I’m aware that I’m a cat lady. I’m also aware that as the power dynamics of sex, courtship and romance are finally being called into question, and as basic tenets of human decency are no longer ensured, a cat lady is far from the worst thing a woman can be. I love and respect my cat and do my very best by her, and she feels and does the same for me.
And love is love.
Grace may not speak English–that is, save a “noooo” she’s learned to eke out over the years–but we share a clear-eyed, clear-hearted sympatico. Peace is the name of our game, and now that I’m in my 40s, domestic peace is more important to me than human companionship–more important than getting laid, even. No species is inherently peaceful, but after her stressful childhood on the streets of Brooklyn, Grace Michael Jackson just wants to be serene and sweet. I can relate.
She’s too skittish to be a Buddha, of course; among the things that will send her running are shoes, seltzer, vacuums, paper bags, male voices, and drunk people. But I’ve never lived with anyone who could calm me the way she does, and I’ve lived with all kinds of beings. Grace has taught me to find quiet within myself. More than that, she has located the tenderness beneath my tough broad exterior. In return I have taught her how to play: to enjoy music and dance, to have a sense of humor. I don’t mind telling you: Grace is quite funny. It’s not just that she knows how to bestow the feline equivalent of a raised eyebrow or a curmudgeonly frown. It’s that the timing of said gestures is always impeccable.
Whenever possible, I travel with Grace. Nothing feels like home without her, and she’s bereft when I leave her behind. When she’s uncomfortable, I’m uncomfortable, and I’ve noticed this fact goes both ways. When I’m sad, she’s sad, though when I malinger in my housework or writing duties, she doesn’t have time for my bullshit. When she fails as a vermin hunter or eats food I’ve earmarked as my own, I’m not so happy with her, either.
We still like to be as physically close, though. As I type this, she’s purring beneath my legs and we’re snuggling beneath my duvet.
Neither of us hold grudges if we can tell the other is legitimately sorry, and we always are. Also we like to eat many of the same things, eschewing sweets and adoring greens, animal protein, particularly fish, and very spicy things. It’s gotten so that, when I do my weekly shop at Fairway, the fishmonger and butcher know to give me a little extra for Grace. One of those dudes–the one whom I’d kiss if he weren’t wearing a wedding ring–always tells me to say hi to her.
I guess I talk about her a lot. But don’t you talk about the people you love as well?
The other day a friend of a friend commented on my relationship with Grace. “Do you mind that your closest friend will die so much sooner than you?” she asked. Her judgment loomed as supertext, not subtext, but I didn’t mind. I judged her right back for not having the courage to leave her very bad marriage.
“I’m just so grateful to fully enjoy her company while she is alive,” I said, blinking twice slowly. It’s a kiss-off I’ve learned from my cat.
I’ve never liked Thanksgiving. I’ve never liked a day of feasting to celebrate colonization and genocide. I’ve never liked all those carbs, especially since I quit sugar. I’ve never liked forced gratitude–pious and phony all at once. I’ve never liked football. Nothing underscores we’re in the last days of Rome like steroidal gladiators. And I’ve never liked a day that emphasizes family and togetherness because I’ve been a lone wolf my whole life, and whenever I’ve tried to rectify that it’s blown back in my face.
In bloodlines, you’re supposed to support people no matter what, but in my experience this means you have to put up with whatever shit is thrown your way. Whatever eviscerating thing is said, whatever basic human decency is dropped, whatever punch is thrown, “you’re family.” To me that’s not a life sentence. That’s a death sentence.
Pass. Hard pass.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I have friendships–lovely, strong ones. It’s me who pulls away from time to time, usually because I like our species a lot less than I love it. I have a hard time with hypocrisy, vanity, selfishness, dissociation, and that’s the name of the game when it comes to human foibles, including my own.
But over the years I have found some people who try hard to be compassionate and kind, who self-reckon more than they self-obfuscate. People with whom I can both laugh and cry; people who cheer me on as I cheer them on. People with whom a huge gap doesn’t loom between what I am thinking and what I can say. People who don’t require me to turn off my psychic radar in order to be with them. These are the people I keep in my life, even when we disappoint each other. And believe me, sometimes we do.
I’m a big believer in giving people wide berths when necessary. I never stop loving anyone– real love is unconditional and eternal–but sometimes it’s better or simply necessary to love someone from a distance. I don’t expect my friends to be there for me no matter what, and I don’t offer such steadfastness in return. Each of us has our own challenges, weaknesses, extenuating circumstances that can render us unavailable, even to ourselves. We’re there most of the time, and that’s enough.
Which is all to say that the holidays can be rough for everyone, and this includes me. All that clannishness married with cultural malaise married with rich food married with dashed hopes and expectations–oy vey.
I’ve been impregnated on this holiday by a man with whom I could never have a baby. I’ve broken up with people on this holiday and I’ve been dumped. I’ve eaten alone at bars. I’ve wept by myself in movie theaters. I’ve been struck, hard. I’ve sat alone in the middle of my brawling and babbling family. I’ve sat alone in the middle of others’ brawling and babbling families. I’ve sat politely at orphan meals, friendsgiving meals, and rolled my eyes at all the ghosts–living and dead–looming behind each attendee. I’ve sat with the dying on this holiday and I’ve been hospitalized on this holiday. Hell, I’ve broken my neck on this holiday.
I hate this fucking holiday.
Am I a grateful person? Actually, I am. I am grateful for the opportunity to be alive and to learn all the lessons available to the living. I am grateful for the sun and the sea and the food on my plate and the shelter over my head, for my car, and of course my cat. I am grateful for my past and present and future and for the many people who have walked on this path, including you. I am grateful for the enormous generosity that has been shown me again and again, even when I have not deserved it. I am grateful for every instance when someone, human or otherwise, is their best self–for when we try, for when we love.
I am grateful for love most of all.
Don’t worry, if you’re the type to worry, and do judge if you feel the need to judge. But know I am not desperate today though I’ve been singularly unhappy since leaving the Outer Cape. In a few minutes I am leaving for Greater Boston, where I will spend the next 24 hours with one of my dearest friends and her clan. She is an excellent cook who knows where my head’s at, and seems to tolerate me anyway. She calls this a flexible day for me–just coast, she purrs–and has arranged the softest landing possible for when I arrive at her door. For this I am eminently grateful, even as I fear disappointing her.
But I believe in authenticity over niceties and that sometimes, even if you don’t have something nice to say, you still have to say it, if only because it may help someone besides yourself.
And today what I must say is this is the hardest day of my year, every year. What’s more, hating this holiday doesn’t make anyone an ungrateful wretch.