Something that I couldn’t see drilled itself into the pad of my thumb, and I started to panic, when a second later, I felt the whole tip of my thumb begin to split open. I felt my eyes and mouth were wide and I was making that whimpering noise when you want to cry but are too freaked out.
My thumb looked like a bloody flower that had bloomed. Then I realized that my tongue was doing the exact same thing. I could taste metal in my mouth, which I could only assume was the blood. I couldn’t scream, I could only whimper. My tongue was a forked stump, with a deep bloody crater in the middle. It didn’t hurt so much, it just felt really strange, like a piece of warm uncooked fish in my mouth. I couldn’t speak.
I was in an ornate room of a palace when this happened. There was wooden floors, and a high faulted ceiling, white and gold. There was no furniture.
Then my father was there, and he beckoned me over to the wall, where he was preparing a Bloody Mary for me on a credenza under the light of a floor lamp. As he was stirring, he said sweetly and somewhat absently, “Y’know, it’s been proven that frutilla makes people happy.” Strawberries, he was talking about. I just stood there, still freaked out and unable to say anything. He handed me the drink. “You should go eat some.”
3 days ago I found out that my cat died. My housemates, who were taking care of him, told me that he was taken to the vet in critical condition with some kind of respiratory illness and was put down. He was only 7 years old and in perfect health when I left. I have been living abroad for 8 months, and I am three weeks away from coming home.
At first I was angry- how could this have happened? Why didn’t they take better care of him? Then I thought, regretfully, that the Powers that Be were punishing me for something- enjoying myself without him, perhaps. After a few days of mourning and processing, I’ve moved past those feelings and now I’d like instead to reflect on the impact of this pet- only a cat, after all- and the formative years of my life in which he was a constant.
When he first came into my life I was 21 years old and freshly returned from studying abroad my senior year in college. He was a gift to my boyfriend from his brother and sister-in-law. My boyfriend named him Thuggernaut, a name which bemused me at best. He was a wildly energetic kitten with ears that were 3 times too big for him and a beautiful chocolate swirled coat. I fell in love with him immediately. When my boyfriend transferred to UC Santa Cruz and couldn’t find a place that allowed pets, I gladly took him in. It was 2007, I had graduated and relocated to Berkeley and had just moved into a studio of my own at that time.
Thuggernaut kept me company during the next two years that I lived there by myself. I had a 9 to 5 working for an architect and was going to evening classes to pursue Interior Design. I remember taking him down the hall to the apartment of my boyfriend’s brother, where he and his wife would let my cat play with theirs like some kind of day care. This was my trying-to-be-a-real-adult phase. I remember Thuggernaut laying in the middle of all my fabric scraps while I tried to put together material boards for projects. I remember one night I was getting ready for bed at the vanity in my closet and Thuggernaut was watching me from the doorway. Suddenly he bolted under the bed and a split second later an earthquake struck- he had felt it first. I steadied myself in the doorframe and was terrified at the idea of being alone while my old building crumbled on top of me, but I was comforted as me and the cat stared at each other wide-eyed in a shared moment of fear and I realized that I wasn’t completely alone.
In October of 2009 I sensed that the stagnating economy would take a toll on my work and I moved to Oakland into a big house with 7 other people in order to save money and get a change of scenery. My boyfriend and I had broken up and he had moved to New York, after an almost 3-year long distance relationship. The cat came with me and I was now comfortable with calling him mine. As we were adjusting to this new life with all of it’s open shared spaces and new faces, I was laid off. When I had to start explaining what happened to my friends and family, it seemed like everyone had something to say- but Thuggernaut stayed quiet and didn’t judge. He also stayed by my side on all the proceeding mornings I would sit on the porch, smoking, in my pyjamas, at 3pm, while I tried to figure out what I really wanted from life. I was 24 years old and didn’t have a clue, and I was glad he was there.
At that big house in Oakland I had to learn to let go a little. Thuggernaut was yearning to go outside and I really couldn’t stop him. One night I returned late from a drag party at the Happiness Hotel and went to bed without realizing that my cat was not at his usual place by my side. A little while later I heard a terrible cry outside and I knew instantly for some reason that it was him. I put on my robe and rushed out onto the porch but I couldn’t see him. I smoked a cigarette in the cold night and waited for him, calling his name like a crazily distraught mother. He finally slinked back to the door with his tail between his legs and I can’t remember a time when I was more relieved. The next day I realized he had been injured in whatever fight he had gotten into, and some steep medical bills later we had some heartbreakingly hilarious moments with a plastic cone and force fed pills.
During this time I had to ask myself what lengths I would honestly go to in order to care for this random dime-a-dozen creature. How much would be too much? Would I be able to put him down if it came to it?
I remember dating a guy who thought his name was stupid and suggested we change it, and the choice was clear and easy. It would be highly unlikely that I would ever compromise my pet for a guy. Thuggernaut was not my first choice for a name but that’s who he was and that name represented a significant person and part of my life. Thuggernaut is who he’ll always be.
In 2012, after having numerous odd jobs as an event coordinator, street vendor, waitress, gallery assistant, photographer, grocery store clerk, receptionist, whatever whatever I finally decided to apply to teach English abroad- a back up plan I had had since visiting a friend teaching in China in 2008. I landed a teaching position in Santiago, Chile, and prepared to be separated from my furry little baby for the longest time since we had moved in together. He had had his shares of ups and downs too- living with a female cat who tormented him, loving and losing a stray kitten who became like a little brother, and learning to be taken care of by strangers.
I think about all the people who have helped take care of him over the years, and it makes my heart swell. Through this cat I learned so much about my friends and especially about myself- I got a taste of what’s it like to be a parent and realized that I do have something resembling a maternal instinct. I worried and coddled and complained about expenses. I took turns being grateful and resentful, cleaned up messes and made decisions based on obligation, and I needed help from my friends and they gave it to me.
Animals are constants in our lives and serve as amazing time markers- they bring people together and define an era. I think about the people who have come and gone since I was 21, and more importantly the people who have come and stayed. I think about what kind of person I would have been in my early 20s if I hadn’t become a pet owner, and it’s hard to imagine. Taking responsibility for another creature’s life really made me cut out a lot of meaningless and harmful crap from my life and appreciate the right kind of people. “Pet-owner” is now a part of what defines me, and I’m glad.
The vet said there’s no clear indication of why he got sick. The diagnosis was respiratory distress and heart failure due to probable cancer. So it goes. He will be buried in the garden and upon my return to Oakland that is the first place I will go. Thuggernaut, I’m coming home and I can’t wait to see you.
After living next to this giant red church for 3 months, and peering out of the window down at the tops of the overflowing vegetation of its courtyard, I finally managed to go inside.
The courtyard is big and dark, because the trees block out the light. There is a fountain in the middle. The ground is wet unpaved dirt. It’s very quiet. Around the courtyard there are large white arches with dark, almost black, thick beams overhead. There are smooth large terracotta tiles beneath the beams and arches.
The rooms surrounding the courtyard house the colonial museum- what is really more of a collection of religious relics than colonial ones. The light is poor, the windows are small and the sparse track lighting is garish at times, spotlighting old rotting dolls fashioned after saints and skeletal Christs covered in blood and tacky wigs. Catholicism is depressing and frightening, it made me think. But there is a large room dedicated to huge paintings depicting the life of Saint Francis, which I found inspiring. I decided I would read more about his life and miracles.
As I walked back out into the courtyard and towards the exit, I passed a small older man wearing a baseball cap, faded jeans, and gardening gloves who started talking to me. He asked me if I spoke Spanish, to which I replied ‘a little.’ He proceeded to beckon me to follow him over to the trees, pointing at various plants and talking fluidly.
I tried my best to follow along. I think he asked me if I was familiar with this or that, to which I said ‘I know the Araucaria’ pointing to the biggest and oldest tree, the most visible from my window. It’s over 500 years old, he said. He brought me to another tree and plucked a leaf from its branch, giving it to me. He said something about putting it in the wallet for good luck, then proceeded to take the leaf from my hand, break it apart, and hold it to my nose. It smelled wonderful, like warm sugar. I took out my wallet and gestured to him to show that I was putting it in my wallet, smiling in place of the words I didn’t know. He then showed me a plant that looked like a variety of bamboo, and said what I think was something about the old priests using it to beat themselves. I just nodded, turning to the fountain.
"I like the fish," I said.
"There are turtles," he said.
We circled the quiet fountain but found no turtles. Then he pointed to a beautiful rooster crossing the path near us, saying something about the variety of bird. It had long flowing tail feathers that were dark emerald green. Where had it been before? I hadn’t noticed any animals when I first arrived.
Then he signaled for me to look around a corner and see a large male peacock, walking casually and freely among the bushes. It looked strange. Then the man, who asked me what my name was and said his was Milo, explained that the bird lost its feathers to prepare to grow new ones.
"I have not seen this bird without the big feathers" I said.
"Wait a moment," he said.
I saw him walk into the bushes towards a wrought iron cage, an aviary, and go inside. He picked something up off the ground and came back. He had two small feathers from the body of the peacock, about the size of my palm. He gave them to me and then made an opening and closing motion with his hands, “put them in a book, to mark the pages,” he said.
Buen idea, I told him, and que bonita!
"You are very pretty, señorita," he said, smiling.
I thanked him, flattered, and wished him a good afternoon. I left, crossed the loud and bright street to my apartment building, and went home.
We both had different strategies: he listed songs that made him think of me, and I listed songs that I thought/knew he would like with the word ‘love’ in it. We both included ‘Modern Love’ by Bowie, and songs by Leonard Cohen and Wilco. This made me really really happy <3
It was nearing midnight and I had just reached my new apartment building. I had my keys ready but the one for the front door was sticking in the lock again and as I fumbled I could see out of the corner of my eye that it had caught the attention of this guy standing near the curb. I finally got the door open and by then he was behind me waiting to come in, so I let him pass me to go up the stairs first.
At the first floor landing he had stopped and was talking into his phone, “I’m on the first floor,” he said in Spanish. I continued on past him, but started to get a little nervous as he continued to follow me up until the 2nd locked gate between the 3rd and 4th floors. I was fumbling with my keys again, trying not to let the 4 beers I had had at a friend’s house slow me down. I didn’t want to deal with this guy. He came up behind me, his face about level with my waist, and asked -I think- if I was going to the 4th floor… something about the 4th floor. I said no, 6, but here is 4- pointing to the landing just beyond us. Hearing my accent he immediately said, "Disculpe" and stuck out his hand- “excuse me.” I felt a little better at this nicety but still nervously opened the gate and let him go first.
When he was a few steps above me he stopped and turned around. He bent down, stuck his hand out again and put his other hand on my waist, "Disculpe. Disculpe! Hola." He bent down to give me the usual kiss on the cheek, shaking my hand, but then he went to kiss the other cheek. I reluctantly kissed him. People from Spain do that…maybe he is from Spain, I didn’t know. ” De donde eres?” Where are you from, he wanted to know. ‘California,’ I replied quickly as I tried to continue on to my 6th floor. But he still continued after me, and I really started to get nervous. “Donde vas??” I asked him- where are you going? Then he said ‘last floor,’ all while we were quickly walking up the stairs, in a spiral, and I was trying to get distance between us. He was tall and skinny and young, with an angled baseball cap and baggy shorts, longish hair, pierced ears. He could have been the skateboarding friend of a friend, someone I was pleased to meet in another time and place.
I was at my front door now, again fumbling with my keys, trying to unlock the door while keeping an eye on him. He got really close to me and kept saying, “Disculpe,” over and over again… trying to shake my hand while resting his other hand on my skirt, on my left butt cheek. I pushed his hand away, while nervously laughing and knocking on the door, desperately, telling him ‘“no, it’s ok, it’s ok, good night,” he tried to keep talking but I was done listening by now, thoroughly freaked out and backed into the corner where my door met the wall, “BUENOS NOCHES” I said more forcefully- can’t you see you’re freaking me out?! My voice clearly indicated.
Then I got the door open as my housemates were coming out to see what was going on. I went straight to my room and was embarrassed at how shaken I was. I put my purse down, ‘There was this guy..’ was all I could really say. I heard Danilo go out to the stairwell while asking me if I was okay, I went back to the open front door just as Danilo encountered the guy coming down from the top floor. Danilo blocked him and asked him what was up, and the guy simply said he was looking for the 4th floor. ‘Is this the guy?’ Danilo asked, I nodded but insisted it’s ok, it’s all good, todo bueno… todo bueno.
After the guy had left and we were inside again, I felt my eyes start to get hot and watery, from anger and embarrassment that this had been… a thing. That this had happened, and yet nothing too terrible had really happened, and it had freaked me out so much. My housemates rubbed my arms and took me to the kitchen where they poured vodka tonics and we moved on with our night. I went to bed feeling okay.
Then I woke up, in the middle of the night.
I couldn’t get back to sleep as I angrily thought about all the things I should have done or could have said, frustrated once again by my inability to speak.
An American teacher moves to Chile with his new wife and is told by his wife that it is custom not to throw the toilet paper in the toilet. For the rest of his life he abides by this rule in Chile and even goes on to explain about the custom to all the following teachers who come to teach in his new English Learning School. They then make lives for themselves in Chile, always practicing this custom.
Chileans, meanwhile, start to wonder why Americans never ever flush their dirty toilet paper and then begin to assume that it’s an American custom.
The other day I encountered my first araña de rincón or “corner spider" while my housemate was cleaning out junk from under the sink. It is big, fast, and poisonous, he informs me. Fanfuckingtastic. Nightmares about bedbugs will now be replaced by this. "Now you know why I am always vacuuming," he says. Ha, oh right.
I knew it was just a matter of time before I experienced the creepy crawly side of South America.
I was inside a store, there wasn’t much there. There was no one else there except a middle aged black woman and her little girl. Suddenly someone was saying to go outside, we could see the volcano about to erupt. I hurried outside and there were lots of people standing around pointing to the snow covered mountain top. Everyone was really excited- “This area is famous for the volcano!”
I came out just as the volcano top started smoking. A big white cloud emerged from the peak and everyone cheered and started clapping. Suddenly there was a huge jolt, and I almost fell to my knees but managed to steady myself just as, with a deafening rumbling noise, the mountain burst with a huge black stream of smoke and rocks rocketing into the sky. People started screaming and scattering in different directions and I felt my insides drop as I realized, in a split instant of clarity, how stupid we all were.
I didn’t know where to go, I was alone in a strange place, but started running in the direction I had come from. I was on a large flat paved surface, the gradual incline towards the top of a parking garage, when around the corner a burning tidal wave of molten lava came rushing after me. There was nothing but the white sky and that intense glowing heat. I started running, as fast as I could, but it wasn’t nearly fast enough. I yelled to no one in particular, “It’s coming!” and way ahead of me in the distance I saw the woman and her little girl, and I heard the woman yell faintly something along the lines of “we know.”
I looked back and the tidal wave was quickly gaining on me, red upon orange upon yellow tumbling over itself, hungry and grasping, the air around it for as far as I could see was quivering and distorted. In another moment of clarity I knew that there was nowhere I could run to, no escape, no rock or cement or steel that could withstand it, and I was going to die.
I’m sick and tired of employers demanding the world yet offering no incentive nor reward, criticizing everything and encouraging nothing, and operating below industry standard protocol.
My partner has been working for a small prestigious company for almost a year and has recently become deeply frustrated. He barely has a contract and there is no company manual. He has been promoted but not given a raise. He has been told to do someone else’s job and then criticized for his performance after working 10 hour days for weeks on end. He does not know if or when he can take a day off. He has a love of the industry that is slowly being stifled.
I am sad to say his situation is not new to me- I have worked in several similar offices. It saddens me even more to offer him little in the way of solutions. What can we hope for other than getting laid off before we lose our patience and quit? It’s a sorry state our small businesses are in, and if I’m ever the employer of others I hope that I can learn from those who dismissed concepts like validation and self-respect, investing in employees and having patience.
Surprisingly, the lowly grocery store position I now hold is the one where I feel the best treated. Who knew! Opportunities to have my voice heard. Standardized protocol for time off, benefits, promotions, career advancement, corrective action. Processes are slow, but fair, and equal for everyone.
Down with salary pay. Down with “independent contracts.” Down with internships! These are fronts for exploitation, laziness, and greediness.
"There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had."
I went to work at the grocery store, and my cat tagged along as usual. The grocery store was in a large warehouse that was shared by a neighboring auto mechanic, and the cat would wander freely back and forth. I was stacking some fruit when a woman came up to me and told me that she had seen a cat on the loose here several times, and if she saw him again she was going to take him. I got really worried and started looking for my cat. I saw him walk into the back room and ran after him. When he saw that I was trying to catch him he ran away, and I chased him down the hall and out the back door where he scaled a fence and jumped down to the other side.
I ran to the front of the warehouse, around the mechanic’s and to the side where my cat had escaped to. I saw him on the other side of the street, approaching some kind of rodent that stood still on the sidewalk. I watched as my cat tried to coax the rat to come with him, and it struck me that they were close- they knew each other. The rat tried to go one way, and my cat grabbed it and started dragging it the other way. He didn’t want to let the rat go. When the rat started to struggle, my cat put the rat’s head in his mouth and very slowly started biting down- it seemed he was trying to get the rat to calm down. All of a sudden I could see with extreme detail that my cat was applying more and more pressure- I saw his teeth slowly fracture the rat’s skull, its head contorting slightly. The rat let out a long, high pitched moan that wouldn’t stop. Its mouth was wide open, and it opened wider and wider. Like an extreme zoom, its mouth filled my vision, opening wider until it looked like it would break backwards, with that pitiful cry filling my ears.
I was going to have a productive day but then found this playlist I made while helping with wedding music, so I put it on 8tracks. All the songs have ‘love’ in the title…
Love Love Love - The Mountain Goats Real Love (iTunes Session) - Beach House Sea Of Love (Remastered) - Cat Power You Love Me - DeVotchKa Words Of Love - (Buddy Holly) - Jessica Lea Mayfield Your Love Is Forever - (George Harrison) - Ben Bridwell Some Kinda Love - The Velvet Underground No One’s Gonna Love You - Band of Horses The Book Of Love - The Magnetic Fields Teenage Lovesong - Rilo Kiley Satellite of Love - Lou Reed Hot Love - T Rex You Can’t Only Love When You Want To - Strange Boys Love And Some Verses - Iron & Wine Love’s Been Good To Me - Johnny Cash I Love You - The Velvet Underground Dance Me To The End Of Love - Madeleine Peyroux
I was packing up the car, and had several kittens in a box that I was going to take to the vet. We were someplace like the house I grew up in, the house was at the top of a small hill and there was a wooded area off the side of the road at the bottom. I saw one of the kittens roaming around near the wooded area and I asked my father to try and go get him. All of a sudden two large creatures appeared out of the shadows, they looked like large shaggy cats with no tails. I heard my father say “uh oh.” They approached the kitten and I knew they were going to try and kill it. I yelled at my father to try and stop them, but he just stood there with his arms crossed, shaking his head. I screamed at him to do something, even though I knew he was old and in pain and could not get there in time. I yelled at the wild cats to try and scare them. They cornered the kitten against a log and one slowly bit the kitten’s neck. I ran down the hill yelling and they all scattered. I chased the wounded kitten into the woods and as I searched I knew the wild cats were nearby and would come after me. I managed to grab the kitten and I felt its sticky blood on my hands. The kitten squirmed with pain, jumped out of my arms, and ran off into the shadows. I stood there among the trees looking at the blood on my hands, there were lots of dry yellow leaves all over the ground and the light was very golden, and I knew that the kitten was going to die somewhere.
Two guys. one short and dark, the other tall and blonde. we were in a dimly lit room, awkwardly laughing about some drunken night long ago. I apologized for not remembering what had happened that night, and from a moment of silence I deduced that I had in fact slept with both of them.
I looked down at my small potbelly. I was pregnant. I asked them if I should get a paternity test. I asked them, if I found out who was the father, would they want to know? After some muttering back and forth they agreed that it was okay, they didn’t need to know. I remember thinking that one would be a better father, while the other one I had stronger feelings for. There were nervous jokes and I said something along the lines of how they should just hang around like cool uncles or something.
Then, to relieve stress I suppose, we decided to go swimming. We went outside and looked down at a small valley submerged in water. The water was clear and warm, and there were underwater steps. Trees marched down the banks and into the water. I swam for a long time, and I didn’t need much air. I could see the grass and flowers clearly, swaying in the currents. There was a large submerged house, much like the one I live in now. There were many rooms, and I swam through them freely. I would see the two guys swimming in and out of my periphery, but I gave no thought to them. I swam through the kitchen and there was an old woman cooking. It didn’t seem like she noticed me.
I saw myself sitting on a train, looking out the window. My elbow on the sill, my chin in my palm. The light was cool, a bluish tint to it, so it was either dusk or very early in the morning. I didn’t know. I heard myself saying, like an inner monologue, that this was my afterlife- I sat quietly and stared at the passing landscape for eternity, it seemed sunny but cold outside, not particularly lush nor stark. I explained that heaven meant being at peace, and this didn’t mean feeling happy or sad about anything, but feeling okay with everything- accepting all that is both good and bad equally.