Shakedown Isaactown

I can’t believe it’s been a year since the last time we came together to do this.

Some people just leave a lasting imprint on the physical world behind them when they leave.

Isaac is one of those people.

It is unusually steamy. The air outside feels like Connecticut’s geographical location has moved to Florida.

I plant myself on the couch and eat a disgusting version of some nutritious experiment with my Nutribullet that turned out much like bland baby food. I don a romper and think about grilling a hamburger patty to eat instead of this pea-green mush.

I lean my head back and my cat, Aum, is lying behind me. I can hear her quiet breathing as she begins to purr. I think about how I love her more than almost anything. How leaning back to rest my head against her ultra soft fur is so reassuring and wonderful. How I won’t always be able to do that, so every time I do, I cherish her fully.

Around 7pm, my best friend, Rachel, and I get our beer and head over to Rose’s house for what we assume to be an epic party, as usual.

There’s a stage set up for musicians to play; food is being grilled. There’s a banner that says “Shakedown Isaactown” and a giant pickle with a hole cut out so you can take your picture. As nighttime falls and more people arrive, the path from the shed house to the fire is lit with glow sticks to look like a magical fairy lane.

Every time I attend an event in honor of Isaac or hosted by Rose, I see familiar faces but I also meet new ones. This is my favorite part. It’s truly a community and family, even if we’ve just met, bound by the common thread of a shared adoration for this man who only stayed on earth for a mere thirty-odd years.

In the shed house stands the keg we all wrote on for Isaac last year at his birthday party. I participate in several games of beer pong. I dominate the table for a while, garnering cheers and gasps with my somehow amazing bounces and throws. I guess all those years at Uconn finally paid off. In between drunken high fives and complaining about my sweat-soaked romper and the hole I tore in the crotch from bending down to pick up a ball, I look at the walls of the shed and think about Isaac. How many times he stood in the exact place I am standing. How it’s so painful that he’s not here to share in this experience with us.

My beautiful friend Jo made a four-hour drive from Vermont to come to the party. She plays guitar and we sing “Blue Jeans” by Lana Del Rey, the song she was playing at Isaac’s celebration at Old Well when I went up and introduced myself to her, because I had learned that song on guitar, too.

Shortly after, it begins to storm pretty heavily. It had rained a little on and off over the evening, with bursts of thunder, but not even enough to put out the fire. This time it is torrential. We all run and huddle under the tents together and listen to the booms as they echo across the sky.

Is this Isaac’s birthday gift to us, perhaps? A group of people forced into even closer quarters with nowhere to escape or find distraction. We have to be there in the moment and wait out the rain. Albeit most are inebriated, we are all there together with nowhere to go. Maybe he just wants us all in the same place for a little while.

Once the rain calms down, Rachel and I Irish-goodbye and make our way home on the windy back roads of Canton and West Simsbury. In my room, I sloppily tear off my romper and plop onto my bed.

The thing is, I know I will see this group again. They are my friends. Some I know better than others, but I cherish knowing them, because the way I was brought to them, although heart-breaking, is so beautiful.

To be someone who makes an impact every day is important. Yet, if your impression on others continues to ripple out and echo across time like a loud crash of thunder, then your breaths on earth were not wasted.

The Day You Find out Why

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. ~ Mark Twain

On a beautiful afternoon, while sitting in white plastic lawn chairs in the driveway, my father told me that quote. He said something about it taking him sixty-something-odd years to figure it out–that life is about experiences.

As he continued to pull drags of smoke into his mouth from his cigar, I took a sip of my IPA and realized that after 32 years, we had finally come to a place of real respect and appreciation for each other’s company.

Growing up, my father was always there, affectionate and stern. He was interested in taking my sisters and me to do things like play mini-golf, go spelunking in caves, and visit historical places across New England.

dad & me

Relating to my mother has always been easy, because she is so much like me: affectionate to the brim, understanding, and full of empathy for others. My dad is another story.

After my parents’ divorce when I was 11, the dynamic undoubtedly changed. My dad eventually pursued other women and I was becoming a teenager, disengaging, little by little, from the childhood father who would put me on his shoulders and run up and down the hall, turn into the Tickle Monster, or let me sit on his lap while he watched golf.

We would butt heads a lot, since my dad was probably consumed with the stress of taking care of teenage girls–a subject with which he’s hardly familiar. I was depressed, highly sensitive, and buried in a thicket of misery and emotion that my father deemed as overdramatic and “silly”. But when you’re a 16-year-old girl and your heart has just been broken for the first time, it really is the most massive and unceasing amount of pain you can imagine.

I asked for therapy, thinking it would help. I remember my father saying to me, “We are Volponi’s; we take care of our own problems.” The maddening insensitivity I felt at the time, gaining an impression that he just didn’t understand. He did take me to therapy, and I only went to a handful of sessions before insurance would stop paying.

Strangely, his commentary about self-sufficiency runs through my head all the time…

I am a woman who has grown to take care of herself, imbued with a resilience from where I do not know it came.

After going to college and eventually grad school, I moved out of my parents’ house for good. During this time, my father was beginning to recognize that I was a person of responsibility. I could save money, I didn’t get into trouble, I graduated with two degrees, and I could hold a steady job.

I felt like he was finally proud of me.

See, my father has always been the kind of man who is not very verbally expressive with his emotions. I remember showing him my senior yearbook photo only to get the response, “You look better when you’re smiling, but my girls are not half bad, huh?”

I was reprimanded for things like leaving a spoon in the sink or forgetting to close the garage door when I left. I, often, was not praised for doing extra things around the house to gain his and my stepmother’s approval.

It’s something that’s hard for me to admit, but my whole life I have always wanted my dad to tell me he loved me or feel like I wasn’t being judged for my mistakes. I wanted to feel like daddy’s girl.

In stereotypical fashion, I have constantly sought out attention from men to fulfill this longing of unconditional love that, at the time, I did not think would ever come.

But that’s when this story turns into a beautiful one.

Over time, slowly, we began to mend our relationship. I opened my heart to compassion and continued to try without giving up, and my father learned a lot about himself as the years went by. I can’t tell you exactly when it transpired, because there wasn’t one defining moment, but we began to really like being around each other.

OOB

My dad and I talk about science and movies; we muse about theories of human behavior. I teach him new words, and we share music we both like with one another. We talk for hours, we go to beer tastings, and he has even taught me how to ballroom dance (although I forget them now). We have the same sense of humor; we’re both rational and articulate. We both like to “shoot the shit”, yet always find ourselves in deeper conversation.

One of the most important things he’s ever taught me, however, was when I was much younger. I was upset about the falling-out of a friendship, and at a stop light, he spoke these words, “Not everyone that comes into your life is meant to stay. Some are only supposed to be there for a little while and serve a purpose during that time. Then, someone new comes along.”

It might not seem pivotal or grandiose, but to me it was. It relieved years of pain I was feeling about lost connections with friends and with boys. I was filled with a sense of peace that every connection has meaning and importance and that not one is necessarily greater than the other.

It changed how I impact and connect with people every day.

My father has always been someone I could rely on if my physical or financial world came unbound. It wasn’t until after my break-up with my ex fiancé that I realized how much my father could be there for me on an emotional, supportive level as well.

One of the sincerely most incredible things in this lifetime has been watching my father grow as a human being.

Not only has he become more in-tune with his own emotions, he has empathy for others. He has sagacious thoughts and uses words, now, like “soul-mate”. My dad brings pictures of me on his phone to social gatherings to show them off; he has even gushed to his driver in Italy about how beautiful I am. He constantly reminds me not to sweat the small stuff (a book I had bought him years ago), and he has admirable moral integrity.

Yes, I’m still working on him about killing bugs or wishing nuclear bombs would drop on the houses of people who’ve wronged me, but no one is perfect.

I have always been lucky to have a father who is capable of supporting me if I need help. I am even luckier to have a father who can also connect to me as a person, where I feel the amassing and ever-growing love.

I have never been lucky in romantic love. It is something I fear I’ll struggle with for the rest of my life. Men fall for me and then forget about me. It’s something I’ve never really understood, and it is something that haunts me.

Yet, when I examine what it is that I would like to have achieved in this life, I’ve realized that it’s already happened.

I would like to fall in love and feel that a man won’t abandon my wants or needs, but more than anything, I already have the unconditional, unwavering love of my father.

Some people never find that with a parent with whom they had always felt disconnected. In this lifetime, I get to have that. That knowledge is like an expanding, glowing orb inside my heart, because I feel as though something that was supposed to be accomplished in this life has happened.

So, I don’t truly know if my dad has ascertained why he was placed on this earth, but on his day of birth, I would like to tell him at least one very important reason why.

I would not be the person I am today. Aside from all the wonderful traits he genetically passed along to me, I am buttressed by a bond that has changed the way I view life.

I imagine every parent wants to know they’ve done the job of child-rearing well, and my father has surpassed that. I’m a well-adjusted, loving and intelligent human, but I also have fulfillment in life. That fulfillment allows me to reduce self-destruction, to be proactive about positively affecting other people’s lives, and helps me to love deeper while I am here, waiting for the day to find out why I was given life.

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