Tuesday, February 01, 2011

If You Don't Weaken


This was what my rental car looked like last Thursday morning. I was in New Jersey on a work trip and by Thursday I really wanted to stop being in Jersey and start being back at  home with my cats and guitars. But there was a slight problem in the form of a blizzard that canceled my escape flight.

The travel desk at work informed me that there weren't any flights available Thursday unless I was willing to fly out of New York instead of  New Jersey. 

Sure, why not?

We have one at 3:30 from La Guardia,do you want that?

Yes. I'll have to drop my rental off there instead of Newark.


Oh. You have a rental car?


Yes.


And you are driving it to La Guardia?


Yes.


*pause*



You know that you have to drive through New York to get there, don't you?


Yes, I need to leave soon.

After getting an email with my new itinerary, I went to say good-bye to the workers that I'd been tasked with training. When I told the group  that I was flying out of NYC, I was given all sorts of advice and suggestions about how to get there; shuttles, trains and taxis in endless mind-boggling varieties, all of which were subject to change from the rather heavy snow that had just fallen.

Nobody suggested that I drive there myself, so of course that is what I did.

I mean, all I had to do was  drive  through Manhattan after a blizzard. It was New York, after all, surely they'd have the streets plowed by now. What could possibly go wrong?

In hindsight, I reckon an awful lot of things could have gone wrong, but luckily for me,  nothing did. I found Manhattan traffic was actually easier with snowy slushy crap on the streets,  since there are fewer cars on the road. I didn't have directions or a GPS to guide me , yet I only had to make one conspicuously illegal u-turn on the entire trip. I got to the airport with the requisite two hours to spare. It felt like quite an accomplishment to me.

It took almost as long to get through security as it did to drive from New Jersey and the TSA guards were brazenly hostile. Not merely rude or surly, they were confrontational and insulting in a very disturbing way. I watched as a young TSA agent started insulting a skinny kid a few spots ahead of me. After admonishing the kid for not taking his belt off, the guard started making fun of the poor kid's baggy pants, which were falling down without the belt.  Everybody see your ass-crack now, homey.

That be nasty, commented a female TSA guard.  The passenger, who was maybe 19 years old, blushed bright red, but what could he do? He submitted to the insults and kept going.

I braced myself when my turn at the checkpoint came. That guy is going to say the wrong thing to me and I am going to punch him and it'll be off to Guantanamo Bay with  me...I hope I at least make the TV news so that my friends know what happened...hmmm, the publicity will be awesome for CD sales. This could actually be a big break...

But I was waved through without so much as a sullen glare. Shortly after I cleared the gate, I saw the same young guard again, this time he was behind me in line to get a coffee. I heard him say "please" and "thank you" to the cart attendant. It was the same guard who thirty minutes before was picking on some kid for no reason, yet he was polite and well-mannered at the coffee cart.
We are a baffling species.

I checked the flight board and found that my flight had been delayed, so I settled in to a comfortless chair and read for a while from a collection od short stories. One story was titled Puppy and it was a melancholy commentary about human relationships, using an abandoned puppy as both catalyst and metaphor. In the end, it is inferred that the puppy is euthanized, and part of the human spirit with it, although the ending casts doubts on the whoopty-big-deal of the human spirit...perhaps we don't care about what we think we should as much as we fool ourselves into believing. Defense mechanism?

As I write this, I realize something important about foreshadowing, and that is : we don't recognize it for what it is when we experience it, and perhaps even rarely do we perceive it after events have come to pass.  But it isn't just a literary device used by writers, it is part of everyday life. If you pay attention.

When I got to the airport, my old friend Mike called. He'd been feeding my cats and Wilkins, my oldest, was acting strangely. When I got home, she didn't even get up, just moaned from her perch at the top of the stairs.

She wanted no food or water and in the morning I took her to the vet, where the doc found near-total kidney failure. Wilkins, my constant companion of 16-17 years, was dying. Shewould spend one more night at home and tomorrow I would bring her in for the humane dispatching.

And she knew. I lay on the bed with her pulled tight to me, stroking her head, good kitty, good kitty  into her ears because she was, as good as any cat can be, loving, behaved and  relaxed.
When  I feeling down and unwanted, I  would reach down and pet Wilkins, because she was always there for me, always. But I could sense her letting go. I swear she was saying good-bye to me, telling me that she was worried about me, fearing that I would be lost without her. Her, looking out for me. I know that is crazy, oh well.

Mike offered to take her to the final procedure, but I wanted her to know that I was there. I hope she did. Watching her pass broke me down. Mike had to help me get it together and I'd have been lost without him. This is important: look out for your friends when they are down like that. They are vulnerable and prone to bad choices. I'm not ashamed to have needed the help and I'm proud I have friends who were  there for me when I just couldn't stand it alone.

I cried more for my cat than I did for my grandmother, which makes me feel...odd. Or maybe it was some tears  for both, maybe some for my dead friends as well and certainly some for my own shattered heart , lost hopes and cremated dreams. My dying cat was a heavy last straw.

I must say that I started this year feeling about as bleak and hollow as I have ever felt in my entire sober life and I am not comfortable with the sorrow, bitterness, loneliness, rejection and anger that batter and burn me like acid hail. There had been enough small and not-small good things in the works so that things weren't without promise, enough to wake up for, but I wasn't ready to lose my best cat so suddenly and it hit me hard.  A few hours after Wilkins was put to sleep, I found myself sitting in the silent dark, doing nothing, wholly unmotivated to even move.

That isn't much of a way to live, so eventually I did something else. It didn't work out so well, so I tried something slightly different. That failed too, but there's always next time.

3 comments:

YELLOWDOG GRANNY said...

oh sweety..I'm so sorry..I do know what you are going thru..went thru the same with Annie..your old friend is in a pain free better place and I do believe that the Goddess has swept down and taken her home with her..you know how much she loves cats...call me if you need me.

schlep said...

Ah Wilkins! So sorry Allan. A dear presence in the neighborhood. I liked the nest she devised out of sawdust last spring. She often sunned herself on Jane's porch.

billy pilgrim said...

man that's a tough one. i've held all my dogs whilst they passed and i'm getting choked right now thinking about them. i think you'll be grieving for a long time, maybe forever.

i'm like mr bojangles, after 20 years i still grieve.

i still think of the heinlein quote:

"When the need arises — and it does — you must be able to shoot your own dog. Don't farm it out — that doesn't make it nicer, it makes it worse."