On the Guest List

Being brave isn’t something you do for yourself; it’s what you do for others.

When J told me that he had a fiancée—when he casually mentioned she okayed me coming to the wedding—I knew it wasn’t something I could back out of. Pragmatically, I was fine with the entire situation. I have never been jealous when he tells me about her. I don’t imagine them kissing and burst into tears or become disgusted. I haven’t had those kind of feelings for J since shortly after we broke up. But in the weeks leading up to his day of matrimony, my stomach began to tighten. It was anticipation of what I’d imagine would be an awkward day, and I definitely wasn’t looking forward to it. There would be no dancing or catching a bouquet. This was simply a favor for J.

I systematically wrote out the card and placed a personal check in the slot on the left side. I did this while filling a flask that I knew I would need. The night before I didn’t eat dinner, and I stayed up too late talking to friends.

On a sunny, humid Saturday morning, my friend came to pick me up and escort me to the wedding as his date. We also brought J’s and my old neighbor with us. I had cigarettes, good music, and liquid courage. I could do this just fine.

And guess what? I did.

There was no dramatic outburst at the reception, where I wept in the bathroom stall. I didn’t ignore his new wife or make things uncomfortable. I even had a ten-minute conversation with the bride’s grandfather; he told me about his dialysis while he forced me to eat grapes, because I wouldn’t eat anything else. I smiled big. I schmoozed everyone. Even J’s mom. It was just about all I could take, and then, luckily, it was an acceptable time to leave.

When I got home, I was met with indifference from my boyfriend. He was upset about something unrelated, and without the emotional stronghold I needed, because I had been brave for just a little too long, I crumpled into my pillow and I cried. I cried on my drive to my friends’ house after my boyfriend left to get food. I let my emotions overrun me the second I walked in their door, and when I got home, I bawled again for an immeasurably painful time. Not even my sister’s calming familiarity could soothe me. On the other end of the phone, she reminded me that I’ve always been this way. This emotional. And I knew it was true, but I couldn’t stop the outpouring. I eventually did expunge my tears, because there was nothing left in me, but it wasn’t because I ceased feeling awful inside.

There’s nothing pretty about being brave.

It feels raw and draining to pretend everything is okay and that I am not a human with normal emotions—that even though I haven’t felt romantic love for my ex fiancé in six years, it still wouldn’t rock my entire core to see and hear him say “I do” to someone else.

He and I once had picked out our own venue, standing hand-in-hand blissful that he would get to ride in on a quad, and I could have my barefoot outdoor wedding. I had tried on dresses and asked my sisters and niece to be my bridesmaids. I had the perfect ring, and I was making my guest list.

My braveness the other day was just a symbol of everything I am lacking in my own life: I do not have a husband. I may not ever. I probably will never bear a child from my own womb. J’s old promises to me were now wrapped in my own tissue paper and sitting on a table for a woman I don’t even know to tear open and write me a detached thank you note in a month’s time. And that’s it. That is all I have to show for almost six years of dedication to a man whose wedding I attended on Saturday.

Being brave felt like it was for everyone else, but perhaps it was my own stupidity. I don’t regret that I went, as I know it made J smile that I was there, but that really was the only reason why I went. To support him. He’s never been much for friends, and although we are ex partners, we’ve always been able to be pals. Yet, everyone I’ve spoken to about this past weekend has wondered how I even made it onto the guest list. They told me they would never be able to do what I did.

Does that make me foolish or does that make me brave?

Sometimes I don’t think there’s a difference.

Little Earthquakes

I can’t believe I allowed myself to be in that situation again.

Everything was normal. Fine. Maybe a little too fine. When I first arrived, he was overly eager to give me a hug. Exes aren’t typically overly eager to do anything unless it involves inflating specifics of their life to make things seem better than they really are.

I was standing outside when I heard him say it. She was here.

Immediately, my gut wrenched. My body went into a post-traumatic shock, where all I wanted was to flee. To smoke a cigarette and flee. Against my body’s persistent urges to get in my car and get the hell out, I stayed, reassured by others that they would be there to support me.

Jello shots and whiskey helped ease the anxiety for a time. But only for a time.

“I don’t hate her or anything,” I said to my ex, standing in the driveway and pulling drags of his cigarette without his consent. “I just have zero desire to ever be around her again.”

“The fact that no one thought to tell me she’d be here is preposterous and really inconsiderate!” I added.

The avoider of all conflict reassured me that he would not ignore me or act differently. To please just suck it up for one day.

Let me explain what it feels like to suck up PTSD:

It feels like you constantly want to throw up. Your body is uncomfortable. There’s a littering of egg-shells in every direction you walk. Your mouth is duct taped. Censored. Your actions are bound. Censored. Your thoughts are rampant and sweating. Outwardly, you’re silent. Outwardly, you act calm, collected, and cool, because you don’t want to ruin anyone else’s time, you don’t want to cause a scene, and you can’t let people know how much you are hurting because they won’t take you seriously.

They didn’t feel the shockwave blow a hole through my body when I walked in on him and her kissing on the same day as one of my good friend’s funeral.

No. They could never know how low I felt as I scraped the snow off my windshield at two in the morning, wailing at the top of my lungs, after having an argument with a belligerently drunk dolt of an ex-boyfriend who would not assume responsibility for his actions, which ended in a fervent slap across the face from me.

Only my good friend, who heard me crying and came out to offer support, could know the level of messed up I was. I was actually traumatized. My system had had too much at this point. What with the passing and grieving of a friend, the assumed trust I shared with a man, and the broken friendship that stabbed deeper than any of the rest, I was a total heap of distraught. She had repeatedly told me I was way too good for him only so she could climb into his drunken arms, while I was asleep upstairs, because I was invited to stay at the house so I wouldn’t have to grieve alone after Isaac’s passing.

When I arrived home around 4am, I sat on my bed and drank whiskey straight from the bottle. I had no cigarettes and would have to wait until a gas station opened. I was wide-awake and completely rocked from what my heart, eyes, and body had just gone through.

I would never be quite the same again.

And then, they all just expected me to be okay with this? I know it’s been over a year, but would you bring an ex-infantry soldier to a movie about war?

I don’t really remember leaving, except to ask my ex for a cigarette.

I woke up at 4am with several texts asking if I was okay. I felt anxious, so I took half a klonopin and went back to sleep.

Today is Sunday, and the dust has settled. For now.

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