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I skipped out early on summer and plunged into the coolish Boston atmosphere, late August. I dream of leopards and other jungle cats, wolves and coy dogs stalking these suburban streets. I was surprised at first, but now I am used to their cackling through the nights from varying proximities. My cat got away for a week and a day. He’s always been an indoor/outdoor. I’d leave the door open and he’d come and go as he pleased. We took our old routine to the road, me dribbling into the laptop while he bathed in the sun at the threshold of an open door. One night at dusk, I went inside for dinner and a movie with my cousin. I left the door open, the sun descended. Hendershot left and did not come back.
If you know Hendershot, which many people do, you know this is out of character. He is a tall wizard cat. Friends call him the President. He’s been known to corner a pit bull-husky mix with such fervor, the dog peed on the floor. He’ll steal bacon while it’s cooking on the stove. When a drunk person intruded through my back door, he defended our home at my side. When our house burned down, I took him camping with me for a month and we roamed the forest together every day. He always follows me back to the tent.
I don’t believe he left my cousin’s house in Saugus because he was disoriented from the move. He had been prowling around for a week on his own, coming and going at his presidential discretion. I think that big-ass neighborhood racoon chased him away. He’s contended with wildlife from Pittsburgh to LA without problems, but every warrior loses sometimes. I pounded the pavement with flyers, I knocked on every neighbor’s door, I called every local vet and shelter, I posted on Facebook. After a week and a day, at 10 PM, I took a weed gummy and prepared to drift to dreamland, when a woman from a local shelter called to say she found my cat. I could tell by the tone in her voice that she was not lying. By 11 PM, Hender was back with me, skinny, fluffy from being rained on. Happy. The weed gummy kicked in and Hender ate a whole can of tuna.
But I could not share our joy with everyone because I could not share my pain when I was in the thick of it.
When my house burned down, all my friends and family showed up to help. I was out of town, so the people I called ran over straight away to empty my house of all my things before thieves could take advantage of my absence. Plane tickets were bought to prematurely end to my vacation. Saturday afternoon parties received tardy guests. My smoke-damaged turtle was driven thirty miles to a reptile hospital, where my friend who brought them there had to learn harsh truths about euthanasia. She couldn’t handle it, emotionally.
The same person who drove my turtle to the clinic also let me air my smoke-filled clothes on her back porch, though she mourned the whole time as if death hung around her back door. She also promised to foster Hendershot for a month and a half until I took him on my adventure to Baltimore, commencing my life on the road. I planned a rambling pilgrimage, because I am thirty-one years old, single, no kids.
All of this was too much for her. She could have said no. I could have hung them elsewhere. I could have kept my cat at my uncle’s. I could have anticipated her desire to refuse, because I picked up this slack for her before. I’ve relied on my intuition when she runs out of words to accurately express herself. But I didn’t do that this time; my judgement mired in desperation and catastrophe. Perhaps she feels like I took advantage of her friendship, despite the gifts of succulents, wine, money and gift cards we showered her with, as well her understanding that I would have done all this for her, if her house burned down. We are genuinely grateful for how she helped, but that is not enough to float our relationship, at this point. I hope, at the very least, she understands this.
I could summarize my perspective of the schism of communication and all the nasty shit-talking details paving the way. It goes back to high school, when we’d write nasty things about each other’s vaginas on bathroom stalls. We maintained a partnership through our trying twenties: baby showers, funerals, the trenches of mildew-filled basements of housekeeping gigs, too many drugs, and chasing away malevolent, violent men off of each other’s porches. I know her intimately. I could spend infinity defending myself and trashing her, easily. We all know those arguments. “Nobody’s lying, still the stories don’t line up,” Ani DiFranco laments on my playlist. Superimpose your own tragedy, here. I’m only providing enough detail to convey the nature of Truth and question what that nature has to do with connecting with the people we love.
Suffice it to say, in the aftermath of my liberation/tragedy, she deemed my plans to travel with my cat as an abomination to cats everywhere, or something. She expressed her concern, I listened, on a few different occasions, I listened. But when I asked her to listen to my plans, she gathered herself like a cat waiting to pounce. I couldn’t thwart her image of me driving from coast to coast in a rusty, thirteen-year-old Hyundai, even when I told her I planned to sell my trusty steed. She painted a picture of a litter box in the backseat and wasted wet food cans on the floor, I guess she imagined I’d be free-bleeding, too. I don’t know, I think I was patient with her until I felt her encroaching too close to my PTSD triggers. I warned her, she didn’t listen, I yelled. I am not an angel. I am not preaching, here. I think we both fucked up.
When I yelled, she felt like I would never hear her concerns. Her feelings are based on our long history together. A week later, she asked me to find a new place for Hender within 24 hours (apparently her landlord wanted to show the apartment), but asking turned out to be a warning, because while I found somewhere to take him, she had already taken him fifty miles into rural PA to stay with her retired aunt. She said she didn’t trust me to figure out a plan B. Panic attacks froze me like winter in the tundra–not only because I feared losing my cat with everything else, but because someone I trusted through a tragedy was unable to keep their promises. She was unable to trust me.
I am not self-deprecating and I am not blaming. There are many holes in this story, many places for the reader to require more details to judge for themselves who is right and who is wrong. This is not about justice; not a quest for harmony. It’s about brokenness and the cumbersome permanence thereof. Sympathize with the Pisces writer or the Virgo subject of this story.
The chasm did not form from sudden impact, insight from the fire illuminated the slow erosion. Fifteen years of loving each other, not always liking each other, redefining love to accommodate each other’s perceived transgressions–we had each other’s backs, but we didn’t share each other’s truths. We would compensate each other’s weaknesses without talking about our needs. We formed grooves, habits, perspectives of each other that worked well enough to get a job done, but we missed the truth, somehow. We violated each other by not communicating; by not trusting our ability to communicate. Sometimes we simply didn’t like what the other person had to say.
And in lieu of communicating, we projected our personal insecurities onto the other person.
“For those grounded in truthfulness, every action and its consequences are imbued with truth.” Yoga Sutras 2:36
Telling the truth can be a one-time event, but Satya means dedication to living one’s truth. Embarking on that mission, we discover limitations in our respective perspectives. Our ego protects our individual perspective because we build an identity in relation to other people. We create habits to function accordingly. When circumstances require us to change our habits, a monumental shift occurs in our perspective. My perspective is shifting like cramps squeezing menstruation onto my thighs. I’m seeing things from a new vantage point and I am grounded in the shift.
I barricaded in a house to excuse myself from difficult conversations. Up-to-standard relationship maintenance lagged in my solitary dissociation. When the house burned down, so did my ability to hide. So, I mourn my turtle, my shelter, my old habits and unevolved perspectives. I see now, over-reliance on reptilian intuition stunted communication. Interactions cannot depend solely on the temperature of the environment. Human, mammalian, maternal instincts kick in. I don’t want to repeat this tragedy where I lose people who are dear to me. After all, this is the true Sadness.
Relationships are the truest shelter. Maintaining this is everything to me, now. How do I stay grounded in truthfulness when the truth is subjective? How do I nurture strong relationships when the nature of the ego is to satisfy myopic goals? How do I communicate with people who don’t believe in my personal evolution? I could not celebrate the victory of Hendershot’s homecoming openly because I am vulnerable to criticisms and “I told you so’s.” Of course, I feel guilty. I’ve questioned my decisions and my ability to care for my cat, myself and others. Hendershot stays inside now, to his wild frustrations. I am sorry that I’m too much of a pussy to let him out. He mourns like a teenager grounded for life the first time they’re busted. He could be so much more. Catches ten mice a day when left to his own devices; takes hikes through state parks like a dog. Cats get lost all the time in these weird suburbs. High rates of lost cats, local animal shelters told me. Wild animals swarm the night, as their natural habitats shrink. I should have listened to my cousin’s husband when he told me this, but I was too cocky. Even with Hender at my side, I still post by a window from dusk until dawn, listening. Wild animals infest my dreams when I finally sleep. Conflicted. I keep it inside.
Her truth is not my truth and her reasons for not trusting me are her own. She has known me since I was a hippie punk adorning white-girl dreads. Now I am trying to evolve. I’m sure she is, as well. To remain true to ourselves, we need to surround ourselves with people who believe in us and accept us, warts and all.
My mom repeats to me, recovery is a process. My cousin reminds me that my intentions are love. My best friend advises me, I shouldn’t feel the need to do anything differently.
I trust my instincts. I know myself.
And I know my cat.