Author Archives: Grass Oil by Molly Field

About Grass Oil by Molly Field

follow me on twitter @mollyfieldtweet. i'm working on a memoir and i've written two books thus unpublished because i'm a scaredy cat. i hail from a Eugene O'Neill play and an Augusten Burroughs novel but i'm a married, sober straight mom. i write about parenting, mindfulness, irony, personal growth and other mysteries vividly with a bit of humor. "Grass Oil" comes from my son's description of dinner i made one night. the content of the blog is random, simple, funny and clever. stop by, it would be nice to get to know you. :)

Change… Organic and Otherwise

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We rented a house on the Outer Banks (“OBX”) of North Carolina, which is a place in and of itself accustomed to change despite the earnest and feckless desires of mere mortals who decide to defy Nature by building houses yards from the Atlantic.

We arrived on a cool March afternoon after driving several hours from our roost near Washington, DC. The two younger sons traveled with me and my husband in our giant SUV. They in the back seat enjoying their various iDevices and occasionally participating in conversations as we collectively listened to the entertaining and dubious Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff.

The sky was overcast, the winds pretty fierce and the shoreline was booming as the high tide was due in a couple hours. My youngest son, known as “Thing 3” to anyone who’s familiar with my writing (which has taken a back seat to my 11-times a week yoga teaching schedule) has been renamed “Tech Support” from time to time because of his interest in all things technological. (Don’t confuse “interest” with “competency” as he’s still learning and when I got a new computer a few weeks ago he scrubbed my old one and it took a shit ton of data supposedly stored on the “CLOUD” with it… but it’s only 1s and 0s right?).

When we pulled in to the OBX driveway, he said, “we’re under a storm surge warning which will cause high surf from tomorrow night at 8pm until the following evening at 8pm.” He was correct. The waves were truly the highest I’ve ever seen and the accompanying winds gave me pause to recall my numerous dreams I’ve had wherein I’m in a seafront home and utterly surrounded by sea water. I haven’t had one of those dreams in a while, and as stirring as they can be, I don’t wake destroyed as one might expect.

Back in early March, most of the east coast endured a nor’easter named “Riley” (is it me? When did they start naming winter storms? Are they like the names of Mother Nature’s children? I think we should rename them things like “Scott Pruitt”; “industrial age” and “Valdez”) and what about gender neutral names? “Riley” is safe, I must say, different from “Katrina” or “Hanna” or “Andrew” I believe most storms used to be named after females, but it’s not so far off when we will have a Storm Robert or Nor’Easter Stan… I digress (get used to it).

Riley slammed where I live with 70mph gusts and 40mph sustained winds for an entire weekend. Power went out all over the region, but not at my house. My father stayed with us overnight and that was probably enough for everyone, mostly him. His power was restored the next afternoon. Where I’m from, Buffalo NY, my cousins got slammed with several feet of snow. Boston got hammered … it’s how it goes. But down here, in OBX, it appears that the seas still have not receded. Riley pushed the sands up the shore; buried in-ground pools and turned 6′ privacy fences to knee-high shin scrapers. Pools installed behind some of those now-demolished privacy fences are overcome with sand.

Here’s my view from the deck of the house we rented… the “bush” below is what’s left of the first dune garrison. I’ve marked up the photos immediately following to explain what the what used to be what.

In this next photo, the steps leading up the walkway used to take you to another “bridge” over the first dune garrison and then you would descend a second set of steps to sit access the beach. Locals tell me these steps, walkways and bridges were installed last Easter. Bummer. These first two photos are of the same property; the one immediately to my left (north). You’ll notice that things look relatively normal and typical for a winter recovery. What you won’t notice is the missing dune line because it’s been so completely taken out. Nor would you notice that the shore’s depth to the water is probably 100 feet shallower.These next photos so perfectly depict for me the example of the objective “luck of the draw” that Nature and Fate so deftly provide at every moment. This is the seaside of the house immediately to my right (south). I’ve marked it up to explain what the what used to be what. If you examine closely, in the area marked “pool” and you don’t believe me, you’ll see a set of entry / exit ladder handles for access to that pool (almost in the dead center of this photo). The fence line outside the pool and hot tub used to be 6′ off the ground. I doubt the owners of this property have personally viewed the situation. I can’t say I blame them. Slightly “above” the box marked “pool” is another box that denotes what used to be a pool next door.

This is what used to be the entrance driveway belonging to house to my right (south). The red area denotes a driveway. The green denotes the grass / foliage and the blue is the water that said ” HAHAHAHAHAAAAA!” to all those ideas of driveways and gardens.

While these situations certainly aren’t’ catastrophic and none of these properties are a total loss, these are changes. Most people who own beachfront property usually just have to clean out the cobwebs, freshen up the carpets, steam clean the curtains and wipe down their windows to prepare for the rental season. The owners to my south are probably wistfully recalling those days of such burdens. We met a man one morning during our walks who owns a home several doors south on the shore here. His name was Bob. (For reals.) “It was the most beautiful property on the island,” he said (and I get it, we all think our home is the best or our kids are the smartest and best looking), but even what survived the storm wasn’t terribly impressive to me… it looked pretty weathered and neglected compared to other properties around his house. He had “a gorgeous pool” since surrounded by and filled with sand. Hanging at a 45˚ angle was a woeful five-and-dime “TIKI BAR” sign hanging and flappimg from one nail. Just below it was a faded and operative rainbow-themed windsock that somehow fared better than his obliterated privacy wall. It’s weird what survives these storms. “I’m screwed,” he crowed. I nodded in sympathy even though I didn’t agree with his summary. The house is still standing. He’s not exactly homeless and the lot alone is worth at least $2mm. And it was not t his only residence — he chose this lifestyle to rent their home in OBX to vacationers and then travel by RV the rest of the year. But who am I to decide who’s screwed and who isn’t? Bob was sad, but he was feeling sorry for himself. I heard later from neighbors drinking beers on the 20′ of boardwalk in front of our house that Bob opted to NOT have the maintenance and cedar fortification of his dunes and now he’s reaping that. Walking by Bob’s place a few days later I noticed that all evidence of the pool is gone and the sand is flat where it used to be. It seems that everyone has a Tiki Bar here.

Riley and its ilk are largely organic phenomena. I have little doubt that humanity and our “advances” have greatly sped up the oft-debated climate change process, but by and large, isn’t all change, effected directly or indirectly by humans, thus organic seeing as how we arent’ exactly inorganic to the planet?

I miss writing. I enjoy the yoga teaching, but I really miss the writing. Things have changed so much in my life (as I’m sure it has in yours) in the last several months that at times I feel as though I’ve aged 10 years. In my little tribe we’ve experienced a fair amount of turbulence, but what is life without change? And change without turbulence really isn’t change, it’s just “different.” The short of it is that parenting is not for wimps. The long of it is that it’s been difficult being a parent. Three boys, all teenagers now, and the boundary-pushing, shitty attitudes and straight-out rebellion is exhausting. I’m not so absurd to say that “I wouldn’t change a thing because all of it is a blessing…” because trust me, I’d change plenty. Kids make stupid choices and end up hurting themselves. We all did it and we will all do it again and those of us who managed to get here, this far, I guess are the norm… there are a lot of us still out there, aren’t there? So does that mean that the odds my kids will all make it to 90 with fun and compelling stories but not horrific ones of personal destruction and devastation? I sure hope so. I don’t like change. I don’t like my kids growing up and I don’t like my dad getting older. I can fight it, like an idiot, or I can continue to look for the silver linings (not necessarily the blessings) of even the most crushing experiences, for every experience is a teacher.

Thank you.

Trying to Make Room for Discomfort #Yoga

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I teach a restorative yoga class every week. I recently read an article in Yoga Journal which claimed that a restorative class is an “advanced” class. I found that classification to be rather confusing and certainly counterproductive for anyone who would like to take a restorative class, because in all reality, a restorative class is the least physically demanding class one can take. 

But when we think about yoga, which isn’t really just about the physical (it’s really SO not about the physical, it’s just that we westerners tend to think everything is about the body when it’s more about the spirit), describing restorative as “advanced” has legs. Restorative yoga IS advanced IN that it requests of you that you let it happen. My dermatologist asked  me a couple weeks ago while he was stitching me up after removing a basal cancer cell from my chest, “Will yoga work for me?” And I said, “If you let it.” He laughed nervously. I raised an eyebrow and said, “Now you’re on the mat and you didn’t even know it.” 

And that’s the truth. Things will work, in the manner in which they are supposed to, when we let them. 

While I was reading the article, I was reacting: “this is such a turn off… this article needs to start a different way….” and I still believe that because those of us who teach or rather, endeavor to inspire yoga in students / other people, is that we don’t want anyone to feel as though they don’t belong. Especially in a restorative class, but like so much in life, many of us also tend to bite off more than we can chew. Such as it is with people who might attend a restorative yoga class and think it’s all about letting go… which is the only thing I used to believe: that all yoga is about letting go… making peace… but what if that doesn’t work anymore? What if (as I wrote a couple weeks ago) letting go (or writing with love) is just not possible sometimes? What if we try and try to find the lesson, to learn from or let go of that which irks us?  And it just doesn’t come or it feels forced, contrived and fake? 

The answer, then, according to this article, is to make room for what bothers us. In the purest tradition of Rumi, be the “Guest House”: we need to make room. Set a table, be inclusive, open the door laughing, invite and have tea with what bothers us: learn from the energy which keeps us in balance. If something is pulling us one way, surely something is pulling us another way to keep us upright. Make room for the thing that bugs us the most. That’s where the teacher is… 

Just be careful, though, to not confuse the identity of the teacher. Try not to assign a value judgment (good or bad) to either side. Sometimes the very thing that bothers you and that you make room for, is the very thing you THINK you need to let go of….   

For example: I don’t like to quit. I find quitting to be something that weak-willed people do. So for me, which is the greater discomfort: staying in a toxic situation or walking away from a toxic situation because I don’t like to quit? To me, quitting is like letting go. So for this conversation, making room would mean that I stay. At what point does a character attribute (perserverance) become a flaw (stubborn)? It’s a fine line. 

I recently walked away from a situation in which I found the toxic energy to be familiar. Not just familiar to other things I’d experienced in my long-ago past, but even identical to situations with the exact same players. When I framed it in this context: that I needed to make room for what chafes me, I began to feel very confused. With what, exactly, am I having tea? For what am I making room? And of what, exactly, was I “letting go”? Was I letting go of my anger and outrage? Was I letting go of a desire to be treated professionally (just because I have a different set of standards)? When does my own prideliction for truth and fairness become a feckless pursuit? Was I refusing to have tea with the concept of quitting? 

Does my staying on, having tea with, and opening the door laughing mean I have to compromise my mental health? Even when, as Rumi says, my ‘house’ (spirit) will be violently swept clear of my ‘furniture’ (habits, ideas, fears, ego)? When does “be cool, man” become “give up, man”? Rumi says to treat each guest honorably for they are sent as a guide from beyond…. OK. But what’s the lesson? To what am I being guided? 

I get it. Sometimes we have to sit next to the mouth breather on the bus or at the movie or at the game or on the committee. Sometimes WE ARE that mouth breather too, but when does making room for that mouth breather become fruitless? Who’s “to blame” when the mouth breather’s breath becomes toxic? Is it us? Are we too sensitive? Are we to blame because we decide to not say anything because we don’t want to offend the offender? At some point, making room for the mouth breather, at least in my life, meant that I offered some gum or a glass of mint tea. Or even coming right out with it and saying as others nodded in agreement, “Dude, your breath is RANK.” When that tea or gum was continually rejected, I decided I need to leave the room. I decided I was going to sweep my house clear of its furniture. I was taking my ball and going home because, honestly, I have only one life.   


I find that when my body starts to react, then that’s when I need to do some investigating. That when my family is affected, or more appropriately, the way I treat my family, then I need to do some investigating. I agree absolutely that we all need to make room for discomfort because life is full of disappointments and frustrations and “surprises” and that if we don’t get our shit together and figure out who’s being the baby here, then we are really part of the problem, if not The Problem. 

Making room for discomfort has legs. To a point. To me, there’s yet another fine line between being amenable to discomfort and being a freaking masochist. 

So despite making room for and waiting for the mouth breather to drink the tea, I paid the check and walked away to spare the others at the tea room. I quit. I promised myself last year I wouldn’t let my tea get cold. That I wouldn’t go through it again in front of myself or in front of them. I chose my discomfort: I chose to stop doing something I cared about a lot to spare myself from continued discomfort and toxic breath. I sacrificed myself now while I am still useful and happy so I didn’t have to sacrifice myself later as a bloody stump. My head is high, but my heart is sad. I walked away earlier than I’d have liked to. I have learned that I have a limit, and that’s just going to have to be ok. 

The lesson here is to not walk away because you can’t take the heat. The lesson here is to stay and make room for what bugs you, to learn from it, and to let it toughen you because life is hard. Continually feeling mistreated because you don’t like the way things roll out though, makes you the problem. I didn’t want to be the problem anymore. Even though my standards were in line with others’ at some point you have to decide which battles to fight. Make room, for sure, but don’t give up your seat. Walk away when your bus gets to your stop. Walk away after you finish your tea. 
Thank you. 

          

Sometimes It’s Just Not Possible

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I was speaking the other day to my husband about my writing, about how I’m feeling stalled and repressed and my son happened to be within earshot. I said, “I’m trying to come at real stories and topics from a place of peace so I can share them with love rather than continuing a pathetic narrative of how life has done me wrong or how old habits and patterns of codependency float back to the surface and I end up feeling sorry for myself or victimized. I hate feeling victimized; I hate that narrative.” 

Funny. I said “hate” more than I said “love” just now. D’ja see that?  

My husband always has something balanced to say, and I didn’t really count on my son chiming in, but he did. He basically said that sometimes there are people out there who are so unhealthy and so entrenched in their patterns that they don’t act with love or with peace and so even through I’m trying to learn a lesson from it, to find the wisdom in it, sometimes it’s just not possible — other than to distill it through my own wishful thinking filter, which is really hard to do sometimes — to come up with any reasonable or balanced justification for the way people treat other people. Sometimes, he summarized, people are just full of hate and fear. 

“Sometimes, Mom, people are just really messed up and it’s not for you to sugar coat their behavior; that only rationalizes it. And more importantly, that’s not who you are. You’re not a sugar-coaster, Mom. You’re not a sledgehammer [anymore, I added], but you’re no spinmaster when it’s just too plain and obvious…”

He’s right and I know that I haven’t been writing with my intention of it coming from a place of peace because that would be inorganic. How can I try to find the love in an experience when love is absent and fear is the engine that created it? 

I was just talking to a dear friend from college. She and I share similar stories of our lives. She was talking about how she needs to say “no” more often; about how it’s ok to opt out and not do things for other people, especially if your heart isn’t in it. We talked about how sometimes we have to / end up doing things we’re not especially proud of or invested in because we happened to be there at the right time and while most of those experiences were inocuous in their own right, over time in the aggregate, they add up to a lot of “regret pebbles” that we end up carrying around. They encumber us and they unconsciously set us up for more similar experiences and repeated behaviors. 

I listened to her describe some of these experiences. I was patient and when it was right, I chimed in and she laughed in her usual way because she knew I was coming at this from the opposite corner. Not that I’ve figured it all out, but that I do believe that reframing (optimism is my ambition) helps us out. A lot. When we don’t know what to do. 

“Instead of coming at this from an aspect of saying ‘no,’ Bipsy, can you reframe it to include yourself instead of excluding others? Can you come at it from a place of ‘yes to myself’ instead of ‘no to you’?” We both laughed harder because we knew what I was proposing was basically inverting the entire paradigm of how we’ve been conditioned all our lives — because when we say “no” the whole world falls apart; people die; people suffer — to be hyper-vigilant, mistrustful, self-deprecating, and sarcastic… all these behaviors to cover the pain of being raised in a state of chaos by adults who really weren’t the best at “adulting.” 

We, as codependents, tend to have an issue / conflict with saying “no” to people because we want to be liked. But we see now that saying no is essential to our survival as healthy people with healthy boundaries. “Oddly, we were conditioned to say ‘yes’ to people who almost always communicated ‘no…'” I said and we both laughed again. Sort of. And then sighed at the same time. We were almost 3,000 miles apart at the time, but we were in the same space. 

I have no problem saying “no” to someone when my children or my husband or dear relations are at stake. Sometimes, however, it’s those same people I’m protecting that sometimes need to hear “no” from me. Or “yes” to something else. Compromises are the sweet elixir of the recovering codependent. We put that elixir on our ice cream. We indulge in it as liquid courage during difficult conversations. One of the best types of comments I’ve learned from my father to say to someone or about something that we just can’t see ourselves doing is to say, “That sounds like a good idea” — because it does, it’s a good idea to someone, but that’s it.    

I saw a person I used to know several months ago at an event of mutual interest. Our friendship break-off was sudden and horrid. We both chose our children over the other. That’s fine with me. I never will forget this person’s friendship and meaning in my life when we were fast and furious friends, but that time is over and that ship has sailed winded by an unforgivable act of betrayal. I decided at this months-ago event to just bite the bullet and say hello. Chances were very high that we would encounter each other at least half a dozen times in hallways or at the water fountain. We caught up in a superficial way and I dialed in and told her that it was nice to see her and catch up and that I will always hold her and our experiences dear in my heart. She said she missed me and that the ball was in my court about resuming our relationship. 

That was when I had to go with my gut. As much as I meant all the things I said to her in that moment, I didn’t have to say them. I felt like saying them because it’s what I was trained to do: take a shitty situation and make it better. I sipped from the elixir and I shouldn’t have. When I remembered why she and I were in this state of non-relationship it became clear again as to what happened and why. So I simply said, “Yeah. This is where we are. I loved you, but I don’t see it changing ever. My kids need to feel safe.” And that was that.   

It’s never to late to start to say no. 

I feel strong as a parent when I say no or choose us / me. Saying ‘yes’ to health and intelligent living doesn’t have to look like ‘no.’ It doesn’t have to feel exclusive. Because it’s not. You’ve weighed the options and decided to follow a certain decision. 

Take drinking, for instance. I don’t drink at all like I used to. Rarely do I have more than one glass of wine and if I happen to have two, that’s it. Socially, I will have a beer or a wine or a G&T and generally that’s it. This is at home, too. I’m not stupid: I’m genetically fucked. I’m primed to be a world-class alcoholic and if the way I feel — lighter, warmer but not hot, relaxed & easy like a Sunday morning, smooth in the muscles, sign here and everything will be taken care of to your liking, I’ll take another with a straw this time — less than 2 minutes after drinking a beer or a halfway into a glass of wine are not an indication that I’m playing with fire, nothing is.   

So I drink less. Or not at all. I try to stay present. I don’t let people pour for me without my awareness anymore. I don’t like waking up and feeling like shit. I don’t like not being able to fall asleep because it’s too hot it’s too dry it’s too hard it’s too soft it’s too much. Nothing –to me– is worth that feeling anymore. Will I slip up? Will I have three glasses of X? Yes, rarely but yes, and man, I tend to feel like a newborn the next morning. You’ve seen newborns, straight from the womb?

So instead of saying “no” to my friends or the booze, I say yes to a restful sleep. I say yes to remembering the evening. I say yes to acting responsible. I say yes to not terrifying my children. I say yes to my peace of mind. Should I falter, I have been very good though about no longer emotionally beating the shit out of myself. What’s done is done. You can’t nursing a bell, says Dr. Phil. I realize that beating myself up for something I can’t undo is a complete waste of time and mental bandwidth. 

But beating ourselves up sure keeps us in the spotlight, don’t it? So stop. For everyone’s peace of mind: stop flaggelating yourself. It’s embarrassing. It’s cyclical. 

I’m losing my train here. The point of this was to share that it’s hard to write or approach things from a place of love when you’ve been hurt. I try to paint a lot of stuff with rose tint but I think that’s more codependency at play. 

I saw a Mary Oliver quote the other day and it took my breath away. It was in a post at a blog I follow, “Adventures in Overthinking” titled Crescent Moons and Critical Morons.  


What is it that we plan to do with this one wild and precious life? 

I am going to be kinder to myself and write things the way they present themselves to me and I’m going to be ok with not always arriving at a conclusion that makes it all ok. Because sometimes it’s not. Sometimes when you’re treated like crap by people who are supposed to be your family, the anger is too much and it all feels waaaaaaaaay too familiar. As though you’re on a treadmill of your childhood’s worst possible moments because these are more people who have told you to count on them, despite all the flake flags you’ve ignored for years. 

So you try to talk to them about conditions, the situation, but you’re frequently interrupted by your host’s constant narrative of victimization and drama; the imprisonment of the golden handcuffs. They say they “hear” you and that they are your soft place to fall, yet instead after driving 460 miles they make you or your child sleep on the hard floor for three nights in a row. You cycle in your head about how they strung you along for months preceding the event, constantly changing the agenda  — and they connect with you about their time in Hawaii when their baggage was lost and they had to sit on the beach outside their condo for hours waiting for it to arrive. 

You try to discuss their reactivity, how the cellular reception is wonky and that you waited almost three hours for them to show up but yet they expected you to read their minds and you hear back from them that they bought all this expensive organic and healthy and non-GMO and locally produced food that’s gonna go to waste because you never showed up (because you were never instructed to). You try with love to listen sympathetically to their monologue about “bad” friends and betrayal by lovers in favor of those friends yet you remember watching them all open two bottles of Veuve Cliquot at 9am outside the window of your room. 

You then try to walk around the challenges of how they put drug-addled near-strangers ahead of you because they’re afraid of losing their love interest with the healthy investment portfolio (oh yeah, it’s getting real right now) and how they somehow managed to accuse you -hissingly- to third parties of taking their children to dinner, as if it’s a war crime. And how on your final night of “we can’t take it anymore” they somehow thought it ok to place their hand in the face of North America’s Kindest Man, my husband, when he tried to smooth things over — because that’s what he does, he’s The Smoother — and then drive away in a Neiman-Marcus grade huff of self-righteous indignation and fury, leaving their children -again- for you to shuttle back to Hotel California. But woe upon you, family relation: when you lose the endurance of The Smoother, may God have mercy on you. Because that’s when I get involved. 

I got involved because I’m done. Because as I mentioned in my post about our cat being stolen, that when I step in, you can almost count on it going nuclear and being totally FUBAR. I was ready because I was not going to do this again.  

This person made my husband swear and say, “That’s it. If it weren’t 11:45 at night and we had somewhere to go, we’d be #)C%!>@ leaving right now.” I unleashed the shitstorm of reality that people like me (tired of sipping the elixir of codependency and expecting different results) unleash. The results of unleashing that shitstorm can never be predicted because when you start your conversation, no matter how challenging, no matter how uncomfortable the details of how it all went pear-shaped (because very little of it had to do with me, it was a lot of projecting, looping and recycling of weird childhood feelings this person has NOT resolved), it’s very possible that you’ll be left standing amidst a cloud of gravel dust and disbelief in a driveway watching the driver of a European station wagon haul ass to Mommy. 

The Mommy who enrages them. The Mommy who doesn’t “get” them. The Mommy up the road.   

Those are just the highlights. 

But I won’t bore you with this story despite your pleas. I’ll incorporate it into my memoir or a “fiction” instead. 

Suffice it to say that this summer we opted to surround ourselves with people we love and people who love us and we hightailed it to North Carolina for an absolutely beautiful experience. While I was there I had two dreams about my mother. In one of them this relation and the father of this relation appeared at an event I was apparently hosting and serving a well-known (to my family) classic meal. I was approached and admonished by this father whose boisterous persona when alive was just as unfettered in my dream. He shouted at me in the dream the same strange, tribal id-chant he used shout when things got out of control to him. He was red-faced and utterly furious with me for behaving the way I did toward his child, reprimanding me for and accusing me of picking a fight…. I remember seeing my mother in the dream and she made fists and her jaw became set and she stared at him from behind with squinted, wild eyes. She was maybe 70. I said in the dream, “[TRIBAL CHANT] BACK TO YOU, MORTIMER! And what the hell are you doing here? You’re DEAD! You don’t belong in this dream!” And my mother (who is also dead) stood up and shook her fist and her signature bangles and said, ‘Great! Get ‘im, Maaal!” He bellowed at me, “This is not how you treat family!” And I bellowed back, fearless, “If you knew the whole story, you’d be on a different team, I promise you that, Morty.” My eyes darting between him and my mother, “We were NOT treated like family … or [hissing on my own now] maybe WE WERE…” and he and my mother both vaporized. They knew when to bolt.    

I’ve been told that it’s gossipy, uncouth and coarse to write about impolite things. But what if what you write about is people who treat people horribly? Doesn’t the story deserve venting? Doesn’t the fault lie more with the precipitating jerk than it does the person who decides to share the crappy behavior and end the delusion? What about when the person who recites the martyr narrative about the luggage in Hawaii and the expensive baby-dandelion-fed veal burgers is really the Veuve Cliquot-sipping despot? An inverse narcissist? Don’t roll your eyes.   

I can’t not write because I’m afraid of upsetting people. I read recently in Mother Land by Paul Theroux (awesome thick tome which reminds me of my mother and of the aforementioned relation): “At the end of his memoir, Family History, John Lanchester comments, ‘Once my mother wasn’t able to read my books, I finally began writing them.'” Theroux also continues to write about Miller, Wharton, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Lawrence, and others about how they dealt with their families’ and friends sentiments of their writing. It is empowering and it brings me back to Mary Oliver… what are we going to do with this wild and precious one life? 

I think the first thing we do is stop saying “no” and say “yes” instead. Yes to things that quicken our pulse. Yes to things that scare us. Yes to things we’ve not done before. Yes. 

This is it! This is the moment we’ve been waiting for! If you’re not there yet but you want to be, we can do it together. We just have to keep at least one hand on the steering wheel while we wave at the moon. 

Thank you.

This Story Needs Telling. Our Stolen Cat We See Daily.

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Many years ago when I first started this blog, I did so with the intention of it being a series of epistles to my sons, a chronicle of randomness throughout our lives together which would ultimately impart a moral or character-building lesson. I see now that I have sort of destroyed that intention — from the cheap seats, this platform could be considered to have morphed into an all-about-me show, but really, if you dial in, you will see that it’s still got some good lessons and stories for the boys to go over well after I’m mushroom food — but it all just happened. Much like this story I’m about to tell. (I’ll go into the mushroom thing later.)

This is our neighbor’s cat, now.

We used to call him “Gandalf.” I’m not sure what the neighbors call him, but now we refer to him as “Stolen.”

Gandalf came to us in 2004, after our loss of Skipper to the rescue league (I think I told that story on this blog) because he was basically dropped at our doorstep when all I planned on doing was helping his senior owner learn about the breed his children dumped on him after his wife died and his kids thought he could use some company, not the hip replacement Skipper induced.

Gandalf and his sister, Beezer (aptly named from “BC” for “black cat” and the phrase “bee-cee” morphed into “Beecee Beecer…” and then of course, “Beezer” but that doesn’t matter because on her vet file, she’s referred to as “Bitsy”) were picked up from a local source (pet store — I know, I’ll never do that again) in a moment of weakness. They were born on Boxing Day 2003. My husband knew all my life that all I wanted was a male gray barn cat and when Gandalf was a kitten he showed great promise. My sister-in-law had also recently acquired two sibling cats and she said it was better to have two cats than to have one cat (hmm, they have only their black cat too now), so I told my husband to do it, get both. He did. 

Of course they were adorable. Of course they were cuddly and purred. They had blue eyes when they were babies; we knew they would not likely stay blue. They were goofy and we indulged them with all the love and attention they could withstand. It was delightful to watch them grow up.

They are cats. We learned when they were about 10 months old that we were staff. Did the love affair end? Not at all. We still appeal to their aloofness and tried to get them to interact with us, but they made it clear from their early months, that they were to be revered and observed and not really … “owned.” We tried collars. We tried bells on collars. We tried walking them on a leash (BWAHAHAHAAAAA! Such folly!) We never abandoned them and we always followed their lead. They were the cats. We invited them into our lives.

When they were about 15 months old, after they had been sterilized, they made it quite clear (have you heard a cat incessantly yowl?) that they preferred an indoor-outdoor lifestyle. Gandalf more so than Beezer. He liked to roam. We loved him so much we had a chip installed in him when he was recovered at a vet’s after he roamed more than 2 miles from home one three-day weekend when we were home; we hadn’t seen him for more than a week. I’d like to thank the Sullivans for posting “found cat” signs along the path to school on the same weekend we were posting our “lost cat” signs. Closer in, he would follow us along the curb line when we would walk Maggie, our first Golden. He would follow us to school in the morning when I would drop off Connor, my oldest, to kindergarten. It was a thing we did every day: all the neighborhood children who walked to school would marvel at and try to pet our elusive yet devoted silly gray cat who stalked us along the ferns and wild lilies to the educave where I reluctantly deposited my five-year-old for his daily infusion of state-designed education. Sometimes “G” or “Gandy” (as we called him) would stay behind, looking quizzically at me as if to suggest: “That’s it? You’re leaving?! What about the one in there? What the hell?” And he would literally walk around the school and wait outside the window looking in. One morning, he found Connor’s classroom and I got a phone call.

“Mrs. Field, we believe your cat is at the school looking in the windows. Could you please get him? He’s lovely. He’s also a major distraction.”

By the time I plopped the kids in the stroller and dashed up there, to try to coax him home (I was not about to deal with a kitty kennel and a double stroller) G was vapor. He probably knew I was coming. Cats know things.

We were a team. Over the years, we began to understand each other. Gandalf simply wanted tactical support during untenable weather, a reliable food source, and a place to shit. We wanted a cat and this is how we operated. “What about Beezer?” you ask? She’s still here. She’s a curious little girl, a bit timid but she warms up to you eventually. No food required, just a gradual and earned trust. She doesn’t fancy being held. But she will endure it to escape the dogs to and from her adventures outdoors. She’s a fantastic hunter and she shows us her devotion to us with a dead mole, small snake or baby something on the doorstep every couple of weeks.

Now that I’ve updated you on our history, I will bring you up to speed (with some backstory) on the current situation.

Our neighbors, in their late 60s and early 70s, have lived on this street since its inception. They are what are referred to as “original owners.” We’ve lived here since 2000, so we’ve known them for some time. Overall, it’s been an avuncular and materteral relationship. We’ve assisted each other with lifestyle requests (lawn care after medical procedures, tool borrowing, etc.) when needed. It’s been high level with some deeper niches here and there. Our houses face each other. It’s how things can be on a “pipestem” or “private driveway” culture.

They have had their own cat, an orange male tabby, “OJ,” who was beautiful and would stare at G and Beezer with both envy and disgust. Then they had “Cricket,” the dog belonging to the frail in-law father who moved in after his wife died and his house was sold. Somewhere along the history in the last six years, OJ died, the father-in-law died, and Cricket died. It was all very sad and hard on the couple, but this is life, is it not?

“Why don’t you get another cat?” I would ask… “You loved your OJ… he was low maintenance and when you travel, cats are pretty cool with a long weekend and very easy to look after…”

“Naaaaah. Too much work. Too much hassle. My heart would break when we would lose it. I don’t want to get attached. I don’t want the expense. I don’t want to deal with another pet. Too much work. I want freedom,” would be the standard answer(s).

These conversations would often occur after they would joke about how G would sneak into their house when the garage – house door was ajar.

“He’s so faaaayast…” the wife would say between hearty laughs in her scratchy Great Lakes accent. “I cayaan’t catch him!”

I would look askance, nod in gentle acknowledgment …  my gut telling me something was “off” as we say in the woo-woo world.  Gandalf was lots of things. FAST is not one of them. He’s like the slow, lumbering, pimp-rolling cat who OWNS this street. He has nothing to rush about. He doesn’t give a crap about your car coming up the street. He watches YOU steer out of the way. I’m convinced he was part dog. We used to call him “KittyDog” as a joke, but now we call him “Stolen.”

“Well, just don’t let him develop a habit. Call me and I’ll come get him. Or just toss him out. We don’t want to confuse him.” I would say. Keeping the conversation going.

“Oh absolutely! I can deal without the cat hair! Ha! I’ll toss him!” she would say, unconvincingly.

Over the years, we started to see less and less of Gandalf at home. Our home. His home.

It got to be a problem. My kids were concerned. I would email the street: “Has anyone see Gandalf? Please let us know, the boys are very sad…” Everyone would reply “Nope. Haven’t seen him. Will let you know if we do. Will keep an eye out…” except one. Crickets. (Ha!)

One day soon after that missive, I saw G slink outside the front door of my neighbors’ house. Like he was performing the cross-campus walk of shame. Except he was simply crossing 30 feet of macadam. He was leaving the house of you know, the people who didn’t want a pet. That having a pet was too much work. That they didn’t want to get attached. That they didn’t need the expense. The hassle. They just wanted to borrow him for comfort … ?

He sauntered to my door: “mew.” I’d let him in.

This pattern continued a few more months and then I said to my husband: this has to get real, now.

Here I go again: growing up in a world where enabling, deceit and duplicity and shame and hiding truth was a way of life, I had determined when I was a young woman that even if it meant I was going to be a caustic raving troubadour of truth, that I was NOT going to live in a world where people simply didn’t own their shit.  

My husband, knowing for certain that he’d married a real liability about stuff like this and that I’d reached my limit of neighborly kindliness and looking-the-other-way -ness about it, knew he had two options: he could handle it and things would likely go nice and diplomatic or I could handle it and it was going to be like a freaking social nuclear holocaust on their asses.

He handled it. He went over to their house and had a doorstep chat about it. He had all his facts. He presented the situation and they admitted to it and hung their cat-thieving heads in shame and said they’d stop doing it.

Enter… the summer. Gandalf comes and goes. He’s happy. He’s losing weight. He’s fine.

Enter… the fall. Same. He’s never been a fan of indoor living and he wasn’t thrilled when Charlie took up residence here, but he’s a cat. He flew under the radar. He came and went as he pleased. At midnight he would howl and we would let him out. In the morning, he’d be at the doorstep mewing all, “breakfast?” And we’d let him in.

Enter… the winter … and G was having sleepovers again. His absence was the harbinger of the resumption of their dysfunctional behavior. I remember disTINCTly the time I saw with my own bespectaled eyes, their readmittance of MY CAT into their home. It was a standard February day here in Northern Virginia: 45˚ and sunny. G padded around the house, rubbed his furry gray head into my shin and “rowled” hello. He followed me to the front door and mewed that he wanted to go out, so I let him. He sat on our brick stoop for a while (much like in the photo above) and then he got up, stretched in at least 15 different ways and began his daily constitutional, walking around outside, performing a census of the bayberry thorns with his back in the neighbor’s yard and slinking beneath their junipers stopping from time to time to daintily sniff something.

I was just watching him do his kitty thing in the bright sunshine. The morning sun’s reflection on the glass storm door across the asphalt caught my eye as my female neighbor OPENED THAT DOOR, LOOKED FROM SIDE TO SIDE LIKE SHE WAS IN A 1930’s GANSTGER FLICK AND “TSK TSK TSK’D” MY CAT INTO HER FUCKING HOUSE. Gandalf looked up from his sniffing and trotted through her doorway.

I lost my mind. I counted to 10 in kitty years. I took a few breaths. I did all the shit I tell my yoga students and all the freaked out little kids to do when they’re upset and none of it worked. It was like I was staring at a hall of mirrors of “FUCK MEOW YOU” written all over them.

I often refer to moments in my life with scenes from movies, to bring people into my state of mind. There’s a great scene in “Raising Arizona” when Holly Hunter’s character, Ed (who was a police officer), discovers Nick Cage (Hi) has reverted to armed robbery (“it ain’t armed robbery if the gun’s not loaded,” he would say earlier in his defense during his parole hearings) and has a panty on his head. Why? He was absconding with a bulk case of Huggies diapers for the baby he and Ed, now his wife, have just kidnapped because she was infertile. (This is a comedy, so stay with me.) Ed, in full police chase driving mode, drives to pick up Hi and as she sees him with the gun raised to the pimple-faced teenage store clerk, and she puts the car in park, gets out of the car, stands up, points at Hi and screams, “YOUSONOFABITCH!” at least twice. That’s how I felt. I felt kinship with her character, Ed, because she had been deceived. Instead of shouting what she did, I pointed and shouted, “YOUFUCKINGBITCH!” at least twice as I watched that harlot let my cat in her house without a damned care in the world and how small it made me feel.

If you’ve never seen Raising Arizona, you need to; here’s a great summary which still doesn’t do the film justice: https://youtu.be/wQYY7TSnPXQ

I realize this is not about the cat. This is not about Gandalf being “disloyal” and all the other human attachments we assign to animals. I read National Geographic. I’ve known for YEARS that cats are whores. Especially the indoor-outdoor type. I wasn’t concerned about G’s well-being because he was a badass. He OWNED this ‘hood. It wasn’t about his weight or his health or the fact that every time he’d been away for several days we’d know where he was because he smelled like their we’re-no-longer-smokers but our-house-smells-like-cheap-candles-to-cover-up-the-stench house. Whenever G came home from an overnight he smelled like the cheap cologne from a brothel washroom (or what I’d imagine that space would smell like). Every time, we would sniff him and say, “He’s been tricking.”

Because I know this isn’t about the cat but rather human weakness, fear and cowardice, I’ve basically tried to let it go. I’ve looked the other way. I’ve gone Jesus about it and turned the other cheek. I have zoomed out: these are sad people with nothing really going on. I’m not being coarse when I say they barely leave their house. The husband is a workaholic and has had two heart attacks. He’s on a pacemaker now. The wife is probably enduring some form of insulin resistance or compromised health or depression and their marriage is likely a silent one. If G hanging out with them brings pleasure to their lives and their sad existence, then he’s doing the work of angels and nuns. I’m good with it. What I’m NOT good with, no shock here if you’ve read anything I’ve written, is THE LYING and the GAME PLAYING, the silence.

It continued for years. I would play Jesus. I would let it go. I would notice my beautiful gray barn cat getting fatter and fatter. To keep the peace on this tiny cul de sac, I would keep my piece.

“He doesn’t come home and when he is here he doesn’t eat. He barely talks to me. He hisses at the dogs. He smells like Old Spice or Brut. His body is changing… I think he’s having an affair!” Same with cats. Save for the lipstick on the collar.

Four years later, this May, shit hit the fan. I am guessing literally, over at the House of Stolen Cat. Gandalf hasn’t been lodging with us for at least a year. He comes in to eat and nap then leaves before long. Apparently family living isn’t for him, plus our kibble likely sucks in comparison to what was in the Fancy Feast tins I’ve seen in their trash. No, I didn’t go snooping although now I wish I had.

My husband and I are watching a murder show around 10pm. This is what we do when we are exhausted and bored and want to compare our lives to the sadness on exploitative television.

His phone lights up with a text from the man who will now be known as “Mr. Cat Thief.”

MCT: We think the cat is sick. It has been coughing a lot tonight.

Dan [after much laughter from us before replying and chatting about ‘the cat‘]: What cat?

MCT:  Gandalf.

Dan: Well, you would know better than I. You have allowed him to live with you for at least a year. We take him to XYZ vet.

Pause…

MCT: We would like to take him to the vet. We would pay of course. But he has a chip. They might balk at us for bringing him in without your consent.

Pause… we are laughing. We can’t believe this is happening. I’m all “‘but he has a chip…’ — that’s because HE’S NOT YOURS, YOU EFFERS!”

Finally, Gandalf is giving them what they deserve: the hassle, the vet bills, the companionship, the attachment, the heartache — the true surreptitious ownership (despite EVERYTHING they said they didn’t want) of MY GRAY BARN CAT — because we haven’t had him overnight in our house for more than a year and he’s become obese and flatulent at their hand and their cowardice. Dan and I debate this conversation. We are bitter. Well, I am bitter. I’m half bitter, actually: I’m THRILLED that they’re having to reach out to us about OUR cat that THEY stole from us and I’m pissed that they are effing cowards and assholes.

Dan? Dan’s dancing a jig, finally free of the cat who literally was a giant nagging eating and shitting machine — an asshole to us. Finally relieved of tending to his shitbox. I can see in Dan’s head, the cartoonish “for sale” sign attached to Gandalf’s kitty house. We talk some more. A little at odds over how to handle this. I want to say, “FUCK YOU! YOU STOLE OUR CAT!” when we both know that won’t solve anything. “That’s not why they’re texting, sweetie,” Dan reminds me. This is how we work.

Dan: Go ahead and take him [forever] to the vet. We will authorize the transfer and ownership of Gandalf to you.

MCT: Ok.

Here’s the actual thread with crappy editing:


Dan is freaking on fire. He’s laughing so hard and he’s so happy. He can’t believe his luck.


I’m laughing with Dan sincerely while at the same time I’m also enraged that no one — not even my beloved — has called them out explicitly for stealing our cat from us after our requests to not let him in, to not develop habits with him, to remember he doesn’t live with them despite his insistence that he thinks he does. Curiosity does not equal dominion.

Do I miss Gandalf? Yeah, a little and a lot sometimes. He’s a beauty and he used to live here. I resent the hell out of this situation because I chose to be nice, that I chose to be all Jesus and turn-the-other-cheekish about this. I really do.

And then it comes back to me, my lessons from all those years on the couch: It’s hard to be soft.

So they took him to the vet. The next weekday morning, I answered the call on our house line and it was the receptionist at XYZ vet telling me that MrsCT was presenting Gandalf. Asking if I was ok with their bringing him in for attention and observation? I was pissed. They actually went through with it… probably thinking as well that they were better cat owners than we. That if we really loved him… I don’t know. But I allowed the transfer of the chip and ownership to them. Now they are confronted with their outcome. We all are. It could be easily said that if I really wanted my cat that I would MARCH THE HELL OVER TO THEIR HOUSE AND DEMAND!!!! THEY RELEASE HIM AND NEVER DO IT AGAIN!!!

But that’s really silly. I am not a fanatic. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to live like this.

I’m also not a hypocrite. As depicted in the photo in the beginning, taken this morning, Gandalf clearly still comes “home” to us, but we don’t let him in. We don’t want to further confuse him and frankly, we don’t own him anymore. We’ve handed over all rights to M/MCT. He rubs against my leg, but he doesn’t come in. He sits on our stoop, infuriating Charlie and is sociable to Beezer who hisses at him whenever she gets the chance. (This is not new behavior for her, she’s one of those kitties who absolutely has to let herself be known so she can operate freely in her zone.)

The thing is though, that we would’ve absolutely had a real conversation about them adopting Gandy if they wanted to. We spoke privately about it. We saw what was happening — they would feed him, he’d get fatter and we’d have to deal with their indulgence but they openly said they didn’t want a pet; they just wanted our cat but not own him-own him.

It sucked. The only way to have dealt with it was to deal with it. For several months before this went down, Dan and I would talk to each other about how something had to change; that they had to stop doing what they were doing or that we were going to have to upgrade their status. But Gandalf took care of it all on his own.

So how did the following weekend’s Memorial Day Pipestem Cookout go, you ask? It went fine. MrsCT was sociable and acted as though nothing had happened. She seems willing to speak about unpleasant things when they have to do with her husband who takes her nowhere. Ever. I cooley smiled and then ignored her and drank my Bud Light Limes under the shade of my crepe myrtle with my bestie. MrCT was as cold as my beer. He likely knew that I was seething under my red white and blue frock, and I didn’t care. To me, Maya Angelou (God rest her), was loud and clear: “When someone shows you who they are the first time, believe them.” That first time was when in their weakness and heartache they stole Gandalf six years ago. I knew it would happen again. I choose to be real. I won’t speak to them at all anymore unless they start the conversation and of course like Dutiful Recovering Catholics, we won’t talk about it, even though I know it would be best. I honestly don’t think they can handle the conversation.

So what’s the moral lesson here? What’s the platitude if I can’t think of anything substantial…? I think it’s that we all screw up, but that it’s not OK to say “I just screwed up.” That we have to go deeper, we have to do more. We can’t just roll over people and expect them to be ok. We have to do the right thing. We have to own our screw ups and own the pain we cause others. We have to admit our weaknesses for other peoples’ things (if you’re the M/MCTs) and come to terms with how our choices shape the lives of the people around us. Not to mention the shape of their cat.

Thank you.