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The measure of my worth

In a six-hour hearing yesterday, I learned the comparative measure of my worth.

Lawyer who has been on the case for six months:  Bill is $29,000.00.

Lawyer who has been on the case for six weeks:  Bill is $15,000.00.

Myself, on the case as Guardian Ad Litem for eight months:  Bill is $10,000.00.

I watched the fees exhibits cross the judge’s bench.  Offered, no objection, admitted, three times over.  I realize that I valued my time as I saw fit.  It’s customary for GALs in my county to bill at a reduced rate.  But as a lawyer who doesn’t normally bill on an hourly basis, I set my rates according to antiquated notions, from a time when the attorneys here billed at $200 or $250 an hour.  Now, they’re clocking it at one-third above those rates — $300, $350, or higher.

I’ve always struggled with the concept of my time being worth 200 percent of my client’s time.  As a consequence, I’ve never made much money, nor risen above the middle-class values of my parents’ era.  I don’t drive a fancy car or even one which I bought for myself.  My furniture testifies to my father’s name for me:  Second-Hand Rose, after the Streisand song.  I won’t touch on the people who turn away when they realize that I buy my suits in consignment stores.  But my clients love me.  I fight as fiercely for them as I would if they had to liquidate their small savings accounts to underwrite my contract.

If I have a failing as a modern lawyer, it lies not in my lack of legal acumen but in my inability to see the practice of law as a business model. Even after twenty-four years running my own shop, I have only a vague concept of overhead and budgets.  But this I do have: a heightened awareness of the need for an advocate’s avenging spirit.  I often stare with blank dismay at the ledgers, but feel a tightening in my belly when a client receives a summons.  How dare you mess with one of mine!  Stand back!  I’ve got this.

As I look forward six months into the future, when the Corley Law Firm will dwindle to the occasional letter or stray pleading, I find that I am satisfied with the measure of my worth.  I believe that I have done myself proud.  I have no complaints.  I might not have succeeded by traditional standards, where the bank balance testifies to your virtues and the trappings of your castle proclaim your cleverness.  But yesterday I got an e-mail from a satisfied client offering to come pay his fairly small bill in full.  I’ll take it.  Yes.  And thank you.

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

 

Knowing when, knowing why, knowing who

A friend posted, You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.  I don’t know what prompted his comment.  Sitting in my kitchen, drinking tea, I felt a pang of sorrow through the social medium on which he uttered the pronouncement.  His words bespoke of powerlessness, of disconnection, of futility.

Perhaps my friend spoke from none of those realms.  Possibly he only meant that he had tried to show someone how to balance their checkbook; maybe he had given someone a computer program to enhance their daily existence and the thing lay idle on their desktop.  But I don’t think so.  Knowing my friend, even as little as I know him, I heard an echo of despair.

I replied, telling him that I drag his book of poetry over the seven seas tucked in my handbag. I balance it on window sills, on my knee, on the saucer as I drink my tea.  I read and re-read; I commune with the population of his world.  I told him so. I don’t know when I could have ever gotten the chance to thank him. I don’t know why he uttered those soft words into the virtual realm.  I don’t know who turned their back on his attempts to offer direction.

I know so little.  I guess so much.  Yet I long to honor my connection with him.  I see the pain lingering in the crinkles around his eyes when we chance upon one another from time to time.  He folds me in a warm embrace.  He tells me that it’s good to see me.  Then he backs away and wanders in another direction.  I can’t help thinking that he’s had a life of pain punctuated by the occasional saving grace.  He voices few complaints; the mild lament which I read today surprised me.  So this is for him — for his caring, his concern.  Whether his comment gave voice to something casual or catastrophic, I salute him.

Prompted by my friend’s encouragement, I walk to the water and drink.

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

ANGELS

You’re damn right I believe in angels.
I saw two of them down by the river
at shift change last Thursday.
They’d stepped back between the buildings
to keep the cold rain off their wings,
I guess.
They were talking and
I heard one say
Sally’s back on crack.
I saw her light the pipe last night.
down at Third and Central.
Then the other one said
Yeah, tell me about it;
I’ve been looking over Bobbie’s shoulder
for the last three days
while he studied his reflection
in razor blades.
Last night it was all I could do to stop him.
Then they nodded,
gave each other a low five
and headed off in opposite directions.
After they left, I stood awhile
looking down on the tracks
at a long train of box cars sliding past.
All along the sides, there were messages
written in that impossible angelic script they use
to communicate with angels in other towns.
After it moved on out of sight
I looked over at the alley wall.
There were more messages written there
In that same strange language.
Everybody says they’re gang signs.
Yeah, but ain’t no gangsta
can tell you what they mean.

Angels, David Arnold Hughes,
from Born a Stranger, Poems by David Arnold Hughes, Spartan Press

© David Arnold Hughes 2017

 

 

Angels’ Haven

My first experience with angels of the heavenly kind came in 1978 or 1979, when a white body stood over me urging me to awaken and protect myself.  In 1982, the same entity gently pushed my spirit downward, guiding me to reunite with my battered body as it flew four stories into the Kansas City sky, jarred into flight on impact with a speeding car.  Two years later, a warm rush spread through my body as my unknowing mother described a white faceless creature telling her that she had a year to live. I never doubted the connection; I never questioned the messages or their source.

I have no doubt that many will tell me these are hallucinations.  I accept your doubt.  You might even be correct.  I have no need for anything other than the serenity which I feel in the presence of these beings.

In a few hours, I will arrive in Lathrop with two friends, a caravan of the possessions which I’ve decided to take with me on my next odyssey.  We will unload and stow my belongings in the completed tiny house which I’m calling Angels’ Haven.  The name seems suitable, for I’ve carried the beings which I consider angels in my heart for so long that I feel safe with them.  They wrap themselves around my shoulders, crowding any room where I sleep from hospital to home.  Of course I will take them with me on my westward journey.

The angels who remain in Kansas City have human faces, along with one sweet dog.  I’ll be back from time to time.  I’ll bring California sunshine.  I’ll soak the Midwestern magic into my skin; the friendly faces, the jazz, the passion for anything Royal and for the flaming red of hometown football.  My visits will mirror those which I’ve taken west for the last three years: Rental cars, unfamiliar beds, and blown diets.  The only difference will be that at the end of each trip, I will return to the sea.

I have no complaints about the thirty-seven years since I first came here.  I only have another seven weeks of calling this place my home.  But a piece of my heart will always remain, while the rest journeys to San Francisco and the Delta Bay.  Keep the lights on, Kansas City.  By and by, I will make my way back to your arms and the cool autumn nights of Missouri.

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

 

 

Vanity

I’ve spend a lot of time on the computer today.  Some of my efforts have been for clients or GAL cases; others have been towards the end of organizing my life and reaching out to people with whom I need to be connected for one reason or another.  I’ve danced between the back bedroom and various parts of the house, with its echoes and its empty floors.  Series after series of electronic mail and phone calls kept me from really finishing anything.

Towards the end of the evening, I found myself reading Rupi Kaur, a poet whom I discovered fairly recently who expresses in poetry what I yearn to convey in my essays.  I think about my early days of straining to construct poems, of thinking that getting published in a vanity press meant something.   But bad poetry is bad poetry, even though the Eads Bridge did accept three of my poems and turn them into a rather decent triptych.

On smaller and smaller tables, I type, I eat, I shuffle papers.  I’m down to three lamps, a couch, four chairs, my secretary, and the china cabinet.  Upstairs a handful of portable furniture stands between me and being gone.  I walk among all of it, thinking about what has been given away, what remains, and what will soon drift out of here on the barest of breezes..

Unexpectedly, I shift past the triptych and remember the vanity poem.  It marches across my mind, jarring me, taunting me:

Double-Bind*

If I’m not real
behind this mask
which ties my mind
and sets my task,

then those who work
on my behalf
should give in with
a weary laugh.

But if I’m real
it’s also true
that loyal friends
have much to rue.

It’s terrible; I know — no illusions, no lingering belief in my potential.  I wrote it and submitted it to one of those come-ons in the back of a magazine in 1978.  Later, I realized what the good stuff did for me; its subtle, addictive allure; its rampant sensuality.   I luxuriated in Sara Teasdale.  I memorized Robert Frost and the World War I poets.  I cowed, humbled by their unabashed glory.

I abandoned all thought of writing verse.  In fact, I stifled the scantest possibility of writing.  I immersed myself in graduate school and alcohol; wild sex and a lost baby.    But I secretly scribbled, which produced three poems.  The powers-that-be at Eads Bridge snipped until they got them into a form which they considered good enough for its pages in early 1980:

RED*
Its rage is great
Its enthusiasm endless
Its beauty renowned

While GREEN is only
The cold voice
And the chilled way
That I use to send you home.

And what is blue
But all that I have in me?
The rain we felt in April
The wind; all the poems that you read me
Dresses that I wore to school
Mirrors from which my image shown
A butterfly, trapped briefly, then released
A child – once real – then gone.
More, much more
Too much to say
But there: and all in BLUE.

I’m not complaining about my lack of talent, nor about the detours which my life took.  These days I find myself ruminating more and more on what I have learned; less and less on what I have lost or that which I could never attain.  Growth; maybe.  A letting go.  A recognition that the detours took me through some rocky waters, but also brought me to palatial views, and  extraordinary lands populated with amazing people.

It’s the thirty-first day of the forty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

 

 

*Foregoing poems copyright C. Corley, 1977 and 1980, respectively.  I assume Rupi Kaur owns her copyright but reproduce the image here as I found it on the web.

Say again, please.

The land of hearing impairment looms lonely and long.

I started losing my hearing in my mid-teens. My mother sent me to visit her parents in the hopes that Grandpa would determine whether I just did not pay attention or couldn’t hear.  He deployed equipment from his work as a hearing aid salesman.  I stood in the doorway of the kitchen and listened to their conversation, learning at fifteen for the first time  that my hearing had begun to fail.

Since then, I’ve lost most of  my voice range hearing in my left ear and about a third of that range in the right.  I have lots of high range hearing left and a small amount of low range.  I’ve learned to read lips (badly, self-taught).  I get regular hearing tests at which I’m counseled to get hearing aids, but fancy kinds, five grand a piece, because of various nuances of my loss and the spasticity in my hands which dictate a certain functionality without which I couldn’t deploy the equipment or keep it charged.

I don’t have ten grand to blow on hearing so I keep slugging, straining to discern the spoken word, turning the radio louder and louder.  I’m waiting for Medicaid, assuming the Republicans leave it for me, which, frankly, I’m beginning to doubt.  I could buy the cheaper kinds, but a drawer full of impossible-to-use implements of other types suggest that equipment which I can’t manipulate will not help me.  I muddle through.

Meanwhile, the sound of my own voice has faded.  I have difficulty judging my tone, register, and enunciation.  Worse, if I’m not looking right at someone, I don’t know they have spoken. I interrupt.  I miss important disclosures.  In the courtroom, I have to situate my body so as to see, without which I would never have a chance of hearing.  Over and over, I utter these words:  Say again, please.  I choose this configuration for two reasons:  One, I really want to hear exactly what the person said.  Two, I dated a military man years ago who taught me never, ever, ever to utter the word repeat.

Most people interpret my request as being one for explanation.  I don’t want that.  If I have seen your mouth and caught any syllables, I have a fair idea what you’ve said.  Your three-sentence explanation does not look remotely like the original statement or question.  Then the tension rises and I wonder if you think I’m an idiot.  I don’t need you to molly-coddle me by offering long paraphrases.  I’ll understand. I just did not hear.  

Say again, please.

I’m not deaf.  I can still hear fairly well in quiet, with no ambient noise to override the human voice.  I can hear women better than men. If I have a volume control, I turn it to a level that will hurt someone else if they get into the car or walk into my house where the radio plays.  I can identify some words and phrases by sight.  My brain supplies a bit of assistance, often incorrect, but usually sufficiently close to allow me to respond.

I feel for those who have lost all of their hearing, for those who never had it.  As this precious gift slips through my fingers, my craving for music rises.  I stood in a bar last weekend with my right ear angled towards the stage.  I pressed one finger against the left ear to eliminate the false readings which my brain sends as tinnitus.  I closed my eyes to increase my focus.

There, just there.  I can hear it now:  the strains of a viola da gamba, haunting, lifting me above the darkened room.  So wondrous.. 

My companion speaks, perhaps wondering if I’ve heard what he hears.  I don’t know.  I will never know.  But this time:  Maybe.  Maybe.  I smile and nod.  We turn our eyes back toward the performers and let the music carry us away.

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

 

Gerald Trimble (left) and G. Victor Penniman. Both men play the viola da gamba. Seen here at The Clubhouse in the Crossroads last Saturday. Pardon the terrible cell phone picture.

 

 

Pretty enough

Yesterday someone told me that he thinks I am pretty.

The compliment pleased me more than it might have most women.  I have always wanted to be pretty, a goal which I shared with Rhoda’s sister Brenda, from the 70’s sitcom “Rhoda”.  In one poignant episode, Brenda sits admiring her slimmer sister and wistfully confesses her desire.

Lest you think that the friends and lovers in my life have not complimented my appearance, I hasten to disabuse you of that foul notion.  But the kinds of compliments given to me never quite satisfied me.  “You look good,” impresses me as entirely too subjective.  “I like you in that color,” acknowledges an effort on my part to accommodate another with my choice of clothing.  I appreciate such offerings, of course; but nothing so thoroughly thrills me as the notion that someone genuinely believes that I fit the word, “pretty”.

I hear my women friends howling.  Pat Reynolds in particular will protest:  “You’re beautiful and besides, who cares what they think!”  Of course, Pat founded and heads the Corinne Corley Fan Club, so  she would say something like that.

In 1977, I lived in Brighton, Massachusetts and had two roommates, Marian Zagardo and Melanie Bonfiglioli.  Both acted; both also had day jobs. Each had a kind of earthy beauty. They dragged me to all their plays, social engagements, and bar-hopping.  I sat in awe of them.

Melanie stored mounds of cosmetics in her vanity which she applied with breathtakingly perfect skill.  Buxom, blonde, and blatantly sexy, Melanie literally dodged all the males at any party.  Her tart Quincy accent and confident air attracted everyone from the little boy down the hall to the gay waiters at Cafe Vendomme.

Marian would proclaim to everyone who listened that “from the neck up,” she could fake it.  Her green eyes flashed beneath a black-haired pixie cut.  Rounded, tall, and big-shouldered, Marian did not need the rank-and-file attention of random panting terriers.  She had Johnny:  Six-foot-forever, dark-Irish, piercing blue eyes.

I openly envied Melanie and Marian.  I annoyed the hell out of them until they finally booted me out, insisting that they had advertised for a roommate, not a sister.  I understood their point of view and went crawling back to St. Louis, even more discouraged than when I had left.

In the forty intervening years, I have grown comfortable with my inconsequential frame.  I’ve reconciled myself to crooked teeth; grey hair which my rocking stylist maintains at a lovely platinum intermixed with something close to my natural brown; and a right eye which flutters in a manner so distracting that I have had it brought to my attention by more than one client.  I unabashedly proclaim myself to be a card-carrying member of the Itty Bitty Titty Society.  I rarely paint my face.  I surrendered to spectacles when the demand for prisms to correct my astigmatism overtook the beneficial countenance afforded by contact lenses.

I pride myself in other talents as well.  I’ve already bragged loud and long that a judge took judicial notice that I am relentless.  Recently, a different judge told the parties and their attorneys that I’d done a yeoman’s job as guardian ad litem.   I positively swooned (inwardly, at least; I strove to look suitably self-deprecating).  I’m grateful to be considered kind or thoughtful.  I even appreciated the recent pronouncement by a friend that my personal worth outweighed my physical shortcomings.  I paused only briefly to wonder if she intended this as praise before thanking her with as much composure as I could muster.

But until last night, I have never been called “pretty”.

So here’s to all the girls who dance the night away, or sit on the back stoop, or boldly strut down  the street.  Every one of them has been raised with some version of the Cinderella story on her mother’s lips.  I hope my son’s generation dismisses such teachings as sheer unmitigated bull-hockey.  I wish I had.  But even though I understand that I make my own glory and forge my own path, it is more than a little pleasant to know that somewhere, someone, has finally given me the label that I craved so long it took on a life of its own.

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

I FEEL PRETTY

AM I NOT PRETTY ENOUGH?

Something Blue

We start each new phase of our lives on the heels of a jingle.  “Something old, something new. . . something borrowed, something blue” follows the bride down the aisle and out the church door.  As I stand in the wide empty rooms of my house, the house which will soon not be mine, I wonder what old adage my friends will chant in my wake.

Empty shelves which once held my mother’s soup cups stare down from the walls.  I smile when I see that the cupboards are far from bare despite my best efforts, but soon they will shed their burdens into boxes bound for donation, with one small bundle added to the dozen which have already been segregated for the westward journey.  I sit on a wooden stool which someone blended with my belongings and abandoned, in front of an old white table that hasn’t made anybody’s cut.  A funny assortment of possessions has fallen away to reveal calcified bones scarcely strong enough to withstand a modest breeze.  Yet somehow the whole of it, this which is left and the stacks that have been hauled away, made a life good enough to produce a box full of photos and a heart full of sentiment.

As I prepare for my next adventure, I realize that come what might, I’ve opened a door and dragged a few precious items through it.  I’ll have my son’s childhood in a camp box repurposed as a storage bin; I’ll have my mother in wooden spindles on which I’ll hang my tea towels.  My favorite curmudgeon and his beautiful Joanna will stand next to my butcher block counter, represented by the incongruously situated antique secretary, the one even I think I’m crazy to tote in my tiny house.

The answer to, how much can you fit in 313 square feet? is ‘just the right amount’.  I don’t even miss the two SUVs-full of crockery and books that Ms. Miranda packed and drove out of my life.  I spend most evenings in the same little circle: Kitchen, rocking chair, upstairs in my cabin-in-the-sky.  Of all of this, I’ll miss my front porch the most, and if I’m clever, I’ll have another by spring, on a lot that I don’t have to pay anyone to mow, near a river with its weeping willow, a river which flows to the mother sea.

I’ve wondered where this journey to joy would take me.  I think I have my answer.  The process of getting ready has allowed me to strip the burden from my shoulders and spread my arms wide, unburdened, light, like the back of my neck the first time I snuck out of the house and cut my long heavy braids.  My father wailed, “A woman’s hair is her crowning beauty!”  I pretended to be remorseful.  But I  felt glorious, and that exhilaration again courses through me.  The weight of everything with which I’ve blocked my awakening has been lifted.  I stretch.  I rise.  My heart rejoices.

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

Of the eight rocking chairs which once cluttered my home, I’m taking only two: One for the porch which I will have on my tiny house, and this one, which my friend Cherie Meyers gave me. I covered its new pillow with a baby blanket that I knitted for my son’s stroller.

 

Falling

I’ve done a lot of falling in my life.

I’ve fallen in love.

I’ve fallen for lines.

I’ve fallen behind in my bills.

I’ve fallen short.

I’ve fallen by the wayside.

I’ve fallen for a trick or two, more than once.

But the more significant falls have been at critical moments:  When walking down the steps of the stage at my law school graduation; in a dark dormitory hallway; once in a courtroom in front of a jury.

I tried to explain my falls to one of the fancy Stanford doctors.  His eyes lit and he pulled his resident closer and asked me to begin again.  I drew a breath and started over, talking about weak musculature, uncontrollable spasticity, and proprioceptor sensation.  I strained to explain the sharp little warnings I get of an impending collapse.  They nodded as though I made sense, and clicked on the electronic medical records tablet.  I glanced over my shoulder for signs of an impending straight jacket.

I’ve collected some hilarious responses to my falls, from my friend Alan’s “don’t you have reverse?” to a long-ago colleague’s assurances to our boss that falling was my second job.  “After what?” came the question.  “Single-parenting,” he said.  My boss looked dubious.

On the law school occasion, my mother later breathed a sign of relief that I had taken the tumble.  “I didn’t think it was really you until you fell,” she explained.  I totally understood.

Every host or hostess has been instructed to drag me out into their street if I fall.  “You’d be surprised at the paperwork when a disabled lawyer trips,” I tell them.  “Don’t call 911 until I’m safely deposited on the roadway.  Disavow knowledge of me entirely.”  They know that I’m serious.  I’ve got health insurance; I don’t need them to suffer the pain of subrogation.

The first time someone sees me fall always frightens them.  They feel responsible, nervous, worried.  They want to hoist me off the floor and shove me into a wheelchair, mostly for their own peace of mind.  I try not to suffer humiliation, though the pitying looks of passing strangers might as well be daggers to the heart.  I assure everyone that I’m fine; that I always fall; that I can get off the ground unassisted.  It’s mostly true, though left to my own devices, it could take thirty minutes or more.  I keep my cell phone handy.

I’ve broken hands, elbows, and feet falling through space, on gravel, and in front of moving vehicles.  I’ve got a hip that spontaneously dislocates and I can tell you if it’s going to rain in Saigon at least a week in advance.  Nobody falls with grace, but I make an art of the clumsy spill despite tumbling lessons as a child and decades of physical therapy.

It can’t be easy living with someone who falls a lot, which might in part explain my 300 divorces.  But I have reached the point in my life at which I only cry a little.  It’s more likely that I will laugh, whether from embarrassment, giddiness, or sheer hysteria.  Laughter — the best medicine, right?  Of course it is.  On the way to the ground, I’m already thinking how funny: to be so awkward, to bounce so poorly.

But I’m not complaining.  It could be worse, a lot worse.  So I’ll pick myself up, brush myself off, and start all over again.  Once more, with feeling.

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

Sounds of Silence

A series of rapid pops penetrated the air as I dressed for bed last evening.  I stood in the dark waiting for the inevitable siren.  None came.  I glanced at my phone, wondering if I should call 911.  Then I shrugged and let it pass, one of a hundred noises of night-time in the city.

Lying on the bed a few minutes later, I cradled the phone against my ear.  The warm cadences of a friend’s voice flowed through me, a vibrant melody of unexpected nourishment.  Still later, as I sank into sleep, thunder rolled through the dark on the heels of each bright flash.   The patter of rain on my roof entwined with the perpetual symphony of my damaged brain.  I dreamed of music, the clattering of pebbles on a window, the rise and fall of waves against the shore.

Now only the everlasting chorus in my head and the occasional rumble of a car on the wet  pavement interrupts the silence of my morning.  My stumbling steps echo in the empty rooms.  I hover in the space once occupied by a dining table; I listen.  I hear nothing.  Then I continue into the kitchen where a solitary mug awaits.

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

THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE

 

 

 

Out in the night air

I’ll miss a lot of things about Kansas City.

The rumble of the trash trucks in early morning as I sit on the porch has always spoken to me.  When it’s just me and the sanitation engineers in the crisp fall air, it’s hard to believe that anywhere could be as perfect.  I walk the boards of my deck in  worn pajamas, holding the crystal mug which Sheldon and Paula’s daughter left one time, when she was house-sitting.  I pick a few dead blooms off the begonia, and turn at the sharp sound of a recycle box hitting asphalt.  I doubt that trashmen in California will be so cavalier, so tenderly careless.

I’ll miss the crowds on 18th street, once a month, gathering outside of Ruthie’s gallery.  I always try to get there early, before the teens, when it’s still old married couples following their eager grandchildren.  I slip into David Jones’ place first, the big rooms with their wide high ceilings holding art so keen that my heart aches just standing in the open space.  I can’t walk to Gallery 504 from there so I drive around, squeezing the Prius into the smallest imaginable spots to leave room for someone else.

Ruthie has a hug and a drink every time I enter.  She hasn’t figured out that I don’t much like alcohol.  I take the glass anyway.  I sip a little and set it on the tiki bar, ostensibly to pass Ruthie’s love to the next person who happens by.  It’s usually David Arnold Hughes, an old poet with something faraway and painful lurking in his eyes.  David does drink, cold bottled beer.  He waves me into a chair.  We listen to the band and think about all the things that might have been, if other things had not happened along the way.

I’ll miss the children, too; the sad and wistful ones who can’t decide who I am but usually tell me their secrets anyway.  We sit in restaurants, offices, parks, and their foster-parents’ kitchens.  I tell them love is sometimes like a balloon filled with too much air.  I tell them, your mother and your father want me to help them figure out what to do.  I don’t think they believe me but they’ve grown accustomed to doing what they’re told.  Too accustomed, in the case of many of them.  I get down to their level and let them draw in my tablet.  I ask them to draw who lives in their houses.  The forlorn faces of the stick pictures tell me more than the words which I mark on my legal pad.

I suppose in time, I’ll find somewhere to hear live music, on Saturday, on third Friday, on a gentle Sunday morning.  The organizers will figure out that I have a deft hand with social media and they’ll recruit me to serve on their committee.  Soon, I’ll be a regular, and I’ll live-stream the songs with a glass of water on the table and a thousand followers from all over the Delta watching.  Or just a handful, maybe, but intensely devoted.

On the weekends, I’ll drive the hour to the ocean with a shawl, a book, and a picnic cooler.  I’ll wrap myself and sit on whatever comes to hand, a bench or a rock, or the edge of an old stone wall.  I’ll think about Kansas City.  I’ll remember the happy years, the joyful sounds of voices which I heard in love, in passion, and in mild despair.  Once in a while someone will fly to visit, and we’ll walk on the sand beneath the rocky cliffs or in the delta along the timeless banks of the San Joaquin.  They will ask if I am happy.  I’ll look out, over the water, and listen to my heart before I whisper, yes; but I still miss Kansas City.  And I always will.

It’s evening; third Friday on 39th Street.  A singer strums a guitar nearby, reaching for songs which he knows that I will like.  I smile, and I clap, and once in a while I gaze over the heads of the little trick-or-treaters walking down the path.  The dark gathers.  A siren wails.  Here, on a broken bench, on a rough patio, I’m nearly as content as I can be this far away from my Pacific.

Life continues.