Another Year Older

Cat-card-2On my 43rd birthday, I woke up and looked in the mirror at my year-older self. I had a new giant, bright red pimple, worthy of a pizza-devouring teenager, the kind even cover-up can’t truly mask. When I went downstairs to fix my lunch, the big, fat avocado I had hoped to eat, one that had the perfect give of ripeness when gently squeezed, once cut, was entirely black inside, like one giant bruise. The new shoes I had bought myself as a present—Danskos that I had splurged on (even through eBay) because they are supposed to be wildly comfortable—were already giving me blisters by the time I got back from walking the dogs. I was, you might say, a little grumpy by then.

But when I arrived at my office, wishing I didn’t have to work, my boss presented me with a box of donuts and a jug of freshly squeezed orange juice. The department had made me a card with a silly graphic of cats and books—knowing I have too many of both, and am probably equally passionate about both. We sat at our big round worktable, usually reserved for meetings and laying out the next magazine, instead eating sticky sweets and licking our fingers and laughing. It was a good take two for the morning.

Throughout the day, I received 118 Facebook posts, many emails and a few texts, all from people I really like. It was nice. I had received exactly four old fashioned cards by snail mail, and the people who sent those get gold stars in Heaven (you know who you are!).

I waited all day to see if my brother, Tommy, would remember. Ever since our brother, David, died almost eight years ago, he’s tried. I think. David was the one who always, always remembered, and always, always called. Tommy never used to—but sometimes he does now, as if he is trying to fill in where David left off. But because he’s unpredictable, it almost feels worse than if he never said “Happy Birthday.” Because now I expect it—and a wise person once said, “Expectation is the death of serenity.” It is. Tommy didn’t remember.

I missed my David painfully hard. All day.

I bought myself what I consider an expensive bottle of wine. A $14 J. Lohr Cabernet. Drank it on the porch while I tinkered with the ukulele I received from my husband last birthday, which I have barely played since. Light, pretty tones came off of its strings and floated into the summery air despite my lack of skill.

My husband brought home my favorite pizza since we were too broke to go out. We ate in front of the TV indecorously, as I wanted to, and then followed our kid-like binge with large slices of the homemade lemon cake my mother had sent. This is a totally predictable ritual. Each year, she frets about getting it here on time, worries about what the level of freshness it will be when it arrives, wrings her hands over whether it will be crushed. She always sends it Priority, and it always arrives early, perfectly intact and utterly delicious.

My dad and stepmother, both church choir singers, called and sang “Happy Birthday” to me on my voicemail—with beautiful harmonies. It nearly made me cry.

“Now I want to hear 80s music,” I said to my husband, embracing the regressive tendencies the day had brought out in me. He found a Tom Petty concert on TV and we watched it all the way through. (My first record, incidentally, was Long After Dark. I bought it with my own money when I was nine.)

At the end of the night, I emailed my high school boyfriend, the one who was born on the same day and the same year as me, to say, “I have no idea how we ended up being 43!” We had celebrated our 16th and 17th birthdays together, for crying out loud. While we clearly weren’t meant to be together romantically forever, I’m so happy we are still friends, and I enjoy the ritual of touching base each year on our birthday. I remembered vividly emailing him on our 40th and it seemed impossible that three more years had passed.

This morning, I was pleased to see a message from him. “Well, I guess it doesn’t feel as old as 46. At that point, we’ll be closer to 50 than 40 (yikes),” he wrote in reply. True.

I suddenly wondered nervously if it would feel lightning-fast to get to that landmark, since the time seems to keep speeding up each year. Then I just hoped I would make it. I realize that getting older is a great privilege, and one not afforded to all. To have donuts and songs and kind messages—and even a terrible zit—makes for a decent day of living even if you don’t get everything you wished for.


Story Ideas from a Cat

One of the several writing-related blogs, newsletters and mailing lists I subscribe to sent me an email this week with the title, “Story Ideas from a Cat,” and I immediately thought, That’s so perfect for me, because I am a mini-crazy-cat-lady. My mother is the real deal, as she has seven or eight cats most of the time—depending on how she’s counting on the day you ask—so it’s kind of a genetic problem, but that’s another story. I have four cats. Plenty of material there.

This morning, I was sleeping soundly with my part-Bengal cat, Quincy, tucked warmly next to me on my right side, as usual. He’s the most Zen and genuinely nicest cat I’ve ever known, as he will sit placidly and observe the roaring vacuum cleaner with only mild curiosity while all the other animals in the house scatter like the sky is falling, and, importantly, he picks fights with no one ever. Even the always-happy white and black (not black and white) cat, Levon, who has the word “love” in his name somewhere, still picks on Jasper, the most senior cat, which makes him sound old or old-acting, which he isn’t—and doesn’t—at all. It’s just that he’s the most solitary, a loner even, and something about that annoys Levon the Lover, who truly loves everyone, even Jasper, except when he doesn’t.

10848894_10204339050209112_900344771494291822_oAnyway, I woke up because the baby of the family, Desi, who is just two years old, was walking all over me (as he does in every possible literal and figurative way), purring his brains out, tickling my face with his whiskers, and shoveling his little fuzzy head under my hand, trying to force me into petting him, even in my unconscious state. Once conscious, even semi-so, I did my usual cranky shove and knocked him off the bed.

This technique is so completely ineffective that doing it in even a semi-unconscious state is fairly unforgivable. It’s like that definition of insanity everyone likes to repeat all the time—as if you needed someone to remind you that are making yourself crazy when it is perfectly clear—except when it isn’t. Desi is a lot like one of those inflatable doll things that stands up by force of a weight in its base and that, if punched, pops right back up over and over and over. It seems to me these dolls are always grinning in a kind of manic way too, just to be extra maddening. I realize this is sounding rather violent, and it really isn’t, but you don’t know Desi AKA Shit Burger, which is supposed to be a cute nickname, but really defines his personality in a way that his sophisticated moniker, Desmond, really can’t.

11886139_10206297566970807_2908449272992223500_oWhen I adopted him, his shelter name was Gator, a sign I chose to ignore. Instead, I focused on his gorgeous, jet-black mane, cartoonishly fluffy pantaloons, and tail so oversized that, attached to his otherwise stuntedly small body, makes him look a lot like a black squirrel. He’s a truly beautiful cat. Desi topped out at eight and a half pounds, so he’s what my husband and I call a “perma-kitten,” so light that he makes his big brothers seem enormous even though they are totally average. His feathery and feather-weight body make him incredibly tantalizing to hold and pet and kiss, which he then rewards with lightning-fast bites.

So I pushed him off the bed and he popped back up nearly instantaneously like one of those stupid grinning inflatable punching dolls, purring furiously and again pushing his small glamorously silky head under my trying-to-sleep hand. Because I never learn, I attempted one more sleep push. I’m sure you can’t imagine what happened.

Desi also lives to pick on Quincy, which is unacceptable for the aforementioned reasons, but it’s also completely predictable. So next, as part of the customary ritual, Desi started licking Quincy just long enough for Quincy to relax into thinking this might be a kind, brotherly gesture, despite the way these things always go, and then, like a cobra, Desi struck him with his perfect clean white fangs.

Did I mention it was before 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday?

Cursing my superficial tendencies for the thousandth time, I got up and removed Desi from the bedroom and closed the door, still knowing, yet ignoring the knowledge, that this was a sheer temporary measure. Desi is like that person who keeps poking your leg over and saying, “Hey, hey, hey” over until you crack and yell, “WHAT??!”

After a short spell, where I began to drift back into a dream, I started to hear a little scratching and saw a plush black paw reaching under the door. Then it began in earnest:

Meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow

11792040_10206212010551950_5749560414556876074_oYou can’t outlast Desi; he will always win. One time I tried to ignore him for almost an hour, during which I felt sure he would eventually pass out from his efforts. He meows with no pause. I don’t know when he even takes a breath. It’s quite something to behold.

There’s only so much ignoring a person has in them. I’ve tried. I’ve really tried. I’ve put in earplugs, smooshed a pillow onto my head, moved him to a downstairs room, put on white noise on my phone, given him a toy, food, catnip (foolishly). Everything short of a heavy-duty sedative. He is the definition of incorrigible.

One time, my mother told me she had mentioned Desi’s abundance of energy (isn’t that a nice way of putting it?) to her vet, who recommended that, in order to wear him out enough so that he was too tired to bother me, I get him ANOTHER KITTEN.

He got a robot playmate instead, recommended by MY VET, who does not cave in to that kind of crazy-cat-lady-stuff. It’s called a Froli-Cat and it shines red lasers in two directions that move in erratic half-circles while the inner workings of the machine grunt and whirl. Desi loved it at first, but we had to keep replacing the batteries because he would play so long that the damn robot got tired.

We blow catnip scented bubbles, pull around strings, give him plastic balls and bells and crumpled up foil, and pet the other cats a lot after Desi chases them down the stairs—and up the stairs—and down the stairs—and then pounces on them like a wild cheetah. He’s a pint-sized adversary. Any one of them could kick his furry butt, yet they don’t, and I do appreciate them for that.

12642592_10207326550774759_7399527752247732543_nDesi jumps up onto the top of doors and cabinets, where he hangs out, leering at us in a superior way, from above. His giant green judging eyes are sometimes the only discernable feature. He loves to tightrope walk the banister above the stairs. He leaps over his brothers on the way to breakfast each morning like an acrobat. He’s bossy, he’s funny, he’s fearless, he’s got a violent streak. He’s not one of those cats that just sits in a sunny spot all day. He’s never dull.

So, it’s Sunday morning and I’m awake far too early. Desi really doesn’t give a shit that it’s my one day this week to sleep in and I am far from rested. He generally doesn’t give a shit about anything.

I go back to the original email I received from one of those writerly, inspiring places, which I initially failed to read beyond the subject line, and realize that it says, “Sometimes the best way to get story ideas is to think from another point of view—like that of a cat. And there is no better way to get into the mind of your characters than to become like them.”

This assures me, for the millionth time, that I have no business writing from anyone’s point of view other than my own regardless of how desperate I am for a story idea. I am most definitely not going to walk on people, force them to pet me, and then bite them. That’s some kind of sick S & M stuff I want no part of.

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