I know what you need, cat. Because it’s what I need too.

My weird, adopted cat won’t get out of my face or off my wrist. ‘I am trying to write,’ I tell him, ‘Don’t you see?’ He doesn’t care, resting his mushy yet heavy body on my forearm. 

I don’t have the heart to move him, so as I write, I hold his weight with my wrist, his body a saggy bag of guts rising and falling at degrees based on the keys I’m trying to reach. I played the piano for years as a child so the span of my fingers is wide. I notice when I hit the delete key or insert a hyphen, his body lifts with a great flourish as my ring-finger stretchstretchstetches for the keys while my mighty pinky supports it all. 

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The cat came with the name Orzo. I intended to change it until my daughter implored me not to. ‘He’s lost so much already,’ she said, ‘let him keep his name,’ and I nodded and pursed my lips in agreement because once again she was right and showed me a better way. 

But Orzo, this cat. He drools on us and no matter how many layers we (the girls and I) wear on our tops–camisoles or sports bras and t-shirts under sweatshirts and hoodies–Orzo always finds our boobs. He’s a licker. 

And a drooler. With a plastic fetish. He loves the flimsy plastic that surrounds newspapers and magazines; grocery bags; bubble wrap; hardy plastic, the kind that produces noise as he gnaws. You cannot leave any of this laying around or he will eat it gone. 

I know what Orzo needs (besides a full-body shave) but he won’t listen. And when I say listen, I mean when I stop ignoring him as he begs for my attention, twisting his neck in directions that cannot feel good, and I move my palm to accept his head, I tell him, ‘Buddy, I can help you. I can make it better.’ 

So I pick him up and place him in my lap. ‘Here, just sit here while I work,’ I tell him. And I know he doesn’t like this but I keep thinking if he just experienced it more, it would grow on him. He would trust me and feel comfortable because I know he just needs a little love from someone he can trust. But he can’t bear it and always runs away or climbs back on the table.

The cat let me love him once. His owner had made the final trip to the car and was done  bringing in Orzo’s things: a litter box, an opened bag of litter, nail clippers, what was left of the bag of food they bought, the food scooper, several brushes, a comprehensive set of vet records (it was thick–the man and his wife adopted Orzo as a kitten 12 years ago.) 

The man stood by the door and explained how to care for his cat. There were tears in his eyes, he was upset. I imagined Orzo was too so I picked him up and held him on my shoulder, nodding as I listened to the instructions. ‘One scoop of food, twice a day; clean his litter box often, otherwise he’ll express his displeasure elsewhere.’ 

The owner looked so sad, almost betrayed when he saw how easily his cat came to me, let me hold him. I said, “See, he’ll be fine. Don’t worry.” 

I wanted to ask why his wife was making him give up their cat, but held my tongue. Instead I told him, “Look, if you want to visit Orzo on your way home from work some day, it’s fine by me.” I smiled, trying to lighten the mood, and said, “No one needs to know.” 

Based on the color his face turned, I guess he thought I was coming on to him. He left and Orzo and stayed, letting me hold him a bit longer before he dropped to the floor, ran off and hid. 

Someone told me once after I had mentioned my cat’s odd ways that he licks and drools because he was separated from his mother too soon. As soon as they said it, I wanted to punch them because unless you’ve been separated too soon from your mother or someone you care about a great deal, I’ll go so far as to say love, you don’t get to say things like that so off-the-cuff and in passing. 

Unless you’re a vet, I’m going to assume you don’t know what you’re talking about and are wrong. 

Even if you’re right.

PTSD and the Tale of Herschel Walker (the poodle, not the man)

Yesterday, one of my good friends told me the story of how their little dog came to join their family. I was sitting on a stool at her kitchen island. It was loaded with burgers, hotdogs, pickles, watermelon, and mac and cheese. My daughter’s and I were there to celebrate the Fourth of July with them. Which meant we were there to eat. Which has become quite confusing, this eating. This same friend and I just joined a weight-loss program and while eating cans of beans or pounds of chicken and beef is no problem, a 100-calorie sliver of dark chocolate is the points equivalent of an entire meal. This makes zero sense. 

I studied the burgers in front of me, which one, which one…giving them as much  consideration as I would a new car purchase while Herschel Walker, the family’s dog, wandered around the kitchen, working hard for someone, anyone to give him food. 

Herschel is a curly, cocoa-brown miniature poodle who is quite full of personality and anxiety. He’s a prancy little thing and had no shame doing tricks for a piece of hot dog. If you want to see intent and desire in its most pure form, observe a dog in the throes of inbound food. They will mashup their entire repertoire of tricks, combining sitting, laying, and rolling over into a single, ridiculous motion. 

Now that Herschel’s come around and will let me pet him (it’s the anxiety, y’all), I needed to know his story. “How old is Herschel?” I ask. 

They can’t recall for sure. “Maybe eight, probably nine,” my friend, Denise said.
“Is he a full-bred poodle?” I wanted to know.
“He is but when we picked him up, the breeder offered an unsolicited $100 discount, so there’s a little don’t ask, don’t tell on that front,” she said, smiling.
“When did you get him?” I asked.
A big sigh. “It’s a sad story. Do you really want to know?” she asks.
“Of course,” I replied.
“Well before Herschel, we had a small dog, a toy poodle, named Kelsey. She was so tiny, I could carry her in my purse,” she said. (This information surprises and amuses me, my friend doesn’t seem like the dog-in-the-purse type.) 

She went on, explaining how on this one particular evening, her husband left to pick up Chinese carryout. As the door shut and she heard him pull away, she realized she hadn’t yelled after him as she had a thousand times before to watch for the dog. “I figured I didn’t need to,” she said. Steve, her husband, had joined us in the kitchen and looked aghast when he realized the story he had walked into. 

“Oh my god, don’t tell that story. Why are you telling that?” he asked his wife. I felt awful for him. For them both, because yes, it ended how I didn’t want it to end; how no one, including the dog, wanted it to end. The little dog had run out the door and ran after the car. Steve had looked behind him, but the dog was the size of an actual tea cup and he just didn’t see her when he backed out of the drive. 

I hate hate hate stories like this. Not about dogs dying, well, of course about dogs dying, but I hate it when I hear possible proof that the unwanted monkey on my back of near-neurotic worry is there because it needs to be.  Continue reading “PTSD and the Tale of Herschel Walker (the poodle, not the man)”

Inside the Wooden Box

Letters. When I dared open the wooden box, I found letters from my mother. Lots of them. Some handwritten on heavy paper, some typed on tissue-paper onion skin. Letters she had sent to her parents. My grandparents. Her salutation was always the same, ‘Dearest Mother and Dale.’

In them, my mother referred to me as ‘S.’
She wrote to her mother about me sitting on her lap in church and trying to keep me quiet with books. But I had wanted her to read to me that instant, so that, ‘put an end to that.’

She told my grandmother Marg, how she had finally gotten around to hemming my slip so it wouldn’t show under the dress with the white collar and sleeves that my cousin Margo had handed down to me.

How I had worn the red velvet cape and looked darling.

That the blazer she was sewing my brother was coming along. A friend had helped her match up the plaids and, ‘thank goodness, because the pattern was in 15 pieces.’ (If I put her words in quotation marks, that brings her a little closer to me. They are her exact words. Punctuation makes her real.) 

She told them that, if the little blazer looked good when she was finished, she would make a big one, for my father. There was a small piece of the blue corduroy left. ‘Is corduroy vulgar for Easter?’ she wanted to know.

On a Sunday to keep her sanity during all the ball games, with needle and thread, she hemmed the curtains so the heat would blow properly through the vents.

She reported that she and her best friend, Betty Sue, each drank a Singapore Sling on New Year’s Eve. My dad ordered a ‘Naked Lady,’ because he thought it was a funny name. She wrote that it tasted disgusting but the steak and lobster were divine.

I am glad they went out. I am glad she had the steak and lobster. I am glad they could afford it. I am glad they both had a cocktail. (I thought my dad never drank.) I am glad they stayed up and saw the new year in. I am glad we – my brother and I – liked the new babysitter.

She wrote to her mother that, ‘S loves tangelos and enjoys peeling them all by herself which she is doing at the sink right now.’ She said that S (that’s me, she was talking about ME) did not like the ‘nuts’ inside the fruit.

The tenses are confusing: Past, present. The memories are frustrating. Real, imagined? That I can’t touch her hand. That I can’t ask anyone. There is no one left to ask. There hasn’t been for years.

I found the newspaper clipping of their obituaries among the letters. Someone, who knows who, had taped the pieces together. Time marked the place where the adhesive, now yellowed and brittle like a chronic smokers’ teeth, met the paper. Her summary appeared first, my brother’s brief facts followed. One beside the other, just like their gravestones under the magnolia tree.

She died on a Saturday. He died the following day, the lord’s day. My father and I appeared, respectively, in both their obituaries as survivors: ‘Husband, daughter; father, sister.’ Their funerals were on Tuesday at 2 pm with ‘cremations to follow.’ I was in the hospital still and unable to attend. Probably best for us all. She was 39. He was 11.

I was six.

On the outside of the box, on the lid, there’s a ship. Burnt there, like scrimshaw on wood. On the inside, there’s a small, paper Santa nailed to the lid. It looks like it was cut from wrapping paper. Her name is there – Janet Lamb – written in blue ink in the space between Santa’s black boots.