Monday, December 23, 2013

Dances with cats

"A time to build up, a time to break down, a time to dance, a time to mourn."

I was reprimanded this week during my volunteer shift with the cats. I've had a few days to get over it and in retrospect it was no more than a gentle hand slap, but at the time I felt badly about it.

As a rule, I spend 95 percent of my time with the healthy cats in the cat room and in the lobby area. If I notice any sneezing or watery eyes, I don't let that cat play with the others and I alert the staff. Respiratory infections easily get out of control in a shelter.

For the past few weeks sick cats have been kept in the back hallway. Before I leave for the day, I've been visiting them. I already know most of them because they were in the cat room before getting sick.

Even though they are sick, some of them still desperately want affection. I've taken them out and held them, in turns, using antibacterial gel in between cats. I never go back to the healthy cat area after I handle sick cats.

But the vet tech told me not to touch them again. She said even if I gel my hands, germs may remain on my scrubs. In a better-safe-than-sorry way, it makes sense not to handle them. On the other hand, they are caged in the same small area and are most likely infected with the same germs already.

But of course I said I wouldn't touch them again. The vet tech also said they were moving the sick bay to an outbuilding (where it had been until recently). So the reproof was essentially gratuitous. If the sick cats aren't in the main building, I won't even have access to touch them again.

Not that I would, having been told not to. I'm not careless. When I get home from the shelter, I change clothes and lather my arms to the elbows before handling Loki and Zamboni. I even have dedicated shoes for working at the shelter.

On a brighter note, Bella was adopted, Bella who has lived at the shelter for more than a year. Bella did not have much going for her. She was a nice enough cat but not friendly to other cats or particularly fond of people. She was overweight with an unfortunately small head and short tail, and her tabby markings were unexceptional.

When I saw she wasn't there I asked one of the staff members, who told me she was adopted. Good. But my comment was, I'd love to know how that went down. We have some really sweet and pretty cats, but someone had chosen unprepossessing Bella.

The staff member told me that a lady had come in and asked, which cat has been here the longest? She took Bella and had already reported back that after a few days Bella was coming out of her shell, making herself at home and even losing some weight, now that she wasn't confined to a cage for most of her day, every day.

I told Neil about it. He said, I love that story. And it is a very sweet story.

We still have Kelsey, who heads for this chair the minute I let her out of her cage. If I sit in the chair, she will sit in the chair with me, either behind me or on my lap if I let her. I'd say she is our most affectionate, people-loving cat. She's pretty too.

Here are Noelle and Ally. Noelle is sweet, pretty, friendly and cool with the other cats. I'm sure we won't have her long. Ally is a big lazy lug. She usually shows no interest in coming out of her cage. When she does, she finds a spot somewhere and parks herself. She doesn't like other cats very much and I haven't really warmed up to her, but I keep trying.

Ariel and Jules are next. Ariel is a playful young tortoiseshell and I'm surprised we still have her. She loves other cats. Jules is a chubby little girls who is fearless with other cats and very playful. I'm working with her on getting more comfortable with being handled by people. I'm surprised we still have her too, but black cats have a harder time finding families.

This is Huckleberry. He's a very nice cat, a dilute gray tabby with beautiful green eyes, sociable, easy-going, lovable.

And this little darling is Coal. If he's still there on Christmas Eve, I'll be shocked, although he is black. He's just a kitten and he purrs like a nut.

I'm volunteering on Christmas Eve and on New Years Eve. It would be nice to have lots of adoptions this week, ideally by a families who gave sufficient thought to getting a cat as a holiday gift.

There are lots more cats to choose from. We have a huge gray boy with a fluffy tail named Godzilla. Jack, our one-eyed boy, still waits to be chosen. Several young tabbies who I have a hard time telling apart. A little Russian Blue kitten named Nikki. An Abyssinian mix named Pixie, who is not quite comfortable with other cats yet, but she's young and I'm working with her. Also a hodge-podge of black and white and gray and white kittens.

And a gorgeous male, Hugo, who is white with gray patches and odd eyes. I love him. I love white odd-eyed cats and I would adopt another one if it was the right cat at the right time.

This isn't the right time and probably not the right cat. Loki and Zamboni would have a hard time with a full-grown adult male, sweet as this one is.

Two cats feel like the right number to me right now. I can't make any promises that that won't change one day.

To everything there is a season.

I've come to the final chapters of my relationship with Marty in 2001 and 2002.

When he didn't follow up after we'd met for coffee, I'd declared that I was ready to let it go and move on.

I truly was ready and I wish I could say it was a linear process.
I have not wavered from my resolution to let go of the relationship. I'm still convinced letting go is the right decision, but I'm disappointed to have felt no relief or sense of lightness from having set a burden down.

My malaise now is more lassitude and a sense of purposelessness than grief and heartache. Perhaps as long as I was grieving I was also nursing hope - so now, in letting go, I have to deal with a sense of hopelessness.
On his birthday, August 8 (the same birth date as my daughter), I considered sending him a note. But the time comes when one must close the books. So I didn't.

In late August I got a note from Marty that he'd gotten DSL and had a new personal email address. He said he was sending the information to his "list of most important people in the world."

I almost just deleted it, but a few days later I wrote back with a noncommittal two-liner.
Welcome to the world of high-speed internet. I've been a "cable gal" myself for some time now.

Take care.

The day I sent it, he wrote me a long reply, all about his new job, James Taylor, his son, him, him, him.

He signed it thus.
Thanks again for the note, Liz.... and it was nice to see you again....

I wrote to Claire.
I'm baffled that he seems to want to maintain a connection, wants me to know how to reach him and what is happening in his world.

I'm torn about how or if to respond - with a nice note in kind, with a plea to come back or to make a clean break, with silence. I toy with the idea of putting it out there, in cold hard black and white. "It was nice seeing you again too, even though I feel like there are things between us that have been left unsaid and unfinished."

Silence so far has won out.

I truly don't want to think about him any more. I have wasted enough brain cells on him. I'm tired. I just want to have some love and joy in my life again.
I continued to hold my peace. It should have been easy but it wasn't.
I do have random thoughts of e-mailing something outrageous to him - something like, "want to run away to Figi with me?" - but I'm fighting to be still.

Each day makes it easier, or at least makes it more awkward to respond to his most recent message without it appearing that I brooded over it for a long time.

Maybe I won't hear from him again. Maybe I will.
I continued to correspond with Claire in Scotland, Claire who had parallel issues, a man she'd loved and couldn't quite let go of, although he continued to treat her cavalierly and let her down. We had so much in common, we were so alike.

She wrote this to me.
I am giving myself a hard time over everything. I would like to go away and sit in a rocking chair and read a book and not be responsible for anything. The problem is I always keep going, I never give up, I am never so bad that I cannot keep everything together on the outside.

I wonder when I will sort my head out and stop feeling anxious. Things are okay but not okay. Perhaps I am standing at a precipice and need to jump. But I don't want to jump. I want to sit down and eat my lunch and admire the view, then wend my way down a pleasant path in the warm sunshine, stopping when I feel tired, smelling the flowers and listening to the birds.
I got it. I wrote back.
I know the feeling of being on the precipice. I have loitered there myself and still do at times. I have yet to purge Marty's letters. I still look at the photographs.

Many times I have tried to jump, wondering if I'd fall or if I'd fly. Unfortunately, I seem to keep hiking my way back up that mountain to that same precipice so I can do it all over again.

I also know the feeling of being OK and Not OK. It is a horrible, stagnant quagmire of a feeling. So I amble on, walking up and down that path that leads to the precipice, trying to smell the flowers and listen to the birds and thinking, this really isn't THAT bad.

Like you, I judge myself harshly and feel like I am falling short of some arbitrary standard of perfection I set.
But this time I had jumped and I was sticking the landing. My life was continuing. I was putting Marty behind me.

Progress can be measured in tiny increments - and it is still progress.

In September I got another note from Marty, about, well, nothing important really. We'd been having some stormy weather. He closed with this.
Hope you've stayed high and dry this weekend.... Take care!

I consulted Claire.
I heard from Marty again. He wrote yesterday, on a very slim pretext, to tell me the son of a musician we both like will be on a national radio show this week. Seems to me like a trumped-up excuse to get back in touch, don't you think? But why? Does he need reassurance that I am still here, still thinking about him?

I have achieved more detachment of late than I ever had before. Why now? And what is the right thing to do? Continue to ignore him? Ask him what he is about?
In the end, a couple of days later, I sent another noncommittal reply.
Thanks for the info. I wish I could say I stayed high and dry this weekend, but I got rather damp and wind-blown Saturday night watching the traditional Jersey Village football rout by Katy High School.
Just hours later, Marty send me another enthusiastic - and meaningless - message.

I wrote to Claire.
Now what? If meeting me for coffee sparked his imagination, why did he wait a month and a half to let me know? The pain was sharp in the days after the meeting, when he didn't call or write. So why now? I don't get it - but with Marty nothing makes much sense.

I can't see becoming his pen pal. If he wants a relationship, a friendship or whatever, he has to belly up to the bar. He needs to pick up the phone and call and ask me on a date. Because I'm not going to suggest coffee again.

At least expecting nothing when it comes to Marty has become second nature.
A week passed. Again I spilled my guts to Claire.
I haven't heard from Marty again. Still, I have thought about him a lot this week and I realize I still have feelings for him, whether he cares about me or not.

I want to scream - call me, ask me out, kiss me, love me. But I am unable to break out of my self-imprisonment and silence and pride.

I read between the lines of his letters that he is trying to communicate something to me but I can't find the words to unlock the barriers. I want to send him another note, a poem, touch his heart somehow, but I am so afraid of screwing up.

On the other hand, if he wants to reach me, he knows how to. The minute I take the initiative into my hands, I risk rejection and more heartache. I could easily say, Marty come back, or leave me alone. But what if he left me alone?

Part of me thinks that maybe that is the way to win him over again. Be assertive. Seduce him. Knock on his door. Ask him to go to the zoo with me. Stop waiting for him to show up with roses and repentance. Take the bull by the horns.

But I'm not sure. And unless I do it perfectly, I don't think I can pull it off. So I do nothing except obsess and fantasize. It seems a bit teenage, doesn't it?

I tell myself over and over, we are just two little people in the world, me and Marty, two insignificant ants, nothing special. Everybody hurts, everyone suffers unreciprocated love at some time.

Why has this taken on such cataclysmic proportions? Why do I feel like it is bigger than anything else that has ever happened to anyone else? Why can't I put it behind me? It is nothing in the greater scheme, nothing but a tawdry little tragicomedy which ended many months ago.
As I said, letting go, moving on, isn't linear.

I sent Marty one more note, in reply to his last. It didn't say much, answered a question he'd asked. And this.
Since I know you appreciate beauty, I'm attaching a poem I came across this morning. It's called "The Dance." Something to think about.

There is a line in the poem that says, "let us risk remembering that we never stop silently loving those we once loved out loud."

It was the closest I could come to telling him that I still loved him.

The next day, September 17, 2002, he wrote back.
Hi there!

You always give me food for thought, Liz!! I'm thinking.... I'm thinking, I'm thinking!!!

The poem is beautiful.... I'll sleep on that.

Thanks for remembering me!

I wanted to write back, "don't think too hard. It means what you think it means." But I didn't.

It was the last note I ever got from him.

I never wrote to him again.

"To everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose under Heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose under Heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose under Heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace
A time to refrain from embracing

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose under Heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it's not too late."

(Pete Seeger)

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Thanks for your comment! I will post it as soon as I receive it. Liz