Not Down Or Out

It could be worse. I might not be laughing.

Month: June, 2013

Starting to see the light

Mike is nearing the end of his battle with brain cancer. This is sad for me because I think we stand to lose a good man. But it will be a homecoming for him and an end to intense pain and suffering. I hope that I will one day face adversity with so much hope and courage for having known him through his blogging.

Sordid Truths About the Practice

This is a work of fiction. People and events in this story have no relation to actual people and events. Any similarities are coincidental.

“You have a funny story, don’t you?” This question came from Jack Quinn, the hiring partner for the Chicago office of a New York law firm that I might have given one of my kidneys to work for.

“Do I?” I asked rhetorically. I understood instantly that the price for getting this interview was the shredding of some of my pride.

He was in his fifties, dressed in a suit that had been tailored for him but could not make him look like what he most wanted to be—a mover and a shaker. He managed to look short, lumpy, and a little bit desperate about how bald he was getting. The ring of still black hair around his head was a little puffy, like sunglasses worn around the back of his head—Guy Fieri style.

I stared directly into his eyes and refused to flinch no matter how embarrassing this got. I had not applied to this firm for a job. Someone from the firm called me to invite me to apply for a job. This meant that someone else called Jack Quinn and told him that there was a recent law grad in Chicago who was near the top of her class, unemployed, and something else—something “funny.” I could not be sure who it might have been, but that was hardly the point. That person had shared a story about me that Jack Quinn found “funny.”

I had been hoping I got the interview because someone found me talented, promising, or, possibly, relevant.

“That’s right. We got your name and phone number from your husband at The King’s Round Table.” His smile did not reach his eyes. They were a beautiful blue. I wondered how it felt to have once been beautiful and then become unattractive. He must wish the mirror revealed what it once had and that it hid the bitterness that now vibrated around him like a tarnished rainbow. Despite the meanness that he exuded, I also saw a huge intellect. I wondered whether that intellect enjoyed telling people that it knew what they wanted to hide, too.

The King’s Round Table was a strip club located amidst office buildings and stylish restaurants on South Wells Street in the heart of the business district. The dancers were reportedly bright young women putting themselves through higher education in their underwear. I did not have to visit the establishment to understand why some men appreciated the opportunity to see intelligent women reduced to playing with their G-strings to get ahead.

My husband was on the verge of becoming my ex-husband. We had been separated for two years. He had been waiting for me to finish law school to divorce me because I would not be entitled to alimony once I had my law degree. I had financed part of his legal education. He had financed part of mine. I had just finished law school and Kent was eager to get “our business” done.

I was a little surprised to hear that Kent had been a patron at the king’s table. We were divorcing because he had been wenching with professional women—other lawyers, not strippers hoping to pass the bar. Perhaps the marginalization of smart women was medicine for what ailed him. I was more disappointed that this coup of an interview was someone’s fodder for humor at my expense. The job market was terrible, and I still did not have a job a week after I graduated from law school. In his own way, Jack Quinn was inviting me to shake my moneymaker to get ahead.

I could have let Jack Quinn laugh at me, but I was tired of pretending nothing hurt me.

I smiled. It was not a cheerful smile. I had not smiled with good humor for sometime. This was more of a grin. One side of my mouth turned up a bit. I narrowed my gaze a bit. I said without much expression, “I’m glad you find it funny, too, because I plan to talk about it next week when the Big Law Journal interviews me about the challenges of interviewing during a recession. I think the Journal’s readers will be amused by your firm’s recruitment strategy.”

Jack Quinn went on smiling, but he raised one index finger and pressed the tip of it to the outer corner of his eye, as if he might be stalling a tiny bead of moisture from popping up there.

We understood each other in that moment. My story was no longer as funny for him as it was for me. I do not imagine that he saw that coming. Job candidates are seldom anything but supplicating. Jack Quinn and his firm might represent a fantastic opportunity for me to pursue, but I would not spend the rest of my career having coworkers retell the funny story of how I came to interview with their firm.

He did not ask me to refrain from making such a statement to the Big Law Journal. I already had made my point. Moreover, both of us knew that the firm would offer me one of its few, coveted invitations to join it no matter how uncomfortable Jack Quinn felt at that moment. It would be better for the firm to ensure that I was feeling welcome than to risk my retaliation. It did not take long for any large law firm’s embarrassment to go viral.

By the time I returned home to the apartment that I shared with three other women, there was an offer from the firm on my answering machine. I listened to Jack Quinn’s words of welcome and saved the message for a moment when victory would taste better than regret. Kent, my erstwhile partner in life, had found another way to spoil my pleasure in an accomplishment. Somehow, he would have to pay.

I have no sympathy for people who get even by murdering an ex. Life is still sacred to me. My freedom is still important to me. My future is still mine to enjoy. Nevertheless, that evening I sat in my ten-year-old Ford sedan with its one working windshield wiper, parked outside of my husband’s condo building, fuming because my options for revenge were unsatisfactory. Kent’s secretary, Sherry had leaked to me that morning that Kent had a new girlfriend and that she would be moving in with him this week. I hoped to see them together.

Kent already had pollinated several women of my acquaintance. According to Sherry, Kent had told Jim, his mentor at the firm where they worked, that he was making up for lost time by trying to wake up in a different bed every morning.

I had better uses for my time than spying on my husband, but who could begrudge me my petty moments after Kent left me on a city street after we had been to see a movie? We actually separated at Elston Avenue and Webster Place on a Friday night at ten o’clock after we had an argument about whether the stars of the movie The Hangover were better than the Three Stooges. I said that all six got on my nerves. He told me that I would never understand the meaning of life if I refused to appreciate the royalty of comedy. I argued for subtlety instead of farce. He told me that our marriage was over.

My heart clutched itself for a long painful moment that hurt the way it hurt to swallow something too big and too hot. The pain ran from my jaw down my esophagus to the middle of my chest, where all nerves seemed to seize up in protest. The last thing I said before he strode off in a direction that would take him far from our apartment was, “Is this supposed to be funny, too?”

Kent never answered me. He immediately ran up twenty thousand dollars of debt on our joint credit cards starting his new life without me. I received the bills and observed that many of the purchases were clothing for another woman. The other woman had more expensive tastes than I ever had. She liked stores I could not afford and now was on the hook to pay.

Kent paid me a miserly sum at a time when my own income opportunities were affected by the fact that I attended law school on a full-time basis during a recession and had just become insufficiently self-supporting.

Kent told our marriage counselor that I was so fierce a woman that he feared me. He told his mother that he had been prepared to chew off his own arm to escape my unrelenting drive to be a ball-busting bitch of a lawyer. He told me that he wanted to reconcile, then had me served with divorce papers on our sixth wedding anniversary. He told our friends that I never saw the humor in life. I was no fun anymore. The man’s bitterness made no sense to me. I was the one bleeding after a stab to the chest. He seemed to be doing fine as he recovered from marriage to a woman whose worst characteristic seemed to be that she preferred satire to farce.

I did not want him back. I did not want to kill him, but his accidental death would not be an unhappy event. After he canceled my credit card at Macy’s, I signed him up for newsletters, coupons, and offerings relating to various high-risk activities that he enjoyed before we married. If he was going to spend his, my, and our money on a new “high” life, then I had plans for the insurance money. I wanted him to try bungee jumping, rock climbing, and go-carting for as long as it took him to change his life insurance beneficiary.

The rented truck approached the building’s loading dock at about eight thirty in the evening. Kent jumped out of the cab and walked around to help his passenger from the vehicle. Kent had told me that he had to take in a roommate to cover costs. He implied that his roommate was another male. The woman who slid from the truck was not male. I recognized her. She was my former divorce attorney. I say “former” only because I decided to terminate the relationship when I saw her get out of that truck. Up until that moment I had been moderately satisfied with her services.

It was, of course, a conflict of interest for her to have any type of relationship with my husband while representing me in my divorce from him. I could not stop thinking of Jack Quinn’s delight when the worst thing he could say about me was that my husband had “pimped” me for legal jobs at a strip club to reduce his alimony tab. Everyone would laugh once this story made it to the page of some blog about the soulless behavior of lawyers.

I felt my pulse pounding in my wrists and my temples. There was a band of steel running across my shoulders. I could have carried buckets of water from it, not that I was feeling strong. There was such a hum of anxiety in my ears that I had to look down at the ignition to be sure that the car’s engine was not running.

I closed my eyes and prayed for self-restraint. Then I turned on my car’s engine and drove away from the scene before Kent or Judith could notice me or I could put my foot on the gas pedal and crash the car into them.

Our divorce was scheduled for two weeks from that date. I decided not to fire my attorney. After all, no one knew that I had identified her. Only Sherry knew that I knew that Kent had a female roommate. Sherry was unlikely to jeopardize her job by letting anyone with an interest in the matter know that she had shared his confidences with me.

I decided to hire a private investigator to follow my husband and take photographs of him if the investigator found anything that suggested Kent was currently unfaithful to me. The investigator’s name was Stanley Mann. That’s right. I hired “Stan the Mann P.I.” of Yellow Pages fame. He wore a black pork pie hat with a silver and white gingham band atop a head that might have been a pumpkin left in the field all winter. There were spaces between each of his teeth that his tongue had never tired of exploring. His stretched out, grey t-shirt had stains where his gut stretched it a little further. He had the lowest per diem and no references, but he opened a battered briefcase and showed me his camera. It was a Nikon d 7100, and he handled it like it was a newborn baby. When I told him what I wanted, Stan tilted his head to one side and let his eyelids droop low over eyes so brown that the whites were beige. I could smell his brain cells burning as he pondered my request. Then he started to rock a little.

I mentioned the incident at The King’s Round Table and provided home and work addresses. I offered a list of places Kent frequented. Stan ran his hand down his neck and then opened his eyes and nodded. I stopped breathing because I knew this was a turning point.

“Let me see if I got this straight, counselor.”

“I’m not admitted to practice yet,” I said softly.

He smiled and made a little huffing sound of amusement. “Me neither. That means we can do everything a lawyer can except get up in court and represent someone else or opine.”

I nodded. The man knew his intro to professional ethics rules.

He continued. “Sometimes I think I should’ve gone to law school. I know how to go all Perry Mason on a dude. You know that guy was just an actor. He didn’t go to law school either.”

“That’s the truth,” I said.

Stan sighed. “You want me to show up in court and break the news that this jerk is getting some action on the side. We both know that divorce is no-fault in this state, so . . . the timing has to be the thing here. And I can see from the fact that you ain’t breathin’ that you wish I wouldn’t say another word.”

It was my turn to nod, but I did not move a muscle.

“You don’t have a lawyer of your own?” He said “lawyer” like “liar.” I guessed that everyone had a “thing” for lawyers, even P.I.s.

“I do,” I said.

“Why ain’t he hiring me to do this?” he asked.

“I have to decide whether to have you take pictures or pay my lawyer to do more legal research.” It was true. I was spending the last of my money to do this.

That got a big smile from Stan, plainly no fan of the bar. “I like the idea I’m taking money some lawyer would spend on something stupid like some fancy pinot whatever.”

“I’ll be a lawyer myself one day. You’ll be taking my money, too,” I said.

Stan was grinning like a jack o’ lantern at the very idea. “This just keeps getting better ‘n better. So why do I think this might still be a bad idea?”

“My husband is also a lawyer,” I offered.

Stan nodded. “I deliver the photographs to you at the courthouse on Washington Street at 9:30 in the morning on Wednesday, June 12th?” he asked.

“I’ll be out of town for the preceding week. So . . . you can’t deliver them before that time.” I shrugged, as if I was sorry about this, but both of us knew that I was not sorry at all.

He leaned his considerable weight forward and kept up his gentle rocking as he worked the angles like this was a photo shoot instead of a consultation. A couple of times he cocked his head and flicked a look over his shoulder, as if he could somehow get the light behind his back and my face into the light. I hoped my face gave away nothing more, but I was reluctant to shut down. I needed an ally who could remain a stranger. Stan had to believe this was not a scam on him.

“I think I can do this,” he spoke slowly. “I think this is what lawyers call ‘quid pro quo.’”

It cost me fifty dollars per hour plus expenses to have this matter investigated. I used the money my parents gave me at my law school graduation to pay for the work. I paid him in advance before I left his office.

I left town for the following week, missing six bar review classes just so that I could feign surprise when I learned in court that my husband and my divorce attorney were having an affair.

I spoke with Judith before I left town to reassure her that I would be in court for our hearing. She was impatient to get this over with because she had quoted me a flat price for this matter. Every delay cost her money. When I reminded her that it would be better for me if we could delay the divorce until after I took the July bar exam, she tapped her wristwatch with her forefinger. “Tick tock,” she said, reminding me yet again that she would be doing better if I paid her by the hour.

“Has there been any progress on the property settlement?” I asked. Judith and Larry, Kent’s attorney had been arguing over our limited assets for as long as we had been separated. So far I had gotten enough money to share an apartment with three other women. I had no winter coat and lived in Chicago. Someone stole my coat from my school locker during the first winter of my discontent. I had a cell phone that could only take voice messages, it was so old. My laptop had come with a floppy disk reader instead of a DVD player. I expected to end this marriage with less than I brought into it, thanks to my share of Kent’s early mid-life crisis spending with our “maxed-out” credit cards.

After I embarrassed Kent and Judith in court I might end up with a settlement from Judith’s insurance carrier. I checked the website of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission on a friend’s laptop to make sure that Judith had malpractice insurance. It would not take that much money to keep me going until I found a job. Once word got out that I had been betrayed by my husband and my attorney, Jack Quinn and his partners would not be the only firm calling to get a good look at the Cuckold Attorney.

Wait, I checked my dictionary and learned that this term would more appropriately describe a deceived male. Perhaps I could induce someone to call me the Avenging Attorney. That had the advantage of sounding less of a fool. I really did feel foolish. If my husband and my attorney thought I was so dumb that I would stand for this, then others would, too. It ate at me that I was going to remain fodder for others’ jokes. The Backlash Barrister had a better ring to it, as did the Comeuppance Counselor. But I would not be the person writing the headlines and tweets.

I was already working on a way to pitch the story to a website like uplaw-yours.com so that the story would get enough traction to make the legal news; but I sensed that no good would come from my efforts to exact revenge. Practical advice indicated that living well was the best revenge, but I was poor, unemployed, about to lose spousal support (meager as it was), scorned, underestimated, . . . . I had this need for relief. Moreover, the public embarrassment of Kent and Judith would, at least, spread the misery around more equitably.

I had a few misgivings about my plan. I was going to open an envelope and dump out in front of a judge a series of photos of my husband and my attorney and do what? I could hardly faint. I already knew what I would find in the envelope. I was angry, but not that practiced an actress. Moreover, the person worst hurt by this public expose’ was Judith, when the person who had hurt me most was Kent.

I understood from classes in trial advocacy and civil procedure that it was appropriate to name every possible defendant and let them point to each other in their efforts at self-defense. It was hoped that the co-defendants would then uncover the greatest wrong for the plaintiff. Judith’s conflict of interest would likely expose her to discipline and financial responsibility. But Kent’s perfidy was legal.

Infidelity between married people was “victimless.” As a result, there was no civil liability for breach of exchanged promises to love and honor another. Maybe that was the way it ought to be. While my hurt feelings might want to put the man in the stocks so that I and the rest of the town folk could pelt him with tomatoes, we weren’t Kardashians. The rest of society could not care less about my feelings of futile rage. I would still stand alone in the public square expressing impotent anger against a man who had loved me until he stopped.

I spent the week sleeping on the sofa in my sister’s apartment in suburban Peoria, Illinois because I had no money left for a vacation after I paid for Stan’s photos. The sofa cushions tended to separate. By the start of the first morning my hipbone had become connected to a spring and I wanted to go home and take my bar prep classes and forget the whole thing.

On the morning of June 12th, I was prepared to leave the envelope unopened, get my divorce, and take the job with Jack Quinn. Maybe there was no justice that could appease some wrongs. Maybe it was better to lick my own wounds in private and avoid drawing further attention to the fact that I was someone others felt they could safely disrespect. Perhaps pride was something that had to endure challenge to prove its own worthiness.

I put on my “interview suit” even though I had bought it in the fall and the wool was hot on a warm day. I stuck a yellow notepad in my briefcase and left for the hearing. In another couple of hours this would end, and I would be free to put behind me the marriage that had once made me feel special and now made me sad.

Judith waited for me at one of the tables. She looked attractive in a close-fitting pantsuit that helped to explain Kent’s attraction. Larry, Kent’s attorney was already at the other table with Kent. Both of them looked comfortable. I felt sweaty and out of sorts.

“I was beginning to think that you were going to blow this off,” Judith said. She brushed imaginary lint from the breast pocket of her jacket and tossed back shoulder length brown hair. I ignored the peevish tone. Of course she was eager to have this matter resolved. We were closer than ever to minimizing the threat that she would be found to be engaged in an ill-timed affair with her client’s husband.

She set several copies of a settlement agreement before me. Post-it® notes indicated that mine was the only signature missing. “Your husband and his lawyer have insisted that this is their best offer. After this hearing you will have no leverage to obtain more and, if you hold off getting this divorce, you are likely to find your settlement shrinking.”

I opened the first copy and picked up a pen. “Remind me of how inexpensive it is for Kent to rid himself of a spouse who helped him through several years of college and law school.” I smiled at her, which cost me a little because the irony had a little too much metal in it yet for me to taste its humor.

Judith did not make eye contact with me. “Your household effects have already been divided. Spousal support ends effective on the date the divorce becomes final. Kent will pay off ten thousand dollars of the joint credit card debt and any balances on his personal accounts. You will have to pay the remaining twenty thousand dollars of debt on the cards that were taken out in your name. Each of you agrees to indemnify the other for any liability for the other’s education debts. Neither of you is entitled to any interest in the retirement benefits of the other. You pay your own legal fees. You will have to return the engagement ring. It was a family heirloom.” She pointed to the signature line.

I set the pen on the line and signed my name. This was divorce after all. We were splitting the only things that still connected us, obligations to third parties undertaken when we shared the hope that the price paid for our future happiness would bring us rewards that would make every sacrifice worthwhile.

As soon as I signed the papers, Judith turned to smile and nod at Kent. I handed her my engagement ring. She slipped it into her pants’ pocket. I felt a dull ache turn to a more insistent tattoo on the inside of my head at the idea that she might wear that ring next.

The bailiff rose, “All rise. This honorable court is in session. Judge Ardis Daley presiding.”

All of us rose as the judge and her clerk entered the room. There were perhaps ten other people in the courtroom. According to the docket that was taped to the table at which we sat, ours was the first case to be called.

“Case number 1 on the docket is Jones v. Jones,” the bailiff said.

I heard the door to the courtroom open and close several times as the four of us approached the bench. I wondered whether Stan was waiting to deliver his photos. Larry started, “Larry Sommers for the petitioner, Kent Jones. Judge, we are here for an uncontested divorce of two people who have today signed a property settlement that resolves all open issues between them. The couple has no children. I understand that the respondent, Mrs. Jones has completed law school and is able to support herself.”

I interrupted briefly to say, “I haven’t taken the bar and am not admitted yet.” Everyone looked at me like I should shut my mouth so I stopped talking.

Larry continued, “Mrs. Jones wishes to resume use of her maiden name, and the petitioner, Mr. Jones does not object to this.”

Kent leaned forward and smiled in my direction. I did not have time to decide whether I was more annoyed because he was acting magnanimously or because he was expressing gratefulness that I had signed his inequitable property settlement. Someone came up behind me, and I knew who it had to be. I could hear the man huffing a bit to get the court’s attention.

Judith proceeded, “Judith Phalen for the respondent, Mrs. Jones. Judge, we agree with Mr. Sommers’ statement.”

Judge Ardis Daley peered over the tops of frameless bifocal glasses and said, “Sir. Do you have some business with the court?”

All of us turned to look at Stan. He had not bothered to clean up for his day in court. There was a great deal for everyone else to take in at once. I had the advantage of focusing first on what he carried in his hands. He had not put the photos in an envelope. He held them face up and the top photograph was of Kent and Judith locked in a passionate embrace in a parking lot. Judith’s behind managed to perch on the ledge formed by the rolled down window of someone’s car. Her skirt had ridden up high enough that you could tell this was intercourse and not foreplay.

I looked at Kent and wondered what had gotten into him. We had been together either dating or married for almost eight years and had never had sex in a public place. I was reluctantly impressed with the extent of his early mid-life crisis.

Judith suddenly lunged toward Stan, her hands outstretched to grab those photographs before others saw them. Stan made an effort to swivel to the side and let the photos slide toward the floor in a careless but effective array. I allowed myself a shocked exclamation as I realized that Judith and Kent were not the only ones locked in passionate embrace. Stan had managed to catch Kent with his pants down in the company of several women I recognized and two I did not.

I turned back to the judge, who had stood up to see the photographs. She waved to her bailiff. “Ronnie, can you collect those pictures for me?”

I backed up and sat my behind down on the edge of one of the attorneys’ tables. Stan bent down to help the bailiff. In doing so, he exposed his waist and a few inches of the crack beneath it for anyone enjoying the show. Someone in the courtroom sniggered. It was a show, and I had become one of the three stooges playing in it. Kent had finally figured out that he was no longer the one doing the screwing in this scenario. He appeared to be sweating. Larry Sommers was physically disavowing all knowledge of any attempt to take advantage of me, the respondent. Judith was looking like someone had just punched her. The judge was white-lipped and stern as she held up a photo of Kent and Judith so that everyone in the public seats could finally see it. Judith then seemed to grasp the fact that she had sacrificed her career for a man who already was screwing other females while she helped him screw me over.

“What is your name, sir?” Judge Daley asked.

“Stan Mann, Judge. I am a private investigator licensed in this state.” He removed his hat, which made his casual garb appear even less appropriate for court.

“And who asked you to come to court this morning?” The judge’s tone was icy cold.

“I was hired by Mrs. Jones, but she’s been out of town this week, and I thought she should see these before she signed anything today in court.”

I got up onto my feet after I heard my name and walked back toward the bench.

The judge looked at me then. But her expression was more kind than cold as she studied me. “Mrs. Jones, were you aware that your husband and your attorney were engaged in an affair when you retained her services?”

“No, Judge.” That was entirely truthful.

“Did your attorney negotiate on your behalf the property settlement agreement that you signed today?” she asked.

“Yes, Judge.”

The judge turned to look at Judith. “Ms. Phalen, would you care to make any comment about these photographs of yourself with the petitioner?”

Judith drew herself up tall and managed to look calm. “No, Judge, I have no comment.”

Judge Daley folded her arms across her chest and looked at all four of our faces. Then she turned back to Stan the Mann. “Did Mrs. Jones instruct you to come to court today and spill those photographs on the floor as you did?”

Stan did not waver. “No judge. She asked me to deliver whatever I found by envelope before this hearing. But I got those two pictures you’re holding just last night. And I didn’t know it was her lawyer until I got here late this morning. And then I just thought she ought to know. I’m no lawyer, but . . . .” His voice trailed off.

I bent my head so that no one could see how hard it was to hold back a smile. I was not the only non-lawyer getting his day in court.

The judge asked her clerk for the file and then for the petition for divorce filed by Larry on Kent’s behalf. She read from the file, then flipped through it and read some more.

All of us stood there feeling a little sick.

Judge Daley read aloud from that portion of the petition in which Kent asked the Court for relief. “I see that both parties have asked me ‘for such other and further relief the Court deems just and proper.’ I appreciate the liberty that permits me to exercise in this very embarrassing and disappointing situation.”

She bent her head and seemed to come to a conclusion that satisfied her, even though it could not have pleased her.

“Mr. Sommers, I want you to write up an agreed order continuing this matter for one hundred and twenty days to give Mrs. Jones an opportunity to sit for the bar exam and hire new counsel. I am ordering that the property settlement signed this day by Mr. and Mrs. Jones is void for having been obtained without Mrs. Jones’ genuine consent. This Court orders Mr. Jones to continue to pay Mrs. Jones support on the same terms as the parties agreed to when they separated. He also is to reimburse and pay for Mrs. Jones’ attorneys’ and court costs.”

Larry nodded, “Yes, Judge.”

Kent tugged on Larry’s sleeve, but no one paid him any attention until the judge looked down at the pictures again. Then Larry turned to Kent. I could not see either of their faces or hear what was said, but Larry’s body language was impatient, furious.

“Ms. Phalen, I express this Court’s disappointment with you for such behavior. I would not have thought that you needed me to instruct you on the rules of professional responsibility that may be broken when an attorney engages in a sexual relationship with the party from whom her client requires defense and protection. I shall bring this matter to the attention of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission and request that they investigate this matter and take appropriate action.”

The story did make the local news. It made the national news. I ended up getting several interviews with firms that read a blog posting that referred to Kent as the “He-Done-Her-Wrong-and-Rued-the-Day” attorney. It was not the way I wanted to get my first job as an attorney, but one of the many sordid truths I learned about the practice of law on my first case was that justice is rarely about fairness and more frequently about process. I was responsible that day for a little service of process. And, depending on which of the stooges you were, the story did turn out to be a little bit funny.

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

Stranger than Truth–A New Category

Taking Flight

Taking Flight

A fellow blogger and I have exchanged some messages about doing some writing in addition to blogging. I could start another blog, but I already have six email accounts and several “pages” or “profiles” to keep up to date. Instead of starting a new blog I will begin a new “Category” called Stranger than Truth and will post my fiction there. Feel free to ignore these entries if you visit this blog for health-related discussion or memoir material. In this category I will take flight in a new direction.

I See Dead People

“I see dead people.”

In the past couple of weeks I have not felt well. I don’t think anything is wrong. But I am tired. My body feels heavy and I have vague complaints that I hesitate to articulate because, by comparison with what I have endured in the recent past, they are minor. But I will confess here that the tingling in my hands sometimes drives me crazy. The ringing in my ears means that I have to be asleep to enjoy peace and quiet. I have blemishes every day after never having had them any more frequently than occasionally. I feel like a camel some days. I can carry about six pounds of water by bedtime and have it be gone by morning–not making for sound sleep. I take a water pill that seems to help with this, but yesterday evening one of my feet was like a balloon. (Can you have lymphedema if no lymph nodes were removed?) My blood pressure soars when I am upset, then settles back down to normal. But, when it’s soaring, my head pounds without pain, like when I’m sitting at a light beside a car that shakes the street with its bass notes. My joints seem to get better, then they go back to aching. Today it is my lower back that hurts. My fingernails recovered from chemotherapy months ago, but they are now back to peeling and there are little splashes of orange bubbles like when treatment was ended and my body was still recovering.

I think these are normal aches and pains, but the changes are things that bug me. It’s one thing to want to live to a ripe old age and another thing to do it. I wake up every day feeling so grateful for what has not happened to me that I push aside my complaints. But I find myself returning to the “woe-is-I” attitude from time-to-time. It’s like a torn nail that you cannot leave alone until you have torn it to the quick. Some bloggers talk about the “new normal.” Maybe I just need to accept that this is how it is now.

But today I realized that I am one of those people who cannot let go. I see dead people.

It does not take any particular skill. This afternoon I took a different path to school and passed the building where I worked in the 1990’s when a young coworker fell or jumped from the top of our office building. The description of his death as accidental was probably to ease his parents’ grief, but the building had several walls or barriers around the roof. He had to climb over several of them to fall. He was feeling overextended and tired from too much work. That happens to young professionals in large law firms. I feel tremendous sadness when I think of him because he had confided in me his distress and I had encouraged him to see the practice group leader and get help. Like many young professionals, he received a message that he should hang in there. That evening was when he fell. Someone said he was unrecognizable as a lawyer from our building when discovered on the street below. The suit did not distinguish him. Someone thought one of the city’s homeless men had been struck by a car.

When I see his face, it is in memories. But I recall boyish charm. He was a prodigy of sorts. He graduated from college and law school early. To this day I remember how he looked at a picture of The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/sistine-chapel-ceiling-opens-to-public. I had been there recently and had shown off my travel photos to persons too kind to escape. This colleague saw God and Adam with arms outstretched toward each other and wondered aloud about the space between them. As I recall it, he wondered what it would be like to see them after that touch. He thought Adam would be transformed, unrecognizable. He thought the artist painted what was safe–a man–not one touched by God. I am haunted by those recollections as surely as if his spirit appeared to me. And I wonder what he felt when he touched the hand of God.

I think about my friend from Washington, DC who suddenly got it in her head to move to Tennessee to live near her mom and a sister. My friend had a young son and an ex-husband doing a little time for what I cannot recall. Once she decided to move she was hell bent on getting there as fast as possible. But she had no money or plan for doing it. I sent her a book by overnight express and stuck six one hundred dollar bills in between the pages. She barely made it home in time. Within a month, she had died of an aneurysm in her brain. She saw her son off to school and told her mom she was going to lie down for a nap because her head hurt. Her mom found her several hours later. They said she must have seen it coming because she had gotten up in church on Sunday and declared her faith in Jesus. I think she knew something. We spoke just days before she died about the money I sent her. She was very grateful and wanted to repay me but worried that it would take awhile. I “forgave” the debt because it seemed to bother her, and I was happy that she seemed happy when I said it–almost like her house was in order.

There was nothing funny about her death at such a young age, but I think of her every time I see Elvis because the preacher at her funeral (which had enough drama for the stage and deserves its own posting) remarked that, thanks to her having declared her faith before death, she was already in heaven. And that meant that she had seen the King–yes, Elvis. The preacher mentioned God softly, almost as a footnote, “Jesus, too.”

I think I see the first boy I ever loved when I drive down the street on which we lived way back when. His name was Michael and he was very sweet. We played as part of a neighborhood group, usually in people’s garages because the housing development was brand new and no one had shade trees yet. In our garage we had a cardboard kitchen set, which was “home.” Michael and I were the oldest, so we played the mom and dad. Like lots of kids, we brought to play what we saw at home. My mom muffled laughter one afternoon when Michael stomped into the garage and yelled at me, “Burnt mashed potatoes again! When a man comes home he needs fluffy potatoes on the table!” Talk like that in our house would have meant noodles until November.

Michael died in a motel room in what appears to have been a drug bust that went bad. By that time I lived far away and was no longer in touch with him or his family. But I still see him winding up with his bat when his dad was getting ready to pitch the ball. And he still looks way too young to be so long gone.

Some of the dead people I see are ghosts, too, but I can only lay claim to seeing a very few of them. They were strangers to me so I could not possibly tell you their stories. I can only tell you that when I think back on my life so far I keep wondering about what that young lawyer said about the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Did Michelangelo paint the scene before Adam touched the hand of God because it is impossible to imagine the scene after the contact? I have the feeling that once Adam touched the Lord he never looked back.

That’s the normal I want to find here on earth. I’m living in that space between Adam’s finger and God’s. Not giving up. Not ready to go. Not quite feeling that my time has run out too soon. I want the sense of mystery and adventure back. I don’t want to malinger when there’s work to be done. And I do believe there is work to be done with this time I have here. So, instead of looking back at people gone–including my pre-cancer self–I’m looking forward, one hand extended, hoping when I do find Him (maybe even before I find Him) that I will be transformed.

Any Day Is a Good Day to Remember

Mom, me, and Dad May 1988

Mom, me, and Dad May 1988

I graduated first in my class from law school. It was an accomplishment. I was separated from my husband for two of my three years of law school. There was one semester when my loan had not come through and I did not have the money to register. The dean of the law school called the registrar’s office and said, “Let her register. She’ll find the money.” I found the money. I was driving a broken down car to and from school and often had to get along without it. I stood alone at a bus stop alongside woods and walked up a lonely road to the house I shared with three women and the weird boyfriend of one of them. His name was Burt, and he used to answer the telephone during interview season when big law firms were calling to offer me jobs. Partners at those big firms would ask to speak with me and Burt would say, “The chick’s not here.” Then he would slap the phone down in its cradle. I have no idea what people thought. Burt looked like the sort of person who stops to offer you a lift on a cold and snowy night, and you decide it would be better to risk frostbite by walking alone in the night in the midst of a snowstorm than to accept that offer.

On my graduation day my parents and my sister Kathy and her family were present. My mom had brought me a bouquet of roses. She was remembering when I graduated from high school. I was first in my class then, too. She later felt bad because other parents gave their daughters flowers, and I didn’t have any. I had not noticed. My dad had his camera, and he was going to get a picture of me. But the graduation took place in the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. There was a certain amount of pomp and formality that made a six feet and two inches tall man reluctant to slip from the pew where he was seated to run forward and get that photo as I crossed the stage with my classmates to accept my diploma.

I received a certificate for being first in the class. Dad was not expecting that photo opportunity. When it happened, he got up and strode forward down the center aisle, unimpeded as no one else was up and about. My classmates were very kind. I understand that they gave me a standing ovation. I never saw it. As I came down the steps of the cathedral holding my certificate, my dad was waiting at the bottom of the steps to enfold me in a huge hug. He is the only person I recall seeing.

Grandpa Kayo

Grandpa Kayo

I was born on my Grandpa Kayo’s birthday. He loved that we always celebrated our birthdays together. What a wonderful thing it was to press my cheek against his as we bent our heads forward to blow out a candle on a shared cake at family celebrations. I can still remember the feel of the stubble on his cheek. I can remember how he hugged me and pressed his lips to my forehead. He loved all seven of his grandchildren equally, but I felt special when we were together. He loved to get a kid on either side of him on the couch and wrap his arm around us and kiss the tops of our heads every few minutes.

Grandpa Tom

Grandpa Tom

My Grandpa Tom was a polio survivor who walked with the help of a leg brace and a cane. He used to have a great deal of pain, but the only way you could tell was that he would huff out air as he rose and sat. He was an engineer and an inventor. He was not the warm and fuzzy sort of grandpa that Grandpa Kayo was. But he called us “tootsies” and loved having us visit so he could tell us Indian stories from when the West was being won and his family followed the rails. His dad had been a railway engineer–the kind that designed railways and train equipment, not the kind who drove a train.

When I was a little girl I sometimes felt “math anxiety.” I used to go stay with Grandpa Tom and Grandma Elsie on weekends. He used to help me with my math homework. He prepared extra problems for me and taught me how to answer them. We sat together at his formal dining room table surrounded by framed Currier & Ives prints and Grandma’s homemade antimacassars. He would say–as though this was the most profound thing he had ever handled, “Now, Cheryl, how fast must a train move if it must leave Rock Island at eleven in the morning and travel 175 miles to Chicago in 2-1/2 hours?”

I remember that I once brought to him a word problem. It was one of those problems that started with “There are five houses on the street and a person from a different nationality lives in each house. . . .” After he read the problem aloud, he looked at me and he said, “Who has time for such twaddle? Aren’t they teaching you to read? Why don’t you read what is on the mailboxes if you want to know where the German lives?” Nevertheless, he painstakingly showed me how to chart the facts and figure out whether the German lived in the blue or the red house.

Thanks to him, I used a slide rule and a book of algorithms sometimes. I could not use these tools in school. No one used a slide rule in high school. But he wanted me to know that, once you mastered the basics, there were tools to take you to the big leagues. I got straight A’s in high school in math classes. He was very proud of that.

Kathy and Jeff at Maureen's Wedding 2012

Kathy and Jeff at Maureen’s Wedding 2012

My brother-in-law Jeff is a father to two daughters. He has two grandchildren. He is tough on himself. It makes him impatient sometimes. But you put a crying baby in his lap, and he starts whispering to the child, and tears disappear. There are smiles and coos. He is filled with peace and so are they.

Al, Lisa, and Danny--after Basic Training

Al, Lisa, and Danny–after Basic Training

My brother Danny is a stepdad. People in the family sometimes call him “our Danny.” He is someone so filled with blithe spirit that you want to be close to him and share his jokes and his carefree play. He has shouldered lots of responsibility since our dad died, including becoming a stepfather, but he is always there for family. He is a great stepdad. One of my favorite stories is about how Al, his stepson was out drinking with friends. Al knew better than to drive after drinking, so he called home when the party was over. Danny got in the car and went to pick up Al and his friends. It was late at night and quite a distance, but Danny has always been a good sport. As they drove home in the convertible sports car that Al’s dad gave Al when he was old enough to drive, the guys were rowdy. A police car pulled them over, expecting to find an inebriated driver at the wheel. But, when he walked up, there was my brother in the driver’s seat. His somewhat rakish smile was in evidence as he assured the officer the driver was sober even if the passengers were not. Like my dad before him, my brother believes in a great party.

It is Father’s Day, and I honor all fathers. I have been very lucky. I cannot recall a time when any of the “fathers” in my life have let me down. Every memory is filled with love. And any day is a good day to remember them or by which to remember them.

Recalculating

Cars pull up and honk to see if I am leaving

Cars pull up and honk to see if I am leaving

I cannot stand those GPS systems with their ceaseless commentary on my driving. One of the increasingly appreciated advantages of being divorced is that no one complains about my driving. No one presses an invisible brake when I am slow to do the same. No one comments on my preference for a less well traveled route. No one exclaims when I choose to gun my little car and overtake another because its driver ticked me off.

When I travel with my sister Kathy she likes the instructions, the reassurance, the computer co-pilot. I think she would admit that my sense of direction is a little better than hers. As a result, the GPS system’s announcement that it is “recalculating” feels more like an expression of patience than the criticism I perceive it to be.

Today I finally went for the four month follow-up on my first thorough gynecological exam after hysterectomy, radiation, and chemotherapy. It has been twenty months since surgery.

I got up at 5 a.m. and left the house before 6 a.m. for my 8 a.m. appointment. I could not take it for granted that there would be a parking space at the hospital. This week I have taught five classes. I graded piles of papers. I reviewed resumes and spoke with students searching for jobs. I gave references for jobs and admission to the bar. I wrote recommendation letters. I spoke with attorneys for a prior client about an old matter. I was exhausted this morning, so exhausted that I climbed in the shower before I had bothered to turn on any lights.

I was lucky enough never to have acne, but this past week I have enough blemishes to warn passersby of impending doom. I am red! My joints ache. My blood pressure crept up. My tinnitus has been distracting when I want to empty my mind and concentrate on slow and steady breathing.

I got in the car and drove before I could focus on anything other than the need to get going. When I arrived at the hospital I was in time to get one of the last spaces. It was light out by then and I had to slouch in my seat because everyone who saw me tapped his or her horn to see if I was leaving.

There was no sense in getting out before 7 a.m. That’s when the elevators on the first floor open. I was afraid I would fall asleep so tried reading John Grisham’s The Racketeer, but it has been difficult for me to read fiction lately. I am going through a stage when the only things I feel are real.

When I entered the building it was like going back to your hometown after a long trip. I found everything old felt new. A police officer arriving late nearly mowed me over in the hall. The elevator lobby was under construction and I felt like the place was foreign rather than familiar. I rode the elevator to the second floor in the company of a red-dressed bird. This woman wore the tightest, brightest red blouse and capri pants. Over this she wore a pristinely white jacket. Atop her head she wore a curly black wig that cascaded in all directions. Wrapped around her head and across her forehead was a black and white polka-dotted scarf. The ends trailed down one side like she was singing back-up for the Jackson Five way back when. Beside her was a woman in a maxi dress with alternating horizontal stripes of orange and tan. The pumps matched. I kept wondering why I did not receive the memo because the colors were even more eye-popping than the women’s physical attributes. They were attention-getters, too.

In my navy blue shirt, navy blue pants, and navy blue slip-on shoes I felt invisible. I wanted to be invisible. I longed to be someplace else and to have more important things to do, but nothing was more pressing than this appointment.

Of course, I was the first patient present. The receptionist called me to the desk then told me to sit and wait because I was more than an hour early. It was after 7 a.m. and my appointment was at 8 a.m., but there was no point in arguing. She called me five minutes later when there was still no one there.

A nurse came out and brought me back to be weighed and have my blood pressure checked. One was down and the other was up. I explained that I was suffering from some “white jacket syndrome.” I learned that the physician’s assistant who last examined me was the only person present. I knew what this meant and tried not to panic.

I was shown to a room and sat for almost another hour before the P.A. came in.

I was the one who had to do some recalculating today. The exam still hurt, but my anxiety level was much lower. For one thing, as she took notes I had my clothes on. Last time I was led naked through the hallways twice and felt very vulnerable even before the P.A. decided to take my history while I sat half naked (the half that sat on the table was covered).

There was less info to share. The time went by faster. The P.A. could not predict anything without test results, but she let me know that she saw nothing that raised her concern. I hope that this is progress and that some of my fears will be eased when I return to see the P.A. in October.

I ended up driving out to my mom’s place and we spent the afternoon together. We took a ride to the Queen of Heaven cemetery in Hillside, Illinois. Back in the early 1990’s there was a local man (Joseph) who claimed to see the Virgin Mary there after he first saw her in Megjugorje. http://www.medjugorjeusa.org/; http://www.medjugorje.org. He visited the cemetery because he was directed to a cross near a three-trunked tree. http://www.catholicrevelations.org/PR/joseph%20reinholtz.htm. When my dad was alive, he took me and my mom there to see what was happening. In those days, Joseph would come and pray and see and speak with Mary while others crowded around him saying the rosary. People took interesting photos and rosaries turned gold.

One of my mom’s friends had a plain rosary turn gold. I have visited the location a number of times, including after my dad died. On the Christmas after my dad died, I took some Polaroid pictures of the plain wooden cross. The dark wood cross glowed gold on an overcast day while rain fell on me. I took the photos while I kneeled at the foot of the cross. Was it the flash bulb? Why was the effect not repeated in each photo taken from the same place at the same day and time?

I still have one of those photos and gave one to a former coworker who was quite devoutly religious. She also was dying at the time and said the photo gave her great comfort. I will try to find the photo album and scan a few of the remaining photos for this posting later. There are some others that make it appear that a door opened in the sky. I think the sun reflected off of the sides of the camera’s aperture. Nevertheless, they are cool to look at.

Photo taken June 14, 2013

Photo taken June 14, 2013

At any rate, the scene has changed since Joseph died. The cross was moved several years ago to an empty area of the cemetery. A parking lot was installed. The cross was set in the center of a blacktop area that people could not trample. No large group was gathered. A lone man walked the perimeter lost in prayer. Someone created a little shrine for a statue of Mary. The toes of Jesus’s feet have been touched so many times that the stain and sealer have worn away. Bare, white, and deteriorated wood is exposed. A couple people have left items. We said a prayer before leaving.

Photo taken June 14, 2013

Photo taken June 14, 2013

For my mom it was a let down. She was hoping to feel that energy that we last felt from the crowd when we visited there. It would have been a connection with my dad, whose birthday just passed and who we will remember this Sunday on Father’s Day.

But I had the opposite reaction. I put my hand on the cross and thanked God and Mary for helping me through the last two years of trials and treatments. I realize that others have experienced far worse than I have and want to keep this in perspective. But there were times when all I had to keep me going were faith, family, and friends. All I feel were gifts that helped me endure. And I felt as I touched that cross that a burden of fear and sorrow lifted from my shoulders.

I found myself recalculating.

Supreme Court Frees Our DNA

I just read online that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that naturally occurring DNA is not patentable. Only synthetic or non-naturally occurring DNA can be patented. This could be good news for research regarding breast and ovarian cancers,

http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/06/13/3449164/supreme-court-rejects-patents.html.

Walk of Courage

If you have not been reading the blog of Mike Terrell about living with end stage cancer, then you should (See my blog entry about him https://notdownorout.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/facing-the-end/), but I just wanted to shout out that Mike made a turn of the field at a race for life this past week. He used his walker, had the support of some good friends, and summoned the strength that makes him so fine a man, and he did it. He walked that walk! Congratulations, Mike! To read his posting, see: http://miketerrill.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/crossing-the-finish-line/.

I recently saw a poem about running by a young person on the website Teen Ink. It seems appropriate to the occasion:
Running
By SycamoreTreeLand, Alamar Avenue, CA
The author’s comments:

This is a poem I wrote after my first cross country race of my sophomore year of high school. I was disappointed with my time, so I wrote this poem and it was like magic appeared on my doorstep–I felt so much better. It was then that I realized how hard I had tried during the race, no matter what my time was. I guess I actually did know what I was doing during my race–becoming a stronger person outside and within.

This pain is not for me,
I say.
This pain envelops me in nothingness.
The heat traps me in fumes,
Burning like fire,
Killing like a knife
That cuts into the patches of my lungs.

This pain is ready for me,
But I am not ready for it.
This pain is sprinting.
I am wobbling.
It is living
As I am dying –
Falling, then landing
Into what feels like relapse,
But really isn’t.

This pain is a painkiller,
Yet I am unaware of this fact,
For I am only thinking of
What life is like without this pain.
But this pain
Is the pathway to bravery,
Strength, focus.

This pain is my enemy
when spoken of,
But my friend within,
Living deep in my heart
Where the truth is not always clear.

This pain will lead me to the end.
And will bring me back to the beginning again.
Where the cycle repeats itself.

This pain never disappears,
But sometimes releases its grip on me
For just a moment,
When all the cells of my heart
Are focused,
Breathing,
Living
At last.

http://teenink.com/poetry/free_verse/article/135834/Running/.

The poet is a young woman going by the pseudonym Lizzy Halmne. She has a long way to go in life. Mike has a few more years and miles under his belt. His path may be shorter, but will draw on all he has. Both have hearts like lions. Thank you for writing, Lizzy! Way to go, Mike! May both of you fly on fleet feet wherever you are set and ready to go.

Signs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When I was a young adult I read Cheiro’s Language of the Hand, a detailed examination of how to read a palm. http://archive.org/details/cheiroslanguageo00hamo. Once I read it, I read numerous books on the subject. I still recall many of the details of the subject after at least forty years. I never viewed palmistry as sorcery or witchcraft. It is not a tool I use to predict the future any more than I rely upon my doctor’s diagnosis to predict how well I will live or how long I will live. As a result, I see no conflict between religion and reading a palm.

I read my own palm first, and I still have the photocopy of my palm that I used to map out the signs that portended fortune and misfortune. It demonstrates today the truth of one of the lessons of palmistry: you make your own fortune. The dominant hand (in my case, my right hand), has changed numerous times over the past four decades. My left palm has more lines that reflect stress or worry, but the main lines remain remarkably unchanged.

They say that the non-dominant palm reflects the future you are born with while the right hand reflects where you are headed; provided that you remain on your current course.

Left Palm

Left Palm

My left palm is marked by strong, long, and deeply etched lines. What has changed since I was a teen is my marriage line. When I was young, neither palm showed an unhappy marriage in the offing. Today, both palms show a deep line that starts parallel to the base of my little finger and then dips to run down toward my Love Line. There is what is called an “island” at the point where the line dips down–a sign that the one who caused the divorce had problems of his or her own that led to the marriage to its end. While there are some minor breaks in each of those lines on my palms, they carry all the way across to the base of my thumb–the part of the palm that governs passion and lubricity (passion’s lewder sibling). My left palm also shows a very long and strongly marked Life Line.

Right Palm

My right palm shows that I am sometimes plagued by doubt and insecurity. There are more lines that reveal stress. There are grilles and many of the lines are fainter than in the left palm. This is normal. The lines change in part because of the way the dominant hand holds a tool or bears the weight of exertion.

What interests me most is that my Life Line on my right hand has changed in the past two years. When I was a child, it ran long and ended down at the base of my palm. Several years ago I noticed that a branch had formed at what some readers claim is the midpoint of my life. One tine of the fork touched my Fortune Line. The other ended abruptly.

At the current time, the tine of the fork that used to dissipate abruptly has extended deep into my palm, almost to my wrist. It is faint, but it is there.

According to my copy of Cheiro’s book (revised as of 1970), “the germ of disease or weak point in the system must be known to the brain in all its stages of advance and attack, and will, therefore, be registered by the brain on the hand through the nerve-connection between the two . . . .” Cheiro believed the palm predicted the cause and nature of certain diseases, sometimes on the Life Line, sometimes on other parts of the palm.

My right palm shows weakness, but now renewed longevity. Crossing the Life Line are numerous lines that suggest there is stress and challenge, but parallel to the Life Line and closer to the thumb is a faint line some call the “sister line.” The presence of a sister line is regarded by some as favorable. It can represent the power of others to help the subject through dark times, sometimes recovering great vitality.

My point in writing about my palm is not to predict or confirm my future or fortune. I raise the subject because of what others have to say about the subject of palms and because, following treatment for uterine cancer I find myself watching for signs more vigilantly than ever.

I keep countless journals in which I make notes about peculiarities and coincidences. I collect natural wisdom in a file that I study sometimes at night before I go to sleep. I have read countless books and articles and blogs that talk about vitamins, minerals, and herbs.

I have not gotten to the point where I change my behavior without careful consideration. I am not given to act without doing my research and testing my theories against those of others. I am not the type who wears tinfoil atop her head to prevent alien beings from reading her thoughts. But I am paying attention to things I never monitored before.

www.danheller.com (Culkin, Gibson and Breslin from the movie Signs)

http://www.danheller.com (Culkin, Gibson and Breslin from the movie Signs)

In the end, I keep coming back to the notion that we make our own futures. Whether I am responsible for all that befalls me or merely able to take precautions when alerted to matters beyond my control that might threaten me, I am watching the signs now. In the words of Tiffany (played by Jennifer Lawrence) in Silver Linings Playbook, if I’m the one “reading the signs,” things keep looking better all of the time.

If My Dad Had Lived Longer

Marge Lange (godmother), Dad, Grandpa Kayo

Marge Lange (godmother), Dad, Grandpa Kayo

If my dad had lived longer this would be his eighty-first birthday. He died of acute pancreatitis within about 48 hours of the disease’s onset. We were all at the hospital when it happened because I had a premonition of trouble. I was in my office in Washington, D.C. on Friday morning when I felt a strong impulse to call my mom. I do not speak lightly of the strength of that impulse. One minute I was devising a strategy for sidestepping the IRS’s handling of a client’s tax challenge. I stood in front of my office set of the Commerce Clearinghouse Standard Federal Tax Reporter and thumbed through the index for inspiration. Then I heard her voice and she was saying, “Call me.”

It had happened to me once before. I was at work and I heard her voice. I called her right after she had climbed up onto a chair that had wheels so that she could reach something in the pantry. She misjudged her balance, fell from the chair and put her head through the pantry door! I stayed on the line with her until my dad could get home in case she suffered a concussion. As a result, when I heard her voice, I responded.

She told me that my brother Danny was on his way to Dad’s office. Dad was feeling so sick that he could not get home alone. He thought he should go to the hospital, but he wanted it to be the hospital close to home. When Danny got Dad home, they went right to the hospital.

I had spoken to my dad the night before his illness. We had a good talk. He wanted me to move back to Chicago. I was considering doing that. He wanted me to get an annulment of my marriage. I had decided to pursue that. (I still have not gotten that done.) He was happy. But he wanted more. He wanted my sister Kathy to move back to Chicago, too. At that time, Kathy and I were living in Maryland. I was divorced and free to relocate if I could find a good job opportunity. My sister had a husband and two children and a job she enjoyed. I did not think Dad could persuade her to come back to Chicago, but he was a determined man.

When my mom let me know that my dad had a diagnosis and was expected to make a full recovery, I already sensed that it was not going to turn out well. I was so concerned that I left my office as soon as I heard my dad was sick. I took my car to a repair shop and had four new tires put on it. I packed a suitcase and put it in my trunk. But my mom convinced me not to start the drive to Chicago. She was certain that Dad would be okay.

The next day I went to my sister’s house. Kathy and I went to the mall. When we got back, my brother-in-law Jeff had a suitcase for Kathy. He told us to hit the road immediately. He would pack his and their girls’ suitcases and follow us on his own within another hour.

My mom had been at the hospital that morning to visit my dad. He wanted to see Danny. She figured there was time for that later in the day. She went to her job at J.C. Penney. Dad slipped into unconsciousness shortly thereafter.

Kathy and I drove through the night and got to the house at about four in the morning. It was a thirteen hour trip. My mom was up when we got to the house. She could not sleep. We went right to the hospital. Dad was still unconscious. I remember that he looked terrible. He wore glasses. They were not on his face. That was strange. He always wore them, even when he fell asleep in his favorite chair at the house.

He was swollen. I was afraid to touch him because he had painful neuropathy after a terrible case of shingles. He could not bear to use his hands other than for necessary tasks. The doctors told us to speak to him. He might be able to hear us even if he could not respond.

The doctors wanted to open him up but were afraid that general anesthesia would kill him. We agreed to surgery without anesthesia. I have no idea if we did the right thing. The surgeon did not find anything that helped Dad. There was some talk about a gangrene length of bowel, but my dad had that week passed a stress test. His bowel was working on the Thursday before his death. I know. He spoke of it (funny how people start talking about that stuff and cannot seem to recall any longer the time when the topic was considered personal).

After the surgery was over, we crowded around the bed to look him over. He was more swollen. His color was orange, like a bad case of “spray tan.”

The doctors told us that it was a matter of time, but it sounded like the time might be a day rather than hours. My Aunt Joan, my dad’s only sister, came to see her brother one last time. My dad’s friend Jack came for a couple of minutes. We hovered in the corner of Dad’s room and in the waiting area, taking turns sitting with him.

My mom and Kathy headed back to the house for something to eat, maybe a nap. Danny and I stood by at the hospital. As soon as my mom left, Dad’s vitals showed he was crashing. The doctors rushed in and said, “Get your family back here.”

I whispered good-bye and ran for a payphone (this happened in 1992 before cell phones). By the time I came back, Danny was in the hallway. The doctors were in the room trying to revive my dad. It was not possible to save him.

My dad was a “King” on his mother’s side. At that time, no King male had lived past 59 years of age. Harry King (my great-grandfather) died before 59. Dr. Edward P. King (my great uncle) died before 59. Even after my dad’s death, the King curse continued. My cousin Steve died before 59. (We are all thankful that my cousin Michael thereafter broke the chain.) My dad was 59 at the time. He had four months to go to turn 60 and break the chain. It’s a funny thing about fate. It probably doesn’t dictate anything, but, until someone breaks the chain, fate seems in control.

I am going to tell you about something else in addition to how my dad died, because death is sometimes just an ending and lots of us know what it is like to lose someone suddenly.

Grandpa Kayo, Grandma Babe, and Dad

Grandpa Kayo, Grandma Babe, and Dad

My dad was the life of the party. He taught my sister and me to dance. He was very good at dancing. I was a kid in the 1960’s. We used to “twist.” It was a blast. I always get tears in my eyes when I think of him dancing with me on my wedding day and then taking my mom into his arms. I married a man who could dance. The marriage did not last, but dancing with my ex-husband is something I still remember fondly.

Dad

Dad

My dad enjoyed a party so much that there were times he went to a party at Norm and Jane’s house across the street and stayed late enough to make them breakfast when they woke in the morning.

Dad and his cousin Mary at a meeting of the Cousin's Club

Dad and his cousin Mary at a meeting of the Cousin’s Club

[Yes, Mary is wearing her earrings in her hair and nose. My dad also mixed a strong drink, as did his cousins.] My dad lived boldly. We had a summer cottage when I was a kid. My dad loved to throw newcomers into the lake during their first visit. One of my cousins knew about this and so stayed inside the house so that he was never close to the water. He also perched on a tiny chair that had belonged to my grandma, thinking he would be safe. My dad filled a huge pot with lake water, dragged it into the house and tossed the water right into his face! Everyone got wet.

One night we were partying at my grandparents’ home and my dad got mad about something and went out for a walk. He did not come back. We were an hour’s drive from home. My mom piled us into the car and we all went out searching for him. When no one could find him, my mom gave up and took us home. Imagine our surprise when we arrived home to find him sleeping on a lawn chair on the driveway. He had wandered up onto the toll road, flagged down a police car, and convinced the police officer to drive him all the way to our house.

When he was about my age, he suffered through an illness that left him in a weakened condition, but he refused to let it get him down. He got into a fight with someone who was big enough and tough enough to wipe the floor with my dad, but my dad would not give in to threat. He said to the guy, “I’m not just going to kick your butt. When I’m done with you, I’m going to kick the butt of every one of your friends.” The other guy growled. My dad knew this was going to get ugly and his Louisville Slugger (always kept in the car in case there was a game (fight)) was in the car and not at hand. My dad said, “I want all my friends to see it. Wait right here while I go get them.” Then he ran away. As he explained it, “I beat him with my superior intellect.”

My dad loved God and country. He convinced many a fallen Catholic in the family to go back to the church. He said the rosary every day as he drove in his car. He stood every time he heard the national anthem–even when we were at home. He was a Republican block captain and always voted–even during the many years when he and my mom would vote and cancel out each other’s votes. He loved the Marine Corps and often put out American flags at our homes.

Dad and Grandma Babe

Dad and Grandma Babe

My dad was a bad boy who thought boys should be boys. He pulled the fire alarm when he was in grade school. He played pranks. He used to follow his slightly older sister Joan when she went out on dates so he could keep an eye on her and her boyfriends. He always had a list of jokes in his pocket. He used to keep an old-fashioned fire extinguisher at the house. He would fill it with water and chase us around spraying us with water long after our little water guns had gone dry.

My dad did not forget his own history. When my brother Danny got into trouble, my dad would wrap his arms around my mom and say, “Boys will be boys.” He would not falter in his belief that a bad boy could turn out to be one hell of a good man. (My brother is a man my dad would be so proud to know.)

Dad, Grandma Babe and Aunt Joan

Dad, Grandma Babe and Aunt Joan

My dad loved my mom. There was fighting in our home. My mom used to darken the house and we would lie in wait for Dad when they were “on the outs.” When he walked in the door, we lobbed Tupperware at him. He would chase us all around the house until everyone was exhausted. Then he would toss my mom over his shoulder and carry her off to their bedroom. We did not understand about “make-up sex” in those days, but we knew as we put ourselves to bed, that everything was okay in our world. I can still remember my dad kissing my mom first thing every time he came home and last thing every time he left.

Mom and Dad on their wedding day in 1956

Mom and Dad on their wedding day in 1956

My dad always said, “It only costs a little more to go first class.” He was a clothes horse. When we went on vacation he had a vacation wardrobe. He wore yellow trousers, red trousers. The man even had Kelly green trousers. He always picked out the best thing. He had the best umbrella, the best rifle, the best fishing pole, the best camera, and the best tools. We did not always have much, but whatever we had was nice. If we could not afford the “best,” then we waited. We worked hard. We saved our money. Then we went out and got it.

My dad used to go on ahead. When we used to go to the mall, my dad always walked well ahead of the rest of us. We would walk slowly, stopping to look at things.  Sometimes we would catch a glimpse of him on another level of the mall or far ahead of us. At the end of our circuit of the building, we would find him sitting on a bench eating an ice cream cone. I think of him that way now, waiting some place down the road for the rest of us to catch up with him, eating an ice cream cone.

If my dad had lived longer, today would have been his birthday. Happy Birthday, Dad.

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