A NOTE BEFORE READING: This is the second installment of a three-part essay. To begin at the beginning, go here. (Or just scroll down to last Wednesday's post.)
It’s weird for me to think back now on that short dialogue I had with Tim during the pre-Elizabethan era. He had moved into the apartment below mine probably about a year after me. We knew each other’s names, and we had had a few inconsequential conversations, but we were hardly friends. One day, we were both in the stairwell at the same time. I was at the top of the stairs, about to go into my apartment. He was at the bottom of the stairs, leaving his.
“Are you alright?” he asked, in an angry tone. “Because last night, your music woke me out of a deep sleep.” (He was pissed, and he had the right to be.)
“I’m sorry,” I said.
And I let him vent a little more. I apologized again. But I didn’t give the full explanation.
Because I didn’t know Tim then, I didn’t tell him what had preceded that night of loud, let-me-forget-the-day music. I had to put my cat to sleep that day. I had to say good-bye to Kitty, the cat I adopted in New York when I was only 20 years old.
Kitty had been a remarkable presence in my life. When I adopted her at the New York SPCA, I assumed I was bringing back to my college residence a little feline who would entertain my five suitemates and me. A toy; an object for our amusement. But, the tiny black kitten that returned with me to 116th Street wasn’t entertaining. In fact, as I would learn from the vet I took her to a few days later, she was dying.
She had not been weaned properly, and – despite the fatal prognosis – I was given some instructions that might work: I was to combine baby food with appetite enhancer and force it into her mouth with a rubber syringe. My friend Aileen’s boyfriend, Phil, immediately came to the plate to help me with this task, and we were a team. In spite of our teamwork, there always was a lot of sloppy goop tucked between Kitty’s tiny whiskers. But because of the teamwork, Kitty lived. For more than 18 years.
We had gone through a lot, Kitty and I. And part of what we had gone through was what she taught me those first few weeks I knew her: that I could take care of something; that I could give that something unconditional love.
It’s weird to think now that I couldn’t share with Tim what I had gone through the previous day. I only could apologize weakly and walk into my apartment, feeling guilty for having woke him up with the music I was blaring well past midnight. Were I going through the same thing today, he would know it. He would know, long before that last trip to the vet, that my cat was dying. And, just as he has offered to drive me to the airport in the years since, he probably would offer to drive me to the vet. And I would accept. I would be able to share the experience with him. Because he is not just my neighbor; he is my friend.
And it’s weird to think what my apartment might still look like if Deb hadn’t moved into the building. Deb, whose eye and sense of daring, immediately pushed the envelope in her own apartment. Deb, who set a precedent for those who might say, “This is my space.”
I didn’t know Deb very well when I sought her advice regarding the painting of my living room, but I trusted her instincts. So I let her pick out the colors, and I followed her every direction. She helped at times, too, and we giggled as we worked together – something about those fumes, something about the whole endeavor. There’s nothing like moving your entire world into the middle of a space and changing the colors around it. Debbi showed me how energizing those changes could be.
And less than a year later, she again would drive the color scheme. I pointed to Colby, my red tabby cat, and said, “That’s the palette I want for my bedroom.” She fanned through her book of paint chips, starred two colors (neither of which actually exists on Colby), and gave me quick verbal instructions as to how to do a particular faux finish. Then, she was off to Colorado for Christmas. I would spend Christmas painting my bedroom, always with her cell phone number close at hand.
By the end of that week, a phenomenal transformation had taken place in my bedroom. And like some 21st Century cubist Cinderella, I would – from that point forward – sleep peacefully inside something that resembles a square pumpkin.
Something was happening, during that time. I was not just changing the color of my apartment. I was changing the color of my life. The unexpected support from the people with whom I shared a roof was kicking in. The comfort was allowing me to open up, to see what the universe had in store.
I had held nonprofit staff jobs for 12 years, and they were never without their share of problems and frustrations. In August 2000, after an unusually lengthy search, I accepted a Development Director position that commanded a high salary (by nonprofit standards). But a bizarre thing happened at about the same time…
I had plans one Saturday to meet my friend Maria in Santa Monica. We’d agreed to a loose agenda. We would eat brunch wherever, and then we’d walk down Main Street. Browse through the shops. My personal agenda was to treat myself to a bracelet – a memory wire bracelet, specifically. (And this was a rather odd agenda for me to entertain. With the exception of earrings, I had never been one to buy – or care much about – jewelry.)
Maria and I picked a brunch spot randomly, and after we ate, we headed south on Main Street. The first store we came upon had window displays that were seductive. Window displays that implied jewelry. We walked in. And I realized immediately that we had just walked into a bead store.
“Hmm…” I thought, scoping the room. “Maybe I’ll just make a bracelet.”
It’s no secret that I have an addictive personality, and by the time I shared my creations with Julie, who was the first of the neighbors to see them, my bowl o’ bracelets already was teeming.
“I’m so proud of you,” she said, in her warm and compassionate way. “You’re going outside yourself.”
Debbi had just returned from a production trip, and Julie saw her before I did. “Katie’s doing something completely different,” Julie told Deb. “And I’m not going to tell you what it is. You just have to see!”
I remember that night in late summer when I debuted my bowl o’ bracelets on Debbi’s stoop. I watched as my neighbor friends pawed over the new collection, trying them on and modeling them for each other. Julie already had bought one. Now Deb and new neighbor Sara would make their selections.
to be continued on September 7th.