Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tales from my Cats

The first time Max saw Skittles in the summer of 2005, he was a feral kitten who had been found at the door of Max's workplace.   The woods around the print shop had been bull dozed for a new building so this family of cats must have scattered.   The workers found this six week old little black and white fur ball and put him in a box to get him out of the elements.   Every person that came near that kitten to help him got hissed and spat at.  Max was curious and looked over to the box to see this little tuxedo looking back at  him.   The cat started to hiss when Max -  just like in the movie Babe - said "That will do, cat, that will do."   Skittles calmed down immediately and started to climb up Max's arm and into his hair.   At that point, Max knew this was his cat.   He called me and sheepishly asked if we could have him.  Not that Max thought for a moment that I would say no, but when I had brought up the subject of a pet for the kids a few weeks earlier, Max thought it was a bad idea.   I told him that of course he could bring him home and we loved him as a member of the family .

I love all types of animals.  Generally "cat people" get a bad rep for not liking dogs - but I've met very few animals that I didn't like.  Okay, I'm not a huge fan of ferrets - they just don't seem trustworthy.    As far as pets go, I've always had cats.  Maybe it's because they are independent, don't need to be walked and you can leave for a day and not have the house destroyed.  On the downside, they generally don't greet you at the door with the same enthusiasm as dogs - but they also don't knock down your house guests or smell their crouches.  As any pet owner can attest, pets of all stripes teach you priceless life lessons.   For me, they are the closest things to guardian angels that we have on earth that we can actually see and feel.   How many stories do you hear of dogs or cats warning their owners about a fire or a child that in trouble.    Dogs will protect their owners with very little regard to their own personal safety.   Scarlett the cat went into a burning Brooklyn building in 1996 -  not once but five times to rescue her kittens without regard to the smoke or flames that were burning her eyes, ears and paws.   They are loving and loyal if that's what you train them to be.  If you train your pet to be vicious then don't be surprised if that's what you get.  They are not snarky or sarcastic and frankly don't care how many friends you have on Facebook.  They won't diss a video on YouTube or tweet something embarrassing about their owners on Twitter.  Their job is too love you - that's it.   If you are lucky enough, you can learn some life lessons along the way.  

The first cat I ever had was named Cocoa.   She was a little Siamese who always looked like she was too good for the rest of us.  She was not an affectionate cat and when you got a glimmer of approval, you were grateful.   I remember bringing my cat Gizmo home from college during a holiday break.  He was a huge cat - 20 pounds or more whereas Cocoa was maybe 8 pounds soaking wet.   The amazing thing was that she was not afraid of Gizmo.   If she was sleeping on the couch and he walked by, she would wake up, hiss and smack him on the back of the head as a preemptive strike - or to say "I don't take crap from anyone especially someone twice my size."  It worked, Gizmo would rarely try to chase her and when he did, she would jump up on a cabinet that she knew was too high for this fat cat to reach.   He would get up to where his paws would reach the top but just didn't have the momentum with his back legs to get the rest of his ample behind up on the counter.   He would fall back only to look up at Cocoa who would hiss and then walk away.   Gizmo would sit up, look around and then start to clean his paw, which is cat for "I'm really embarrassed and maybe I'll distract everyone if I bathe," or "I meant to do that."  The lesson I learned was that it doesn't matter how big you are, you can  lure your adversary who might be twice your size into a situation that you can manage easily and they can't - using their own strength against them is a great defense. 

My cat Gizmo was my best friend in college.  He know everything about me - the good, the bad and the ugly.  He helped me weather hurricane Kate in Tallahassee and he was always there when I needed a stomach to cry on (cat shoulders are not the best things to sob into - too bony even on a fat cat).   He, unlike my other cats, he started out as an outside cat.  One night he didn't come back and when I opened the door to my apartment the next day, I saw something moving in the bushes.   It was Gizmo - he had been hit by a car and had crawled back home.  His jaw was broken and his paw was flattened but still he had to come back to me.  I wrapped him up in a towel and took him into my vet's office.   It was Good Friday.   The vet told me that he would give him IVs and if after the weekend he was stable he might repair his jaw but he might not make it through the weekend.  I left the office devastated and went to a cathedral near the FSU campus.   I sat in a pew by myself and cried quietly.  A man came over to me and asked why I was so sad.  I told him what had happened.  He told me to have faith, say prayers and that God would take care of things.   I looked down and then looked up to thank him but he had vanished - I mean way too fast to leave that big building so quickly.   I realized that I might have been visited by an angel and hoped that a miracle had occured.  I went back that Saturday to see Gizmo.   He was not doing much better and I had to resign myself to the reality that I might have to put him down the day after Easter.   

That Monday, I went in expecting the worst but found, much to my and the vet's surprise, that Gizmo was walking the best he could and demanding food.  He looked so much better than on Saturday.   They vet wired his bottom jaw which had multiple breaks.  I took him home to feed him through a syringe with baby food and kitten formula.   I also had to give him baths every other day with baby shampoo to get the dried food off of him.   He got used to the baths and would stand on his hind legs with his paws on the soap dish while I washed him.   I was pretty sure we were out of the woods when the vet discovered another complication - his hard palate had split and if it did not fuse together then it would expose his skull to infection and then not much could be done.   I again prayed that my little tiger kitty would get over this hurdle and be okay - we had come this far.   So the day for Gizmo to get the wires off his jaw came and as the vet snipped he noticed something hanging from the top of his mouth - it was his hard palate.  We both gasped and then the doctor looked at the top of Gizmo's mouth - a new hard palate had regenerated completely.   "I have never seen this happen in my 20 years of practice, I'm going to have to write this up in a Vet Journal."   My Gizmo was whole again and would be back to eating on his own - which as you can see from the photos is something he remembered in no time.  My lesson learned:   don't ever give up on someone you love -  no matter how insurmountable the odds.  Some miracles take time.     

That brings me back to Skittles who grew out of being a kitten and into a young cat who would do unspeakable things to furry slippers who were doing nothing but minding their own business.   We would take the slippers away, but he would find them and then literally hump them.   It became obvious that we needed to get him fixed because he was spraying too.  We explained to the kids that Skittles needed an operation.   Daniel - my son who is never satisfied with a simple explanation - asked what sort of operation it was.   "Well," I said, "He's acting aggressive and spraying so we have to get him fixed."  "What's fixed mean?" Daniel asked.  "It means he's getting his testicles taken off so he won't be able to make kittens, spray and won't be destroying our slippers," I replied.   Daniel thought for a moment and said "So you're basically cutting off his nuts."   "I guess that's one way to look at it - yes, but nuts is not a nice word for testicles," I explained.   This seemed to satisfy him until show and tell time came along and when it was Daniel's turn to share.  He volunteered to his first grade class that "My mom is having Skittles' nuts sliced off."    

Since Skittles started out as a feral cat, it was natural for him to want to get outside.   There was a group of very puffy feral kittens who would play in the backyard and who Skittles loved to play with.  We'd watch them frolic in the backyard.   One day I let him out and brought him in before I left for work.  Nothing seemed out of place until Max came home and found blood all over the house and Skittles with a very bloody mouth.   Once again, another frantic trip to the vets only to find out that Skittles had sliced off a third of his tongue in what must have been a rat trap.   I got a call from Max to ask me if we had the money to help him which with the tax check having just been deposited, we did.   So Skittles got  his tongue fixed and managed to do well with 2/3s of what most cats take for granted.   He could still eat and groom himself.  He couldn't go outside anymore and we knew he was lonely so we decided to adopt another cat named Sonny.   For the first few days, they did not like each other.   But by the end of the weekend, they were grooming one another and were best friends. 
Then a few months ago, Skittles began to lose weight - he would eat but he seemed to get thinner and thinner.   For the last two months, it was obvious that he was starting to waste away.  There wasn't much the vets could do.  I got a medicine dropper and would feed him a type of Pediasure for cats and give him turkey or any other food I could get my hands on that he might not reject.   I was elated if he would take few ounces of the formula and just a small slice of turkey.   I would bathe him in baby shampoo because he was not able to clean himself.   I would pray to the same angels that saved Gizmo, but as time went on I realized that a miracle was not going to save him.  He was my wounded warrior and he was getting awfully tired of the fight.  He didn't seem to be in pain, but very tired.   I told the kids that Skittles was dying and that they needed to spend as much time with him as possible before he died.   They helped me feed him and bathe him.  They would wrap him up in warm towels and hold him.    They learned to not be afraid to love someone who was dying and to treasure the time you had left with them.  On Thursday night, I held Skittles for the last time and talked to him softly.   I held his paw and patted his emaciated body.   I told him how much I loved him and sang "This Little Light of Mine."   He wanted to sleep in the upstairs bathroom on the rug so I put him there with a clean pillowcase.   Max got up at 5:00 a.m. and watched him take his last breath a few minutes later.  

I guess that I could shake my hands at the heavens and ask why Gizmo got the miracles and Skittles didn't but the truth is there are so many miracles that Skittles brought into our life:  that he got Max to let him be our pet and our friend; the fact that he survived having his tongue sliced which led us to adopt Sonny who is one amazing cat; and how to love and cherish someone who is dying.   Those are the miracles -  those were my lessons learned and that will do. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Thelma and Louise Conspiracy

At the risk of being asked to turn in my woman card - I have something to confess.   I have never liked the movie Thelma and Louise.  I know that as a liberal this probably comes as a shock but I've always felt like the movie was a cop out and the fact that this movie has become a feminist icon really baffles and bothers me.  I saw it first in my twenties and left feeling angry and frustrated.  I wanted to see if after 20 years some of those feelings had subsided.  So I decided to watch it again. 

I wanted to find out why so many women loved this movie - so much so that if you dared to voice your opinion about not liking it, you were told basically - "You have to love it - men can't know we're not all on the same page with this."  I mean I've literally been surrounded at parties and brow beaten by feminists who would make me out to be a simpleton who was basically parroting my husband's opinion.  In their eyes, descent is not an option.   

There were a few things in the movie I could identify with.  Like Thelma, I was in an abusive relationship in college with a man who treated me like a child and who belittled me every chance he got.   It didn't start out that way.   At first, he seemed charming -  offering to do anything for me - being too helpful too fast.  That's how these guys worm their way in.  They want you to give up control so they can take over.  Then he started to isolate me - to come between my friends and family so that he became my world.   I remember being at a frat party with him one night and he was being so overbearing that my younger sister said "My God, why don't you just pee a circle around her."  I made the mistake of laughing and was berated the whole way home.   He was my first real boyfriend and I had no experience on what a normal relationship was.    You start to lose your compass of who you are.  To keep the peace, I had to call in on a regular basis to reassure him that I was not out having sex with every guy I saw.   You even take responsibility for the things you have absolutely nothing to do with.   He once called me up on a Saturday and yelled at me because it was raining and he couldn't go fishing.   I sat there on the phone apologizing somehow convinced I had caused the thunder storm.   Maybe on a physic level I had - I was having crying jags in a regular basis and that rain storm was nothing compared to the tears that I had shed over this man. Yet I still went back over and over again because he had convinced me that I couldn't do better.

So at the point when Thelma breaks away, I cheered her on.   She was finally doing what she wanted to do rather than bowing to the wishes of her husband.   That sense of freedom eventually gets Thelma into trouble as she meets  a man named Harlen in a bar who goes from charming to a monster in a nano second.   He starts  to rape her in the parking lot when Louise comes to the rescue holding a 38.  It looks like they'll go on their way when Harlen stupidly tells very pissed off woman with a loaded gun in her hand to "Suck my dick."   Louise turns and shoots him in the heart killing him instantly.    Okay, so that part of the movie was actually satisfying and I'm thinking the movie might have more to say for itself.   

But as it goes on, the plot for me begins to unravel.  During their quest to flee to Mexico because of the murder - they meet a young handsome drifter named J.R. played by Brad Pitt with whom Thelma is very smitten - the same Thelma who was almost raped by another charming stranger less than 24 hours beforehand.    Later,  J.R. shows up and seduces Thelma.  You see them making passionate love - just a day after she was almost sodomized in a honky tonk parking lot.    Worse, she leaves him alone in the room and he steals Louise's life savings and any hope for a decent future.  Many feminists defend the movie at this point because Thelma and Louise are completely victimized -  but frankly you can't claim victim status when you created the mess which is what Thelma did.  

What really hurts and offends me about Thelma's night with J.R.  is that it sends a message to women who have been sexually assaulted that "Hey ladies, you can get over rape pretty fast -  that feeling of violation, of violence, of pure fear, helplessness and having something that precious ripped from you - you'll forget all about it if the next guy you sleep with is as good looking as Brad Pitt.   Thelma did it and you can too!"   It trivializes rape in such a profound way that it's hard to believe that a woman wrote the script.   Here's the reality  - one in four women will be a victim of sexual abuse in their lifetime.   That number includes me.  I was assaulted in college after I had too much to drink.  Someone I thought was a friend - that I trusted offered to drive me home.    Afterwards, I did what the U.S. Department of Justice says that 70% of the women in the same situation do - I didn't report it because approximately 5% of the time, a man who rapes ends up in prison - 95% of the time he does not.   Why go through all the pain of reliving what happened and having the other side try to make it out as something you wanted if the chances of your attacker going to jail are very slim?  It's a truth that victims of this sort of crime understand all too well and that the people that tout Thelma and Louise as the greatest film about women don't.  In a group of four women discussing this film - one of them might have been sexually abused at some point in their lives.  It's not something you get over easily and you sure as hell aren't jumping into bed 24 hours later with a handsome stranger.  It takes time to build that trust again even in you're in a long term relationship and not feel as if your core has been violated - like you're not worthy of being loved.   I can't speak for all the women who have been through this, but please understand some of us have very good reasons for not wanting jump the Grand Canyon with Thelma and Louise. 

Probably the saddest words in the English language are the refrain - "But he says he loves me."   Even though I've been in an abusive relationship and sexually assaulted the good that has come out of it is that I can size up a similar situation almost immediately.  Women who are being abused have a telltale sign when they are with their abusers.  When you engage the couple in conversation and ask the woman a question - she will do a split second eye flick to see if it's okay to answer because saying the wrong thing could get her physically or emotionally smacked down later.  I've seen it in celebrity interviews and know right away what's going on.   I pray that I never see it in my daughter or her friends, but if I do, I know how to talk to them.  I was lucky enough to get myself out of that bad relationship and I survived being raped.  I didn't have to go on a crime spree to be the woman I am today - I did it on my own terms without having to drive off a cliff. 

I know that many women say that Thelma and Louise changed their lives.   I think that if it gave you the courage to stand up for yourself and get out of a very bad situation, then I congratulate you.   But please don't castigate another woman for not seeing this movie as a feminist milestone.   In fact, I would suggest an alternative to Thelma and Louise that has some of the same elements but a vastly different outcome - Waitress.   In this movie Kerri Russell plays a woman who is in an abusive relationship.  She is also looking to escape her life only to find out that she's pregnant.  She falls in love with her handsome OB-GYN and things get complicated.  She too has her life savings to escape from her husband only to have him find it and then she has to make an excuse about using it to buy things for the baby.   It takes the kindness of an old curmudgeon to help her see her own worth and stand up to her husband and her lover and send them both packing.  In the end, she has her own business and walks hand in hand with her two year old daughter down the road of life - a healthy road that Thelma and Louise chose not to take.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Thanksgiving Lost and Found

I was just recovering from a fun Halloween with the kids and an evening of way too many Reese's peanut butter cups when my Outlook reminded me of a tree lighting the next day.  After 8:00 p.m. the door bell ringing got lighter and lighter as the trick or treaters were getting ready for bed because it was a school night.   All that Hallows eve on TV there were references to the spooky holiday.  Then the inevitable happened:  a new slew of Christmas commercials started running around 9:00 p.m. before Halloween's body was even cold (okay, granted I had tombstones on my yard, and a fake dead body that was parked next to the one that said, "I'll be back).  This grand rush to Christmas seemed to be a bit premature and annoying.  The next night, I was watching an 18 foot Christmas tree get it's first lighting to great fan fare for an event at work.  It looked beautiful and put everyone into the Christmas spirit, but what about Thanksgiving? Didn't anyone care about that holiday anymore?  I mean it's two and a half weeks away!

You hardly see commercials for Thanksgiving anymore.  Maybe that's because the industry that profits the most from it are the supermarkets - not departments stores, not toy stores, not computer stores and not car dealers.  Thanksgiving is all about food and football.  Who really needs to think about preparing the feast aside from the holiday martyrs (moms, sisters and grandparents) that volunteer to have the dinner at their house?   Thanksgiving is not about anything material - it's about being with the people you love or at least have to stomach one or twice a year to keep the family peace.   Besides, the next day is Black Friday - the greatest shopping day of the year.  Thanksgiving has now become a speed bump between Halloween and Christmas.  

Unfortunately, I think the act of giving thanks has been lost along the internet highway.  As our society has gotten more tech savvy and let's face it - more snarky - it's not cool to think about all the gifts you have and to be grateful for them.  It's easier to hide behind a laptop and send instant messages rather than talk to someone directly to hear their voice and really gauge how they're doing. It's so much easier to make snide comments on YouTube  anonymously about Lindsay Lohan or Kim Kardashian's 72-day marriage rather than praising your spouse and children for sticking it out with you.  You can share a link to a pithy saying on Facebook rather than just taking the time to actually thank the people who need thanking.   You see and hear folks being rude to each other on TV on a regular basis and unfortunately our kids are beginning to model it themselves based on the diva fits they see on Real Housewives and other reality shows.   But few programs show people taking someone's hand, looking into their eyes and just telling them how much it means to have them in their lives and making it look cool. 

I began to believe that we had lost the art of being grateful.   It's not easy to  say a heartfelt thanks to those that help us rather then just assuming that they know how we feel.   So we numb ourselves into silence hoping that we'll get appreciated without taking the step of showing it first.    So I began to wonder if with all the bad economic news, the political backbiting and negative media stories, was the United States losing it's optimism?  Were we becoming the snarkiest country on earth - unable to appreciate even the smallest things?  I was wondering if I had lost that ability myself as I struggled to deal with a recent job loss and now know first hand the anxiety that many Americans feel in this questionable job market.   

I was driving into work on my last day and listening to the Bert Show on Q100.  They had recently completed Bert's Big Thank You and had asked their listeners to hand write letters to thank every soldier serving overseas for their service so that they would know that someone took the time to tell them how much they cared.  Amber and I had done some letters through our church.  The drive had been iffy - they needed over 400,000 letters and just a week out from the deadline only had 40,000 - but human nature being what it is, a slew of letters came in that last push and they had actually received over a half a million.  Now that they had the letters, they needed volunteers to help sort them out.   Realizing that after today, I'd probably have some time on my hands, I signed up to help. 

I went to the radio station and was brought to a large room with hundreds of mail tubs full of letters.  They asked us to take a tub, count by sets of 100, and spot check the letters to make sure they were appropriate, i.e., were not greeting cards that someone had just signed, pictures without any writing on it or had anything political or inappropriate.   As I combed through my large mail tub, I saw stacks and stacks of letters from people in Atlanta, Indianapolis and Nashville - the three markets that the Bert Show presently reaches.  They were on notebook paper, construction paper, personal stationary, artwork with a note inside, etc.  A lot of the letters were from kids who expressed how proud they were of the soldiers who were helping other children overseas.  There were letters from retirement homes that expressed support as many of the residents had served in WWII and the Korean War and knew what it was like to be far away from their own families for the holidays.  Letters from mothers who prayed for the soldiers safe return to their mothers, wives and children.   Many expressed in simple terms their gratitude for the service that these brave men and women were giving to our country.   It was inspiring and humbling to see so many people pour out their hearts to these strangers - praying for them and knowing that on Thanksgiving a soldier they wrote to would read their words of love and support.   

I also loved the artwork that some of the people included in their letters.   There were a lot of drawings made by tracing a little hand and coloring it to look like a Thanksgiving turkey complete with pilgrim hat.   There were letters with kids dressed as Harry Potter who represented the soldiers and a picture of Valdemort who represented the people we were fighting.   There were also pictures of the children holding the soldiers' hands and smiling.  Perhaps the one that touched me the most, was a picture that a teenage girl who was an art student drew on the back of her letter.   It's of her giving a soldier a hug.   Her notation on the back reads:  "not finished yet, but you get it :).  Me being thankful for the soldiers."   I love the expression on their faces - it's so genuine - something Norman Rockwell would be proud of. 

I left that day feeling very proud of the people who had written those letters and of helping to sort them so that they could go overseas in time for Thanksgiving.   It seems that Americans do what we've always done:  listen for an appeal on a way to make the world better and respond the best way we can.   Do we still have problems in this country?  Hell ya, but what country doesn't?  Instead of each political party vilifying each other, let's appreciate what we have here, which is that we can talk about what's wrong with the government without being hulled into prison for having that conversation. We can be grateful that our daughters can aspire to be Secretary of State or President instead of treated like second class citizens in countries where many of our soldiers are based.  In short, I got my Thanksgiving spirit back.   

I'm grateful for what I have and plan to play that forward.   Sure my job future is uncertain, but I'm trying to look at it as a chance to reinvent myself and when I apply for a job - that is one more opportunity that I didn't know about yesterday.   If I see a serviceman in uniform, I'm going to thank them for their service to our country.   It's all any of us could do no matter which side of the political aisle you sit on.  You can hate the war, but love the warrior.  Probably the best line I saw all from those stacks of letters  was from a teenager who wrote, "Heroes don't wear capes, they wear dog tags."  That's a great line - it made me realize how much people care and for that I'm grateful -- very, very grateful.