May 6, 2013
The longer I’ve been living 314 miles from home, the more I realize that I am not someone who should be living without pets. I lived without other humans for many years before Edie came into my life and I was fine with that. However, other than a 14-month temporary job just two hours from home back in 2003 (I called those “Stump Days”– another day, another blog), I’ve always had cats living with me.
I originally thought of myself as a cat person because I followed that imaginary rule book that says you have to choose. I’ve had nice connections and even love for a few of my friends’ dogs over the years, especially Louis, the amazing Standard Poodle who taught me that not all dogs drool and smell bad. Louis also had great intelligence and a pressing need to engage with his humans. I especially enjoyed his sense of humor and mischief.
One of my favorite memories of Louis was when his mom (I’ll call her T) and I dressed him up as Julius Caesar for his doggie park Halloween Party. He pranced around proudly in his toga, sandals and head wreath as he played with Dracula, Superman and of course the hot dog dogs. Louis came in second in the costume contest that year, losing first place to a collie dressed as Tinker Bell. I’m convinced that the competition was fixed by the party organizers.
The Caesar costume was not only brilliantly conceived and designed by T, but it was a welcomed exercise in procrastination for us as we slogged through graduate school and desperately needed a break from studying Pathophysiology and Advanced Pharmacology. We all deserved to win that damn contest. I mean, come on, Tinker Bell? I admit that I’m still bitter. I’m not going to reveal whether I remember more details about Louis’ costume or about Pathophysiology.
Another time, I was staying with Louis for a weekend while T was out of town, and I invited our other grad school friend (K) over to study. Studying somehow turned into dressing Louis up in a few of T’s more interesting clothing items from the back of her closet. Louis was always up for dress up, and he loved the attention. K was also always up for dress up and he loved the attention too. Louis and I laughed about that night for months. Nineteen years later, T is still a little miffed that we took liberties with her consignment shop $11 special vintage dress. K and I continue to get quite a bit of witty mileage out of the whole incident. Amazingly, we were all given Master’s degrees in Nursing.
Louis aged well, but they just don’t live long enough. I went down to Boston to take care of the old pup for a weekend while his family had to be away and we knew he was dying. They got home on Sunday and T and I held vigil with him all night, keeping him out of pain as best we could and comforting him, waiting until morning when we could get a vet to come to the house and give him some final peace.
Over the years, my cats (three of them cremated and residing on the Shelf of Dead Pets) and Moxie have been family to me. Early in adulthood, I think this was because I had lived far away from my immediate family since I was 18. If Edie had not come into my life, I’m sure I would have become that crazy cat lady in the woods. By age 32, I was well on my way to that status, with a shabby cabin in the middle of nowhere Maine, four cats settled in, and the potential for attracting unlimited strays, not to mention the one-eyed rescue bird who had her own bedroom and was oblivious to her resident predators.
Despite my partnership with Edie, being a step-mom and a grammie, I’ve still become one of those middle-aged women who never had kids of her own and are obsessed with their pets. I know it’s partly a lesbian thing because most of my gay friends on Facebook have a least three postings a week about their dogs and cats or some other person’s dogs and cats. I’ve noticed that those of us who have not had kids of our own have an edge over the others on these posts. I think that’s true for my straight friends without children too. So, I knew that during this time away from home I would miss Moxie, Aggie and Hedwig, but I thought that three months would go by quickly. I just didn’t expect my three-month contract to last eight months (see blog #3 i.e. hostage situation and hypnotism by the Voice).
I feel so deprived of animal companionship that I slow down every morning on the way to work near the alpaca farm and wave to the colorful herd, finding myself saying “Hi Babies!” It’s become a habit. A couple of them stare at me from their pen, and I wonder if they recognize me now. They look so huggable. I decide that I need to meet them. I look up the farm’s web site and called the owners, who invite me to stop by sometime. I’ve never met alpacas before. They are huggable. As long as you speak softly and let them smell your hair first.
It’s a bonus that these particular alpacas have two mommies, and that one of the moms teaches animal massage classes. This is a person who completely understands my obsession and gives me heartfelt sympathy for being away from my furry companions. I still have to somehow inform Edie that we’re taking Moxie to a massage class when they visit next. Can someone do me a favor and let her know for me?
I look longingly at dogs in back seats of cars in parking lots at the grocery store. I’ll probably get arrested sometime for climbing into a parked SUV to give a belly rub to a weimaraner, and if I happen to see a golden doodle, all bets are off. I stop all the dog walkers I see around town and unabashedly ask to say hi to their dogs. I usually get an awkward, slightly cautious, but friendly response from the human and an enthusiastic greeting from the dog.
I stare out the window of the condo at two squirrels that scramble in and out of a hole high up in a tree and I imagine myself snuggling in there with them in their cozy little squirrel home. If Moxie were here, she’d probably fixate on these big juicy squirrels for hours, staring at the tree long after they’d run off out of her sight while she looked down for two seconds to sniff an important treasure.
I visit with friends in Brattleboro and when I go down the hall to the bathroom, I take a detour and stalk one of their cats in the bedroom. The cat doesn’t know me and isn’t impressed. The other cat indulges me later with a quick ear rub, but I’m left feeling unsatisfied and mildly bereft.
A few nights ago, I was sitting out on the deck watching the sunset. I saw a cat wandering by down at the bottom of the hill. My condo building has been empty and the whole complex has only had a few permanent residents. Other than a paw full of weekend visitor dogs, I hadn’t seen any pets at all. I whistled and the cat stopped in its tracks and stared up at me from a distance. I fantasized that it would identify me as a cat whisperer, run up the hill and figure out a way to get up to the deck, then jump in my lap, knowing that after a good snuggle and ear scratch I would flip open a can of tuna, offer an invitation to spend the night and then devise the best way to tell Edie that our family was going to expand. The cat apparently didn’t have the same fantasy, although I think it considered the scenario, because it started on its way, then stopped again and looked back at me before it trotted off into the woods. Then I wondered if I imagined the whole thing. Sometimes spending too much time alone can be hazardous to my brain.
I think animal deprivation has gone too far for me now, when I even want to hug road kill (“oh look, a possum”). I still say good night to the mouse (I named him Squeak) who made one appearance in the kitchen at the condo when I first moved in. I accidentally drop a piece of cheese on the floor and leave it there for a couple of days, hoping the mouse will come back around. It doesn’t and I feel abandoned.
Don’t get me wrong: I miss Edie and all of the other humans in my life very much and this has been way too long for us to be this far apart. Edie and I Skype and text every day, and I talk with the kids often enough. I love it when my seven-year-old granddaughter reads to me over Skype, or kicks Edie out of the room to tell me secrets or ask me medical questions. It’s comforting at the end of the day to hunker down in bed, tune in to my laptop, and see Edie smiling back at me as we catch up on our days. At the same time, the technology is still a bizarre futuristic head trip.
Unfortunately, Moxie and the cats don’t understand the bizarre futuristic technology that even my two-year-old grandson embraces as he tries to grab at the computer screen when he sees me (he’s probably still trying to get my glasses).
Early on, when I Skyped with Edie, Moxie would hear my voice and run to the window, looking for my car. It would make me laugh but also break my heart. Then, for a while, Moxie was coming over to the screen and looking attentive. I finally realized that Edie was standing behind the computer giving her hand signals just to make me feel better.
Now Moxie ignores the whole Skype production, doing what I think is the equivalent of putting her paws over her ears, looking away and going “La la la” when the moms are talking on screen.
It’s time to go home.