Guiding Lights - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Guiding Lights

Depression Expression #8

Previous entry: Borderline Millennial Cautionary Tale

My questionable insurance made the transition to unreliable yesterday. I got a call at about 3 PM, approximately 16 hours before my next surgery, that my insurance was not going to cover the laser ureteroscopy I need to get rid of the stone in its current location. Under normal circumstances I think I'd be crushed or go into further despair.  Since I've already been at my limit recently it's become just another thing, and with the progress the stone's made I'll hopefully pass it within the next week or two.

This definitely qualifies as a low point. Like other low points, I'm almost pathetically grateful for the animals that have decided I'm worth putting up with. I don't think of them as pets. They've been my best friends, companions when I've been lonely, therapy talk partners, and sometimes chatty roommates. Our shared lack of mutual verbal comprehension has made communicating with them and receiving empathy easier than when I've tried talking to other humans throughout large chunks of my life.The first big support in my heart was Bo. He was a dalmatian with a lot of problems but the heart to match. Before he came into my life he was hit by a truck that left him with a permanent limp for the rest of his time here. Despite that, he always loved limping his side straight into the nearest human so he could get a big hug or some pets. I was a solitary kid who moved around a lot so the positive nonverbal requests for love resonated with the bits of me that didn't get much exercise.

It's hard to overstate just how much Bo helped me during the worst time of my life. For about a year I'd come home bleeding, bruised, and desperately trying to forget everything that happened over the course of the day. No matter how much I hurt, Bo was always there to give me some friendly licks and prop himself up next to me so I could hear and feel his heart beat. It was easier to forget the smells, pain, and taunts of the day when he flashed his big ham-stealing grin.

Time must move on, and eventually Bo went back to my grandparents' to lose weight and get healthy. In the spring of '98, when I was 13, we got to their house and I saw what Bo looked and acted like when he was in good shape. He was running around, barking, and so happy to see me. Then he made a quick noise and fell over. I ran over to start shaking him and was yelling at him to get up. By the time my dad and grandpa put him in the car to take him away I was hugging him and feeling the warmth leave. They tried taking him to the vet but it was too late. Bo had died instantly of a heart attack.

I blamed myself for it. No, that's not a rational or reasonable response, but the abuse I'd experienced hadn't left me with good emotional reasoning skills and it'd be almost 20 years until I went into therapy. There came a point I was so beaten down that I thought something was fundamentally wrong with me, like my love was poison and the only hope I'd have for sustained happiness was someday in Heaven. This turned out to be an instance where time and letting myself feel affection again were the two biggest sources of healing. I wasn't toxic, Bo was just an old dog with problems who loved me more than anything else and died at his absolute happiest seeing his favorite human again.About 12 years later I made the transition from dog person to cat person. My then-roommate (and website co-founder) was allergic to cats so my initial attempt at adoption from a friend didn't go so well. After he moved into his own place I had a moment of serendipity where I opened my door to go to the store and looked down to see a medium-sized black cat staring right at me. The cat wasn't afraid, had a growly meow, and we regarded each other with mutual interest. After remembering I still had leftover cat supplies from my earlier adoption attempt, I put down some food, water, and litter followed by my serendipitous guest utilizing each utility laid out.

I named him Mystery, the cat with no past. A vet appointment later confirmed he was sick and old, unlikely to last long. I endeavored to give Mystery the best life I could and, in turn, I got a curmudgeonly companion to join me during another tough time. What the vet anticipated as a few months turned into a few years as Mystery stayed with me through another tough time when I was at my loneliest. I had moved two states over, knowing no one, having plans with my then-girlfriend to come with me but she didn't.

Mystery was never the friendliest boy but he meowed his special growly meow on the toughest nights when I needed to hear that I wasn't alone. He'd live through another move, this time from my solo apartment to moving in with my eventual wife. I was sad when he died, but it was a different kind of sadness. It was tempered with the knowledge that my affection and love weren't tainted or poisonous. It was because of what I was able to give Mystery that he stuck around in a comfortable home and private bed as long as he did without suffering.Almost 20 years after Bo, during my second round of therapy, I was on a heavy dose of antidepressants that gave me headaches or put me out. The mornings were extremely rough as I didn't know what kind of state I'd be in. When I fumbled out of bed one day I made it two steps before noticing a small kitten laying down on one of our pillows that fell on the floor. The kitten bolted after I asked, "Who are you?" and once I was able to carefully corner the kitten I saw a message from my wife telling me not to be angry - but a kitten from the outside got inside.

I was just happy standard rules of biology and physics applied knowing my cats weren't spontaneously producing new cats.

Over the next few months, the kitten started approaching me whenever I was outside. When I sat down, they'd hop up on my lap and start kneading. My wife and I dubbed the kitten Grey Ghost in honor of the then recently deceased Adam West. But it wasn't long before Grey Ghost needed a slight name change as they developed a bit of a tummy and came around wanting to go inside our apartment. Grey Ghost was a girl, and about to become Queen Ghost because she was pregnant.

I was scared at her insistence. My mind kept wandering back to Bo, how happy he was to see me, and how cold he felt as his body gave out the rest of who he was. Even though I'd long gotten over the feeling that my love and affection was a burden or poison to other living things, my sense memory of his death remained strong. It's been impossible for me to shake myself completely free from that, even if my care of Mystery showed me that there's little reason to fear.

That didn't stop me from fretting every second when Queen Grey plopped herself down in our living room corner and began to groan. I did my best to set up some sheets and a comfortable wall around her so that she could have as much privacy as possible, plus placing some food and water nearby.I was borderline rapturous in my relief when I heard the first of those tiny meows. This living being trusted me enough to put both her life and the lives of her litter in my hands. That trust wasn't misplaced. This was just as real as Mystery giving me his growly meow greeting or Bo plopping his big frame next to me for pets.

The kittens are still together with their momma, some are rowdy and the others more subdued, and all of them are healthy. I don't know how much longer I'm going to be able to keep the family together. I don't even know how much longer my body's going to be in the condition it is (to say nothing of the potential grenade waiting in my right kidney). But I'm grateful to have been there for them, and happy that they're all loving bundles of fur 'n purrs guiding me to whatever light I can find during this scary period.

Next entry: Picking the Time for Traumatic Art

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Posted by Andrew

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  1. Yes to our animal loves! They are so incredible ,😍

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