May 16, 2013

1 No Doubt in My Mind Where You Belong

It's clear I've got a rather strong attachment to my pets. I don't want to say it's unique or special, because I know many other families with interspecial relationships like ours, but I also know that, for people without these kind of bonds, it's nearly unfathomable.

A natural course of life seems to be the realization of death. I don't mean this in a tragic, morbid fashion; just that, as children, we often don't understand death and as teenagers and in our early twenties there's an undercurrent of invincibility, of the vast promise of the future. That any mistake you make can be apologized for, time made up, alternate plans pursued.
I often wonder if having human children gives you an additional link to this infallibility, this belief in possibility, since (assumably) you're involved in someone who will go on after you've died, someone who will carry on or grow from wherever you've left off. Having animal-kids seems to make us face the brick wall of The End a bit sooner. The first sign of stiffness as your dog gets up from their bed, the first tooth a cat needs pulled, the first grey hair on a snout you've kissed thousands of times- these are all hints of a future that involves your heart falling out of your body, your belly aching with a knot of anguish, your throat choking on a ball of tears. We have to recognize that life as we know it- as we've chosen it, since few animals come into families in an "oops!" or accidental fashion- will change dramatically.

I'm a total sucker for a white face, even though it breaks my heart. Max has been an old man his entire life, so to be honest it just looks like his face is catching up to the rest of him. Don't get me started on Sloan's rapidly whitening mask, though.

I didn't intend for this post to be a tear jerker, despite the fact that I've got some escapees on my cheeks as I type this. I'm a natural worrier, but in a planning-for-all-outcomes way that helps me deal with things before they actually occur, so I can feel a bit less out of control when the not-best scenario plays out.  This trait makes my mom exasperated with me and my needless "freak outs", it makes Paul roll his eyes and tell me I'm insane- but it helps me.  Paul prefers to deal with things as they come; he's never been a planner or a worrier, and he sees my constant chess games with the future as unnecessary ways to torture myself.

He may be right. But, then, when I'm angry with the dogs, when Sloan won't stop barking or Max turns into an uncooperative brick wall or Mia rips into yet another bag in the kitchen in her never-ending search for food, I think about the day when I won't have to yell at Sloan for barking. I won't have to physically force Max to do something I know is best for him but he doesn't want to do. I won't have to pick Mia up by her armpits and hold my face close to hers, speaking in careful tones as she merows in frustration at me.

I've learned this lesson the hard way, but really, aren't the biggest lessons in life learned that way? My cat Bonnie was hit by a car in October 2005 after yowling to go outside at 6 AM (he was an 8 year old indoor/outdoor cat). I picked him up, yelled at him to shut up, and put him outside. I never got to see his pale green eyes again, and I only got to hold his dirty, lifeless body as I buried him.  Not all of my pets' deaths have been so tragic and guilt-ridden, though. Harry, my childhood cat, died at the astonishing age of 19, when I was in college. Each time I went home I knew it might be the last time we saw each other, so I was careful to spend time specifically with her, picking her up more gently than when I was 5, but loving her just the same. Lucas, our cat who died in April 2009, died naturally, in our living room. We were heartbroken, especially because he was only 9.5, but I'd kept him in the night before when he'd asked to go out at 10 PM and for that I'm eternally thankful.

Mia loves to sleep ON me, especially in the early breakfast-adjacent hours. I prefer when her head is near my chin, but opening my eyes to toes isn't unusual.

I've been a "stay-at-home dog-mom" since we moved back, and, while some days I get more than a bit stir crazy, I really do feel lucky to get to spend so much time with them.  We play throughout the day, but when I leave the house they still get delightfully excited upon my return.  Sure, I get tired of the constant in-and-out-and-in-and-out and the barking at our neighbors' cats, but I also get to see their bursts of silly, and when one of them comes up to me randomly, just for a scratching, I feel like I've won the lottery. Of course, they do sleep quite a bit, but sometimes I disturb their dreams for some snuggles- because I will make sure they know they are loved, and I will make sure my regrets for their lives are as few as possible.  I will make sure I choose them over selfishness, even if I'm cranky and lazy and wanting to sleep in instead of getting up to walk the dogs before the heat of the day hits.  No matter what the opinion articles say, I'll usually let my spot on the couch be stolen, since I can get an adorably guilty tail-wag and kiss out of it. And the rare nights when all three of them get in "Big Bed" with us? I guarantee neither human will sleep comfortably, but we'll both have smiles on our faces.

She's an evening snuggler and we both fully support this habit. This is Ceba, a stuffed seal I've had since I was little. I gave him to Sloan about a year and a half ago, and not only has she not torn him up (miracle!), but she carries him around each evening and refuses to go to bed without him. Yes, it does totally melt my heart.

In the end, sure, I know life goes on. I know that the hole which my heart fell through will slowly turn into a dull throb and gradually become tear-misted laughter as the funny stories overtake the sad. I know that I will love other animals- ones that might be even bigger hooligans, or maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll stumble into a life with one of those mythical dogs that's easy-going and unfazed by the UPS truck. But for now, I've got two lovable monsters and a small beastie who make me exasperated, make me scream, embarrass me... but also make me laugh, harder than anything else. And make my heart burst in happiness just by laying a lead-weight head on my leg when I'm in the least comfortable position. And I know they're worth every minute.

*title courtesy of Bob Dylan, "Make You Feel My Love"

1 comment:

  1. ... Gesci! It's still early!!! Now I am a sopping mess.

    It made me think about how both of my cats sleep with me at night. I'll be spooning the one, and the other will sleep in between my legs... making sure that I can't move. I'll wake up in the night and ever-so-slightly adjust trying my best not to disturb them. And in the mornings, it's always "THOSE CATS! They are bed hogs!"

    And Sebastian (who never gets bothered or snuggled with at night) will say "Why don't you just kick them off?"

    I could never. Because they are just so darn cute. Love those guys :) To think of them not being around has my heart in some serious knots!

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