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Frisson

Remember when “frisson” was the hot word?  I do; about 15 – 20 years ago, maybe.  All of a sudden I heard and read it everywhere. It was journalism’s pet noun for a while, although some people incorrectly used it as a adjective.  It was always used in a positive context, meaning a little shiver of joy or thrill.  It sounded pretentious, I thought, and then it was extra annoying because everyone was using it like they were the first.  It became tired very quickly, and then disappeared, thankfully.

I was watering my garden this morning, enjoying the tranquil quiet of flowers and butterflies, and all of a sudden I experienced one; a frisson.  The word popped into my mind simultaneously with the little shiver of joy.  A word I had not thought of in years.  I was equally amazed by both the feeling and the long forgotten word showing up.  Perhaps they just go together in a way that defies grammar and translation.  What is the word for a little shiver of acceptance?

Astrologers’ Oil

 

I recently received an astrological reading. I had given the astrologer my birth stats, where and when; the usual information that astrologers need in order to prepare your chart.  With this info they tell you what all the planets were up to at the moment that you were born and therefore the influences that they will foist upon you the rest of your life.  I find these readings a fun thing to do, and sometimes I get helpful information.  The woman told me many things she saw in my planets which coincided with my reality, which is always good for the reading’s credibility. Then she started telling me some upcoming things that I had to either work through or look forward to. This is always nice information to have so that when the shit hits the fan you can’t blame yourself because it’s all the planets’ fault.  She told me something that was going to happen later this year that is very desirable, but truly very unlikely.  Still, it’s nice to be given the feeling that something so unrealistic but cool could happen to you simply because it’s in your destiny.  You do have to behave and lean heavily in the direction of that possible happenstance so as not to miss opportunities that could bring it to fruition.  You also want to be mindful so that you don’t inadvertently screw up the whole thing.  Mindfulness is always good, right?

The astrologist also told me that I needed to oil my body every day.  All of it.  Even twice a day if I felt like it.  She recommended a light sesame oil.  I am totally into moisturizing my face, but oiling my whole body seemed a little excessive. I remember once reading that wrestlers in ancient Greece would oil their entire bodies before competing and it immediately conjured up the image of an end-of-the-day slurry of oil and sweat and dirt.  I don’t wrestle, but an oily body did not sound pleasant.  Because the astrologist had established a sufficient amount of good will and credibility, I decided to try it anyway.  It did seem rather indulgent at first, but it also felt like I was quenching a chronic thirst that I didn’t realize I had.  The oil seem to get absorbed and it made my skin feel great. I liked that feeling so much during the day, that I decided to do it at bedtime as well. I had to start wearing pajamas, however, in order not to oil up the sheets. It quickly became a nurturing gift that I was giving my body every day; at least as gratifying as makeup and a good haircut.  The astrologist had given me a more important reason why she felt I should do this; she said I had a hard time setting boundaries between myself and other people’s needs and that this simple layer of oil on my skin would act as a literal and conceptual barrier to help me maintain separation.  I immediately pictured needy people grabbing for me and me squirting away like a greased pig.

Thanks to my astrologer, I have been informed of this fabulous thing that’s going to happen for me later this year, if I do my homework.  If simply applying sesame oil to my whole body twice a day can literally or otherwise grease the skids, I’m in.

Stumbling Up the Garden Path

You can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt. – Author Unknown

This quote sums up my path to gardening.  I was never a plant person.  I am a visual artist; a painter, a sculptor.  I make things with my hands.  Plants make themselves.  I never quite got other people’s fascination with gardening and plants.  After reading May Sarton’s works many years ago, I admired her patient passion for her garden, but still didn’t understand it or envy it.  My attitude was that plants, domesticated to a garden setting, are needy.  It takes a lot of time and attention to cultivate them to your liking, and then when you turn your back, they go ahead and do what they want anyway.  When you are making visual art you bend your medium to your will and then it stays that way; much more gratifying to my impatient nature.

What drove me to gardening was psychotic dementia; not mine, my father’s.  The last few years of his life were grim with everything no one wants to see an aging parent go through.  You especially don’t want to go through it with them, but I was my father’s caretaker, determined to do the right thing.  As bad as it was for me, it was far worse for him; I suffered, he suffered, then I suffered again for him.  My support system included comfort food, red wine, therapy, and pharmaceuticals, but after a few years I began to feel like I was losing ground right along with my father.

One day I went to Home Depot and parked down by the garden center because there were more spaces there.  On my way through the garden area, I noticed some plants.  They were robust and green and somehow appealing.  I did my other shopping and when I came back through the garden area, I stopped and actually looked at the plants.  As I stood there I felt a little bubble of calm arise in me.  I hadn’t felt calm in a long time.  Whether is was some neurological effect in my brain caused by the wavelength of the color green, or the concentration of newly minted oxygen in that environment, or both, I suddenly felt . . . good.  The longer I wandered around looking at plants, the better I felt.  I bought some and took them home and planted them.  I was doing hopeless crisis care-taking at the time, and the act of planting those little plants, then watering them, then checking on them every day to see how they were doing, was pure pleasure and a balm like no other.  It was care-taking with hope.  From then on, when things got tough, I planted plants.

I knew nothing about plants, so I put a lot of wrong plants in the wrong places for a long time.  My artist’s eye was simply drawn to certain plants and how they looked.  My art is all about pattern and texture and structure, so that’s what I was attracted to in plants.  I squandered some good plants due to my horticultural ignorance, but I did pay attention and learned by experience.  Color was of little interest, so flowering plants weren’t my thing; just the play of light on form and texture, and the juxtaposition of line and shape.  My garden was a green art work I was building, and unlike my other works, this piece was just for me.

Now several years later, my father is gone, the art market that once supported me is gone, but the garden and I are still here.  Someone is quoted as saying, “Unemployment is capitalism’s way of getting you to plant a garden.” I had already started a garden, but unemployment has been a boon for it.  Planting, moving, replanting, pruning, weeding, fertilizing, watering, puttering, and simple plant gazing can easily become a full time job.  It certainly is a full time education.

Here are some of the things I have learned about gardening:

There are micronutrients in soil which can only be absorbed into the human body through the tender tissue underneath one’s fingernails and between the toes.  These nutrients contain chemical compounds which enhance positive mood and sense of well-being.  For this reason, gardening gloves and shoes are ultimately a health risk.

When one becomes a gardener, the occurrence of rain shifts from a non-event, or a nuisance, to a cause for humble celebration.  Rain ceases to be a mere meteorological event and suddenly looms large as a beneficent blessing from the gods, a nurturing gift that plants and the people who grow them appreciate only too well.

Plants are Buddhists who don’t have to practice; they just are.  They do not rush, nor can they be rushed, because there is no such thing as the future to a plant. There is just the now.  I think that is why I feel so calm in the presence of plants; they do not reflect any feelings of want or frustration and certainly don’t validate them in me.  We tend to project a lot of our feelings onto plants and our relationships with them (especially when it comes to weeds), but that is our problem, not theirs.

Plants devotedly mind their own business, and therefore are exceptionally good at what they do.

The most important thing I have learned from gardening is how much I have to learn from plants and about plants.  And how good they make me feel whether I learn anything or not.  At the very least, I can bury a lot of troubles just by digging in the dirt;  without gloves and wearing flip flops.

Social Security

I experienced a Trump supporter today.  In theory, anyway.  We didn’t speak to each other and he was not sporting that regulation ball cap, so I only presume he was a Trump supporter because of the stereotype.  The vicious spew of bigotry and white male bile that I was witness to was so reminiscent of Trump-trash-talk that it just struck me – he’s one of them.

Lou and I had been at the Social Security Administration office exploring our filing options now that Lou is 66.  After looking at all the options and doing the math, we determined that now is not a bad time for both of us to start collecting; Lou collecting his and me collecting part of his.  I won’t actually start collecting my whopping $400 a month for another 4 years, but the way it’s set up, if my payout is less than half of his, I am entitled to part of his.  Who knew?  It’s ironic, because as two career artists, we haven’t paid in bunches of Social Security over the years, but Lou had paid in enough to make our situation comforting.  The young woman who tried to help us understand the morass of rules was wonderful.  She kept pointing out more and more ways we can actually benefit from our modest Social Security stockpile.  Our expectations were so modest, it felt like Christmas; one little middle-age-rite-of-passage gift after another.  And the holiday will continue; starting next month, a little present will automatically show up in our checking account every month.  For all the government bashing and Social Security doom and gloom I have heard, today’s revelations were pretty damn rosy.  I kept thinking: what a great country we live in.

When we left the office, we were joined by a man I had seen in there speaking to another Social Security officer.  He was maybe late 50’s, early 60’s, a little grizzled, wearing an oversized Harley Davidson shirt and walking with a cane, although with no obvious limp.  In the elevator on the way up to the 5th floor of the parking garage, where all Social Security visitors are asked to park, he was silent, while Lou and I quietly marveled at what we were just beginning to understand about how this is all going to work.  When the elevator door opened, a woman was standing there to greet this man.  She was crying.  When she began to ask him what had gone wrong, which she somehow already knew, he launched into a tantrum about how he had been cheated by the system.  His verbal vitriol elevated as we all walked towards our cars, parked side by side, as it turned out.  Lou and I quickly slowed our pace to avoid the wake of his tirade.  The man’s litany included: he couldn’t pay his bills, they didn’t give a shit, it was his money but because he was white, he couldn’t have any of it, if he were black or Haitian, they would’ve given him everything, the whole system is bullshit, that a white man in this country can’t get what’s his is bullshit, etc.  The expletives became uglier as his volume increased. The poor woman was terrified and kept crying.  They got into one of those huge Tahoe/Escalade/Whatever/Megatruck/SUV’s, the kind that get about 5 miles to the gallon; she crawled into the passenger seat, crying.  He opened the rear door on his side, threw his cane in and slammed the door shut, then flung himself into the driver’s seat and slammed that door even harder.  He burned rubber out of his parking space, and continued to do so louder and louder as he raced down all five flights down out of the parking garage.  Lou and I held our breaths as we waited for the crash, but thankfully it never came.  All I could think was, “He’s one of them.”

We know bad theatre when we see it, and this was pretty bad.  Not that the man’s pain and anger weren’t real; certainly the woman’s pain was very real.  It seemed obvious that a big part of his performance was for us, the dopey older white couple who were enjoying thinking they had just hit some kind of Social Security jackpot.  Maybe the performance was a needed release for him.  Still, it was scary theatre; his palpable anger at the government and just about everyone else, and his bitter blame-lashing at blameless people who live daily with levels of discrimination and injustice he will never ever know, much less suffer.  It was bad theatre, but it was also . . . Hate.

Hate is very scary.  Something has gone very wrong in that poor man’s life, and for that I am sorry.  But he is still driving an expensive gas guzzling vehicle.  And he is still white, which in this country gives him an unfair leg up, regardless of all else.  I am just sorry he hates so much.  And I am really sorry that Trump is making it okay, or even laudable, to hate so much.  I thought as a country we were better than that.  Even a generous Social Security system is no consolation if we are not.

Dear Daddy,

Dear Daddy,

 

Okay, it’s been almost two years since you left, and this is my first correspondence.  I’m sorry; I just didn’t want to have anything to do with you anymore.  Even avoidance gets old, however.  I am having to deal with your house now.  I need to sell it, and it’s needed a lot of work, so I have been forced back into the scene of your last stand.  Here is what is coming up for me:

 

First of all, you know I love you.  And I know you love me.  I often forgot all that back then.  As a bad habit, I still forget it now.  I need to work on that.  Ours was not a hearts and flowers kind of love, but it was love all the same.  Otherwise we could not have borne what we did together.

 

When I go into your house, what I immediately think of is all the pain we both experienced there.  But what I feel in unexpected waves is the love of two people trying to take care of each other in their own awkward ways.  I’m not sure why my mind goes to the dark side, why it doesn’t follow my heart.  The painful visuals are so engraved into my minds eye that they take over the scene.  I have been told it is a legitimate form of PTSD, and that it will take a long time to recover from the war we both fought for so long.

 

You got drafted into an old person’s war.  You were a captain, and I was your . . . “subaltern” is the word that comes to mind (all those British novels I’ve read, I guess).   I look it up; yes, it works: “an officer in the British army below the rank of captain, esp. a second lieutenant.”  Except for the British part; but it’s a great word so we will use it.  It sounds like a less official position than “second lieutenant”, more accidental, and so I was.  So there we were for almost ten years, being strafed and bombed by an enemy we thought we knew, but knew only enough to fear it.  Fear begets anger, and so we were often angry; you outwardly and nastily, me inwardly and depressedly.  Anger is a self-inflicted wound, and I have the scars to show it.  But I never showed it to you; that much I know I did well.

 

There were moments, however, sometimes hours or even days – cease fires, if you will – where we cautiously relaxed a little and busied ourselves with the day to day.  We both knew the enemy planes were always overhead, but if there was enough cloud cover, we pretended.  We shopped, we watched a ball game.  We went for bike rides, we petted the cats.  Inevitably, the low drone of the bombers came back, and we found ourselves in battle once more.  It seems that eventually the enemy infiltrated our ranks, and pitched battles were replaced by insidious subterfuge; things missing or changed around, tainted food, and a pernicious miasma that imbued everything.  That’s when you began to weaken.  I did, too.  Our greatest fear was then not the presence of the enemy, but the knowledge that he was never going to leave until you did.  It was a forced surrender, and as best as I can remember, you did it with dignity.

 

Oddly, I don’t remember a lot from that time; the fog of war, as they say.  What I remember too well are the earlier years and the sickening slide into a world neither one of us anticipated or wanted to enter.  You stayed in your house, however;  you never gave ground that way.  The enemy had to take you on your own turf.

 

Have I milked this metaphor enough?  Probably not for you; of all your life’s experiences, your time in WWII looms largest and most significant of all.  You loved to talk about the war.  And even though it is only a metaphor, it is the closest experience I will ever have that mimics a war in it’s hideousness and spiritual depletion.  I am lucky; I only had to fight this one war.  You had to fight two.  May I say, Captain, that in both cases you comported yourself with merit and should be proud of yourself.  I am very, very proud of you.  And I also remember now that I love you.

Thievery

Thievery

My father was always a suspicious type, never trusting anyone about anything.  When we were growing up, he constantly warned us about the people we associated with, the places we went, the activities we got involved with.  The world as he saw it was full of treacheries, both deliberate and accidental.  His paranoia embarrassed me; it was too eccentric, and too self-centered.  It annoyed me that he felt so large in the scheme of things that he assumed the rest of the world was always thinking about him and how to take advantage of him.  

After we all left home, my father bought 50 acres out in the countryside and built his dream house.  His driveway was almost a mile long and wound through huge live oaks and uncleared scrub.  The clearing where he placed his house was ringed by live oaks, with clear pasture beyond.  It was an idyllic natural setting, as quiet and peaceful as one could imagine.  The first floor of his house was almost all floor to ceiling glass, so from the inside one could see all the surrounding nature.  By the same token, one could easily see in from the outside; an amazing degree of exposure for a man so mistrusting.  Thankfully, there was no one out there to see in, not for miles.

All the same, my father always left some cash on his kitchen counter so that if upon returning home he looked in the window and saw that the money was gone, he would know that someone had broken in.  For thirty years that money lay there.  Every time I saw it, it irritated me.   He didn’t ever seem afraid of anything, and he was usually armed, so his constant expectation of villainy seemed more about his disdain for Fate.  If somehow, somewhere he had a date with an inevitable thief,  he was going to be prepared when the guy showed up.

Maybe this all began when he was a fighter pilot in WWII.  People were truly gunning for him then.  A certain reasoned paranoia was wise for a soldier, and it kept him alive, no doubt.   He escaped being robbed of his life then, and perhaps decided at that young age that non-trust of others was a useful survival skill.  That was what he tried to teach us, anyway.

Maybe it was amplified by my mother’s death at age forty-four.  She was driving to the beauty parlor and another car pulled out from a side street right in front of her.  The braking distance was too short and my mother’s car slammed into the front end of the other car.  My mother died 10 days later from the internal injuries she suffered.  The other driver walked away.  That was a grand larceny if there ever was one.

After that my father had years of failed relationships with other women.  He was handsome, successful, elegant, and superficially a true Southern gentlemen in his treatment of women, and the girlfriends came in a steady stream.  They also inevitably left.  He drove them crazy.  He was always suspicious of where they went and what they did.  If they went to the store to get something, he would time their absence, and if the drive took longer than he had previously clocked it (I’m not kidding), they would be interrogated upon return.  One could say that he was afraid they might rob him of his trust, but since he never trusted anyone, they had no chance.  

To my knowledge my father was never robbed in the sense that he always anticipated, so his paranoia was really prescience, a foreknowledge of what was to come.   At some early age he got a glance through the folds of time, and saw thievery in his future.  It should have come as no surprise then, when sometime in his seventies, dementia and psychosis began stealthily taking his mind away from him.  He is now eighty-six and the robbery has been severe.  At first it was just short term memory and a few words here and there, but now it has been everything.  His career, his dream home, the ability to drive and manage his financial affairs, all life long pleasures, personal independence – all gone.  He can no longer read, or even watch television.  He needs full time help to take care of him, so his much cherished privacy is gone.  He has to be fed and also wears a diaper, so even his most basic dignities have been stolen.  In lucid moments he tells me he wants to die because he has nothing left, but his ability to do that on his own is missing, too.  The only thing the thief hasn’t taken is his perfectly healthy heart, which goes on beating and shackling him to his emptied out existence.  The scale of this heist absolutely justified a life long fear of being robbed.

Caretaking comes with it’s own kind of thievery, so he was actually right to warn me all along.  First I was robbed of my father as I knew him, then over the years I have lost sleep, time, personal and professional opportunities, health, and friends.  Fatigue and depression are my constant companions, and they leave little time for anything else.  I feel like I’ve lost my identity as an artist.  People no longer ask me about upcoming exhibits or what I’m working on; they ask me how my father is.  My identity as a caretaker is not a good fit, either.  I feel vague and uncentered most of the time, not to mention scared, angry, frustrated, sad, and resentful, depending on the moment.  Despite years of my father’s warnings, I never believed him and so I was unprepared for this.  He was the one always guarded, and yet it ultimately did him no good.  The thief slipped up on him undetected and leisurely set to work, so why should I, the non-vigilant, have been spared?

Both my father’s anxiety about thievery, and my outrage, are ridiculous, of course. Our lives are only loaned to us at birth – we know we have to give them back someday. Because of that, all of our stuff, large and small, tangible and intangible, is also only on loan. We don’t get to take any of it with us. Neither do the thieves. So what’s the problem?

Like my father, I have a strong heart, physically, and hopefully, emotionally.  Someday when this thief is gone, I hope I will be able to find myself in the ransacked mess that he has left behind.   My father’s only hope is that he will just finish the job.

Walking the Cats

For a couple of years during my childhood we lived in Trinidad in the West Indies. My father was employed there as an engineer and we lived in a company owned residential compound. Every night after dinner my parents took a walk together down the middle of the quiet road that meandered through our small community. The post dusk air was delicious with the smells of ocean and tropical flora. There were no sidewalks; the narrow road was lined instead with oleander and hibiscus and palms. My sister and I would get on our bicycles and accompany our parents. We rode our bicycles everywhere within the compound during the day but we were not allowed to go out on our bicycles after dark except for this evening ritual. We kids knew these few roads thoroughly, every angle and bump, but at night, they took on a different character. There were tall yellow-hued street lights here and there, but not many, so there were regular stretches of near darkness. The long cast shadows created by the lights gave strange tone and shape to otherwise familiar surroundings.

The residential compound was surrounded by sugar cane fields which were home to feral dogs and cats we often saw slinking in and out of the edges. The fields were also home to the never seen but much speculated about cane-man. The cane-man was a wild, child-hating, machete-swinging concoction served up to us regularly by the other kids who had lived there longer than we had. It was assumed that the cane man lurked near the dark stretches of road at night, so it was with fearful squeals and false bravado that my sister and I would race our bicycles ahead of our parents and into the treacherously dark zones. We never went too far, just far enough to taste the thrill of near fear, always looping back to circle the two walkers for the reassurance of parental presence before speeding off again.

Until we moved to Trinidad, I had never known my parents to take a walk after dinner. That in itself was exotic. They walked purposefully, their stride more athletic than a stroll. They talked, but didn’t hold hands. They walked for the exercise. And maybe to wear us out on our bicycles before bedtime. Regardless, it was an evening ritual which I loved. What I remember most is riding my bicycle like a happy drunk in the intoxicating night air, and the simple joy of seeing my parents taking a walk together. Looking back, it has become a memory of two people together as a couple; people who, to my child’s mind, had previously been nothing more than parents. At age twelve, I endowed that walk of theirs with a mysterious intimacy. The heightened excitement of it taking place after dark was a potent factor I was just beginning to appreciate as a preadolescent. Those tropical years were a good time for my parents, and a giddy time for us kids; a bright treasury of security and happiness we shared for a few more years before being swallowed up by the darkness of my mother’s death.

I live on the east coast of south Florida now, in the subtropics. My elderly father, who has dementia, lives alone, right around the corner. I look after him, including bringing him all his meals. My husband and I have dinner with him almost every evening. One night after dinner as I was feeding my father’s two outdoor cats, the smell and temperature of the ocean breeze suddenly evoked the memory of those after-dinner walks in Trinidad. I hadn’t thought about that period of our lives in quite a while. When I went back inside I asked my father if he remembered those walks, and he said yes. Often when I ask him if he remembers something from our mutual past, he says yes, although his face says no. By his claiming to remember some things, I am not sure if he is accepting my gift of returning a long lost memory, or if he is giving me the gift of not disappointing my desire to relive and share. Whichever it was in that case, I suggested we go for an after-dinner walk. My father looked surprised, then intrigued, and so we went. The sun had officially set behind a bank of towering clouds, and the ambient light it cast was glowing pink. It was beautiful. After a slow start, my father found his stride. Like forty years before, he did not stroll, but set out with as vigorous a pace as he could manage. Walking in that air was like swimming in a therapeutic lotion, and I loved it, remembering a happy childhood time. Suddenly I heard the tiny bells of cat’s collars. My father’s two cats had followed us from the house, slinking along the curb in fits and starts, We went two blocks, and then my father said we had to go back. When we turned around, the cats, just behind us, stopped and sat down with tails twitching nervously as we reversed course. As we neared the driveway I heard their bells ringing and the cats shot past us, obviously relieved to be back on familiar ground. They immediately sat down and began to clean themselves thoroughly, as though in the course of the adventure they had become soiled, or at the very least, had worked up an un-cat like sweat.

We walked after dinner for the next few nights, my father, my husband and I, with the cats, Liz and Rani, following us. The teeny jingle of their collar bells always accompanied us. My father and I did not hold hands as we walked together, but I stayed close enough to be able to support his arm if he should wobble. The weather was the same every night; perfect. Then the superficial clock shift of daylight savings time ended. The next night it was just as beautiful, but dark, when we went out for our walk, and my father’s stride was a little more tentative. There are long stretches between our streetlights, and when we hit the first of the more dimly lit areas, he said we should turn around. The next night our walk was also ended when we hit the shadows. The next night my father just said it was too dark to walk at all. I picked up an ever present mega-battery hurricane lantern, which casts an enormous light, and cajoled him to try it again. That worked for a few more nights, but it was obvious that the extra light and our proximity were not enough to make him feel comfortable outside at night. The next night he simply declined to walk after dinner and went up to bed. When my husband and I left to go home that evening, Liz and Rani were sitting right outside the front door, waiting. They had become used to our nightly walks. As we walked out to our car, they raced down to the street, then stopped to wait for us. Not wanting to disappoint them, we took the cats for a walk.

My father never wanted to walk after dinner anymore, but every night the two cats waited immediately outside his door for their turn, their faces practically pressed up against the glass. If I opened the door too quickly, it would bat them off the mat. Once we were outside, they would race down the driveway ahead of us, their collar bells jingly raucously. Every night we walked a little farther until we finally reached the small park in our neighborhood. Walking through the park the cats were giddy, racing up tree trunks, leaping down to chase each other up the next tree. The scrabbling of their claws on bark sounded like soft chuckling. Unlike my father, they relished the dark and it’s potential mysteries.

The cats played with bold abandon in the park, but they were more cautious along the road. When the occasional car approached, they slipped into the closest available plant cover until it had passed. Conversely, they were immediately drawn towards other walkers like magnets, stepping right in front of them to be petted, and thus often tripped over in the dark. People walking dogs, however, got a very wide berth, accompanied by arched backs and twitching tails. The one thing that stoped the cats in their tracks and completely immobilized them was another cat. Whether the other cat sat in its own yard just staring at us, or approached cautiously, Liz and Rani froze. No amount of cajoling or reassurance could get them to move; We had to pick them up and remove them from the cat stare zone before we could continue. It makes one wonder if this is where the word catatonia originated.

One night my sister called me on my cell phone as we were walking back from the park. Being focused on giving her the daily Daddy report, I didn’t notice until we got back to the house that Liz wasn’t with us. I called and clapped, but no Liz. We had to retrace our steps for two blocks before my calls produced a streak of rocketing cat. Liz came running up to us, crying her abandonment the whole way. Something had detained her, most likely the eyes of another cat, and she had lost sight of us, finding herself alone and immobilized in foreign terrain. I picked her up and cuddled her as she purred loudly in relief and Rani rubbed up against my leg. Reunited and reassured, we went home.

Now my husband and I walk the cats after dinner every night. At first, I simply couldn’t disappoint the cats, but I too, have become addicted to the ritual. It is my meditative transition time between Daddy duty and the rest of the evening. We don’t walk for the exercise, though, we stroll. The night air is a soothing tonic, the soft respiration of the earth laying itself to rest. The night sounds of crickets, and birds settling into their roosts, are muted and gentle on the ear, like whispered reassurances. Often we hear the soulful wails of distant trains. The huge Florida sky offers stars and slightly glowing clouds for decorative lighting, and the condo and car lights from across the lake twinkle prettily. The night blooming plants release their perfumes, harmonizing to the warm bowel-y smells from the storm sewer drains. We see other people and their pets out for their own walks and we greet each other quietly so as to least disturb the spell we are all under. There are brief sightings of raccoons, possums, and the occasional fox, all intent on more serious evening business than we.

When we walk the cats, my husband and I walk as a couple, holding hands. We talk. We always comment on how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place, which leads to an acknowledgment of all our many blessings and a grateful squeezing of hands. This is a happy time in our lives. As we stroll, the cats race ahead and back to play around us, not unlike two excited little girls on bicycles. The jingling of their collar bells are like squeals of childish laughter, a hopeful music to protect us against the dark stretches, now and those surely to come.