Today I dropped you off at school. Liza first, a quick kiss and she slipped into circle-time just starting. You went second because you asked me to stay for five minutes. We stood together in the play yard, your head under my corduroy shirt. I’m missing my mommy, you told me. We talked to teacher Jonnie about you writing or drawing a picture for her. As I left you called out, Bye mom. Then laughed at yourself.
As I approached the turn at Lupine Lane, two bobcat kits trotted out onto the road-side by side. I stopped. One striped little kitty turned an ear then worriedly glanced toward my car; picking up her pace just as the other pulled into alert with intent on the coyote brush. She vaulted into the air, pouncing out of sight. The other, keen on keeping track of her partner stood in alert. Sister emerged with a small rabbit in her jaws. A prize that the sister-cat couldn’t help but notice. And with a slap of her paw, hoped to get some. Slap, wap, paw, scratch; they tussled to the ground. Pounce sister held tight and dashed into the meadow to enjoy her meal. Sister-kitty sat and licked one paw then the other. Intent on cleaning up a scratch or a little bunny taste. But then she remembered my car. Still hovering nearby. And ran off too.
What did we name her? Hazel? Harriet? Lucy? Milly?
I think she was kitty, you tell me. Maybe she lost her name when she lost weight. She was skinny, lived in the barn, slept in the raccoon ravaged tack room, used the barn floor crazily scratching patterns 2o feet from her little scat pile. Japanese gardener kitty. That would be a fit name.
Dear kitty…..”Should we have named you throw up kitty, because you vomited on all the horse blankets, rugs and soft items in the tack room, scratched the saddles and wove your white fluffy fur into saddle pads.
Names like Sick kitty, flea kitty, chew toy (because Georgia dog held you in her jaws and shook you when she could catch you), Hidey kitty, because you were so good at skittering under the hay deck, into the squeeze we left in the tack room and keeping away from the coyotes.
In case you were too hazy to recall-“You died on Sunday, September 4th. Georgia and I went to feed the horse and mule, heard the echo of your yowl. I squeezed in, leaving Georgia outside, saw you there on the dirt floor. I hadn’t seen you for a couple of days. You purred when I petted your filthy little head. Your frame like a fragile set of poorly linked tinker toys covered in a scabby pelt. I slipped my hand under your cool body and put you in the carrier. You died at the vet’s office. Then I told the kids. Orion cried. And remembered the dead butterfly, lizard, fish he saw at the lake and doggy Metro. He decided that you are not really going to heaven because you are heavier than a cloud.”
We loved seeing you, petting, snuggling with you. I am sorry we didn’t take better care of you. But you seemed happy, twirling, purring and meowing in your wild way when we’d come down the hill. You had a life of freedom, wild kitty pleasure, along with danger and survival. Do you remember when I got you? A young woman named Haylie was taking you, your two sisters and Mom to the ocean in a pillowcase to toss you off a cliff. I took you all home to the barn. Your mom sneaked into the horse trailier jumping through the screen out on the road as we drove off. Your sisters, Dot and Milly disappeared. But 8 years later you survived. Quite a long time, girlie. What a kitty you were.
I’m sorry I can’t remember if you were Hazel or not.”
“…with a half a pound a tea. You open the lid and out pops a kid with a 20-year guarantee.”
At Echo Lake-
Pak-pak, Pak-pak! Sissy shouts at me, each syllable directed at the temples, a machine gun staccato. This is not the day to ask me for anything. No asking allowed. She drags rather than rolls her new Backpack over the floor and the threshold and down the stairs where it sticks in a rut.
We started out like we were having fun. I suspect you still are and Liza is too most of the time. But after days filled with a rock scramble or two, a few paddles a couple of standing surf board rides, an evening row and motor boat around the lake, now we walk to goose beach for a swim. Ah, relax. For a moment, I am not the center of Ellie’s attention. Just for a minute she’s not swatting flies from me, moving hair from my face, rubbing yesterday’s skeeter bite with a toddler dirty hand slave. Asking me what every blemish is called. Then coming closer, she gazes into my eyes. I close them. Its too much. Do I fear the intimacy?
But now, she’s splashing in the water. Stopped her doting on me to play. I have never done much doting and when its directed at me, slap it away-a pesky bug. After awhile I explode like a toddler. Stop touching me. I want to scream, fall down and kick my legs in protest. Just stop fooling with me. Pleeeze.
I wish I had planned for help here. I need to walk a bit, hike up to the top of a mountain and sit alone. Need to hang out with my sweetie and speak a full thought uninterrupted. Her dad would have been perfect for the job, but he is not allowed a vacation. Has to find work. If he called and told me a job starts next week, I’d get him here in a minute to help with his kids. But what’s the chance of that? Nanny Nina is working now; a real job at the Toddler Care Center. Gina’s energetic support, so valuable, but not well-suited for such close quarters. No one else comes to mind. This is the day I collapsed in a heap, but then remembered I had to get your hiking socks out of the drawer and remind Grandpa about your hiking supplies. So I sucked up and dug through the drawer; drooling tears and clear snot. You and Grandpa are going to Tamarack Lake today. Packed lunches and off on an adventure. I would have gone instead and left Grandpa with Ellie, but I forgot my shoes, but brought my crocks. Dang.
What ya doin, mama? Why?
Awake 5:30. Grandpa fire. Dishes. Little rain. Vinyl aquarium animals on picture window, distract from hand prints.
What does kill me mean? you ask. Why? she says again. Right on schedule.
Wants to keep track of all of her things, sun hat, doll, blankie, shoes, “mine’s” she shouts if anyone else touches them. Possession. Cries for her things when she’s left them in the boat… binoculars, hat, fishing pole. (fashioned from old 3’ cork pole handle, gorilla tape and cotton twine) like your’s she says. That is very important.
Sit in bathroom and take my mind off the kids for a minute. Conjure up the remodel details, the fir sash staked in the kitchen, the new glass shower enclosure installed while we were here. Leaving the house mind returns as I slap a mosquito. I think about other cabin guests pooping here, notice the old white enamel bedpans chipped along the edges from washing in the lake, banged against rocks, I consider. Who pees in these at night? I picture each cousin, in-law, niece, nephew squatting over the pot. Men, women. Big moon buttocks, stretched wide, nighties above the knees. I wipe, push the flusher; releasing it all into the Jerry Jug as Liza knocks against the door.
Mama where are you?
Your favorite things here are hanging out on the dock dangling bread balls in the lake for the minnows, pretend fishing alongside Liza with your makeshift kid poles (string tied to an old rod handle section), tying your motorboat to the end of the rod’s string line and running it along the dock doing mini rooster tails in the water, paddling the canoe with grandpa, walking through the lagoon to see the fake ducks and playing you are their long lost cousin duck and rowing with Liza and me to Goose Beach.
The Bedford’s invited us for cocktails with peanut butter celery and cheese sticks for you and Sissy. We spit-shined and walked next door. You were overly tired and acting wiggly, spaced out and strange. You took all the celery under the tablecloth covered table as the adults talked and then you made a series of roads from leg to leg with various pieces of food. Georgia whined outside, Liza gathered up the fancy candles and vases off the shelves in the livingroom; filling the brass candlesticks with peanut butter, she’d extruded from her mouth. Nice to see you again we all said.
Liza stood and paddled the 11’ paddleboard (provided by uncle A.J.) all by herself. She watched grandpa, climbed up and said “Me do it”. And she did. I told daddy and he said yea, but she was in her lifej acket and in shallow water. No, I explained. Just her in her little swim suit, not yet two years old, standing with confidence, paddling away from Grandpa as he stood nearby coaching and reaching for her.
This morning we awakened a little past five with Liza talking quietly to herself and you crying. You said you were sad and missed mommy and daddy. We got up. By 8:30 I was looking for nap time and around 11 Ellie finally slipped into her sleeping bag with her dolly and sippy cup of tea. I was faced with an everyday dilemma for moms of young children; stay awake with time alone (sort of) or get some sleep, too. And here I am. Time alone. The cabin floor is littered with green plastic monkeys from tiny green barrel, Fruity-Os, bright green lichen from your nature collection and scraps of fire building debris used as pretend boats. Unlike most years, this time we don’t have the addition of big fluffs of Metro fur everywhere. This week I don’t miss our old buddy. I have fond memories, but not missing him.
This day has been so long. Its only 5:30 and we already ate dinner and the dishes are done. A putt around the lake will be our last evening activity, then it starts all over again. Hopefully, a little later than 5 am. Around 3 I almost bailed, packed up and left.
Liza’s second birthday with apple muffins, two candles on each. She clapped gleefully as we sang. That was all and she was sold on birthdays. “Two,” she told everyone. Another little party when we got home, again gleeful and surprised at the attention.