Funny how sometimes you do something, and only afterwards realize that what you were actually doing was something totally different.
I know this statement probably makes no sense. But I spent this morning roaming around Lake Chabot looking for my missing kitties. Someone on the street had recently trapped the cats on our street and got rid of them. Most of them are feral, yes, but several of them have been “my” kitties for years. They have names, they come running when they see me (even if they already have food), they are quite sweet, although not trusting enough to be touched. The girls had been trapped and spayed, then returned. And I loved them, to put it simply. One of them, a calico named Halley, shows up in my dreams more than any human being I know. So when they disappeared, I was upset, and tried to find them. I’d checked the local shelters with no luck before my daughter-in-law talked to the people who had trapped the cats and they told her that they had been dropped off at Lake Chabot.
The neighbor’s intentions had not been evil. He didn’t want the cats in his yard, and he didn’t want them to be euthanized, which is what the shelter told him would happen. So he thought Lake Chabot would be a good place. And it does look like it could be. Tons of varied areas, open, sheltered, completely wild, and also areas frequented by people, including their trash. And a lake of course. The problem is that these cats are semi-domesticated, because they had been fed every single day of their lives, so do they have the hunting instincts? There are also mountain lions and coyotes in the hills, so it’s not an ideal spot. They’d be better off at home, greeting me every morning, waiting to be fed when I open my back door.
So that is why I loaded my car up this morning with kitty kibble, tuna, water, and a small dog crate, and headed for Lake Chabot. I got out in the area where the kitties had been left and began walking along the road, looking into the areas nearby, and calling Halley’s name. I know these cats know my voice, and the name Halley. No sign there, I went around the other side, then over further, calling and calling. I checked out the dock area, figuring they might be drawn to humans and food, since that is what they were used to. I stopped and waited every time I heard a twig, checked out the fluttering of the leaves, looking for the image of a cat. But I saw nothing, and the park is huge. The hike around the perimeter of the lake itself is nine miles, and there are hills towering above the lake all around, not to mention the nearby housing subdivisions. Where and how far might those cats have got in a couple of days? I began to get a feeling of discouragement. My heart sank, my limbs became heavy. I got a choking feeling in my throat, and that lump in the center of my heart.
And then I realized that this was not solely about the kitties. Almost thirty years ago, this park had been one of the focuses of the search for Michaela. There’d been a woman who had come to our house who said she’d had a dream that Michaela had been left by her kidnapper in the hills above Lake Chabot, that she was injured and couldn’t move. The police don’t hop to when someone reports a dream to them, but we did. Volunteer searchers got together and headed out to those hills at Lake Chabot, and guess what they did. They walked, up and down and around and around, looking for Michaela, and calling her name, pretty much like I had been doing. They searched until dark, Michaela’s dad using a bullhorn. By the time they got home, he had lost his voice.
Some might disagree, but I don’t think there is a real comparison between a child who has been kidnapped, and a feral cat that has been relocated. But it was a loss that I felt, that brought tears to my eyes. It was something that I felt all the more deeply because it triggered the deep deep feeling of loss that is always a part of me. And more. Hopelessness, the sense that the world is sooooo large, how could you possibly find one small living thing in its vastness? Then I thought about what one of my friends had said, that animals have a way of finding their way home, and maybe my kitties would show up at my door. The thought passed through my head that maybe that was the reason I couldn’t find the kitties at the lake, because they were already making their way home. Then I remembered those days and nights I had spent standing in my front doorway, gazing down the street, straining to see Michaela’s little blonde head bobbing towards home, and I counted the days, the years, the decades, that I had spent waiting for her to no avail.
Nor is it just the cats that have been casting shadows in my life recently. I have a very dear friend who has cancer, which could well be terminal in the near or far future. Over this past weekend, I attended a memorial service for the son, brother and uncle of friends of mine, whose life had been cut short when he was murdered in San Francisco. I got news that one facebook friend I have known forever (and who set up the first Facebook group for Michaela for me) has entered hospice to stay. I learned that another Facebook friend, someone else who volunteered to help with Michaela’s case, passed away completely unexpectedly last week. On Sunday one of my daughter’s friend’s husbands was killed in a motorcycle accident.
What is this all about? It’s felt like an avalanche, like the universe is calling to my attention the existence of rocks by dropping a boat load of them on my head. After the last 30 years, after losing my daughter, my mother, having cancer, facing my own mortality, even kids growing up and going away, all the things that happen in all of our lives, I have some pretty good defenses built up. “Distract and deny,” I told my friend. I try to keep my mind busy, don’t let it wander. Read, check facebook while standing in line, and best of all, get caught up in a series on Netflix. When doing physical things, it’s best to keep the mind occupied also, by listening to a book or a podcast or some such thing. This works, actually. It might be good for a stopgap on the way to healing. But it’s not a healthy way to live. It bypasses not just the pain, but the things we are meant to learn from the pain. Live that way long enough and your life becomes a kind of a shell that has been vacated by its occupant.
Sometimes, maybe, we need to be reminded. We need to relive in another way those things that we have armored ourselves against.
In other news, I got my driver’s license back, and thank God! I have been out and about and I have not been enjoying the Bay Area 24/7 traffic jam, but I am blessed to have the freedom to go wherever, whenever. The only question is where? When?
I have my (fingers crossed) final surgery scheduled for October 31st. This is a big thing, because it is the Last Thing. I am cancer free. Now they are wrapping up the repair, and my oncologist has even given his permission to remove my chemo port! Still, after a disruptive battle with cancer, you just are not the same afterwards. The question is, who are you going to be? What will you do with your life once this is over? You have to ask whether or not you were on the path to fulfilling your life purpose. That means trying to figure out what that purpose is. I read a verse that said, “I don’t want to die a caterpillar.” Once you have confronted the real possibility of death, you have to start figuring out how to spin that cocoon or resign yourself to crawling on the ground for the remainder of your existence and into the next. Much has changed over the almost two years I have been walking this cancer journey. In some ways I am stronger, and in some ways I am wiser, or at least I know a few things I didn’t before. But in some ways I am weaker: in the muscle strength my body has shed, in the innocent assumption of immortality, and in cognition. Sometimes I kind of look around, and I have no idea where I am. I have traveled that street dozens of times, but suddenly it looks completely different. I might be in the middle of a sentence and completely forget not only the end of the sentence, but even the part that was just spoken. Chemo brain is a thing. When I was little and people forgot what they were saying, my mother would always say, “Oh, well then, it must not have been very important.” But I am positive that every one of these lost thought trails is the one that is destined to save the world. Or at least me.
And finally, I have an appointment on Sunday to meet with someone from the church that has volunteered to host Michaela’s anniversary. There is so much I need to do for this. It is creeping up so quickly. But all I really want to do is go to bed and pull the covers over my head until at least Thanksgiving. If it wasn’t 30 years, I might just do that, but this time I can’t, so I will post details for the anniversary when I have them.
Sorry I have been absent so long. One day perhaps I will be able to tell the whole story of my life. Until then, though, there are times silence is the only refuge. Thanks to all of you who continue to visit and wait for me. I really appreciate you.
Remember, you are loved.