May 31 – October 6, 2010
A lot of folks have pointed out that my pet cats seem to reflect different parts of my personality. I used to think that was a little strange, but now I think I’ve come to accept it. I think people, things, or even pets do have a tendency to come into our lives for a reason, whether we ever recognize it or not. Up until recently, I had four cats.
*Later in this post – I have four cats again, stay tuned.*
Those of you who have read my previous post will know that I recently lost my beloved Purrthos, whom I had the pleasure of knowing for these past 15 years. Admittedly, I am not the best at recognizing the facets of my own personality by any means, but this is my best interpretation of what my cats are/were to me.
Purrthos: Jesus, after a bong hit. Calm, content, always happy, willing to please, purred no matter what the occasion or event. He was like being around a smiling, laughing Buddha. Just being with him made you feel better, no matter what was going on with you. Loved rides in the car, loved to be carried over the shoulder by me or by anyone at the vet’s office, patience of a saint and beyond. There are parts of me that are like this. Not the patience of a saint part by any means – if anything, perhaps Purrthos was in my life to teach me this or at least maybe he hoped that it would rub off on me. But I strive to be like him in many respects. Sometimes I succeed.
The other day I picked up my two boys early from summer daycare so I could take the older one to pick up his replacement retainer (yes, the previous one was lost, ouch to the wallet). I needed gas, so we stopped at the 7-11 and I asked them if either of them needed the bathroom or wanted a snack or soda. All three, as it turned out. So we hit the loo, picked up a couple of Cokes, bought Starbursts and a peanut butter Twix for Mom, not that she or her thighs need it. As I’m perusing the candy bar aisle, my older son Sean comes up to me and hugs me out of the blue and says, “thanks, Mom”. I look at him and ask, “what for?”. After all, to me, gas for the car and fuel for the people in it is just the norm. “You always make everything better,” he answers.
Oh, jeez. A whole world opens up inside me with those five simple words. Am I somehow not the crappiest mom in the world that I think I am? What am I doing different that their Dad doesn’t do? Hmmm. Well, I can think for one thing, he probably isn’t big on creature comforts like beverages, snacks, air conditioning, and such. Certainly he never was with me. I remember being nine months pregnant, we’re on our way to a nice dinner party and I don’t want to get my hair messed up and I’m sweltering in the heat (it was August), so I ask him to turn on the air conditioning, and he tells me to put down the window. When it’s 98 degrees outside. Yeah, thanks. God forbid he lose a mile or two of fuel economy efficiency in lieu of keeping his pregnant wife comfortable. Which is why she is now an ex-wife. One of a thousand reasons.
But maybe over the years of marriage and child-bearing there was somehow forged in me at least the beginnings of patience and of doing for others before doing for myself. The Purrthos trait. I don’t know that Purrthos was that self-sacrificing, but he certainly never complained. This was a cat that got some 4700 injections over the course of his latter years and never once growled, hissed, or even stopped purring. I should be half as tolerant.
d’Artagnan: Sir Lancelot. Brave, bold, intelligent, although not the best at personal hygiene, mostly he just can’t be bothered. There are more important things to think about than bathing. Not sure how that aspect of him reflects me … I kinda hope that’s one of the exceptions. Always a gentleman. No matter how much either of his younger female siblings torments him, he has yet to ever take a swipe to either one of them, despite being twice their size. Occasional problems with flatulence (okay, I will cop to the same issue, regrettably).
How do I resemble d’Artagnan? I suppose in the first three qualities, though I will rarely admit them. I like to think of myself as brave compared to most of my age and gender. I kill my own spiders, deal with my own weird noises in the middle of the night, and spend a lot of time in my house by myself with no worries at all. I had to grow up a lot faster than most kids did (see my previous post about my Mom for that one), and as a result, I’m a bit lacking in the feminine graces of shyness and demurity (is that a word? Anyway, the aspect of being demure). I like to think I have some brains, although to me I rarely use what I’ve been given. I do bathe regularly, unlike d’Artagnan. I am the first to point out to my kids to only pick on someone their own size, and to never hit a girl, unless she deserves it. I differ from d’Artagnan on this point. Frankly, Minnie, our youngest female, could do with a good feline whack upside the head, she’s way too uppity. And I think there are some women who DO deserve to be hit back. Very few, but they exist. Moreso in the cat world.
d’Artagnan is also a dude’s dude. Whenever I have male company in the house, be it my boyfriend, my brother, or other guests, he gravitates to them immediately. Not so much to women, other than me. But if my boyfriend sits on the sofa with me to watch a movie, d’Artagnan is up there next to him immediately, wanting his head scratched. Yes, I love having my head scratched, my ears stroked, and my hair played with, too. (I do manage to refrain from what I call the “kitty G-spot” reaction of bringing my back leg up and shaking it like a dog’s when someone does this, fortunately.) I am a dude’s girl; I’ve always gotten along better with men than with women. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the company of my female friends. I think it’s that over the years I’ve always felt like there was some secret society I was never invited to join because I didn’t know the magic password. I grew up with a brother and, as you might guess from my earlier posts mentioning my Mom, not the most sterling of role models. My Mom didn’t hang out with the other moms and have coffee or have playdates with them and their kids, back in the 60’s before they were even called “playdates”. I honestly don’t remember what my Mom did with me when I was a toddler and when my brother was in school during the day, when my parents were still married. I think I was left to my own devices a lot, so I had a pretty imaginative time with my toys – usually cars, Legos, Lincoln Logs, marbles. I hardly ever got to watch TV in those early years, although I do remember preferring The Electric Company over Sesame Street, but I think that was in the early 70’s. No electronics to speak of back then, no computers, no Xbox, no Nintendo DS – I think my kids would be well-served if they had the same environment today, to be honest. When you have to find your own entertainment, the imagination flourishes.
But back to the point – my Mom was never what you’d consider a conventional “mom” for her era. I don’t know if she was comfortable around other women, either – I don’t think so. But in her case, the discomfort most likely stemmed from perpetual jealousy. I don’t know how or when that got a foothold in my Mom’s upbringing, but she was jealous of every woman out there. Including me, once I started to look more like a girl and less like a blonde monkey. She grew up with one younger brother, so she didn’t have sisters or stepsisters to contend with, and she was a pretty girl. But this is my self-reflection, not hers … at any rate, she never seemed to know how to behave around women. I guess it rubbed off on me. My mom had lots of male visitors over the years, but very rarely did she have a female friend. I can’t honestly think of a close girlfriend of hers that she stayed in touch with for more than a year or two.
As I grew up, it was hard to make friends given how often we moved. The house on Aster Street, then the house on Deodar Road. The apartment on G Street in Chula Vista, Hamilton Street in North Park, the duplex in Chula Vista on Dorothy Street (twice, a couple years apart), the apartment on Gwyneth Drive in Tustin, the rented house on 10th Avenue in Escondido. A dozen schools in a dozen years. Growing up with mostly my brother for companionship, I didn’t get the world of dolls and tea parties with stuffed teddy bears. I played with green plastic army men and a BB rifle, and liked to set ant trails on fire with a magnifying glass. I could take the head off a plastic armyman with a BB at 20 paces, more importantly, I could do it before he melted in the tree branch I’d stuck in the ground and set fire to at the base. I let my brother play with my first Barbie doll (a Skipper), and she ended up stuck on a roof for months. She was a bit worse for wear when a rainstorm finally washed her off. Eventually I ended up with a Francie doll to accompany my now Zombie Skipper. I never had a Ken doll but somehow felt my dolls needed male companionship, so I let them have sex with my Breyer plastic stallion, when I wasn’t playing down by the mailboxes in the mud with them. I suppose if a child psychologist had gotten a look at me then, they might have had an inkling that there was something wrong with my home life. I didn’t. I assumed everyone’s Mom accused their 9-year-old daughter of having sex with their (Mom’s) boyfriends. Didn’t yours?
I never learned how to braid hair and nobody ever braided mine – my Mom usually kept my hair chopped short because she didn’t want to be bothered with it. I never had slumber parties and never got a birthday party after age 5. I learned makeup application through trial and error, and probably started wearing it earlier than I needed to, because I was always convinced I was ugly. In my mom’s eyes, my hair was too straight, or too blonde (she was a curly redhead), and once I hit puberty, she started telling me I was too fat, at 5’6″ and 110 lbs. Only now do I recognize that last critique was her way of expressing disdain over my bra cup size ultimately being larger than hers. Even before I knew what puberty was, I had already gone from being a daughter to an enemy, the competition for whatever boyfriend of the week happened to be in her life.
As I got older, I didn’t know what other girls talked about, and my one or two close female friends in high school (no offense to them intended here) tended to be as socially awkward as I was, for varying reasons. I never had that je ne sais quoi that other girls had, at least in my eyes, that allowed them to be so at ease with their own gender. In my futile efforts to find something to bond with my father over, I developed a knowledge of baseball and football, and a fondness for sports cars, so guys always liked talking to me – they just didn’t want to date me. I remember one period in my senior year when I developed an odd friendship with one of the star football players at school, but only via the phone. I don’t recall exactly how it started, I think he needed a missed homework assignment and called me at home. We started chatting, and kept chatting. For a few weeks I felt like the belle of the ball with a secret, my football player was going to call me in the evening and we would talk for twenty minutes, forty-five minutes, more than an hour sometimes, and he told me how much he liked talking to me vs. talking to other girls. Yet during the daytime at school, it was as though we barely knew each other. Eventually, after counseling him over his breakup with his previous girlfriend, my football player started dating someone else, and that was the end of the phone chats. It was fun while it lasted, though.
When I first adopted d’Artagnan he was incredibly skittish and shy, and spent his first three weeks with us hiding under the master bed. He had been rescued from somewhere and was at the Helen Woodward shelter when I found him. To this day, nearly 15 years later, he still flinches sometimes when you go to pet him, as if he is expecting to be hit. I don’t know what happened to him in the first 9 months of his life before I took him into my home, but I suspect it was traumatic. I think he came into my life as a reminder that I need to let my past go, and be trusting and open, in order to be loved. I think he also missed some of his early cat training in basic fundamentals, such as how to wash himself, or the fact that it’s preferable to pee outside (d’Artagnan will come in from the outdoors, where there is plenty of dirt, to use the litterbox) – much as I missed some of my fundamental “how to be a girl” training, it seems like. We’re both misfits in our own ways. And it’s good to have a dude’s dude around – even in cat form. d’Artagnan and I can always hang out on the sofa together and watch TV like old buds.
Sabine: The Princess. Say no more, really. Okay, make that the eccentric Vampire Princess who hates going out in the daytime because the light hurts her eyes, apparently. Gets annoyed at wind because it ruffles her fur. Will spend hours grooming herself but then go outside and roll around in the dirt. Refuses to use the litterbox when it doesn’t meet her exacting standards and will just pee on the staircase (wood) instead, thank you very much. Doesn’t so much meow as she does squeak. Squeaks often when dismayed or when you are messing with her. Refuses to eat dinner with other cats and must always watch her girlish figure. Will spend night outdoors if given the opportunity, come back inside with a coat and tail full of foxtails and will be most upset at having them picked out of her fur. Her alternate title is the Dumb Blonde (she is a buff-colored cat), which does fit her – and fits me, too, at times. Ditto the vampire aspects. I can’t go outside even on a cloudy day without sunglasses. And okay, I am not a fan of dirty bathrooms – but who is, really?
As much as I make fun of Sabine for her Princess aspects, I would like to be her. Or rather, I would like to have someone like me around to accept me and love me anyway, despite being high-maintenance. She is the epitome of the girl I never got to be. If she were in human form, Sabine would probably be Paris Hilton sans the sex tapes. And the money. One of those girls who had a cute new boyfriend every month and you always wondered what guys saw in her because she seemed like such a ditz on the surface. But underneath she is smart enough to land a decent guy, or at least a well-to-do one, and ends up living a pretty cushy life that involves weekly manicures, a luxury SUV, owning a Bichon Frise named Snowball or Fluffy, and does not involve having to work a 9-to-5 job. That would be Sabine. I’ve dated guys who have ex’s (or even current) wives or girlfriends who are those kind of women, and I guess it is part of the mystique that goes along with learning how to braid hair: I don’t know how to be like that. I have been accused of being too independent, too self-reliant, too stubborn – perhaps these are the things I need to let go of in order to be a Sabine-like woman? I don’t think I would know how to stay home and be a well-kept wife, spending my days raising the children, being a soccer mom and PTA volunteer, hosting charity dinners and lunching with the girls. I would have too much guilt over feeling as though I wasn’t earning a living of my own and too much fear of it all going sour and me being left unable to fend for myself or pay my own way.
There were girls in high school who were planning to get married right after graduation, or maybe after going to community college for a couple years – basically they wanted to be wives and mothers, and knew that from early on, apparently. I’m almost 47, have two school-age boys, and I’m still not sure I want to be a mother. I don’t know if I want to be a wife again, either. I don’t think I know how to do it right. But a part of me admires those woman and wants to know how to be one, how to trust that a man will take care of my needs and provide for me, and that what I do as a wife and mother is more than enough of a career, and I’m doing a great job of it as well. When I am around these women, I feel awkward and ashamed, like an unwanted party guest, the shoe that doesn’t quite fit right. They are at ease hosting dinner gatherings and chatting with other women; I’m the one who skulks around the sidelines and never knows when the appropriate time is to ask if I can help with things in the kitchen. Sabine, of course, would have no such problems. Were she in human form, other women would feel naturally at ease with her, as would men fall all over themselves for her attention.
When I adopted Sabine, she was a sad, miserable little 7-month-old kitten who had been dumped in the night repository at the San Diego Animal Shelter for “house soiling”. Turned out she was sick with some kind of bacterial infection that was giving her digestive tract a (pun intended) run for its money, although as far as #1 went, it did take awhile and a number of whacks on the butt to get her to stop peeing on every piece of furniture I owned. Her hallmark effort was one morning when I was lazing in bed with a (now) ex-boyfriend and the two of us started kissing and making out, and Sabine crawled up in between us, all cute and purring and cuddly … and let loose with a flood of cat pee that soaked through to the mattress. I could have killed her. In retrospect, I think it was her commentary on my relationship. I should have paid more attention, I could have saved myself several more months of dealing with someone else’s emotional baggage.
Minnie: Cold-blooded assassin. Most likely a former KGB agent in a previous life. Was adopted at 1 year old and had already had a litter of kittens despite being no larger than a kitten herself. Has since eaten her way up to a much larger size, at least in girth. Afraid of absolutely nothing, including vacuum cleaners. Constantly looking to kill gophers, birds, lizards, mice, etc. Torments d’Artagnan. Oddly enough, always left Purrthos alone. Chases her sister Sabine given any opportunity. Even though they are both girls, Minnie is probably the polar opposite of Sabine. She is more of a dude than d’Artagnan is at times, certainly more of a dude than me. But she embodies more of my personality than Sabine does. While Sabine is pretty much afraid of everything and as dainty as a white doily under fine china, Minnie is that hard-fired stoneware coffee mug you’ve dropped half a dozen times and it scarcely suffers a scratch. She is about as far from being a girly chick as the Earth is from Jupiter. While I don’t consider myself that far gone, I do recognize that I am a bit too masculine at times myself. My stubborn and independent streak is often a setback in terms of my dating life. Guys apparently like their chicks to need someone else to kill spiders, fix toilets, and do other manly things. I’m not one of those chicks unless it’s a matter of sheer muscle power that I’m lacking. And even then I’d rather hire someone than ask, I hate to admit weakness.
Minnie kills all her own spiders. Surprisingly, Sabine does too, and usually eats them. Probably one of the few things they actually have in common. Under the tough exterior, though, Minnie does actually have a softer side. Trouble is, you usually don’t see it until she’s asleep! But when she is sleeping, or just waking up, she is adorable. Soft as a dark gray little bunny and purring contentedly. Not surprisingly, I’ve been told the same thing about myself – that I’m cute when I sleep, I look like a little girl. I suspect that Minnie had a tough life her first year, living on the streets, giving birth to a litter of kittens that no one knows what happened to. At a year old, she was barely over 5 pounds when I adopted her, but was a tough, scrappy little thing already. She grew up a little too fast, I think, much like I did. I don’t remember much about my childhood that was child-like. But when we both sleep, the outward mask falls away and the innate vulnerability emerges. Minnie is probably the most like me, which is probably why I was compelled to adopt her. I wasn’t looking for another cat when we got her, and if anything, I’ve always wanted a calico kitten or maybe a black and silver tabby. Minnie is a rather indistinct gray with faint stripes and a lighter underside, not a cat I would have really picked for looks, and given the number of times she has ripped open my skin with her claws, I didn’t adopt her for her sweet personality, either. But as much as the other three, she represents a part of me, a creature that I feel needs me in her life, and her in mine.
May 31: I got Purrthos’ ashes back from the vet late last week. The cremation service did a nice job, he came back in this little cedar box with his name engraved on the top, complete with a lock and key on the outside. It’s a lovely box, too nice to put in the ground, really, that would seem like a waste. I picked up the ashes on Thursday afternoon, along with getting an injection of Synvisc One and cortisone in both knees and going to my kids’ Open House at school that evening, then packing for a weekend trip (leaving Friday immediately after work) via the train up to Santa Barbara. Needless to say, it was kind of a hectic afternoon and evening, and I really didn’t have much chance to think about the ashes or what they represent aside from bringing the box into the house and setting it on the kitchen counter.
Once I got back from Santa Barbara and had the day to clean up the house, do laundry, pay bills, do chores, etc., my mind finally has a chance to slow down as well. And I realize that all day I’d been hostile, short-tempered, easily angered, frustrated … almost as if an easy-going, perpetually happy part of my nature had somehow been removed from me without warning.
I want to ignore this, think that it’s just me over-reacting, that maybe I didn’t get enough sleep, I’m just grumpy about other things. Okay, yes, I am grumpy about other things. I interviewed for a job early last week that I would have jumped at the chance for … and didn’t get it. Thought I had a really good shot at it, too. And didn’t get it. So yeah, I’m upset about that. I was counting on it to the point where I was ready to give one days’ notice (or less) at my current job and just walk out the door with my things packed. Am I that unhappy there? Lately, yeah, I am. This job would have been a much better opportunity for me, better pay, more interesting work, and most importantly, the feeling that I was actually using my brain rather than just being some mindless drone who is only appreciated for the fact that I sit at a desk and work a computer for 8 hours a day, and heaven forbid if I’m 10 minutes late on starting that 8-hour shift. I don’t need a whole lot to make me happy at work. But I’m not getting it now in any case.
So that’s one thing. Part two, okay, yeah, I’m not so thrilled about my whole knee pain issue. I had my second injection of cortisone in both knees about two weeks ago, and it was already starting to wear off this past week. Thankfully, my medical insurance approved the Synvisc injections, which one can think of as “synthetic viscosity” or a man-made version of the lube between our joints, derived from the coxcombs of roosters, of all things. I hope it works and makes a difference. I have osteoarthritis of both knees and have basically no cartilage left in them, at age 46. Yeah, that makes me mad. But I also know full well there are a lot of folks in far worse shape than I’m in. I should be grateful I can still walk, period. And that my brain still works (more or less) and my eyes still work, and my ears, and all those other parts. Normally I am and I don’t even think about it, and I’m one of those stupidly happy people that you wonder why the hell they’re so happy.
It’s like my ignorant bliss seems to be missing lately. Like I’m missing … Purrthos. The Purrthos part of me, anyway.
July 16: It has taken me awhile to write this post. Probably because delving within is never easy. And since I started it, I ended up adopting a new cat. I’m not entirely sure why, I was kind of enjoying the ease of just having the three fairly low maintenance cats around (although I have since found out that Sabine has a heart murmur, and a noticeable one at that, so stay tuned). But perhaps my subconscious felt otherwise, or just fate does have a way, once again, of bringing these fuzzy little creatures into my life for a reason. I recently took d’Artagnan into the vet for a long-overdue blood test to follow up on his hyperthyroid condition from last year, for which he ended up spending a week at a specialty vet and having a radioactive iodine injection. While I’m there, the staff all told me again how sorry they were about Purrthos’ loss and how much they missed him, as do I. Then Dr. Alexander told me about a little kitten they’d recently gotten in from one of the feral cat groups – they trap cats and bring them in to be neutered, tag them by clipping an ear, and release them back where they were found, in the hopes of allowing them to live naturally but curtailing their numbers at the same time by sterilizing them. They had brought in a brother and sister, trapped together. The sister was ill and didn’t survive, but the brother did. Dr. Alexander thought he was young enough that he could be adopted into a good home, and she allowed me to meet him while d’Artagnan was taken back to another office to get his blood drawn.
She brought in this skinny little orange and white tabby, with legs that went on forever and a tail like a garter snake on a starvation diet. She’d been spending the last few days carrying him around with her in a towel or a canvas bag, keeping him close and petting him, getting him used to be around humans. She said he was extremely curious about other cats and kept wanting to be near them, same as dogs that were coming through their offices. She let me hold him for a bit and I noticed his neck was thinner around than my wrist (and I have thin wrists), and he had these huge ears on a small head, with big eyes, giving him something of a Yoda-like appearance. His fur is shorter than that of my two short-haired cats at home (d’Artagnan and Minnie), just slightly beyond the length of peach fuzz, and I think it’s going to stay that way. As I petted him, I was rewarded in a few minutes with a low, rumbling purr.
And thus my household became four (cats) again. My boys and I settled on the name Yoshi for our new arrival – they liked it because Yoshi is a name in Super Mario Brothers; I liked it because it sounds Japanese and he looks like an exotic, kind of foreign cat. His fur is very short and his head reminds me of an Egyptian cat. His tail is almost as long as his body. He’s now six months old and with the exception of Minnie stalking him on a regular basis (which is why Minnie is the only cat in the house who wears a bell on her collar, so you get advance warning that she’s coming), he seems to be fitting in pretty well. He gets hyper and loves to chase toys or his own tail, or shred Kleenex and generally bounce off the walls to the point where he is panting for breath, always a funny thing to see in a cat. I still miss Purrthos, though. The house was more harmonious with him in it, and with his loss, it’s like there has been a dischordant note in an ongoing symphony that I can’t seem to get rid of. It will take time. Certainly it has taken my whole life thus far to get the parts of myself in order; why should I expect anything less from my cats?