Ian photographed by Caroline this past Sunday, the day Yvette and I were traveling back from Montreal
Dear friends and readers,
I’ve had such a strong response to my blog on Memories and Lonely Pussycats (put on my older live-journal Sylvia, Harriet Walters as Harriet Vane its gravatar) that I thought I’d preface today’s poem with my ginger tabby, Ian’s remarkable behavior: as I become closer to my cats, reciprocating their affection for me more thoughtfully, I find they respond in planned and conscious behavior people who have not owned cats (and maybe some who have) probably would not attribute to a cat.
Specifically Ian likes not only to sit on things I own and he attaches to me, and carry such objects (and his string toys) about, but he retrieves, ferrets out with real persistence those he remembers. I suffer chilblains on my hands and for the past couple of years carry and wear thin woolen gloves whenever I go in and out of stores or cars where there is a sudden shift in temperature, usually to cold, but sudden heat can do it too. Ian has really taken to searching with his paw in my handbag and pulling these gloves out. They happen to be maroon-colored. At first when I’d find one or both of my gloves missing from my bag, I blamed myself: I had not put them back, I had put them in the pockets of my pants or sweaters. But then I’d find one or the other on the floor in places he characteristically lays. Then one day I found him sitting on one of them, and another with one of them half in his mouth, with his paw stuck in the wool somehow.
So I tried making sure that the zip was closed all the way on the bag, but the least relenting on my part (leaving the bag just a little open) and voila the next time or soon after that one or both gloves would be gone and I’d have to hunt for them under beds, chairs, tables. And he can leave things in places I can’t find them.
It is not easy to find thin woolen gloves. I have noticed time and again Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wears thin white gloves, sometimes lacy, sometimes knitted cotton (so she suffers chilblains and has better resources for indoor lady’s gloves than I do), but when I’ve tried to buy gloves like hers on-line I can’t find them. All that exist are super-thin work gloves for nurses or cooks. If I wear heavier gloves in summer, people really stare — people are such conformists I’ve found they will blink when I put the maroon ones on. I explain and they look uncomfortable. What am I supposed to do? suffer a hot itch-y painful rash that takes time to go away when if I put the gloves on before the temperature change gets to me I am fine? (I have on my OLLI at Mason class a couple of real dopes who are types who look perturbed at anything unexpected or unconventional utterances.)
I was resorting to using my light violet slightly heavier woolen gloves — as I’d despair and berate myself for “my tendency to lose or misplace things” — but now that I know it’s Ian who is causing these disappearances I am putting all four gloves into a drawer high in my bureau and keeping it firmly shut. I have to remember to take them out and put them in my bag when I go out, but then I have to remember to put on my watch, take a cell phone, and other things I never thought about when Jim was alive and with me.
People don’t credit cats with intuitive understanding, communicative powers with people and real identities that can be hurt. They cry when left alone for long periods; they miss their people, not just as staff but as companions they are attached lovingly to and need. Ian in effect plans and he uses his paws and teeth as tools as he works away at a belt attached to the zipper (it enables me to make the bag a shoulder bag), pulling and twisting until he can get a paw or his head into the bag and find the things he’s attracted to. I put this refusal to recognize a cat as a real presence (when people do it for dog) to the cats’ eyes not working intimately expressively in the way human beings and dogs do. They look flatly out and they sometimes avoid eye contact. They also do not answer to their names: both these “flaws” are fatal when it comes to human beings’ values. In my experience they know a few words (like “wet food”) and they certainly know my routines over the day and anticipate me in things I do. They know when I’m talking to them and come over; they know when I’m ignoring them. I try not to ignore them nowadays when my mind is free: watching PBS on TV or some movies, I play with Ian and the string toys, and Clarycat watches.
A friend sent me this display of moving and accurate depictions of cats by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938). Unfortunately, I can’t separate out any of the drawings which capture the gestures and interactions of cats better than the posed paintings, but this one of a favorite cat, Bobby, is beautiful in coloration and in its projection of yearning:
Speaking of yearning, it is part of the emotional complex of the poem I’ve chosen for Sunday. I’m back to working on my edition of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake (1791 novel) for Valancourt and was reading Smith’s poetry these past couple of days and came across this poem she wrote when a deeply beloved friend died. Smith’s tone and stance towards life so often mirrors my own that I should not have been surprized to discover that the deep love she knew came from a relationship with her friend like mine with Jim.
Verses, on the death of [Henrietta O'Neill],
written in September, 1794
Like a poor ghost the night I seek;
Its hollow winds repeat my sighs;
The cold dews mingle on my cheek
With tears that wander from mine eyes.
The thorns that still my couch molest,
Have robb’d these heavy eyes of sleep;
But tho’ deprived of tranquil rest,
I here at least am free to weep.
Twelve times the moon, that rises red
0’er yon tall wood of shadowy pine,
Has fill’d her orb, since low was laid
My Harriet! that sweet form of thine!
While each sad month, as slow it past,
Brought some new sorrow to deplore;
Some grief more poignant than the last,
But thou canst calm those griefs no more.
No more thy friendship soothes to rest
This wearied spirit tempest-tost;
The cares that weigh upon my breast
Are doubly felt since thou art lost.
Bright visions of ideal grace
That the young poet’s dreams inflame,
Were not more lovely than thy face;
Were not more perfect than thy frame.
Wit, that no sufferings could impair,
Was thine, and thine those mental powers
Of force to chase the fiends that tear
From Fancy’s hands her budding flowers.
0’er what, my angel friend, thou wert,
Dejected Memory loves to mourn;
Regretting still that tender heart,
Now withering in a distant urn!
But ere that wood of shadowy pine
Twelve times shall yon full orb behold,
This sickening heart, that bleeds for thine,
My Harriet — may like thine be cold!
Jim died a year and 9 days ago and I feel the loss of his presence more and more as time goes back. It gets harder not easier as I realize how some half-realized hope I had I could find solace or some partial replacement through work or friends or play is unreal. Much that was said to me in these grief support groups and by the individuals I’ve seen on how to feel better is not true. People are there for you at first when you are stunned; that’s it, what that’s about. What widows sometimes write in newspapers about many people then avoiding them after a time is true.
One day last week I felt how much it hurts being alive while he’s dead.
More and more cold,
more and more a desert
without you around.
More and more distant, you
who truly loved me.
I admit how angry I feel too when I think of how he was treated by the medical establishment: how his fear and mine of his death led him to take their self-interested advice for a criminal operation which made him worse (criminal because the statistics showed he had little chance of the cancer not metastasizing so the little life left to him was far more painful and wretched than it needed to be, so he was robbed of all quality of life while they made money on him and treated him with inured hardness). How he must’ve suffered so stoically.
If anyone asks me if they should have such an esophagectomy (or their pancreas cut out), I will warn them, don’t do it — as only one friend did for me. He said over and over again, don’t do it, and I tried to convey this to Jim but he would not get on the phone to listen. This friend offered a doctor outside Kaiser who would do enormous amounts of chemotherapy. All the others remained silent, at most hinted at what a bad idea this operation was.
I yearn for Jim the way Charlotte yearned for Henrietta, the way Bobby yearns for Ludwig’s love, the way my cat Ian wants to keep my gloves close to him wherever he goes.
Here is ClaryCat that same Sunday afternoon, grown used to Caroline’s visits, but clearly yearning for the secure comfort of a single constant faithful ever present loving heart.
Yvette and I went to our first HD opera this season, The Marriage of Figaro, and I thought about the thick books of scores in the house of Mozart’s operas I now own alone, how he loved these Mozart operas and what a delight it was to experience them with him there with us. He would say his favorite character was Cherubino. In the intermission James Levine was in a chair built to enable him to sit up, his hands shaking as he talked (he began to hold them firm to stop their wandering), looking like a man whose been through death, lives with it daily and nightly.