Friday, January 06, 2006

piece one.

My general rule of thumb had always been to keep my eyes firmly planted on the seat in front of me, never to veer to the left or right where I might catch a glimpse of the passing ground beneath me. It was a rule that had served me quite well over previous years of cross-country and cross-Atlantic traveling. If I kept focused on the seat ahead, I could pretend I was just on a very bumpy and very hilly car ride.

But this time was different. This time I needed to see it. I could feel the weather change in my bones as we flew over mountain ranges and farm lands and finally, flat plains. The cartilage between my joints began to finally relax, leaving me cradled in my window seat gazing out over the lush and flat green earth below me.

I was home.

I remember touching the cool glass on my left, feeling that tightness in my chest that always accompanies a need to cry but an unwillingness to sob in public. I could feel my mother's presence getting closer and closer. Being away from her, never getting to see her face, had slowly and inexorably pulled at what was left of those fragile strings that keep all of us from cascading into a million pieces. I hated that I was getting off the plane only to hand her a fractured daughter. But I was home. And home was the one thing that was going to fix me.

I spent the next two months in my parents house, barely managing to change out of my pj's without the heavy prompting of my mother. At night I laid in my mother's bed with my head cradled by her elbow. Sometimes talking, sometimes not. More often I just needed to lie there and absorb her.

At the end of those two months, I decided it was time for me to find a job, make an effort. My savings had been drastically depleted by the move from New York to Texas and though I had little day-to-day expenses, I realized that drawing out my half-life was only another way of staying in limbo. Within two days I had contacted an old friend, interviewed for a job and received an offer. I was to start work in Little Rock in seven days and the anticipation of getting dressed on a regular basis was enough to make my stomach resort to knot-tying. But it was time, I decided. Dwelling and subsequently ignoring the life around me had done little for me and certainly couldn't continue.

The night before I left for Little Rock, I made plans to find an apartment for my old college roommate and myself- she was changing grad schools and needed a roommate. I needed someone to be my friend, calm and undemanding. It worked out perfectly. That same night I wore down Renee' until she agreed to my one and only wish- a kitten. More than I needed a job or an apartment or a new car, I needed a warm furry body to lie curled by my feet at night. A soft, dark nose to press against my hand for attention. And something I could lavish with uncomplicated affection.

I decided I would name it Llama. Because it made me smile every time I thought about it.

The next month passed in a blur. My new job was uneventful and undemanding, I found and moved into an apartment off Broadway and managed to reconnect with friends I had seemingly abandoned for The Big Apple. My biggest accomplishment was realizing I had succeeded in sleeping through an entire week's worth of nights without incident. So the weekend before Renee' was set to move in, I scoured the local paper for pets. My cat, I decided. I needed my cat.

I found him 24 hours later in a box held by a lady in the parking lot of a grocery store. He was the runt of the litter, his tiny furry head almost too big for him to move. This was Llama, I decided. I would bring him home and feed him and love him until he was bigger than any other cat in that box. I remember holding him, his gray body scrawny and so fragile. But his eyes locked onto mine and I knew he was mine to make whole.

During the drive home I tried making a bed for him in the passenger seat but to no avail. I even attempted to cradle him in my lap. But he continued to make lunging attempts for my heart, finally wearing me down. So I cuddled him in my left hand as his head curled contentedly over my collarbone, purring just loud enough for me to hear.

It was noon by the time I got home, carrying Llama around the apartment. I showed him the tiny shoebox I'd filled with litter, the bowls of softened food and water. The box of toys I'd collected over a month's worth of grocery store trips, always veering into the pet aisle for a catnip toy or bag of treats. Then I laid down with Llama on the mattress I'd placed in my bedroom in the center of the floor, still lacking any other furniture. It had been heavy and warm outside but the air conditioning had been running all morning, giving the apartment that feel of brisk coolness. The plantation blinds across the room-sized window were hinged slightly open, letting just the barest of summer rays filter between their slats. Llama curled his tiny body on my chest, my hand cradling his back. He heaved one giant kitten-sigh and closed paper-thin eyelids over his gloriously shiny eyes. I felt, for the first time in what seemed like eons, the prickle and burn of tears at the corner of my eyes. Before I had time to stop them, they were rushing down the sides of my face, past my ears, landing in my hair spread beneath me. The pressure I had almost unknowingly carried around, daily pressing against my lungs, my heart, constricting my breath and resting heavily against my chest, eased the barest fraction. But even that fraction was a relief more palpable, more beautiful than I could ever have imagined. The effort of carrying around that hurt and pain and failure had been unbearable and I knew, with that ridiculous clarity that comes at moments you know will seem contrived when explained, that I was responsible for putting my pieces back together.

I'd heard the clink as the first one was put back in place.


trueborn said...

Good stuff Birdie. Thanks for sharing. Hope your demonspawn is doing well.

That is all. ;)

birdie said...

unfortunately the Demonspawn is not as perfect and cuddly. but he provides ceaseless entertainment which equals sanity. ;)

Chairborne Stranger said...

That was a nice post. I enjoyed it.

Johan Jordaan said...

It feels like such a good post deserves a commend, but I just don't know what to say to such breathtaking honesty.

meghansdiscontent said...

I love you.
I was so worried about you then.
When you moved in . . . I just . . . I'm so glad that you've overcome that whole period of your life. But it made you who you are.
And it was odd to see how Llama - something so small and seemingly insignificant - changed you so much.

Even though, now, I want to step on him when I see him. Little furry punk cat.

Jenni said...

Whoa Birdie...that was reflective and deep. You have such a talented way with words. You made me feel it with you.

Carl from L.A. said...

When we know to take control and to be responsible for our own lives is when we become adults.

You did well.

Jacques Roux said...

very well put. There certainly is a touch of the poet knocking around in there.

The Gnat's Trumpet said...

Great post, thank you for sharing, and, although I'm very late, Happy New Year.