This city looked so fine last night, wrapped in cool August air and strutting her skinny-arm pose under the dancing First Friday lights. She tossed her wild curls over one sassy shoulder and threw kisses to the boys and girls on her sidewalks. She made moon-eyes at the ladies and lads alike. She had no shame. She let them chalk her concrete surfaces and toss paperinto her gutters, knowing that in the morning she’d take a long hot shower and sweep the clutter from the front porch.
I love this town. I came here in 1980 in a yellow Thunderbird convertible driven by the first in a long line of treacherous men. His friend crawled down the highway behind us in a U-Haul truck carrying what passed for furniture. Even then I craved broken rocking chairs and small cabinets which I could move by myself if nobody ever came to help. And books. Scads of books. Novels only I would dare read, scrounged from the back rooms of dusty second-hand stores. Old treatises in slim volumes with uncut pages and stately covers. Spiral-bound yoga bibles with pictures of serene women in loose-fitting clothing.
The man had not yet betrayed me but carried my bed up four flights and through the narrow slatted door which opened to the long gloomy hallway. We found a pancake house a few blocks away and watched the hookers who walked into the street without looking either way. They put their bottoms in the air and leaned farther into the car windows than any of us thought safe. Once I almost ran out to holler, You don’t have to sell yourself! at an impossibly young woman in hot pants and a halter top. But my boyfriend stopped me, saying, Well maybe she does, are you going to let her sleep on your couch? My god Corinne you haven’t even unpacked don’t get shot yet.
He and his friend left the next day to go back to St. Louis, leaving me alone wiith my boxes of old crockery and new notebooks for writing down everything which I thought I would learn in law school. The next time I saw him, he’d gotten fired from his teaching job for pushing over an opaque projector in a tiff with a student. He set his suitcase down on the floor and told me he thought he’d move to Kansas City and live with me for a while. I couldn’t reply. Me and the hookers had already made friends, though I hadn’t invited any of them to a sleep-over yet. I just honked and waved and they hollered, Hey girl.
I hadn’t started classes so I told the man, You can stay for a while, I guess. Two weeks later, I caught him sleeping with a woman who had apparently followed him into town, leaving her husband at home with the baby. I threw them both out and changed the sheets. I swore that I’d never love again; never trust again; never open my heart or the front door no matter how sweetly someone said my name. Of course, I have broken that promise over and over again but it sounded sincere on that day, that August, just five or six miles and a million gallons of salty hot tears from where I now sit and write.
The bush to my right, which isn’t a Rose of Sharon, has lingering blossoms and a smattering of crimson leaves. When I bought this house in 1993, I let the kid who mowed my lawn convinced me to create an English garden on the stretch of property where this deck now stands. That bush, the not-rose-of-sharon, flanked a row of peonies carefully cultivated by the house’s two prior owners. We planted Columbine and marigolds and a few other sprigs, tiny shoots that I bought over on Troost at Soil Service. The kid weeded the whole area and sprinkled something he said would help everything grow. I stood in the driveway and felt like landed gentry. Five years later we dug up the weeds and all but one peony and the not-rose-of-sharon to make the wheelchair ramp for that decade’s treacherous beautiful man.
The bush and its companion peony rise above our pet cemetery. Tiger who got hit by a car was the first. Patrick went out to get the paper one Saturday and came back into the house sobbing. Mommy, Tiger’s lying in the middle of the street and he won’t get up. We made a tombstone on which my boy’s stepfather carved the name, Tiger Tazmania Corley. A fiercely loyal pet who adored my son. Also buried there: Our first dog, Chocolate, whose death I accidentally caused; the beloved Sprinkles, my son’s favorite cat; and a dear little kitten named Chief who lived to be nine months old, staying mostly upstairs with Patrick because Dennis, the stepfather, had decreed No More Pets. But when Patrick’s other Mom, Katrina, gave him the kitten for his birthday, what could we do?
My morning chorus has a new song today. I’m thinking of learning the cricket language so I can talk back to them. I’m sure they know a lot. They hear the rapid fire of weapons gripped by careless hands, the sirens, and the fast cars at midnight. They feel the earth vibrating under each truck lumbering by while I’m just moving around in the morning. The sneaky feet on the driveway when no one is home trample on their hiding places. If I spoke their language, I could protect myself, I’m sure of that. I’d be in the know.
A friend stopped by First Friday to see me last night. We chatted with his daughter in the parking lot, then he walked me to my car. Be careful going home, he cautioned. I assured him that I would. But I had no such intention. I stopped at every red light with my window open, hanging out with my cell phone camera held in front of my aging eyes. By the time I got to my house, I had seen my city, really seen her, with her twitchy lights and bold disposition. I’d given her a Kleenex and told her to fix her mascara and re-apply her lipstick. I had complimented her new dress and flicked a few crumbs from the front of her sweater. I’d given her a midnight hug and told her to stay away from fast boys and women who wouldn’t meet her eyes. I’d told her, Don’t go with strangers, you don’t have to make your living that way anymore.
But maybe she does. When I woke up today, someone had posted on the Nextdoor App, Anybody awake and listening to those gunshots at 60th and Troost? Just three blocks from me. Oh Kansas City! Take care of yourself; it’s a wicked world.
From downtown to home. I might have one or two out of order, but you get the picture, eh?