Saturday, December 27, 2014

Oh Cap'n, My Cap'n!

The tragic tale of the missing Cosmos took a cosmic turn. During the doomed search and rescue phase, we received several phone calls about a black cat nearby at this neighbor's or that's. Hearts ablaze with hope, we'd rush to the scene only to discover a black kitten, three years too young, eyes of gold not green, and a round face, not triangular.  The shoulders of our thoughtful would-be-hero neighbors would sag and we would shuffle back to our grief-stricken home, our laps still empty. We would marvel at the chutzpah of anyone to let their 3 month old roam these hills alone, but what could we do about that? Although the kitty was adorable and terrified, I found it annoying to have my heart jerked around.

Later, I spotted it in our field, larger now, and sized like Cosmos. Shocked, I leaped over acres of weed-hurdles yelling, "Cosmos!? Cosmos?! Really?! It's you?!" But no, it was only the startled interloper doppelganger. I gave him a few pets and shuffled on back home.

The cat, impressed with his reception on our property, came back a few days later. I again flipped out that a miracle had occurred, hallelujah! Cosmos had pried himself from the coyote's cache and returned home! Slaughter the fatted calf! Roast the lambs! The boy has returned! But no...

The cat began hanging out in our yard in earnest. Coyote's were close by throughout that week. I saw the kitty crouched in the ditch as coyote's howled. I spotted the kitty sleeping half way up the Russian Pine outside my kitchen window, while coyote's howled. So one night, we put him in the car and drove door to door looking for his owners.

They have the newest and fanciest house in the neighborhood, a gable-plex behemoth with an importantly enormous wood door and a workshop the size of Texas, all in tasteful gray. I know them. The woman is a wonderful teacher at one of the variety of schools we've tried (until settling contentedly where we are now). Based on the grandeur of her home, I assume her work as a teacher is hobby-based employment. I was primed to forgive her for her sloppy cat-stewardship. I wanted, as I always do, for my admiration of this person to remain in tact. That was my primary goal here. And so I was unexpectedly crushed beneath the icky flow of disappointing information that she puked up. Here's the sampler: They've lived there for two years already now, can it be? and they've gone through 6?7? maybe more? cats. So hard to keep track of them all! The longest one was a year. The neighbors can't seem to spay or neuter in a timely manner so a bushel of kitties are always available, a never ending supply, an utterly renewable resource here for our convenience. So handy. The kitties, dirty overflow kitties, are not allowed inside anywhere. Is that our cat? Probably. Yeah. Oh well, life in the country! Haha! Am I right?!

Noting my slack jaw, she rolled her eyes at me, "Oh, you're the," she paused here and I thought or imagined or actually heard the ghost of the word "idiot" seep off into the ether before she continued, "who put up the posters."

I came from this culture, but it is not mine.

"Yep, that's me. We care about our pets."

What about "domestic cat" escapes people? Inherent in the term is the human bred obligation to care for them, at least somewhat, with food and some kind of shelter, any kind of shelter. We aren't fanatics here - no rhinestone tags and inside-only owners are we. But they are here by human will and we owe them at least the basic necessities.

Also, I'm not going to out and out blame her for the disappearance of Cosmos, but she certainly made it clear to the coyotes where they could find a hot meal. She basically erected a neon "OPEN" sign over our neighborhood: dishing up morsels of kitty round the clock! Come and get it!

We left the cat in their "care," and went on our stunned way, asking ourselves, "Did she really say that?" "Did you hear her say that too?"

As the song goes, the cat came back the very next day. After another week of watching the terrified thing (that looked cruelly identical to the cat our laps were still mourning, except for the balls on his back side) skulk around our yard, we finally set him up in the garage. And a week later, when our night temperatures plunged to single digits, and upon the ethical and biological advice of our veterinarian, we brought him inside, to the basement, just for one night, because I had no intention of disposing of a little frozen kitty carcass.

And then the next night. And the next. And the next.

I asked around about the ethics of this and no one raised any red flags. Cats are known for choosing their homes. And Cap'n Jack's former owners didn't uphold even the most rudimentary of ownership duties. Also, the cat's original property is separated by ours, at the corners, by only 50 feet. He could have gone home any time. He still can.

Cap'n Jack destroying Coyote's Lego Black Pearl
He now refuses to leave the house. When I make him, he hoovers up the mice at a rate of 2 per every half hour. Cosmos never did that. His purr is more songbird chirp and I like to imagine it's due to a  Romulus-n-Remus-type-experience, but with birds instead of wolves and thus being socialized by the finches in the pines. King Louis (apparently our cats all come with ostentatious titles. No Private Jack. No Serf Louis. Not in this house) is adjusting perfectly. Cap'n Jack is much more likely to fulfill behavior expectations than Cosmos ever was. When we told him to not scratch the furniture, he listened. Don't get up on the counters. Okay, then, thanks for letting me know. The gratitude and humility and constant, deep level understanding that things could have gone very differently, are rich in rescued animals.

Cap'n Jack still indulges in a few insecurity-based activities like licking us, but the vet expects he'll get over it soon enough, once he realizes he's home for good.  And we've marked him as ours now, getting him neutered and vaccinated. Soon, he should get the idea that he's secure here, as secure as a cat can be.

I like to think that Cap'n Jack had a moment of recognition when he experienced my confused and effusive welcomings, when I thought I was recognizing Cosmos. He knew, as soon as he saw it, that that was what he was looking for, what he wanted, what he deserved. He deserved love. And that was the first thing he got here. Food and shelter too, but first came love, however mistaken it was.

Perhaps Cap'n Jack was destined for some kind of coyote, but he lucked out with the kid kind here.
Coyote: Christmas at the Reserve
Cap'n Jack also knew that if he stayed "where" he was, which was nowhere, which was just outside some place safe, he would die. And I think we all feel that way when it's time to grow: this situation, the one I was handed, it no longer works for me and if nothing changes, I will die. And so he went in search of safety and life and it was only 1/4 mile away and it was ready for him. Safety had an opening for a black-cat right when he needed it.

I like to imagine that he'd read the signs around the neighborhood. I can almost see him knocking on our door, cap in hand, face smudged with dirt like an Oliver orphan, "Ma'am, I heard you be lookin' for a black cat. I mayn't be the cat youz lookin' for, xactly, but I do fit the description. Might you give me a chance to try my hand at bein' your black cat?"

Blue: Christmas at the Reserve
Such an unusual wrinkle to our tale of losing Cosmos, it seems magical. Perhaps he's our very own familiar. Maybe he's a symbol of Huck and my anarcho-syndicalist past together. Or maybe, as is the Scottish superstition, he's a symbol of coming prosperity. Or perhaps he's the Cat Sith, as he arrived on our doorstep near Samhain. Ooh, or maybe one of Freya's lucky black cats, destined to pull her chariot. Or, more prosaically and likely, just an unloved stray-ish looking for a sucker or someone infected with the cat-love parasite Toxoplasma gondii. But even Blue, uber-atheist and uber-rationalist, can't resist the idea that there is some mystical element to this, musing,"It almost seems like Cosmos sent him to us. Almost." Whatever it is, despite not quite feeling ready to open my heart again to a cat, he feels like a blessing, like a gift from the cosmos.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Chuck and the French Bite

I’ve always been terrified of forgetting, of the oblivion every moment threatens to slide into as soon as it passes. My TBI is a cosmic joke, poking at my hornet's-nest-fear of failed memory. I don’t know why I've always worried about this (scribbling 4 apple boxes worth of journals throughout the years), as the destiny of each moment and memory is and must be oblivion, eventual, certain, and permanent erasure. I’m sure I’m not on the cusp my own Alzheimer’s, although my head injury dramatically increases its eventuality. Lately, I remember things and I worry that it will be the last time I see them. The TBI's oblivion now creeps into my present moment and erases things before I notice they ever existed. But the things I do remember are clear and I tend to remember what I do very precisely.  I’ve read that what we remember has emotional markers on it, a feeling-scent that at the time alerted us to its importance, alerting our inner secretary to file this one, not shred. What you remember can tell you quite a bit about who you are, what you value, and what you fear. And I feel terrible when others remember what I don’t, like my mind has implied to the world that it wasn’t important to me. To a schmuck like you, maybe. But to a grand poobah like me, nope.

In my favorite tree
I posted to Facebook a 1992 photo of me and a friend from Bellingham who came all the way to South Carolina to visit me. I remember that I gave her a chitenge from Malawi that I had apparently promised to someone else (but I’d forgotten that) and the someone-else was angry that she hadn’t received it.  I eventually felt okay about the genuine mistake because Keri was the only person to visit me in exile … er South Carolina, and she deserved the blue and green swath of cloth reward.  Keri remembered making bead earrings while listening to Ella Fitzgerald. I do not remember that, and I'm sad about it. I’m certain we did that however, both things were staples of my high school existence.

Heading out on my own, will I get lost?
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong were the first two non-Christian-music artists' tapes I bought (at Avalon Records in Bellingham at the corner of Magnolia and Railroad), and I listened to them constantly and likely remember every word. These tapes were joined by two others: Sinead O’Connor’s The Lion and The Cobra (is she wearing baby pj’s on her butt in this video?) which my brother gave me. “I think you’d really be into this new singer” he said, handing me what was likely a hot tape that had likely come from one of the many car stereos of mysterious origin that were filling up his closet during his years of experimentation with exactly which illegal career he was best suited for. I also had procured the Indigo Girls debut at that point, thus rounding out my formative, oddly lesbian-esc collection of music. When I was home alone, I put on Sinead for the first time and I danced through the tape twice. 

I recently remembered this because I am in need of exercise and the outdoors is shutting down as a viable source, but the gyms are too loud.  So one evening Coyote was listening to “Hearts of Space” while I was beginning to remember that music is the human experience that moves me most deeply. Ironically it is one that I have no natural ability for, so I suppose part of its allure is that it is sort of my personal forbidden-fruit. And I began to dance, making sure the curtains were all closed, rolling up the carpet, staying safe in my sequins-ed shell/shawl. I danced my unclassifiable mix of ballet, belly, swing and ska until I was worn out, about 15 whole minutes. And the next day I was sore and that’s the indication there’s work to be done. So I’ve been dancing to every type of music (except country, musicals and Christian rock – the ménage trois of ear-torture) as daily as possible for my allotted 15 minutes and it makes me sore and happy down to my toes and the buzz lasts all day.

I was 13 and had just begun the terrible, horrible no-good high school youth group at our church. I was thrilled to be old enough-- FINALLY!-- to join, only to quickly realize it was a raunchy group of assholes and our leader was the Terrible Asshole in Chief (oh god… I have stories-- STORIES! about this regrettable group.)  So much of our childhood is wasted on looking forward to things that turn out to be, at best, underwhelming but more often, nightmarish. But who wants to tell their bright eyed child THAT? Better to let life’s letdowns come naturally, at their own pace.

After only a few summer weeks of Wednesday nights in the church’s double wide (the former “parsonage” my family had once lived in, since converted into Sunday school classrooms), I left early for my long, dark walk home, across the street.  On that warm summer night, moments before my Freshman year, a cute high school Senior with freckles and a bowl cut followed me out to the gravel parking lot.  I had made it as far as the plum tree when he called my name from the back porch. I turned. "Wait up!" He jumped over the railing and ran towards me, crackling across the gravel. When he arrived by my bewildered side, he wordlessly placed his hand behind my neck, tilted my head towards him and kissed me on my lips. It was my first kiss. It could not have been more romantic.  

I want to always remember the moon, full and shining through the leaves of the plum tree. The plum tree was likely the one from which my baby sister once picked up a black slug, assuming it was a plum, and ate it at the table with our elderly visitor; a black slime dripped, un-noticed for half an hour, from her baby mouth. It was the tree beneath which I was bounced (I'd been told) from an overly-enthusiastic wagon-ride provided for me by my big brother, always taking me out for adventures… and stitches. But those were two different trees, weren’t they? Maybe I was kissed beneath the ash tree, full of radiant red berries, or maybe that tree was at the other house.  So it was a tree, the moon was dappling our shoulders with its light. But it wasn’t the moon, I now realize, it was the sole streetlight in the church parking lot; it did not shine silver but sodium vapor yellow.  At any rate, Chuck would become my boyfriend. And I danced all the way home.

Chuck rode a motorcycle and I loved climbing on the back, sliding my hands up beneath his shirt, clinging to him around the curves of our country roads. He always let me wear the helmet. Later he got a car with windows that steamed up nicely for added privacy.

I was babysitting, my usual nanny job, so I think it was summer time yet… maybe. Yes, the last day of summer vacation.  The kids had gone to the neighbor’s but I was still obligated to stay, watching MTV, the forbidden fruit of television.  I called my new boyfriend and he happened to be at a friend’s house across the street, and we could see no reason why he shouldn’t cross the street.  And suddenly we were making out on their couch and then in their kitchen.  And, this must have been early on in our courtship, because he tried on this day, my first French kiss.

I spit out his tongue, “What the hell was that?!”
“French kissing.”
“French kissing is disgusting!”
“You’ll get used to it.”
“How will I do that if I’m never doing it again?”
“It’s the main part of kissing. You need to learn how to do it.”
“Nope. Not going to happen. Don’t try it again.” That was clear, right? I’d made myself clear, I believe.
But three seconds later, there’s a goddamn tongue in my mouth!
So I bit down, hard! And I held it. He was screaming.  I finally let go.
“What the hell wath that!?” He lisped.
“I told you I didn’t want to do it. And I meant it.”

Oh, but I didn’t mean it for long. Soon we were Frenching everywhere, at school against the lockers, at basketball games, and on the short walks home from Youth Group.

Slavin, alone for the first time in 2 years
My parents did not like this boy: “What’s wrong with him? Why can’t he date a woman his own age?!” my dad thundered. I think I understand what he meant, but an insecure 13/14 year old only heard that anyone who dated me would have to have something wrong with them. My brother, who was more Chuck’s age, didn’t like our dating either and he made him a pariah of the illegal-activity set. 

My parents escalated from insulting him to outright forbidding me to date him.  And so I did not date him where they could watch. I went to basketball games with my friends, but spent the time steaming up his car. My parents went to a family gathering, while I stayed home in sickness or homework and Chuck would wait down the road until he saw their car leave. We would make out on the living room floor and listen to Sinead O’Connor. (I am listening to this song with a cat on my lap and see now that it is the ultimate house cat song...I'm envisioning a video of this song with alluring cats!)  Until one day my parents doubled back to retrieve some forgotten item: oh those forgotten items! the bane of every sneaker! And I was never allowed to stay home alone again. The more upset they became, the more attractive Chuck got, my savior from these nutso's, my motorcycle get-away driver.

I was not head-over-heels for Chuck, really. He was just so exciting and forbidden. But after the excitement of the “firsts” wore off, he was just kind of a jerk, kind of nice too.  I was on the fence. My friend convinced me one evening to finally break it off. So I did. Chuck, surprisingly unruffled, sweetly asked if I would need to change the name of my cat, Charlie.
“Why would I do that?”
“Because you named him after me.”
“Oh god no. He’s named after Charlie Chaplin.” I realized then that I was making a good choice. "Who names a cat after their freshman boyfriend?"

Chuck and my friend showed up the next day at school as an item. It was a terrible thing for her to do (which she apologized for recently) but I was not too upset. I knew we’d break up eventually as I was only 14 and had always known I wouldn’t be marrying the guy I dated at 14. No, I was saving those absurd, unrealistic expectations for when I was 15!

Blue loves the story of the first French kiss. She asks for it again and again. Now, she is my age, then. And she is very different from me, more secure, more level headed and practical. Better, in every way, I often marvel. But who knows what she's got up her sleeves. Only time will tell (and then forget.)

Blue's Totoro pumpkin
Whatever happened to Chuck, we might ask. Chuck joined the army a few months later, had two kids and committed suicide at 28. I am the sole proprietor of these utterly cherishable memories. And now I’m not.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Mr. T and Me

The names of my puppet masters are Headache and Exhaustion. They work together, a dynamic sadistic duo.  They allow or deny day to day like a game of “Mother May I,” only you can’t sneak forward in this game. Sneaking is the only certain way of losing.
In the beginning, I declined medication. I’ve heard horror stories and my neighbor advised, with an odd look in her eyes, “Try not to take any pain medication. They can be extremely, extremely difficult to get off of.”  That’s okay, I said, I have soaring fear of pain medication and addiction. Addiction doesn’t appear to be a natural part of my nature and it’s scary stuff. 

Space Needle
Caffeine is possibly my worst addiction and the dependency annoys and insults me. If I miss my singular cup of green tea, it triggers a headache. Even before this TBI stuff, I’d go off coffee and black tea from time to time because I hate the tether, always figuring out the next cup. And the punishment if I don’t take it when it wants to be taken is for my head to be placed inside a bass drum while the high school band marches the entire length of Texas.

Now my headaches, or migraines, or whatever they are, come of their own accord. I try to appease the headache gods, keeping the light level just so, and the noises off.  And not overdoing.  Still, life careens at me like a drunken bullet train, volatile and violent, pushing through my world and unless I am utterly conscientious of every moment, my needs and my limitations, I will end up with a migraine. Attending to my own needs and limitations is very hard for my sort of person, a people-pleaser by both nature and nurture.  These nearly two years of self-care boot camp, of learning to care for Sarajoy over and over and over again, have probably been good for me. But I’m annoyed by it and fail constantly, still.

Recently, there was a trip to Seattle, driving, for the first time again in nearly two years. I drove for a bit at night so the distractions were darkened, but the oncoming lights were painful as a welder’s arc.  And the reflectors on blacktop sent my head spinning. Despite that, I enjoyed the psychological challenge of driving, of pushing myself past known limits. Curiosity overtook me: how would it feel if I drove more? How can I talk myself in to pushing past this limit? How fast can I recover from the wicked eye-pain of oncoming halogen lights? However much fun I may have had watching my brain do what it needed to, it was probably a bad idea to start an intense weekend with such a drain. 

Saturday was filled with walks, travel, 43 meals, and stress.  Sunday held the greatest dichotomy of states: a serene sailboat ride from Lake Washington to Ballard that raised all of Seattle’s bridges and found us trapped in an all-ages crew race.  That was followed by a funeral for Huck’s aunt who committed suicide, being the fourth one in our combined families to do so in the past few years. It was difficult, even though we were not too close. We loved her and she hosted every holiday and had a signature love for fall colors, and gold. 

Again, we had that talk with our kids about depression, bipolar, and how if you are thinking about suicide you needed to have seen a therapist a while ago, but it’s better late than never. If you are sad or anxious or crazy for over 4 weeks, you need to see a therapist. There is a giant army of well-trained professionals who have dedicated their lives to helping people in these situations. They are standing by, eager to assist. Therapy does not mean something is wrong with you, necessarily. What it means is that life has given you a challenge greater than your current skill set and a therapist will help you develop the skills you now need to approach this new challenge in new ways we can’t always figure out on our own. Suicide is literally not a viable option, however many people we know may seem to think so.  

Coyote’s response: “Suicide is the only way to guarantee that you’ll never be happy again.”

 Blue: “AUGH! Not this conversation again!” 

Honestly, I’m sick of the conversation too and would just prefer for people to stop doing it. I’m normally very compassionate about it because life provides a lot of shit in a variety of shapes and sizes, internal and external, and it’s hard for everyone. But It’s hard for everyone! Don’t make it more difficult for others, you asshole! But I’m pretty sure that’s not the officially sanctioned line.

By the end of that long weekend, I was loopy and exhausted and couldn’t have told you if my eyes were crossed or not, everything was about the same level of focus. 

I still sometimes go-along-to-get-along and this weekend was full of that. I always want to avoid any dissatisfaction that may happen if I say I can’t do something. It usually only lasts a few minutes until the others get going with their new exciting thing and I am left in peace. But I get tired of resisting the constant siren song to join the crew of life livers.  The price is always paid later, by me alone.

When I got home, I had an aircraft carrier sized headache. I seriously doubt anyone else spent three days in bed because they went a little too far on that walk. I’m sure no one would have resented my stepping out of the crowd for a few minutes here and there.  And I’m sure no one’s day was made, or life saved, or weekend perfected by my NOT taking a rest. 

And on day two of my migraine, arose the dreaded question: to medicate or not to medicate.
With a strange smile from the doctor, I was prescribed a morphine based drug (we’ll call Mr. T) for an internal rupturing issue, “You are really going to like this and it should help with your headaches too.”  Where other pain medication just put me to sleep, still in pain, with dreams to illustrate the amount of pain I am still in, Mr. T makes the pain mostly go away. And once the pain is away, there is a feeling of ecstasy that supplants it.  I feel so incredibly good, a half asleep, half orgasming state, where I don’t want to eat, or have sex, or sleep for real because I already feel utterly fulfilled in every possible way. I can function fine during this time.  I couldn’t at first. But with some acclimation, I became able to drive and cook and do all of the other inane tasks of daily living.  But it’s a sad waste of Mr. T when I have things to do because Mr. T is best when lying in a dark room.  To the outside world, I function like I still have a migraine, but up in my head, I have the exact opposite, whatever that’s called.

crew race beneath SR 99
With increased tolerance, came withdrawals. The next day I feel sick to my stomach. I have an average headache that can be dealt with through ibuprofen but I’m angry. I’m bitter.  And I hate the world as I cling to the toilet.

Mr. T stops the migraine, but at a cost of two days. One to enjoy on credit and one to pay with shark interest.  

Then I took Mr. T after an argument with Huck because, dammit!, I deserve to feel good.  And then I took it because I was bored. I’m still not even done with the first bottle, that’s how fast this happened.  

I realized this was headed into the abyss. Each time I crave relief, I began to ask myself if I would like a day of withdrawals. The answer eventually made its way to “no.” My fear of suffering seems to be greater than my need for ecstasy.  That and Mr. T has become weaker. He only seems to mute the migraine for a day. That’s why we aren’t friends anymore, we are more like estranged lovers who angrily stash old love letters out of sight but can’t seem to forget where we hid them.

This solves nothing of my migraine problems.  I still must take Mr. T, the only proven remedy, as mediocre as he’s become at it and I can’t bring myself to up the dose. I tremble in fear at the withdrawals that would create.

With emotional pain, I’m becoming better and better at working with it. I’ve learned how to feel and let it go, how to go emotional ragdoll and let it tumble me, how to use it to understand myself without trying to control it. And sometimes I can even manage to dive into the waves, rather than let them crash me.  But I can’t find a similar path through physical pain that stops my breath, robs me of light and sounds and makes me a below-bridge troll; this is harder.  If I simply try to breathe through it like a difficult emotion, I can’t do anything else.  But life has its demands. Kids count on me. Bills must be paid. People got to eat.  Life goes on like a bullet train. 

This isn’t some strange problem no one’s ever seen before. The numbers in the newspaper are clear on that. We need pain relief, but all our options are dangerous. It’s common, this pain reliever addiction.  Has there ever been any other kind? At the heart of every addiction, there’s pain, internal and/or external, being pushed away, saved for another day, never convenient pain.  And it’s not pain like childbirth, pain that nearly rips you in half, but at the end of it there’s the most perfect kernel of a miracle squalling in your arms.  There’s no reward at the end of a migraine.  

Mr. T makes me feel ordinary, a drop in the ocean of humanity.  I’m no one special, just looking for relief from life’s inevitables, just like the next person. I haven’t risen above my humanity or found the turbo-human switch. I haven’t found another way to migraine. No amount of meditation, no herbs can slide me through the pain. As far as I can tell, it’s migraine until the end of the world unless Mr. T comes to help. 

I wouldn’t say Mr. T is an addiction as I’m not even done with the first bottle and it’s been over a year. But he’s a hint of it, a flirtation. But maybe I have other addictions: reading, people pleasing, adventures and activities, the word “yes.” The battle that rages inside all day and every day is this: me vs. me.  It’s a war between the best interests of my essential self vs the best interests of my real, physical self. Mr. T is one day of icky consequences, my inability to refuse activities is a week.

Maybe there’s a spectrum of addiction and we’re all somewhere on it, all of us, making the same choices over and over again, despite their damage. Maybe it’s just a regular old conflict of self-interest: which self and which interest wins today? Maybe it’s not even a conflict, just a teeter-totter and sometimes one side cherry-bombs the other. 

But before the navel-gazing pity party rager spills out of the house and onto the front lawn, you should know that my headache was finally healed in what felt like a miracle, the laying on of hands. I decided to go ahead and give my regularly scheduled Craniosacral Therapy a try and if it didn’t take, the ER was close by. Shauna, my Craniosacral Therapist, has been working effectively with my exquisitely sensitive brain for nearly a year. It’s slow going as I feel everything so intensely she can only shift my bashed cranium a teeny bit at a time. And although it’s been quite effective for me, I wasn’t sure she could take my 12 out of 10 pain points headache.  But she did. She took it down to a 2/10.  

Mr. T, there’s a new game in town; watch your back, fool


Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Familiar Memorial

Fresh off a Two Hour nap, I attended a 40th Birthday Party for a friend recently. I felt myself as myself in perfect clarity.  These moments come now and again, more frequently.  The fog and strain of just figuring out what is going on subsides for a minute, and my essential self beams out, sometimes with a clarity and power that I have never known before.  It was a wonderful party and I was fully capable of enjoying it.
Sunflower stamens

But it was stressful to get there, to the party.  Coyote would not co-operate unless he could bring his new laptop, recently purchased with his own stash of birthday money.  I was pretty sure there'd be a surging sea of children threatening to overwhelm and drown everything else out and a computer would just get smashed, or lost, or forgotten.  It was stressful.  He trampled my last nerve.

It was just before equinox, and the days are shorter now than they have been for 6 months. After 38 full years here on this planet, the shift still catches me off guard. Our giant old orange cat, King Louis, was on the door step as we all stampeded out of the house, fuming and fussing, that night. I didn't know how long I'd last at the party (3 hrs!!), and I couldn't remember when it got dark, so I shooed him in.  He's old and slow, and would have been vulnerable to coyotes, an entree served on a silver platter with fork and knife and napkin.  I didn't see Blue's cat, small and black and young and quick -Cosmos- anywhere, but we'd only be gone a little while and I couldn't think through the chaos of leaving that night. He'd handle that okay, right?  We'd left him out past dark several times, even when we've been home, just because we forgot to bring him in.

King Louis was a shelter rescue who's been with us longer than Coyote.  We walked into the shelter and he rolled over the second he saw us and let us pet his tummy. We knew that was our cat instantly.  Impossibly huge, not fat, just enormous, he's elicited oohs and ahhs and shock from all visitors, usually like this, "Oh my god! Look how huge that cat is!"  Louis has always loved kids and has attended every birthday party my kids have had.  No skiddish kitty under the bed is he. He's a wise old cat too.  Up until a year or so ago, he would pop outside for five minutes and come back with an expertly disemboweled mouse or gofer. He's not hunted in some time now. Six years ago, when we move to Wenatchee, he went missing for three weeks.  We were sure he was dead, but then he showed up on the other side of town, skinny and confused, but alive and ready to be rehabilitated into our family.  But he's old, he's 15 or so now, and has renal failure.

And when Blue said she wanted a kitty for Christmas three years ago we figured that would be good timing. The new cat could learn all of the old cat tricks from Louis.  And we'd have someone to cuddle with when Louis kicks the bucket.  But that is not to be.

Chillin' on the clean laundry on the airhockey/laundry table
We all feel sad that we missed King Louis's obviously completely adorable kitten years.  And so Blue was set on a kitten.  After checking out every damn shelter, all kitten-less that Christmas, we finally went to a store.  It was full of kittens that they'd procured from all the shelters to keep their Christmas stock able to meet demand. The only requirements we gave Blue were that the kitten not be bat shit crazy.  She picked a calm black one and we were off.

He was adorable and way crazier than he first seemed.  He kept us up all night needing pets and attention.  He scratch every basket in the house to smithereens, despite having a centrally located scratching post.  He ruined the front door, despite the spray bottle squirts.  He did not care a whit about learning from the old wise cat.  He played with the mice instead of crushing their skulls.  He'd stand at the top of the stairs and bat at you as you walked down, pretending to be a panther in a tree.  We turned that into high-fives  And, tellingly, when we opened the door to the great outdoors, King Louis stands there and sniffs and if anything smells amiss, if there is any sign of trouble in the air, he turns around and stays in. Cosmos careened straight out the door with his devil-may-care attitude. And yet we adored him. So cuddly and small and perfect.

We couldn't find him that night after the party.  We yelled and searched. He'd been gone overnight a time or two before.  And Blue was confident he'd be on our porch in the morning.  He wasn't.

I think we've clarified here that I mostly hate people. I hate talking to strangers. I hate it all since my head injury.  But I've called every neighbor I have a number for. I've even done internet searching for neighbors I don't have numbers for. I have not felt self conscious or nervous at all about bothering and indeed annoying the crap out of my neighbors.  CHECK YOUR BARNS! Did you check your shed, your garage? Did you check yet? I've posted signs on every newspaper and mail box for a mile.  I've talked to neighbors I've never met before.  I've approached other recluses and they were nice and we chatted for 45 minutes.  I careened my car into someone's gravel driveway, spewing gravel everywhere, to catch her. I have no idea what has come over me, but I think it has to do with my head injury and the sense of power and entitlement I now feel to be me, to advocate for what I want, to be annoying if need be. What do I care what you think of me? There is no judge, no jury and nothing hangs in the balance, in reality, if my neighbors find it annoying.  And imagine my surprise that none of them seem annoyed! Many have even checked back in with me and seem to care and understand! Apparently it is normal to do whatever you can think up to do to find your beloved cat. I can't think what I've been so afraid of.

I am also here, canvassing the neighborhood, to bring some healing to my own trauma, I think.  My mother never understood my love for my nervous cocker spaniel, Lady, and my tuxedo cat, Charlie Chaplin (I was a huge fan of Chaplin's work and his style, wearing a bowler hat for much of 8th grade. I'm still a fan, finding more to love about him). When I was 15, my mother brought them both to the pound, not a no-kill shelter, where they'd get a few days reprieve among the masses of other discarded cats and dogs. I discovered this loss, I don't know how many days later, when I went to eat my breakfast on the front porch and no one came to lick my bowl. I asked my mother if she'd seen my cat and dog and she became very uncomfortable and said, "Well..."  She didn't like them, one had fleas, and we might move in a few months. I loved them, but that didn't matter to her, she couldn't hear that, believe that. She was a farm girl and cats were like rats to her.
8th Grade Graduation: found a dress to accommodate my bowler hat

A year and half ago some family members were going through old memorabilia and they found what was described to me as the most hilarious note from me to my mother, so funny, I just HAD to read it. In it I expressed my pain about her taking my pets to the pound.  It's clear that my mother was angry at me for being in a foul mood about it, and so I was explaining to her that without my pets to relieve my stress and sadness (I even cited pages from my health text book), it was unlikely I'd be pulling out of this funk any time soon.  So funny, right? the emotions of a bereft15 year old, hilarious stuff. I actually had to explain to them that it wasn't funny.  I'd somehow managed to nearly forget about the incident, to make up excuses about why it was okay, or I deserved it, or whatever, and move on with my life.  But this note brought it all back.  My mother apologized recently, nearly 20 years later; she says she has no idea what she could have possibly been thinking. But any time the loss of a pet occurs, I will be reminded of this. Apologies have been made and accepted, but it will always have happened. It will never not hurt when I talk about it.  It hurts to lose my pets, all pets, always. And it hurts to have been betrayed by someone I was hardwired to trust. And my guess is that this hunt for Cosmos is a bit about saying to the world and myself: hey! emotions are real, our relationships with our pets are real, and teen girls are real people who deserve respect and care.  It's about finding the cat, yes, but it's also about sending a message to my daughter and my wounded "inner teen" (is that a thing?) that we matter.

The kids were in the car when I pulled into old Marylou's drive way.  She was out sprinkling seeds for the quail (a.k.a. coyote bait) and I asked her if she'd seen our little black cat.  She has a black cat too, but she hadn't seen ours. She then launched in to an accounting of all the cats she's had that coyotes have taken, some right under her nose in broad daylight. Ixnay on the Oyotecays!!  Blue was right next to me, hearing all the gory tales. We are trying to hope that is not what happened.  The visual imagination is terrifying. Coyote began to wander out loud what Cosmos felt when the coyotes tore his leg off. (He was immediately hushed. He's 10 and it was no innocent wondering.) No, not to our kitty, that didn't happen to him. But Marylou persisted: once, someone driving by scared the coyote away.  And they brought the mangled, but living cat to her.  She assured them she was on the way to the vet and the good citified Samaritans left.  She took that cat out back and shot it. She eyed me, waiting for a reaction, for me, a relative newcomer to the country, to recoil. I would not give her the satisfaction so I said, "Yep, I grew up with shootin' kitties!"  It came out wrong, but had some truth to it. We had only boy cats that my parents never neutered.  Neutering was for chumps, despite the fact that Bob Barker reminded us how awesome it was after every Price Is Right, a popular show in our household.  Bob definitely got to me, but my parents remained impervious to his pleas. These cats, outside cats, disappeared every few years. We loved them, but they were accessories (By contrast, Charlie Chaplin was a neutered cat given to me, full grown.  He slept in my bed.)

Charlie Chaplin himself!
Once, a neighbor's pregnant cat made it's birthing bed in our basement.  At 7 I watched her poop out what looked like slimy mice and I thought it meant something was wrong with her digestive tract and was confused as to why I was pulled from the bathtub to watch.  One of her kittens found warmth and comfort in the car fan and had to be shot. I did not get the sense that my father enjoyed that activity at all.  But that is what I meant by "I grew up with shooting kitties!"  I meant that I knew that had to be done some times.

I disappointed her with my un-phased-ness.  And she persisted. The next time she saw that coyote coming up on another cat, she "went an' got my gu-un, and that sucker took off, the second he saw me with my gu-un."  Well, I wasn't sure I could take many more of these tales, so we skedaddled fast. And Blue says, "I forget some times how out in the country we live.  Gu-un.  She said 'Gu-un'!"

Turns out every neighbor has a tale or two of kitty to coyote loss.  It seems it's a right of passage here.
I told Coyote that if Cosmos isn't back by Sunday, I'm going to have to change his name.  But he loves his name, so I can't.

Slavin Reserve again!
Why not a chicken? I have five and I am completely unattached to them.  Sure, I love the fresh eggs, but they themselves are nothing to me. I'm just using them. I even have two black ones, if black was what that little fucker was looking for.  Please, eat my chickens! Half of them are too old to lay anyway and I don't know what to do with them. Eat them, please, it would be my pleasure.  But leave my kitties alone.

When do you grieve a missing cat? At what point do you call it? Why cry if that cat is going to come back in three weeks? But cry we will. And now the internet is just one big trigger-warning and is ruined for me now; just too many cute kitties. We miss him so much. I wake up at night and check the doors, not to see if they're locked, but to see if there's a little adorable black cat just outside them, needing shelter and food and water and pets.

The other night, some sound woke me up at 2am or so, and I wondered if it was little Cosmos, so I went to the door.  Something compelled me to step outside, into the dark night, into the stars, so numerous and bright out here.  There was a bit of cold on the edge of the breeze, and I let myself feel it.  I didn't shirk from it, or huddle away from it, but I let it chill me. I am, I exist here in four dimensions, in this body, full of senses.  And I heard them, the coyotes, echoing each other across Paradise Prairie.  Yipping and howling, not all at once, but one at a time, taking turns. It was so beautiful. It was so painfully beautiful. I love them, but they ate my daughter's cat so I can't love them. I don't know how to reconcile this. I just don't. This universe, so full of beauty, so full of everything my senses crave.  I was born to love it, to feel it, to know it. So much pain is here too; the distance between stars is long and cold and dark. Oh my vast cosmos! I love you and it hurts.

Excuse me while I kiss the sky


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