My mother was visiting this weekend, and when she read one of my posts, she asked, “What is the difference between blogging and journaling?”
(I do both.)
Temporarily at a loss for words, I said, “Blogging is public.” This being the most general distinction I could think of.
Incidentally, I also saw Julie & Julia this weekend, a movie about another blogger who also went to Amherst College (who got a book deal from her blog at the tender age of 30. Take that, ego!). This particular blogger, Julie, has a conversation partway through her blogging project with her husband in which he accuses her of acting narcissistic. “What is blogging,” she answers, “But me, me, me?”
I’m not sure if that was my intention, writing this, writing here. Maybe this is just a soapbox I couldn’t give myself any other way. I believe that when I set out I had something to say; I also believe that I wasn’t quite sure what that was. And sure – I’ve found myself in these posts. It may be that was the only point. I do hope, however, that it was interesting, or reassuring, or entertaining, to someone, somewhere. And not just because I was in your life to begin with. But that’s my fantasy – it doesn’t have to come true.
And now we confront the matter at hand. I’m not very good with goodbyes. I often wonder at this – why I don’t let people and things float in and out of my like so many dandelion seeds on a warm breeze. I hate it; it feels tragic, sad. And there are all different kinds of goodbyes. Temporary, permanent, cordial, warm, loving, icy. And – there is death. And this one – this one I am not used to.
I have – I had – a cat. Short sentence, right? It’s not a big word, like “daughter,” or “brother.” Just a small word. Cat. She died exactly one week ago – just this time of night, actually. It was a bizarre, fast accident. I took her to a friend’s apartment; the newness of it scared her; she became so frightened that her heart stopped beating. And like that, laying on one of my towels, with both of my hands in her fur, with my voice in her ear, she died. I had no idea that such a thing was possible until it had already happened and I was listening to my syncopated sobs in the car as we rushed to the vet. She was four, her name was Nutmeg, and she picked me – not the other way around.
She was black, striped with brown, and smaller than a can of soup when we met. She looked up at me, bit the end of my finger in what felt like a kiss, and we’ve been together ever since. Except now, of course.
Someone told me recently that love is letting someone take care of you. I didn’t think about it much at the time. But in the days after her death, I looked at all her things – her bed (which she loved, even though she had long outgrown it), her brush, her food, her bowls, her collar, her toys, everything – piled forlornly there. These were all things I bought for her out of the little money I had – with which I thought I was taking care of her. Sometimes, in this 95 degree weather, I thought love could be measured by four-pound bags of cat food and ten-pound bags of litter carried home. And Nutmeg never carried my food home. She never cooked me breakfast, fed me at three in the morning, brushed my hair, or cleaned up after my mess, all of which I frequently did for her. I thought I was the caretaker – but watching myself this past week, I’m not so sure.
Because this is me without her: I can’t walk into my apartment without bursting into tears. When I hear a sound, I turn around and expect to see her there. When she isn’t, I weep. I hate the quiet. I hate that I can write this post without having to look over a tail that is trying to get my attention.
I live alone. Alone alone, Jerry Maguire alone – but I didn’t feel like that until today. I never planned to live alone alone, and I don’t want to – yet here I am, in the quiet. It turns out that there is a huge difference between living alone with a cat and living alone with plants. Then again, it could be just me. If you’ve been reading, you’ve probably realized that there is almost nothing – nothing – that has not changed about my life in the past four years. There was only one constant: Nutmeg. I took her home from the pound about a month after graduating from college. We drove across the country together. We have lived together all the time that I have not been abroad. I do not live with a sibling or a parent or a husband or a child. My roommates have changed. My city has changed. My profession has changed. My religion has changed. And through all of that, she was the one line I could draw without picking up my pen. She, well, stuck by me. Nutmeg was my person. She was my someone. My life changed, but our relationship never did. She missed me when I wasn’t home, and every time my key went in the door she ran to me, mewling like I’d left her for a hundred years. Then she would trot back into the apartment and collapse dramatically on her favorite spot on the rug, and yowl until I dropped everything in my hands, knelt down, and hugged and kissed her.
There is something meaningful about a life witnessed and cared about. Something sweet, something mundanely astonishing. And pets do this. They make us feel like it matters whether or not we come home at night. They make us feel loved unconditionally. They make us feel that there is nothing we could do to make them stop loving us so desperately. (Not that we would. Just look at them.) They make us feel special and irreplaceable – our taste, our smell, is the wind in their sails – and it never gets old. They make us feel as though we complete a world – as though without us, the magic would drain out of their lives. And for this, they receive our unbreakable love – a thing we bestow cautiously. They are, in a word, family. The best kind: loyal, cherished. They are not human, no – but to a person who truly loves her pet, this does not diminish the relationship at all.
So what does a poor human do when she is left by such a companion – not by choice, but by fate? As far as I can tell, there isn’t much of a salve for this sort of wound. It heals, eventually – sort of. It’s not like life is better this way, ever – just that the missing part starts to feel normal. And in the meantime, I guess, you walk a fine line. Yes, it hurts – it kills – to look up from your keyboard and see the lint roller covered in her hair, and to know that one of these days, you’re going to have to use it, and then you’ll never see the lint roller covered in black hair again.. Or to look at your rug and think this needs to be vacuumed, but then decide to put it off for another day, because once you vacuum it, the spot where she used to lie will be clean forever, and she will be that much more gone from your life. Or to find her toy that she chased into the corner by the laundry, pick it up, stare at it, and stuff it deep in the pile because you can neither look at it, nor throw it away. Or to think of how it felt when she rubbed her cheek on your cheek, and to know that the specificity of that memory, like the shape of her face and the silky rubber texture of her paws, will fade, and in time she will be more of a feeling than a set of particular images or sounds. But you think of these things, even though they hurt – because you have them. You still have them. And for the moment, having them, so vividly, so clearly, and so painfully that you know your life has had some little magic in it, is more important than being able to finish the dishes without crying.