Boxes & Rain Drops

I am moving in a month, and the unwieldy mountain of stress is identical to the literal mass of things I own.

In an attempt to get a head start on the increasing agenda of tasks I have to do, I’ve begun to sort through miscellany. Boxes I had in storage, my medicine cabinet, old make-up… I reached into my walk-in closet last night and found a small shoebox of letters I have kept for years. Since 2006, to be precise.

It took me a few hours to sift through them all—opening each envelope, inspecting the contents, skimming the hand-crafted words that took commitment and dedication.

These letters all came from a friend who was incarcerated. He and I had dated, and right after we broke up, he did a bad thing and went to jail.

We wrote each other for the entire 6 years he was locked up.

Emotions pelted me throughout the reading like a gentle rainstorm that occasionally picked up or slowed. I was caught off guard by a sentence of deep regret, or my skin blushed by a few compliments of my beauty and effervescence about which he would sometimes reminisce.

I’ve read all of these before. Some of the sentences were so familiar even after all of these years, because, for a time, I had relied so much on the comfort and happiness those paper confessions provided me.

Yet, so many little things I had forgotten. He had written, telling me that I reminded him of a girl in the 2008 Ford Edge commercial, who was lost in thought looking up at the stars with her big, brown eyes.

Or the hand-made stamps his father would carve every year for Christmas cards, and how I had succeeded in putting every other person alive to shame (except his father) with my creative cards I sent him every year for his birthday and Christmas.

Or how he remembered that I used to eat soy bologna sandwiches and never smiled with my teeth in photographs.

It was such a strange and unusual bond we created during his time away, because we both avowed to continue the practice of hand-written letters.

We’d talk about our rituals of writing, where we sat, and what our surroundings looked like as we penned long notes to each other. He’d start letters off with a gregarious greeting, punctuated with far too much excitement for his caged-in existence, musing with eloquent language about my current antics. He shared an intimate look at the inside of a penitentary, while I wrote on and on about outings, my cats, my relationship woes, and, apparently, how great my ass was looking (that came up a few times—I know, because he made sure to comment in his letters sent back).

I held a six-year time capsule that was one-sided. I only had his letters, so I had to fill in the gaps of what was going on in my own world, while he talked about his. I could infer from his commentary easily, and it was like a nicely boxed-up version of my life from the moment he went to jail until the day Rocky and I first broke up. That was the last letter from him before he was released—commenting on how sorry he was to hear about my breakup. That was in 2013.

The letters began with talk of him missing his Myspace page and texting on his phone, and galloped forward into Facebook, various tv shows that had their popularity over that time period, and onward still to mention my employment at the company for which I still work.

I remember when he was released to a half-way house and I was finally able to talk to him on the phone. He had a crappy flip phone, and we talked for over two hours that first night. I chain-smoked cloves, and we delved into everything we didn’t say in our letters.

I went to visit him at his job in West Hartford. We talked a few more times.

That was a few years ago.

He’s free and we don’t talk. Convenience and real life has stripped us of our intimate bond.

But we are Facebook friends…

He often wrote to me, expressing his gratitude for my continued devotedness to writing him, but in the last letter, he stated that I had swayed his mind on womanhood, which went beyond his expectations and even broke down the rusted barrier of his misguided trust.

And now we don’t talk.

The gentle rain of emotions pelted me a little harder right then.

I always re-read everything personal before purging it. I set aside an entire evening to remember. It was only four years later that I decided to take the shoebox down from the shelf, because I need to simplify my personal belongings before moving.

The stress and commitment of moving has caused me to remember what a great friend I have had all these years. How I was once capable of staying true to a friendship with a steadfastness that is only now seen in the few hours left I have to vacate this apartment and start fresh.

Hand-written letters may never be in our future again, but I hope he knows when he reads this that, even in silence, the bonds of friendship still lie.

Sweet 16

I remember being sixteen years old, tightly stuffed into a friend’s basement in Worcester, MA, feeling higher and happier than a child chasing a trail of pearlescent bubbles.

It was New Year’s Eve, 1999.

I was there with my sister, mutual friends, and the boy with whom I was completely infatuated from the first moment I saw him that summer. I wore black vinyl pants and remember my crush saying to me on the ride to Worcester, “I can see myself in your pants. No, really. It’s not a pickup line. I can see myself in your pants.”

He braided me an aluminum foil bracelet as we stood by ourselves in the kitchen, tucked away in a corner, where we rubbed noses and giggled about how Eskimos and gnomes kiss.

I remember hanging out in one of my friend’s van outside listening to DMX and Dr Dre. I vaguely recall our friends’ band playing that evening in the tiny basement. I also remember eating peanuts while chewing gum, and realizing as my gum dissolved and slid down my throat, that that’s why people use peanut butter to get gum out of girls’ hair. Epiphany. I was hopped up on illegal substances and the world was my oyster.

As the ball was on its descent into the year Y-2-K, we all joked about how the internet would shut down, chaos would ensue, and the beginning of the end would follow thereafter.

None of that happened, of course, but when the countdown reached zero, I grabbed the boy and kissed him so sweetly. It was my first New Year’s kiss and I was on ecstasy.

Very early on the morning of New Year’s Day, I went back to the boy’s house and he laboriously peeled the black vinyl pants off my sweaty body. I lay in the boy’s bed, while he tried to do sexy things to me and I was coming down. I was tired, and it just wasn’t working. Frustrated and selfish, he broke up with me; I was mostly naked in his bed and trapped at his home without a ride.

Later that morning, forgetting what he had done only hours earlier, he in naive slumber, curled his arm tightly around my waist and pulled me in to snuggle. I just lay there and cried silently.

Happy New Year.

That boy became the man with whom I reunited seven years later and almost married.

Now, sixteen years after that emotional bumper car ride, I am sitting here in my favorite, thread-bare bathrobe in my cozy apartment. I am thinking about how many dull years have passed. How many of them I spent being a normal, young adult with a relatively stable existence. How many of them I spent with that same boy, and how many I have spent without him since we split. How so many of those years since we broke up were anything but stable or dull. How grateful I am to be where I am sitting today.

One thing that has always been consistent in all of my teen and adult years is my struggle with love. Oh, I find love, I just can’t keep love. The last three New Year’s Eves have been spent with friends, doling out hugs and cheek pecks at the ball drop.

Four years ago, I experienced something akin to my sixteenth year. I told the new guy I was dating since J and I broke up that I loved him for the first time. On New Year’s Day. It wasn’t planned. I wasn’t trying to be romantic by choosing a special day; it had just been six months together and fifteen years total since I had known him, and it came out of my mouth as we lay in my bed after drinking several mimosas and fondling each other. He reacted poorly. Understatement. His reaction was the worst reaction anyone could possibly have to being told they are loved by their girlfriend.

First, he laughed nervously. Really hard. Then, he pulled me in for a hug and swayed us back and forth for an extremely uncomfortable amount of time. It felt like three decades. We both silently shared a cigarette on my porch, and then, abruptly, he told me he had to go.

My New Year’s track record is excellent.

This year I feel good, though. I’ve been taking a lot of time to focus on organizing my life and my home. I have been writing a lot. I don’t really go out or drink very often at all and am in bed by 10 or 11 each night. I cherish my girl cat and lavish in all this extra time I have to be near her because I am not out getting messed up. I am yet again reconnecting with me, my favorite person to hang out with.

I cannot predict how the year will progress nor do I really want to. There are a couple of projects in the works that will keep me focused on my hobby and love for writing and editing, and I am finally loving my body and taking care of her needs.

Coming from the girl who always has put others before her, I am no longer content to be that person who lies there, quietly stifling her tears, while men abandon her right as a human to have her own fears, feelings, and thoughts.

And while I may be romancing someone currently who makes me swoon, blush, or feel dizzy, he is not the center of my world–he is just a very lovely and enticing piece of it. I like my life and I damn well should. It is mine after all. No one else’s. I live it for me and those who come into it, like my friends, family, or this romance, are all just enhancements and embellishments to the steadily polished bowl I’ve been working on for nearly thirty-three years.

I used to repeat the mantra, “I am happy; I am healthy; I am wealthy; I am wise.”

I think as I move into this new year of 2016, I am going to focus on the simple sweetness.

There’s a calm radiating throughout my being, because I’ve been chasing the metaphorical dragon for years and am finally ready to be me. To be the girl renewed from years of bad relationships and abuse; to be the girl strengthened against giving herself to men just to feel wanted; to be the woman who is comfortable in her new shape but still yearns to feel healthy in body, mind, and spirit. But mostly, to be Amanda, the person I know most intimately.

Amanda loves to read. She loves cleaning. Her home is an homage to the things she cherishes most: her cats, her friends, and music. She is nostalgic and loves to read her old journals (and then immediately shred them upon completion). She is sappy and enjoys eating popcorn by herself while watching comedy romances. She puts herself to sleep each night by petting her cat and listening to science documentaries. She writes in a gratitude journal. She requires time to herself every day to feel whole. She loves writing and making music more than she loves most things, and she gives her heart freely and generously to the people who mean the most to her. She does this not because she has to, not out of guilt, fear, or obligation, but because when Amanda feels like Amanda, she is a resonating channel of love.

From what I know of Amanda, she is sweet. She is kind, caring, and sweet. She’s snarky, sarcastic, whiny, and selfish, too, but no one likes a perfectly polished bowl, now, do they?

May I only hope that 2016 simply holds that presence of free love, if nothing else. It might just be the sweetest sixteen I’ve had yet.

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

Manhattan Afternoon

It was the way your voice lifted and softened

when you spoke about the chestnut in my eyes;

The bit of yellow you found, and

seemed to be lost in;

The kiss that followed;

The braided embrace

 

By the waters of Manhattan

time slowed down

One of the prettiest and

most sincere moments

we’ve shared