Monday, December 30, 2013

The end of the road

"But I never took heavy words for granted, and I never took the undeserved advantage, no, I never took the easy way."

After the admonishment I got at Animal Services for picking up sick cats, I was perfectly on board with not visiting the feline sick bay. So I wouldn't have expected my relationship with the shelter to get worse. It did. Much worse.

On Christmas Eve I was bitten quite severely by a cat.


There I was, all happy to be spending time with the cats the day before Christmas, happy that it had been a good week for adoptions, hoping there'd be a few more before the holiday.

I've never been bitten by a cat before. The most punishing thing about it was the reaction of the staff. I was sitting in the office bleeding while I was told that this was my second bite and if it happened again I wouldn't be allowed back.

Talk about blaming the victim. Not to mention that it had not happened before, not to me.

When I went to volunteer orientation at the shelter, the cats in the cat room had colored dots on their cage cards. A green dot meant a cat got along with all other cats and could be out with them. Yellow dots meant the cats got along with some other cats, although it was unclear how to tell which ones. Cats with red dots were labeled as not getting along with other cats.

As the weeks went by and cats left and new cats came, I noticed there were no colored dots on their cage cards. I also noticed that some of the red-dotted cats seemed meek enough. I even asked if they were ever re-evaluated, and the answer was yes, but none of the dots ever changed. At some point new cage cards were printed for all the cats and the dots disappeared.

So as I got to know the cats, I would let them out to play, a few at a time, and I'd watch them closely. If there was any sign of hostility, such as hissing, I'd put that cat back in its cage. The shelter staff was in and out of the room all the time and knew full well what I was doing. No one told me to only take one cat out at a time. In fact, the shelter director asked me more than once to recommend cats to be roommates. There are some bigger cages where up to three grown cats can live.

At one point Jack, who'd been a green dot cat, needed two companions. I suggested Huckleberry and Polly. Then I asked if they all needed to be the same gender. The director said they were neutered so it didn't matter.

The three of them got along famously.

On Christmas Eve, at the time I was bitten, I had four cats out. Two females, one juvenile male, and Godzilla, the male cat who bit me when I picked him up to return him to his cage. I'd had him out several times before and he was watchful and aloof but showed no signs of aggression.

The one other variable in the situation was that a customer had just entered the room, a hefty man, tall and broad. My intuition is that Godzilla had a bad experience prior to his shelter life with someone like that. I can't think of another good reason why he suddenly sunk his teeth deep into my hand.

The shelter director said the reason was that there were three other cats out in the room.

She said I had been told not to have more than one cat out at a time.

I could not even defend myself because of the tears.

The volunteer trainer said something about bites counting against them with regard to pay raises. I understood that to mean if they themselves were bitten, but maybe it meant if anyone was bitten.

I'm surprised that they didn't insist I have the bite attended to by a medical professional. They offered the option but I don't think they expected me to take them up on it.

But it was Christmas Eve and in the back of my mind there was a vague association between cat bites and nasty things like blood poisoning. I had no idea if my doctor was working that day, and anyway his office is across the city, at least 30 miles away. I only wanted a referral to someone local, but I found out the bite would be handled as a work-related injury and treatment would be handled as workman's comp.

I am more glad than I can express that I followed my instincts and went to the urgent care center where I was ultimately directed. I got a tetanus shot, Cipro and Tylenol with Codeine and I have no doubt I needed all of them. By that evening the bite was hot and painful.

By Christmas morning my hand was swollen, flushed and angry.



The urgent care center called to see how I was doing while I was taking a bath. I told Neil to tell them that I was OK.

But when my hand was still swollen and tender on Thursday, I called back and asked to have it rechecked. The urgent care center took it upon themselves to get authorization. They called back to tell me a recheck had been approved, but I missed the call because I was out shopping. In the meantime I'd made an appointment with a doctor in Neil's doctor's family practice.

I didn't go back to the urgent care center. My hand was on the mend but I figured that establishing a relationship with a local doctor only made good sense. I saw him the next day, Friday. He said the wound was healing nicely and didn't even laugh at me for coming in about it.

On Friday afternoon the shelter director called to see how I was doing. Her message was somewhere between genuine (or feigned) concern for me and a veiled caution that the shelter would give me another chance by allowing me to come back, as long as I followed rules.

I'm considering my options. Working with the cats has brought me so much joy. But I can't escape feeling the way I felt when I had a review at work and instead of hearing about all the good work I'd been doing I was censured for something that had no basis in fact or truth. In that case, when I sought to defend myself, I was told that I was in denial and that dismissing the criticism would only be to my detriment.

Nothing is more frustrating than an undeserved negative review where you aren't allowed to use truth as a defense.

Neil says the situations are not analogous. He says I should take the people out of the equation and remember why I am doing this work. That is probably sage advice, but I'm not there yet. I'm not making any definite decisions. I cancelled my volunteer shift for New Years Eve.

When the scabs fall off and the redness fades, I'll decide what to do.

I'm sure the scars will barely be perceptible in time.

Just like the scars from my aborted love affair with Marty. I got his very last note on September 17, 2002. I didn't reply to it.

Had I finally put the torch I had carried for so long to rest?

Almost. But not quite.

My determination not to write to him again wavered.

I muscled through it.
It seems if anything else is to happen between us, it will be because I make it so. He is going to hang back and let me do the work. And then, if things don't work out, he has no share in the blame, it will all have been my doing. How convenient for him.

Not long ago, I resolved that if anything were to happen again between us, it would only happen if he did the work and came to me. If it came about any other way, then I didn't want it. I'm still not sure I do.

But I find myself wavering from that resolve. I have the sense that if I push it, if I take the plunge and the risk, he will come back now. Not necessarily to stay of course. Maybe just for another brief interlude. But right now I sense he would come.

He doesn't know how to do it. Intimacy. He is good at the romance and infatuation and feelings of being "in love" but when the wash is dirty and the kids are rude, he is out of there. He may crave it, but he flat doesn't know how to handle it.

And why would I subject myself to the risk of heartache all over again? Why would I want to hike back up the damn mountain to the same damn precipice again? Who will catch me when I fall?
Of course, we already know that love and logic are irreconcilable. Well, most of the time.

My friend in Scotland, Claire, who was trying to stop fanning the cold embers of her own passion for the man who left her, asked me this. "Why do we put ourselves through this?"
A very good question. Someone suggested that I may be punishing myself for imagined past failings. For example, leaving my marriage. I felt and still feel a huge amount of guilt over that.
Claire also gently suggested that maybe, like her guy, Marty just wasn't interested enough.
It is so hard for me to accept that someone would just not be interested enough. No, that's not true, I meet people every day who aren't all that interested in me. The difference is, Marty was vitally interested for a while. And the difference is, that feeling that we belong together.

But every lovesick Sally probably feels that way. Who am I to think I am so special?

Marty left me. So if there is any coming back to do, he has to do it, not me. Marty pushed me away for the lovely but elusive Mary Mary quite contrary - and then put his ad back on the Internet. I made excuses for him, he was trying to go back to her but still looking for some companionship in the meantime while he looked for a job "closer to home." Their relationship was always rocky, he wasn't sure about his job situation, etc.

And then in the end, there was no Mary, no job loss, no relocation, and he still didn't choose to rejoin me. Well, maybe he felt it was futile. When he did ask me to call him I said, do you think what happened is surmountable? And he retreated.

I wanted him to fight for me.

Today there is a hint of fall in the air and it makes me ache. His note said so many warm things, but still he does not call or ask to see me.

I am fooling myself by thinking I am anything more than a passing amusement in his unisphere, by believing that he cares. I am clutching at the slimmest of straws, living in some fantasy world where people walk back in 14 months later and knock on doors.

Why do I do this to myself?
I was back where we'd begun.

In behavioral psychology there is something called an "extinction burst." The classic example is a bird that has been trained to peck a button and receive a bird seed reward. If the food reinforcement is stopped, the hungry bird will first try pecking the button just as it has in the past. When no food is forthcoming after repeated efforts, just before desisting, the bird will go through a period of frantic pecking. When this behavior yields no result, the bird will finally give up and stop pecking.

So it was that, after a last frenzy of hope, indecision and doubt, I became as wise as that bird. I'd been tapping, tapping, tapping on the door of Marty's indifference and, for a long, long time, no sustenance had been forthcoming.
Each time he has made contact, I think, now, this is it, this time he will ask to see me again. And I deliberate endlessly about whether I should take some initiative.

If he actually did come back, I would be endlessly watching for reassurance, endlessly fearing that he would leave again, endlessly scrutinizing every look and gesture for signs of loss. I'm not strong enough for that. Especially if I initiate the reunion.

Maybe if he does, if he shows some signs of knowing what he wants and putting himself out, I would give it a chance. But if I have to do it, it would be too fragile.

It would, in fact, be doomed.

So, there it is. I just found my answer.

Writing it out, I see it clearly. I must do nothing. I must wait. I must let it go.

Either he comes back on his own stream or we are at the end of the road.
And it was the end of the road. That road.

And it was OK.
I did nothing wrong. He did everything wrong. But I have to forgive both of us. I can't let it destroy the rest of my life.
There were other roads. I could see that now.

It was September 20, 2002. My baggage was packed. I was finally ready to go.


I knew a guy, I thought he was my first love
But he had to decide, between me and the one before
And she stacked it all up, like a house of cards
Said if he didn't come back, he'd find her flattened on the floor

And though I went and lived in my own hell
Thought that I could die as well
I let him go where he thought he had to go

But I never took heavy words for granted
And I never took the undeserved advantage
No, I never took the easy way
So why don't you take it a little easy on me now?

Out on the road, I had so many questions
I thought I would explode, just for some attention
Like an acolyte, I saw the flames of towering tapers
Almost proselytized, by those gleaming piles of paper

Yeah, I watched the power huddles
And their coats draped over puddles
And their trust me, baby, I'm the one you need

But I never took heavy words for granted
And I never took the undeserved advantage
No, I never took the easy way
So why don't you take it a little easy on me now?

Cause we don't want to be the ones
Who lie and cheat and slander
So we hold each other up to the higher standard
But I'll tell you what, I'll never try to make it hard
Cause when you're hard just to be hard
The only thing that's hard is you

So here's what I took, I kept the wine and laughter
Until every path just grew up and ever after
Yeah, through the peaks and twisty canyons
I met many great companions
Best of all is the one who loves me like you do

Cause I never took heavy words for granted
And I never took the undeserved advantage
No, I never took the easy way
So why don't you take it a little easy on me now?

Cause I never took heavy words for granted
And it's much too late to even want the shortcut
Yeah, I never took the easy way
So you can take it a little easy on me now
Cause we know that easy's never easy anyhow

(Dar Williams)

No comments:

Post a Comment

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