Posted by: David Weimer | September 28, 2010

I wish I was a cat.

I wish I was my cat.

Any one of them; I’ve got two.

I walk by and one is lying on the couch, curled up next to a small pillow.  Wall clocks are ticking, making it sound quiet.  The cat’s eyes are closed in dedicated rest.

Another one just batted at the end of a yo-yo string (my six-year-old is ‘into’ yo-yo’s now) over there on the hardwood floor at the edge of an area rug where my wife and sons have a piece of plywood holding a mostly-completed puzzle of New Harbor in Copenhagen, Denmark that they picked up yesterday at the dollar store.

The cats are here in this house every day.  Their days are unstructured and long.  Their days have the structure of our lives.  Both are true.  My two cats are curiously polite, letting my wife and I sleep until 6:30 every morning; they know when we get up.  I’ll look up tiredly and see one perched on the headboard looking down at me.  Their internal clocks are set to the rhythm of our daily activities.  When we go down to the kitchen and make coffee and the TV is on with an educational cartoon, “Martha Speaks” (about a dog who talks after eating alphabet soup), and the boys are eating cereal, the cats hover and float expectantly around the cat hole in the basement door.  Every move, even one step, towards them and they both leap through the opening and their feet drum excitedly down to the basement.  My wife has almost always already fed them when I ask the boys every morning, “Did you feed the cats yet?”

Snowball just sniffed a pile of clothes hangers on the first landing on the stairs going to the second floor.  She’s gone up.  Her sister, Rainbow, just came over from the kitchen, looked at me, flopped onto her side and hiked up her leg in that typical cat house-cleaning position.  She’s licking her long hair.  Her sibling Snowball looks like a dirty ‘possum with attentive, inquisitive piercing blue eyes; Rainbow has perpetually surprised, befuddled brown (?) eyes with large pupils and a tail that contains more hair than her sister’s whole body.  They’re both the same breed.  Calicos, I think.

They don’t seem unfulfilled.  They are contented.  They accept their surroundings and have become a willing part of this house.  They have ears that move this way and that at every sound.  Rainbow just heard her sister making some bumping sounds upstairs; she’s gone stealthily up there now in hunt-mode.

I am home on a rainy day from my last outdoor painting job of the season.  I have other outdoor work before winter, but no more painting.  When the days get shorter, wetter and colder, I stop.  I am a handyman painter.  A jack of all trades.  It’s good to have variety, but sometimes I miss the comfort of a fixed routine.  “I make a living doing what I don’t know how to do,” I often say.  I have an increasingly honed skill-set.  Each job I take is unique unto itself and presents challenges that call on me to meet some problem I’ve never seen the likes of (although I might have seen variations on a theme).  So I learn on-the-job and find a solution—the right one.  Not always right away, but I seem to be getting better at knowing the right way more readily and easily.  And, I’m getting wiser about the handyman painting world.  When I’m all done doing this, I’ll be an expert, but then I’ll be too old to do the work I know, finally, how to do expertly.  Like a movie making person once said, “After we make the movie, and go through all the mistakes, we finally know how to make that movie, but then it’s too late; we’ve already made it.”  Or something to that effect.  My veterinarian friend from Navarre, Ohio said something similar.  I asked him about having been a vet for forty years and speculated that he might find retirement an attractive idea some day.  His reply surprised me.  “By the time you’re sixty, you’re just getting around to knowing what you’re doing.”  He added, “You’ve made all the dumb mistakes—gotten them out of the way—and you’re just now able to be just… competent.”

I already feel this way about my ‘chosen profession.’  I’d worked more than 30 jobs before settling on this last boss (who’s an asshole but I’ve known him for a long time and can somehow stand him).  So I found myself with my varied, acquired and assorted skills, along with my talent for solving problems (how to fix that wall, with that leak, in this place, with these tools…), and I started by painting my first house six years ago for a friend.  I remember feeling at the time, ‘This is alright: getting paid, working at my own pace, doing what I want to do, when I want to do it… Yeah, I could get used to this…”

After walking a bit farther in that direction, I was floating in anxiety (a fear reaction) when I looked down and saw that I was on a tightrope with no net.  I had a family, a house, bills and more, and nothing before me but a fog-filled void.  I took a step forward into my ‘next’ job, and my foot landed on solid ground.  Looking just ahead of me, there was nothing.  I had walked off a cliff (now several hundred feet behind me), and a bridge stretches back from where I now stand to the edge.  A very sturdy-looking, competently-built bridge.  It’s one that someone can be proud of.  I’m proud of it, in fact.  In front of me—nothing.  Nothing at all but the certain knowledge of oblivion below.

That’s my particular overreaction.  Other guys might process things differently.  Like having kids.  I see people just doing it, one after another, and it’s no big thing.  For me, in the beginning, it was a thing of momentous import and profound significance.  There was a lot riding on this, I felt at the time.  A lot of consequences there, wrapped up in that little helpless bundle held tenderly in the arms of the embodiment of love (a real mother)… But I am growing used to it, just like this bridge.  Each day though, there’s that step.

So when I see my kids—or in this case the cats—playing upstairs like the latter two are right now (the kids are at school; first and forth grade), accepting this environment of theirs as real, comforting, solid and eternally there, I feel something that I won’t say out loud.  I feel good to be a part of this apparent solidity manifesting here, in this moment, as a ‘home.’

My painting season is almost over.  In September, my eyes dart more and more in the direction the weather is coming from today, now, noticing without noticing trends of approaching sliding darkness, of picking up breezes (winds of change).  Paint brush in hand, I have a sixth sense.  I climb down the ladder.  I see my hand putting down the paint pail and reaching for the bucket then observe my hands going through the routine of pouring the paint back in the can and cleaning brushes and rollers.  Maybe I’ll take an early lunch… I hear in my head.  I dutifully sit in my van and eat a sandwich that my wife made while I read a book.  I hear something lightly and look up.  Rain on the windshield.

I digress.  No.  I’m like the cats, maybe, reacting to things, only not like I want to.  Maybe looking back from some non-existent future place, I’ll gaze over this life, right now, with a fondness and warmth and affection and appreciation.  Right now, it feels like I’m always on the edge.

I envy what the cats seem to have—an unconscious trust that everything will be alright.  It is written in their breathing.

We had two other cats.  I had them.  I remember the moment, rescuing them from an animal shelter in Pittsburgh.  First Grizelda and then, a few weeks later, Emerald (I felt sad that Grizelda was alone while we were gone all day at school and work).  At the shelter, I saw them looking out from the cage they were in.  I got Griz in the fall, October, a little later than now.  She was eight or nine weeks old, the tag on her cage said.  A grey cat with yellow eyes.  There was instant recognition.  That one.  So I got her.  I was her mother for the rest of her life.  Same with Emerald (I wanted to name her Esmeralda, but my first wife didn’t like it. “How ‘bout Emerald?” I asked.  She nodded.  And Emerald it was).  Emerald was a calico with fur like a wild animal and big, very green eyes that never left mine.  She always looked at me that way; she was a feral animal from beginning to end.  I had those two cats for 17 years.

The lived with me in five places in Pittsburgh; in Cookeville and Memphis, Tennessee; in Stuttgart, Germany; Ramonville St. Agne, France; Fowlerville, Michigan and St. Clairsville and Flushing, Ohio.  Each home I had, those cats slept on the couch or chair, fought or played with each other, ate, used the cat box.  They were a part of a home that existed ever-presently although there were transitions and miles and airplane flights and twisting roads in the back of cars and moving vans in a crate, and another woman, and two children.  Griz is buried under our pear tree now, at the corner of our garden where the corn is this year.  We have a cross over her grave and the handwriting of my oldest son is there, describing her qualities—nice, liked to be petted…  She died just after we brought the two sister kittens home.  That was last… Yes, October.  For my son’s birthday.

My young replacement cats live their lives and the present is eternal.  It could not be anything else.  Every second of the wall clock last forever, and the hands move around eternally, and right now it is overcast outside and a misting rain has just stopped, I hope.  I’m going to go out there now and mow the yard because I’ll be doing paint work tomorrow.  Maybe the cats will follow me down to the basement hoping for food when I go to the lawnmower room.  Maybe they’ll look out the window or just look up from playing (I hear them running around upstairs), ears twitching, when I first start our green MTD riding mower.  I’ll be going ‘round in concentric lines outlining an irregular shape—around the tree house tree, the clubhouse and swing set, the garden, up this steep grade, past Griz’s grave.  My back yard is shaped like a big bowl.  My cats will be up there, inside.  I will be just a comforting noise out there, outside.

I want to be my cats.

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