Today I feel sad and nostalgic but I’m not sure where it’s coming from. There was a rather intense full moon last night, maybe that was the trigger. Then this morning I read fellow blogger John Farr’s ode to his previous cat and realized that I’d never properly honored my life with Joe and Missy. It was a private thing. But it also framed a time of my most important rights of passage in the sense that new beginnings are usually heralded with a loss, or at least that’s how I’ve experienced them. My cats Joe and Missy represent a life lived within my larger life, one that is gone now but set the stage for what my life is becoming. They were the constant in a period of profound changes. Now and then I see something move from the corner of my eye across the left side of our living room, almost transparent, but movement nevertheless. Joe loved to lay in an intimate corner made by the TV stand and rocking chair. I haven’t seen Missy, but then she was less attached to me than to her brother. But perhaps they now move across the edge of my vision as one entity.
Joe and Missy came into my life 22 years ago last September. My ex-husband and I had recently moved into a place I considered perfect (still do) although it turned out to be a short stay. I was happy there. It had three bedrooms, two baths, walk-in closets and a covered porch yawning onto an intimate Japanese style garden surrounded by a high wooden fence. It was only a few blocks from where I worked at the renowned Tattered Cover Bookstore which is still famous in the book world. There were coffee shops, galleries, a well stocked health food store, quaint cafes and a video store all within a few blocks. We could easily walk to everything we needed, plus the few remaining farm houses and pre-40’s bungalows added an intimate small town ambiance. The neighborhood was further enhanced by great old trees joined at their tops to make an arch over the narrow streets. It had been a semi-rural community when I was a child, then a Bohemian like art community and now was in transition toward Yuppyhood. One felt perfectly safe walking all over the neighborhood after dark, and since I worked until 10 pm that was important.
According to the lease agreement we were’nt allowed to have pets but my husband who was rapidly advancing toward another manic episode, (these occurred with increasing intensity each time with a regular rhythm of 6 months on and 6 months off with a few months of transition time in between) obstinately refused to be daunted by lease agreements and insisted that we had to have this cute black kitten born to our neighbors across the street. It was their cat’s first litter and there were just two babies; a long haired black female and a short-hair male tabby. When I saw them I immediately figured out who their fathers were having seen two suspicious culprits around the neighborhood. Eventually he wore me down and I reluctantly went with him to see these kittens. We ended up bringing both home. My ex wanted the black one but I said, “ if we ever get a cat it will be two so that they would have company when we were out of town.” And I said to myself, “we won’t be in anymore trouble with two than one, lets take them both.” He said, “but the other one’s just a plain tabby,”and I said, “I like tabbies.”
The next day we brought them across the street in a shoe box. I remember that the tabby was terrified and it took awhile to calm him down. The black one seemed more curious. We named them Joe Tiger (the tabby) and Bat Girl (the black one) because her ears were batlike when she was a kitten but before long they became just Joe and Missy.
|Missy and Joe on the Sofa|
The kittens ran up and down the hall every morning, attacked us from every dark corner and doorway, slept in the flower pots and buried potential prey under the carpet, things like wrist watches and Christmas ornaments. One day I captured Joe in a corner and our eyes locked. I have never experienced this before with any animal and with only one human when I say that we looked at each other with mutual recognition and even though I wasn’t sure about reincarnation in animals I was nevertheless sure that we knew each other to the core. He and I would always have a singular and powerful bond.
I forgot to mention that just after moving into this apartment, and a month before the kittens, we had visited Taos and Santa Fe for the first time. For many years I’d yearned to see Northern New Mexico and especially Taos, but had been too poor to travel. It was an unexplainable yearning, as if my ancestors had been exiled from the promised land and I wouldn’t be truly myself until I touched the holy soil. This is a ridiculously common story in Taos and generally underwhelms seasoned Taosenos, but nevertheless its real.
THINGS FALL APART
Since my then husband was crossing over the border of another psychotic adventure, I felt some unease about the trip but it was our first chance to get away in several years and off we went. The trip was a complex experience full to the brim with synchronistic encounters, instant infatuation with the place and terror about what would become of us as my husband’s mental state worsened and his ability to deal with people and everyday reality plummeted. Shortly after we returned home his demons took over and life became a living hell. Eventually with my mother as witness, I had to sneak off to a judges office and get a court order to have him taken in via police custody for evaluation and treatment after neighbors, landlord and co-workers told me they were terrified of him and what he might do next. I remember a three week period during which I didn’t sleep a single night because of the unpredictable 24 hours a day raucousness in our house. He swept frantically through encounters with cab drivers, restaurant owners, old and new friends, insisting to everyone that he was king David returned to save the world and other boundless extravagant claims until the time came that he could no longer put a sentence together to tell anyone anything. Word salad they call it in the psych books (tossed salad, no doubt). I walked to work every morning wondering how I kept on going without sleep while immersed up to my eyebrows with a full tilt boogie, unpredictable, high volume, blinding speed mania.
For awhile I had to leave the house because I wasn’t supposed to go near my husband due to the legal actions I’d innitiated. Although worried about leaving the kittens in such chaos I knew he wouldn’t intentionally harm them. When I was able to return they acted somewhat confused but recovered quickly and when they were a year old my parents who were helping us survive the financial disaster a severe manic eppisode creates, felt that we were paying too much rent and should own a home. Under their patronage I found a cute bungalo in a neighborhood I liked and my folks co-signed for it. It was a bit of a fix-er-upper but nothing serious. By then things had calmed down considerably and we were living in the same house again. Nevertheless, I cried all night when I received the news that our offer on the new house had been accepted. I now remember the little house fondly and I certainly put a lot of work into fixing it up but I never felt settled in, and was antsy and out of kilter all the time that we lived there. It was a trap to keep me from my life path.
THE PROMISED LAND
Around this time the bookstore started giving long term employees a paid one week vacation and of course I was off to New Mexico as soon as possible. We also made many three day weekend trips. On one such trip we had few funds but were lucky enough to get motel rooms that had something wrong with them, i.e., the air conditioning didn’t work or the TV was fried, cheap. I still remember it as the broken motel trip. Somehow there was always a way to go to New Mexico and especially Taos. The cats stayed with my parents when we left town. Then something strange happened. I suddenly became interested in the Native American world. A long dormant issue burst through a wall of lifelong ignorance and denial, breaking down layers of protective unconsciousness.
This wasn’t a real surprise to anyone except me. For years people had asked me if I was Native American or Native Hawaiian, but then they sometimes thought I was Italian or Spanish, as well. Of course I just attributed it to my long dark hair. At first when we went to New Mexico my interest was more in the Moorish/Spanish influence and history, the Native American part hadn't yet caught me. I was also totally uninterested in the artistic history of Taos even though art had been on and off a part of my life since I was five years old. I’ve since learned to look for those issues that people deny or neglect for a clue to their essence.
Synchronicticly we had arrived at the quincentenial year, 1992. It took awhile before this reality soaked through my unawareness. Now when we visited New Mexico I had an entirely different focus. I began reading everything I could about indigenous people not only from the Americas but around the world. I was also submerged in unexplainable grief that entire year. Although used to being depressed or sad, this was different. It was not personal and I couldn’t understand it. Suddenly I noticed Native People everywhere I looked; waiting at a bus stop, working on a construction project, moving next door to my parents, coming to our yard sale, in the book store and even among my fellow workers. I read up on AIM, native history in this country, and the horrendous history of all European encounters with the indigenous residents in places of their conquest.
My ex-husband had been bringing assorted “medicine men” and exploitative “apples” (red on the outside, white on the inside) purporting to be spiritual leaders and teachers into our life for several years and I wanted nothing to do with them. Now I recognized that there was a hidden theme. My ex-husband, though seriously damaged emotionally was specially attuned to my spiritual path (probably in self defense) and often intuited what was coming next in my life. I will always credit him with a genius for inspired accidents. I remember going to our first powwow. I stood near to a “drum” and the vibration song and drumbeat surged through my body with awesome power and I was haunted by this experience for years.
THE INSPIRED ACCIDENT
One spring he called in a reservation to our favorite Taos motel. It was inexpensive and walking distance to everything in town. The next morning the owner of the Adobe Inn called. She thought my husband may have called her Inn by mistake the evening before, since she had no reservation for us. They were listed close together in the phone book. He must have made a glitch. I assured her it was a mistake. But after talking to her for at least half and hour I agreed that we would love to meet her and also her dear friends a Medicine Man from Taos Pueblo and his wife.
We arrived in early afternoon and decided to stop by the Adobe Inn to meet owner Diane before checking in at the Adobe Wall. We never made it to the Adobe Wall. After talking to Diane until well after midnight she offered us her bedroom and she slept on the couch. The next day we met Joe J. and Frances her Taos Pueblo friends. Except for their oldest Son, Blue Spruce Standing Deer (Pba-Quen-nee-e) who was living in California, and after several more visits that summer, we’d met the entire family.
At the end of the summer I decided I had to move to Taos. My husband liked our Denver house and neighborhood but agreed that our life was in suspended animation. We decided to sell the house. I think in retrospect that he didn’t have an agenda of his own and just followed my direction. The house sold even before it was officially listed. We’d planned to list it in the fall because our real estate agent told us it might take until spring, and that was the most likely time for a sale. Hopefully, that would give us time to plan our move and find a place in Taos. But I thought to myself, “unless God wants us there sooner.”
MOVING TO THE PROMISED LAND
The house sold before it was listed and we had three weeks to find a new place and plan the move. And the move was frantic. I shut the cats in the bathroom until the movers were through taking our house apart. Everything was loaded by 2 pm except our personal items and the cats. It was mid-November and the ground was covered in ten inches of snow. After the moving truck left we put our suitcases in the car and spent the night at my parent’s home. The next morning we came back for the cats and their accessories. They were on their pillows in the basement. Joe desperately hung onto his pillow with the claws of all four feet, Missy came easier but complained verbally. I felt sad taking them out of a home that was so good to them. It was a sweet house but it was in the wrong state for the direction my soul was headed.
All the way to Taos we drove through blizzard conditions. We are each driving a car but I have both cat’s in their carriers. After a challenging trip over La Veda pass in a worsening blizzard we stop briefly in Fort Garland to let the cats out of their cages to use the litter box and have water. Then on to Taos. We arrive in the dark about 7pm and our new Land Lady has hot chocolate and our keys ready. The new house is next to hers. We put the cats and their accessories in the house and head to the Adobe Inn. The next morning after meeting with our moving truck driver we go to the house. I can’t find the cats anywhere which seems strange in a totally empty house. I spend several minutes looking in closets and behind appliances. Finally I find Missy under a raised shelf in a closet. But I can’t find Joe anywhere. Then I stop, tell myself not to panic but to think like a cat. Going straight to the kitchen I automatically open the cabinet door beneath the sink. There he is huddled in a corner and almost invisible. The cabinet door was not that easily opened. I ‘m impressed!
TAOS AS TRICKSTER
Again I put the cats in the bathroom while the mover unloads our things. However, I need to regress and explain that when we decided to move to Taos our lives changed so rapidly in that direction that our heads were still spinning. When we arrived in Taos, its famous trickster energy immediately overtook us. The driver of the moving truck, a Texan named Bo, had to rent a shuttle vehicle because the old bridges on Upper Ranchitos were too frail for an 18 wheeler. In the meantime he left his big truck at Hinds and Hinds Storage where we’d rented a space for items that didn’t fit in the new casita. After everything was unloaded at around 3:00 PM, Bo presented us with the bill and I started to write a check. Since I’d never before hired a mover I didn’t know that they don’t accept checks. Of course I didn't have the cash. Bo said he would have to load everything back on the truck and take it to Santa Fe until I got the cash or money order. We were working on a narrow slice of time because his big truck was at the storage place and would be locked up at 5:00 pm. I immediately decided to find a way that I could my bank to wire the money. We checked several possibilities but it turned out that the weather was so bad that our bank in Denver had closed early. I went back to the house and begged the mover to wait while I tried one more option. We went to a local bank and asked if they could find a way to get the money another way. Finally after dead ending with several ideas I called mom and she called her Credit Union. Fortunately they were not yet closed and managed to transfer some money to an account that we opened on the spot. We got in just under the wire and Bo was able to retrieve his big truck.
Our first meal in the new Casita was Thanksgiving. I still remember that shopping for the Turkey gave me a feeling of putting down roots. We were really living in Taos! The living room was still piled with boxes but I’d cleared the kitchen for action. All was well except for one memorable mistake. I couldn’t find my spices and tried to substitute sagebrush leaves for sage in the dressing. Not the same thing! The results were terrible. I ended up throwing it away. But the turkey pasole and atole cornbread I made with the leftovers were splendid.
|The little Casita on Upper Ranchitos|
Our marriage was rapidly becoming unworkable in Denver and although we enjoyed walks, trips of discovery in this new adventure, a practical foundation just wasn’t there. This new life I was discovering was a serious challenge to my husband's desired status in my life. He resented that he wasn’t able to follow me into this new phase. Although there were many fondly shared memories plus the strange bond that comes from living through several disasters together, it was no longer a true marriage, and it wasn’t possible to integrate this relationship into what my life was becoming. I felt that I was walking with heavy chains on my ankles and yet felt an enormous sadness for what we’d once hoped for that could never be.
I’d begun working in a local bookstore, a job he proudly engineered for me, but I soon discovered that my bookstore days were over. On one day off I stopped at Diane’s house to see off my new friends Joe J. and Frances who were going to visit their daughter in South Dakota. Their son Pba-Quen-nee-e (Standing Deer) was also there. From the moment we’d first seen each other a few weeks earlier there was the most powerful sense of knowing and attraction that I've ever experienced. But at the time I considered my life much too dull and set in defeat and frustration to be of any interest to someone who seemed to get whomever and whatever he wanted. Beside that my dear friend Diane loved him and I thought they would someday be partners. I would later learn that he felt the same about me.
We both had a free afternoon and as we left Diane’s house PQ proposed that we get a cup of coffee. But before we got to the coffee shop we agreed it would be a good day to drive to Santa Fe. I will always remember the date. It was the 23rd of June, 1993. I called to tell my husband I’d be late but couldn’t get through. My husband’s whereabouts and schedule were erratic (is that an oxymoron?) and I decided to call again when we got to Santa Fe. To shorten the story, I will say that this little excursion became the turning point in my life. Nothing was ever the same from that point in time. When we got back to Taos, everyone we knew was aware that we had been in Santa Fe together and had already taken sides. I discovered that in Taos karma is instant. This created such tumult in our social group that I could never again live a compromised life hidden in the shadows. I who was used to being invisible was catapulted onto a very lonely stage under a glaring spotlight. Because of the turmoil and my husband’s constant interruptions, I lost my job. It was the first time I’d been fired. I remember thinking, “it serves you right for trying to live your old life in this new place.” A choice was demanded. My husband went into another manic episode and chaos reigned on uninhibited until I decided to move out. Joe and Missy lived with him until our divorce was final. My now ex-husband moved back to Denver and the cats and I lived in the casita for the next 12 years. This would be the womb then nursery for my difficult rebirth.
The three of us lived in the little house on Upper Ranchitos until we moved into our new Habitat for Humanity home in 2006. I don’t know how I managed it, but somehow during this time, I trained both cats to stay close to the house. I suspect that they intuited my concern and resolve to keep them safe. If I sensed that one or the other was thinking of venturing beyond my sight I called to them. But each had his/her close call before they believed me. For this reason they outlived all the other cats in a neighborhood where dogs ran loose and coyotes came out at night to prowl the neighborhood. Outwardly this was a relatively uneventful time, but internally I was quietly but radically being reconstructed from the inside out. Surprising myself, I also began painting again after a creative drought of 20 plus years. Although I knew that Taos was an artistic community that was not a serious attraction when I moved here. Instead I came to discover where I’d left my soul, and then began the process of psychically digging my way through dense layers of compromise. During this time PQ and I continued to grow closer even as he was working through his own demons, a number of relationships and two more marriages.
|You Can't Take me if You Can't Find Me|
This pattern continued until a number of years after my father passed, when mom decided to sell the family home. Although I didn’t realize it at the time this event heralded the end of a major life phase and the beginning of another. Such passages have always been alchemical events both psychologically and spiritually. One would think I’d be aware of the signs by now, but they always manage to sneak in without detection or perhaps my attention becomes so diverted by the inevitable chaos that I’m only able to process these events in retrospect. The sometimes boring but quiet life at the Casita was coming to a close.
Now remembering mom’s sale of the house and the move to her new apartment I wonder how we all survived. Only two weeks to do what we needed at least six weeks to accomplish. There were fifty nine years of accumulated belongings to sell and disperse while involved in the house closing, setting up new accounts, and settling mom and her remaining belongings in the new place, and putting the leftovers in storage. Joe and Missy were terrified and spent as much time as circumstances allowed under my old bed. Chaos tornadoed around them and eventually I decided to leave that bed in the house so that they would have a place to hide while the old furniture and all they were familiar with in their home away from home came undone.
ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS
The day after moving mom into her new apartment, I received news that PQ’s father Joe J. (Medicine Mountain) was dying and that I needed to be back in Taos as soon as possible. We had all visited him at the hospital just before I left for Denver. I was concerned that I wouldn’t see him again and felt a helpless apprehension because I could do nothing about the timing. Now I was focused on getting back to Taos as quickly as possible. I arrived around 5:00 pm and learned that Joe J. had asked to be taken to his ancestral Pueblo house to die. We waited, family and friends for that time when there was no turning back. His brave wife signaled his son, Pba-quen-nee to turn off the oxygen and all went quiet. I walked out the familiar ancient door into a moonlit night leaving the family members to talk among themselves, making plans and preparations for his final ceremony. The Pueblo magic was powerful that night. I looked toward the sacred mountain and was sure that Joe J’s spirit was already there. The peace was as soft and smooth as velvet.
Life went on but not as usual. Missy never really recovered from the chaos in Denver. She began to lose weight and often peed on the carpet, something she’d never done before. I suspect she’d become diabetic. I took her to the vet and he gave me a special diet for her but she never really recovered. Joe always got through things easier than his sister but I noticed that he was beginning to limp and found it difficult to jump on the bed. Since he always jumped onto my bed about half way through the night this was a big change. The next summer, the Habitat for Humanity house I’d worked on and with for two years was finally ready. We moved in on August 6, 2006. Again I put the cats in the bathroom while movers took out all the big furniture. This was traumatic and profound for all of us. The old Casita had been our home for so long, it felt like who we were. On the other hand it was fun choosing colors and arranging rooms. In this new house, weeds wouldn’t be growing up through cracks in the wall, and it would be much more difficult for skunks to dig a home under the porch. The cats were now too old to bring snakes and prairie dogs into the kitchen but I would miss my hollyhocks. I took seeds from the many flowers I’d planted around the old house, just as I’d brought seeds from my garden in Denver when we moved to Taos.
This new house was a fresh start. But it required that I loosen my grip on the past. I refreshed my skills with electric drill and hammer and enjoyed planting grass, laying down flagstones for a patio and seeding new flowers. I chose matching sheets and towels for the first time in my life. I anticipated that the cats would enjoy the wide adobe window sills but discovered that they were now too old to jump. Nevertheless they became used to their new digs faster than I expected. In a short time I felt I’d lived in this house a long time. Mom and my Denver friends came to visit and it was great to have more than one bedroom. PQ’s mom, Frances wasn't feeling well and we took her to her medicine man in Isletta, but I think we knew that she didn’t want to be here anymore. She and Joe J. were partners in every way and she felt her job was over. One evening he came to the house to tell me that she’d been diagnosed with cancer and only had a few months left. Frances appeared to be relieved, and though in pain, she looked out her kitchen window toward the big mountain and talked to her husband promising to join him as soon as possible. She left us during a blizzard the week after Thanksgiving.
|Missy and Joe on the Porch of our Old Casita|
I lost Missy the following summer in late July. I’d just returned from a family reunion in Denver and PQ took care of Joe and Missy while I was gone. She was as usual when I returned but the next day she broke a tooth and went into toxic shock. It turned out that she’d been living with a serious gum disease for several years. Added to her diabetes it was too much for her weakened body. It was a personal loss but strengthened by the realization that an era of my life was ending. I consoled myself with the knowledge that she’d become comfortably at home in the new house but I wondered what Joe would do without his sister. They had been together since conception. He was losing weight and his arthritis caused him to limp when he first got up. He liked the space between the TV and rocking chair. It was protected dark and cozy. He was no longer able to jump on the sofa or my bed, although sometimes I lifted him up.
Two days after Thanksgiving I had to make a choice. He was in pain and cried constantly. I couldn’t let him go on like this until Monday and talked the vet into making a space for us on Saturday morning. The ride to the vet seemed like driving through a dark tunnel. I couldn’t help thinking that when I came back my life would be forever different. The end was easy for Joe. After the shot he went to sleep quietly, but as I ran my hand over his soft coat for the last time, the impact of having stepped across a one way border in time was overwhelming. Our life together was in the past and with it went eighteen years and all the beginnings and endings that made this life what it had become. When I got home I took a photo of his last footprint in the snow.
MATURITY LIKE IT OR NOT
My mother passed away the following spring. Now both Pba-quen-nee-e and I are orphans and there is no generation ahead of us to pad the future. It’s a strange feeling; this knowing that in what seemed like an eye blink one is thrust into the role of family elder. Time takes on an entirely different meaning. Through 19 years of lives within lives, each story deserving of its own telling, we finally came together as life partners this past September. In reliving the events that brought us to this particular spot in eternity, I see how important it is to look at the past with awe and gratitude, and to grieve in honor of those that no longer share the journey with us for they have become the backdrop to our drama for the rest of this earthly performance. And my little feline markers of time have taken an honored role as time brackets in the most important story of this woman’s life.