12 November 2016

0 roaring cats do not purr

i have wondered about this often. probably in conjunction with aslan.

would he purr?

but whatever it is that enables roaring precludes purring. and, presumably if real roaring cats do not purr, neither do fictional.

we spend the night before garebear's surgery watching a documentary on cats. fez perches on the arm of the couch, expectant, ears on high alert, occasionally extending a beseeching paw, as though he wishes to make contact with his relatives on screen.

he probably appreciates that we are watching this documentary on his kind, garebear observes. especially given all the movies about people he's had to watch.

that night, though it is 10 p.m. and our alarms are set for 4 a.m., the four of us pile into the bed that is designated as mine when i am in memphis and we watch the SNL election special in the dark.

something is wonky with the TV setting and we can only see the right 3/4s of the picture. text keeps running off the side of the screen. and yet all of the commercials are centered. this drives garebear bonkers though he does nothing about it.

the cat does plodding circuits across our stretched out legs like logs in an obstacle course.

every morning, during my first week in memphis, i'd wake up at 6, put on the sneakers my father bought me from target over a decade ago for $9.99 (possibly our greatest investment ever as a family, he says every time he sees me in them), put on the NPR politics podcast and go for a walk around the neighborhood.

in houses, lights go on. in garages, cars warm up. a breeze stirs through; flags flutter then slacken. invisible, several blocks away, the garbage truck proceeds haltingly, with a creaking and crashing. bathrobed women kneel to retrieve their newspapers. kids cluster on the sidewalk. the school bus snakes through its route. inside, sleepy heads lean against fogged windows.

the sun spills pink and purple, inky across the sky.

the dog walkers and i greet one another with eye contact, exclamations of good morning and a cheer i do not feel.

my parents were in maine when i realized i needed to be in memphis. we rendezvoused at the airport. my flight was 20 minutes early and theirs was 20 minutes late, with an hour scheduled in between.

as i waited at their gate, the lights kept going out. the janitorial staff walked past repeatedly, looking me up and down. a bundle of pink fur collapsed in a chair in the darkness of C-8.

Holly Golightly: You know those days when you get the mean reds? 
Paul Varjak: The mean reds. You mean like the blues? 
Holly Golightly: No. The blues are because you're getting fat, and maybe it's been raining too long. You're just sad, that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid, and you don't know what you're afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?

it isn't any one thing. and i cannot find the boundaries, cannot figure out where it begins and ends. 

i'm in memphis because four days earlier i actually googled "how to cope with crippling anxiety."

this is not who i am as my ideal self: someone who googles "how to cope with crippling anxiety." 

in our family i am stereotyped as the emotional one, the one with all the feelings. this is an area where my parents and i differ and, as a result, it is an area where i have always perceived myself to be wrong. that my feelings are dangerous. and that i must protect everyone from them. 

don't cry, garebear always said. for decades, i interpreted this as a prohibition. now i realize he was just talking to himself. 

garebear and debo, i imagine, do not want me in memphis because they think i will come to town and spray all my messy emotions on everyone. it doesn't help that, when i call to tell them i am coming to memphis, there's a crescendo of crying that makes it appear i am in the midst of a panic attack. 

debo is in public. to me, she sounds icy and removed. DO YOU NOT WANT ME? i wail, at my most shrill, in a tone that would make most anyone run for the exit. 

cornered, i go feral. i lash out and hiss and claw. so i can see where they're coming from. this isn't exactly the person you want around in your time of need. 

but there are advantages. accustomed to working under extreme pressure, under extreme pressure i excel. i am extremely practical. i look beyond the moment we're in to see the details that must be worked out to make the moment three moments from now more tolerable. 

debo worries about getting him dressed. i figure out which door of the house is easiest to get into with minimal steps so when she gets him dressed i can load him into the correct side of the car.

caroline is in charge, debo says repeatedly, with audible relief.

she is fixated on a spot on her nose, barely visible. as he has said every time a blemish has sprouted on anyone in our family since 1980, garebear tells her to put alcohol on it. (the only person in our family this has ever worked for is him.)

that has only ever worked for you, debo tells him. i already put the alcohol on it, she whispers to me, just so i could say i did and he wouldn't have to keep telling me.

you just have to keep doing it, garebear informs us, his faith in the blemish healing powers of alcohol unflagging.

what do you think it is? debo inquires, as i peer at the tip of her nose through a magnifying glass, aware this magnifies my own nose to five time its usual size as i try to discern something that will reassure her about hers. when i tell her it is probably a stress-related cyst, she asks, but what would i be stressed about?

i cock a brow. the question is ridiculous, she knows.

emboldened, i have designated myself "the feelings counsellor." this has the immediate effect of my being inundated with a sluice of things i'd rather not hear. 

they want me to move back, they say.

it's time. i'm tired of this, debo tells me.

apparently i was given three years. apparently no one thought beyond that. apparently i have stayed too long and my time is up.

immediately i wonder if i was misguided in offering to be the receptacle of everyone's feelings. because i am a horrible coward. and because i feel very, very weak. i cannot find the boundaries of whatever it is i am in.

garebear thinks i do not appreciate what is coming. in thinking this, he does not appreciate the full extent of my imagination. that these are events for which i have been preparing for most of my life. since i sat next to joe in his 2-door 1983 chevy beauville sportvan and tried to figure out how, were he to die right then, i would save my 10-year-old self by taking control of the car.

for 35 years, i have been saving myself. i am under no illusions: i am a selfish bitch. because it feels like i have to be if i am to survive, to remain myself and to write.

in the weeks before his surgery, garebear became obsessed with a bible verse that read, in part, "have only faith." my aunt joked that he'd taken this a little too literally.

i am the only one. (i wonder sometimes if they wish there were another: a son with a traditional career and kids and control of his emotions.) 

i'm horrified by how many times i repeated the words of donald rumsfeld during this past week: 
Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.
we do not know what will happen. we never do. 

when i go to see burvil, she has a list of assignments. first and foremost, we must go through the floral arrangements.

the cemetery where joe is buried has a policy that provokes much uproar. if a floral arrangement, no matter how pristine, has blown off the monument, it is discarded. defiant, in the immediate aftermath of joe's death, debo and burvil went dumpster-diving to salvage some of the newer arrangements. they'd big plans to up-cycle them. plans abandoned after about a year. the ambitions of grief often do not endure.

and so here we were, three and a half years later, with the mission of plucking the arrangements from the shed and returning them to the dumpster from which they'd once been saved. 

you could have a writing studio and teach at the community college, burvil tells me. 

there's vanderbilt, belmont, garebear says on the eve of his op.  

it is time, debo tells me, tears streaming down her face. your father won't live forever. taking in her feelings while shielding myself from the horrible burden of what they represent, i say nothing. 

i am the only one. we are only three.

we're in garebear's library. for some reason i can't remember, my parents start talking about pusheen. garebear wants to be able to use pusheen off facebook.

they are seated on opposite ends of the room, both of them on their phones. i run between them, helping them find the keyboard, run a search and insert pusheen images into their texts. 

debo is seated five feet from garebear as she sends him 27 consecutive images of pusheen. 

with the delivery of each one, he exclaims, GIRLS. THAT IS ENOUGH. 26 more times we go on.

when i told him i had to be in memphis, steven replied, of course, you do. you need to be there for your stories. 

do you remember that time i was going to have ear surgery and, before they took me back, you told me about the death of the ayatollah khomeini? i ask debo and garebear. they do not remember. i probably only remember due to the detail that the crowd knocked his body out of the coffin but i cannot accept that they do not remember. it seems somehow important. surely you must remember, i say.

we play solitaire differently, my parents and i. they stack descending alternating colors. i stack ascending cards of the same suite. 

where did you ever learn to play like that? garebear wonders, amazed, as he watches me abandon his way to play my way. 

it is just how i learned, i shrug.

i think i'm going to have feelings, debo tells me every time, apologetically, in that tone people use to announce that they are about to throw up in public. 

and she cries and we hug and do this really uncomfortable swaying like we're competing in a dance marathon in a movie and about to break up, thus forfeiting the competition.

by week's end, my hips will ache from all the swaying we have done.

FEEL THE SHIT. Squeeze the shit! this is what N wrote me last week. in the car home from burvil's, i tell debo that is our goal for the coming week. she is laughing and crying. i am filled with glee that i have gotten away with saying the word shit to my mother multiple times. 

she thought the cubs would win. superstitious, i said they wouldn't. i'd heard somewhere that the odds of the cubs coming back down three games to one were equivalent to donald trump's odds of winning the presidency. i told her this and we laughed.

(watching the cubs win, all i can think is: joe would've loved this game.)

the hospital plays a handful of notes from a lullaby over the PA system every time a baby is born. i was struck by that returning on wednesday, as i dashed to garebear's room in the interim between Her speech and the president's.

life goes on.

there was a scene in this is us a few weeks ago which has stuck with me.

i guess we let you go though, debo says. my mother wanted me to have opportunities she didn't have and i wanted that for you and so i can't be too upset when you seize them, take them. we wanted that for you. 

she says this at a time when i am more insecure in all of the risks i have taken than i have ever been.

we do not know what we're capable of until we do it. and we do not know what will happen until it does.

"desperate women gamble all"= the title of my first published academic article.

fez and i watch the election returns together. he curls on my chest like an infant, his head nuzzled under my chin, paw gripping a strand of my hair. his 13.4 pounds heavy on my chest, at times it is hard to breathe but i will not move him. for four straight hours, he purrs.

the following morning, debo texts that garebear is up and walking. i am watching Her speech.

all the little girls are watching. all the little girls are watching. all the little girls are watching. 

i don't know if it's the title of a chapter or a blog post or what but it sits in my mind on repeat for days.

on thursday, debo sends me to the grocery story and i wind up circling the neighborhood, killing time, listening to katy perry's "roar" on repeat and sobbing convulsively.

as a little girl, i always played first lady, never president. it was a failure of imagination, and also possibility.

there's this cultural assumption that women dress for other women. some weeks back in london, at the grocery store, there was a little girl standing in the frozen foods with her father. watching her watch me as i wove through the aisle in a pink fur coat and black patent boots, hair blazing, i realized that i do not dress for other women. i dress for little girls.

because i remember being one, and watching. that claustrophobic feeling of being hemmed in, hurt by so much stuff i was not yet old enough to understand, wanting so many things that simply seemed impossible and maybe also inappropriate to even want.

janet reno died the day before the election and i was impossibly sad. because i remember her. though i had not remembered that she was the first female attorney general.

there must always be a first. how overwhelming a burden that must be. how overwhelming a burden so much of this so often feels.

fez cannot roar but, when he doesn't have what he wants, he stands in the upstairs hallway and lets loose a long, plaintive cry that sounds exactly like a petulant child wailing NOOOOOOOOO.

i'm the mother, i'm supposed to be the strong one
, debo tells me as she wipes her nose on the dress i'll be wearing the next 24 hours. and i tell her we're all adults here. we are at liberty to fall apart.

what all those watching girls do not know is that we adults are just making it up as we go along.

what i know (take heart!) is that, one day, one of those girls will be the president of the united states.

in chicago, the evening sun spills inky across threatening clouds.

in london, as we touch down, twinkling lights pierce the dark of early morning.

you are a wonderful daughter, my father texts. you passed the test to take care of me in my old age! 

he is joking. but it is real. he has told me that if anything happens to my mother, he will need help.

how cruel that the arc of our lives puts parents in failing health just as their children are hitting their peak.

i am a horrible daughter because, returning to london, i feel only a tremendous sense of relief. and stronger.

things are still possible. i am still free. i am home.

the customs guy asks about my favorite book. i surprise myself by announcing that it is vanity fair. he prefers joyce. he asks if i like the romantics. i loathe the romantics but it seems the wrong time to bring up the metaphysicals so i mention keats. and he nods, knowing, and says quietly, almost as an aside, fanny brawne.

and i say, YES.

customs is cleared, the tube comes, the rain falls. there is cookie dough and fudge in my fridge and a nap in my future. i am writing again.

back in america, lights go on, lights go off. the men go to work, the kids cluster for the bus, the women pick up their papers, sheened with morning dew. the girls and boys are watching. the flags flutter, the cubs are world champions. burvil is in good spirits and debo's spot is healing. we do not know what will happen next but we keep on. garebear is home again, asleep in the chair in the library. the cat in his lap purrs.

No comments: