It all started when I brought home Peaches. Tonka the best-companion-dog-or-cat-a-girl-ever-had Lynx Point Siamese and I had been living on my third-floor condo alone together for over a dozen years blissfully happy in our own self-contained, magical world. (The personal trauma that led to my withdrawal from humanity has been touched on in another blog.) Though I was the condo Pres I could escape to my top-floor retreat above the fray. Not much dirt or salt ever got tracked all the way up the stairs; it was clean and bright. Everything stayed where Tonka or I put it and we were settled in our ways. And she was truly my partner in life from the moment I saw her in the shelter, and the rainbows arced and birds sang and butterflies soared all around us and it was meant to be. We walked everywhere with her leash, she rode around in the car with me to Tim Hortons then the park on weekends, she always greeted me at the door, talking. Life was well-ordered.
Then I had to go and start volunteering for the cat-cuddling program at the local shelter. You go in a few times a week and play with your adopted cat(s) to help socialize them. Tonka was very much a single-cat-in-the-house cat so I didn’t see any danger in my becoming attached; what creature could ever be as smart and communicative and bossy and bold and fearless as my amazing Tonka, anyway?
A Sheltered Cat
Peaches the timid calico dilute wasn’t even “my” adopted cuddle cat. She always seemed to be one of the cats let out when I was there; not fighting with the other cats, but not paying any attention to them either. Neither did she seek out human companionship; she just went away and did her own thing. I held her sometimes and she let me, but she rarely played with the toys as the other cats did. She would never make a move that called attention to herself. In retrospect I realize she was probably a bit shell-shocked; at two years old, she’d been found outside during the bitter cold Polar Vortex, then had a stint with a foster while she recovered from a very serious upper respiratory illness. Who knew what demons ran around in her little head to make her so cautious?
She was cute, for sure: there were definite over-tones of Grumpy Cat in her big, limpid blue eyes. But I was a cat snob; raised with Siameses because of my dad’s allergies, I knew from long experience that they were clever, and all other cats were pretty airheads by comparison. One day, though, Peaches did gain a bit more respect from me when a boisterous tom tried to hone in on her spot on the cat tower and intimidate her out of it. So quiet that only the other cat and I heard her, Peaches gave a low, solid “Grrrrr….” –and held her ground. So shy, timid Peaches had a tiny, little core of steel in her backbone after all!
For two months I visited the shelter several times a week and Peaches was still there. We have a pretty animal-friendly community and I was growing more and more amazed: she’s so incredibly cute, why hasn’t anyone taken Peaches home yet? I began to worry that her reticence was being mistaken for coldness and that she’d never find a home. Then one day lightning struck–just not as soon as with Tonka: I awoke and sat straight up in bed and realized: the reason no one’s taken Peaches home yet is because I’M supposed to take her home!
Pulling a thread…
Tonka didn’t agree, of course, and it took my installing a screen door on the spare bedroom during unsupervised times for several months before they adapted to each other. For the first six months Peaches was happy to live under the bed. I could only get her to play at first with a shoe-string: it was a victory when she moved her paw. To her, that was already bringing too much attention to herself. But after patient coaxing and several months she became the cat she was meant to be, playing with more joy and less self-consciousness till the day she took a flying belly-whopper leap through the air then hunkered down, shocked, when she hit the ground: was that really me? did anyone see me? Always a little chunky, she was that much cuter as she became more active: the amazing Peaches even once did a somersault off the bed, catching the ribbon in her teeth mid-air, and stuck the landing perfectly.
Tonka was getting older and after awhile seemed happy to watch someone else play most of the time. At night we all piled into bed together, though they each kept to their own sides. I had done the unthinkable: I had brought another cat into our lives and we had survived the change. And something else happened after the shake-up of my self-induced escape-from-the-real-world: I began to write again. NaNo kick-started me, and soon I was in a community of real, like-minded folks for the first time since grad school. And they were nicer.
Breaking all the eggs
Just as the three of us finally reached our stride all living together, the economy and chance brought me to find and buy my dream house. Tonka had a back yard to play in; she’d been getting too old and tired for actual walks anymore. She just liked to sit. (Peaches’ demons keep her inside.) This past year in the house has been one of real upheaval: I had to take on my sister and another renter to afford it, and my sister had another elderly alpha-female cat–and this time the screen-door was permanent. My cats and hers had a time-share arrangement out on the main floor; Tonka and Peaches lived with me up in my bedroom loft the rest of the time.
I had to get used to sharing a bathroom–with people not as fastidiously clean as I tended to be. Don’t even get me started on the kitchen: my sister and I are absolute polar opposites. I have trouble breaking a few eggs to start a project; breaking eggs is all she can do. I’ve had to work my tail off on home-repairs and keeping up the half-acre as I prepare to convert that huge, back shaded lawn into a cottage garden, and do most of the physical work and cleaning inside. Suddenly money-management has become as myth as home projects constantly blow cannon holes in my credit (but what was I building all that great credit for anyway?) Rent doesn’t always come in on time and creative financing has become fantastical.
I went through the trauma and winter depression following the death of Tonka, who as I said had been sick for some time (her elegy is the unwritten blog…) I drudged through a second NaNo to try to keep the horrible pain and emptiness at bay. Several family members were hospitalized for this and that, and my older niece has become pregnant. Then my sister’s cat also passed away, and then, some weeks later. . .George arrived.
Confusion now hath made his masterpiece
I thought I’d become used to chaos already. We were told the big, male Siamese was a two-year old, something more settled we needed for Peaches’ avoidance personality, but the vet revealed he was much closer to one: actually kind of a relief, when you consider his behavior. He’s wild and energetic and playful, of course, but he also has no impulse control, no seeming ability to learn (the word “no”, for example), and–even more than the usual Siamese but perhaps not unlike your average adolescent male–always needs to be the center of attention. Lots of attention. He’s chewing on my ankle right now.
So he may grow out of it. But until then, it’s a miracle how different my life is from one year ago in the condo with my two girls. I wouldn’t recognize myself. Not only is life chaotic now–I don’t even wince when I hear a CRASH somewhere in the house, or Peaches screams, or George tears past me up the stairs at breakneck speed while I balance a laptop and a hot cup of tea–but I don’t see it changing much in the future at all. There is always going to be gardening to do. The sheer limits of money mean that the home-repair and -improvement projects will stretch out for years. Face it, this is a whole new world, and I may never be “settled” inside my perfect little Ivory Tower ever again.
Breaking eggs is something I’ve very much needed to learn how to do, and now it’s getting applied to my writing revision: most of my writing-block paralysis comes from needing, out of fear, to leave well-enough alone. Pull a thread, ruin the sweater. Break an egg, have to clean it up. Add people to a household, learn to compromise. Tighten up the plot, lose the great feeling I had after finishing the first draft.
All of us wild, all free
It’s amazing and more than a little jarring when I look back now and realize that when I met Peaches, well, I WAS Peaches. I was in my own little world, and it was nice and even necessary while it lasted, but it couldn’t last. Trauma doesn’t ever completely go away, but neither are you ever as disconnected from the world as you think. I have a voice, and writing was always that voice, but there was no way I could use it again without leaving the shelter behind. Time to come out from under the bed and play.