Author Archives: ccorleyjd365

My Edward Albee Moment

I had a sort of Edward Albee moment in the airport yesterday, and I’ve been ruminating over it ever since.

I assume that anyone who reads my funny little scribblings might well have also heard of Edward Albee, a playwright whose ability far exceeds mine.  I channeled one of his characters as I sat in a wheelchair in the Oakland airport.

If you haven’t ever let yourself be pushed through an airport in a wheelchair, let me say that you must do so some time.  It can be exhilarating and aggravating in turns.  You often whip rapidly through the crowds, quite at the mercy of the carters.  Your attendants make you give them your driver’s license and your boarding pass.  They step away from you for long stretches of time, talking into their cell phones.  They leave you completely undocumented, with your carry-on luggage piled in your lap.  They speak to each other in passing, often in foreign languages.  They laugh but not at anything you’ve said.  Often-times they holler in your ear, as though the reason for your needing a wheelchair has something to do with your hearing, or the feebleness of your brain.

I haven’t yet gotten to the point where the humiliation of the wheelchair assistance has abated, I still find it nerve-wracking, which might account for why a fellow crippled person’s taking note of the color of my shoes  startled me.  She rested comfortably in her chair, beneath its red bar.  These protrusions sail into the air to be sure we don’t steal the thing or get lost in the crowds.  She sat happily under hers, doubtless satisfied with being noticeable.   Her bright eyes darted around the area where we had been parked, under the sign announcing that we were PRE-BOARDERS.  She wore a light, short-sleeve silk blouse and crisp, short pants that I think she would, if asked, describe as pedal-pushers.

She gripped a portable walker in one hand and her knitting in the other.  Her fingers bore the heavy jewels of comfortable widows.  She told me that she was eighty-one, with a little shake of a finely shaped head beneath precisely cut hair.  On cue, I disavowed belief.  “Oh yes,” she said.  “I walked everywhere on my own and even hiked until I hit seventy-five.”  She positively gleamed.

She asked me, then, what brand of shoes I wore.  “Dansko”, I replied.  She pointed one delicate foot in front of herself, in its open-backed sandal, her painted toes peaking out from under the top strap.

“I’ve never seen black soles on brown shoes before,” she commented.  She looked back at my feet, then raised her eyebrows.

“Oh no — ” I assured her.  “My shoes are black — ”

That’s when the Edward Albee thing happened.  So I closed my mouth and let the moment pass.

If you don’t know the play The American Dream, you might not understand.  It’s about Mommy, and Daddy, and the Van Man, and Grandma, and the Lady from the Adoption Agency.  It’s about desire and disappointment.

In one scene, Mommy recounts a story of buying a hat.  She wants it to be beige, but she runs into a woman outside the store who observes that the hat is actually wheat-colored.  She bustles back into the shop and demands a substitute.  “I got satisfaction,” she assures Daddy and Grandma.  “You know it was the same hat,” one responds.  “Of course I know that,” she snaps.  “But the point is, I got satisfaction.”

I thought about the wheat-colored hat, staring at my black (or possibly brown) shoes as I waited to be dragged down the jetway to the plane.  The sprightly grandmother in the chair next to me sparkled.  Her pink toes twinkled.  I cast my mind back to the day that I had ordered my Danskos.  I felt certain that I remembered them being listed as “black Danskos, European size 37″.

Yet as I stared down at them, I couldn’t help thinking that they might, after all, be brown.  All of a sudden, I didn’t like them quite as much.  I turned them this way and that in the yellow light from the overhead fixtures in the waiting area.  I stole a glance at the old woman and discovered that she was watching me, grinning.  I have no idea whether she knew what I was thinking, but I have a pretty good idea of what was on her mind.

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

 

Back

Parking has never been easy on the Plaza in Kansas City.  I pulled the rental car into a space across from Jenny Rosen’s apartment and thought, At least my parking karma still holds.  Then I saw the flash of Jenny’s wide lovely smile and we were laughing, talking about dinner, and moving away from the curb again towards 39th street.  Just like that:  I’m back.

A few hours later, Jenny made chamomile tea and put a little box of delicate chocolates in front of me.  The sound of traffic subsided as the weekday evening ended.  Jenny’s jade garden oozed serenity from the shelves and window sills.  We chattered without stopping, despite the months that I’ve been in California, despite the changes in our lives. Our relate flows like an endless river, an infinite stretch of stars into which I find myself gazing with a mild wonder.

In Jenny Rosen’s dining room, with the quiet of morning around me, I have no complaint.  My jobless state notwithstanding; the bruise on my hip from an embarrassing fall in the restaurant aside; life seems possible.  Even likely.  Doable; even golden.  I’m not sure where I’m going, but this is where I’ve been.  I’ve had some happy times in Kansas City.  I can find a bit of comfort here.

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

Dark descends on the Delta

As I walked back from my evening’s visit with Pattie, I stumbled and hit the ground.  Don’t tell Pattie — she’ll be  horrified.  I landed as I’ve been taught to land, carefully not using bended wrists to catch myself.  I broke  bones that way in 2013, splintering my finger so badly that I had to endure surgery to restore  functionality.  I’ve not made that mistake again.

On my knees, trying to push myself upright, I began to bargain.  Not with God; no, God and I don’t play those kinds of games.  My promises and threats extended only to myself.  You will get up off this g– d— ground, right now, I muttered.  If anyone had been near an open window, they would have heard a few expletives that one might not expect from a five-foot, 110-pound lady in her sixties.

I lack the strength in my legs to just simply stand from the floor.  This prompts me to do adaptive yoga rather than the regular kind.  Adaptive yoga divides the upper halves of traditional poses from their lower halves, which I skip.  I can’t coordinate the two portions of my body nor rise from a prone position.  Because of this inability, my friends Ellen Cox and Sharon Alberts, a mother-and-daughter duo, have helped me devise a sun salute that doesn’t include the floor routine.

So there I found myself, for the first time, lying on a stretch of gravel in Park Delta Bay.  For reasons I cannot recall, I had not taken my phone with me.  I never carry a cane or walking stick, not that either would be useful for propelling myself straight upward.  Dusk gathered around me and would soon overtake the towering oaks that run behind the tiny houses, trailers, and RVs of G-Row on which both Pattie and I live.  Standing became imperative, as did maintaining control of my keys and my temper.

When I got hit by a car during law school, a social worker did not want to release me to my apartment.  I had been in the hospital for three and a half months, and could not tolerate another minute.  My parents had come to visit.  My mother had brought clean clothes for me to wear home.  They would spend a night or two with me, then  take themselves back to St. Louis.  The social worker insisted that I should go to a rehab unit; just as forcefully, I rejected her proposal.

The worker said to my mother, “She lives on the fourth floor with no elevator.  What will she do if there’s a fire?”  My mother had laughed then, and shook her head.  “You don’t know my daughter, ma’am.  She’d not only get out, but she’d take you with her.”

As dark descended on the Delta,  I glanced around the empty lot on which I had fallen.  I  realized that I would have to navigate the ground to a tree or one of the picnic tables.  So I did.  I scooted on my bottom, fifteen or twenty feet, holding onto my keys so I wouldn’t lose them with the fading light.   When I got to the old oak with its wide base,  I found a stake someone had left — a tent stake perhaps, about fifteen inches tall and made of iron.  I grabbed that thing, stuck it into the ground, and used it to propel myself against the trunk of my new favorite tree at Park Delta Bay.  I gripped its rough surface with my other hand, and hauled my sorry ass to a wavering but upright stance.

On shaky legs, I walked the rest of the way to Angel’s Haven.  I have never been so glad to see my front porch,  just barely visible, strong and sturdy.  I climbed the four steps and let myself into the house, thinking, as I did, that Pattie Whitaker is going to be absolutely furious when she finds out that I disobeyed her constant admonishment not to dare fall.

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

 

The joys of being an almost-mother

Being a mother to my son brings enormous joy, possibly the pinnacle of my life.  Motherhood satisfied me as no other role could do.  I didn’t make it as a wife; that needs no elaboration.   I stumbled through daughterhood with blind unawareness of my parents as real people. I lost both parents before I had found myself enough to be able to appreciate their complexity..  I attained marginal satisfaction from college, graduate school, and law school; more from practicing family law.  But  motherhood pulled something from the depths of my soul.  Being a mother awakened an indestructible, enduring passion which entwined itself around my psyche.  Its fibers keep me whole against the onslaught of each shattering blow from an otherwise diminishing existence.

I have one biological child, Patrick.  I  nearly had three more.  The joys of being an almost-mother started at age 22 when I got pregnant by a man whom I dated off and on through high school, college, and graduate school  We both knew that we did not belong together.  Our relationship suffered from an unrealistic overtone.  I never knew how he felt about God, taxes, or eating vegetarian.  I admired how he treated his parents  but we kept ourselves apart from each other’s social set, never speaking of the future, sensing that we had none.

I lost that baby in my mother’s bathroom in January of 1977.  I bled out on the black-and-white tile floor with the door locked, sobbing as quietly as I could.  She cajoled her way into the small space and folded me into her arms.  We said nothing.  She helped me clean myself and guided me to my old bedroom. I slept for two days.  When I awakened, the urge to give birth lay heavy on my heart.  But I did not cry.   I did not mourn.  I simply let the knowledge that I had been an almost-mother cleanse me.  I understood that my time had not yet come but that it would.

The next almost-child slipped from my body during my first marriage.  We wanted to be parents so intensely that babies haunted each of our separate dreams.  A kidney infection ruined my chances that time, something sick and vile that left me shaking on a gurney at the local health clinic.  The doctor kept saying he was sorry, as though he should never have given me the pregnancy test results.  Every time he apologized, I automatically said, “It’s not your fault, don’t worry”, while the catheter drained dark urine from my body and antibiotics flowed through a needle into my arm.  I can’t remember what he did after that; I might have blacked out.

A third child didn’t make it to my arms as part of the pregnancy which gave my son to me.  I miscarried his twin in March at about four months.  When I spread my legs for the post-miscarriage procedures, my ob-gyn unexpectedly exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, there’s another baby.”  Astonishment surged through me.  I had been redeemed by a tiny, tenacious creature clinging to life.  I felt a smug satisfaction.  I had known that I would be a mother from the first moment.  I had never doubted.  The miscarriage brought brief, intense confusion which dispelled with the doctor’s startled revelation.

Possibly the thrills of being an almost-mother attached themselves to the one child whom I bore.  In some ways, though, just being pregnant stirred the capacity for joy within  me.  That same sensation bloomed when I got the privilege of sharing other people’s children:  Caitlin, Jennie, and Chris Taggart; my stepchildren Tshandra, Kim, Cara, and Mac; and the smattering of kids who have called me “Auntie” or treated me like a second mother over the years — Maher, Abbey, Colin, and Sam, to name a few.  Though some of them have wandered away, I do not regret any of the love which I invested in them nor would I pull their gossamer threads from the fabric of my life.

I staggered through many of my days as a mother.  I did the first eight years alone in the house with Patrick though just outside our door, a village welcomed us.  So much would have been different if I had given birth at 22, at 33, or to both children at 36.  I hold onto all of it though — the good with the bad; the almost with the actual.  Every second of my life as a mother contributes to the person I have become.

Through the open door, I hear baby birds raising their voices on the crisp air of a Delta spring morning.  The palest blue soars above me as I gaze through the big window with its long lace curtain.  Sleep eluded me for hours last night, but whatever bothered me has now receded.  I feel whole and clean.    Hope endures, despite the downward turns that my life has taken along the road from there to here.  I’ve made it this far, against immeasurable odds.  Anything can happen now.  I close my eyes and listen to the call of life.

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

REFLECTIONS OF MOTHERHOOD

 

 

My Day In Davis

The UC Davis campus allows no easy passage.  Its arboretum follows suit.  Although the Visitor Guide online suggests that the west end of the Arboretum might be “more accessible” than the rest of it, none of it yields to clumsy penetration.

The Arboretum provides a downloadable map for those of us who don’t have iPads with which their interactive map apparently has exclusive compatibility.  I studied the PDF at length before I got to Davis and set my GPS for the “visitor center”, conspicuous by its prominent designation on said map and its absence in real life.  After 30 minutes of driving around town, I pulled over and called “Arboretum Headquarters”.  Roxanne told me that the visitor center didn’t exist, though conceding that one appeared on their map. She insisted that I could find “Headquarters” and she would provide a paper copy of the map.  She could not tell me how to locate her building, though she did tell me what its sign said — should I find the spot on the road where the building sat.

I stumbled on it twenty minutes later, on the far side of a busy campus street with no apparent access and no obvious parking.  Throwing most of my caution out the window, I drove a little way further and parked beside a building that crouched within a grove of trees near a waterway.  I sat in a handicapped parking space grappling with hunger, fatigue, and rising tears for five full minutes before I composed myself enough to disembark.

I crossed a bridge and peered towards the front of the lodge, at which a conference could be seen to gather.  A man in a green apron asked if he could help me.  When I explained my dilemma, he urged me to go into the building and find “Sheila”, whom he identified as “a UC Davis employee who knows everything and is really nice who will help you”.  I thanked him and continued forward, clutching my reviled walking stick in one hand and my phone displaying the Arboretum map in the other.

Sheila behaved as advertised.  She provided verbal directions accompanied with references to the PDF on my phone.  She also gave me a bottle of water, for which I would find myself grateful more than once over the next two hours.  Thus fortified, I sallied forth.

By happy chance, I had gotten myself in the western third of the Arboretum walkway, that which the map had proclaimed to be more easily navigated in the event of disability.  I found it still difficult.  With its wide, paved asphalt surface, the walkway did not trip me but the curbs in front of its benches proved daunting.  Nevertheless, I kept trudging until I arrived at the Gazebo and the White Flower Garden.  Exhausted,  winded, but victorious, I sat and let the beauty comfort me.

As I rested, I checked e-mail to be sure that I had not overlooked anything client-related.  There I found a message from a woman whose case I had just finished on my last trip to Kansas City.  The words she wrote meant more to me than she can possibly know.  I share them here not to brag, but so that each person reading will understand how deeply she has touched me in a time when only an unsolicited message of this sort could possibly hit the mark.

She wrote:

When I made the decision and took the step of faith to change my situation/life, I had no idea how I was going to do it alone, how I could afford to. Nevertheless, when I took the first step the path started to reveal itself with every step I took forward. The first step was making the decision and the second was finding you. You did not have to take my case but you did and for that, I am extremely grateful.

I have had to learn that I am not going to make it very far unless I focus on the road ahead and quit looking behind me. I am determined to continue cutting loose all of the people and things (guilt, shame, anger, hate….etc.) that I have allowed to keep me from moving forward.

I cannot adequately explain how keenly her message struck home.  The gratitude justly belongs at my end.  She has given me exactly what I needed in one of the more fortuitously timed e-mails of my life.  Doubtless, many others have tried to convince me of what my client discovered for herself and shared with me.   But apparently I needed to receive this advice while sitting in the gazebo of a splendid garden which I had struggled to find, with the scent of white flowers wafting around me, on a sweet spring day, in Davis, California.

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

 

CLICK HERE FOR MY ARBORETUM VIDEO

Thankful for the Ten Percent

Pattie says, I know what  you mean, and we fall silent. We’re facing west, sitting on her deck beneath the awnings.  I have taken the first steps of my afternoon walk.  As I rounded the corner, Pattie’s voice drew me to a chair.

Pattie lives on the first turn of my quarter-mile circuit.  We spent a pleasant fifteen minutes ruminating about life as each of us has experienced it.  She’s seen five or six more years than I have but we’ve navigated similar currents.  Marriage, divorce, childbirth, loss, disruption, difficult choices.  Each of us remembers periods of our lives when we could barely stand to let someone see a dirty coffee cup, and other long stretches where we gave ourselves permission to grieve.

Pattie’s one of the ten-percenters, the fraction of people whom I have met that I know would never purposefully disappoint me.  She’d finagle, and ferret, and fret, and get whatever she’d promised done.  I like that about her.

The ninety-percent of the world which either can’t be bothered or wouldn’t keep their word might be ten-percenters to somebody else but not me.  I don’t occupy the intersection of their Venn diagram.  They have no liability to me, or they had it and abdicated.  I accept that.  At times it enrages me, when the ninety-percenter who fails me had invited me to trust them.  But then I go for a walk, now on my quarter-mile and in the old days, around a 2-square-block circuit in Brookside.  By the time I make it back home, I’ve let go of the anger.  \

Some people can’t help themselves.  They’re always angling for a better deal, and I just don’t make the cut.  Like the college co-ed who says they’ll spend time with you unless they get a date, never realizing that you relied on the plans which you made with them.  If I tell you that I’ll have dinner with you, it doesn’t matter if someone dangles a more tempting tryst in front of me.  Let your belt out a notch; we’re chowing down.

It’s hard to be upset in the dappled light which plays across the park.  As I walked, I remembered the evening when I stood outside my brother Frank’s house talking about moving to California.

“For God’s sake, tell me you’re not going to live in a trailer park,” he groaned.  I shook my head and laughed.  “That’s exactly what I’m going to do,” I admitted.  “At least for a while.”

He gazed out on his street as darkness settled around us.  “Okay then,” he finally sighed.  “As long as you’re happy.”  He’s one of the ten-percent.  He loves me no matter what.

I finished my walk just as the shade overtook my little deck with its chilly air.  Inside Angel’s Haven, the European washer unit had finished its dry cycle and pleasantly hummed in the anti-wrinkle phase.  I stood gazing at the glow of the sun over the river road for a few minutes, then went inside to pour a cup of coffee.

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

“You’ve Got a Friend”, Carole King and James Taylor

 

Me, myself

On the top shelf of my mother-in-law’s glass-fronted secretary, I keep an imaginary jar filled with invisible nickels.  I give one of these five-cent pieces to my inner soul every time someone responds to a blog-entry by telling me that I should have been a writer.

I get that message from a lot of people.  When I read this damned-faint-praise, I wildly  gesture to the virtual world in which the conversation occurs.   See?  See?  What’s this?  Oh, wait — it’s me, writing.  Me, myself.  A writer.

I know what they strive to articulate, of course.   They suggest that instead of being content to blog, I should  become a real writer — by which they mean, one given money for their words.  And yes, Virginia, there’s a difference.  A real writer pays his or her bills with the fruits of his or her creative effort, while we not-real-writers give what we write to the universe for its enjoyment, expecting nothing in return beyond the occasional favorable comment.

I wanted to be a real writer.  I truly did.  Even now, as I sit looking out the loft window of Angel’s Haven, I scroll through Craig’s List and Indeed.com, trying to find a way to make money as a real writer.  Everybody says I should.  By everybody, I mean all of those folks who love me, care about me, want me to be ecstatic about life, and secretly think that I should never have quit practicing law or left Missouri,  Why not write, since I can’t find  a job?

The same people who don’t want to hire a 62-year-old out-of-state attorney don’t want to pay a 62-year-old semi-has-been to write.  I have “worked” in the field.   I sold a few essays and a handful of newspaper articles.  But — and this is a HUGE but —  this occurred before I hit twenty.  That’s a young person’s game.  My son sells articles now — my twenty-six-year-old son.  The real writer in the family.

As for myself, I’ll just keep plunking those invisible nickels into my imaginary jar. I’ll continue to spin my yarns, to paint my verbal pictures, and share the vagaries of human life in the only way I know.  My words demand to be tendered to the page and sent into the internet.  I could not stop the flow even if I ached to be silent.   So keep those cards and letters coming, people.  Your appreciation remains more than adequate compensation.

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

 

 

Evening surrounds me

A certain glow lights the area under the willow tree behind my house.  From the writing loft, I watch the tree’s lush tendrils sway in the wind.  As the sun sets, a coolness settles over the park.  A chill will rise in the air of my house.  I don’t mind.

A little while ago, I sat on Pattie Whitaker’s porch talking about life in the Delta.  I have never lived anywhere quite like this.  Rivers wind themselves around the ground on which we stake our meager claim.  We have only to point our vehicles upward from the valley in which we sit to  find ourselves at the river’s edge.  We drive five miles on winding levee roads to get to town.  It reminds me of Martha’s Vinyard in some ways, with its dual-slotted post office:  “Island” and “Off-Island”.

When I drove to Lodi on Sunday, Amanda at Secondhand Rose left the front of her store to embrace me.  We spoke of my recent trip to Missouri.  Earlier I had met the folks in the neighboring vitamin shop.  They suggested that I try CBD for inflammation, but as an alternative, I bought Frankincense.  They cheerfully mentioned that if I am over 55, I qualify for a 10% discount.  I laughed and admitted that I am.  They put me in their computer.  “You’re a customer now!” they chortled.

I spend my days closing out cases, writing, and looking for work.  At the post office today, I realized that it has been four months since I abandoned the Midwest for Northern California.  My sense of place and time has nearly shifted.  Surrounded by my trinkets, my angels and my old books, I might have grown whole in this place, born of the river silt and the shifting sediment from which the island arose.  I feel at home.  This land has taken me into its heart.

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

 

Two Encounters

Today a man said something to me that I’ve articulated hundreds of times in my life, mostly to seemingly deaf ears and uncomprehending minds.

Isn’t it awful when you’re trying to walk down a hall and people come right at you, but because you’re swaying back and forth, neither of you can pass?

The man had already moved aside for me in the local thrift store.  When he did so, I perceived the staggering truth of our synergy in the lurch of his scissoring steps.  We mirrored each other.  I  apologized for inconveniencing him, but he dismissed my remorse.   He beamed and I chuckled.  We met each other’s eyes.  Then he continued out of the store, leaving me clutching a lace curtain. I stood in the aisle shaking my head and grinning. I had finally met someone who did not wince as I tried to explain my inability to dart around him.

A little while later, I wheeled a buggy from the Family Dollar store and loaded my purchases into the back of the RAV.  Before I could return the empty cart, a man approached me from the parking lot.  Let me take that, he insisted.  I saw you come out of the door.  I’m always ready to help a sister.  He reached over and gave me a half-hug, then limped away, pushing the cart.  I smiled and called out my thanks.  He lifted one hand without turning.

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

 

 

Dust of Snow
BY ROBERT FROST

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Always on my mind

TRIGGER WARNING. 

IF DISCUSSIONS OF OR REFERENCES TO FAMILY VIOLENCE TRIGGER YOU,

PLEASE PROCEED WITH CAUTION.  THANK YOU.

 

I don’t pretend to understand my parents’ relationship even though I have a keen awareness that it defined me in many ways.  I once explained to someone who voiced bitterness for how badly our father abused us that if my mother could forgive him, how could I do less?  That person did not understand my willingness to see through my father’s treachery to his humanity.  I accept their rejection of my attempts to put what happened into perspective, but I still strive to do so.

By the time cancer and medical malfeasance claimed my mother two weeks shy of her 59th birthday, my parents had forged an existence that I consider allowed them a measure of happiness.  My father probably still drank, but it had been a decade since the post-war trauma plunged him into rage.  He did not have a job and had not for most if not all of my life but he woodworked in the basement and kept house after a fashion.  My mother’s income paid their bills.  They took trips and entertained their grandchildren.  They socialized with my aunt and uncle.  Whatever they could make of a life following the bad years, they made.

I visited my father in the days after my mother’s funeral.  Her death had broken him, shattering him into jagged splinters which would never restore themselves into even a shell of a man.  Some say he got his just desserts, following a life in which he visited pain and punishment on his wife and children.  I know more now about that tyranny; and the damage which some of us still strive to heal.  I suppose that I should hate him for what he did.   Perhaps if our mother had been fully aware of the extent of his conduct, she might have murdered him herself.  I don’t know.  I can’t say.

I recently gave my mother’s stereo to my niece Lisa, the oldest of her granddaughters.   Lisa has extraordinary memories of records played for her on that turntable by her Grandma.  I, too, recall hours spent listening to vinyl with my mother.  Most of my memories involve Willie Nelson, whose records we played over and over for my mother during her last illness.

I think my mother wanted to have had a good life with the man for whom she left nursing school months before graduation.  It seems to me that she strove to erase all the harm that he did, and retain the cheerful co-conspirator into which she molded him for what became the last days of their marriage.  I might be wrong about this, but I imagine that she did not want her forgiveness of him to have been offered in vain.  Yet she also understood that she herself had been maligned by him, even beyond the physical and emotional damage that he caused her children or the brutality which he visited on her body.  He failed to treat her in ways that would create a safety net to get her through tough times.  He was a poor guardian of her  heart.  I think she understood that regardless of what he wanted to be, his warped psyche, which I believe came from the terrible experience of war, would not let him.

When asked how I can forgive my father for what he did to us, I try to qualify my forgiveness by limiting my discretion to that which I myself suffered.  It is for others to extend that honor on their own behalf.  As for me, I think my father wanted to do right by me.    I think he wanted to do right by my mother.  I judge that he did not have the strength to overcome the scars on his psyche or pull himself from the dark places to which his nightmares dragged him.

Despite the grimness of my father’s failings, I believe that my mother was always on his mind.  I sat with him many times in the six years between her death and his.  I listened as he lamented. I read his maudlin poetry about her.  I heard what his soul harbored.  I often wish that I had not; but I cannot escape the lessons which his confidences brought me.   I have since learned more about his actions than I knew at the time; and perhaps what I now know might have then hardened my disposition towards him.  I can’t say.  But in the moment, listening to him, and remembering my mother’s gentle request to play her favorite Willie Nelson song “one more time”, led me to a place of peace with respect to my father.

Moreover, I cannot escape my own reality.   In a simpler manner, I have failed some whom I loved.  Though my failures did not take a violent turn, they cut just as deeply.   In many ways, I am not that different from my old man.  But I remain hopeful that I, too, have been forgiven.

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

Willie Nelson, “Always On My Mind”