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.

 

 

 

Instead of Writing

i.
Instead of writing
I could take a nap
Stare out the window.
Download a productivity app so I can waste more time tracking my time.
I could start a new project
Or stare at an unfinished one
like the wall that needs a final coat of paint
Or finish the front door repair, do the detail work.
I already walked the dog…

Instead of writing
I could unload the dishwasher or use the new vacuum
Check my social media accounts.
Masturbate.
Do a load of laundry
Research trips to Costa Rica.
Conduct an image search on the pantsuit my daughter wants for prom
Start dinner even though it’s 10 am.
Text someone I should not.
Get a flu shot
Run an errand.
Brush the cat
Talk to the dog.
Meditate
Cry
Eat
Read.
Pluck the chin hairs the laser missed
Clean up my eyebrows and then sit on my hands so I don’t pick at my fingers.

ii.
Instead of writing
I could thank the guy on Instagram for answering my question about the vase he posted a photo of this morning. I could let him know that, ‘Yeah, I do want the signed and numbered, open-top Scandinavian Kosta Boda vase.’

And if I had any doubts about buying it, I really should get it because out of the 17 or so pieces, my eye went to this vessel. Because of course it did. It looks like a skyscraper. And it is, the artist named the work, “Metropolis.”

I’m not surprised that among the Blenko, Murano and Millefiori glass, I like the chunky, blocky one. I feel nothing for the red, hand-blown piece with the neck of a swan and a Georgia O’Keefe opening; I am immune to the brown bowl, that despite its thickness, is somehow still transparent; nor am I moved by the thin, green vase flecked with red, its edges fluted, like seaweed lettuce washed up on the shore.

iii.
The vase is a sign. Today marks the two-year anniversary of the day my father and I met for the first time. He lives in the city, the only city, New York City. I knew he did before I knew him, before I knew who he was. I felt it in my bones.

The City, much like the vase, with its determined lines and straightforward approach, draws me in, pulls me toward it with purpose; with the force of an unseen magnet.

Like the pull of a nothing-special bar on West 63rd I’d sometimes frequent when I was in the City for work. There are 18-thousand bars in Manhattan and some of them are pretty amazing. This particular bar was not.

Yet it was. I didn’t know it at the time, but this bland and basic bar with only blended scotch, no single malts, was attached to the building my father lived in. Still lives in.

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The Glow

Remember when the house was new to us still?
When we returned our final offer on our first home, I had wanted the thrill of a deal.
To ask for something more exciting,
more mogul than a 12-month home warranty.
So I asked that the garden ornaments convey.
All of them.
Never mind I liked none of them.

Remember when the yard was unfamiliar to us still?
You stood tall and young, looking out the window filled with night
Your hands in the kitchen sink.
I saw you look twice.

Eyes big, you waved your hand and called me over.
(How I loved it when you said my name.)
Pointing, ‘Do you see it? That glowing, do you see it?’
I did. I saw it. But had no idea what it was.
A small spaceship? The eyes of an animal? A piece of the moon?

I didn’t venture out alone to investigate
Or send you into the dark by yourself
Nor mumble, ‘It’s probably nothing.’

We went outside together,
Tip-toeing around the catawpa tree, its limbs so low you had to duck.
Closer now, giggling.
‘You go.’
‘No, you go.’
‘I’m not going. You go.’

We approached the glow together, an army of two.
You nudged it with the tip of your shoe.
Nothing, no movement.
I bent down and poked the mystery on the ground.

‘Oh my god,’ I said, no more whispering.
The glow was from an extension cord set outside to power the small lily pond,
it’s illuminated end, once hidden under the mulch, now exposed.

The glow was nothing we expected it to be. Like so many things that would come to the surface.
Glowing multi-plug extension cord

Things I wish someone had told me

Sticking with the 500-words a day, here’s a list in no certain order of things I wish someone had either told me or I had figured out on my own earlier than I did. These ‘things’ may well not apply to all!

1. Store tubes of toothpaste and icy-hot, pain-relief ointments away from one another in the medicine cabinet. The latter does not make for a pleasant brushing experience.

2. Dogs do not appreciate nor respond well to being the subject of an experimental, ‘Let’s see what happens if I make them kiss.’

3. Getting drunk at the circus is a bad idea.

4. If someone you’re meeting for the first time has a scratchy, gravelly voice, don’t assume they have a cold or have been screaming ‘PULL,’ while shooting skeet all day. It could be that their unique vocals are the spoils of surviving throat cancer.

5. Children are not stupid. They know the difference between a back massager and a vibrator from an early age.

6. Do not approach or attempt to move a cat without first providing it some sort of visible warning or alert.

7. Your gut is your true north star. It does not lie and should not be ignored. When you have no one to ask, trust your gut. It will guide you. (Doesn’t mean you’ll like what you hear.)

8. Everyone is as insecure as you are.

9. Not everyone likes dogs.

10. Seminal fluid in the eye stings. It is mother nature’s pepper spray.

11. Pass on gerbils as pets, especially the white ones. The day will come and you won’t know when, but the gerbils who have lived in peace in your kids room for years will have a death-to-the-end cage match. Your child will forever be haunted by images of bloody gerbils that look like Stephen King’s, ‘Carrie’ onstage at the prom.

12. Don’t lend money to a model, no matter how good looking they are or how pretty they say you are.

13. Sometimes that dish of potpourri is just that, an eye-catching assortment of miscellaneous forest and woodpile gatherings, not a fragrant snack mix.

14. You can drive on ‘E’ longer than you probably think you can (but shouldn’t).

15. Not all bowls of mashed potatoes are what they seem. Sometimes they are mashed turnips.

16. When contemplating marriage or any long-term commitment with a partner, ask yourself if you could tolerate their most annoying habit x 500. If you can honestly answer, ‘Yes,’ proceed. If not, well…

17. Pick up your dry cleaning in a timely manner. They do not mess around and will give your things away whether it’s silk or not.

18. Don’t worry so much. Breathe and check for perspective before you freak out or lose faith. This applies to what others think – chances are they’re not thinking about you anyway.

19. Orange tabby cats look a lot a like. If yours goes missing, be sure the one you find is really yours. They are a wiley, needy bunch.

20. No one completes you but you.

21. There are no such things as comfortable shoes at an all-day trade show in Las Vegas.

22. When you flip off someone behind their back, make sure they are not facing a reflective surface.

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This cat (Sir Victor, rest his soul) looks like 25 other tabby cats.

The Baldest Hour of Want o’Clock

I want to write all the things for you
Search for all the songs
Carefully mine all the lyrics
All the verses
All the passages.
Package them, deliver them all at once
Trot them out once a day
For all the days.

I want to stop stealing what is not mine
Accumulating you piece by piece
Adding to a stockpile that doesn’t grow.
Each day at the baldest hour of want o’clock, the grains slip.
A sieve, the finest holes through the ventricles all the way to China.
A carpenter ant through my belly
Around the stalactites that intersect my breastplate
Around the bunion on my right foot out the tips of my toes.

I want to bury all the hatchets
Mend all the holes
Remove all the blinds
Dust all the shelves with only my bare hands.
Finish off the cornichons and toss all the olives
Stacked, treading oil in the jar
Trapped in an underwater chicken fight.

I want to add not subtract
Yet I most definitely do not want to divide.
Canned beef stew an actor’s fake vomit sprayed over the walls
A dog’s breakfast that you can’t eat but are served for years
seated in a folding chair at a folding table, the surface covered in spots of paint
Splatters of pink white blue yellow
Red
Memories so pure and true and good
You’d eat the folding table you really would –
Screw by screw nut by nut
Each plastic-coated aluminum leg including the hinges –
If each swallow would erase every lapse.

That’s not how it works.
At least not from where I sit
In a wooden chair at the laminate-topped table that I got to keep.

It’s not possible to nibble around the good times
and gobble swill smoke and chew the rest.
Something’s got to give and it’s me
I’ve got to go.

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