I was chatting with a friend the other day about emotional “triggers.” I don’t expect the world to not talk about adoption because I have issues. But it’s true, sometimes when I’m not expecting to be confronted with some conversation or information or story about adoption, the suddenness of it, or the treatment of the subject, can feel like I’ve been punched. It’s sometimes really upsetting, even though I don’t generally mind talking about my son’s adoption.
Last night Ed posted a quotation from an episode of the TED Radio Hour on my Facebook wall. It was about learning and it was interesting to me, so I listened to the podcast this morning. It was this one, called Unstoppable Learning. The first part was about a guy who gave computers to kids in India.
The second part was about a science writer who talks about how much babies have already learned before they are even born. I started crying almost immediately as the woman talked about how babies are shaped by what they experience in the womb. She says they recognize their mother’s voice. Studies have proven that babies prefer their mother’s voice to the voice of anyone else. Babies recognize sounds from their mothers’ daily lives, such as a tv show she might watch. Babies aren’t born as blank little humans, they are born with a life already learned before they were born.
How disorienting must it be for for a baby to develop inside his mother’s body, only to never see her again, to never hear her voice again?
I had a visceral recognition when I met my adult son after more than 20 years apart. I wonder if, on some level, he had one, too? I wonder if he had any sort of primal recognition of my daughter, even though they are half-siblings? I know that she accepted him immediately as her brother. It wasn’t as though I had stuck a stranger in front of her and pronounced him “brother.” She really understood. One day he walked around with her on his shoulders. She had only known him for two days, but she was as comfortable with him as if he’d always been there. The way she touched him, leaned on him, hugged him and smiled at him. She was four, she understood he was her brother.
A little stray tabby was pregnant. I suspected the big orange tom we’d been calling Alice was the father because he kept hanging around. Alice lived across the street, but he spent a lot of time in our yard. He was sweet, with a high-pitched meow that contrasted with his big body and tough life. He and my cat Max didn’t mind each other, just two dudes sharing some space.
The little tabby was very wild. I put food out for her, far away from the house, but if she saw movement at the back door, she bolted, hopping the fence even when her belly was big. After a while, I stopped seeing her, but then I did see her, in the wood pile at the back fence line, and then one tiny kitten face, orange like her dad. Then the little mama just vanished and the kitten was too small to be alone, but big enough to evade me completely. Alice became a single dad. He stayed in our yard almost constantly, guarding the kitten. I fed them twice a day. I gave them a big bowl of canned kitten food. Alice would eat first and then he had a special voice he used to call the kitten. He would sit and watch over her while she ate. Eventually, he helped me get closer to her. We started with just hanging out while they ate. Then she played with a toy on a string. Eventually, with Alice in my lap, I was able to pet her.
He taught her to fight!
She was very very cute. We eventually caught her and had her spayed and vaccinated. She continued to live outside.
She didn’t have a name.
One day we were out to dinner, at La Paloma in Santa Clara. P was inside paying, I was outside, walking around in the parking lot. I was walking on the lines of the handicapped parking spot, making up a song using the word handicap, and then handicat. It was just silly, but as P walked out, I said, “let’s name her Handy.”
She wasn’t exactly tame. If I sat quietly outside, she would let me pet her. And she loved to play.
She started following Max onto the back porch, when he was waiting to be let in at night. She would sit at the screen door and look in, but even if I left the door open, she wouldn’t come inside. But one day, she did. She walked right in, walked past the food and water dishes, right into my bedroom. She hopped onto my bed, gave herself a bath, went to sleep. From that day on, she came in at night with Max, and went outside during the day. She slept on the bed with me and P. She ran from other people and didn’t go anywhere in the house besides my bedroom.
After I moved from the house where she was born, she became an indoor-only cat. I had a roommate with a toddler who spent a few nights a week with us and she basically stayed in the closet most of the time. She would come out at night to eat and use the litter box and hang out with me in my bedroom. When Ed moved in with me (and the old roommate moved out), she came out of the closet and down the stairs. She was still very skittish, but at least she was hanging out more like a normal cat.
When we moved here to Shangri-La, she was about ten years old and had calmed down a lot. She never did become “tame,” but she loved Ed, and she grew to love Becca. But she was always my cat. She slept with me, sat on my lap, let me pick her up. When I was home alone, she was very normal.
She used to spend a lot of time on the top level of the cat tree, which was shoulder height for me. I would go stand by her and she would give me hugs, rubbing her head against mine, snuggling my neck. In the last year or so, she’s been spending most of her time on a blanket on one side of my desk. Or in my lap. For some reason, she stopped coming into the bedroom to sleep with me at night (I suspect Emily was chasing her or something), so I’ve been sleeping on the couch sometimes, and with increasing frequency, so I could be with her.
Earlier this year, she started really showing her age. She was getting frail and thin, had a poor appetite and trouble keeping food down. We’ve been giving her some medications, but her weight has slowly decreased. Over the weekend, she would barely eat, and she was sick. I took her to the vet this morning and he agreed with me that anything else we might do would just be delaying the inevitable, watching her slowly waste away. I didn’t want that for my beautiful kitty.
She died peacefully, with her face buried in the crook of my arm, while I told our wonderful vet how she came to be in my life, about her funny single dad and the day she claimed my bed.
I will miss her so, so much. She’s been with me almost half my life and I still can’t quite believe she’s not here. My shirt is still covered with her orange hairs.
I took that one last night. It was late. She was asleep on the pillow next to me. Sometimes she was awake and I would pet her and she would purr.
I’d been at the library. As soon as I walked into the living room, Ed said,
“There’s something really wrong with Mister, he has a huge lump on his side.” He was clearly freaked out. I went over and felt around. Mister has a lot of really long hair and he had a big knot tangled up on his side. A lump, yes, but a dreaded up lump of hair.
I’m a horrid person, though. Very bad. I looked at Ed with the most horrified look on my face,
“Ohmygod, it’s just like our cat when I was a kid! Mister has hair cancer.”
Ed was still looking at me, shocked.
“Hair cancer is terrible, it was awful when our cat had it. I can’t believe Mister has hair cancer.” I went on like that for another minute or so, saying “hair cancer” with increasing feeling (as I was trying not to laugh). Finally Ed, a little slow here, realized there was no cancer and I showed him how Mister just needed a little trim.
But I’ve been working hair cancer into every conversation that I can. Also, I’ve been telling everyone (as evidenced by me writing it here for my five readers to read, heh). I called our Granny Melissa and told her the hair cancer story. After we’d been on the phone a few minutes, I told her I had to go because I wanted to vacuum before Ed and Becca got home (they both hate the sound of the vacuum, special flowers that they are). Melissa asks me where they are and I say they’re out getting Chicken in a Biskit (shuddup, I know they’re horrid, I rarely get them). Melissa had never heard of them and she thought I meant take-out chicken, she was horrified, thinking I was getting KFC or something. So I was telling her noooo, they’re these terrible-wonderful crackers that we eat once every few years.
“You’re hair cancering me, aren’t you?!”
Hahahaha, Granny turned the hair cancer story into a new catchphrase meaning to pull someone’s leg.
Meanwhile, I called my dad at work and asked him to get a box of Chicken in a Biskit on his way home.