“Loneliness comes with life.”

I have this odd thing about milestones, an internalized pressure I have to have a good day. I’m supposed to, you know. On Christmas, Valentines, my birthday. That “supposed to” leaves me little room for being human, being fallible, making mistakes, not knowing what’s going on, committing errors. It’s not a very good force in my life, that “supposed to”. I’m sure many people can relate.

It happens I used to feel some self-pity when my birthday came and I felt blue, or things didn’t work out to my satisfaction, or the boyfriend wasn’t nice or I didn’t have a girlfriend or whatever. A long time ago, I think, the self-pity bit. Because several years ago I realized I had been given a very special life to live. Maybe this sea change germinated during my 17th and/or 18th birthdays, where both years my close friends pulled off some excellent surprise party-age for me; two years in a row tricking me, by the way – I was totally convinced nothing special was going down (and yes, I felt self-pity before the “SURPRISE!”, then felt like an ass, predictably). Or my 21st where I got a car with a bow on it from my parents, after a lovely dinner at the posh little restaurant my brother-in-law worked at. Or my 30th, the last few days in Port Townsend, when I had the most overwhelming and lovely going away/birthday party (P. remember you came down with gastritis?!). Or just the many little and brilliant things that have happened on so many birthdays. The small little stack of cards on my shelf right now with wonderful things written in them from good friends.

I have had in my life a lot of love and many wonderful friends. They’ve given me so many gifts: their time, their handcrafted wonderfulness, their gifts, sometimes quite extravagant, their gifts, usually knowing me and what I adore. They’ve given me their company and their kind regards and even those emails and little DMs and IMs and texts and handwritten cards. They’ve given me flowers and cakes topped with flowers, and wrapped-up lusciousness and very dear perfumes which were a pleasure to apply every morning. They’ve given me coffee and teas and soaps and candles and lipsticks, those things in life that make such a gift out of the smallest rituals. They’ve given me their company whether I felt happy or blue, whether I was being selfish or rude or distracted or happy. They’ve given, given, given.

They’ve gifted me all this and more.

I can only say Thank You to these friends and family; I can only say Thank You to the universe and re-commit to appreciating those in my life. I can re-commit to being kind and telling these people how I feel. I can only commit to taking more care to gift others, not out of obligation but because they are special people to me and gifting is a wonderful privilege. This sounds like only a little, but it is a lot. It is easy to get distracted and to not appreciate those in life when they are right here with us, to love or ignore, our choice.

I seem to have less of a mind for detail than I used to. I used to be able to remember so many things the kids and I did and I would write them all up here on this journal. Reading my old entries causes me pain. I think I was funnier, I know I had more pain and was more crass, I know I had more drama, but I think I’m still about as passionate. Still, I can only write as well as I do.

Here’s one event from the day: Phoenix and I were lying in bed this afternoon as I didn’t feel well (seriously I really did injure myself on that dance floor last night, my creaky old joints need more practice!), and she started making fun of my saggy boobs (they aren’t that saggy, but, whatever). And she was going on with quite a bit of prose on this fantasy so like really quickly all of a sudden I grabbed at her and poke-tickled her ribs (my brother had this move down with his boney-ass fingers) and she collapsed laughing and said, “I love insulting you!” and I said I would smash her flat, and she said, “You can’t control who you gave birth to!” and I said, “I know, and I immediately regret the choice to have you!” and we laughed really hard.

Then she fell quiet for a moment and corrected herself that yes, I could have chosen to not birth her, or to birth her but not raise her. And she grew somber and said how people who had too many cats would take a new litter and put it the creatures in a bag and throw it in the water. I said, “Yes, that is a sad thing.” She said, “It’s awful.” Then she said, “I think people might be doing this right now,” and her perfect little mouth was quite grave.

And I said, “Now that you have that awareness you can take care of animals, and teach others the value of caring for life.”

And Phoenix said, “What I’d like to do, is cross-breed kittens with snakes. Then if someone went to put them in a bag, [ mimics hissing / striking action ].”

Kitten-snakes.

So anyway, that’s one of the people I live with, and how their mind works.

Oh and yeah? It turns out, after a rough start, I did have a very nice birthday.

***

R.I.P. Whitney Houston; & here I have a dedication to my homegirl J., remember when we used to watch this in the apartment on 8th?

connected relationships

Tonight I was honored to be invited to the home of a grieving family. A little past midnight, and I’ve just returned to my own home, husband, and children. I am tired. But I am grateful for the wisdom not to run from death, and not to leave alone those who need our presence, our prayers, our practice, and our practical assistance.

Tonight I am also grateful for spiritual traditions which give me more dividends every day. I am considering a ceremony of some small sort  to commemorate taking refuge in the Three Jewels. I have some more study to do and a few people to talk to.

Today my son brought me two gifts he purchased with his own money. I am daily reminded that through many mistakes I have done surprisingly little damage to my children; or perhaps, even in these last ten years I repeatedly saw fit to change and undo the damage I could. Our connectedness is really quite profound.Perhaps their health is mostly credited to their own strengths. At home, living then going out and returning, I receive much respectful and loving speech and the kindness and kisses and hugs of children very much alive in their own skin. I reflected tonight that perhaps even from their infancy, when I was determined to set aside an income and material possessions to nurture them as best I could, that this was a wise decision. This decision seemed to come from something deep within myself and separate from my Ego, a decision separate from my own greed, fear, insecurity, and worldly desires.

I am very tired tonight. It was my intention to write a bit here, as I like to write best, things that some said to me and events that happened. Some of these involve other lives and I therefore am anxious to keep private what others may need private. I am also very weary and individual instances that might be shared without hurting others, are not flowing easily from my fingertips.

I will say I learned a few things today. One is that I will not practice resentments or judgments against other living beings. The second is that my past is my greatest asset, and must be understood to the best of my ability in order to help myself and others. The final, a more practical manner, is that sitting on a cold surface may bring the onset of hemorrhoids, and that at the very least one should place a magazine between our posterior and cold cement.

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. – Mother Teresa

burn it as fuel for our journey

This summer while waiting for a friend I sat in a sunny living room and talked with a young man and his mother. The young man was a little more interested in my conversation than his mother seemed. He was watching a documentary I’d seen not two weeks before and had really enjoyed. He and I had a brief but interesting discussion and I thought how pleasant it was to talk with someone who had such a spark and such an intelligent mind.

Today that young man committed suicide in that same home I sat in a few months ago.

I know the family. They are friends. If I sit here and feel stunned and think maybe there could have been something, some clue, something I could have done, I can only imagine what his close friends and family must feel. As a mother it is painful to consider the implications of today.

We are all, each of us, such crystal-clear and breathtakingly beautiful phenomenon. The idea that someone can suffer so much as to end such a living breathing unique manifestation is quite sobering to comprehend.

Today, the 27th, is the monthly date anniversary for sobriety. I had forgotten until I saw the date in a book. My friend gave me a little gift. Afterwards I took my children to the Y to go swimming and, while they cavorted, attended a Board meeting for the local Buddhist group where I was indoctrinated into service. I picked up lunch for the children and met another friend back at the Y and we ate and talked and enjoyed each other’s company.

Today is a day for holding tight that which we value.

cemetery walk

Edit: apparently my template designer had a flaw in the code which was being exploited. Some readers have commented on problems with my site. Hopefully all is fixed as of a few re-installs today!

A couple weeks ago my kids found a trail that even I didn’t know about despite years of climbing about on trails in Hoquiam; this particular path wound from the north area of our burg up to a rather forgotten corner of the cemetery. Nels and I ventured out the other day when I couldn’t get out of my head and needed time with my son. The heat was oppressive – for me at least, but The Boy didn’t seem to mind.

Nels, Cemetery

(The bag Nels packed carries compass, water, and a magnifying glass. He picked up some “seeds” along the way, items he found at the base of a few trees.)

18 Year Old, 8 Year Old

A grave of an eighteen year old and an eight year old, different dates of death. Siblings, cousins? I don’t know. Spooky memorial ducks, though.

Olde

Some of the graves were very old…

Illegible

And several were rather illegible, although a rubbing would probably reveal their text.

Forgotten Graves

Many graves are sliding down the hillside. In the upper-left corner of the photo you see a dark tab-like shape,  just one of the many graves hidden in the flora.

Infant Grave, Sliding Down Hillside

A baby’s grave (“Infant dau. of: W.H. & Rose Dubray”), also ill-tended and I suppose forgotten although at some point in a few lives this event must have eclipsed an entire state of being.

Gordon's Dead.

“Gordon’s dead,” Nels is informing me flatly in this photo. I supressed laughter and explained the name was likely a surname, the stone marking a plot for a family.

Beetle

Nels caught a beetle and really wanted me to take a picture. He was quite tender with the creature; he can catch insects without harming them, even very quick ones.

***

The whole family has been working hard for an event tonight: a friend’s birthday party. The “theme” is 60s Karaoke and the food is Mexican/American potluck. It’s going to be a fabulous time. The guest list keeps growing but hey, that’s okay.

just to peel the potatoes

Bob is standing behind me, he sits and stands during the fireworks display here along the river, long hair and beard and biker leather jacket and riding chaps. Behind him Dana and Steve and then next to me Robin like a flower, a large blooming iris, sedate but wry good humor, here on my blanket. She’s beautiful, but shy about me taking a picture. What’s funny is our little group has accidentally situated ourselves under a speaker playing music – loudly – and there is such a crush of people in attendance there’s no point much in moving ourselves. This speaker plays a relentless series of increasingly patriotic tripe, including a country song about a three-day beard and cooking rice in the microwave and how awesome that is (what?), and then I think it’s Beyonce showboating “God Bless the USA”. Chris joins us on the blankets a bit later and hums or sings along the music, to much consternation from some members of the group, but upon the Armed Services Medley I know all the words to “Wild Blue Yonder” and “Anchors Aweigh” and such back from Veterens’ Day performances in choir. Then there’s Neil Diamond belting out “Coming to America” which inspires a vague wave of simultaneous nostalgia and nausea. “Jesus CHRIST,” groans Robin under her breath. And I laugh each comment she makes.

When the fireworks slam up ahead I feel increasingly astounded and it has nothing to do with the crowds or pyrotechnics or the friends or the hot coffee in my hand or the cold grass beneath my seat. I feel the presence of God, or Divine Chance, or whatever or whomever you might name unless you’d maintain none of that is real, but for me God is pressing down on me like squashing an ant, for the first time ever, in a way that surpasses experiences of pleasure or pain and carries not even a strong emotional response. How is it I am alive? is all that occurs to me. BOOM BOOM BOOM thunders in the sky and in my body. How is it I’m here to be this way, sober now some time and of a clean (enough) mind and on a blanket with friends and I’m given breath to draw. Normally I’d be heckling and hassling or running up to be with Ralph and the kids (who are scattered off at the playground with other kids and teens) but instead I stay on the blanket like I was assigned there and this particular duty was of utmost importance.

The fireworks finale is even more beautiful than the year before, or perhaps it’s just my state of mind and body and spirit, then people clap and I fold blankets and I hug my friends and wait for my family to join me. “Blood Moon,” the kids tell me when they arrive and I look and perceive the deep-red sliver they’re pointing to. Walking to the car and the air is cold but ripe with possibility and promise, and people run off to fight or drink or fuck (or all three) or maybe just slip into a hot bath and then to bed (as I long to do).

It was a good day.

The trouble is, I can’t remember if it’s the thirteenth or the fourteenth

The couple sitting across the restaurant is drunk. Very drunk. Having, according to them, a “wonderful time”. Due to the history of my alcoholic family of origin and my as-yet-in progress healing, I am not relaxed around drunk and rowdy people. I’m only waiting until someone asks them to please move on, or please do not grab my ass, or whatever boundary is communicated, before a sudden sodden viciousness is levied against those who’d oppose their asshattery or dangerous hijinks.

But in this case we, the public, get off easy enough. The man of the couple manhandles the waitress, which she suffers as best as she’s able, but mostly they seem in the “friendly” category of drinkers (which is as far as I’m concerned often only a temporary phase; many who drink habitually to excess, I believe, are often self-medicating deep suffering and a hair trigger away from destructive behavior). Later I find out these two were on a blind date and finished two bottles of champagne before paying up and moving on to find a bar proper. They certainly have one thing in common at least. I wish them the best.

We had stopped for a pizza after attending the Washington State Ghost Society’s audit of the 7th Street Theatre, a closed event. We had bundled up in blankets and listened while Nels, disinterested, whispered in my ear loudly about his latest computer programming aims. Phoenix evaluated the replayed EVPs and read the Society’s report, cocking an ear, then levelly auditing their presentation efficacy while drawing monster after monster in my moleskine.

**

Today news reached us of the Tucson shooting which killed at least six people and injured twelve or thirteen (at the time I type this) in an anti-government mass murder. The youngest victim was a nine year old girl named Christina-Taylor Green, born on September 11, 2001 (yes, really) and recently voted onto her school’s council. Christina-Taylor was, in words of one family friend, “brought by her family to meet the congresswoman [Giffords, likely a target,] to see how government works”.

I don’t have words for how this has affected me; deeply. I feel so incredibly sad, a deep devastating sadness that permeates my every action today. This isn’t a left or right political issue (please watch the brief video of today’s statement made by Arizona Sheriff Clarence Dupnik). This should be a call for peace and for democratic, responsible and measured responses in our language and activism. Tonight I take a break from my Twitterstream where so many activists I typically respect (and as are my proclivities, are left-leaning) have today and in the past levied so much vitriol and violent language against those they oppose. Anger is a natural emotion and one that lets us know something is wrong; however, rehearsing that anger and revelling it and acting from that place has brought so much sorrow and suffering and devastation upon so very many (and is precisely irresponsible to those unbalanced or vulnerable). Today Christina-Taylor and the many others killed, wounded, and traumatized (as well as their families and communities) paid a terrible price.

Beacon
(Small Stone #8*)

Bridge lights and the illuminated structure
In the blue-black inert night
Rendered distant and cold
Close enough to touch

Small stone project

Unschool Improv: Not-so-great Expectations

friday untidy

Must-Reads of the Week
“Regrets of the Dying”, as written by a hospice nurse. Being with someone who’s dying was a deep privilege for me, and this article – though more about life than death – reminded me of this experience. Read and learn.

Grown Unschooler Cheyenne La Vallee: “Everyone has it in themselves to be passionate and motivated.” at Idzie’s blog. Out of all the stuff I’ve read and seen on the internet this week, this was the most stunning on a personal level. Reading an interview like Cheyenne’s gives me hope for our world.

Culture
“Play Nice” by Simon Rich from The New Yorker
I don’t know what’s more disturbing to me – the fact grownups think chldren are less-than-people so don’t feel, think, or notice the same stuff grownups do; or the fact some grownups recognize the personhood of children on some level but think it is their RIGHT to tromp all over them anyway.

Pop Culture
I got a monster dedicated to me on Monday, at Twisted Vintage. Which led me to searching up a color version and finding a thread full of awesome B-movie monsters, which are one of my favorite things, ever.

Some great points collated at Soc Images: “Gender, Boobs, and Video Game Characters”. It’s pretty funny how readers (well… maybe that’s the wrong noun, as some of them clearly did not read the article) instantly jump in and say, “But-but-but male figures are idealized too! It totally goes both ways!” First of all, hint, no it doesn’t, but nice try. Secondly, the post is meticulously linked to many arguments which delineate physical idealization (which absolutely applies to both genders) vs. sexual availability via tortured postures and under a consumptive gaze. Or to put it articulately: dur! The cited redrawn examples of the poses of male vs. female characters is particularly awesome and leaves me shaking my head but really reading the text and looking at the images and boggling at how so NOT “both ways” it goes. The original work (Wizard’s How to Draw: Heroic Anatomy) is a depressing one to fathom but I fear very representative of comic culture. “It’s the subtleties of this piece that make it sexy.” LULZLULZ

Here’s some adorableness from TheRealNimoy’s twitpic feed (which is great if you at all are a fan of “Star Trek” or Nimoy). The original ST was one of only two television shows I remember in the very brief time in my childhood that I was exposed to television in my home (or, bus, as it were). So these two were like half-assed second fathers, talking to me from a 12″ old-school box balanced on a narrow counter by the fold-up couches.

Professer goes on a rant (this is sort of an unpleasant watch, warning):

People like to toss out the phrase, “acting like a baby” or compare grownups who react in anger, in a social setting, to tantrum-throwing toddlers. However, of course, toddler emotional displays are developmentally appropriate and it is not children who have such thoroughly entrenched and fragile ego structures as so elegantly demonstrated here (note how the professor repeatedly demands the other students rat out the yawner – tattling FTW!). Incidentally I went to college and got a degree through a competitive and difficult program. It was grueling. I feel sorry for these students as to get the piece of paper they need (or believe they need) they have to put up with this guy. And lots of guys like him. And lots other bullshit. And no sleep. And etc.

Make/Craft
Self-Portrait Ski Mask at CRAFT
I’ll probably never be able to see a balaclava without a little titter about the balaclava perv who found me on my Flickrstream. This balaclava however is head and shoulders (uh…) above any I’ve seen before. Very fun, if a bit creepy!

Mexican Chicken Soup by Ina Garten; I believe I posted a picture of this earlier in the week. It is truly and amazingly delicious and perfect for the fuck-fuck-fuck-COLD some of us are experiencing!

Homemade Marshmallows, a recipe from my blog, which may or may not be Martha’s (I truly do not know). Any locals want in on these (or non-locals), shoot me an email at kelly AT hogaboom DOT org. I’m making them up on the 10th.

Random Excellence
From reader R. (you may see him as Kidsync), one of his occasional-but-always-golden comics:

Unschool Improv: Not-so-great Expectations

And from the BBC “My Blackberry is not working!”:

Well, I woke up this mornin’ / Didn’t know right from wrong

The phlebotomist gently pats on the hollow of my elbow, first one and then the other, trying to find the best vein from which to draw blood vials. When she finally decides on an arm I deliberately look away.  I am not going to faint or react in any external way but I dislike needles and dislike having punctures. I know in the moment I turn my head that in my nature (and my beaky nose and beady eyes) I have so much of my father in me.  I remember how many times I saw him do the same, turn away patiently, almost like a dog that is suffering but does so in quiet as that’s the only way he’s known.

I have not physically suffered as much as my father did, of course.  I remember watching him dealt with, a colostomy bag and endless shots and IVs and PICCs and shunts and all kinds of poisons and procedures.  I remember him turning patiently away so many times.

It’s his birthday today.  Were he still alive, he would have turned 67.  How I bitterly wish I’d have spent the last couple weeks obsessively searching for a gift, and thinking Would he like it?, and it’s just kind of a game that makes no sense (see: Sumatran coffee, I need to write this story down some time) because he didn’t seem to need presents or gifts or much of anything.  He’d be pleased because he loved me and I loved him; the gift was a little ritual of mine and that’s all.  But it would be joyous for me to buy him a gift and think of him and guess how he’d take it and then take delight in how unimpressed he was (but after all the joking and unwrapping and beer-drinking or whatever he always looked kindly at me and said, “Thank you”).  I miss the joy I took in this giving, especially these days when it feels I have fallen a bit flat at recognizing milestones for others and showing generosity.  Babies are born, birthdays pass, people move, and I feel I am not honoring these moments in the way I used to.

Honoring the moments, that is definitely a gift my father’s illness and death imparted.  The bloodwork I sit through today reminds me of a special time in my life; the categoric kindness and care these two professionals afford me this morning remind me of the almost categoric ministry that medical and death professionals showed him, my mother and me, during the years of my father’s illness, treatment, and death.  I was with them as much as I could be – traveling from Port Townsend, then moving to Hoquiam and visiting him at chemo and surgeries and routine or not-so-routine errands.  I’m glad for every moment I took.  Every moment.  It felt like these experiences were uniquely treasured by me at least, a nurse in faded, bright scrubs smelling clean and antiseptic and maintaining a glorious balance of cheer, and love, and impersonal, compassionate care.  This nurse, these many nurses, bright canvases reflecting back to us our love and care for this man.

He is gone now and yet today he is with me often, or thoughts of him are.  It would have felt spooky or even odd except it felt so grounding and sad.  At nine thirty I am able to break my bloodwork fast with hot black coffee and a salami sandwich on crusty french bread.  I drive the sun-spackled highway in total peace and quiet in the big old truck (the kids are home sleeping for the entirety of my morning errands) and I feel like he’s in the car with me.  Later I sit in on a talent show audition and my kids are still for only this act: a skinny young man plays a slide-blues guitar version of “Rollin’ and Tumblin'”, a standard my father loved (he once asked me to find the Muddy Waters track for him).  The boy doesn’t sing but plays energetically, gaining confidence, a thumping good rendition too.  I don’t like blues but my father did.  I think how much he would have liked to see this young man, whose joy for the music flies off his fingertips and shakes off his long hair.  A last hit on the strings, then the young man smiles in pleasure at his own performance, the feedback from the judges mattering less than the guitar, its own reward.

Tonight, just now as I type, my daughter puts “Teaser and the Firecat” on the hi-fi. We haven’t listened to vinyl in months nor this album for a year.  But both the phonograph and Cat Stevens were favorites of my father.  He used to enjoy selecting album after album and playing while my mother, brother and I talked on the couch.  This was family life for me as much as anything else.

Tonight I feel my father’s presence and it feels like sadness and joy and something never gained again.

Me haces falta, mi padre.

Tail Mustache

long post, but not twelve years long

Dad has put up both the bird feeders he got for his birthday (one’s a hummingbird feeder right outside the living room, and the other is a regular wood feeder for robins and such).  So when I bring my cat down she sits on the windowsill and tries to “catch” these birds from inside the house.  The double-paned storm windows that she continually bashes her thick little head into don’t seem to dampen her enthusiasm.  Everyone laughs at her, especially Billy [my brother], who resents how old and fat she makes Puma [Billy’s cat] look in comparison.  I have to admit she isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, that’s for sure.  Although to give her credit she is excellent at catching the flies in the house.  She catches one, releases it, catches, releases, etc. until she can manage to get a claw hooked in the curtains, at which point she decides to “kill” that too.

– letter to my sister Juliet, May 27, 1998

The other day Sophie [age 4] wrote this on the computer: “Sophie Daddy Mama Nels loves Blackie so much.”

– blog entry, November 14, 2006

The last couple weeks I’ve especially enjoyed the companionship of Blackie (we also call her Blackstone), my eldest kitty.  A svelte 7.5 pounds, a tiny little inky-black creature with a white bellypatch, in our new house she comes and finds me while I read or knit and sits either above me on the top of the couch, or just behind me on the floor.  She doesn’t sprawl, but pulls herself into a tiny ball, her paws and tail tucked.  Just thinking about my nearness she begins to purr loudly; it takes others considerable effort to incite that response.  I laugh because her purr is kind of rumbly and junky; it reminds me of when she was younger and would climb on my lap and begin to knead my chest.  The motion was always awkward and snappy and she had a look in her eye like it was not her but her cyborg arms doing the work; she didn’t know how it was happening.

Blackie came to me my junior year of college.  I was having a bad year.  I’d been left by my closest friends, had a bad breakup then a not-so-bad breakup in recent months.  School was hard yet boring; I was a lonely, crummy person and not a good friend to much of anyone.  My roommate J. brought the cat to our apartment one night, then left – J. was never home but stayed with her boyfriend across the city.  The cat hadn’t been especially cared for when she came into our apartment.  She’d been moved from an apartment full of young people to someone’s parents’ house; she came with a rather unfortunate name referencing drug-use since her original owners used to blow pot smoke or whatever in her face (I couldn’t bear to call her by this name but never did name her; the unfortunate and unimaginative “Blackie” was the result of my indecision).  She was a tiny, fearful little thing that hid under my bed and wouldn’t be cajoled out.

It wasn’t my cat and I didn’t give much of a damn about it at first.  I found the creature amusing, and silly, because it was so fearful and unappealing.  She seemed to not have the slightest bit of affection or grace.  She was unique in that most non-feral cats, especially young ones, will quickly seek out food and love and companionship; not so for this one.  She was like a solid, cold, shiny lump of dread and loathing.

I can’t remember how long it took her to begin venturing out from my bed.  But by the time my mother visited me a few weeks later, the cat had somehow attached to me.  I showed my mom a trick; I’d acquired a produce box with holes in it which I would lay on its side.  The creature would inevitably find the box irresistible and creep inside; then I would dangle a feather on a string just outside these holes.  My mom stared, dismayed, at the inky black paw with the abnormally-large gleaming white claws that snaked viciously out of the hole in the box and batted repeatedly and cruelly at the feather.  My mom tried to think of something nice to say and faltered.

But I do admit, the cat became an important companion.  She made me laugh, a lot of the time.  Her litterbox was in my bathroom; she’d wait until I returned home before she’d go in and scratch at her box while I washed my face.  I laughed at this because it seemed so ungainly and contrary to the desire for privacy I thought cats naturally had. I gained comfort in caring for her; I fed her oily tuna mixed with egg and vitamins and cream (my father, hearing about this, called the concoction “Powerball”) and I’d turn off the bathroom humidifier the minute I reasonably could, because I knew it made her uncomfortable.

Soon the cat liked me enough I felt it wasn’t right to leave her alone for the weekends.  I decided it would be best if I took her with me when I went to my parents’.  I did this with J.’s permission; during one such discussion (I felt guilty taking custody of someone else’s cat, even an owner often absent) it became apparent Hey, free cat if you want it.  And so I became Blackie’s “owner”, although that doesn’t fit.  In truth she became my familiar and longtime companion through my life’s many adventures to come.

While I attended the University of Washington in Seattle for the next year and a half she lived in apartments on busy streets with as much self-sufficient aplomb as she’d display in every other scenario I can think of.  I let her outside and she never found trouble; or if she did, she escaped it unscathed.  I used to take her in my backpack when I’d go catch a bus or visit a friend.  I remember talking to a woman as I walked across the UW campus and I mentioned I had my cat in my schoolbag and the woman smiled thinly and stepped back – because I was lying, or weird, or both.  Blackie didn’t soil the backpack (I would come to believe this would be true of any cat, but it’s not, ask me how I know this) and although I don’t think she enjoyed it exactly, she settled in, just as she always had.  She rode in backpacks and on my lap in cars.  One time I went to a houseparty in Montesano late at night, on my way back to Seattle. Trusting her, I let her roam outside while I visited friends; two hours later she came back when called, and we continued on our way. One time she got out of my car on the Ave in Seattle and slunk under parked cars while I tried to be calm and worked at catching her. Eventually two transients stopped and helped me corral her to safety – this was after many, many students and clean-looking “decent” people walked by, pretending not to notice our plight.

The first birthday I shared with this cat was my twenty-first; months after that I began dating Ralph.  My new boyfriend liked my kitty; I remember in July that year (1998) I made him a birthday card with her silhouette.  She became a source of constant joy and, it must be said, mockery, for the rest of our time together; she was my family and later, his.  I moved to Port Townsend upon graduation and lived in a house-share.  The boyfriend became husband and soon after we had babies.  Throughout these most important events in my life, Blackie was constant.  She was never a problem with infants or moving or other pets (although she profoundly disliked the latter). She has been, throughout all situations, tidy and prepossessing, and most loyal to me.

She has never been any trouble at all.

My cat is old now – we estimate fourteen.  She is a bit creaky and arthritic and over the years has shrunk even smaller than her original eight-plus pounds – back when she was a young lass ably catching flies on the windowsill.  Even so, in examining her last Wednesday it seemed to me she’d lost weight that couldn’t be merely age-related; Friday we had in her into the vet in what resulted in a series of tests (a “cat” scan – actually a double x-ray, plus bloodwork, ultrasound).  We discovered that under her winter coat her weight, shockingly, had dropped to 5.25 pounds.  Despite this, and a weakened condition and high respiratory rate, the vet told me they had trouble restraining her for nail clipping.  A little fighter.  When they brought her back to me she again started purring at the sight of me.

Sunday I found out Blackie has cancer with no hope of treatment.  But I didn’t know this when I went home Friday.  We had a steep vet bill and medications and fancy cat food ($27 for 5 lbs.!) and all of that, even though she was so thin and breathing in an alarming way, meant that we’d get on top of this thing and she’d live out a long(er) natural life.  And I was only a tiny bit troubled that Friday night after frowning over the x-ray the doctor said, “We’ll review this and call you tomorrow”, even though I am no stranger to cancer and I know what these kind of things usually mean.  I was in a fantasy of health and healing, things I am good at and have had success with thus far; I pet her and fed her and dosed her.

And then Sunday we got the call and the doctor said all this stuff about “rule outs” and “prognosis” and “severe lung pathology” and just like that, once again, someone is taken from me with my pre-awareness.

Sunday night I was picking up more medicines – including painkillers – and since that evening I’ve been watching her decline with that feeling of agonizing hopelessness, regret, and yes, guilt. Yet she is still constant.  I bring her food and water and I give her love and she still purrs when I touch her.

This little feline has lived with me in nine houses, in three cities, for twelve years.  She’s survived two cats that were adopted after her; she’s learned to love my children (with wariness).  Her health has been stellar up until this final blow; besides vaccines and one deworming pill she’s had no medical issues or ill-health besides a cold now and then.  Last year, as part of her geriatric exam, she was given a full blood workup – the same tests done a few days ago – and showed great health for her age.  And I guess I really just thought we’d  have more time together.

People think dogs alone are faithful of the small domesticated animals, but my kitty has changed my perception on that.  She has never wandered off nor left me; even in a hellish house-share in Port Townsend with a vicious un-neutered male dog (part German Shepherd, part grizzly bear) that relentlessly chased her with the intent of felicide.  Blackie moved out to the back shed and waited – for three weeks.  She wouldn’t come near the horrible dog (quite sensibly) but wouldn’t leave me, either.  Over the years her record at loyalty, toughness, independence and fidelity would remain untarnished.

So we’ve spent about $337 dollars on the cat in the last few days, but it was the last $40 that was the hardest.  This is the amount of money I’ve spent on pain medication and (futile) lungworm medicine.  The fancy bag of expensive cat-food I’d been complaining (boasting) about, she no longer eats.  I find myself resentful of my two young, very healthy cats.  They offer no comfort and seem, in their glowing health, to be taking her life force.  In effect, I currently feel about them like a lot of people feel about cats: disinterest and mild dislike. I know this will pass.

And let me just skip the part where nursing my cat’s ailment of lung cancer is a lot like the way nursing my father was, dying the same way. I won’t go into that.

Last night she left her heater and food and water in the living room and joined me in bed, huddled up on my pillow like she has done so many nights before.  She is uninterested at finding the litter box, so in the morning I found a mess on the pillow, which she’d politely at least kept from me.  I cleaned the mess and brought her food and water and pain medication and my affection.  Soon, after all these years, I will decide it is time to have her euthanized.

Very soon we will be saying goodbye.

Wherein I Make A Mustache From My Felines Tail

Wherein I Make A Mustache From My Feline's Tail

My Blackie Kitty is doing well.  The other night I was at a friend’s house with a few people and I started badmouthing my cat, all telling funny stories about how stupid she is, and my friend Ralph pipes up, “Yeah Kelly, you really hate your cat.  Every time I’m over as soon as she meows you jump up and get her food.  And it’s usually food out of the fridge, like fresh tuna!”

– letter to my sister Juliet, Thursday, July 2, 1998

In her old age and with the cold winter Blackie has let go her snobbishness and her anger (at the world) for allowing a new kitten into our home; in the morning she is minutely hunched just to my left, sleeping silently and leaving a mat of black cat hair such that each morning she sleeps with us I have to clean the bedclothes.

– blog entry, February 2nd, 2008

to never grow old

Tonight while tracing patterns (I’m making my children winter coats for Christmas) I caught sight of my high school yearbook.  I only own one from 1995, my senior year.  It’s a rather underwhelming object and one day I will likely chuck it altogether.  I can’t own the ideas in books – why own the books?  I experienced high school – what does this tome do for me at all?  As it is, the number of books we own is just a handful.  Each month it gets easier to own fewer (hello, awesome library system!) and this makes me feel like I have less baggage, less to grip onto that I can’t really hold.

But tonight I remembered a young woman I went to school with, because if I had my facts correct she was brutally murdered a few years after graduation.  Yeah, not just murdered, but tortured and beaten and half-drowned and worse.  And I somehow knew this although – if I remember correctly – it barely made news up here and I don’t remember anyone I know talking about it.  So tonight I found her name in the yearbook then I went online and found one pathetic article about her murder.  One little article that talked about her death, and gave Hoquiam as her hometown, and mostly made a point about how soulless and terrible her killers were.  And I couldn’t find anything else about this girl or who she was or who her family was / is.  To all the rest of the world online at least – she never existed.

She was murdered the year I was first dating Ralph; a year I experienced as the start of so much in my life in so many ways.  And what really haunts me about this girl is that I knew her, or knew of her, and she was kind of one of those people you don’t pay attention to very much because she was in a pretty low social class.  Someone with little advantages and even though you (I) would never be as cruel as to look down on her for this, in some way I did let her get labeled as sort of less-than, and I didn’t give her much thought, not more than anyone else.  And I think about how when she died she was truly all alone – okay, so we all will be, really – but I never took the opportunity to know her, or (in my memory at least) to look at her once and she could know, I see you, and we could see eachother, before we never had the chance again.

Usually we’re allowed to pass through life and our lack of kindness or notice – well, we never really know how it affects others, or conversely how its offering would have improved their lot.  And I wonder how many other times I’ve failed to give anyone kindness or even my presence. What a gift it would be – maybe the only gift I really have – if I did so, more often.