October 2018


Tough guy stare and double paws

A little over a week ago, J and I adopted a new cat. “Magic” came into the shelter raggedy, scrawny, and sick, with bad teeth and uncontrolled diabetes. After starting regular insulin injections and having all but three of his teeth extracted, Magic was ready to come home. Since we often re-name cats we’ve adopted (and since we’re Celtics fans who didn’t want any of our pets to be named after a legendary Laker), we’re calling the new guy Larry.

Welcome home, Larry

It’s been just over a month since we put our cat Rocco to sleep after a two-year battle with small cell lymphoma, and it was Rocco’s passing that made room for us to adopt Larry. Although one pet can’t fully replace another, J and I view our house as a refuge for hard-to-place pets: when one dies, that frees up a spot for another needy creature. I’ve come to see the departed pet as a kind of sponsor for the new guy or gal who steps into their furry footprints. This is how Yanny followed Gumbo, Toivo followed Cassie, and George and Gracie followed Bunny.

Welcome home, Larry

If you’ve lived with a lot of pets, over time you start to see similarities between them. Hillary looks so much like Bunny, we often call her that by mistake, and lovable lug Luigi looks and acts a bit like Snowflake, who came (and passed away) before him. When we first adopted Cassie, I was disconcerted to realize her whine sounded exactly like Reggie’s, even though she looked nothing like him. Over time, Cassie’s whine became her own, and I no longer remember what Reggie sounded like.

Larry looking grumpy

But here’s the tricky thing: all those other pets came into our lives months if not years after their lookalikes had left us, calling to mind a pet whose memory was already starting to fade. But the eerie thing about Larry, on the other hand, is that he looks and even acts nearly identical to Rocco. The resemblance is so uncanny, it feels like we brought home a younger, healthier version of the cat we just recently lost.

The soon-to-be new guy

When we first visited Larry at the shelter, I immediately noticed how his floppy posture and long, every-which-way black fur looked just like Rocco’s, and once we brought him home, the resemblance became even more obvious. When we walk into the kitchen, there is Rocco–I mean Larry–lounging under foot. When I load or unload the dishwasher, there is Rocco–I mean Larry–trying to crawl in. And whenever one of us opens a bedroom or closet door, Rocco–I mean Larry–immediately appears and tries to dart into whatever space is supposed to be cat-free, just as he always did.

Larry meets Hillary, Luigi, and George

Seeing how quickly and even seamlessly Larry has acclimated himself to our household, I think of the various sayings that refer to constancy in the face of change. The Queen is dead; long live the Queen. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Rocco wasn’t exactly the boss of our household, but he did have a larger-than-life presence. Rocco’s been gone for just over a month, and just over a week ago he came back to us in a slightly updated version and with a new name.

Heart-shaped

Like many across the nation, I watched Christine Blasey Ford’s Senate testimony at work on Thursday, streaming C-SPAN on my phone during my office hours. I found Ford’s calm, quiet voice to be devastatingly powerful and entirely believable. Like many women, I resonated deeply with the obvious terror and trauma she felt at being pinned down, groped, and muffled when she was a teen at a party.

Yew berries

I had classes to teach during Brett Kavanaugh’s corresponding testimony, but I watched clips from it later, and I was horrified by his partisan rancor and angry defensiveness. Nobody can blame Kavanaugh for being angry at the humiliation he and his family have faced in the media, but Ford has been subjected to the same treatment, and she didn’t rant or rage. A confirmation hearing is a glorified job interview, and given the serious issues the Supreme Court decides, I had no patience for Kavanaugh’s angry tantrums and disrespectful demeanor, especially toward Senator Amy Klobuchar. Regardless of whether Ford’s accusations are true, Kavanaugh’s true temperament was on display on Thursday, and his performance didn’t convince me he’d be a calm, measured, or impartial justice.

Tiny mushroom

The full impact of both Ford’s and Kavanaugh’s testimony didn’t hit me until afterward. When I woke on Friday morning, I felt the same oscillation between sadness and rage I’d felt the day after the 2016 election. Although I’ve never experienced an assault as violent or traumatic as Ford’s, like most women I have my own history of uninvited encounters: groping and self-stimulating creeps on the T, a massage therapist who insisted on kneading my thighs and backside even after I repeatedly directed him toward my stiff neck and shoulders, and countless staring strangers and cat-callers.

Pink and blue

To be a woman means being constantly on guard, something so ingrained it’s easy to forget that men don’t have the same worries. Without thinking twice, I check the backseat every time I get into my car; in parking garages, I quietly weigh the dangers of getting trapped in an elevator versus getting cornered in a stairwell. When I hike, I realize that if I were to be mugged or raped, I would also be blamed for that attack: what was I thinking when I ventured into the woods, even with a dog? On a daily basis, I envy men for the simple luxury of being able to walk outside after dark, and I wonder what it’s like not to see every lone stranger as a possible predator.

Clematis virginiana

Years ago when my then-husband and I lived near a state forest with brown bears, we bought a shotgun for home defense. The first time I fired it, I was overwhelmed by its deafening sound and earth-shaking recoil. Never in my life had I, a petite woman, made such a strong and loud impact. “So this is what it’s like to have a penis,” I thought, immediately realizing that if I walked through the world with a weapon on my hip, nobody would mess with me. At that moment, I understood I’d been conditioned my entire life to see myself as prey: a small, vulnerable creature, ever on the defensive.

Barberry leaves on misty morning

On Thursday, Christine Blasey Ford found something more powerful and earth-shaking than a shotgun: the power of a courageous voice. From where I sat, Ford’s calm and sometimes quavering words were more powerful than all of Brett Kavanaugh’s shouted rancor. I have no doubt the Republicans will confirm Kavanaugh, regardless of what a weeklong FBI investigation finds: patriarchy always defends its own, and the party of Trump has become the party of angry and aggrieved white men. But in the aftermath of Ford’s testimony, countless women like me will continue to do what we’ve always done, gestating our rage into resilience and simmering our sadness into a hidden elixir of resolve.