I’ve spent the past few months not being OK — at all. Not one bit. Not emotionally, not physically, not mentally. Just not OK. I’ve struggled with friends, with family, with my son, with my fucking cats, with work, with staying healthy and doing things for me. Everything has been a struggle. Nothing has seemed to go my way and everything has just been like pulling rotten, bloody teeth.
This past weekend I think I finally hit a sort of rock bottom. And truthfully, as far as rock bottoms go, it wasn’t even THAT bad; but it was enough to wake me up and to make me take a deep breath.
I find it so incredible how sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest differences, and also how they may seem so very small to me, but be the absolute most massive thing to someone else.
Here’s rock bottom in a bit of a nutshell (and bare with me, I promise I’ll explain…. most of it at least): Pants no longer fit (fuck). Go out for drinks with a girlfriend, end the night hugging the toilet and totally dysfunctional the next day remembering very little from the night before besides heavily making out with some guy I didn’t even know. Pants still no longer fit (fuck). Behind on a million reviews and texts I should have written. See myself on totally visible online video sure to be seen by at least a few THOUSAND people and pants definitely no longer fit (fuck fuck fuck). Childhood friend’s father suddenly passes away, and the next day a 27-year-old also passes away, losing his battle to cancer.
Before my night of debauchery began (ending in the toilet worship), I spent the day at home, lounging on the couch, cleaning here and there and waiting for a new arrival.
I’d agreed to take in another foster cat. She’d recently been rescued from a local kill shelter and I was to be her second chance at life. Sarah, her name is. And I was told she was slightly fearful. No problem. I know cats. I got this.
Sarah arrived just after midday. Rushing downstairs I collected her from the transportation crew and immediately stuck my face up against the cage bars and said in my most convincing and gentle voice:
“It’s OK Sarah. You’re going to be OK. Everything is OK now.”
She looked back at me with the most terrified and absolutely petrified look, pupils the size of her head, ears flat, body absolutely quivering. I recognized that look, that body language, that reaction. It actually made me stop for a moment. Me looking at her, her looking at me.
Upstairs to the condo and I brought her to her new abode: my bathroom. While not overly glamorous it offered heat, shelter, a litter, food, water, and comfy blankets to sleep on (along with a multitude of places to hide and explore should she desire).
Upon opening the cage, Sarah proceeded to bolt straight to the bathtub where she curled up as tightly as possible in a ball close to the drain, head down, attempting to be as invisible as possible. Not understanding what Sarah needed, I reached a hand down to stroke her gently only to be met with wide, wild and scared eyes and a pitiful hiss that begged me to leave her in peace, please.
So I did.
Before I went out for my disastrous night, I ventured back into Sarah’s bathroom. She was still shivering in the tub. I placed food in front of her. Nothing. I cooed and called her name and crouched down beside the tub. Hiss. Wide eyes. Terror.
So I got in the tub with her. I needed to prove to her that she was going to be OK. I needed to show her I meant no harm. I needed to let her know that I was going to be her safe place. I was her savior.
Sitting in a bathtub (fully clothed) with a scared animal is something I’ve not done before. I didn’t touch her. I didn’t attempt to reach out, I just sat there mere inches form her while I watched her haunches shiver and saw her watch me with wary eyes and a skeptical gaze. I talked to her, told her where I was going that night, told her about my day, what chores I should be doing the next day – all things she gave zero fucks about, but I felt she needed to hear me speak, needed to have that one-sided interaction. Then when it was time for me to go, I left. She observed my every movement with NASA-like precision.
There’s something to be said about a night without limitations or inhibitions. I’d recommend it to anyone (though not all the time, especially if you’re past the age of 25 because that shit takes some recovery time). The freedom you feel, it’s unmatched in most cases. Surrounded by those who care for you and want to be near you, who make you laugh and want to see you have a good time: it does something for the soul.
Copious amounts of mixed alcohol, on the other hand, does not. In fact it does nothing for the soul and everything for the stomach (later that night) and the head (for the rest of the next day).
You’ve been warned (but you won’t listen anyways, because I never did or do).
After spending the day comatose on my couch wrapped in a ratty blanket still wearing the previous night’s shirt, PJ bottoms, and mismatched socks, having downed four Gatorades and eventually forcing myself to eat half a bag of Cheetos, I arose from the couch and my horrendous hangover.
I needed to see Sarah.
Entering the bathroom gingerly, I called out to her softly – more because I could barely speak properly on account of having spent the better part of the previous night retching and dry-heaving over a toilet and totally fucking my windpipes and throat, and less because she needed to be coddled as such.
Huddled behind the toilet in the semi-dark, Sarah quivered. Standing in the doorway I watched her for a moment then thought to myself: No, she needs to interact, she needs to get over this, she needs to learn to trust to forgive to move on, she needs to be OK.
Reaching behind the toilet I gently pulled her out. Hissing half-heartedly and making every attempt to “hide” herself in midair she hung, lifeless and limp in my hands. A tiny frail thing, her body shook ever so slightly. Immediately, I pulled her into my chest, she shivered more deeply and looking up at me with her wild, scared, untrusting eyes, and hissed again.
I smiled at her.
My son has a wooden stool with a carving of a giraffe on top that lives in the bathroom and he’s used it since he could walk and stand. He uses it to get into the bath, to brush his teeth, and he brings it into the kitchen for our various baking and cooking adventures. We’ve had it since he was born.
Together, Sarah and I sat on the giraffe stool. Placing her gently in my lamp I let her settle. Truthfully, she just collapsed as I’d placed her, tail underneath her body, slumped to one side, limbs haphazardly underneath, head to the side, ears flat, eyes feral.
I began talking to her then.
“It’s OK Sarah. You’re going to be OK. I know you’re scared. I know someone or something hurt you. I know you don’t want to trust anyone, but you’re safe here. I’ve got you. You’re going to be OK. It’s OK.”
Slowly, I began to stroke her head and shoulders, run my fingers along her jawline. I could feel her body tense, go rigid, unaccepting of the touch or the affection. And yet I continued.
Often, the things we believe we never needed (ever) are that which we need most. Offering acceptance, help, and understanding can be one of the hardest things in life to do, but once admitted it can mean the world, it can make all the difference.
Sarah continued to hiss softly, body still rigid, and I continued to pet her gently, speaking gently to her about being OK and accepting the help and the safety.
I started to cry.
Here was a creature broken down by humans (possibly other animals, too), by life and by circumstance. Here was a being totally and absolutely shattered in every way. Seemingly ruined beyond repair. And here I was, quite suddenly accepting that I felt entirely the same as Sarah. Together, wide-eyed, petrified, unwilling to let anyone in, trusting no one, scared of making another mistake, unsure of anything and everything.
Sobs racked my body as I sat there with this poor, wrecked cat in my lap wondering if either of us could ever truly be “saved.” For all of my “it’ll be OK Sarah” pep talks; would it be OK? Fuck, I had no idea. I had no idea if it was going to be OK or all right or even marginally tolerable.
Maybe THIS was the state I was meant to live the rest of my life in. Maybe this was the fate Sarah and I had in store; terrorized, broken, shattered. Hiding behind toilets and in bathtubs, half-heartedly hissing to warn intruders but welcoming attention in small doses. Completely and totally fucking shattered.
Sarah began to purr.
It was hard to notice at first; my own sobs were rather noisy and she’d been shaking from fear only moments before, but my hand on her small delicate chest revealed that, yes, indeed she was purring. And at that moment she tilted her head up and looked at me. Her pupils retracted ever so slightly, her ears moved upwards in the minutest way, and she looked at me, and I at her.
I smiled, laughed a little through tears even and scratched her chin ever so gently. The glorious chainsaw purr intensified as her eyes shut ever so slightly and her body relaxed into mine.
Heaving a deep, shuddery breath I too closed my eyes and rested my hand against Sarah’s softly vibrating chest, my fingers still tickling that sweet feline spot under her chin, while I whispered (much more defiantly now):
“We are going to be OK Sarah. We got this.”