Art Makes Family: A Book of Love

Every year for Daz’s birthday, I try to make something original that expresses the way he makes me feel.  I made this little book for him, but I want to share it with everyone.

Art has become the catalyst for me – whether it is drawing or painting or writing or cooking or singing. It is my WD40 AND my duct tape. It smooths the edges and keeps us together. I have typed the wordss out under each picture, Please enjoy!

 

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Art: noun, The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.  But what if ART is more than what we make? What if ART is what we are? What if WE are the medium – pulled together in a cohesive torrent of creative LOVE?

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ART brings us together in a masterpiece of the human tapestry. Our history in every language.  Our skin in every color. Our truth in every version. Our story whether small or epic.

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Our perspective at every angle.  Our memories at every age. Our love in every expression.

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We see ourselves woven and folded and part of beauty and the living tableau of ART.  We see with our eyes and mind and heart.  We feel color.  We hear texture.

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ART makes beauty and life and love and home. ART makes FAMILY.  Thank You for being my family, my partner and helping me create this life everyday!

Love, H.

No Love in Things

So this is a ghost story about how we are haunted by things.

In the mid-1980’s, my mother was a cross-stitch artisan. She made some absolutely flawless work. We had even tested out several design software packages to create our own patterns for images. I also created some pieces, but nothing as intricate or challenging as the pieces she made.  For my grandmother’s birthday, she had a brilliant idea of making an entire cross-stitch quilt.

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The quilt design was 25 squares, each with a different rose picture. My grandmother LOVED roses. I was to make 12 and my mother would make 13.  Once they were completed, we would have it sashed with green ivy fabric and quilted by the ladies at The Neighborhood House for a donation.

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Whatever else was going on, we made that happen. It was a beautiful quilt.

And this was a big deal to us.  My grandmother, the quilt’s recipient, had made a masterpiece of her own that had hung in a couple different fabric/quilt shows and museums.  She had make a double-embroidered quilt of all the birds and flowers from all 50 states in alphabetical order.  It was enormous! Five years of work, countless episodes of All My Children, holding her mouth just right while threading the needle.  She had a bent fingernail because of the constant pressure against the fabric to get the stitch just right.

My grandmother loved our gift. And being from the generation who lived through the Great Depression, she wrapped it up and put it away for safe keeping. I would not see it again for 30 years.

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When my grandmother died, my mother moved into her house. She quietly gave the quilt to a childhood friend of hers. The quilt was still new – wrapped up and folded neatly in plastic. And in exchange, he gave her a lamp.

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It was no ordinary lamp. He had lovingly made a Tiffany-style pink and white lampshade just for her and attached it to an ornate metal base. It was a table-lamp and it suited my mother and all her pastel belongings to a tee.

Now these were two specific, unique and priceless things.  A great deal of feeling and sentiment were attached.  A great deal of creative work (including my own) transpired to bring them into being. The trade between my mother and her friend was one of equality and mutual admiration. And yet, they were THINGS.  Not people. Not loved ones.  Things.

When my mother passed in 2010, it was a chaotic time.  I am an only child and there was no will. I did my absolute best to put the nuts and bolts of her life in order and try to honor her in a way that would suit her. I did not allow myself to grieve in public or at all for at least another two months. I had help.  My mother’s friend Shirley and her close neighbors, Sonya and Emilio helped me immensely.  We sold as much as we could to take care of funeral expenses and set up a memorial service.

I held my breath for two months. I dealt with releasing her house to the bank and sending out death certificates to creditors. I felt loved and supported by people who just showed up and pitched in. Because we all loved her.

 

I held my breath and when I exhaled, I was alone. One night at 2 a.m. I just sat up in bed.  Her dog Doc, who became my dog, laying on the end of my bed staring at the closet.  Her ashes were on my top shelf. They had handed me her remains in a green velvet bag. I awoke and began to really feel the empty space in my life where she had been. We had talked daily often more than once. She made me laugh. She was the best grandma to my son. She was gone.

And there was not a THING that I wished to hold on to. None of it contained her heart, her soul, her spirit, her light. I didn’t need any of it because I carried the best of her with me. Always.

I had neither the quilt nor the lamp. And I was grieving and healing.

And it slowly got better. I miss her now, today, this moment. So does everyone else. And we live on connected by that.

So this is the haunting part, the life lesson:

A few months ago, my mother’s childhood friend showed up and found me.  He had the quilt. Honestly, I didn’t know it still existed.  But there it was, still folded immaculately in pristine plastic. He wanted to give it back to me. And, just for kicks, he wanted to know if I had the lamp. Because in his eyes, I had not been a good steward of my mother’s THINGS.  Because at some time while I was holding my breath and THINGS were being sold, I let the lamp get sold too.  Because when I was dealing with the tidal wave, I did not happen to grab his lamp and anchor it to myself while I withstood the storm.

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I was polite. I understood his point of view. I told him honestly that I did not know here it was or whom had it.  He talked on in a very heavy-handed way about disrespect.

“I’m giving this back to you because I know where things go.”

He was trying passively to shame me for not possessing HIS lamp. A lamp that was his then my mom’s, but never mine in the first place. A lamp that was so important to him still, that six years after my mother’s death, he found me just to emphasize its loss.

I remained polite. I much prefer people who speak plainly if they have an issue with me. But it was apparently that HIS lamp and HIS loss were not MY lamp nor MY loss.

I never wanted the lamp.  I never wanted the quilt back. It was given as a gift.  And my understanding of a gift is that once it is given, you do not take it back.

His attempt to hang six years of guilt on me for a lost THING didn’t work. In fact, it made me very sure that I will never charge another person with curating or keeping my THINGS.

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Jacob Marley wearing his chains of THINGS

I have the quilt, but I am donating it. The quilting is still crisp.  The stitches still look fresh.  In its 30 year existence, this quilt has never warmed anyone. It has never been loved. Its beauty has been made bitter by those who buried it away, suffocated it in plastic in the back of a closet. I am hoping that donating it allows the magic to finally grow. So much care and love went into it.

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My real hope is that whomever ended up with the lamp truly finds joy in it. Maybe it’s a beacon for a little girl reading stories. Maybe it’s the perfect source of light and comfort for someone who is alone. It could not be any of those things for me.

It was never my lamp.

Imperial Ham: The Wondrous Alchemy of Childhood in a Semi-Rural Township

In the summer of ’79, I came to live with my grandparents. The Greens owned 1/3rd of an acre in the small Limestone Township in Illinois. They had bought a tiny house with three rooms in the mid-1940’s. Over the years, my grandfather, the oldest of 12 children from a rural Kentucky family, added a large kitchen, am indoor bathroom and a back bedroom. The houses in the neighborhood were mostly larger with two stories and nearly all of them had large families. My mother was one of the few little girls on the block and held her own with the gang of boys who ran and played and shot arrows and bb guns.

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My mom with the neighborhood kids, second from left.

Every house also had a backyard vegetable garden. While the neighbors to the immediate right had corn and beans, my grandparents had a brilliant, strong nightshade patch. Bell peppers, okra, eggplant and some of the largest and sweetest beefsteak tomatoes on the Earth.  That summer we also added cucumbers. My grandfather could grow anything he put in the ground.

He worked at it, he watered and weeded and whistled parts of songs.

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Grandpa Alvie Green with my uncle and my mom.

And in late June, we would walk back to the further edge of the yard, across the swath of thick, Kentucky bluegrass. We’d pick one of the 3 to 4 pound scarlet gem tomatoes, rinse it with the garden hose and bite right in. There was a magic in the ritual of it, to the true reward of working with nature, There was a bliss and comfort to it.  A heaven that did not come from some store. It came from the dirt where you grew up. It came from the plot of land chosen by a WWII veteran who decided to migrate from his home in Kentucky and make a life for his wife and children. That tomato was a manifestation of love and home and family.IMG_2887

We’d make glorious sandwiches of Wonder Bread, Miracle Whip and thick tomato slices. We’d make pepper relish. My grandmother would marinate the cucumbers with onions in vinegar, salt and sugar. When I was sunburnt or started to break out, she would pulverize a cucumber and put the juice on my skin. We would trade our extras with neighbors. There was an unspoken connection and wealth in the ability to share.

That summer, my grandmother asked my grandfather for a meat grinder. And he bought it for her. It was huge. It was supermarket-deli huge. It had a lot of sharp, shiny parts which I was told not to touch. It was loud. I immediately hated it.  She bought it for one thing: Imperial ham.

Not to grind beef or make sausage. We raised no animals except the baby squirrels that my grandfather trained to come and take walnuts from his shirt pockets. They were friends, not food. Imperial ham.  What is Imperial ham?  Well…

It’s baloney. And mayonnaise. And onion. And sweet pickles. And it’s somehow suddenly a royal delicacy. Apparently, if you put baloney through a meat grinder and add these things in the proper amounts, a certain kind of alchemy occurs in which it is now both Imperial and Ham. There is nothing like it. It smells weird and it tastes like summer and it’s amazing on white bread. And especially magical topped with a tomato slice.  And a side of marinated cucumbers. We would put it all on white paper plates, sit outside in the big swing together, watching neighbors and squirrels.

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I remember it clear and precious, because we have had nothing like it for so long. Everyone I shared that with has died. My grandfather in 1997, grandmother in 2001 and my mother in 2010. I am heartened because I am seeing a renewal in the importance of local family gardening. Small farms that have grown to bring their organic bounty to market.  People who can grow anything and what they produce is beautiful and healthy, fresh and practical food to share, tokens and totems of home and family and love.

I dream of having the right and proper place to do the same one day.

 

Poetry: The Wolf Girl-Room Enough

So as my mother would tell the story, I was three. I was fascinated with “Little Red Riding Hood.”  I had the 45 RPM single narrated by Paul Patterson.  The cover showed the little blonde girl (and I was a little blonde girl) traipsing through the black trees with a dark purple sky.  And in the foreground, lying in wait, a black wolf with shifty red eyes.   He was meant to be sinister. I was meant to fear him. But I did not.
In my short time on this planet, much of it immersed in a fairy world of my own imagnation, I had already discovered that things are not always as they seem. I decided that wolves are friends. Dogs are friends. Forest creatures are friends.  I also decided NOT to be the little blonde girl.  I  wanted instead to be the wolf.  The wolf is easily the smartest character in the story.
When I was three, I traveled on all fours into the neighbor’s yard. I took off all my clothes and underwear. I proceeded to do what a wolf would do and pooped square in the middle of my neighbor’s front lawn. My mother charged across the street, red-faced and absolutely shocked.
“Holly Anne! What are you doing?!”
“I’m a wolf. Wolves poop outside, Mom.” I said logically.
She could not argue. She DID inform me that I was NOT a wolf. I needed to put my clothes on and go wash up.  She sent me home and knocked on the neighbor’s door to both explain and apologize.  I also had a visit to my pediatrician who assured her there was nothing wrong with me except a giant imagination.
Even now though, forty-five years later into this life, I love the story. I love the wolf. He shows up in my dreams – never as a threat – but as a guide, as a totem of family. Wolves care for their own.
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My first collage, posted above was in an art show last year.  It’s a 3′ x 2′ collage with natural objects, fabric and clay. The wolf is VERY furry.  I put a sign next to it in the gallery that said, “PLEASE TOUCH THE WOLF. DO NOT BE AFRAID.”  Because we are told in any art gallery to look and not touch.  But he is very soft and velvety and he is accepting a lovely friendship rose from our little blonde girl.
People – especially children – DID touch the wolf.  I sat at a little table and watched them.  I wanted to foster understanding instead of fear. Connection instead of separation.
The collage found a permanent home in the Lit. On Fire Bookstore. I am happy so many people see it.
So I decided to retell the story in the poem posted below. I hope you like it. If I have to be the little blonde girl, I would rather be one who trusts her heart.  I hope you enjoy this.
Room Enough…
I was so used to looking for wolves along the path,
I began to see everything as a wolf
Every shape or shadow shifting in the night,
Every light fair breeze rustling the bedcurtain,
Every man who might just be out to gather wood
And warm himself…
But that particular day, the daisies were grown tall and bright
And whispered that they would keep their chartreuse
Cyclops eyes peeled for any sign of lupine misadventure.
So I wandered among them, picking rabbit candy clover
And forging ships from billowy clouds and hummed
Little rhymes I knew as a child and
cast the net of my heart
Wide about the world
.
But daisies are liars or at the very least have short attention spans,
And wolves must be very fast because asudden, your fur brushed my arm.
I thought somehow I should be more scared, but my heart was open
And my mouth was still forming little rhymes.
I didn’t run and I did not scream. I did look you in the face for real.
For the endless second it took for your bottomless amber eye
To blink.
The door to my heart hung open, and all my fear of you and your legend
Became dust.
So I put out my hand and you put out your paw.
The better to love you with.
And I was sure in my bones that there was room enough
At Grandmother’s house for both of us.

FREE TO BE: THE SA-NEAR-I (Like a safari, but closer)

So we needed an adventure. There are places where all feels right with the world. And sometimes we all just need to go there. Blow the stink off, relocate your spirit, align your body to other meridians. Spend a Saturday doing more than laundry or grocery shopping.

Two hours away, near Arcola, Illinois, there is a wildlife sanctuary. It is owned and operated by the Aikman family; now in their first full year of operation.  Last year the Kaskaskia River limited their grazing lands. There are 150 animals from 50 species native to 6 continents living here in a peaceable kingdom. They are not caged.  The limited predatory species, hyenas and serval cats, have their own enclosures.

But here the buffalo really do roam. Alongside zebras, Watusi cattle, camels, elands, draft horses, miniature horses, donkeys, alpacas, Scottish highland cows, et. al.  They are loved and they are well-fed and each one has a name and a story.  Although native to other climes, they were born here in the Midwest.  They are all part of a conservation effort.

Those are the facts. And now for the feelings:

Wonderment. Joy. Happiness. Inspiration. Pleasure.

We sat on the wagon, tractor pulling us through the paddocks, going to wherever this diverse herd may be enjoying their morning. Fabio, the Bactrian camel (see above), was my immediate favorite. Although he was in the process of shedding his winter coat, he was still a very handsome and photogenic boy.

We were given small bowls of feed to scatter by our feet in the wagon.  We stopped, we scattered the feed, and then they came.  Bison, cattle, blue wildebeest, elands, elk, zebras, alpacas, horses, and emus. There are groups of ducks, geese, pheasants, peacocks, guinea fowl.

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Then there are the emus. Our guide told us that emus are both curious and ill-tempered. They will not attack four-legged creatures, but the will come after humans because we walk upright on two legs like they do.  So why have them around?  Because they act as guardians for the smaller four-legged species who appreciate them. Emus own “hangry” as an expression. They have zero manners, large pointy, pecky beaks and giant three-toed claws.  They remind me of Petyr Baelish from Game of Thrones. And yes, I love them.  How has an emu never been a Disney villain?

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In the midst of the herd, I was suddenly 8 years old again. Mrs. Huber handed me the lyric sheet for “Free to Be” by The New Seekers.  I would learn it and sing it and forget it for 40 years. Then today, I would remember the joy I felt when this wide, deep blissful adventure fit neatly into the ideals of a song written in 1972.

We walked the path through the other enclosures. Cavies, potbellied pigs, tortoises, goats and sheep. A miniature horse and cow and deer – all the same size – all living together in harmony. Different but equal. Different but not in competition. All amazing in their own little way.  Like us, without ego. Like us, without the fear of our perceived differences. Free to be You and Me.

LOVE: The Losing of a Breast; The Finding of a Belly

I was in the middle of a great love.

My mother and my son are both Geminis. Her birthday was June 13th and his is June 20th. They were, for a time, my twins. I watched my mother become the best grandmother and friend a boy could have. Like me, Connor has Asperger’s Syndrome. He does not open up to many people and he is very quiet. Mom was only 4’10” and she would get right down on the floor with him. Their connection was deep and true and full of laughter.

I moved back home in 2008 when my mom’s breast cancer had returned. She had had a radical mastectomy in 2006, followed by chemo.  Although she had somewhat accepted all the accoutrements of the disease, she never really embraced them. She had wigs, hats, shirts with allowances for drains, post-mastectomy bras, and even weighted falsies. She had all the necessary crap that they dole out to women who lose a breast in an attempt to make them acceptably normal to society. It wasn’t her and it wasn’t comfortable.  And it all ended up stuffed in her sock drawer while she sat bald, braless and comfortable binge=watching The Sopranos.

One day though, one special day of birthday magic smack in the middle of June, a miracle happened. We always celebrated their birthdays together.  I had brought Connor over for his 8th birthday, Boston cream pie, candles, flowers, little gifts for both.

The oven was on, and the air conditioner was going full blast.  Although she was sweating, her tiny feet were like blue ice.  She asked Connor to go grab a pair of socks for her. He headed into her bedroom.

“HEY!” he exclaimed.  “HEY!”

“What is it, Sugar Booger?”

“Granny!  I found a belly!”

“WHAT?!”

“I found a belly!”  Connor darted out of her room and ran into the kitchen with his shirt hiked up and a heavy flesh-colored false boob slapped on his stomach.  He pushed his stomach out proudly.

My mom and I burst out laughing. Neither one of us ever would have thought of it. Connor wore the magic “belly” the rest of the evening. He fell asleep on her couch full of lasagna and cake, clutching a stuffed Pikachu with one hand and the “belly” with the other.

It was magic indeed.  This was love, laughter and true imagination holding fast against loss, pain and the precious knowledge that life is finite.

When the cancer came back, it came back everywhere. My son was 10. He was so open and caring and happy with her.  He would stay with her while I ran out to get her groceries.

When she was hospitalized, I would watch them walk down the corridor together. Both blonde, the same height, sharing knock-knock jokes.  Because between them nothing was about cancer or autism. It was about love. No labels, no expectations, no prognosis. Just love in its most honest, accepting expression. And I was in the middle, watching in awe, as both their halos shone bright.

My mom passed in late July 2010.  My son turns 19 on Tuesday.

He has grown into a wonderful, smart, and loving human being.  He’s a responsible young man who has a good job, attends school and takes good care of himself. He is a brilliant artist in the middle of producing his own comic book.  He is a grown version of that child who sees people without limits and finds laughter in unexpected places.

I am still in the middle of a great love. And so incredibly grateful to be his mom.

Poetry & Recipe: Sweet Summer Treasures

Today was my first trip to the local farmer’s market. The jewels of summer laid out in heady glory, each vegetable or fruit courting attention. Today I sought treasure and the feeling of home. The essence of love in pie form. Blueberries and nectarines without hesitation.

Tomorrow is June 11th. On June 11th, 1888, Vincent Van Gogh was conversing with Emile Bernard. “There can be no blue without yellow and orange.” 

And there it is: Dark, limpid globes of blueberries set against the tart sunshine of nectarines. And it has to be an oat and honey crumble. No false sugar or bland crust to hide the beauty. Honey to bring in flower nuances, Oats to deliver the earthy, solid texture of warmth and home.

The picture above is the end result.

Peel 3-4 nectarines and arrange in the bottom of the pan. Add 1 cup of blueberries. Drizzle with honey.  Melt 1/2 stick of butter in a pan and stir 1 cup gluten-free quick oats and 2 tbsps. more honey.  Top fruit with crumble. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.  Let cool a bit, enjoy and share with people you love.

I wrote the poem below on a night like tonight, full strawberry moon rising above the peach-lavendar sunset. When summer is opening up in every color, in every breeze, in every flower, in all its bright affirmation of love and life.

The Other World of You

I know there is a secret part of you the world cannot touch
That glow beneath the skin, incandescent purple just at sunset when you
Are certain it is your will alone that melts winters into ripe summer blaze.
That part of you I glimpse in flashes through your eyes in the
honey-blue
crescent of your iris, the eclipse of soul dancing around the full
moon of your field of vision.
In my light, the half-light cascading chiaroscuro, I can read your secret map,
follow the nerve and vein of you, chart indigo rivers to your heart, find
my location by the pulse of your blood, the longitude of your
half-dreams unborn to the light of day.
The carbon-star of you burning through my heart simple and singular as a
fingerprint, I trace my lips across your cheek and suddenly
I am home.

 

 

 

Cougar: Fur Family Part Three

Two days. I had 48 hours to find Cougar a new home. Someone who could see in him all the wonderful glowing, feline qualities that I did.

Nancy Birnbaum was 7.  Our backyards met diagonally and she was perpetually left outside alone. Her parents were nice and good people. Her brother Jimmy was in my class.  He was pink-skinned towhead kid who was constantly auditioning for school bully sidekick. One time Davey Shoemaker, our class bully, told him to follow me home after school and give me a gut punch. It had rained that day and I caught him following me and whacked him squarely in the forehead with my umbrella. It left a mark. He didn’t speak to me again but he didn’t try to punch me either.

I suspect he had managed to punch the smaller kids in the neighborhood, which is probably why Nancy had no one to play with.  We had nothing in common except that no one wanted to play with us. Nancy had met Cougar twice. She had seen me head to the garage with the cat food and had been curious.

Cougar leapt from his perch in the rafters and circled us.  He tilted his head and narrowed his deep golden eyes. I handed Nancy one of the cat food cans and let her feed him.  “She’s a friend.  It’s okay.”

He rubbed against her shin and she plopped down, putting the food on the floor between her outstretched ankles. He purred and rubbed his ears against her pink canvas shoe. Then he shoved face in the cat food, grunting happily while she petted him.

“A silver cat with gold eyes!” she giggled.  “Cougar’s my friend!”

“He really is the best cat. He’s a ratter too!  Not afraid of anything. He’s silver like a knight wearing armor.”

Cougar wound around her, nudging and making tiny sounds of happiness. Nancy was small, not so wild. Most importantly she was kind.

“Somebody has to take care of him.  I’m moving away.  I have food for about two weeks and a brush.  You probably need to ask your mom.  I don’t want you to get into trouble.”

“Oh she won’t care!  I love him!”

“She probably will when you run out of food or spend all your time in our creepy garage. So please just ask.”

“You mean because of Howie?” Her face darkened. My stomach felt like lead.  “My mom says he’s dangerous and not to play over here with you.” Her bottom lip stuck out and she fought little sobs.

The whole neighborhood had seen him chase me, yell, threaten.  They had peeped through curtains and shutters and shook their heads and clucked their tongues.  They had engaged in gossip feeding a deep poison cauldron of speculation about what else went on in our house. Isn’t is sad and awful. Isn’t it tragic?  That girl is in trouble. That girl IS trouble. There was a swell threatening to drown me. And they were helping to make the weather.

But I had Cougar. He had been my champion. And now I had to be his.

“Tell your mom to meet me here in about an hour. Make sure no one sees her come in.”

I sent Nancy off, skipping with the possibility of having her own champion. I made it into the house silently, locked myself in the bathroom.  I filled the sink with water and cleaned myself up, brushing my teeth, putting baby powder in my hair to dry out the oil.  I found some clean clothes that my mom had bought from a garage sale and squeeze myself into them.

Once I was somewhat presentable, I went quickly to the garage and gathered up all the cat food, little homemade toys and the brush into a paper sack from Lawson’s.

I sat on the cushionless plaid couch and gathered Cougar into my lap. This could be goodbye. He mewed tiny question marks, batted at the sack and started kneading my leg.

“I don’t want to leave you, but I can’t leave you here. There’s too many bad people, my love. You deserve someone who loves you.”  I felt dizzy, acid cloyed at my stomach. My shoulders ached. Why did they call it a broken heart when you felt it all over?

The door creaked and Nancy stepped inside with her mother. Mrs. Birnbaum was a chubby, no-nonsense lady.  She wore her dark, wiry hair in a Dorothy Hamill bob and a Hawaiian floral housecoat that snapped up the side.  Her hands moved from the housecoat pockets to rest on her hips. She sighed and looked at me and Cougar, colorless lips in a curl.

“So this is the cat?”

“Mom! MOM!  Look! He’s perfect!” Nancy bounced up and down like a tiny version of her mother on springs.

“He’s big.  He’s a biggie. He eats a lot probably.”

“Well, he’s a mouser, but I give him two of these cans a day.”  I handed her one of the Friskies tins.

“Mmmm.  You love this cat?  Why are you giving him to my kid? What’s wrong with him?”

“I’m…I leaving. Going to live with – somewhere else. I don’t want him to die or starve or be left here with Howie.”

She put her arm around Nancy. “That guy’s an asshole. I shouldn’t use that word in front of you, but he is. That’s a big cat, Nancy.”  She shook her head, looking at the garage floor.

“I know!  Cougar’s huge!” Nancy crowed.

“You’ll be someplace safe?” Mrs. Birnbaum looked me in the eye for the first time.

“Yes. There’s a lady in Cleveland I’ll stay with.”

“Oh Mom!  I love him!  I love you!  I hope Jimmy loves the cat.

“Jimmy will love the cat or I’ll beat Jimmy’s ass. Don’t worry about it.”

“Okay.  C’mon then, Biggie.”

Biggie?  Cougar looked at me, patting my red face with his velvet footpads. I stood up and handed the food bag to Mrs. Birnbaum. Cougar never took his eyes off the bag.  I watched his graceful exit as he padded after her and across the yards to her backdoor.

I thought my heart would crack and splinter and ache. But it did not.  My Cougar, my valiant friend and champion was no more.  In a sweet 30 yard journey, he had left his feral life with me to become the adored, well-fed Biggie Birnbaum.

And now I was ending my time as a feral girl. Tomorrow, I would move into a beautiful townhome in Cleveland with Barbara Scully. I would learn the joy of doing girly things like makeup and putting pink rollers in your hair just right.  I would learn about Buddha statues, Night Gallery and Sha-Na-Na. She would teach me to cook eggs and make Irish coffee. For three weeks, I would learn to be a normal human girl again. Barbara was an amazing lady. And like Cougar, she would be my friend for the rest of my life.

 

Cougar: Fur Family Part Two

Oh, my friend! My little love. My family. Cougar the bright and shining had spent the last three weeks being my furry beacon of hope.  Summer was almost here and I would leave this place for good. I spent nearly all my time in the garage.  I slept there and ate there with my friend.  I couldn’t cook the hot dogs, so I would buy spaghettios and eat them cold.

Everyone was waiting out the school year before they sent me off. I had been to school twice in the last week. Once to give my book report on “Socks” by Beverly Cleary.  Once to show up to a parent meeting in the office in my mother’s place.  They had called and called the house, but did not get an answer. They sat me down and barked at me.  I needed to come to school.  I needed to bathe.  I needed to wear clothes that fit.  I needed to make a damn effort.  I needed…what I really needed was anyone who cared to make a difference.  What I had was a feral stray cat and spaghettios and $7 in my sock drawer.

They asked for my mother’s work number.  I gave them the number of Carney’s Tap where she tended bar at night. I said go ahead and call.  They were still barking when I left.

I used to get scared being alone at night when mom worked.  Back when she still drove the Cobra, before Cougar, I would ask if I could just come with and sleep in the back seat in the parking lot.  She let me do this one time and then not again. She said it wasn’t safe.

But now things had changed. I slept in the garage and Cougar slept on my back or on the high, soft space I had created from old sofa pillows. There were people in the house now that I did not know.  When I did go in, I went in and out through my bedroom window and kept my door locked. One of the people staying there was named Howie. He was a mean, hairy guy with giant nostrils and big round eyes. I called him Cowie because he was the closest thing to a minotaur I had encountered. He hated kids. After a week of his moving in, our electricity and phone was restored. My mom kept saying, “See?  He’ll take care of us.”  But I had already heard him say he couldn’t wait for me to be gone. Everyone was running out the clock.

The cash from my grandparents arrived every week on Friday. I had to get it from the mailbox to my sock drawer unnoticed. I had a routine for this, but Howie had been watching. Friday came and I stuffed the envelope under my shirt and ran upstairs.  I locked the door and opened my sock drawer and the magic red box.

Then suddenly the door swung open and there stood Howie.

“What you got?”

“Nothing.  It’s just a note from my grandparents.  They write to me.”

“Bullshit. You’re a lying little shit, you know that?”

He’d broken the lock on my door.  The magic red box was empty. My food money and Cougar’s food money was gone. I still clutched the envelope and bolted for the window.  I slid and jumped before he could get to me. He stood there thrashing, cow face all red, nostrils flaring.

“Hey Howie,” I yelled up at him. “You got some white shit on your nose, you fucking thief!”

By the time he hit the door, I was already across the field by I-71.  Out of his sight, off his radar.

I walked to Lawson’s like nothing happened. I called my grandparents collect and told them not to send me anything else. I could make it until summer okay. I spent all the money on spaghettios and cat food and a pack of donuts.  I had to haul it to the garage and hide it, but I doubted Howie would steal cat food.

“And just let him try, Cougar!  You’ll vanquish Cowie and send him to the minotaur cave.”  Cougar purred loudly and kneaded my leg.

My mother told me that night that I would be going to live somewhere else until summer. She had talked to the school. She had also talked to Howie. I was to move in with my stepfather’s ex-wife, Barbara.  Relief washed over me.

Anywhere but here. That was my reply. Anywhere but here. She almost slapped me.

But then she didn’t.

I had two days.  And I realized I would have to say goodbye to my champion, my love, my family, my Cougar.  I could not be his feral girl any longer.  I had to find him a home. 

(Artwork by Daz Lartist)