violetcheetah: (Default)
"Do not speak the words aloud,"
the wise sorceress warned her child.
"No matter how forcefully they shriek in your mind,
you must never utter them,
for the earth will rip and
the sky will burn and
time itself will spin askew so that
the future will have happened and the future,
my child,
if you have said the words aloud,
will be unspeakable agony for all,
and you,
my child,
will be responsible."

And so of course the child
did not speak them,
even as every day they clanged
like fighting church bells
only she could hear.
And as she grew,
they grew louder,
until each time she opened her mouth
she feared they would escape,
and so she ceased to speak at all.

Her silence was noted
by the elders of the town
and presumed to be the price
of colluding with Dark Forces,
and she dared not tell them differently.
So she was tied to a stake
above a pyre that was then
set ablaze,
and she sighed in relief
that the words would die with her
and the world would be safe.

But the sigh pulled the smoke
into her lungs,
and each cough
only brought more,
each cough deeper
and louder
and more like a voice,
until she was speaking,
"Come soon,
come now,
before — "
BUT death didn't obey,
and helplessly
she felt the words she dare not say
rip through her closing throat

where they fell like strong
but gentle rain
upon the pyre,
smothering first the smoke
and then the fire.
The crowd stared in wonder,
and then bowed to gaze
at the ground in shame,
until finally first the children
and then each woman and man
turned toward the back of the crowd
to see the sorceress,
her mouth agape
but stricken in silence,
unable to believe
the world was still here.

violetcheetah: (Default)
Maybe I'm thinking about this only because many of the people I've met through my writing workshop are trans or gender-fluid, and I'm a copycat. Maybe I'm thinking about it because I never had the framework to question before. I still don't, really; I'm not sure how to ask the questions I want to ask — especially of friends who've never questioned their gender — and have them understand what I'm asking. I had an IM conversation with a friend, and it was hard to explain that no, I don't mean the question you are answering, but I don't know how to explain what it is I -do- mean.

My main questions is: how often does an average person think about their own gender? What percentage of your time are you aware, as you go about your daily grind, of being male, or female? When I asked my friend, she said, well, whenever I go to the bathroom and sit down, but I said, that's just your body's sex, which is another question I want answered, but not the question I'm talking about. She said, I guess when I'm horny; but again, that's not gender, that's just the body's response to stimuli. What I'm trying to figure out is, aside from when your genitals remind you of their existence, is there a baseline, constant hum in your brain of "I am female/I am male"? Is that part of the sense-of-self most people have coursing through them all the time? Because I don't think it is for me. Even when I am doing something physical, when I am aware of my body working or not working, when I am aware of it being my body, and either feeling like it belongs to me or that I am mismatched, I don't think about it as being female, so the feeling of belong in it, or alternately the dysphoria, doesn't seem to have anything to do with its sex. I often don't like my body, but I often love it; which one I feel at a given moment has more to do with whether it's doing what I want it to.

For the most part, though, I don't think about my body's sex one way or the other, let alone whether it matches my mind's gender. And I think that's why it's hard to separate that from the question of gender, because I don't have -that- underlying awareness, either.

I am female. If you ask, that's what I answer. But most of my security in that answer seems to come from outside, from other people treating me as female. I don't feel female when I'm alone, or when I'm with people who don't call attention to my sex. I don't feel -male-, either. I wear long skirts, and my hair is long, and I like how I look in long hair and skirts. I feels right, to the extent that I ever feel right looking in the mirror. But it also feels like a costume. And: I like how I look in hiking boots, with a skirt or not, and how I look in loose jeans and a unisex t-shirt. I like both, because both are dress-up. I look in the mirror and smile because I'm wearing a cool costume; today I'm impersonating a boy, tomorrow I'm impersonating a girl. I feel comfortable either way, but mainly because either one hides what I am equally well. Or hides what I'm not, hides that, in just another of several ways, there's a part of me that isn't there. But in this case, I don't really miss the absence, any more than I wish a felt sexual attraction; it isn't a hole I search to fill. The difference between having an arm amputated and having been born without it.

Or maybe it isn't something that other people have. But it seems like they do. Women, most women, seem to primp or adjust in an unconscious way, stand in such a way to accentuate the feminine parts of their body. Men stand or sit in a certain way that takes up space; they touch their facial hair, especially, if they have it; adjust the waist of the pants, move a leg a certain way that isn't the way most women stand. But I don't know if it's just that most male bodies feel comfortable a certain way, and most female bodies feel comfortable a certain different way, or if it's an unconscious hum, a voice saying, "I am a man, and this is how men stand or sit," or, "I am a woman, and turning this way indicates that."

I don't know how to explain better. I feel strange asking the questions, even, because it feels like I think too much. But I'd be interested in my friends' responses, whether publicly, or anonymously on the blog post, or via Facebook private message.

violetcheetah: (Default)
This post is kind of a sandwich: cat-whisperer giddiness to start and end, with some oversharing about psychological trauma in the middle.

Read more... )

violetcheetah: (Default)
This started off as an attempt to explain the emotional/mental side of scentsitivity, but it spread to encompass other ways in which I'm invaded.  I wrote it several months ago, and rereading it, there's a resonance between the way "normal" people seem to perceive me — that they are interacting with a figment of their imagination because they can't conceive of someone like the actual-me existing — and the way I feel interacting with my mother.

Read more... )

Autumn bee

Oct. 3rd, 2014 02:45 pm
violetcheetah: (Default)
It's a short walk to the train station. I always glance at the ground a lot as I walk, which is why I notice the bumblebee. She is crouched motionless on the sidewalk, six inches or so from the edge. I'm not sure she's alive, so I kneel and touch her. She moves her legs, clearly upset, but uncoordinated; she keels to one side, unable to walk, let alone fly away.

Maybe she's hurt, although her body looks perfect and unharmed. Perhaps she's just old, shutting down and dying. Or maybe it's just too chilly to function for a tiny creature that isn't warm-blooded, and she needs a milder day to be able to fly home. Whether just cold, or dying, the sidewalk seems like a horrible place to wait for what comes next. Not because of the danger of human feet, but because she's in the open, on something that is not of nature. I know I think too much: her brain is not capable of dread, maybe not even of true fear. Maybe. But what if?

And that's why this afternoon, I knelt on a sidewalk, nudged an addled bee onto an oak leaf by touching her butt with another oak leaf, and set her four feet away on the grass under a tree. Maybe she's dying, maybe already dead as I write, but at least she has sprigs of green around her and over her, earth at her unsteady feet. To the extent that she can tell the difference between "exposed" and "sheltered," she hopefully feels safer, or just less unsafe.

violetcheetah: (chess)
Two weeks ago, the prompt in my writing workshop was a poem, Nate Klug's "Squirrels." It led me to write the following poem:

This is my mind today,
squirrels in the corner of its eye,
joyous squirrels but also wasps,
the wisp of grass on the ankle
is mistaken for ominous,
the ankle jerking upward to
meet the smack of the palm
before I realize there is
nothing there to sting me
except that slapping hand,
and then two minute later
the same tickle causes
the same spasm because
I cannot keep the knowing
in the front of my mind,
the knowing that there is
no danger in the grass's caress.

I cannot keep anything
in the front of my mind;
I have read about an eye disease,
macular degeneration,
that robs one of all vision
but peripheral,
a black spot in the middle
that expands with time,
until you look at the world always
with eyes averted
because it's the only way to see,
but you cannot focus your side gaze,
so even what you see is never clear,
and even light casts a shadow,
confusing your eyes with the contrast.

The laminated placard
hanging from the railing
near my machine at work
shifts in the air currents and
flashes at the edge of my view,
making me glance up and over
before I even know that
I'm expecting a person standing,
before I realize that I am afraid,
so that I know there's no danger
a moment before my heart quickens —
each time the glimmer,
then the understanding,
then the lurch of fear,
then shame at the lack of logic.

This is my mind today —
yesterday — July — April, this year and last.
Each day I think
tomorrow I will see
what is front of me.
But today is never tomorrow,
and my mind's eye aches
with the constant futility.

violetcheetah: (chess)
I really didn't want to post this, because it's terrifying to think about people I know reading it and knowing this is part of who I am. Which is why I know I need to post this.

Trigger warning for... I don't know, hospitals, psych holds, loss of free will, non-consensual restraint.


June 18, close to midnight, I went to the Beth Israel E.R., because the arrhythmia had morphed into chest pain. They did an EKG — which I knew wouldn't show anything because it's not that kind of chest pain, it's sharp and focused, not crushing and all-over — and sent me back to the waiting room until they had a bed. The bed they had was in the hall. People passing, loud, smells, people passing smelling like smoke, like alcohol, like perfumes, the pneumatic tube thing across from me making its air-brake noise every couple of minutes with no warning, a man yelling, a man snoring. I don't know when it stopped making sense, when I forgot the present; I never did completely, but it didn't help to hang onto the edges of the here-and-now.

They wheeled my cot down the hall to a dim room, the world flying by like in a car sitting backwards, and the room was dark, but I wasn't in Kentucky, I wasn't anywhere. They were annoyed, I couldn't tell what they were saying, I was saying something but I don't know what, and they were annoyed and wheeled me back, and then people were standing around me asking things, saying things, one of them smelled of cigarette smoke, and they wheeled me into a room with a glass front, and slid the door closed, and I knew it wasn't my bed growing up, but it had side rails and it felt so high, and exposed, and no way to get off of it because of the rails except to slide off the foot, and I , I don't know what I felt, if I felt anything, maybe terror, I don't remember the feeling, just the knowing I had to not be on the bed, that it wasn't safe, exposed, so I slid off the foot of it and sat on the floor between the side and the wall, and then there were two or three of them, not just annoyed but angry, "I'm not doing this again," I think someone said. Telling me to get on the bed, I could get back on myself or they'd put me there, and I knew, I should just do it, but I couldn't make myself, and I couldn't explain, and someone said they'd get a blanket and it'd be nice and comfortable, and I think that was when I felt the terror, I don't know why, just, the coaxing, cajoling, that was what my brother had always done, no force, just pleading, almost. Then there were people holding me, four limbs, hanging in the air, and I could see myself screaming, bucking, kicking, and I was ashamed, and just, just confused, why didn't I just do what they wanted, and they held me four limbs stretched on the cot and someone wiped I guess alcohol on my thigh, I was wearing a skirt and they lifted it and rubbed something cold on the back of my thigh, and I looked and could see the syringe, and my throat burned from the screams and I think they couldn't hold me still enough, I don't think they ever injected it. Ativan, someone said somewhere in there, I recognized the name and knew I didn't want it, it makes me feel dead.

A woman came later and said I had to get undressed, for the chest x-ray. She said I could get changed myself or she could do it for me. So I undressed and put on the gown. She said they'd put my clothes in the corner with the rest of my stuff, but that she had to go through my bag to make sure there was nothing dangerous, and no pills, so I took out the pills I keep and she put them in a plastic bag and left, and then didn't come back, and at some point I dozed off, maybe they did give me the Ativan, and when I woke up my clothes were gone, and my backpack was gone, and I asked and she said it was behind the nurses' desk, and I said she'd said it could stay with me, and she was annoyed and said it couldn't be in the room, and I asked why they'd needed to take the meds out and search it if it wasn't staying, and she said they never keep patient belongings in the room, and she left.

The morning and afternoon were a blur of trying to doze, or just trying to find a position where my head didn't hurt and I could stop being. I got up to pee, and the guy watching near the nurses' desk saw me and nodded, and when I came out a woman told me I should have told him I hadn't given a urine sample yet, but no one had told me they wanted one, she was annoyed at me but it didn't make sense. I talked to other people, or they asked questions and I answered them, I guess, asked for numbers to call, friends, my shrink, my psychiatrist. They called M, I didn't want her to know, didn't want her to have to deal after having just had to deal with her mother, but they wouldn't let me leave alone, or strongly recommended against it, or something like that. So she came, and waited, and waited, and finally I went home, and I got up the next morning and went to work.
violetcheetah: (butler)
From May 21's writing workshop. Warning: cursing ahead:

I have a doctorate in dread. The diploma hangs on the wall in a two-sided gilt frame with the PhD in procrastination on the other side. I’m now an adjunct professor of perfectionism, but no one signs up for my class because they’re all too afraid they’ll fail. Of course, if they’d just show up for the first class and read the syllabus, they’d realize that’s the whole fucking point: the goal is to fail. The way you pass a class in perfectionism is to suck at perfection. You have to whole-heartedly embrace not giving a shit that you are never going to understand anything ever in your life well enough to do it as well as you want to do it. And then you have to do it anyway. The first step, of course, is not to listen to me. After all, those who can, do, those who can’t serve as an object lesson to their students to keep moving — forward, backwards, doesn’t matter, just keep moving, because eventually the laws of chance dictate that if you take enough steps you’ll end up… well, maybe not where you want to be, but at least somewhere other than where you are now.


May. 15th, 2014 10:39 pm
violetcheetah: (Default)
V. has been one of my co-workers since I started this shift in September. Not just someone I worked with, but part of a kind of group of four of us; we partnered with each other — though usually she partnered with Jonathan — sat together in the break room, teased and picked and made juvenile off-color comments. One slow day, we had a rubber-band war while we waited for mail to show up. One night when I couldn't mentally function, she sat on the floor with me, an arm around my shoulder, humming.

November and December were hard for all the PSEs, the contract-temp workers like us who aren't fully vested career people. We went from 40-hour weeks to 48, to sometimes having to stay late and ending up working over 50 hours. We were all pretty damn worn out. V. was maybe worn out more than the rest of us, because she has a family, obligations outside of work. Then things slowed down in January, and while I think all of us were still not as energetic as we'd been in the fall, V. still seemed more tired. Someone said something was going on with her father but I never knew what; she didn't say anything to me, and I don't tend to ask about things like that.

She's missed a lot of days at work this winter and spring. She's been worn out on the days she's been there. And more and more irritated, by smaller and smaller things. Nothing directed at me, but it's still hard to be around, partly because I don't deal well with discord or outright anger, but partly... I worry. She's unhappy, and it's hard to see her unhappy because she's a friend. Or I considered her a friend.

She's been wearing perfume, or something scented, for weeks, going into months. I'd never noticed it before, and at first I only noticed it once a week or so, and I didn't work at a machine with her often, so it didn't matter. But it slowly became an everyday thing, and on the days I worked near her, I was miserable: migraine, lightheaded; I think now that scents trigger the irregular heartbeat that's becoming more of an issue. Thinking about it now, I might have seemed irritated to her, at her, because I probably didn't speak much, didn't interact more than I had to, partly because it made my head hurt worse to be near her, partly because one of the effects of scents on me is that it feels like my brain slows down, it's hard to think, and all my concentration goes to the work I'm doing and it still feels like it's not enough, and I don't have energy left to have a conversation.

Then my regular partner switched shifts. So did V.'s usual partner. And the only person without a regular partner is V. I knew I had to talk to her, but I feel like I'm oversensitive, and I should just learn to deal, and it's not an easy conversation to have with anyone. And she's been so irritated, angry, tired. I was afraid it wouldn't go well.

But Friday, I nearly had to go home; it was bad enough my vision was tunneling in on a few occasions, bad enough I was sitting down during a lull, and the supervisor came and asked if I was all right, because, well, feeling like crap had been a regular occurrence for me for several months, including going home early, and taking an ambulance ride one night from work because I either passed out or was so close to it that I was unresponsive. And really, what I felt now was the beginning of that. Maybe it's just stress, psychological, and scents trigger stress which triggers the arrhythmia. Maybe it's more. Either way, I can't will myself to relax and not pass out, if that's all it is. I told the supervisor that the scent was the problem at the moment, and that I had to talk to V. about it. But for the time being, the supervisor moved us to different, separate machines.

Maybe V. was angry at how I'd been acting all day; if you didn't know I felt like crap, I probably seemed like a sullen child. Maybe she thought I'd told the supervisor something bad, and her being moved away was punishment. Or just was angry that she was being moved, which is annoying, and knew or suspected that this move was my fault. She'd already been fractious all shift; I didn't see her much for the next couple of hours, but she seemed more pissed than before. But I tend to feel like people are angry even when they aren't, worry that they are angry at me. And regardless, I had to talk to her.

So after the shift was over, in the break room, I went over to her table. She was on the phone, but she paused and asked what was up, or something like that. I said, "I can't work with anyone wearing scented products." She said, "That's okay, Bev, I don't plan on ever working with you again, anyway." The syrupy bitterness to it, the stereotypical passive-aggressive bitch-ness of it, was so over the top that I almost expected her to start laughing. It was exactly what would have happened in September or October. It's what the v. I knew then would have done. But there was no laugh, no smile. I walked away.

It was a bad night after that. I was in tears walking to the train, on the train, waiting to start sobbing until I was at my station, and then sobbing most of the next two hours. It was a typical response from me to rejection, especially to the girly/bitchy rejection that goes back to horrible interactions in middle school and high school, threats of violence, threats of sodomy with a broomstick. And back to interactions with my mother, subtle, indirect, dehumanizing, annihilating. I am nothing. I am not a person. I do not exist. By the next day, I was pretty much mutedly resigned, jaw not clenched but set; but she wasn't at work, so I had a day to let it fade, not to regrow skin but at least to let the nerve endings give up and stop screaming. Sunday, she seemed to studiously ignore me, except for the two minutes when the supervisor of the day asked, once there was mail to run, if we wanted to partner up and she very quickly said, "No," and she was sent off with some fill-in guy from the other end of the plant. Or maybe the ignoring wasn't deliberate on her part; maybe she just honestly didn't see me anymore. It was what I expected, and not pleasant, but it didn't destroy me like Friday night had.

I want to be mad. I am mad, but I want to just be mad, uncomplicatedly "fuck you, too" pissed off. But what I feel most... I don't know, it's not a feeling, not an emotion, I just, it hurts to think about her, to think about the her I knew for months, the her I liked, the her who was fairly happy, and, God, she's so fucking miserable, all the time at work, and I don't even know what life outside of work is like, and just, I just want to ask, "What happened? Can I do something? Can I do something to help bring back the V. from last fall?" And "Why the perfume?" She never wore it before, or not that strong. What changed, that she suddenly now needs that? Does she feel unclean, like she smells? Is her father ill, and she spends so much time at the hospital or caring for him at home, smelling disinfectant and medicine and illness, that she needs to surround herself with something that doesn't smell like that?

Part of what I feel — what I felt even before this last straw — is just, everyone likes to be around happy people, fun people, so it's entirely selfish that I want the old her back: it's less stress, I'm human, I like laughing with people.

But that's only partly it. Because: it's V. We were never exactly friends, but we were colleagues, and we made each other laugh, and she offered me comfort, and she didn't treat me like a freak, and I want to offer comfort back. But I can't, not through this wall of anger. Anything else I could deal with: sadness, depression, fear, anxiety, crying, screaming, curled into a ball, any of those I would at least try to reach through, try to punch through the wall. But anger — it's not brick or barbed wire or something I can withstand the pain of: it is fire, and I have no protection. I want to try. At least I think I want to. But I know, I just can not do this. It will destroy me, and I'll be no good to anyone, I'll just make it worse. So I sit helplessly, and I burn with a different fire, with shame and helplessness and smallness, my hands aching with the desire to do something, my throat aching with words I can't even think of, let alone say.

violetcheetah: (Default)
[The workshop prompt was to write about the worst insult from your childhood.]


"You're pretty," she said. I was stunned. I was 8, and I was not pretty. I knew I was not pretty, and no one ever pretended. People said, "You have such pretty long hair," or "You look just like your Aunt Jean," and she had pretty hair, and she was nice to me and didn't try to kiss me when she visited so I liked her and I was happy to look like her, but she was not pretty. But now, in between reading time and math time, Kim looked at me as if just noticing something and said, "You're pretty." And I knew, I knew there was a hook inside the worm, and it wasn't even that I wanted the worm, but I didn't know how to say no, I didn't have an answer that wasn't "...thank you..." because I was eight and I didn't yet understand how to declare someone full of shit, to just say, "Okay, what are you playing at?" or "Ha ha, what's the punchline?" So I froze in dread and said "Thanks," and she said, "Pretty ugly, pretty stupid, and pretty apt to stay that way."

I'd know it was coming, not exactly what but that some insult was coming, and she was my friend, at least sometimes, and I knew, I knew she wasn't being mean, she didn't mean the insult any more than she meant the compliment, I knew, and I couldn't stop the burning heat in my eyes from bringing tears any more than I could have if I'd been slapped. I just stood still frozen, looking over her shoulder and not directly at her, and I willed my stupid eyes to listen to reason, and I couldn't even look away so she wouldn't see the tears fall. Frozen, slow: stupid. I don't remember thinking about the ugly part, that didn't matter, but I was an idiot, a baby, not in control of my own body, the water leaking from my eyes no different than wetting my pants.

Even looking past her shoulder, I could see the expression on her face when she realized what she'd done, that mix of shame and physical pain you feel when you hurt someone you didn't want to hurt, and I wanted to say I was sorry for not taking the joke, for making her feel like crap, it wasn't her fault I was a big baby. She said, "Hey, I didn't mean it." And I shrugged as if I wasn't crying and said, "Yeah, I know," and went to the book corner to read until math.

violetcheetah: (butler)
Thirty days ago, as I wrote about at the time, I adopted a new cat, Precious; she'd been at the shelter where I volunteer for three years without allowing anyone to pet her, until I started working with her and essentially tricked her into allowing touch.  I am borrowing a kennel-type cage until she's ready to explore, and while I've been leaving it open at times, she's not yet ready to venture into the first actual home she's ever been in.  I'm sure it will come with time.  Until then, I do what I often do with kitties at the shelter, and clamber inside the cage to pet her.  And on that front:

She loves belly rubs, but sometimes she's too antsy to lie still for one.  I'd been occasionally rubbing her belly while she was standing, my other hand rubbing her neck.  Then I started lifting her front half up an inch or so sometimes, just to get her used to the concept.  Then one day, she was on the fleece on the floor of the cage instead of on the hammock-shelf.  And I pressed my luck: I let her turn her back, and then I lifted her slightly and pulled/walked her backwards into my lap.  She didn't stay, but she didn't freak out.  I tried again a couple of minutes later, and she paused longer before leaving.  The third time, she didn't leave immediately, and after 30 seconds or so, she slowly, suspiciously settled in.  She stayed for nearly 5 minutes, partly because I managed to refrain from giggling in shocked, hysterical glee.

Now I put her in my lap every time she's on the floor of the cage instead of on the hammock-shelf.  And she stays, for half an hour or more.  Including, the last couple of times, lying sideways enough that I can rub her belly. She can only enjoy belly rubs lying on her left side, so she ends up facing me, so I could see last night as her eyes got that drunken, half-closed look.  Then, for a solid minute, her eyes closed entirely.  It's the first time I've ever petted her when her eyes were closed.  

I've realized that, in a lot of ways, she reminds me of Butler: the type of caution about anything new, the befuddledness of her face, even the texture of her fur, so soft it's like a plush toy.  Looking at her face with her eyes closed, I could see Butler again, feeling him sitting in my lap, settling into contentment and letting go of vigilance.  I miss him dearly.  I love her dearly, for her own self, but I'm also so grateful that she can bring him back so clearly in my mind.  That will fade, I know, and eventually her face will not remind me of another.  There's a way I'm grieving now for that loss, too, for the day when my memories of him will be memories of memories, not ghosts but just wisps of fog that look a little ghostly.  So for now I treasure the pain of the strength of the memories, smile and cry at the same time, and think, "This is right; this is what I should feel."

violetcheetah: (butler)
I did not choose Butler. And no, he did not choose me.

I went to the Animal Rescue League in Dedham, a week after I'd put Kia to sleep. She died at the tail end of the Great Depression, and the drugs were starting to work, but I was still too muted to feel anything like joy or even contentment yet. And then she died, a year after Jenner, and being muted wasn't that bad, because the grief for her was quieter than it had been for Jenner. Of course, she was a quieter cat, less needy, less volatile, and her absence wasn't as blatant.

I was not sure I wanted another cat. I didn't really want anything, because the drugs hadn't yet kicked in to the point where I felt desire or drive. But more, I wasn't sure I had the energy left to love another cat. Or more, the emotional capacity. It takes effort to love, and just thinking about starting over with a stranger made me tired. I remember seriously thinking that I might not have the ability to love something, that maybe that was gone forever. Maybe it wasn't a matter of wanting; maybe I shouldn't subject a cat to my apathy. And definitely not a kitten. There was no way I needed a kitten. But maybe an adult, I thought. I didn't really want, but I knew I probably needed another cat, regardless of whether I could love it as it deserved, and of course even considering it that way made me feel guilty. But I realized I needed to be selfish; I needed to do whatever I could to stay functional. It was a chore, but I would at least go to a shelter and see what happened. If I fell in love, great; if not, I'd go it alone.

I went with Michele, both because she had a car and because as my housemate, she should have some say.

And I loved the first cat I saw when I entered the room at the shelter. But she was a long-hair, and I'm too lazy to maintain that much fur. I walked farther down the aisle. And there was the cat. A demure little black girl, purring before I got close, rubbing against the bars of the cage, not in a frantic way, but almost contented: I have company, and that's all I need. She looked nothing like Kia, but there was something in her self-sufficiency that reminded me of Kia. And I'd always wanted a black cat. The way in the right light, all you can see of their face is their eyes; the regalness. I opened the cage, and she rubbed against my hand with self-assurance, appreciation without aching, demanding need.

Michele was farther down the row. I was not paying attention to her, because I was in thrall. At some point she said something like, "You should at least spend a little time with the other cats." So I left the black queen for a bit and took a cursory look at the others. "This guy, for instance," said Michele, kneeling in front of a lower cage. "He's a real sweetie." He was butting his head against her hand, a bit imperious, a bit too demanding. She moved aside so I could reach in, and he made a petulant "murp" noise at being left alone for 10 seconds. He was a tuxedo, black and white, and something about the markings on his face, almost symmetrical but not quite, gave him a constant expression of befuddlement and consternation. He was cute enough, but he didn't sing to my soul like the black girl. I looked back at her. "I don't know, I think she's the one."

I think Michele said a few other things encouraging me to give the others in the room more time, to be sure. But I knew. And then she said, "Have you considered getting two?" "Uh, would you be okay with that?" "Would one of them be this guy?" "Uh, that would kinda be the point." "Well, he needs to come home with us." And so that was that. He was an afterthought, at least for me. But Michele's own cat was old and cantankerous, and the new cat could be hers as much as mine, maybe more, since I didn't really have any feelings for him.

I renamed him Butler not just because he wore a tuxedo, but because he reminded me of Anthony Hopkins in "Remains of the Day," buttoned-up and confused by playfulness. He came home before Chess (the black queen) because she had to stay and get spayed. I missed her already, ached for her to be home. I sat down in my usual easy chair and put my laptop and lapdesk on my lap. Butler jumped up and stood between my thigh and the arm of the chair. He stared at the laptop with consternation, but with something else: an incredulousness. How dare this interloper take up residence in his seat? The laptop was Meathead, and my lap was Archie Bunker's chair, and there was a natural order to things, and no, this would. not. stand. He leaned his head down slightly and rubbed the corner of the screen, not marking it as his but shoving it out of the way.

"Uh, no. I have to work. That's how I pay for your adoption fee and your food and the litter you pee in. There's plenty of room beside me." It was a large chair, and there was a good foot between my hip and the chair arm. I pushed him gently back so he was comfortably nested in, petted his head to indicate my approval, and started typing. He stayed meatloafed against me for maybe two minutes. He put his chin on my leg, his nose against the lapdesk, for maybe another two minutes. Then he moved his face forward. It seemed like there was an engine, a means of propulsion, in his forehead, and his body just followed. He wasn't so much trying to shove the lapdesk off me as he was just trying to occupy its current space; if he could just get under it, that would apparently be a victory.

"Okay, fine." He was new, in a new house after being in a cage for some number of weeks or maybe months. Who knew what his life had been like before that. Also, he'd ended up coming to the home of someone who did not really care about him. I felt sorry for him. And I felt guilty for my inability to love him. Besides, going by my previous experience with other cats, he'd get bored in 10 minutes. I leaned forward to set the lapdesk and computer on the coffee table, and he was in my lap before I had straightened back up.

He purred. Loud and low and rattly, and somehow vaguely ominous: keep me happy, or else. Perhaps I just got that impression from the expression on his face, haughty and petulant, an expression that I knew probably had more to do with the markings than with his emotional state, but that I still couldn't ignore. But also, he stared at me, his eyelids slightly lowered, and lower in the middle as if he were frowning, which of course was impossible because he was a cat. I stared back. He didn't look away, and I thought I saw something other than the threateningness: not adoration, exactly, at least not of me, not of my face. It was the look God must have given after each of the first six days of the universe, when he finished his work and looked upon it and saw that it was good. This lap pleases me; you seem to be attached somehow to the lap, so I like you. At least so long as there is a lap. You're good; you can stay.

He did not care that I hadn't chosen him, did not feel betrayed or unloved or less than Chess. I had a good lap, and he was in it, and my feelings one way or the other didn't matter in the slightest to him. For entirely selfish reasons, he liked me. I was making him completely happy. And out of the blue, a wave of gratitude nearly washed me out to sea, nearly brought me to tears. I could give him everything he needed. He did not ask anything of me that I couldn't give. I did not have to change; I did not have to pretend. I was enough — even now, unfeeling, unloving, I was enough for him. It was a gift so huge I couldn't see the whole of it. I felt heavy and sleepy and wired and so light I could float away.

Butler proved to be a champion lap cat. He would stay until my butt had gone numb, and then, when I was about to tell him I had to move, he would curl his head so that his body was a crescent, with his forehead against my belly, and look at me with that one crazy eye. After a few days, when it became clear that this wasn't just a matter of being in a new home, I created a "desk" by putting a 3-foot-long shelf board across the arms of my chair, which were not sloped and which were fairly high — close to a foot from the top of my lap. I set my laptop on the board, and Butler could have my lap while I typed. For 13 years, for some part of pretty much every day that I wasn't out of town, from the duplex, to the house Michele bought, to my first condo, to the condo I live in now. My other cats benefitted from the arrangement, but only if he wasn't already occupying me; and if he wanted an occupied lap, he simply sat to the side and then steam-shoveled his way between the other cat and my abdomen until the interloper gave up and left. My other cats benefit now, after he's gone. They cannot take his place, but they take his place, and they do not care in the slightest that I might be conflicted, wishing it were him in my lap even while not wishing it weren't them. My feelings are unimportant. I have a good lap, and while they are in it, they are completely happy.


Mar. 1st, 2014 09:11 pm
violetcheetah: (Default)
[Written May 22, 2013]

I started volunteering at a small cat shelter in November 2011. Precious had been at the shelter since July 2010. She came in as a mother cat, estimated to be about 2 years old — already too old to ever be socialized — and the reasons why she wasn't just spayed and released have been lost to time, but now she's, well, institutionalized. After nearly 3 years in the shelter, no one can touch her. But: she loves to be brushed. Her brush has been duct-taped to a two-foot-long stick, because that's as close as she'll allow a hand to get to her without freaking out. When she's being brushed, she purrs until she drools, falls over, rolls, lets you brush her belly.

I never really cared for Precious. It's odd, because I'm a sucker for scaredy cats. For the year and a third I've volunteered at the shelter, I've spend countless hours with dozens of unsocialized cats, sometimes doing nothing more for weeks than touching a nose, then learning that one spot on only one side of the neck that makes that one cat push against my hand against his will, or that this girl can't resist having her shoulder blades scratched. And many of them get adopted, and it's bittersweet because I miss them, but it feels so good when the untouchable cat seeks you out, then makes in impression on a stranger and gets to have a whole house, a whole human, to himself. I love it. But for some reason, I never tried with Precious. Maybe it was just that tortoiseshells don't do it for me aesthetically; maybe it was just that there were others who were younger, seemed less settled, seemed like they had a chance. Maybe it was that there were other people who spent time with her, had spent time with her for years, now, and it hadn't mattered.

I had an idea four weeks ago. It was something I'd tried with Caleb, another cat who hadn't let anyone touch him but who liked being brushed. Ages ago, my friend had bought a double-thickness fake-fur mitten from Petco, big as an oven mitt, so that she could wrestle with one of her cats who loved to play-fight but didn't know not to use his claws. Unfortunately, the glove wigged him out and he'd run away, so it sat unused in a drawer for years until I brought it to the shelter. I also bought a pair of cheap, stiff leather work gloves. First with Caleb, now with Precious, I donned a work glove, then put the mitt on over it, so that when she inevitably freaked out and lashed out, as Caleb had, her claws wouldn't penetrate.

I didn't hold a lot of hope. Caleb had only been about 9 months old when I started working with him. Precious was probably 5 years old. The first weekend, I spent fifteen minutes at a stretch with her, several times each night, brushing her with one hand, resting the other one — in the doubled gloves — on the cage shelf. I moved the gloved hand a little occasionally, kept brushing. That Sunday, I had a chance and I took it. Her head was to the left of the brush-on-a-stick that was in my left hand, with the gloves on my right hand. I brushed her neck and cheek, and then rested the gloved hand on her back. She's no dummy, and the glare she gave me and my gloved hand said so. But: brush, cheek, yeah, right there, hey, there's something on my back and it's, wait, ear, yes, ear please, hey, what's on my... oh, fine, whatever.

I only work at the shelter on weekends, so it was six days before I was back. That weekend, we went from the gloved hand simply resting on her back during brushing, to the gloved hand stroking her back in unison with the brush stroking her neck and shoulders. This garnered more dirty looks, but finally resignation. Sunday, I started with the brush stroking her cheek while the glove petted her back, but then after a few minutes I moved the brush aside and rubbed her cheek with the gloved hand. Her eyes burned with the fires of hell, but she couldn't help herself. Even her cheek couldn't help itself; it would push slightly against the glove, and she would glare at me with reproach — perhaps mixed with self-reproach — pull her head back a little, but then slowly relax back to her original position.

The next Saturday, I moved the gloves to my left hand, rubbing her neck and shoulders with the glove. And then rested my bare right hand on her back. Over the course of the night, I stroked her back a little, a little more, always in unison with the gloved hand on her neck. She glared at me, and then — maybe I'm reading too much into it, but still — she seemed to deliberately turn her head away from me, so she couldn't see my bare hand.

Sunday, I started the night with the gloved hand and the bare hand. Then I pulled the gloved hand back. The first couple of sessions, she turned her head away, and I had a pretty strong worry that when she did finally see my bare hand on her back... well, I've never had stitches yet. But by the end of the night, she saw. She wasn't pleased when she saw, and she turned away again to ignore me, but she didn't freak out.

The next Saturday, I didn't even ease into it. Opened the cage, showed her my bare hand, let her glare, set it on her back. Waited. Stroked her back just an inch or so. Did it again. The third time, she turned her head away, and when I moved up to her neck, she leaned into it. She was still glaring at the wall behind her, but she was purring. We did this several times that night, and the next. She was restless, flinching sometimes when I moved abruptly or touched her cheek, but then leaning into my fingers five seconds later. Then she got more restless. Half-standing, meatloafing back down, tucking paws in, reaching out to knead, falling over, immediately standing back up and glaring. Then, late on Sunday, she fell over onto her side and stayed there. Her back was to me. I petted the side of her round belly. She twitched, perhaps mad, perhaps ready to strike, and I tried not to tense up as I thought about stitches. But she didn't stop purring as I kept petting her. And then she stretched, rolled just a little so I could get to her belly itself, still half-turned-away. One paw kneaded the blanket, one paw kneaded the air, and I stood rubbing the belly of a feral cat that no one could touch.

I was floating above my shoulder. My mind seemed to dig its claws into my collarbone to keep from leaving completely, because the joy was so strong it hurt. My eyes stung, and I concentrated on not sobbing, on breathing without whimpering, my mouth open to pull in air silently and let it out. This was real, but it couldn't be real, because nothing this perfect was real, as perfect as my daydreams about it had been, and nothing real is as perfect as the daydream. But in the daydream, my arm wasn't screaming with cramping pain from being held straight out in front of me with no support under it for 15 minutes.

[Written Wednesday, February 26]

When I wrote that in May, I did not know I would be starting a job in August that meant working weekends and giving up volunteering. I thought when I wrote that in May that it was the start of months of wonderful work with Precious, socializing her to the point where maybe someone, someday, would adopt her. She'd been destined to spend the rest of her life in the shelter, which is a nice enough place, but I wanted her to want more. But I had to work weekends, and that meant getting to the shelter once every few weeks as a treat. I still petted her when I went, and Michele worked with her when she was in on weekends, and a few others could pet her. But she plateaued socially. It was my biggest regret about leaving: I'd made her start to want, and then left her hanging.

I didn't know that one of my cats would be diagnosed with cancer in October and have to be put to sleep in February. I didn't know another of my cats would have to be put to sleep without warning in December. I went from a four-cat household to two in two months. I have room, physical room in my condo. A dining table that I never use except to stack sewing projects on, just the right size for a kennel-cage for a few weeks until she gets used to a new place. I have room.

She went to the vet's yesterday for her rabies shot. And then she came home. I didn't expect her to want attention for a while, prepared myself to let her be and give her time and not burst into tears when a week went by and she still hated me. She let me rub her neck yesterday afternoon. She purred. Last night, she gave me her belly, and when she raised her head for a minute, a drop of drool plopped on the blanket under her cheek. This morning she'd moved from the small carrier up onto the hammock shelf, which means she's feeling secure enough to be partly in the open, and also means I can climb into the cage and sit and pet her without my neck and shoulders cramping. I still need to steel myself for regression, and steel myself for joy, and the tears that both will bring. The joy even now is dagger-sharp in my ribs, makes me forget to breathe. But she is home. She is where, a year ago, I didn't know she would belong.

violetcheetah: (winry)
So, people keep comparing the current "religious freedom" bill in Arizona and now Georgia to pre-civil-rights lunch-counter stuff. But the thing is, it's not an analogy: it's a tautology, because there are in fact white-supremacist sects of Christianity, and if these bills become laws, adherents to those sects would have every right to refuse to deal with anyone not Aryan. For that matter, that stereotypical Arab-ish cab driver could take a look at the cross around your neck and leave you at the curb. My boss could find out that I don't believe in a deity and fire me. Hell, my boss could find out I have PTSD and say, "I don't believe in PTSD; you're possessed by demons," and fire me. A restaurateur who belongs to the "Quiverful" movement could refuse to serve a childless couple if he believes they are childless by choice.

Everybody is one of "those people" to someone.

violetcheetah: (chess)
I wrote the following the day after Chess died last Monday, with light editing the next day. Time to post it.


I put Chess to sleep Monday night.

Sunday before I left for work at noon, Chess wasn't interested in eating, although she finally had a few bites. She's had a couple of days like that in the last few weeks since the cancer grew back, but they were false alarms. Still, I knew I was closer now than those times. But it's not like I can take off work every day I worry about her. Work was okay as long as there was something to do, but we ran out of mail to process before the first break, even, and I was too unfocused to read my book, so I listened to music with my noise-blocking earbuds even though it isolates me and can lead to a sensory-deprivation shutdown, but I did it because at least then if you keep moving your hands, it's in time to something, or people watching as least think it's in time to whatever you hear. It got me through that first quarter of the day, and through break, and work picked up afterwards, but then after maybe 45 minutes we were out of mail again. This time my hands weren't moving. it was hard to move at all: my body, my mind, both hard to move, dangerous to move. The day was not yet half over, and I thought, I can't get through the rest of the day if it's like this, thoughts of Chess at the edge but not looking, and I finally got up and found Mary, the supervisor, and asked if it would be a problem if I went home, and she said no, it'd be fine. So I went home, and Chess came to her food dish like she always does when I get home, because she only checks for food if someone is there at the dish, so I put out fresh food, and she sniffed, hesitated, and walked away. I busied myself cleaning the living room and dining nook, and she would walk into the kitchen for food, but then walk away without eating. Then she sniffed the water bowl and walked away without drinking. I knew then, with the water, the way she walked two feet and then turned and sat and stared at the bowl, which was betraying her somehow by not having something she wanted. I didn't admit that I knew until tears were falling on the floor by the water bowl while I rubbed her head. I knew. I didn't want to pester her, and the urge to follow her and coax was so strong my fingers curled. So I went to michele's to watch tv like we'd planned to do. I didn't tell Michele. I came home, and Chess walked toward the kitchen, stopped five feet from her bowl, and sat for a minute, and then walked away. I emailed Michele and told her I'd probably need a ride to the vet's tomorrow, and told her why. If I had a car or a license, I'm not sure I would have said anything even then.

I called the vet when I woke up, and since Chess wasn't in pain or distress, they said it was less hectic at the end of the morning or the end of the day. Michele needed to go to work, so I made the appointment for 7:45. I've never made an appointment to put a cat to sleep. I never had advance notice, never had to choose a time or even make a decision; always it's been obvious, there's been no choice to make, really.

In the morning, she sat in my lap and purred while I rubbed her ear and cheek, but then it was too much, she often gets overstimulated or something, always has, and she left, looked for food, didn't want, came back to my lap, stayed longer while I only petted her a minute or so at a time, but then she left again, restless, sitting five feet from the food dish, five feet from the water bowl, wanting but not wanting what was there, maybe I read too much into it, but it seemed like she wanted to want, that she missed the longing for food, missed thirst. Restless. She lay on the bare floor, but she was restless each time I passed by. So I put up the shade on my bedroom window so the bed would be in the sunlight, and I set her there, and petted her for just a few seconds, stopping before she got restless again, and through most of the day, I just let her sleep. I wanted to spend the day just lying on the bed with her, but she wouldn't have stayed, would have been roused to restlessness again, and I knew, it would be less uncomfortable for her to just spend most of her last day unaware of time passing. So I left her alone, and I cleaned all day, petted her only if she was already awake, and then only for a minute or two. Twice I lay down across the bed, on the covers, and stayed for maybe five minutes, but I didn't dare stay longer. At around 7, I lay down again, for maybe 20 minutes, but for the most part I didn't pet her; I'd rub her ears for a minute or two, then just lie looking at the ceiling while she kept purring, rub her ears again for a minute. I left for 10 minutes, then came back and sat rubbing her until Michele got there.

I did right. I did what she needed, not what I wanted, and it should comfort me, but it doesn't. I want to feel guilty, somehow, I want that to fill the hole, or distract me from it.

violetcheetah: (Default)
Two short pieces from workshop tonight:


Suffer, little children,
And then you may come unto me.
How can I take your pain if you have none to offer?
Your father, like mine, is holy:
He is only doing what must be done
To mold you into what you need to be
If you are ever to join me in heaven.
I know you can't tell the difference now
Between the fires of hell
And this forge you are living in,
But some day you will understand.
You will sit at my right hand
And my own daddy will kneel before you
And beg your forgiveness.


"You will be the Good Shepherd," he told me. "You will be perfect and pure and whiter than snow, and they are sheep, after all, so they will follow you."

He left me with them on the mountainside, never doubting I would succeed, because I was his son. He expected me to know what to do, to tell where the wolf howl was coming from and to lead them away, but I'd never even heard a wolf, and it's a beautiful song, enticing and intoxicating and hauntingly sad, and nothing that sad can be a danger, anything that sad should be comforted, so I sought out the maker of the melancholy melody and the flock followed me without hesitation. With no one left to shepherd, I had no choice but to be his lamb, and lead myself gently to slaughter.

violetcheetah: (butler)
From writing workshop. The prompt was the sentence "You're not the boss of me."

Read more... )


Jan. 10th, 2014 10:40 am
violetcheetah: (Default)
[From workshop Wednesday night; not inspired by the prompt, but just by that particular word that had come into my head earlier in the day]

I miss things. Things I never had, things that never even existed. Yearning, that's the word I used today; I usually say that I ache, but today I found the word "yearning."

I miss God. Miss believing in God, in a higher purpose, in a kind parent who puts us through hardships — or allows hardships to happen — only to make us into the better people he knows we can be. I miss unconditional love. I don't understand it, can't comprehend someone or something loving you no matter what, but I used to imagine God weeping every time he had to cast someone into hell, because he'd tried, he'd done his best to make them fit for heaven, and he wished he could bend the rules. He wished he could go back and make them do the right thing, relieve them of the burden of free will and shepherd them into his kingdom. My God ached for each soul that would never join him, had a hole in his own perfect soul for each of them. I knew he had a hole where I was supposed to be, knew I would not be with him in heaven, but it was enough that he yearned for me.

I yearn for my mother, of course, or the mother I thought I had when I was a child. I yearn to believe that the problem is me, that the hole in my own soul is my own deficiency, because if it were, then I could do something about it.

I yearn to be hidden. I know, I know, it was a horrible, twisted existence, walking around unseen behind whatever mask I'd made that day, silently screaming for someone to notice that I wasn't there, and I often leaked through the mask as if it were a diaper, usually at the most humiliating times. But this thing now, this pathological inability to hide anything from anyone: it's shameful, and tiring, and out of my control, and I yearn for a middle ground, where I choose what to reveal to whom.


violetcheetah: (Default)
Violet Wilson

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