TO BE LOVED
Coming back from the grocery store, on a Sunday
morning, my husband driving, me in the passenger
seat, talking about something, I can’t remember what,
we reach the top of Harbison bridge when I see
a kitten, just six or seven weeks old, dart like a flash
of tabby out of the bushes into heavy traffic, into
the wheel of an oncoming car, bounce off, terrified,
and begin to drag its injured body toward the other
side of the bridge, while I scream for my husband
to STOP THE CAR, while I leap out, while I dodge
traffic, cars screeching to a halt to keep from hitting
me until I reach the kitten (finally!), scoop it up
in my arms, dash back to the car, jump in, cuddling
the frightened babycat to my chest, while my husband
yells: “What should we do!” and I shout: “Take me
to the Emergency Vet!” since it’s Sunday and my vet
is closed, but even though I spread a fabric grocery bag
on my lap to make a soft bed for it, and even though
I shower it with love and assurances of a long life,
the little tabby passes away before we reach the end
of the street, so we turn around and drive home,
where I hold a beautiful funeral for this sweet feral
kitten to let it know without a doubt in those last
moments and in death it was loved, it was loved,
it was loved by me, and always will be.
My big tabby cat, Chester, follows me everywhere.
Chester doesn’t meow like other cats. He chirps.
Like a bird. Only not. I sink into the plump cushions
of the sofa to decompress after a long day at work.
Chester jumps in my lap and rests his head on
my hand. “I’d like to discuss something with you,”
I say, scratching the sweet spot beneath his chin.
He chirps in response. “I saw the most interesting
thing online today,” I say. “BE NOTHING. It’s
a famous quote. But I’ve never heard it before.
What do you think it means?” Chester rolls over
to expose his stomach. Chirp, chirp. I thread
my fingers through his soft belly fur, while I roll
the idea of being nothing over and over in my mind.
Be nothing. Not something. No attachments. No
baggage. Nothing to cling to. Nothing to lose.
Detach, detach, detach. Float free. Like a loosed
balloon. Up, up. Away. Like a planet riding
the gentle waves of space. No expectations. No
pressure. Floating, floating. Away. My shoulders
relax, and all my muscles sigh with relief. “How
can this be?” I say to the cat, leaning down to kiss
the field of silk between his ears. “How can the
thought of being nothing make me feel so light
and free if I don’t know exactly what it means?”
Chester looks up at me, my cat who never
overthinks, his eyes tranquil pools of peace.
Chirp, chirp. “Oh,” I say. “I see.”
When I was eating lunch, when I wasn’t paying
attention, Honeysuckle jumped on the kitchen
counter and crawled into a plastic trash bag.
Always hungry. Always looking for treats.
Always curious. Finding nothing but an empty
spinach can, she backed out through the handles
of the bag. When she jumped from the counter
to the floor, the bag followed, one handle wrapped
around her neck, the spinach can slamming into
her back. Terrified a monster had attacked,
she galloped out of the kitchen, through
the living room, up the stairs, down the stairs,
over furniture, under furniture, faster and faster,
the spinach can smacking her back with every step,
barreling toward Chester, who fled, horrified
at the sight of the bag flying above Honeysuckle
like a punishing angel. Lover of all things
chase-able, Jeremiah joined in, chasing the bag,
as it chased Honeysuckle, as she chased Chester,
as Chester ran for his life, as the house
deteriorated into collateral damage. Finally,
the handle broke, Honeysuckle and Chester
collapsed, Jeremiah performed his happy-
dance to celebrate the thrill of the chase, and
I laughed and laughed until my jaws ached.
You have to make room for joy in your life.
WHY AM I HERE?
Here I am at PetSmart. Me and my empty cart, looking at all
the things you’ll need if you adopt a dog, because my best
friend adopted a dog. She loves that dog. She said I need a dog.
She said if I come to PetSmart, see all the cute dog products,
I’ll fall in love with the idea of adopting a dog too. Except,
I’m a cat person. I’ve always been a cat person, and that
will never change, so why am I here?
I’m still at PetSmart, wandering down one aisle after another,
looking at dog products to make my best friend happy. The
friend who wants me to adopt a dog, who forgot I grew up
with cats. I’ve always had cats. I have a cat now. I love
my cat. I need to tell my dog-loving best friend this isn’t
going to work. It isn’t. Just. Not. Working.
I don’t need to adopt a dog. I just need to leave. I am
leaving. I’m leaving this empty cart behind. And walking
out. I’m walking out of PetSmart without any dog supplies.
I’m walking out without adopting a dog. I’m a cat person.
Cats make me happy. Happy is good. I don’t need a dog.
I just need to leave. I’m a cat person. And I always will be.
There’s a corner in my hairdresser’s salon just for books.
Two bookcases full of novels. Mostly romances. Used
paperbacks from the flea market. She sells them to us
for a dollar each. Something to read while she cuts and
styles our hair. The dollars go into a coffee can on top
of one of the bookcases. Once a month she takes the
coffee can to the flea market to buy more romance
novels. It’s a strategy that works. For all of us. Next to
the bookcases is a cat tree. Also from the flea market.
Also used. This is where Oscar lounges all day, his
favorite place to nap. Oscar is a ginger cat with the most
unusual fur. It shimmers a vibrant shade of tangerine.
He’s a tangerine dream. No one knows where Oscar came
from. He just appeared at the shop one day and stayed.
That was five years ago. Now he’s the shop cat. The cat
that naps. All day. On Monday afternoon I walk through
the door of the salon, select a paperback, drop my
dollar in the coffee can, pet Oscar, and sit in an empty
swivel chair. “What can I do for you today?” my
hairdresser says. “This,” I say, pointing at what I want.
She covers my body with a big plastic apron. “Are
you sure?” she says. “Yes,” I say. “This is what I need.”
Tying the apron ribbons securely around my neck, she
pumps up the chair with her foot. “Okay,” she says,
“Let’s do it!” After my fiancé left me at the altar, after
I recovered from the resulting funk, I decided to shake
things up. That’s what today is about. That’s what
I need. Three hours later she whirls my chair around
to face the mirror. “Done,” my hairdresser says.
A masterpiece! No longer drab brown, my hair glows
like a ripe tangerine. Like a sizzling sunset. The flaming
coals on a grill. A blazing book of matches. The flare
of a candle. Now my hair is the same shimmering
shade of tangerine as Oscar’s fur. Now I’m a tangerine
dream too. Just what I wanted. Just what I need.
“It’s purrrrrrfect,” I say. She laughs.
Laura Stamps is a narrative poet. Books and chapbooks: THE YEAR OF THE CAT, IN THE GARDEN, CAT DAZE, TUNING OUT, and more. Winner of the Muses Prize. Recipient of 7 Pushcart Prize nominations. Shortlisted in the Loft Books Poetry Competition. You can find her every day on Twitter: @LauraStamps16.