i don’t know about you, but i – most definitely – talk to my dog. not just the sit, stay, come, paw sort of talk-talk. no, i am talking about laying bare my thoughts and questions and deep despairs and utter joys.
dogga usually looks as though he is paying attention; he is a really gifted eye-contact dog – better than many people i know. he doesn’t act like it’s unusual that i am divulging my innermost fears or existential ponderings. instead, he keeps eye contact and listens, his ears moving forward and back as he recognizes words…or maybe it’s because he thinks i am drawing to a close. either way, he is a really good audience and, though he never answers in words, his presence is comforting and steady and sometimes that is all i need.
i do believe, however, that somewhere deep inside of him is all the knowledge. somewhere in there he is all-knowing and all that is divine can be found in our dogs (or cats) and we are fortunate to share any tidbits of life with them.
somehow dogdog knows that steadfast and quiet are the real answers. he knows that letting me lay my head on his side is reassuring. he knows that his job is simply to love me back.
he does that without any hesitation. his gentle snoring, the rise and fall of his body breathing in sleep, his eyes closed in trust – he models how to do life. one moment at a time.
and we find the simplest answers to our hardest questions.
because babycat, well, he rescued me. this black and white hulking tuxedo cat was not merely a cat. he was always an angel in disguise, just like all our pets are intended.
we – truly – miss him every day. and so does dogga. the alpha-in-the-house, babycat’s presence was part of the most basic of maslow’s hierarchy. he was as necessary to a sense of rightness-in-the-world as any of the physiological and safety needs.
i suppose as time continues to go on, the lump in our throats will ease a bit.
but as the hierarchy presses, rears its pointy head and pokes at us in these times, we gather dogdog and that babycat-angel around us and tuck in.
you cannot underestimate the connection. beyond joy, beyond telepathy, beyond sheer love, we are tethered with the silkiest, most incandescent beautiful strings to our pets. words do not explain this.
it is not quite a year ago now when babycat suddenly took ill and died. it was devastating to lose him, this cherished fattest tuxedo cat who had stood with me through some of the most difficult days in my life. he was there for all the tough stuff: divorce, empty-nest-entrance, loneliness, unexplainable challenges, loss of both my poppo and my sweet momma, wrist breakages, job losses, pandemic agoraphobic necessities. he was there for all the joyous stuff too, though his facial expression rarely changed for either end of the spectrum of emotions. most importantly, he was there. his lugging body soft in my arms, his purr softly – and not so softly – easing me to rest. i miss him.
babycat would be 13 today. it’s a made-up birthday he had all his life because he was a rescue kitty, found with no birth certificate or ancestry information. pronounced to be called “wilson” he never really knew his real name – the one on the initial veterinarian paperwork. he knew he was “babycat”, “b-cat”, “baby-the-c”; he had a theme song to prove it.
it is never easy losing a beloved pet. i still remember losing each treasured dog. those are moments you don’t forget. but babycat was my first cat. and i had no idea what to do. so i taught him to be a dog. he came when called. he sat when asked. he meowed when i said “speak”. he sat up for treats. he answered “meh” when i called his name out, looking for him. he refused, for his entire life, to wear a collar. and, for the first year or two or four, he – adoringly – bit my ankles when he wanted food. he propelled himself into the double-hung-window sills of this old house, watching the world go by. he laid by the dog’s dish, full of food, taunting him. they were the best pals, babycat and dogga.
dogga was second and he knew it. babycat was alpha in every way and he knew it. but there were those days you’d walk into the living room and they were laying next to each other in sunshine streaming through the windows. or you’d walk into the kitchen after breakfast and they would both be in there – sleeping. or you’d walk into the bedroom and there they were, together.
the day babycat died, a short time before i rushed him to the vet, he and dogga were laying on the bed with me. they nosed each other gently. it was an ultra-sweet moment. and i wondered after if they were saying goodbye. i fight the lump in my throat thinking about it.
i still wake sometimes thinking i am spooning the cat.
his long white whisker was on the black rug in the sunroom. i bent down and picked it up, my heart aching for this sweet adored cat no longer here. i taped it to a piece of colored paper, trying to hold on to babycat physically just a little longer.
b-cat was twelve. according to the almanac that’s about 64. it hadn’t occurred to me or us that he was a senior cat; he was simply our babycat and his presence was more than one-fourth of our home. his absence has made a profound impact; it is very very quiet. it’s not that he was that noisy, although he was a vocal cat. it’s just that he was that present. for each of us.
i was alone last week when it happened. in an unusual turn d was away and i was home. monday was a day of sorting and cleaning and rearranging. babycat spent the day in the same room as me and split his time between snoozing and pets. nothing out of the ordinary, just extraordinarily normal. tuesday morning was unexpected and will break my heart for some time to come. suddenly symptomatic and ultimately laying down behind a chair i never remember him exploring, i knew things were dreadfully wrong. racing babycat in his blanketed dog-crate (since he was too big for cat carriers) to an urgent veterinarian appointment, i spoke to him the entire way while he loudly meowed and i could feel hope leaving my body. there are moments that feel surreal and, like other losses in my life, this was one. over a covid-enforced veterinary facetime app, a very kind and compassionate doctor explained the xray she had immediately taken and the dire implications of all that she could see suddenly impacting our beloved cat. babycat gave us no time to make longer term treatment decisions. he died on that tuesday morning in march, almost twelve years since my life had been graced by him as a kitten. and, in the way that death changes everything, i won’t be the same without him.
i’ve seen bumper stickers with pawprints that read “who rescued who?” each time i nod my head, understanding. babycat came to me at a time of great need. my girl and my boy and i drove to florida to pick up this kitten who had come to stay at my niece’s doorstep, with no evidence of a missing owner. a first-time-cat-family, we drove “cat”, who we were having trouble naming, all the way home, trying to figure out how to feed and water and potty-break a cat on the way, when all our experience was dog-based. somewhere along the way babycat was named “wilson” but he chose to never answer to that and picked “babycat” as his given name. we taught him to sit, to beg, to come when called. he meowed when we said “speak” and was a lot more dog than cat in many ways.
babycat – in the wisdom of the animal kingdom – followed me around in moments of loneliness, insisted on regimented times for meals, showed me that the sun on the rug in the living room was something to soak up, sat with me on the floor. baby-the-c’s constant companionship was my solace in empty-nest-initiation and his lack of stealth was a bit of noise i desperately needed around me. so much to say about that little creature. yes, who rescued who?
his absence now is, if possible, even bigger than his presence. babycat love – ours and his – surrounds me.
sarcasm is babycat’s modus operandi. his viewpoint is much more cynical than dogdog’s, who is a tumbling optimist. dogdog listens to the rise and fall of our voices and reacts accordingly. babycat merely takes a look at things and lists his sweet hulking body to the sardonic.
we read it on a wall in chicago: “everything will be ok.” i really want to believe that. there’s so much.
we are not 65. nor are we essential. workers, that is. so it will take some time before we are eligible for vaccines. the mutation of the virus sounds like it will give the vaccine a run for its money and, still, we drive past full restaurant parking lots, bustling bars.
yesterday was the year mark on my broken wrists. my right wrist refuses to cooperate, having been stunned into re-injury in september. i wonder how it will be in the future. there’s a lot i want to do with that wrist.
we are sharing the crossroads of before and after with the millions of unemployed people in this country. we search for ways to use all we have learned, all we have done, all we have experienced, to make a difference in the world today.
we wonder about people who used to be an integral part of our lives. we try to understand things that have no real explanation. i try to shove the grief into a corner and the anger into another corner and take off the boxing gloves. we hike on the snowy trail and those gloves are nowhere to be seen. but reality returns back in the car somewhere on the way home and then we try to move beyond the big disagree, this thing that lurks, the poison that was pointed my way.
we watch from afar, our hearts hurting, as d’s sweet dad is moved into care, out of his home, away from his wife and all that he used to recognize. we tether ourselves to our phones to field any calls from his momma as she tries desperately to deal with all the details, the loneliness and worry and fear that brings her. she made sure he has his record player and records to listen to and she yearns to be around people at a time that is most dangerous.
and we scroll through the news. our sigh of relief with this new administration is consumed by lies perpetuated by complicit voices of violence, of extremism, of overthrow. it takes our breath away to read of legislative branches, in states and in the federal government, making excuses for the dreadful and inexcusable mayhem, the inciting of riot, in our nation’s capitol. racism, gender-discrimination, ignorant social injustices are rampant. the chasm is ever-widening and the bridge is ever-crumbling.
like a non-dangerous heat-seeking missile, babycat searches for the warm spots in the house. when the sun pours in the front windows, you will find him laying on the rug in the middle of the room. when the sun is higher in the sky and no longer checkers the rug, he will seek out the next. he can be found next to the radiator in the girl’s room, on the dog (read: cat) bed next to the radiator in the sunroom, on the bed waaaay up by the pillows, just above the radiator over the windows. he seeks comfort. he’s one smart cat. especially when he is tuckered out.
as this year-of-years comes to a close, it would seem that we are all tuckered out. yesterday we saw a wooden trivet for sale – beautifully crafted with cuts made by (i’m guessing) a jigsaw or scrollsaw. the very center featured the carved number 2020. from the center, there were what resembled fragile flower petals forming the rest of the trivet. each of those petals featured was carved intricately around one four-letter word: the one that starts with an f and ends with a k. yup. we should have purchased it. it seems fitting. sooo tuckered out.
we have only a few days left of this year. what shall we do with them? it has been my tradition, with calendar in hand, to review the year – at the end of the year – to see the rise and fall of breathing through all of it, the things we accomplished, the things that failed, the places we went, the times we shared with others. you know, the whole roller coaster ride.
this year i’m not sure if that would be fun, however. we are tuckered out.
this year we might just curl up next to the radiator and rest.
van morrison said it: “i want to comfort you. i want to comfort you. i want to comfort you. just let your tears run wild like when you were a child. i’ll do what i can do. i want to comfort you. you put the weight on me…i want to comfort you.”
how is it that, in the middle of feeling low-low-low, these sweet animals know exactly what to do? tucked under an old quilt, dogdog and babycat jumped up on the bed, searched my face and snugged up tightly right next to me, bookends on either side.
there are days – in these times – we must all feel the anguish of mental health exhaustion, of wide-awake anxiety, of worries too steep to climb, struggles, fears to which we close our eyes, wincing in pain.
there are days we reach out to others, extending words of reassurance, tiny tidbits of humor, virtual hugs, care packages, texts of love.
there are days we can only lay under a quilt. we sort and sort through the stuff-in-our-brains, listing the realities of our angst, wondering, reeling, succumbing to lonely early winter darkness.
if only it were so easy as to be dogdog and babycat. with no hesitation, they simply comfort. their response is pure. their compassion is the stuff of unconditional love. they don’t make assumptions or have judgement. they don’t assail with questions or platitudes. they don’t slough it off or explain it away. they don’t ignore it.
instead, they show up. and it is absolutely clear to me that they are saying, “i want to comfort you.”
sensitive souls, dogdog and babycat study us, follow us, respond to our auras. their questioning gazes, locking eye-to-eye contact, belie all manner of thought and wondering going on in their minds. they are clearly concerned. in moments of high anxiety, moments of shorter fuses, moments of tears, they pace, uncertain how to help, uncertain of what they might do to resolve the angst. in moments of laughter, moments of gaiety, moments of teasing, they play along, happy to be a part of the joy-joy.
lately, after deep behavioral study of us and subsequent research, they have made a few requests: stop reading the news, stop wondering when orbit-people are going to be honest and forthcoming, stop checking the weather for a late warm spell, stop worrying.
they checked in with d on this; it was a meeting of the minds. “momma is clearly distressed. she is agonizing over things she has no control over. we want to help,” they told d.
as he relayed this to me, i asked, “what did you tell them?”
he said, “i told them that, though daunting, stress is a fact of life for people. i told them that fretting, even brooding on things, is a part of people’s every day, of their makeup, that there are so many things to be besieged with, things over which to be troubled.” he continued, “i tried to explain the political chaos, supreme court indignities, the financial strain, healthcare issues, the fear of the pandemic, racial, gender and sexual orientation inequality, pointed misogynistic behaviors, the isolation…”
“wow. what did they say? what did they do?” i asked.
“they stared at me, blank-eyed, and said, ‘can we have a treat?'”
we passed the daisy on the trail and i went back to take a picture. it was instant recognition of “loves me, loves me not” as i saw it. the questions we threw willy-nilly to the universe, the don’t-step-on-a-crack, knock-wood, bread-and-butter reflexes of our 60s-70s childhoods.
were it all still to be so easy.
i remember sitting in the grass making clover chains. i remember the transistor radio playing on the bazooka bubble gum beach towel. i remember playing in the woods out back with the neighbors. i remember kickball in the street and badminton and croquet in the yard. i remember hula-hoops and skateboards on my driveway. i remember the “boing” the pogo stick made. i remember koolaid and ice pops that seemed to never run out. i remember bike hikes with sue and carvel ice cream cones with chocolate sprinkles. i remember frisbee at the beach and making apple pies. i remember listening to cassettes and practicing piano. i remember the trunk of the maple tree against my back, the branches holding me as i wrote. i remember the sound the pressure-filled-from-the-sun-light-purple-hosta-flowers along our sidewalk made when popped. i remember it was time to go home when it got dark and i remember catching fireflies in jars with holes punched in the lids. i remember sunday drives and picking apples and kentucky fried chicken on picnic tables further out on the island. i remember cabins in state parks and wide-eyed flirting with older lake lifeguards upstate. i remember duck ponds and friendly’s. i remember my puppy riding in my bike basket and ponytails. i remember loves-me-loves-me-not.
it seemed an innocent time. a time of marvel. a time of safety. never did i wonder if my parents loved me. i just knew.
babycat just rolled onto his back, all four paws outstretched, his big black and white belly just begging for a pet. he doesn’t ask questions. his world is relatively small – since his kittenhood adoption, the littlehouse was the only other house he has known other than our house. yesterday we brought him and dogdog into the basement as the tornado siren went off. dogga was nervous but babycat adapted, finding a place to lay on the carpet. his only demand is for food, several times a day with clockwork precision. otherwise, he is unconditional. his presence in my life has brought me eleven years of a gift i really needed when he arrived.
babycat is laying right next to me now as i type. tucked close in, his snoring is punctuated only by his purring – it’s a two measure repeat in 4/4, each breath a half note. it is the 11th anniversary of his “gotcha day” and he’s marking the day with a celebration of naps. no worry of “loves me, loves me not” crosses his mind. he just knows.
As FACEBOOK continues to block my blog from posting, please consider following this blog. There is a button on this page that will subscribe you. Of course, you are free to unfollow at any time. Thank you for your consideration and for reading. xo
we put out a different water bowl in the kitchen for dogdog and babycat. neither one of them will drink from the bowl. we put their old water bowl in the next room, filled with water, so that they will be able to hydrate, but we were hoping that they would adjust to the new one. neither one of them will drink from the bowl. in the world they inhabit, one that must have low level anxiety frequencies they can feel from the-whole-outside-world, they do not like change. it’s been days and neither one will drink from the bowl.
in the past months and in what now feels like a broken world, we can face forward. we can set intentions and take one baby step at a time, all in unequivocal love of all humankind. we can be light for each other and we can hold fear tenderly. we can look newness of change eye to eye as we learn, challenge the status quo, embrace compassion and principle and stride confidently into a new time.
we can sit by the new bowl, encourage our dog and cat to drink from it, recognize their fear of the unknown, of change, and just love them.