Tat Tvam Asi (Sanskrit: You are that)

There’s never an appropriate time to say goodbye. I had to just decide and then do it. All while knowing that it would be the last moments I’d ever be able to cradle him and look into his eyes.

On the day he got sick, he had to be rushed into emergency surgery, because it came out of nowhere. He made it through surgery and would need to be monitored for the next two days at the 24-hour clinic to ensure he was healing properly.

It quickly morphed into the type of stress that leaves pit stains and leads your thoughts to dark places when you’re supposed to be doing other things.

I visited him at the clinic, and he was becoming very ill. He tried to jump out of the cage to be with me. It shattered my heart. I spent so much time telling him how beautiful his little, pink nose was, how I was eternally grateful for the gift of his life and what happiness it had brought me. Then, it was time for the inevitable.

I think about him every day; his little box is on my shelf, and recently, I purchased a stainless-steel necklace I could put some of his ashes in. It never feels like enough to just think about him every day or wear him near my heart.

His last days are forever extant in my mind, and it haunts me the way not having closure does. I feel the same kind of sadness over lost items that were lost too soon—like a favorite headband I dropped in the woods when I was drunk as a freshman in college. Or, a set of yoga blocks I bawled hysterically over when my mischievous baby clawed them. They were a gift from my sister, and the pristine concept of them were now battered and destroyed.

But it’s not like that at all. Those are just things.

It’s more like the time I told my mom I didn’t want to go to church with her. She’d often go without the rest of the family, and I would sometimes accompany her. I told her no, and then spent the entire time, until she returned, in the driveway crying, because I lost the opportunity to be with my mother—I may have hurt her feelings.

It’s like the time when I was thirteen and I threw a piece of pizza at my sister’s head while we were arguing and then immediately burst into tears because I could never take it back.

It’s like the dozen times I didn’t reach out to old friends and just let them slip away.

It’s like the loss of my best friend, after choosing a boy, who decided he didn’t want me anyway, instead of her.

Those things are irreparable. They can’t be rewound or edited. They are what they are.

You want to protect those you cherish. Everyone always tells me that he felt so loved and had a good life, but on the day he first got sick, I pushed him off the bed really hard. I didn’t know he was sick. He was pestering me for food, and he was a total nuisance. Sometimes, I had to be forceful about getting him off the bed, and I shoved him roughly. I could have ruptured his bladder. I feel so much overwhelming guilt about that moment. His momma was supposed to protect him, and, instead, I may have hurt him.

I can never undo that moment.

For the past three years, I have held my baby’s ashes each night for the near week of hell he went through before he passed away.

I’ve made a promise to him and to myself that I would keep him by my side me during the days I couldn’t be with him at the clinic. So, since Monday, I have slept with his box in my bed. I have the necklace of his ashes around my neck. He will never have to be alone on these five days ever again.

He’s not here. Truth is, he is resting eternally, and he is okay. I am the one who is not okay.

Along with the necklace of his remains, I am wearing a necklace today with the Sanskrit phrase “Tat Tvam Asi,” which means “You are that.” I see others in myself and myself in others. Maybe this is my urge to protect him postmortem, because, in actuality, I’m really protecting myself.

No mother always does the right thing or can keep pain away from her baby. Yet, like the little girl crying in her driveway for a moment that will never come back, I clasp and cradle his remains, because I made a promise.

Dysphoria

The heartbreaking ease of going to sleep with tear drops blanketing my face is like a familiar song. Although I feel so alone in those moments, I know every verse, every note.

I’ve hummed it my entire life.

This has been the longest breakup. He broke up with me July 8th, and it is only today, September 26th, that I wake up no longer having to worry about the old apartment, the storage unit, or any of that. Of course, there are still a couple loose ends to tie up, but it is so close to being final.

I have been telling myself for months that things will be better once it is all done and I am no longer breathing in the air of purgatory—stale, tepid, and apathetic. I also knew that once all the pieces were put away and our lives were once again separate and unknowing that I would feel the panic of isolation, erasure, impermanence.

Both are true.

So, I am left in a wind-swept tunnel, clear of the physical presence of him, but every molecule in the air is vibrating with the verse I sing myself to sleep with.

I will slowly forget the words, and new words will fill that space. The song will never be gone, but it’s nice to get it out of my head for just a while, if I can.

Chemical Cocktail, Please

His hand is outstretched with an ornament in his palm; he says, “Do you want to hang this one?”

A week ago, Bryan and I put up the Christmas tree in my living room.

With the new Gilmore Girls Series playing in the background, we spread all of the ornaments across the floor and began to hang.

It was a home-made ornament from my co-worker Heather with one of my favorite photos of Zen and me on it: I’m in my thread-bare bathrobe, snuggling him in a deep embrace while smiling.

me-and-zen

I immediately broke out into tears. Big alligator tears.

I don’t know if it was that I was completely taken by surprise or that it was the beginning of the week where my hormones get all wacky thanks to my silent passenger, PMDD. It probably was a combination of the two, but I was a tiny ball on my living room rug, crying hard while apologizing through snotty wails.

Losing Zen a month before Christmas last year was such a whirlwind that I had erased from my memory that I ever received that ornament. And unfortunately, it wasn’t the only one. After I recovered myself, we continued to hang ornaments, and minutes later, Bryan finds another customized Zen ornament that my sister had made. Another one I had forgotten about. He hands it to me, and once again, I am on the floor, tears streaming down my face.

I have always been “highly sensitive” and “overly emotional” since I was a child. In the past few years, it has intensified. Recently, I’ve discovered I have what is labeled as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, where my hormones go hay-wire for approximately a week to a week and a half each month, usually during ovulation.

So, it makes me wonder, was I really that distraught over my deceased cat or was it just my crazy hormones acting up?

Knowing that I have a hormone imbalance and being able to regulate it with birth control and natural remedies, such as exercise, dietary changes, and herbal supplements, has basically saved me from losing my mind and firing off at people with no self-control. Yet, it has also enabled me to use it as a crutch or an excuse when I do act ‘roided up on emotions.

That bothers me, sometimes.

Some of the magic of life’s moments are blanched when I have the knowledge that a specific combination of neurochemicals and hormones are having a rager in my body and that’s the reason why something makes me wistful, depressed, nostalgic, deeply affected, or impassioned. Things like my libido and emotional acuity can be altered with the application of a pill each day.

However, I cannot deny that PMDD is a real thing and I can actually see the signs of it now that I know what it is. It’s not just a made-up crutch with which I scapegoat my behaviors. I’ll come home from work and have that “I just want to go to bed now” feeling that I used to attribute to laziness and always gave myself a hard time about, but I know now that it is the onset of PMDD. Knowing that helps me get through it and actually motivates me to go to yoga, start cleaning the apartment, or make dinner. These subtle signs always happen during a specific time of the month, providing some proof that the chemical cocktail is coursing through my body.

Crying over Zen was unexpected and real. It may have been heightened by my levels of hormones in that moment, but I love and miss him fiercely.

I refuse to let the knowledge that we’re all varying mixtures of chemicals ruin the incredible luster that is cherishing a lost one, smiling because a memory with an old partner feels painfully beautiful, or hurting because my heart is breaking. It might not always be a fun feeling, but it’s me.

It’s always been me.

Forever Heart

For a few more hours, it is your birthday. I don’t know what you’re doing to celebrate or who you spent it with. I didn’t ask.

I couldn’t.

Knowing that yesterday you saw my hand-writing in purple Sharpie on the package I mailed you, that your hands opened the card and held the letter–imagining you feeling the soft plushness of your gift as you gave it a gentle squeeze–it’s the closest I’ve felt to you since we last saw each other and shared those three sacred words.

I’ve lost something immense.

When I really think about what I’m letting go of, I can’t handle it. But I also never really had you, either. Yes, I may have had your words of devotion, your insatiable kisses, your loyalty, in a sense, and we shared a deep intimacy; however, you were never my boyfriend, I never met your sister, you didn’t tell your friends about how this amazing girl stole your heart. No vacations were spent together. No mundane moments. No walking up and down aisles of a grocery store looking for the right kind of mustard, or asking each other where we left our keys. We never spent an entire Sunday afternoon lying on the couch watching cartoons.

That’s what I lost: The chance to ever experience more than a handful of sultry, passion-soaked hours together. I missed out on the every day. On being yours–and not in the possessive, derogatory sense–in the this girl only had eyes for you and wanted you to be proud to hold her entire heart sense.

Even though I didn’t get to wake up next to your sweet-smelling bed-head and drowsy eyes more than a few times, and even though I have no idea what you’ve been doing these past months or what thoughts gather in your brain moments before they trail off into slumber, I feel so much love for you on this day.

I’d like to think I know you in a way that no one else does, and I don’t need to know how many reps you did at the gym, what you are wearing, or what the last errand you ran was to know this.

I may have missed out on so much of your life, and perhaps, I was cheated of the experience of being immersed in your world as your girlfriend, but one thing I haven’t been kept from is your heart.

Just knowing your day has been wonderful, without any other details, fills me, because when two hearts have the connection ours do, that is never lost.

I can no longer ask you how you are doing and I can’t tell you how I feel delirious on opiates whenever we speak or touch, because if I can’t have your open, vulnerable love and commitment, then I can’t know how you are.

Just knowing you are out there is enough. Maybe it will be different someday.

I feel warm with the satisfaction that my words and my gift touched you last night, and today is yours–just for the very special you.

If I can no longer tell you those things, then I’ll just let you know, from time to time, here.

Transitioning from being in love with you to just loving you is hard. Stubborn and persistent memories douse me in a perfume of belonging and fixation, and my selfish sorrow of your erasure thrashes at my body so violently sometimes that I have to force the thoughts out before I am weather-wrecked and broken.

Yet, it is also just so very seamless to love you in any capacity, because you’ve bared yourself to me. I might feel gratitude on this day because you were torn from warm comfort and exposed to the unyielding swinging axe that is the very nature of this life. It is an unforgiving place at times, but the day you entered my world, my heart was forever changed.

Disintegrating

I am sitting on my couch, alone in my living room, thinking about all of the people I care about and how I haven’t seen most of them in so long that I can’t remember their voices or how they smell.

My heart is breaking into a million pieces.

It might be my overly active hormones at play, but it is still real just the same.

My chest aches and my lower lashes feel the kiss of tear drops, because I miss these people. But it is more than that. I am proud of them. Real damn proud.

I think about acquaintance friends with whom I haven’t visited in many years—how they are married now or having kids. I can watch them through the filtered screen of social media. I see their lives growing and changing.

My old best friend from grade school is a successful fashion consultant with her own company in NYC. I was just visiting her website and admiring how professionally and elegantly done it was. My old best friend has accomplished so much. I can hardly believe the magnificence of humans, sometimes.

The first man I said “I love you” to recently got engaged.

Everyone’s lives are just branching out like a well-mannered fractal into outer space. These lovely branches curving and splitting, and my heart just wants to burst with genuine excitement and joy in the happiness that is others’.

I don’t know if my mind is searching out these longing memories tonight because my hormones are peaking for a window of time due to PMDD, or because I’ve experienced loss so near in the past.

I might not have another Tuesday night with my best female friend. Tuesday was our day. She’d come over with beer or wine and we’d sit and talk or watch a girly movie. There’s been a rift between us, and I haven’t even had the chance to explain myself or talk to her, because she has protectively boarded up her emotional walls and shut me off like water lines in the middle of winter, so the pipes don’t burst.

I said goodbye to a man I have loved fiercely and passionately for over a year. I don’t know if I’ll ever smell his hair again or try hopelessly to get him to open his eyes wide enough to stare into mine for more than two or three seconds.

And he—this man—has accomplished so much. I haven’t been able to be there for any of it, but I’ve cheered from the sidelines and been supportive from the other end of the phone. I’ve pushed him to fight for what he loves, and I’ve lost everything I could have ever had with him to the gamble of his potential success, hanging out there in the future like an amorphous, looming question mark.

I want to take this palpitating heart of mine and shred it up into tiny fibers. Little thread-like viscera. I want to connect myself physically to all of those people who have ever mattered to me. The friends I haven’t forgotten. Loved beings who have amazed me all this time.

Yet… I can’t.

I can’t, and that’s why it’s paining me. To have to stay whole when I want to be a part of everyone. To have to continue to live my own life when my memories dredge up nostalgic yearning to be close to others. To walk my own path, knowing I could never see any of these people ever again. And that I would just have to be okay with that.

Who can always just be okay with that?

Not even the strongest person is truly at peace with the reality that something they love so much might never be close enough to them again that they can just reach out and touch it; embrace it; breathe in the essence of it, whether it be their voice, their graceful demeanor, their smile, their laugh, or just the comfort that is silently acknowledged between two people when they are relieved to be in another’s presence.

And since I am only little Amanda and possess no tool set to cope with this massive sense of loss—this deprivation of familiarity—I wrap up into myself in the fetal position in my bed and cry. I write. I love everything and everyone I can while I can. I hug tightly, say I love you genuinely, and kiss like I’m nominated to win an award for it.

My body is the glue that holds me together, while my thoughts and tears scatter across time.

Not all of these people, or even most of them, probably know how much I hold love for them still in my heart.

One knew. He told me so. I whimpered to him through desperate, emotion-laden declarations that for so long I was afraid to tell him how much I loved him. Right then, he cut me off and said, “You didn’t have to say it. I knew.”

There’s a calming feeling that comes with the knowledge of his heart knowing my heart so intimately all this time without me ever having to verbally confirm that what we felt was real.

For those I’ve lost or not seen, and may never see again, if they could know my love is expansive and unyielding in its many forms, then I am connected to each, instead of my fear of disintegrating into a pile of ash, like every time the one I love steps out my front door.

Name Ten People

Overly emotional doesn’t even begin to describe me.

No, I am the Casablanca of feelings.

I am the girl who says prayers for roadkill, puts insects in plastic cups and releases them outside, rather than squish them, and can’t watch the news because it will ruin her day.

Most days are fairly rote: I wake up, go to work, see friends, exercise, eat, sleep. But not all days transition like an endless loop of the movie Groundhog Day.

Some days, you wake up and see your newsfeed on facebook and find that a friend from your childhood has passed away in a car crash. Or, you learn one of your best friend’s family members was just diagnosed with cancer.

I’ve lost a lot of friends in the past few years. Some of them were people I hadn’t seen in years and some were closer friends. Since, I have felt like this seemingly solid and functioning world around me is more like a spider web, succumbing to a heavy gust of wind and splintering apart. Or the floorboards beneath my feet are breaking away and disappearing with each footstep like some glitch in the Matrix.

I have an unnerving restlessness and fear dwelling inside me.

I have been told by others that my unnecessary falderal is unproductive. It’s irrational to worry and think that everyone you care about could suddenly disappear at any given moment.

But couldn’t they?

The same person who told me that almost died a year or two before I met him. He had to have brain surgery. Just recently, he gave me another scare by telling me he had some tests done. I had no idea that was even going on, and while I sat there completely distraught on the other end of the phone, his calm, emotionless words popped up on the screen, reassuring me there was nothing to worry about.

I don’t think he has any true concept of a) how much I worry about things and b) how much he means to me.

Later that afternoon, I had told one of my good friends that I was “idiotically” upset over the fact that something horrible could have happened to this person I care so much about and I wouldn’t have even known. My friend then told me to name ten people I knew and something that had happened in their life recently. Um, okay…

After successfully listing ten people and events, my friend says, “See? Look how many lives you are connected to in a meaningful way. You might feel disconnected at the moment from that one person, but you are connected to so many.”

I got his point, but the fear part of my brain goes, “Oh, great. Just ten more people who would greatly affect me if they suddenly meet their fate.”

Deep down I know my friend is right. Feeling connected and creating intimacy with others in meaningful ways is kind of the bread and butter of existing. Without it, our days are rote and, indeed, void of tragedy, but the enjoyment that comes from reaching far into another’s heart and learning about what they yearn for and care about is more rewarding than never stepping a foot outside our emotional barriers.

The only solution I can come up with to assuage some of the fear of losing those I love is to ensure I tell them all the time what they mean to me. It won’t keep them out of harm’s way, but it will fill their hearts with love, which is the whole reason why we’re even here at all.

 

Baby of Mine

Losing you has been one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me.

I know you’re “just a cat”. But see, you were never just a cat.

The day that J brought you and your sister home, I didn’t know you were inside waiting for me, except that I did, because our loud-mouthed neighbor said, “Haaave fuuuuuun…” as J greeted me at the door after work.

When I walked in and saw your tiny little form perched on the back of my Nana’s old couch, I shrieked with excitement. Startling the shit out of you, you leapt a good six inches in the air and fell behind the couch. It was one of the cutest things I’ve ever witnessed.

You and your sister crouched under the papazan, weary of the two tall strangers who had taken you from your farm. But in no time at all, you were beginning to nuzzle up to our legs and play with the toys we had brought you.

We tossed around ideas for names, and before getting too far, I blurted out, “How about Zen and Aum?” I was studying to become a yoga instructor at the time, with many philosophical beliefs in Taoism and Buddhism. It just seemed fitting. J loved it immediately.

And so it was. Zen and Aum: Our “Buddhist” kitties.

Babies

I had written a tribute to you two when you were still babies. About the hell you would cause, the sleep we’d both lose, and the tumbling disorder of your fluffy bodies propelled by flurrying, cat-nipped feet. How amidst the chaos, your names seemed to perfectly fit as I would watch you curled into each other, sleeping, and see both my yin and my yang loves.

Aum–she is the butterfly princess of cats. So poised and sweet. She’s very quiet and dainty and brings with her a gentle presence of worship. She doesn’t ask for much, but she encompasses everything that is cat-like and dear to me. She represents a Universe of pure beauty.

You, Zen, were a dog wearing a cat suit. I’d pat my leg or call you and you’d come. You meowed for attention and wanted to be wherever everyone else was. You were on our laps incessantly and nudged Aum from her peaceful perch, wherever she may have been. You were kind of an asshole, but the most lovable one I’d ever known. Although you were clumsy and annoying, you had this wisdom about you. This ability to just relate to us in such a human-like way.

I can’t find that tribute now; it’s lost on an old blog site that has been “Under Construction” for the last year or so, but it doesn’t matter, because losing you has been far worse than losing any words or thoughts of you.

The day you became sick, I remember, started just like any other day. Six-thirty in the morning you began your loping around my pillows, stepping on my hair and meowing in my face. I’ve always joked that the only time I’ve ever hated you is at 6:30 in the morning, and on that morning, not unlike any other, I shoved you off the bed and rolled over to go back to sleep.

I got up, fed you both, and as I was leaving for work, I noticed you were hunched over a bit like you were going to upchuck your breakfast. This wasn’t uncommon, as you were a very impatient eater and often took in your food so fast that it would sometimes come back up. My roommate had the day off, so I figured if you threw up, he would be there to take care of it.

Later that day, I got a text from my roommate telling me that you threw up. I told him that sometimes happens. When I got home from work, I was with my friend, and as I walked in, you didn’t come running to your dish. That was peculiar. I went looking for you and peeked in my roommate’s room to find more piles of your puke. Then, you ate a little and began throwing up again. I contemplated bringing you to an emergency clinic, but this was the first sign of distress and I figured you probably had a stomach bug.

I monitored you all night. You drank some water. Good. You sat on the couch curled in to me. Good. You moaned when we pet your back. Not good. I was concerned but I didn’t think it was life-threatening.

I took a picture of you and your sister, both curled under my childhood blanket together on my bed–the very last picture I would take of the two of you.

Zen and Aum

That night, you slept right next to me, moaning out in pain every few minutes or so. I kept turning on the light to check on you. You just lay there calmly, nuzzling against my right thigh. I pet and kissed you. I told you I loved you like I did every day and night for the last six and a half years.

When I took you to the vet the next morning, it turned out that it was an emergency situation: your bladder had been blocked for days and could rupture at any moment, causing instant, extremely painful death. They operated on you; I went to work. I came to pick you up and brought you to a 24-hour clinic.

Zen at the Vet

It got way worse after that.

I don’t want to relive all the details of the procedures you had to go through or the money I spent–I just want to remember how you perked up when I came to visit you on Saturday after your second operation. You wouldn’t stop pushing your head against my hands and face. You curled up on my arm, resting your chin. You let me give you a hundred nose-kisses. You wouldn’t eat. Your breathing seemed abnormal.

Zen at Clinic

And on Sunday, the last day of your life, I sat on my bed with my ex boyfriend, crying hysterically, because I just received the phone call informing me that I should “probably come in and talk to the doctor in person as soon as possible.”

And on your last day, I did all of the things I always do: kissed your nose fervently, crunched and smashed your ears between my fingers, squeezed and massaged your tail and your perfect, pink paws. You were the only cat I’d ever met who loved paw massages. I told you I loved you and cherished you; that momma was here and it was okay. That I wouldn’t leave again.

When my friend left the room to use the bathroom, I whispered into your ear an earnestly sincere thank you for being the best cat and being there for me when I was falling apart and really needed you. I know you’re “just” a cat, but you and your sister were there for me when I didn’t have another living soul to understand me in my darkest moments of despair, and for that you will never ever be “just” a cat.

Zen Last Day

After four torturously painful hours at the vet, I left without you on the day I was originally supposed to bring you back home. My friend, who was so supportive to me all weekend, drove me home, while I cried on the phone to my mom. I drank that night and was surrounded by good friends. I had a really bad meltdown. I made a “too soon” joke that made everyone laugh, and my ex stayed the night to make sure I was okay. He passed out hours before I even went to sleep, but it was the thought that counted.

I spent time talking to my Brooklyn sweetheart on the phone, and he told me he was proud of me for how I selflessly and maturely handled the situation. That I made the best possible decision I could have for you, and that so many people would not have even been able to be in the room, let alone hold their pet as they took their last breath. I don’t feel like a heroine of any sort. I don’t feel proud. I feel like I did what any “mom” would do in that situation. I put aside any pain I was experiencing and made sure my baby felt none.

I spent a lot of time talking to J about you, as well. He’s the only one who knows you like I do–like a parent does. He said a lot of soothing things I needed to hear. He knows your uniqueness. How you literally loved everyone who walked in the door.

He had this to say about you:

It was clear that he was thinking stuff. He had ego or id. Or something that made him seem aware. And for what it’s worth, I feel incredibly lucky to have known him. It’s sad in life that so often the brightest stars burn so vibrantly and burn out quickly. But he was yours. And now he’s part of the universe. And our lives are more special being able to have had him. Even if for only a short time.

He loved you so.

I just don’t know how to move on. I’m fine most days, but as I write this, I have cried several times. I just miss your perfectly handsome face and your truly lovable soul. I miss my lap cat and my best buddy.

The only thing I can think to do with this pain and void of missing you is to channel all of it into loving Aum even more than she’s ever been loved before. She is the true princess of her domain now.

Every single day I take care of Aum as I always did, except now with a little more tenderness, a little more attention. I make sure I don’t slack on her favorite things, like certain toys, being brushed, cat-nip or wet food. I pet her, hug her, and kiss her several times before bed each night, and even in the middle of the night if I happen to wake, I make sure she’s okay and give her some kisses. Then, I cover her purring, warm body up with a blanket. She misses you, but she’s very loved, and I notice a strange sense of calm in her, despite the obvious fact that she misses her companion. My baby girl finally gets to have all of the attention her social butterfly brother hoarded for years. She gets to be my only gem.

She will never replace you or the memory of you, but giving her equal and perhaps more immense love and affection is my way of paying forward the kind of love you inspired in me by being in my life for the beautiful, short time that you were.

You will never be “just a cat”. There’s no way. Not with the forceful, silly personality you had. Not with the amount of sheer enthusiasm for loving things you naturally possessed.

As J so succinctly said to me:

Clear your mind and say “Aum”. The very names you gave them are what needs to be. Say “Aum”. Find “Zen”.

Photo on 2014-01-16 at 00.29 #4