Monday, September 22, 2008

Flowers for Gretel

Sometimes miracles come out of ordinary things. Not the kind of miracle where you have surprisingly good luck, and everything goes great and is the best it could be; but the kind that is steeped in bad luck, failure, sadness, and yet emerges from that.

My old cat, Gretel, who I have had for 4 years--through a marriage, divorce, and a cross-country move, etc.--had a stroke 2 months ago that left him completely paralyzed. I think only anyone who has a pet and no children, or is just a crazy animal lover like me, could understand what it was like for me to watch this happen. It was very quick. Around dinnertime, he began staggering around the dining room, and at first it looked like just one leg was affected, like he was trying to shake something out. By the next morning, he couldn't move at all, was like a boneless bag of jello when I tried to lift or pick him up, and was crying in confusion and frustration and covered in pee and crap (which I was not yet expert at minimizing / cleaning off). The first Dr. he saw (the emergency vet hospital) was completely worthless. She had no idea what was going on and told me it was probably a brain or spinal tumor and there was no hope; and that I should let them keep him overnight (for major $) and take all kinds of tests that would probably not help him. Then she tried to hand me an initial estimated bill for several thousand dollars. I said no, and took him home instead, where neither of us slept...but he was alive the next morning, and I could take him to his regular vet (oh and by the way, he has a girl name because I just found out 6 months ago he is a guy. Sorry, Gretel. And his liver is somehow in his lung cavity--don't know how or when that happened--and he's blind...). Said regular vet quickly diagnosed that he'd had a stroke, which is not as major as a tumor. Long story but mainly, she just listened to his heart and heard an irregular heartbeat, which I guess fancy emergency vet had somehow not picked up on. But instead of advising a lot of surgery and tests, she recommended some aspirin, other pills, and to take him home and wait.

Well, it is over 2 months later and I have done everything (feed, launder several soiled towels a day, pill, squirt medication into his mouth, etc.) for this cat ever since, often in a state of profound depression. When I first brought him home, he could not move anything at all, not even lift his head, and just laid there on one side or the other (I had to flip him). But he seemed tranquil, after the initial shock, was still interested in food, and purred when I pet him. This, for me, was enough to merit keeping him alive. (Why do many people think humans deserve recuperation time after major trauma, but animals do not?) I was told that cats can recover from stroke, sometimes better than people, and he might be back to normal in a few weeks. This is not what happened, though, and in a few weeks, my vet was cautioning me that the very little progress he had made (like, being able to lift his head a little) might not go any further, and I should now think about, you know. Especially since at this point, he wasn't even able to poo on his own (try not to think about what that entails). However, I still felt very clear in my heart that keeping him going was the right thing, and that there was no other option for me. He trusted me and I could not bundle him into the car, take him somewhere, and allow a needle to be stuck into him like that while he was purring and hungry.

I wish it was now the end of the story and I could say, and now he's back to normal! That's not really the case. But after some acupuncture (yup--I live in a hippy town) and physical therapy sessions, he has recently begun trying to walk again, taking a few steps a day. So I called his vet today to report this, since we don't have to go in as often...and they immediately sent him flowers (which he can't see, but I did let him smell them), which are sitting on my dining room table on top of a clear glass bowl filled with a few pretty red stones, water, and a little plastic goldfish, with a note congratulating Gretel on taking his first steps. The flower delivery person told me this was their first order for a cat. May there be many more.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I'm so depressed

I'm so depressed about the election that I don't know how to get through the day.

Basically, I am worried about how my life--because that's all I can really speak for, my little sliver of reality--will be directly affected if McCain and his completely wing-nut, unqualified running-mate (clearly chosen in a cynical, sensationalizing attempt to get certain voter demographics to the polls) happen to win in November. Here are some ways I can think of:

My daughter and her classmates will not learn sex-ed in high school, as I did. (And by the way, though this is embarrassing to admit, this knowledge did not make me go out and have teen sex, I was a band geek! So maybe if conservatives don't want teens to be sexually active, they should encourage them all to join marching band--but not color guard, they were definitely doing it...)

As a young woman she won't have any access to contraceptives because people will be in power who believe that using a contraceptive is the same as abortion.

My boyfriend will be sent back to Iraq, or to one of the other places McCain will go to war with, and my daughter and I will be left alone for 12-18 months (for one tour? several tours?) or forever.

Nothing will be done to reduce our dependence on oil, safeguard against environmental calamity, and preserve endangered wildlife. People will be tooling around in helicopters shooting at deer.

I wish I did not get so upset about politics. It's just people spouting different viewpoints, and it doesn't mean that everything they envision will come to pass. But it feels to me like the country is going to hell, we continue to be in a war that the majority of Americans do not support, and that people still don't want change, they want the Bush Regime in a new (even more ignorant and dangerous, bouffant-hairstyled) package.

But to get back to the serious points here: it will devastatingly impact me if we elect another war-hungry president and I lose my partner to war, either temporarily or permanently (by the way, has anyone seen the very moving, elegant HBO documentary, "Alive Day," that was made about returning Iraq vets who have lost arms, legs, etc.?). It will devastatingly impact me, not to mention everyone else (doesn't this country support Roe V. Wade by some kind of majority, still...?) if women's reproductive freedoms (including access to contraceptives, for Pete's sake) are eliminated. So much seems at stake. How can my own father be on the fence about who to vote for? He's a brilliant, educated person, but he is genuinely unsure, suspicious of both candidates, considering casting a vote for McCain even when McCain's inflexible policies may deprive his granddaughter of her father. I don't understand how there can be any ambiguity, for anyone who is thoughtful, sensitive, and has been paying any attention at all for the past 8 years. And yet, McCain is up in the polls.

Here is a youtube video for anyone unclear about McCain's intentions and how seriously we should take them:

Friday, September 5, 2008

Me, myself, and Amtrak

So I went to a wedding in Colorado and, predictably, cancelled my plane ticket at the last minute due to intolerable 3 A.M. anxiety about going down in a fiery inferno ("I fell into a burning ring of fire, I went down, down down..."). Which means...I took the train, and was gone for much longer. This was the first time I had been away from my 14-month-old for more than 2 days, and it was totally amazing. In fact, I think that when a child (any child) turns 1 year old, the government should issue a week-long vacation to the mother. This would be sound policy. Would probably prevent a lot of domestic murder issues as well. And I think the mother needs to go alone because a mother is never alone, ever.

The people who take trains are an interesting bunch. Some are neurotic, like me, but most just want to enjoy life at a slower pace (much slower, in some cases--i.e. if you have to wait 4 hours to let a freight train pass in remotest Utah). Dining cars feature "community seating," so as a party of one, I was always seated with a person or people I had never met and would never see again...which is kind of poetic. A group of 3 guys and I had a wonderful meal swaying high up on the second-floor of a dining car as it rushed over the flat green fields of Iowa at sunset. Or Nebraska (does it matter?). Two of the guys, a couple I think, were from Hawaii and talked about luaus at which whole pigs were roasted, which I tried hard not to think about. The third guy was an engineer from England who'd been working in California. The 4 of us stayed so long at our table in rapt conversation that we were eventually kicked out to make way for the next wave of diners. Then, there was an older woman I ate lunch with on my last train-day. I was enjoying talking her ears off (somehow the conversation had wandered to the Amish lifestyle, which I was discoursing passionately about, though I know nothing about it) when she announced quietly that she was going to retire to her seat and eat the brownies her aunt in Erie, PA baked for her. The night before, pulling out of Chicago, my sleeper-car attendant passed along an exclusive invitation (issued to only travellers in our car) to go to the cafe car for a little late-night wine and cheese event, at which an older architect, also from England, and I stared shyly at each other over our plastic cups of wine until I went back to my huge handicap-accessible room, enjoying the private bathroom/shower (to shower, you close the bathroom door and turn on the showerhead, spraying the whole room) and relatively large fold-out bed. The most beautiful scenery I experienced was due to missing one of my trains home, so instead of going to Pittsburgh/Philadelphia, I went into NYC via Albany and the Hudson Valley. For over a hundred miles, our train followed the Hudson which was visible from my big window and sometimes so close that it seemed we were floating over it, and so wide in places that it looked more like a sea, shiny with sunlight and little waves.

At the wedding I had a wonderful time, too and did not get drunk (unusual). Our Inn in middle-of-nowhere Colorado was certifiably haunted, apparently (like, paranormal investigators have captured "orbs" on film, etc.), so I had a lot of fun taking different groups of people in our party up to view the scary-ass second- and third-floor hallways. The second floor one was extremely dim, lit by a few widely-spaced chandeliers that gave out a sparse spray of light, and when you first came up the stairs there was a creepy painting of a young boy playing a lute or something, and the way his head was tilted it looked like he had been hung, but was enjoying it. On the top floor--the one that was actually supposed to be haunted by a murderous stable-guy and two children--an air-conditioning vent rattled loudly, the vents loose and gaping open and shuddering, and the lighting was unnaturally bright. Somehow this was all very entertaining after a few glasses of wine. The wedding ceremony was beautiful and emotional and made me realize I do want to get married again, though it was also terrifying because I was a bridesmaid and had to stand up there in 4-inch heels, with the first row of guests within a foot of my right boob, and I also had agreed to read a poem ("To Dorothy" by Marvin Bell) which I think I did terribly at. But luckily the bride and groom were focused on other things and hopefully will still let me appear in other weddings they may have together in the future.

I guess the moral of the story is that I really advocate taking a trip alone sometime. For me, it gave me a chance to catch up with myself and experience a range of feelings, both scary and joyful--just to see everything that is inside of me (psychically) at the moment. I found a lot of grief still there from my grandmother's death this summer and even the end of my marriage 3 years ago. It's funny how it never goes away and all the different ways it can come up. I also realized how every moment is an opportunity to just experience something new. It doesn't have to be attached to a past, my past, or to anything else--it is just an opportunity, either way. Like, waiting for 4 hours in a train station on a bench under big fluorescent lighting, and looking around (at the mostly elderly people) and realizing that I am the same as everyone else who is waiting, a body that needs to be shipped from point A to point B and is helpless to get there without modern machinery, as if there is no story or individuality attached to any of us, just a common experience.