Life as an Extreme Sport

grounded silence

Toledo, my large, grey and cream dogcat (so dubbed by my father, who is not yet convinced Toledo is actually a cat, but instead suspects he’s a dog in cat clothing), has, as one of his many personality quirks, a particular habit of helping me make the bed. Quite specifically, no matter where he is in the house, if he hears me starting to make the bed (shake out the sheets and the like), he’ll suddenly be there, in the middle of the bed.

A very large, static lump of cat, insisting he be made up into the bed itself. He seems to prefer being caught under the fitted sheet, but if he doesn’t get there in time for that, he’s satisfied just being buried by sheets and blankets. And then he’ll stay there, rumbling and purring, happy as a dogcat can be.

I was thinking about this as I laughed at him while I made my bed tonight. On this small twin bed that we’ve all been sleeping on (me, my two cats, and this last night, my sister’s cat), it’s rather hard for Toledo to stretch out next to my feet (let alone Lunar and Molly sleep at my shoulder). It’s crowded, and often gets very warm – the cats generating as much body heat as I do – but it’s worth their affection and love.

Smiling, fond amusement, thinking…thinking that in a few days this won’t be an issue any more. In a few days, they’ll have the bed to themselves as I, I journey back to Albany. As I go home, leaving not only my human family behind, but my animal family, as well.

It was a hard decision to make, leaving. I wouldn’t, if it were my choice. But the cold hard reality is, as someone with a chronic pain condition, I cannot be without insurance. And if I didn’t return to Albany, and school, I would lose my health insurance. My sister accidentally slipped this to my parents back in December, and Mom has been stressed out about it since. She doesn’t want her illness to harm any of us, and she thinks that losing my insurance would be, well, bad. And she’s probably right – I’m not a pretty sight to be around when I don’t have my pain medicine.

On top of that, she very much doesn’t want me to put my life on hold. She doesn’t want me to go through another first year hell, next year. She wants me to keep on with my education, and all the other fun and interesting things that have been happening for me – and it’s not just me. She makes Dad go out to do his consulting work, my sister is back east for a meeting she needed to attend, my brother continues his job. And I see her point, I really do. If we all dropped everything to be here and hover, day in and out, it would be like we’d all collectively drawn our breaths and were holding it, waiting anxiously for her to either get well, or die. Talk about an unhappy pressure!

I’ll be returning to Oregon every couple of weeks, so it’s not like I’ll be completely out of the loop. SUNY has the most amazingly bizarre semester schedule, which combined with my one day a week classes, will allow me to spend half my time in Oregon (flying back and forth every couple of weeks). For this reason, the cats will stay here for a while… so that I don’t have to fly them back and forth (and deal with both the headache and incredible expense), and they don’t have to be alone for long stretches. Besides, they’re good as therapy animals – both Lunar and Toledo are exceedingly lovable monsters, and all of the animals around make Mom smile.

Making Mom smile is a good thing.

That’s not just a story I tell myself, either. I do genuinely believe in the benefits of having companion animals, and it’s pretty clear, in both how she acts and what she says, that the cats are making her very happy. But belief doesn’t cushion the cold hard fact that, come Sunday evening, I will be alone.

I don’t think I’ve ever been truly alone. All my life, I’ve either had pets, siblings, or a husband – I’ve never had none of the above in my life, and my house, at the same time. If not a human, there has always been an animal around to take comfort and joy in, to hug, talk to, curl up with a good book and tea. I’ve always had my animals to offer their unconditional love and grounding; if nothing else, having them around makes certain I actually speak to another living thing in the many long days between classes.

But come Sunday, my apartment will be silent, and that is something I’m so afraid that not just my apartment, but my life, will be.