Wednesday, August 31, 2011

That Ol' Jack Magic - Unconditional Love in a Faulty Structure: Part Two

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.


Cheryl said...

I'm loving this adventure, Katie.

Heidi-"Heidi in Real Life" said...

Ooooh, just tuned in. LOVE it!! Thanks for sharing!

Jules said...

I remembered and remembered. Your cat reminded me of my old shepherd, funny how animals validate us isn't it?

Bowl o' bracelets.. leading to long necklaces?! :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

cj Schlottman said...


Your well chosen words in this piece give it smoothness and readability. It is a pleasure to read. Me? I read it twice.

The story line and the characters are visible. Love the pumpkin bedroom!

Looking forward to next week, and as always,


Zan Marie said...

You had me with the kitty story. (tears)
Hi, Katie. I'm in your contemp/mainstream group at the Campaign and I'm following you now. See you around. ; )

Martha Mawson said...

Kitty was so much a part of your life - I will always remember her. I love this narrative and I envy you the community you found. It is as if you have your own little village there.

Sarah Pearson said...

Another lovely piece. And the part about not telling Tim about Kitty demonstrates clearly that we never know why people behave the way they do.

Marlena Cassidy said...

This is so beautiful. I just love all of it. Thank you for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely story this is turning into Katie. Kitty must remind so many people of tasks we have taken on without even realising how time consuming yet satisfying they will be. Delightful how you let us know how you got into beads and jewellery! So much in life seems like chance yet we have to take those chances to make the best of them. Looking forward to the next (off on my holiday next week so will catch up on my return).

Andrea said...

This is all about devotion, isn't it? Your devotion to the kitten, to your own creativity, to your neighbors who became your friends--and all of your devotion returned (eighteen years!). You've shown how the smallest and most seemingly ordinary actions (picking out a kitten "for fun," or shopping with a friend) have a way of surprising us and leading us exactly where we need to go. Thank you for letting this flow out (or at least that's how it seems) in all its fullness.

TirzahLaughs said...

Ah someone else who likes pretty, shiny things.

:) I put the dog down last March. She was an evil thing---only suppose to be at my house a few weeks--and she only died 7 years later at the age of 17.


Anyway HI from a Fellow Campaigner.


Lisa Ricard Claro said...

I'm enjoying your memoir. It is interesting how life brings us to certain places and how one moment can change us. The moment you chose your sick little kitty; the moment you opted to create your own bracelet. Moments only; but what a difference they can make!

The Blogger Girlz said...

I missed part one but I couldn't resist going back to catch up so I could follow the adventure. I can't wait until next week to hear more.


Jayne said...

You know what? I am completely rooting for you here. And when a stranger reads two excerpts from your memoir and thinks 'I want this girl to win', then you know it's something special. :)

I think more than anything it sounds like you have been through a journey and found happiness / contentment, and this is looking back at what got you to that position. I completely identify, in a way, as I'm still in the middle of that journey - perhaps not even at the middle yet! - but hoping to find happiness and contentment. And it's nice to think people read my blog and root for me, too, hence why I just had to say. :)

Lazarus said...

This was excellent, nice job Katie!

Deana said...

This life you lived is beautiful and flawed and perfect! I have always wanted a city life, I guess my country roots want change every now and then:) Your friends really seem like your family. And your kitty...oh, that broke my heart:(

Christy said...

Hi Katie,I liked the part about how you were changing the color of your life and embracing spontaneity. Saying hello from your chick lit group;)

Anonymous said...

This is very exciting. I love your word choices. I have a girlfriend who recently published a book equating changes in her life to changing colors. Hot topic! See you for the next installment.

Linda Medrano said...

What a lovely post. The attachment we have to our friends and our pets is amazing in the influences they both have over our lives. I loved every word of this, Katie. Just masterful (mistressful?) writing!

JoAnna77 said...

Hi, Just dropping by from the campaign to say 'hello'. I am in your chick lit group.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm also from the Campaign and wanted to say hi. Interesting blog! I'm looking forward to more. Good luck with the Campaign!

Kelly McClymer said...

Hi, I'm from the Campaign. Can't wait to see more of what happens to these people next. Lovely work. said...

Hey there! It's Lacy from the Campaign. Just wiped my tears :) My cat, Blue, I adopted him, as well, from a shelter. I'm happy to hear Kitty lived such a long, and no doubt, happy life. I hope Blue lives to be 18 :) Are you going to publish your blog posts later? I like the way you write.

Elliot MacLeod-Michael said...

I can get addicted to anything from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to earplugs

Brenda Sills said...

Hi Katie! I'm so glad to meet you! Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting! You're awesome! It's great being in the campaign together. Thanks so much for your kind comment about my daughter's artwork - it means so much to her and to me. Thanks!

Brenda Sills said...

Oh, and I'm looking forward to coming back and reading your essay!

Deb Shucka said...

I've just read both installments back to back, and wish I'd waited a couple of days so I could have read them all at once. I've always loved your writing, Katie, but there's something so poignant about this particular story, I'm nearly in tears as I write this. And I'm not sure exactly why. I just know your words are dancing around in my heart right now, and I feel like I've missed something in life by not living in Jack's apartment. The story is made even more powerful by the fact that he's a crappy landlord.

Michelle Fayard said...

It just goes to show that before we condemn someone for something we wouldn't do or like that we need to walk a mile in that other person's shoes first.