Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Tag: cats

50 years: thirties

Part four, a memory for every year I’ve lived. First decade, second decade, twenties. Here are my thirties.

31.The best Valentine anyone ever gave me was when Kevin (the cool bass player from last decade) surprised me by renting a car and driving from Chicago to Strong City to bring me our cats. It was a difficult time in my life, and having them with me helped me maintain my shaky sanity.

Toulouse and 23

Toulouse in the foreground, the late 23 behind him.

32. Another time he was visiting me and drove me to work at a fitness club in Emporia, then took my little ’85 Celica for the day. (All-time favorite car, stick shift.) While I was working, a big storm came up. When Kevin came to pick me up, the sky was dark and menacing. Back in Strong City, the cats were outside, so we rushed to get there and bring them safely in. The rain was so heavy, we might have waited it out in Emporia, had it not been for the cats. On the highway, visibility was severely limited. We had the radio on, and the remote reporter was talking about a barrage of hail near Saffordville Road. Before we got there, the hail pelting the car was deafening, and the reporter’s voice dissolved to static. Kevin was at the wheel. We were afraid to stop. A vehicle approaching from behind might not be able to see us before we were all dead. I kept my eye on the white line to make sure he didn’t cross it, until the hail and rain were so thick I couldn’t see the line. I couldn’t bear to think what terror and danger the cats were in.

Finally I could see the line again, then the hail was behind us. We were past Saffordville Road, in an ordinary thunderstorm at night. We got to my house a few minutes later. The cats were waiting for us on the front porch, barely wet, their luxuriant coats not the slightest bit ruffled.

33. I celebrated the birth of a new millennium at The Light Center in Baldwin City. Shortly after that, I moved back to Chicago. Kevin appreciated me and supported me, and it wasn’t clear that I made much difference to my family in Kansas. He deserved me more.

34. One of the things I did in Kansas was go to the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, the third weekend of September. Kevin went with me the second year I was there, and when September rolled around again, we decided to make the trip from Chicago. We didn’t want to leave our precious cats for any longer than we had to, so we decided to drive them to Kansas and board them with Kevin’s parents, who are animal lovers too. 23, the tabby, would suffer motion sickness in my little Celica, so we thought it kinder to rent a nicer, bigger car for his comfort. On the day we left, first thing in the morning, we got in our car to drive to the rental agency. Kevin turned on the radio and we found out that the World Trade Center had been destroyed.

We still managed to get the rental car. As we left Chicago, not yet knowing the extent of the attacks, I felt that I had what I needed, if we never came back. The cats were in carriers in the back seat, my violin and guitar were in the trunk, and we were together.

We dropped in on my Dad in assisted living in Emporia before we went to the festival. Years prior, he had been disabled by a stroke, which left him unable to speak or write. Kevin and I came into his apartment to find Dad hunched in front of the TV. When he saw me, he made a frantic noise in his throat, and held up a hand imploringly. It hit me that for two days he had been watching the nonstop coverage of the collapsing towers and their aftermath, unable to tell anyone that his daughter lived in New York City. “Melora’s okay,” I couldn’t tell him fast enough. “I talked to her. She’s okay. Sebastian’s fine. Hollis is fine.”

35. Before we married, we went to an astrologer named Bovani for a consultation. She told us that if we married in June, it should be after the 21st, because Gemini isn’t a great sign for beginning a marriage, but Cancer is much better. She said there was no doubt we were meant to be together (which we already knew), and that Kevin’s job was to keep me uplifted, while my job was to ground him. Being on the cusp of Capricorn and Aquarius, he was really an Aquarian, but came in on the goat side to ensure he’d be good at getting things done. She also said that when we have sex, the angels like to watch.

36. I was thirty-six when I read The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen, after Amy Carlson gave it to me for Christmas. I had a strange affinity with every character in the book, as if I could be the person that character was modeled after. They were like mirrors of my essential nature, even though they were all different from each other. The main character Chip is kind of a loser who’s never been able to get his shit together, despite high intelligence. His lack of success is a source of anxiety, and whenever confronted with failure, he looks for the nearest attractive woman and creates a fantasy about her. At one point his anxiety is particularly acute, but there’s no one he can fantasize about because he’s in Manhattan and every woman in the vicinity is thirty-six and pregnant. I wasn’t pregnant, but I felt I could be one of those women.

37. We had a contract to buy a motel in Strong City, near both of our parents. We quit our jobs, packed everything into a truck, and took our cats to Kansas to purchase our first property and start a business at the same time. Shortly before we left, we found out I was pregnant.

38. After Rowan was born, I had an incredible surge of creative energy. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I’d always been creatively stifled, but suddenly I knew I could do anything. But how long would it last? I was terrified that this newfound ability would pass, and I’d have done nothing with it, because I had a sweet little baby who needed my constant attention. I could get about thirty minutes between nursing her to sleep and having to pick her up again. So I put her in her little baby rocking chair just inside the patio screen door, and went into the back yard. There were some switches that had been trimmed off the hedge. They were mostly around three or four feet long, and flexible enough to weave together into geometric shapes, which I hung on the fence around the yard. Kevin was baffled as to why I was doing that, and I couldn’t really explain it either.

39. Rowan had night terrors. It was terrifying to me too. She would huddle up to me, stiff with fear, and bury her head in my arm. I would ask her what she was afraid of, but she was too afraid to talk.

40. Both times I was pregnant, I slept as prescribed on my left side. As my belly got bigger, cat Toulouse found my torso and belly made a nice spot to sleep on. It was comfortable for both of us.

 

Gratuitous Cats

Sorry to my few subscribers for the infrequency of my writing lately. I’ve been struggling to keep up with all the daily activities of parenting, operating a motel, and being human, as well as entertaining my sister and her band this past week (very nice to see them, and when she told me to clean the place up she said it with only love and kindness). Nothing I think of writing lately seems worth cluttering up your inboxes for, by the time I sit down at the computer.

But I hate to watch my blog slowly die, so here’s a cat picture. Hope you enjoy it.

Toulouse in the foreground, the late 23 behind him.

On the Loyalty of Cats

I always thought he was unusually photogenic, but now, no picture can touch his beauty.

What is loyalty? Our cat 23 crossed over today, and I saw him off. As he lay on the bathroom floor struggling for his last breaths, I thought about this question. He was with us for 16 years, from the time he was a little kitten and someone dropped him and four others off in a laundry basket at the club where Kevin was bartending. I carried two of them home from the bar in that laundry basket, and by the next day, as they explored the apartment, I found myself following them around and exclaiming incredulously, “I love you!” I had no idea where that had come from; some switch in my soul had flipped on, and I was in love with two kittens.

Though there were times when Kevin and I each lived alone with both cats, most of those years we were all four together. In the early years I played with them nearly every day; they seemed to crave that attention, even though they got lots of time to roam and hunt for grasshoppers outdoors. When it was just me and the cats, the tics were bad, so whenever they came inside, I was there to brush their thick coats and catch the tics before they latched on. In flea season, I flea-combed the cats daily.

When we moved to the motel, they were happy to have a bigger home, and a yard again, after the urban apartment years, when they weren’t allowed outside. But the idyll didn’t last long; a baby came, and I must confess that those motherly feelings in me transferred completely to the new human baby. The day we brought Rowan home from the hospital, I saw that, in eight years, we had utterly failed to socialize these feline creatures; they jumped on the dining table, they ripped out the window screens, they tracked litter out of the box on their luscious, thick, long fur. I will blame postpartum hormones one hundred percent when I say that every time I saw a cat, it was a reminder of our failure to bring them up properly, and if we couldn’t raise cats right, how could we possibly hope to raise a child? If they had run away and never come back, I felt in that period, I wouldn’t have minded. Fortunately Kevin took over their care, and they survived quite well.

Naturally, 23 wasn’t always thrilled with the baby. Before she was ambulatory, he easily ignored her. As she became more active, he patiently stayed out of the way. Right around her second birthday, he started training her. Whenever Rowan’s unsteady feet stepped too close, he gave her a swat. If she ran by him waving her arms, she got a swat. She was terrified of him for years. Toulouse, his brother, was first to let her befriend him. She learned to pet him gently, to brush him, to hold him so that he would feel secure. Maybe it was seeing her care for Toulouse that showed 23 that it was time to trust Rowan.

Age creeps up slowly. The baby is seven now, and her little sister is already five. Can it really have been sixteen years since these sublimely beautiful creatures came into our lives? I don’t want to talk about 23’s gradual decline, or his final illness, how everyone kept telling me, “Well, he’s very old,” while I doubted that it was time to give up on his healing, to refuse to hope that he might again be a vital, thriving cat.

But what about loyalty? Well, dogs are loyal. They’ll protect their humans from home invaders, they’ll follow commands. Cats are not known for either. What would 23 do for me? He’d be here. He’d come home for dinner, every day -well, almost every day- for sixteen years. He knew where his home was and though he sometimes roamed frighteningly far, he always returned. We went on vacations and left the cats for days at a time, but they never treated us so shabbily. They sat in our laps, they slept at our feet, they dozed in the sunny spot by the patio doors. The most submissive act 23 ever made toward me was to leave a moribund mouse next to my desk chair; for the most part, he behaved as if he believed himself to be above me in the hierarchy of our household. But who cares? He was faithful enough to be here, whether I acknowledged him or not. He was the finest of cats. As he passed, I told him how grateful I was that he had shared his life with us, had made our home his. We’ll miss him terribly, his exquisite beauty, and his loyalty.

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