I Like Your Pants

The elastic was stretched thin on the worn red cotton gingerbread-printed pajama pants. My second-hand find from years ago slipped dangerously low despite my bread-and-sugar belly. The chickens never seemed bothered by my fashion sense; they fluttered to greet me that morning as I delivered their feed.

“I like your pants.” My little son’s words jolted me out of my morning reverie wherein I was actually having coffee in an actual coffee shop with one of my actual friends.

He had come out of my bed (which he says he prefers to his, because it’s bigger, and also comfier) where he had been sleeping while I went to tend the chickens. “Thank you” was my simple response because I could think of nothing more to say. My pajama pants had been marked for the rag pile a while ago, but he liked them. He really did like them, I knew, because six-year-olds have not yet learned to say things to make people feel good just for the sake of doing so. They say kind things when they genuinely mean them.

Juliet was like that. She was quiet even for a cat, except when she was sleeping in my bed, breathing like a freight train coming right at my face. She must have thought that my bed was comfy, too. She did, though, have a particular way of making me happy…really happy.

She liked to stand on my paperwork, right in the middle of it, and park herself in my chair precisely when I was making my way over to sit in it. I could always count on her to sit with me (actually, right by the coffee pot) while I had my morning cup.

She also, though, appeared like a faithful angel in the aftermath of our struggles with mental illness, when the demons had retreated and we were left to assess the damages. She would always emerge, watching me, as if to say that I was going to be okay. And she would roll her eyes at the foolish antics of the rest of them, while she certainly thought about how nice it was, and I thought how nice it would be, to be a cat. Juliet was my quiet companion on the rough seas, the soft, white ball of fluff who appreciated every warm load of laundry that ever came from the dryer. She loved me, she loved butter, and she died on the kitchen floor last month.

It’s lonely around here, even with all of the people. I think many people are lonely these days, even when their best cats didn’t just die.

It sure is a hard, weird world these days. All of these meets and zooms are getting to me. I know I am not the only one. I would like to live life with my camera off, perhaps in the forest in my backyard, maybe close to where Juliet is buried. I can’t, though, because I have to chase my six-year-old around with his Chromebook. It’s my new job, one I got when I didn’t know I was getting one. At least he likes my pants.

I miss how things were before, when I missed how things were before that. I miss my tiny windows of time alone in my garden. I miss sitting with my people in Common Grounds, our downtown coffee shop. I miss the freedom that I didn’t even know was a thing. I guess we all do. Also, I miss Juliet.

I guess I can learn from my little son to be genuine and generous, too, with my words… To take a lesson from what is right before me, because now, that’s pretty much all there is.

I still have visions of Juliet. I expect to see her on the kitchen counter, scoping out the butter, waiting next to the crockpot, planning her next move. She’s not coming back, though. Things are going to be different from now on. The hole in the living room wall will be patched soon. The boys will grow older. I will get my time in the garden again. I don’t think we will soon forget about this isolation and how it has made us feel. And I think those old pajama pants are worth wearing at least a few more times. I just hope the elastic holds.

RIP, sweet Juliet❤️

Photo credit: Sam Ihm

A Badass Pollyanna of Sorts

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She’s a vision of a cat.  That’s not a real cat, is it?  Yes, yes, it is.  How can that actually be a cat?  She is so… perfect.  And up on the counter, actually up on the toaster, she sits.  As quickly as she is redirected from the forbidden spot, up jumps Juliet, back to her berth.  Oblivious even to the squirt bottle, she pokes her pug nose skyward and cozies up as close as she can to the crock pot, likely unaware of the cream cheese tortellini within.  Juliet, our dear Himalayan Persian, is uncivilized.  Sweet as pie, and rebellious as Johnny Rotten.

When I let baby Elliott loose to crawl about his uncle’s college apartment floor, he ate a glow-in-the-dark star.  Though it worried me at the time, that incident may have had some impact on his developing mind.  Most people have not eaten glow-in-the-dark stars.  And most people are not as bright as Elliott.

From a place deep within, we are all bursting toward our true selves.  And try as we might, it seems we cannot really alter the soul essence of who someone is.  I’m never going to like pimentos; I am never going to learn to ballroom dance; I will never not be awkward speaking in front of people; and I am most certainly not going to change the minds of my children by imposing my views upon them. Though what I say or do might possibly have an influence on another person’s thoughts or actions, the heart of another being is independent of my perceptions and projections.  I will forever be burdened with trying to do what I think is the right thing (though actually it may not be), and with the feelings of guilt and anxiety that make me wonder whether my actions were justified.

I believe in people.  I have witnessed true, course-changing, life-altering, behavior in others.  Many times I have reached out, and a good number of those times I have been shamed, rejected, or made to feel less than whole.  And I wonder if I am perceived, to those people, as I feel inside…as I am inside.

There was a doll that I wanted with a fervor as a little girl: Joey, the anatomically correct likeness of Archie Bunker’s grandson.  When I finally opened the box and disrobed the baby, I felt a sense of regret.  I felt like I shouldn’t have that doll at all.  As my little son would say, I felt like it was inappropriate.  I wonder why I wanted it so badly.

A game of telephone at a grade school sleepover: a circle made of a dozen wide-eyed, giggly girls, whispering “the message” in turn to the person to the left.  I vividly remember pretending that I didn’t understand and eventually lost my turn; I was pretty sure I wasn’t allowed to say those bad words!

There is an unsung splendor, a mystic wonder in the forbidden.  It is up to us to sort out the feelings borne from our choices.  Some seem worth the risk.

I was sent home for wearing navy blue corduroy walking shorts (clad with mini green whales); this resulted in the only detention I remember from high school.  I wanted to wear my new shorts, and I knew it was against the rules.   Chewing gum was strictly forbidden at the Catholic high school.  A devil among angels, I found a way to hide my Wrigley’s Spearmint in my cheek so no one suspected a thing.

The rebellion was in full swing in college.  I was gifted (honestly) a fake ID by a sorority sister that had been mugged.   Not once did I have to grovel to gain entry to The Jungle on New Wave Night; I was handed my golden ticket by someone who had recovered her stolen identification.  I mastered her signature and flashed my prize with confidence on those Tuesday nights.  When the police raided the bar (looking for underage entrants), we scurried  to stack ourselves in the bathroom stall until the coast was clear.  Always with great relief, I would return to my club soda.  I was not about to order alcohol from the bar, but I am pretty sure I did not consider the idea that possessing a fake ID was likely a higher crime.

I had a rare college job that was more of a haven than a place of employment.  I worked at Record Revolution; the smell of Gonesh incense ($1.87/pack) still lingers in my soul, to be sure.  I sat up on the counter, with no shoes on, and ate croissant sandwiches with muenster cheese and mustard (from The Dill Pickle next door) while selling records to people.    I’m not sure if I sat on the counter in front of the Chief; I wonder what, if anything, he would have had to say about that.  Doing what you truly love is liberating to the soul.

Most of my days are spent in jeans and nondescript shirts, probably because my primary job is to wipe stuff.  I do, though, have a long-standing love for vintage clothing and well-worn, comfortable pink things.  On one of my trips home from college, my dad eyed me quizzically and referred to me as “Laura Ashley to ashpit.”  But it was still me on the inside, just the same.

I woke a few mornings ago to a collaboration of snoring and wheezing in the bed beside me.  The wheezing, at least, came from the four-year-old bedfellow who, until his adoption was finalized, was not supposed to sleep in our bed.  So many nights in his young life, this rule was broken as we, his foster parents, kept vigil and shifted him in his dreams to open his airway, so he would not breathe his last breath. Sometimes, we have to make choices that hardly seem like choices at all.

As the song goes, I have been encouraging my girls to speak bravely and honestly.  This has, on occasion, backfired into a license for tongue whipping episodes of talking back, certainly not what I had intended with my plea.  I hope, though, that they understand that they have voices which deserve to be heard.  As I have approached middle age and as my passions dictate, I have begun to practice saying what is on my mind.  Though a quiet voice can speak volumes, there is a place for words; words that, when spoken, reveal some level of injustice.  I walked away from a job when the ethical issues overshadowed my purpose as a teacher.  If you cannot make it right with yourself, then perhaps it is not right for you.

When the time comes that you meet your one true love, you fall deeply for how that person lives his or her life.  We fall again, with each of our children, and all of their differences.  My babies come to me from many different places.  I cannot be sure if any of them, with the exception of Elliott, has a glow-in-the-dark star burning within.  I am trying to embrace the choices and the behaviors, no matter how bright or nonsensical they seem.  We are all here, shoes or not, pop music or punk rock, jumping onto the kitchen counter to bask in the warmth of the crock pot (or parking oneself on the counter of Record Rev back in the day) baring our vulnerable souls, standing for what we believe.

I wonder if Juliet will ever learn her boundaries.  And I wonder if she did, would part of her unique charm be lost in the compliance? And through our struggles, confusion, embarrassment, and rebellion, the little bits of magic that shine through bring us to realize that allowing ourselves to be who we are…who we always have been…is, after all, the right thing to do.