the Antioch bridge with the sunset glowing in my rear-view mirror.  My neighbor Paul’s jeep came through the toll at the same time as I did.  I paused and let him travel over the bridge ahead of me.  I could not decide whether to take the long way home.  My inclination to enter the loop by way of Twitchell Island Road firmed into resolve when Paul illuminated his signal.  I followed him through the winding levee system all the way into our Park.

When I disembarked from the RAV, he stood by his vehicle waiting.  “I saw you as I came through the toll,” he called cheerily.  I answered on the same high note, admitting that I had been following him, knowing that the twisted route could be more safely traversed on his tail lights.  “I had you covered,” he assured me.  We parted on our respective stoops.

I brunched in Berkeley, browsed a used bookstore, and spent the afternoon sitting by the sea.  Another day in Northern California, fine and warm; as I left the coast for the Delta, my heart kept its joyful tone.  I’m finding the days here more conducive to this mission than the life back in Missouri.  It’s easier not to complain when the air shimmers with the salt of the sea and the glow of an early and lasting spring.

Now the darkness surrounds my tiny house.  The neon light on the neighboring RV glows steadily.  I hear an occasional call, an owl or a mourning dove.  Mild tension grips my shoulders, the kind I always feel when I’ve driven for too long.  But I don’t mind.  I got to see my friend Kimberley today; and to gaze upon my Pacific in the company of a jolly sort of fellow.  The aches and pains of my small and narrow existence can be borne, with such pleasures hovering nearby.

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

The unexpected sting of tears

A long time ago, someone who shall remain unidentified asked if he could finance little feminine excursions for me, facials and manicures. I stared at him uncomprehending before murmuring that I never got such things, thanking him, moving away to start sorting a load of laundry.  He stuttered but dropped the subject.  We never spoke of it again.  I avoided his glance for an hour, hoping he would forget, wishing that he would not take my refusal as a personal affront but knowing that he likely would.

Women like me don’t feel we deserve those rituals of girlishness.  Somewhere along the line, we’ve been given to understand that we should clip our nails and rub baby lotion on our sunburned arms.  We might occasionally buy a tube of lipstick but it will later gather dust in a drawer.  We’ll try it, once, an hour before dashing out to meet friends.  We wipe it off and twist our hair on top of our head with bobby pins.  We button our jackets over drab dresses and tie our shoes a little tighter before dashing to the car.

I started getting proper hair coloring a few years ago.   I ran into Robert, who had once cut my hair, outside my office.  “You look like hell,” he said.  “I’m right next door, come and see me.”  I peeked in the mirror later, stealthily, so nobody would notice.  I had let my color go because I thought the box job seemed too brash.  The grey looked worse, streaked and chunky amid the artificial red.  Robert had been right, of course.

He made it all better, shaping the mess of curls, evening out the red, massaging the back of my neck and exclaiming over my latest divorce as though I’d been lucky to escape.  I assured him it hadn’t been like that but he knew his loyalties.  “Girl, you’re gorgeous now, never you mind about him.  It’s his loss.”  Paying him a hundred bucks every six weeks seemed substantially cheaper than therapy, and it came with a glass of cold white wine.

But Robert died; and I let the grey grow back until his parents sent out a form e-mail encouraging me to try Kelley Blond, who owned the salon where Robert had been working at the time of his sudden and tragic demise. It felt disloyal not to go.  Her rates were a bit higher than his had been, but she was just as brash and just as spunky.  Also cheaper than therapy, and she served coffee with Bailey’s.  There was no denying that I still felt like an interloper in the world of real women, but Kelley made me welcome, even if I could never quite settle into the chair.  I clutched my coffee cup and stared over its rim at the other women, with their unabashed cleavage and their firm round shoulders.  They seemed so self-assured.  I had no idea why that gene escaped me.

Once in a while, I thought about getting my nails done, but I type for a living and that seems like a waste.  My feet though — there’s where the little indulgence could actually do some good.  I snuck a pedicure once in a while, daring myself to enter that sulky sultry world.  One time it came to disastrous ends.  The woman used some kind of whirring tool and I bled for days.  Another time, I paid seventy bucks with tip for a half hour’s work.  My feet felt like silk but I walked around stunned for days.  A hundred forty an hour to clip nails and smear a little oil on someone’s skin?

Today, I took myself into Rio Vista and surrendered to a Vietnamese woman who told me that her name was Kim. I didn’t believe her, of course — she spoke very little English in my presence, and her name could have been anything.  It didn’t matter.  I struggled trying to take off my shoes and socks.  Kim knelt, quietly, with a sweetness that stunned me into silence, and slipped the socks from my feet, setting them inside the shoes after smoothing their curled edges.

She studied my feet for a few minutes before she began her work.  I know what she saw.  The condition is called “hammer toe”, and in me, it is complicated by arthritis.  If that isn’t enough, the spasticity in my legs combined with the three ruptured disks in my lower back inhibits bending.  Draw your own conclusions about the state of my feet.

She said nothing.  She just went to work with a lightness of touch that I cannot do justice by attempting to describe.  An angel’s kiss might come close, or the flickering of a butterfly’s wings.

She spent an hour working on my crippled toes and spastic feet.  She held them with such soft hands, such tenderness.  I could not stop the tears which formed in  my eyes.  I lowered my eyelids.  The salty drops just barely trickled from behind my lashes.  I don’t know if she saw.  But I think she knew.

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

 

What’s love got to do with it?

I’m back in the Delta.  I’ve spent six nights in KC, one in St. Charles, and one in Oakland.  When my head hit my scrunched pillows last night, I fell into a deep sleep from which I naturally awoke at 6:45 feeling fine other than a crunch in my lower back which can only be repaired with surgery that I don’t intend to have.  All good.

I haven’t slept for eight and a half continuous hours often in my life.  Last night’s consecutive tally leaves me feeling a lot less fatigued than normal. I tried to explain to someone yesterday why I’m always tired.  It has do with oxygenation and spasticity.  Much more escapes my clear understanding and hence my ability to relay.  Take my word for it.  I’m always tired and never refreshed.

But usually, I don’t sleep, either.  For a couple of years, the magic medication from Stanford impacted that issue.  I’d get six hours in a row and call myself lucky.  Seven astounded me; eight simply escaped my grasp.

So why did I stay asleep from 9:30 p.m. last evening to 6:45 a.m. today?  I credit an infusion of good vibrations.

I coffee-shop-hopped my way through Kansas City and had dinner out with people who love me, as well as dinner-in with my hostess, Brenda.  I drank chai in two out of three Crow’s Coffees with Kevin, Carolyn,  and Mark (they know their surnames); and discovered Monarch Coffee at the suggestion of Genevieve.  I even made it to Heirloom Coffee twice, once to get a thank-you gift for our vet and once to meet Elizabeth.  I lunched with Jeanne in Brookside and thoroughly enjoyed our conversation if not the food.  I sat at a table at a Johnson County swine-and-dine with a bunch of earnest artists talking about times both old and new.  I had dinner at Eden’s Alley with Brenda, and Krokstrom Klubb & Market with Genevieve.  I noshed at The Brick with Sara and David while listening to Jake, Angela, Jeremy, Jamie, and Ron rock the house on stage. I dined at Trailhead Brewery on the East side of the state with my son, sister, and niece.  At every coffee or meal, I laughed, smiled, shed a tear or two, and generally let the affection of my tribe wash over me.

When I hit Oakland yesterday, fellow-Rotarian Jim Carriere waited at the curb.  With his wife’s consent, we dined at Crogan’s in Mount Claire before I settled in their guest room.  The next morning, I made my way to Stanford and my quarterly treatment in the neurology department.  I  grinned all the way to Palo Alto.  Then I found myself yielding my appointment time slot to another patient because he yelled at the receptionist.  I wager he doesn’t get enough love.

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

 

 

This should be good.

I have stubbornly failed to bring my larger bag into the coffee shop, yet yearn to write. Thus, I peck this passage with one finger flying nimbly across a virtual keyboard on my 7-inch tablet. This should be good. Short and simple, precision born of desperation.

We have had two days in Saint Charles, another city by the river. We heralded my sister’s 68th birthday. We partook of the obligatory shared dessert. I forced my son and niece to sing in the restaurant. They tolerated the event with passable good humor. A fuzzy photo recorded the event. We all seem to be smiling.

Now my son has started his northeastern journey home. I burdened him with several more items than he anticipated, but there, too, he barely griped. We have so few remaining points of intersection that we do not flinch at the ones which remain. But this trip underscores his greater virtue. Where I tolerate the world’s weakness, he still rebels against it. I hope he mends some ripple in the fabric of justice.

In a few hours, I board a plane for Oakland. My sense of rightness rises with the spring sun, stronger in the sky with each passing hour. The glimmer of the day outside these windows reminds me of the California air.

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

 

There’s No Place Like Home

Technically, of course, I come from Jennings, Missouri by way of a maternity ward in St. Louis.  I can’t even claim that I spent half of my life in Kansas City before moving to California, due to those five stray years in Arkansas.  But the city by the river, Royal blue and somewhat worn around its edges, still feels like home.

Don’t fret, people of NORCAL.  I’m coming back.  I make no cheesy lament about having left my heart there, but Angel’s Haven sits by your rivers, in the midst of your own tattered old Delta.  I’m returning.  I’ll make my way to Jim and Nancy’s driveway where the RAV4 sits.  I’ll dine with Jim and talk about our respective sons; his job; my employment search; and Rotary matters, including Shelterbox   in which that friend, a member of the San Rafael Harbor Rotary Club, plays a major role.  The next day, I’ll join another NORCAL transplant for lunch at a Bay area restaurant.  The spray of my Pacific will kiss my face as I walk along the street.  

But I’ve felt the comfort of home during this week in Kansas City.  I’ve finished some cases; I’ve transferred others to new counsel.  I’m rummaged in my storage unit, filling the rental car with items from the Holmes house bound for my son or for safe-keeping at my sister’s house in St. Peter’s.  I’ve filled the time between these tasks with coffee-shop hopping.  I’ve seen a host of my own special angels, the men and women whom I most closely call my tribe here.

There’s truly no place like home.  Yes, I understand:  You belong where you take your heart and in the place where you find your heart’s desire.  Dorothy has nothing on me.  Nor does Edward Albee:  I get that I must go a long way out of my way to come back a short way properly.  But the very wealthy among us know that  we can have more than one home.  So I stake my claim here, Kansas City; and there, too, St. Louis; and 1800 miles west of here by the sea.     I need no walls.  I need no strict address.   I take my comfort with me.

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

The week that was

The week draws to a close.  Sunny weather lingers but the warmth has fled on the heels of a lapse into chilly air.  Two more days remain of my Kansas City sojourn and two days in St. Louis await.  My foreigner feelings have abated but the ocean still calls to me.  I have not yet found the courage to drive past the Holmes house where I raised my son.  Another time, perhaps; but not today.

We’ve bombed Syria and the governor of my home state apparently emulates the predatory behavior of the president.  I shake off the gloom which descended as I read the transcript of his victim’s testimony.  I can’t complain; I won’t complain; I’ll flee westward but with the full knowledge that in Sacramento, a man will never see his children graduate high school; two boys will never sit on their father’s lap again.  Their shattered family became a victim of bigotry disguised as poor police training.  Don’t complain; don’t whine; don’t grouse; it’s business as usual in these United States.  Save your commentary for another place and time.

Beyond me, the sun has climbed above the trees of Brookside.  She shines full and bright through Brenda’s kitchen window.  In a few hours, I will slip into my comfortable role as adjunct to the tremendous personalities of a group of artists whom I know as friends.  Still later, Jenny Rosen and I will make our way downtown to hear Jake and Angela’s band.  I cling to my visitor pass.  I carefully peal it from each dress and press it on the next day’s outfit.  What I once was, I no longer can be.  But who I am now?

Perhaps when I leave, my shadow will follow.  Perhaps I will pass a mirror in which my reflection will reveal my identity.

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

A hundred repetitions later, lesson learned.

My sister Joyce once explained that it takes X repetitions of any lesson for a human being to learn, where X consists of some formula relating to age and other factors.  For me, the number looks more like (X to the nth power) / (y to the nth power) x (z to the nth power) + (a times b), where the unknowns consist of a brutal combination of stubbornness, pig-headedness, obstinance, and blindsightedness.

I re-learned my don’t-eat-white-sugar lesson yesterday, partaking of a luscious brownie at Crow’s Coffee (new wonderful Red Bridge location) along with house-made chai and soy milk.  As a consequence, my jagged nerves danced all night, angry and petulant because of my choice.

This prompted me to contemplate the amusing fact that My Year Without Complaining has entered its fifty-second month finding me still grousing, still whining, still muttering under my breath.  As April rushes to its midway point and May looms, I confront my humanity as I’ve never before understood it.  No, Puma, I’m not accepting your premise that complaint should be pursued for whatever reason you once argued.  And no, my dear Patricia, I don’t espouse your inflated opinion of my virtues though I thank you for the validation.

Rather, as I sit in Brenda’s dining room with my wild frizzy hair which in an hour will submit to Kelley Blond’s deft hands, I allow myself the imperfection of those needed repetitions.

Someone recently argued in favor of suicide by stating that she felt entitled to decide how much pain she was able to bear before quitting altogether.  I conceded her point but added that I thought the equation should include consideration of how much suffering her death would cause others, particularly the unique anguish of survivors of suicide.  I think she understood.  We must make allowance for the humanity of others.  Our duty rises from the connections we share with them.

In the same way, then, I must make allowance for my own humanity.  Perhaps my conviction to truly refrain from eating white sugar required one hundred repetitions of its nasty impact  after I reached an intellectual understanding of its inflammatory properties.   Similarly, this journey has taken longer than the original allotment of twelve months.  I began on 01 January 2014, resolved to travel through 365 days without uttering a word of complaint.  An unfaithful lover, I did not keep my vow.  But the path has provided many lessons; and as I promised my mother and my Nana that I would do, I keep walking, every day of my life — always putting my best foot forward.

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

 

GRATEFUL DEAD:  RIPPLE, BY ROBERT HUNTER

Sunshine Daydreams

The sun followed me to Kansas City, as I knew she would.  We’ve become best friends, me and the sun.  When I visited the ocean last month, she shone at each half-mile stretch of the coast that I occupied.  I would sit at a counter over coffee and watch the rain gather at the other end of the bay.  When I moved, the rain obliged, yielding to the glow of my stellar companion.

As I packed, I scrolled through message after message from Missouri, cautioning me, suggesting that I pack for winter, bring a coat, prepare myself. I never had a doubt.  I brought my light coat, the nice one, which suffices for most climates except in July.  “Three season”, the fashion industry once dubbed such items.  This one came from a consignment shop in Lodi. It cost twenty-bucks and is an Ann Taylor.  I feel good in it.  It fits me as though I stood still for a tailor’s deft needle.

My mother once said that if gloomy spirits overcame me, I should put on red shoes and a sailor blouse.  I don’t own either right now, though I certainly have and I certainly did.  I follow her general rule, though.  If I have my hair nicely coiffed and you detect a bit of lipstick, understand that these measures guard against the blues.  My Ann Taylor coat snaps me to attention. It’s black and white, and styled like a trench.  I imagine that Jackie Kennedy would wear this coat, or Audrey Hepburn.  An elegant woman.  A woman who understands her worth.

We American women play this game. We need to be perky, and pert, and pretty.  We need to spread sunshine in our wake, letting it wash over those around us.  Or maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I just haven’t figured out that I’m not in charge of people’s reactions to me.   I still dress for success; I still worry about my image; but not enough to wear mascara or subject my budget to braces, even though I could probably afford them now.

I’m not complaining, though.  We play  our roles, or we abdicate them, according to our strength of character.  My current role allows me to be a sunshine daydreamer.  Nobody cares how I look these days.  No one’s self-respect depends upon my ability to conform.  That’s a good space to occupy.  Yesterday I gave an orange from my day bag to a little girl while we waited for the plane.  I got her mother’s permission first, and she said to the girl, Tell the nice lady thank you, Elliott.  Elliott looked around before deciding that her mother meant the crazy lady with frizzy hair and a goofy smile in the black-and-white coat.  Thank you, nice lady, she whispered.

You’re welcome, Elliott, I replied, and watched her peel the little Halo.

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

In which I take my inspiration where it rises to bludgeon me on the noggin.

When I first met Stacey Nicholson, she had a different surname.  She’s married twice since then and she took her husband’s surname the second time.  On anybody else, it might looked like a cop-out but on Stacey, it looks right.  I can’t say why; and you all know me, I’m a bull-headed feminist.

But this post does not concern why Stacey Meinen became Stacey Nicholson.  So move forward, because I don’t call her either of those monikers.  I call her “Short Stuff”.

Stacey blasted into the Solo and Small Firm Committee of the Missouri Bar’s SFIG (small firm internet group) at a time when I reigned as one of its queens and her stepfather milled around the interwebs among my favorite colleagues.  She sashayed her way to being chair of the Committee right about the time my world crashed and burned, so I didn’t get to see her coronation.  My loss.

Short Stuff practices law in St. Louis.  I would not want to be her opposing counsel, if she litigates with the same verve that she debates curriculum, politics, and the relative virtues of differing versions of damn near anything.  I’d file a brief with the words “I concede” scrawled in red ink.  I’d tell my client to pay the lady and shut up.

I haven’t seen Stacey in a few years, since I’ve been hiding in Kansas City, licking my wounds and preparing to slink away into the western sunset.  From what I see on Facebook, she’s staked her own claim to fame — she and her husband run a Karaoke night at some bar in St. Louis County. and have made a “best in the state list”, to cite just one example, following the chair-of-a-powerful-MOBar-committee coup.  I admire her immensely and would strive to be just like her when I grew up, except it seems to be too late for that. I’d have to age backwards.

Apparently Stacey doesn’t feel as good about herself as I would expect.  She’s gone on a health-regimen, either to lose fat or build muscle or both — I haven’t figured it out.  I see changes in her pictures online.  Her face looks crisper, more defined.  But her attitude shines just as clearly as ever, along with the glow with which she and Mark gaze at each other.  I’d be jealous except it’s hard to hate someone as nice as Stacey (as long as you stay on her good side).  I wouldn’t have thought she needed to do much to improve that compact four-foot dynamite body but I take her word for it.

I woke this morning at 4:30 a.m.  That’s a trend that used to plague me and which I thought I’d kicked but it’s come back in the last week or so.  It might be the owl calling outside my window, worry about finding a job, or the whole lost-our-dog-of-sixteen-years sadness.  Possibly the Stanford miracle drug needs adjusting, who knows.  I’ll find out in June when I go for my six-month check-up with the Stanford miracle docs.  But still, there it is.

I reached for my phone, checking first for news of my critically ill niece (Godspeed, Angie).  Then I scrolled through e-mail; nothing but junk.  Then — and you knew it loomed — I opened Facebook.  The first thread got me.  Stacey had just posted a response to someone asking her what “cheat days” looked like on her new regimen, and she blasted back with this:

Courtnie S***** girl, I got goals! Cheating ain’t gonna get me there!

My tired body snapped to a sitting position and I studied those two sentences, with their bold sentries standing at attention.  I focused on the essence of her proclamation:

Goals!

There!

Damn, Stacey, you’ve done it again.  You set such a glaring example that even I get it.  Maybe I will strive to be like you when I grow up, Stacey Nicholson.  Maybe I ain’t done growing yet.

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

 

 

 

It’s not a competition, but, well, maybe.

I lay in bed thinking about yesterday for a half an hour, as the rain drummed on the roof and the sun crept over the eastern horizon.  I pictured myself as a sailor on a battered boat, dragged to shored by strong hands which wrapped me in a warm cocoon of wool and pressed a mug of steaming tea upon me.  I made some mistakes this week, and endured some blows, and my self-pity caught me short.

Then I read about a friend’s mother dying, and all kinds of havoc in Washington; and saw a few pictures of injured children in the aftermath of storms abroad.  I browsed the Times and contemplated my relative lot in life.  True, I cost myself a few dollars by stupidity; and true, our dog finally had to be eased of pain and left us; and true, I’m still unemployed.

And yes, I know, it’s not a competition to judge whose suffering  pummels them more soundly.

But still.  Maybe it is, in a way: because I know that I’m on the lucky end of life.  Maybe not the very luckiest.  I’ve certainly had my share of setbacks, some more recently than others.  I cannot claim to have been “lucky in love”, nor with money, but I’ve got a great son and some kick-ass friends and I’m still breathing, still crazy, still feisty and without a doubt, still relentless.  (With a tip of the mortar-board and a fling of the white tassel to Judge Peggy Stephens McGraw, who once took judicial notice of such.)

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