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the colors of life
october 12, 2002
This past Thursday I woke at two-thirty, couldn't get back to sleep.
That's not unusual these past few months, so after a few minutes of lying in darkness, listening to Mary's steady exhalations, I decided to get up.
Mary knows I rise early now. I told her, so she wouldn't wake up in the night, sweep the flatness of the bed beside her, wonder where I was. (She herself usually wakes me once a night, fingers feeling my face, to tell me she has to use the bathroom. I've asked her to wake me each time, as a precaution against any future fainting spells like the one she had a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately, that's been the only incident, and the halter monitor she wore for a day showed no heart problems).
As soon as I get out of bed, the four cats trail behind me into the kitchen, expecting to be fed. I don't particularly want to smell cat food at half-past two, so usually I step around them, head upstairs to my study.
This Thursday morning they were even more frantic, because last night at eight o'clock Mary and I picked up all the white styrofoam cat bowls on the kitchen floor and threw them away. We even dumped out their water bowl. We had to, because later this morning we were taking Chirper to the vet for his annual dental cleaning, he'd be under anesthesia, and there was no way of sitting all four of them in front of the fireplace and explaining the other three could eat as much as they wanted, but Chirper couldn't eat anything, and not expect him to have his claws crossed behind his back.
Lady, our newest cat, about a year old, was absolutely frantic, sniffing the areas of the kitchen floor where we normally place the bowls, her switching eyes looking like Jack Lemmon's in The Days of Wine and Roses, where he's flailing about inside his father-in-law's greenhouse, getting all muddy, desperately trying to remember where he hid the bottle. "Fifth row, third plant! No, no! Third row, fifth plant!" And there was Lady, "Six tiles up, one over! No, no! One tile up, six over! No, No!"
When we first got Lady, I described her as being "long as a limousine", but the truth is, she now looks like a VW bug. At first we thought she was simply eating too much after having to scrounge while she was a stray, kitten in a candy shop, but the sides of her body are so swollen we've started to wonder if she might be pregnant. Not from any of our three boys, of course. They shook hands with the vet years ago. But could she have been impregnated before we took her in? I kept laying my hand around her side to see if anything twitched against my palm, and there were a few twangs, but I didn't know if it was fetuses or gas. Her furred nipples were quite large, it seemed to me. The past day or so though, laying my hand again against her abdomen, I felt the definite interior shiftings of little bodies, at least two. Mary felt them also, eyebrows lifting. Which I guess means the Lady is a tramp. We're excited at the possibility, even though we'll never know who the father is. Just so long as they're not crack kittens.
Once I got up to my study, I decided to upload the HTML and JPG files Joe, Mary's dad, e-mailed me for his website, The Photography of Joseph Meier.
Joe's site holds hundreds of pictures he's taken over the decades, around the world. His latest series, which I uploaded with the moon in the skylight, is Orchards, twenty-one beautiful shots from 1976 of northern California orchards, all those gorgeous Kodachrome greens, blues, browns, plus some black and white studies. You can view them here.
Mary and I drove in the rain with Chirper caged in the back seat, his three-toned meow repeating over and over again the rhythm of, 'unhappy, unhappy'.
On our way to the vet we passed by a new middle school built a few blocks from our home. Like a lot of buildings in town, the structure itself is set within close-cropped, dark green grass, but surrounding that wide lawn the land stays rough scrub and brush.
It's an eerie school, for two reasons.
For one, there's an immense grid of white pvc pipes criss-crossed atop an acre of land beside the school, chain link fence around the grid. Since the grid is above ground, it's unlikely its purpose is irrigation, and in any event, the cross-hatching is way too dense for that function, and why irrigate just that section of land, and why fence it in?
For another, although I pass the school four times a day (round trip in the morning to drop Mary off at her speech rehabilitation classes, round trip at night to bring her back home), and sometimes the twenty mile per hour school zone lights are flashing their yellow pulse, we have never, ever once seen a child or any human outside, or even near, the school.
But there are always a few cars slanted in the parking lot.
Chirper had a back molar pulled, which apparently is why he kept brushing his orange and white paw against the side of his mouth, letting out an occasional squawk.
Next week is Mary's final week of rehabilitation at the center, marking six months from her stroke in April.
After that, she'll receive an hour of speech therapy three times a week at a local hospital, and we'll continue her lessons at home in pronunciation, reading comprehension, writing, and numbers (each evening at our breakfast nook table we play a game I invented, "The Nickel Game", where Mary counts out loud as she goes through twenty nickels, an exercise I thought up as a way of getting her to regain her counting skills).
Because we are at the six-month mark, we've decided to take a vacation the week of October 21. We're both really looking forward to it. No more long car trips twice a day, plenty of time to work on our projects (Mary's made a lot of progress in creating her latest mural, in one of our downstairs bathrooms, and I have a new story I want to write, about a young boy and girl who share secret adventures), an opportunity to make some day trips to the Fort Worth Zoo, the Kimbell Art Museum, and to visit some favorite restaurants and try a few new ones.
Mary's made amazing progress these past six months. From being unable to speak at all, even repeat back simple words, to where she can now say short sentences, and is getting better at longer ones (although she'll still sometimes substitute 'thing' when she can't think of a word. "I'm going to do that thing over by that thing", which makes me feel like I'm married to a mob boss).
These have been hard times for both of us, and certainly not at all what we expected, but as close as we were before, and we've always been extremely close, it's made us even closer. When I help her remember a word, waiting patiently as she tries to summon it up in her mind, giving her a hint if she needs one, or gently coax her through a recital of the months of the year, the days of the week, I feel like I'm doing the most important work of my life, and of course I am.
At this same time, she's transitioning from short term disability (STD) to long term disability (LTD), which means she'll continue to receive checks, indefinitely, to replace the income she's lost through not drawing a salary. I had a talk with her the other evening, reminding her that even though we'll be home most of the time now, we still have to stay conscientious about doing our lessons each day (a talk which was completely unnecessary, since Mary has an incredible drive to recover, and also a talk that was much too serious on my part). Sensing a chance to poke fun at me, she lolled her head back at an idiot's angle, hoisting an imaginary martini glass. "LTD! LTD!"
As a post script: I wrote the above yesterday evening. This morning, Saturday, Lady delivered five little kittens, staining the white carpet of our master closet with beautiful bright red, deep ruby, rich brown, the colors of life. More next week.