Yesterday’s a day away

7 09 2009

It’s about time.

All those boxes of files, the folders full of print outs of journal articles, cut-outs from newspapers, clippings from The New Yorker and The Nation, transcripts from The NewsHour (and before, the MacNeill/Lehrer NewsHour), Gina Kolata and Elizabeth Farnsworth and Lawrence Wright. Time to go.

Start easy: start with the ‘Media/Polls’ box. There’s only one of those, and you know you want to get rid of those, right? You haven’t looked at its contents in six years, not since you left Montreal, not since you threw a shovelful of dirt over the remains of your academic career and lit out for your life.

One box, shouldn’t take long. One less to cart to wherever it is you’ll go next. And it’s on your list.

The first folder: ‘Media–to be filed’. What? I thought these were mostly polls, old and outdated and easily disposed of, save for pulling out the staples or off the binder clips and reshuffling the paper for reuse as the back end of lecture notes. Gallup and Roper and whatnot.

But here’s a piece by Sallie Tisdale, and another by Annie Dillard and another by an old colleague, Carl Elliott. Carefully annotated with publication date, volume, number. Haven’t read any of these likely since I yanked them out of Harper’s and The Atlantic 7, 8, 12 years ago.

Next up: Cloning. All the Times‘ pieces, the television transcripts. Here are a few pieces by Leon Kass, my Pilot-penned scrawls arguing with him in the margins.

Here is the stillborn promise of books never to be written, articles never to be submitted. Here is my dead career, never carefully tended, finally abandoned to die, mummified in filed slices.

And my career as an academic is dead, no question about it. Oh, I stroll through the cemetery regularly as an adjunct, but ‘adjunct’ is just another term for dead-end job.

I know this. I know this. I knew what I was doing six years ago, even if I didn’t know the consequences of what I was doing, even if I had no idea what I was doing. Still, I knew that the slow climb from assistant to associate to full professor was not for me, that I would not end an emeritus.

Even now that I know the consequences, I can’t say I was wrong to have dropped off the tenure track. Sure, I might even have managed the climb, secured myself in some out-of-the-way department somewhere, but it wouldn’t have been my life. A role, only.

It will be good for me, finally, to have finished with these files, to have disarticulated the stories and narratives within. But I know they meant something, once, that they mattered, once, and it grieves me to put it all behind me.

I will feel lighter, when I am done, however heavy I feel now.

Lighter, yes.





Pass in time

31 08 2009

It’s been almost 4 months.

I teared up when I typed that.

You see, while I can talk about her life, I cannot talk about her death without tears.

I know she’s no longer here, but it is an outer knowledge, something I keep away from me.

I have to make room for her, all of her, in me. Life and death and everything.

If I want to be able to remember without tears, then I have to bring her back in, even with the tears.

‘Just a cat’, I know.

But oh, how I miss that cat!





Playmate, come out and play with me

19 06 2009

There will be no porn in this post. It’s about cats (NOT pussies). Got it?

It’s been about 2 months since Chelsea died, and while I think about getting a kitten, it’s more an abstract than real thought.

I have almost a week off between summer teaching sessions at the beginning of July, and toyed with the idea of getting a kitten then. I’ll be home; I’ll have time; I’ll be able to referee between kitten and Bean.

But I’m not ready. And I don’t know if Bean is ready.

Bean has never been an ‘only’ cat. Sweet Pea was three years old when I picked up the second legume, and thus grew up living with another cat and me. Now the other cat is gone and Bean is, I dunno, fine and needy and lonely but really, mostly fine.

She gets a lot of attention from me, which she doesn’t seem to mind. We’ve established a new routine, just the two of us, and it seems to be working. I think she gets a little bored being the only one of her kind around here, but, you know: projecting, anthropomorphizing, etc.

I know she’d hate the kitten. Hate it. Hissing and backing away and hissing some more and batting at the tiny critter whenever it came near.

It’s what Chelsea did to her.

But Chelsea and Bean also curled up together and tussled and chased each other and double-teamed me when they heard me crack open a can of wet cat food. That day I took Chelsea to the vet, I leaned her over Bean, to let Bean sniff her, one last time. Bean licked her head.

Instinct? Habit? I don’t know. It felt like good bye.

And, as I told lesleykim in a comment to another post, as hard as it was coming home without Chelsea, I don’t know that I could have handled coming home to a feline-less apartment.

So I want a kitten for Bean, and for me. Just not yet.





Out of the corner of my eye

10 06 2009

I saw Chelsea on the train today.

There she was, sleeping on a towel in that corner near the end of the car with FatCat, when she woke and stretched and sauntered over to me.

What? There is no corner near the end of the car? Ah.

Did I mention I had been dozing? And that in non-dreamland she would have hated the lurch and screech of the train?

It was good seeing her, though.





Ghost in the machine

17 05 2009

She’s been gone two weeks and I don’t feel her anywhere.

I choked up as this photo loaded on to the page, but it’s been been awhile since tears could be prompted by the thought of her.

She’s slipped right through and away from me.

Grief may be about the recognition of absence, as I mentioned previously, but what of the absence of the absence?

I can tell people I mercy-killed my cat and move on. I pull FatCat close to me and wonder how she is as an only cat. I think about getting a kitten in July or August.

I don’t think about Chelsea.

There’s a photo of her propped on top of her empty food dish (a small pot I threw and glazed in her tiger-striped coloring; FatCat has a similar black-and-white dish), but I rarely slide my eyes over the shelf on which the dish sits, so I don’t see her. Out of sight, out of mind?

It’s a relief not always to be verging on tears, but I’m discomfitted by my relatively smooth transition to post-Chelsea life. I was worried about the grief taking me over, but now I wonder about the easy sequestration of that grief.

I thought she’d be here. Yeah, I know, I’m an agnostic about all things supernatural, but I liked the idea of her, somehow, hanging around. Ms. Blithe comforted me with the words ‘Travel well, Skinny Cat,’ and I like the image of her continuing on, somehow.

Somehow. I was worried that my own disenchanted naturalism would dissipate into a cheap spiritualism, that I would be unable to deal forthrightly with Chelsea’s death and thus retreat into a moony ‘when-I-see-her-again’ wistfulness.

This is not a slam against belief. My friend and colleague J. is both ‘an orthodox Marxist and an orthodox Catholic’ (she pronounces this with her finger raised) says that ‘unlike those goddamned Protestants’ Catholics believe that animals have souls and I’ll see Chelsea in heaven. (Which is sweet, really, that she thinks I’ll make it to heaven.) I demurred and noted that some Protestants allow for this possibility, but, as with Ms. Blithe’s comment, I didn’t really take it in. It’s a nice idea that I don’t quite believe in.

I ought to be relieved: my agnosticism is not as blithe as I worried it might be! My beloved cat is gone and I don’t experience her as anything other than gone. She’s dead, as FatCat will one day be, as any other cats I take in will one day be, as my friends and family and I will someday be. Dead is dead.

Curiously, however, I am not eased by the fact that I am not eased by any post-death possibilities. I ought to be pleased with myself, insofar as I sometimes suspect that my agnosticism is little more than cover for lack of commitment. I am committed to doubt! I say, even as I think I am merely keeping all of my options open. Don’t want to be caught out a fool, doncha know.

So the unbelief side of my agnosticism holds. Whoopee.

Another stage of grief? Bargaining or whatever? ‘I want my cat back. I want her here, with me.’ And that she’s not, in any way, is a kind of small desolation which confirms the possibility of universal desolation. Is this the movement out of bargaining into acceptance? That death really does mean separation?

And then wrap this whole situation in the that whole over/underreaction dynamic I have going on, and it would make sense that I lurch from constant sorrow to a certain stoniness regarding her absence, and from there to a cosmic absence for everyone everywhere, forever.

I want to be clear-eyed. I want to remember. I want to keep open possibility. I want to commit. I want to make sense.

So Chelsea’s gone and I know that. I know that too well. I just want her here, as well.

I want something more.





You’ve got to. . .cry without weeping

4 05 2009

I hate crying.

I don’t do it very often, which means that when I do cry, I don’t do it well.

It doesn’t make me feel better, I don’t feel cleansed, released, relieved, or in any way unburdened.

When I’m crying, there’s always a part of me saying, Well, shit, I’m crying, and I hate crying.

I have cried more the past 6 days than I have the past 6 years, maybe the past 16 years. I cried on the bus, on the train, walking down the street, at my desk, on my bed, in the shower, at the stove, while washing dishes, making coffee, and retrieving milk from the refrigerator.

Have I mentioned how I feel about crying?

I don’t know what to do with tears, not least because I don’t know what to do with what causes tears. I’m no good with sadness.

Depression, despair, anxiety, numbness, unhappiness, disgruntlement, dissatisfaction—got all those down. But sadness? A specific reaction to a specific event which cannot in any way be fixed? Nope.

In many ways, I’ve been lucky. My parents and siblings and their kids are all alive and well, as are all close friends, past and present. Yes, I’ve had pets who were taken away or who’ve died, but it’s been a very long time since I’ve had to deal with something other than a self-inflicted loss.

I’ve certainly inflicted loss, on myself and others. I’ve left jobs and friends and cities, and am number one with the romantic-relationship-ending bullet. One former friend, who a couple of years ago decided to punish me for my alleged misbehavior (a misunderstanding) told me not to contact him, not even to try to clear up the misunderstanding, that he would contact me when he was good and ready. Fine. The letter he eventually sent still hasn’t been opened, the e-mail, unread.

Shut it down and walk away. Bloodless.

It’s not that I don’t recognize the downsides of being a cold bitch, and most of the time, I’m just a regular bitch. But I’m comfortable with the distances of bitchiness, even as I sometimes think that distance itself is not always the most comforting. This is what I’ve chosen. Consequences.

But now this, the mercy-killing of a cat who’s been with me almost all of my adult life. She leapt over my boundaries and into my lap even when I protested that I was reading or typing or just not in the mood. She didn’t care about my moods. She wanted to be scratched and held and at the center of my attention.

On cold nights she’d step over the blankets to sit on the sheet to the side of the pillow, and wait for me to lift the covers and let her in. And when I didn’t immediately do so, she’d paw at the covers, and if I still didn’t respond, she’d put her paw with her claws ever-so-slightly extended on my nose and remind me that if I knew what was good for me, I’d lift the fucking covers RIGHT NOW and let her in. Which I always did.

I’d bitch, but I’d always let her in.

And now she’s gone and I look at the box for the multi-cat litter and tear up, thinking, I only have one cat now. I open the fridge and look down at the floor, next to the heating pipe where she used to lay, and she’s not there. I lay in bed with Fat Cat on one side of me and the other side empty.

I used to wake up and pull both cats close and whisper ‘It’s good to wake up with two kitties next to me.’

No more.

So this is loss and it makes me sad and there’s nothing I can do about it except live with it.








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