I was living on the edge. Writing group starts at 7 PM, and I figured that if the plane pulled up to the gate right on time, and the shuttle was pulling up to the blue-and-white curb as I walked out of the terminal, and I actually remembered what floor I parked my car on, I would have just enough time to straighten up my apartment and tire the kitten out a little so we'd be able to concentrate. "I thought I was cutting it close leaving work at 6 PM," said a group member who works on the Peninsula. I left Seattle at 3:35.
It was another miniature gathering, two people plus a third who came at the end, for the workshop portion. The exercise was to write about a time when you felt like you were becoming a person of your own (20 minutes to write).
At some point, we learn to lie to our parents. I don't mean the simple lies, redirections of blame or brazen claims, hand still in the cooky jar, that we never went anywhere near the kitchen. I mean lies about who we are. There is a point, a Rubicon that, once passed, ends the era in which our parents know us better than anyone. Sometimes it's the start of our parents' being the last to know.
For me that point was boys (as opposed to crime or drugs). I constructed alibis with other girls, cross-covering for each other's illicit night-time meetings. Curfews were strict, and rules were meant to be followed. Good grades and chores cheerfully done meant less supervision and fewer questions. The price was gladly paid.
Boys proved problematic but by then the experiences were so enmeshed in lies that I could not ask for advice from my wisest, most trusted friend, my mother. The mere fact of feeling that way about her suffused me with guilt over my deceptions. Eventually, when the pressure was too much, I started to crumble. Confused and hurt and wondering whether girls, instead, were the answer, I contrived to start some kind of conversation about my pain with my mother. I didn't get a chance to be oblique before she blurted, apparently at random, "I don't know what I'd do if one of my children turned out to be gay. I'd feel like I'd failed as a parent."
So much for that.
I moved out shortly after high school, long before I started college. I learned the value of my wisest and most trusted friend. We got closer in the idiosyncratic ways that mean the most to us. Hiding became not merely undesirable but irrelevant. I turned to her in times of crisis, great and small, and bared the kinds of innermost secrets she probably never wanted to hear.
On July 4th of this year, I called her for help. I had a severe puncture wound, kitten inflicted, on my finger, and it was hot and swollen. I was concerned, and she was, too. She's a physician, and she really just wanted to know whether I had a preference of antibiotic for her to prescribe. Details out of the way, pharmacy phone number taken, she asked how I got such a bad cat bite. "I was handling kittens," I said, handwaving, changing the subject.
My face was hot with shame, not at needing help but at having courted disaster. It was more than a week before I told her I had gotten a kitten. Yes, the same one that bit right through my fingernail. Not so much a lie, by now, as a confirmation of something she already knew.
I had planned to write about a different lie. The kitten is the big lie, but I meant to write about telling my mother how I came to fall in love with him. A few days before I went home last week, I was talking to my mother on the phone, and I remarked casually that I am completely enchanted with this kitten. She reflected that she thought my love for him had evolved appropriately, from my being not completely sold on him at first to developing a deep affection for him as his personality emerged and we spent more time together.
She obviously doesn't read my journal. He had me at "Meow."
I know why she got the impression she did. My sense of self-preservation is alive and well, but then there have never been so much as rumors of its death to be exaggerated. I deeply appreciated my mother helping me save an urgent-care center visit on a holiday weekend and getting me on antibiotics right away, and I wasn't about to undermine my position by staying on the phone to gush about how entranced I was about the wild animal that had attacked me. (I could feel the pursed lips and the crossed arms through the phone line when I told her I kept him.)
Lucky for me, he's turned out to be a model cat, well behaved and affectionate and healthy. I've been gone overnight before, but my trip to Seattle was five full days, and the apartment is much as I left it, with just a couple of things out of place. Three and a half years of a destructive cat who was happy to hold me hostage with her bladder has made me sloppily grateful for this contented pet. I gave him several treats as he showed me the new things he started to do while I was gone. After one very beautiful jump, I rewarded him for ... for jumping onto a counter.
When I came in the door yesterday, the kitten bounded down the hallway toward me, still pigeon-toed, his shoulders bulkier than I remember. He was noticeably larger, heavier, still leggy, but muscling up. He jumped into my arms, like wumpus in the horse paddock that day, purring, clinging, pushing his head against my chin. Now I know I can safely leave for a week at a time. But why would I want to?
August 21, 2002