I’ve always been a huge animal lover. As a child, I was always around them. My house always had some sort of soft, fluffy creature dodging feet. We often had newborn baby kittens. People would just bring animals to us. Mostly because my mother could never say no to those faces.
I’m a cat lady, for sure, but she was the ultimate cat lady.
Over time, my love of animals expanded–to all kinds of things, but especially primates and horses and even bugs. I was fascinated with them and devoted to making the world better for them–so they could stick around a long time. It’s why I became so obsessed with rainforests and why I finally journeyed to Madagascar and Costa Rica. It’s why I pained myself through four years of biology and chemistry hell–why I almost went to primatology school for my PhD. I had big, save the world dreams.
In the end, it wasn’t the best path for me. But I still feel really strongly about animals. I’m still a big activist for them in many ways. I still want to protect them. If I could save all of them, I totally would.
But, so often, I feel like animals save me.
If I’m in a room with a cat or a dog–or any animal, really–you’ll probably notice that I go off into my own little bubble of happiness with them. It’s a place where I’m still listening–but the people in the room fade into the background–and the animals become my sole focus. I have conversations with them. We cuddle. I basically become a six year old little girl. My voice even changes. There’s a joy and innocence there that doesn’t occur when I’m with people. I’m betting my blood pressure even drops.
I’m a much more loving, happier version of myself. Which is why I’ll never live without pets again. I just can’t.
Animals remind me to be kind, to have fun, and to slow down. I always have time to cuddle–no matter what the deadline is.
Since losing Cleo and adopting Mumford, I’ve really tried to be more like them. In the moment and unabashedly loving. When I allow myself to be influenced by them, it’s a lot easier to be in the moment, to take care of myself, and to ask for what I need. I have fewer expectations and less judgments.
Recently, I did something I didn’t think I could do…something that surprised me by how easy it was and by how different it made me feel about everything. For once, I did something just for me–not for anyone else–not with any rule or expectation–without overthinking it or trying to make it something else. I was direct, forgiving, and accepting of what was. It didn’t last as long as I hoped–because I’m still human–but it made me realize that all of it was a choice. Sometimes, a very simple one. And when I stopped trying to anticipate things–when I just reacted with instinct and a genuine heart–it was the easiest choice I’d ever made.
I’ve tried to do that more, lately, to varying degrees of success. But my sweet kitties are good teachers.
When you grow up the way I did, you get good at self-preservation. You live your life with rigid rules and expectations. You build iron gates around your heart. I was taught to be kind–but not too kind–so that kindness was actually a punishment filled with expectations.
To this day, I have a hard time saying simple niceties that let others know my heart. Because that means being vulnerable. And those things were always expected from me. Those things were required and appreciation–vulnerability–put me in a place to be victimized.
You didn’t smile too wide. You didn’t laugh too loud. You didn’t break.
You kept your distance and played by the rules.
That would keep you safe. You couldn’t be hurt.
The truth is I notice everything. I see everything. To acknowledge I see you–know you–care…well, that’s to risk not being seen, acknowledged, known, or cared for. I can’t stand the teeter totter. I want everything to be equal and perfect and controlled. Preferably where I control access to the toy.
I’m learning to play and accept that other people are gonna play with my toys. And sometimes, they’re gonna break them. All I can do is tell them exactly what I need to tell them–in the ways I need to tell them. All I can do is wear my heart on my sleeve and give them a chance to break it.
And chances are? They will. They’ll disappoint me. They’ll make me want to encase it in lava and brick. They’ll trigger all the anger I feel now about all the things I never actually felt when they actually happened.
But I’m learning, slowly, that their propensity to disappoint and break my heart is none of my business.
My business–my heart business–is to let people hear it beat. When it’s broken, keep putting the pieces back together. Because it’s still going and deserves to be heard. That has nothing to do with anyone else but me.
Saturday was a busy day. It was my roommate’s birthday. (Happy birthday, J!). And it was finally time to adopt our new cat and pick up the cake we’d had made to celebrate roomie’s birthday, the anniversary (albeit late) of my gall bladder surgery, and the life of dear Cleo.
I wasn’t feeling too great on Friday and ended up falling asleep a 8 pm–and waking up at 4 am. Which meant I was really hyper and raring to go by the time roomie woke up. I spent the early morning uploading photos from the last 6 months into Lightroom and going through–slowly (oh, so slowly) editing each one. I was excited to go up to Boulder and just get the Hell out of our hot apartment (seriously–it was 94 degrees in my bedroom the other day–when the temp outside was in the 60s–why???).
After an iced tea and tamale pit stop, the drive up actually wasn’t too bad. The construction mess is a little better than it has been (much less claustrophobic), and you can actually sort of envision what the expansion will look like when finished–though the fact that they were painting the hillside green is really disconcerting). It seems like a very different highway than the one I drove last year. Progress? I’m not sure, but it will make a big difference when it’s done.
We decided to drive down to Pearl and then head over to the amazing Kim & Jake’s to pick up the cake. We actually found parking close-by (which is a pretty big feat over there). We were so thrilled with the cake.
The cake is ginger vindaloo spice cake with thai curry caramel and black sesame seed icing. It’s basically me tackling a giant gall bladder, while Jake and our kitties (including angel Cleo (with wings) celebrate. It says, “Happy Life Day!”
We’re totally saving the fondant characters. The kitties, especially Cleo, are precious.
The best part about the cake is that it’s totally gluten-free and vegan. But it doesn’t remotely taste gluten-free or vegan. Big on flavor–lovely & moist, fluffy cake–amazing smell. We will get cakes from them for every single celebration from here on out. So nice to know we can have a little treat and not have to worry about food annoyances. We plan on sending at least half of it to roomie’s work on Monday–because we have so much left to eat.
It was a pretty nice morning, overall. We started trekking down to the DDFL a bit later than we wanted. The parking lot was packed (yay, adoptions). They’re offering a $10 adoption special for adult cats (over a year old)–which is such a great deal. We went through and checked out all the animals, marking down several that we thought would be potential friends.
Now, some people might be wondering why we decided to adopt a new cat so soon after Cleo’s passing. When Cleo passed, there was absolutely no question that I wanted to adopt a new cat. Having lost animals before, I’m familiar with what it takes to get over an animal. For me, no matter how much I grieve, there’s an overwhelming sadness that comes from losing that animal. A huge hole. A lot of it is related to caring for it and being around it. For me, since I’m at home all day every day, mostly by myself, there was a real loneliness there. Cleo would literally sit next to me all day. She was my best buddy. Though Fogg took her place next to me this past week, it wasn’t the same. I knew no amount of time would really make that better. I needed something new to love and bring back. I needed to fill the hole.
My roomie wasn’t completely convinced. The last few months with Cleo had been pretty awful. We were both at the end of our emotional ropes when she finally passed. He was also worried about the impact on the other cats–who were full-on grieving. After many talks, we decided we’d wait a few days and go to a shelter to see if we found a match.
We didn’t take this lightly, but I knew it was the right thing. The two surviving cats we had were exhibiting behavior problems. Rilly, our kitten, is pretty high strung and slightly psychotic. Without any grieving involved. When Cleo passed, he started going from room to room–looking for her and crying. He also kept checking in on me–all wide-eyed. Later in the week, he started getting a little destructive. Fogg became glued to me. My bedroom had always been Cleo’s territory, so Fogg generally kept her distance. With Cleo gone, Fogg decided to hang out with me–probably because she knew I was upset. And she felt sad and wanted attention. She’s our love bug. Fogg had been very neurotic before Rilly and had fought a lot with Cleo. His joining our family really changed the dynamic and mellowed her out. With Cleo gone, they lacked an anchor–a grumpy, dominant force that would keep them both in check. At the same time, Cleo was always in the thick of it and would play from time to time–or at least look on in wide-eyed fascination. So, for me, it was clear we needed a calming third to balance out the energy.
We decided to get a younger girl kitty–no more than two years old. We would consider slightly older if we had to, but we didn’t think Rilly would be very happy if we brought a boy cat. He’s a bit of a boundary tester and likes to playfully swat. We didn’t know if a boy cat would really tolerate that, and we didn’t want any dominance wars. Having gone through the Cleo-Fogg war, I knew what to avoid and what to do if they did decide to be grumbly. We were looking for a cat that had a pretty calm energy and was pretty playful. We felt like the calm would keep both of our other cats centered and the playful aspect would help Rilly burn off energy and assist with introductions.
The DDFL had one more room near the dog area that we could visit–which would allow us to actually go in and hang out with the cats. There were four in there–a beautiful white angora with 1 green eye and 1 blue eye; a gray and black tabby; a black and white; and an orange and white angora tabby with a distinctive lion’s cut. All of the animals in this kennel were older–except the lion. I sat down between the white angora and the lion man. The angora was nice, but sort of blase and lacking personality. She didn’t want to play. Sleep was her thing, and I was not going to distract her from that. The lion dude immediately started rubbing up on me. He had a lot of cuts and a torn ear. He had a scrape on his nose and you could feel scabs when you petted him. It was obvious he had a story. I pretty much fell in love. He had a gentle, good-natured vibe. We played with him and he talked to us. The black and white cat–a huge ball of happiness–was sweet too. At some point the gray tabby attacked our lion friend (I think she was jealous of all the attention he was getting), and he was really chill about it. It did seem like maybe he’d been attacked a lot in the past and had some emotional trauma related to it.
Both my roomie and I had really bonded with this fella. He was only two years old, but he was much bigger than our Rilly–with a giant head. We weren’t sure it’d be a match, considering he obviously had been in fights before and Rilly might victimize him or be really aggressive. Since he was male, we had serious reservations. We left the kennel to see the adoption counselor, and our lion dude looked at us so sad. I told my roomie to write his name on the back–that we’d have him as an option in case the others fell through.
We met with a couple of the counselors and they brought in a couple cats and discussed the others we had chosen. Most had behavioral problems that wouldn’t fly or they just didn’t fit our personality requirements. They brought in one we hadn’t seen, who’d been in surgery, and while it was a lovely cat, it shook uncontrollably and would probably be terrified of Rilly. We kept coming back to the lion man. We asked for more info on him.
He was found by someone who brought him to the shelter. He’d been there since the 29th, and nothing was really known about his past. But he had been in really rough shape, with tons of nasty scrapes and abscesses. He’d been on all kinds of meds, but was mostly healed up now and was just put into the adoption area yesterday. The female counselor said he was one of her favorites, and that he seemed to really get along with people and animals alike. He had been neutered and tested negative for all the yuckies.
My experience has been that animals choose you. You can have ideas in your head about what’s ideal and what works best. But, in reality, you find your tribe. With Cleo, it was how she wouldn’t let go. With Fogg, it was how she stared me down. I didn’t need to see anyone else. For Rilly, he was the last kitten standing and his unique personality was a perfect match for my roommate.
They know when they see home, and I think he knew we’d pick him.
After all of that, we did. We initially decided on Neruda (Rudy for short) as a name–following our tradition of naming cats after favorite characters and authors. But we both kept calling him little lion man. And that prompted us to name him Mumford. Neruda will be his third name. :)
So far, he’s proving to be such a good little friend. He’s a purring machine. The other cats don’t really know what to do with him, but we’ve only had one hiss. We have him in a large dog crate in my room for the next couple of days. We’ll take him out often and then do little introductions, starting with food and blanket swaps. We’re trying to get his scent in various places to–so we do supervised walks through the bigger part of the apartment. He has a slight cold, so we want to keep him isolated a little bit for that reason too. It’s hard to isolate with Rilly–who can pretty much get into anything–but, so far, this is working.. It allows him to be near me and be visited by the other cats. But I’m pretty confident they’ll take to him. Fogg is a bit standoff-ish, but I think that’s because she’s wondering if he’ll stay and take all her attention away. I have a feeling they’ll be best friends. As for Rilly, he is totally fascinated, but also terrified that he’ll attack him. So far, he’s mostly just talked to them and wanted to say hi.
Here’s our sweet boy. He’s a gem.
I’ve been dreading today. First, it’s the one week anniversary of Cleo dying. I wasn’t sure how I’d handle it, honestly. I’ve definitely been depressed most of the week and was not doing so well on Tuesday/Wednesday. Yesterday felt a little less awful. Nothing was different. I have no idea why. It just felt better.
I had an early-ish appointment with my therapist today. I felt myself resisting. Normally, I look forward to my visits with her. I don’t even mind the ordeal of parallel parking in Cap Hill.
Over the weekend, I’d emailed her to give her a heads-up about what had happened. But, as the days went on, I just didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I wanted to put my fingers in my ears and just pretend the whole thing didn’t happen. I get that way sometimes. It’s how I survived my childhood. Only I know you can only put your fingers in your ears for so long. Eventually, they start to cramp.
But I understand, in more intimate ways, why I–as a little girl–chose to cope that way. It’s just a lot damn easier than letting yourself be sad all the damn time.
To my surprise, it wasn’t bad. I definitely resisted. I wasn’t my normal, chatty self when we talked about it–but I didn’t brick wall her either.
I like this therapist most because every session, she tries to get me to connect to my body. The technique she uses has helped me a lot, outside of therapy, and it seems to really help me overcome some of my major issues.
I shared with her a major victory I had this week–all directly related to the Cleo thing–and she was so proud of me. As I was telling her about it–and reflecting on it–it really reminded me that that’s how I want to be all the time. For the first time in a long time–maybe ever–I realized that I could be like that all the time. The fact that I chose it to begin with–with zero encouragement or prompting–all totally me–says that it’s more than possible. I’m actually changing.
We have some big plans over the next few weeks. We’re talking major, hard stuff that I’m not even sure I can do. But–if I’m successful–one of the pillars of everything else will come crashing down. It gives me a lot of hope.
One thing my therapist said today was that she thinks I’m stuck in one of the stages of grief–like from a long, long time ago. Bargaining, in particular. It’s probably why I’d make progress on my own and then circle back for more fun guilty times. It’s why I have such a hard time letting go and being present. It makes sense, and we have a plan. The good news? My actions this week were exactly the things I need to do to get unstuck.
After I left my therapist’s office, I didn’t feel like going home. Finding parking by our apartment is pretty annoying, and I knew I’d have a better chance a little later–assuming people left to get lunch. I hadn’t had breakfast, so I initially thought I’d go to Starbucks and get an iced tea (my latest obsession since coffee is mostly off-limits these days). I was actually pretty hungry, though, and found myself on Colorado Boulevard. At first, I was going to do Panera. But Panera just didn’t sound good. Then I thought I’d go to a favorite, non-chain burger joint–but grease didn’t sound good either. Long story long, I somehow ended up on South Federal.
I don’t normally go to South Federal for quick lunch runs. But I thought–huh–I need some good Asian food. So, I went to one of my favorite places and got some food to go. In an only in Westwood moment, the place actually was using to-go boxes, cups, and bags from a pretty well-known Chinese fast food chain. I audibly laughed when the lady brought me my food. I asked no questions. That’s Federal for ya.
Luckily, it tasted nothing like said fast food chain.
I, of course, ended up at my park–and even got out and sat my the lake for a few minutes.
The older I get–no matter what’s going on in my life…what has changed…how I’ve changed–I’ve noticed that there’s really no place like home. It’s flawed and crazy in so many ways–so many new, unknown (to me) ways since I left in 2005. But, every time I go down there, it’s like I’m getting a big hug. My inner child is right there with me. I get excited about the silliest things, and I remember all the stories I grew up with. It’s incredibly comforting just to be there.
I’m glad I left there–it was the right thing to do. I needed to leave. But it’s also nice to know it’s just a short car ride across town, too–and the important things haven’t changed one bit.
I’ve debated about whether I wanted to write about this or not. I sat down and tried yesterday–and got stuck. But I’m a writer. It’s what I do. It’s how I interpret my world. It’s how I heal. Sometimes, I wonder if that’s good. As a writer–I try to say what I mean. I try to lay it all out there, and if I get it wrong–I scrap everything and try again. And again. If I need to.
I want to get it right. I want to say things–not for you…for me. Just for me.
So, here goes.
Yesterday was probably one of the top five worst days of my entire life.
My beautiful, amazing cat–Cleo–had a series of seizures at around 7 am. We rushed her to the animal hospital. By 9:30 am, she was gone. We made the choice to euthanize her. She was on her way to death. We just wanted her suffering to end.
I had Cleo for 1/3 of my life. I had Cleo for 100% of my motherless life…for 100% of this orphan life. She was known and loved by every boyfriend I’ve ever had. Without her, I would have surely lost my mind a hundred times over. She was my heart. I could never pretend with her. I could only love her, and I fell in love with her every day I knew her. My feisty, independent, cute, incredibly compassionate, loving girl. I would have sold all of my possessions to save her. I would do anything. Anything except allow her to suffer. And she was suffering Friday morning.
Seeing her suffer was probably the hardest part. Ending the suffering was the second hardest. Living without her–unimaginable grief.
My love for her was completely unconditional, and I am completely devastated. I am also completely overwhelmed by the love people have shown me. I don’t know how to absorb it all, but I need it and I am eternally grateful for it. I feel supported in ways I have never felt. It’s insane.
Last night, I laid down and tried to sleep–after a great, lengthy conversation with my most recent ex. He is one of the people who I’ve had my differences with–and yet–I never regret the chances I give him. It was nice to talk to him. For a while, I forgot how sad I was. I didn’t bawl like I had been all day. I smiled and laughed. And talked too long. It felt normal and good. He did exactly what I needed him to do–which surprised me. I went to bed, thinking I was okay–thinking I’d finally stop crying…thinking I would stop dreaming about her. I really thought I’d be alright.
Only I couldn’t sleep. My eyes burned. My head ached. And I found myself reaching for her little belly–in the place on my pillow above my head, where she was most nights.
When she wasn’t there, I lost it. Like hardcore lost it. I ran into the bathroom, thinking I’d be quieter there, and wailed. It went on for at least 20 minutes. It scared our kitten so much that he woke up my roommate, and my roommate came to check on me. And I cried more.
I needed that. I needed to cry until I couldn’t breathe.
This was 3 am. I calmed myself down and watched my videos for the class I’m taking with Brene Brown. This week was all about creativity. And it comforted me. It came at the perfect time. It inspired me and reminded me to keep my heart open–to embrace joy.
Today, we went up to Boulder. We ordered a special cake. One that celebrates the anniversary of me not dying; the life of my incredible, precious Cleo; and my roommate’s birthday. It’s gonna be amazing. We went up to Pearl and had a great brunch at a beautiful restaurant on the West End. After, we drove around randomly and discussed the possibilities of living there. And then we talked the whole way home about our individual evolution as people and what we hope for now. It was just what I needed. Calm and natural and connected.
For weeks now, I’ve been feeling a push. I guess it came when I thought I could be seriously ill. It led me to consider leaving the job I didn’t really like, that paid me less than I’m worth, to considering a job an old boss thought I’d be perfect for. The process of getting it was effortless. Now, I can’t believe people pay me to do this–and well. It’s something that allows me to take care of myself and the things that matter–to actually achieve balance–and do things that require skill and talent. My boss is amazing and really allows me to be myself. It’s the first time I’ve felt like who I am is valued in a work situation.
That change gave me some confidence. That maybe I know what I’m doing. Maybe the Universe is cooperating. Maybe I can do all the things I want to do.
And then Cleo got sick. Seeing it happen–watching her slowly die–well, it’s a kick in the ass.
Cleo taught me to be wholehearted. She was love. She cared about me and supported me to her dying breath. That cat was the epitome of the love I want to share with others. She taught me to be in the moment and to me unabashedly myself. To be known. There wasn’t a phony bone in her body.
I am taking that to heart. I am done being angry and sad and stuck. I am done accepting crap from people. I am done accepting crap from, and for, myself. I am embracing the love she shared with me and the love I got from my Mama. I’m embracing my joy and my needs.
I am climbing the damn mountain. I am dealing with my crap, once and for all, and choosing better. I am giving up the bullshit and the crazy. I’m burying the hatchets–even if they’re legitimate–and I’m cutting cords. I am going for it.
My next adventure: all of it. Every last thing. Ready or not. Imperfect. Critics be damned.
I am giving back the crap. Even if the person it belongs to isn’t here. It isn’t mine, and I’m not fucking holding it anymore.
What is mine will persist. I get to choose.
So many changes are coming. And I’m afraid. But excited. There are amazing things just needing some legs to stand on. I’m strong enough to carry them. And I’m brave enough to keep going. For me. Finally. I know I’m worth it.
About a year ago this week, I was recovering from emergency gall bladder surgery. My surgery happened on Easter Sunday, and without it–right when I had it–I probably would have died. Luckily for me, my pain became unbearable–and after a huge misdiagnosis–I was desperate enough to find my way to a great hospital. I remember thinking it was far too early for it to be Easter already. I was supposed to start a new job that Monday. Instead, I was in the hospital and had to push my start date out a bit. It was not a good time.
The surgery itself wasn’t that bad. Adjusting to life after my surgery has been a bumpy road, though–full of so many lessons. I’m a totally different person in a lot of ways. Life has been sort of insane lately, so I wasn’t able to observe the anniversary as I intended. But sitting on the other side of it, I do want to share some of the things I’ve learned from this crazy year.
All in all, I’m still learning and healing. I’m still getting my shit together. But, for the most part, life is really good. I’m truly grateful for the lessons–even if the thing that caused the lessons sucked a lot. I don’t recommend losing your gall bladder. But it truly has changed my life for the better.