Thursday, July 30, 2009

She only weighed thirteen pounds at her heaviest, but she was the queen of the house, climbing over our bodies when we were trying to sleep in, sitting on the head seat at the kitchen table (and jumping back the minute she was moved,) yowling when she woke in the middle of the night, and purring like an outboard motor on steroids when she was in her favorite place in the universe, Christopher's lap.

Their relationship was wordless and complete. First thing every morning, he'd take care of her needs. She had the cleanest litter box any cat ever knew. Her water bowl and food dish were always full. He understood her panoply of expressions, from butting her forehead up against a hand or cheek ("Stroke me! Not like that, like this! Harder!) to sitting near her food dish with a pained expression ("It's been a half an hour since you last checked to see if this was full. What gives here?") The last thing he did at night was fill her bowl again, change her water, check her box.

She had a coquettish ladylike way of crossing her front paws which belied her strong willed nature. She was unsquelchably curious and bore no grudges. If you picked her off the kitchen table a thousand times, she would climb back on a thousand and one. Though she lived to be a very old lady in cat years, she retained the personality of a kitten to her last day.

She was Christopher's spiritual teacher, and she became mine as well. She taught unconditional acceptance and love and was unshakable on this point: Be yourself. Even when you're being annoying. She enjoyed the best spot in the middle of the couch, or sometimes laid in front of the refrigerator at dinnertime, just when preparations were busiest. She was a night owl who kept Mick Jagger-esque hours, and would yowl at our door in the middle of the night if she awakened with a bad dream.

She lived with Christopher for almost all of her nineteen years, moving with him from apartment to loft space to our house, vetting his girlfriends and climbing on his head when he was preoccupied. She liked me fine, but she was a Daddy's girl to the core. In my lap she purred placidly; in his lap her purr deepened into the sound of orgasmic contentedness.

For the last couple of weeks she'd been getting weaker and stiffer, but she was still interested in trying to get to whatever was on our plates; she was still jumping on the furniture, although more awkwardly and slowly. Then a few days ago, she really began to fail. She was too weak to eat, she fell over when she tried to stand, and her paws curled inward in strange positions--from anemia, the vet said, brought on by kidney failure.

Our vet, Dr. McKinney, makes house calls. In that way he reminds me of our rabbi, who also sat with us in our living room in the months and weeks leading up to our wedding. Both men were there to help us through big initiations.

We'd called Dr. McKinney before several times; a year ago he'd given Dede four months to live. She'd outlasted his prediction by eight months. We had gone through dress rehearsals for this, but there's no way to prepare. When the moment came for her actual death, I felt a huge blackness. She was such a physical presence in our home--always there.

Dr. McKinney was quick and gentle--she didn't suffer. Afterwards he nodded at the plate on which I'd put three cookies in an automatic gesture of hospitality. He took one and Christopher took one. I didn't want a cookie. "Communion," Dr. M said, and I took and ate.

We cried a lot after he left, and we brushed her amazingly soft dark fur and Christopher clipped her toenails one last time. She didn't seem dead, she was still soft and warm and I thought that the thing I liked best about her was her weight--she was such a warm, comforting little bundle. I realized I would miss her more than I had thought.

He wrapped her in a t-shirt his mother had mended for him in the week before she died. I had never seen it before. It was just an ordinary t-shirt, frayed at the neck. She had taken care to fix the breast pocket just so. This little detail told me more about the woman I never met than anything else. I saw where Christopher gets his attention to detail, to small simple things, to love.

He dug Dede's hole deep, so raccoons and possum couldn't get at it. Even though we're in the middle of the city, I felt the presence of the wild kingdom all around us as we buried her. A crow flapped overhead and cawed once. And the feral cat who showed up about a month ago, who had her kittens in a nest against our back wall and whom Christopher has been feeding faithfully--the Cat We Are Not Adopting, whom he has named Uomie (pronounced "You owe me"--skulked behind the shed where she moved her kitties after an overenthusiastic visit from our kitten-loving five-year-old niece Lucy.

We buried her, and I said Kaddish, which made us cry more, and we put some flowers on her grave and got some wine, and poured her out a little libation and then we drank a toast to her. And now it is two days later. the first day we were awakened by a call from Lucy, who asked me "Is Christopher sad?"

"Yes," I said. "He's sad but he's also okay."

"Is he sad because Dede died?"


"And Mimi died too." (Mimi is the kids' name for my mother, who died eight years ago.)


"That was before I was even in Mommy's belly, when I was just a twinkle in the sky."

"That's right."

Then we went through a litany of all the people and animals who had died before she was born--her great-grandparents, and Christopher's parents, and several family pets, and on and on.

"A lot of people died when I was just a twinkle in the sky," she concluded.

(I recounted this conversation to Carla later and she said, "Yeah, being the youngest frees you from the delusion that it all started with you." It's true. When you're the oldest child it's just the opposite--you transformed two inexperienced kids into parents, you are Adam naming the animals, you, you, you are the alpha and the omega.)

We are two days into our new cat-less lives. The house is quieter. We let ourselves laugh, or dance or cry as the spirit moves.

I know she's dead, I watched it all happen, and yet it still seems to me that she is just in the next room. Christopher isn't sure what to do with her litter box. I told him to just put it in the basement--out of sight, but not thrown away. have a feeling another feline is in our future--if not Uomie, who has been feral too long for house-living, then maybe one of her kittens, if we can catch them. Or some other animal will find us. But they won't be Dede.

I reflect on her graciousness in picking the exactly right moment to die--two weeks after the wedding, so as not to disturb the celebration, a month before school starts again, so as to give Christopher time and space to grieve. Their connection was deep beyond words. I have faith that somehow, some way, they will meet each other again.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

(The picture above was taken by my cousin Jessica)

It's official. C has become Jewish without benefit of Hebrew lessons, synagogue attendance, or ritual circumcision. Last night I was complaining about how he always turns the refrigerator settings too cold--there is a layer of Perma-frost over all our vegetables. I get frostbite just peeling a cucumber, I kvetched.

He looked me dead in the eye and said, "That should be your worst problem." He was channeling my mother, who always used to say that to us whenever we complained about some petty little thing. I howled. I've heard you always marry your mother, but how did I turn a nice, polite, mild-mannered Midwestern Protestant into a Brooklyn Jew?

We have eaten the leftover wedding cake, all ten pounds of it which are now on my hips, we have opened our gifts, and written our thank yous (but not sent them yet,) and been goofy and sentimental when we see the other person wearing their ring. It feels very right and comfortable to be married. No huge changes, except that the wedding seems to have released C's inner dancing demon. He danced up a storm at our recetion and hasn't stopped since. I'm hoping this means many more years of dancing together--and separately too, sometimes.

Now it's a week and a half after the wedding and we're in our new/old life. Planning, writing, making lists, teaching classes, shopping, cooking, swimming at the gym (to try and deal with all that cake!) and all the rest of it. This week--until Sunday--is supposed to be a particularly intense "portal" according to a Mayan astrology listserve I am on. Something to do with the eclipse the other day.

I have too many writing projects on my list: essays to revise, plays to write. I'm itching to get back to working on a play I started two years ago, about military recruitment, but keep feeling like I have to do more research first. To that end I'm planning on seeing The Hurt Locker, even though I know it's going to be intense and scary, and I also9 ordered a DVD called The Recruiter, a documentary.

And of course I write an essay about the wedding--if people aren't ready to throw up at all this goo-goo ga-ga stuff as my Little Sister puts it. (Being seven, she is particularly opposed to kissing.) It's sort of like all the new-mother blogs that have proliferated all over the web now, sprouting up like toadstools after a soaking rain: on the one hand, children have been born and gotten raised for lo these many millenia, without having to talk about it so much, and by the same token, people have been falling in love and getting married, even fifty-year-old oversensitive underemployed poets, but this happened to me, someone who was pretty sure it would never happen for her again, and so this is what I have to write about. Just fat, happy, boring life, eating cake and watering rosebushes, arguing about the temperature of the frdge, and trying to figure out who gave us the three beautiful mix CDs for wedding presents. We love them, but your name or card got detached from the CDs, so please let us know who you are so we can thank you properly.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Favorite moments (in no particular order) from the wedding weekend. There are many:

Taking Dad's arm right before we were to walk down the aisle. He murmured, "Sweetie you're beautiful," and his eyes filled with tears. He grabbed my hand and kissed it. The first time I got married, I didn't ask either of my parents to walk me down the aisle. I was a feminist and no one was going to give me away. Twenty-two years later, I am still a feminist, but happy and proud to make the walk arm in arm with him.

C playing the processional music for my Dad and stepmother on Thursday night before the wedding when they came over for dinner, along with my sister Emily and her two youngest, Eli and Lucy. Their faces when they heard the song, joyous and reverent.

Telling Eli, age 9, to go pick some ripe figs from the tree outside for Papa.

Lucy, age five, making silly fake glasses for herself out of the pipe cleaners I had put in the goody bags for the flower girls (thank you Carla for giving me the idea to go to Long's Drugs and buy a bunch of activity items to keep young children entertained during a ceremony: crayons, paper, pipe cleaners, stickers, blow-bubbles, etc.)

C and his brothers, three midwestern Protestants, who didn't know from chuppahs having a conference in the backyard about how best to put the thing together, carry it, mount it, etc. Putting their own practical craftsmanship on it.

C sitting with his brothers at the dining room table reminiscing about some of the houses they had lived in--their dad was in the Army, they moved around a fair amount. Jon's face all lit up.

Asking my new brother-in-law Heston to pick me a bouquet to carry down the aisle and expecting a modest little nosegay--he picked an extravagant huge bunch of orange and pink and peach and coral roses.

Flower girl Lucy arriving at the synagogue and announcing she wasn't going to do it. (Actually, this was not my favorite moment, but then she turned it around, nd I love her spirit.)

Seeing my other little niece holding hands with my Little Sister.

Sitting on the closed toilet lid while Nadya, the "beautification lady" curled my hair with a curling iron and pinned it up, and did my make-up, and Angela, looking delicious in a red dress and gold sandals and a gold clutch, took pictures.

Angela, Angela, Angela. Both of C's brothers fell in love with her as everyone always does. The night before the wedding after a massive Chinese banquet, sitting around the kitchen table with her, C, and his brothers, drinking wine and eating chocolate, and she told the joke, "Why don't Southern women go to orgies?" "Too many thank-you notes." (She is Southern.)

Walking down the aisle in my fancy silver-gold shoes from Target and being so overwhelmed I completely forgot to circle C until he reminded me in a whisper. (I was the one who insisted on the circling thing and told him a million times I was going to do it, until I forgot.) I was going to circle him 7 times, as per ritual, but I realized midway through the third or fourth round that I was never going to make it in those shoes, which were stuffed with orthotics, so I stopped.

Carla in the front row: her face.

The faces of everyone in the synagogue and how they rose as I walked down the aisle (I wasn't expecting that,) beaming so much love it brought tears to my eyes. I thought how can I ever take this all in?

Our sweet rabbi. He had asked C and I to prepare words of love for each other and keep them secret, so that when we read them to each other at the ceremony it would be for the first time. C read "You write poems for me and I feel like all I can do for you is keep your floors clean and your windows opening and closing." (He has rehung almost all my old windows.) Rabbi David murmured "That's no small thing."

Looking at the front row to the left and seeing all five flower girls sitting together, passing my bouquet up and down, taking turns holding it.

The kids, the kids, the kids. In many ways, we designed this wedding around the children. There were so many of them, and I wanted it to be fun for them. At the reception afterwards, they grabbed my hands and C's hands, demanded that we dance with them, climbed into our laps, found their way into every photo. They assumed ownership over the beautiful afternoon and I ceded it to them happily. They are love, they are the future, and I remembered from my own childhood how good it felt when all the aunts and uncles and grandparents and everyone got together, how secure I felt, knowing there were many laps to hold me, many hands to steady me or open a juice bottle, cut a piece of cake, stroke my back when I got tired. I know it is a fantasy about extended family and tribe and village; I know the reality is that when we are together for too long the cracks start to show, and there are cracks, every family has them, but I can't help feeling like this is how it's supposed to be, a village.

A lot of the marrying that took place on Sunday was between C and my family (and in another subtler way, perhaps between me and his brothers.) The marriage between C and I is already there, it's intimate, it's been in process for a while. Planning the wedding and carrying it off has quickened and deepened that process; the truth is we will be marrying each other for years and years to come, please God. My Dad said at the toasts that the more he gets to know C the more he loves them, and that alone was worth all the work and money and stress of putting the wedding together.

The beautiful tables, decorated so simply and elegantly by Beth and Leo with a single orchi8d as the centerpiece. They did that completely free of my input and at the last minute--Leo called me just two days before the wedding asking, "What can I do?" and I asked, "Could you dress up the space a little?" He went down to the synagogue on his own initiative and then went to town with Beth. We just walked down and saw everything laid out and perfect.

C wearing the tallis and yarmulke I gave him the first Chanukah we were together along with a homemade card that said "Welcome to my tribe."

My Little Sister, with her beautiful soft black curly hair, holding me by the hand and asking me to introduce her to my nieces and my cousin's kids. I asked if she would go with my cousin Lizzie and she could sense how good Liz is with kids, how kind and creative and she took her hand. Later, the five flower girls played together as if they had known each other for years.

C dancing with me in public, and having fun. At the end I whispered "Dip me," and he did. Then he danced with my stepmother, with various friends, with flower girls, and with me again. I think he danced even more than I did.

There's more and more and more, but this is a good starter list. Here are a couple of photos two taken by Edith and some others by Angela. Unfortunately, we have yet to get a good full-frontal of C, man of mystery, because he was always in motion.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

A commentator was kind enough to write in and point out that the link I had included in my last post directing people to Leave Them Laughing, the documentary about Carla, no longer works, and that this is the correct link:

Please check it out. It's an extraordinary documentary, and the promo is a good chunk of material that really gives you a sense of the whole movie and a sense of Carla.

Meanwhile, back here we're in a wrestling match with the house and garden, trying to get everything ready for family who will be arriving--gulp!--Thursday. In that spirit we did a major dump run on Thursday and Friday, renting a moving truck and collecting all the old dead sofas that were moldering away in the patio, ditto old chairs, crappy falling-apart dressers and ancient TVs left behind by former housemate-tenants who shall remain nameless, and old lumber and bricks and cardboard boxes from the in-law remodel that ended this April (was it only April? It feels like so much longer.)

So we rented this van and then we schlepped everything into it using a hand-truck and a little red wagon and a wooden dolly that C had constructed himself, and it took a long time and made my back and feet hurt, but C was indefatigable and finally everything was loaded. Then we drove it all to the dump and stood at the lip of the truck and heaved all that shit onto the great stinking American trash-heap.

As I was moving old boards in the backyard, I uncovered a nest...of kittens. The black and white feral cat who jumps our back fence and hangs around scavenging from the compost pile, and maybe catching mice and birds, had given birth to her babies in the shadowing shelter of those boards. I startled her when I moved them; she sprang away and glared at me as I peeped at her babies. C even picked one up--their eyes weren't even open yet--and she hissed at him and bared her teeth. if looks could kill, he'd be six feet under right now.

He put the kitty back and we brought out a little saucer of half and half and then contributed some food from Dede's stash. Later, he went out and bought a special formula for nursing mothers, and he's fed them about four times or five times a day since then.

"We're not going to adopt them," he assured me.

"Uh-huh," I said.

He's the cat person in the relationship. I like cats okay and Dede and I get along fine, but she's daddy's girl and he is her total love slave. She climbs up his chest and licks his nose; when he hasn't shaved for a day or two she rubs against his chin and exfoliates herself.

I had my Little Sister on Saturday and told her the story of the kitties and of course she was entranced and wanted to see them. We stood at a respectful distance while the mama cat regarded us warily. I asked my Little Sister if she wanted to name them. At first she called the mother cat Blackie, then she changed it to Mommy. Then she called it the name of her granny and the two black kittens she named after her real big sister and me. The black and white kitty she gave her own name.

Myself, I'd like to name the kitties after the Three Sisters in the Chekhov play: Olga, and Masha, and Irina. But what about the mother? She's black and white and reminds me of one of those cookies with chocolate and white icing, so I guess I would call her Cookie. But she's wild, so that would be Wild Cookie.

There's still a thousand things to do to get ready, but we do something every day: buy presents for the ring-bearers, weed the garden, vacuum. C designed and sewed the chuppah using fabric I brought back from malawi mingled with some material he used to make curtains. My dad woke us up this morning, asking what was the weather like, what clothes should he bring? I told him it could be anything from 50 degrees to 90 degrees, bring everything. He's as excited as a young boy about this wedding.