Salute for Sophie

Sophie’s backyard friends held the gathering I could not.

He wouldn’t have dared, if she was still with us. That was her spot.

She’d sit there in the evening, Mistress of All She Surveyed.

I think he misses her. He loved to bait and taunt her, and she loved to ignore him more often as she got older. He’s actually probably the child or grandchild of a previous rodent provocateur. But it’s game over, now.

The house, and the yard, have been very quiet since Sophie went. The scritching in the wall next to my desk, which drove me nuts for weeks, has stopped, with no corresponding smell that would indicate demise. Just a cessation of sound, signaling that whatever had been making it has finally chosen to vacate the premises.

The neighbor’s-from-two-streets-over cat, a wide ranging tabby, had taken up residence under our deck. This cat has been coming around for a few years, and looks exactly like a cat that showed up at my Mom’s house all the way on the other side of town shortly after Mom died, acting like she owned the place. Like we were supposed to open up and let her the hell into HER house. It could be the same cat, for all I know. The neighbors said she really gets around – had to chip her because she kept turning up so far afield.

I’ve found her on our roof from time to time, or up on the deck railing (also Sophie’s spot – where she’d come to the kitchen window to ask to be let back into the house.)

But a few days ago, that tabby came out from under the deck (better her than the former resident, a huge skunk, or the raccoons before that) and she hasn’t been back.

I  honestly think these creatures know that Sophie is gone, and are mourning her in their way.

As I was regarding that chipmunk, sitting where Sophie sat last Saturday evening, her last, as it turned out, I decided to take a picture rather than shoo him off the deck. He looked forlorn.

Just then, the hummingbird that my daughter had reported sighting several times appeared, closer to the house than the chipmunk, and lowered itself elegantly into the cupped petals of the tulips I had planted for Mike, so he’d have flowers to look at during his ceaseless rounds of dishwashing, before the kitchen was redone.

And here was that hummingbird, a symbol of Mike to me, sinking gently into those tulips, and of course zipping out and out of sight, when I tried to creep silently (not so silently, I guess) out of the house to get a closer look.

The chipmunk took off as soon as my footsteps sounded on the deck’s planks.

Somehow I found comfort in these creatures this morning.

It was as if they were paying their respects.

My daughter continues her daily, sighing expression, “I miss Dad,” now recited as, “I miss Dad and I miss Sophie.”

But a few days after we said goodbye to Sophie, she also said, for the first time in the nearly three years since Mike died,  “I went to the gathering for Dorothy Elaine (her grandmother.) I liked the gathering for Dorothy Elaine. When is a gathering for Dad?”

I dissolved. How was I going to explain to her that it was much too late for that? That, because of decisions Mike had made and because of how he had chosen to circumscribe his life, it was already too late for that a decade before we even knew he was sick?

There were four people at Mike’s burial – me, our daughter, our pastor and the hospice chaplain, who had quickly become Mike’s friend in the last week or two of his life, through a shared love of poetry, discovered in the first few minutes of their first conversation.

“Remember that beautiful day, sweetheart? The day we put the stone box with Daddy’s ashes into the ground at his gravesite? We read the poems, and you and I both chose beautiful flowers to leave for Dad? That was his gathering, sweetheart – there won’t be another one.”

And there won’t be one for Sophie, because I said no when the vet asked if we wanted the ashes. Didn’t think about processing time for her, to ask, and me, to decide. So too late for that, now, as well.

But I will tell her about the chipmunk, and the neighbor’s cat and the hummingbird, who seem to have organized a “gathering” of their own – one that seemed to me to be an acknowledgement of Sophie’s absence and a kind of farewell.

Didn’t sleep much last night, so we slept away today’s gloomy, grey, rainy, quiet, almost peaceful, morning.

So long, Soph.

With this final farewell to my feline friend, I remain, your struggling but starting to surface again,

Ridiculouswoman

Dear Santa:

Please direct your attention to those in greater need….

Look, I know this is absurd, a grown woman writing a letter to Santa.

Absurd.

Ridiculous, even.

But ridiculous is kind of what I do.

And here’s the thing: I believe in you.

When you are in the picture at this time of year, people are more likely to be kind. Caring, giving. Generous, even. (Battle lines at big-box stores excepted, of course).

Magical things happen. They do.

It snows magic Christmas snow when the weather nerds insist none is in the forecast.

Packages and invitations turn up unexpectedly, from friends you didn’t know were thinking of you.

Customer service people actually provide service.

I confess I was going to write a tearjerker of a letter, asking you to send us a new man.

Because we could use some company.

My daughter is feeling our two-of-us-that-used-to-be-three-of-us, hard.

She misses her Dad, a lot.

So do I.

I miss the way he danced (very goofy.) I miss the way he used to peek around the door of her room when we were sitting together at bedtime.

I miss us sitting in companionable silence, each reading our own books, pausing to identify and then listen intently to, whatever selection was playing on our beloved classical music radio station.

So I was going to ask you, Santa, for a little help, finding a new man for us. A little help, here?

But I changed my mind because of a few intervening events that put things in perspective since I started writing this letter:

Sophie cat became “Sophie the Christmas Miracle Cat.”

She had suddenly lost the use of her back leg.

Vet said prognosis dire. Probably blood clot.

Might have to say good-bye.

Oh, shit, at Christmas?

But Sophie the Christmas Miracle Cat, being, shall we say, un-enamored of said vet (who is a really nice lady, but Sophie sees her and thinks, “shot! run!”) managed to drag herself upstairs, do a pull-up with her front claws (and this cat weighs at least 15 pounds) onto my bed, and make herself well.

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Meaning she somehow managed to dissolve the clot, regain use of her left hind leg, and after climbing up and being carried back down twice (for food, and, erm, other necessities) she got down herself the third time, limping a little, but by the next meal was walking along just fine, asking for her next meal, as usual.

Then, just as we were preparing for our annual ladies’ holiday excursion downtown, I happened to go into the basement utility room (OCD, just wanted to check and make sure the previous night’s fireplace ashes hadn’t done something weird and dangerous while encased in masonry behind an iron door in the ash box – you know, the usual, rational concern) I noticed the boiler was leaking. A lot. And not from a pressure release valve – from underneath.

Call heat guy, who luckily lives pretty close by.

Sorry, ma’am, you’re going to need a new boiler.

How much?

THAT much? Oh, my God!

Try to retain calm during ladies’ annual downtown excursion, while also seeking bids from two other heat guys.

Enjoy lovely excursion, including breathtaking, moving and lovely performance of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theater. Wow. Stunning.

But while walking along The Magnificent Mile, between the Disney store and American Girl Place,  among the expensively dressed, happy holiday crowd, we passed many, many homeless people.

Every three feet, there was another person, huddled in filthy blankets, head bowed, cardboard sign propped against their knees, or wheelchair, or walker, plastic cup standing, hoping, for something. Just a little something.

I gave the only dollar I had, because I don’t really carry cash anymore, to a person who was propped up with a walker, legs trembling, speech impaired, seemingly brain-injured and desperate.

And turned to continue our walk past the next homeless person, and the next, and the next.

Overwhelming need, smack in the middle of the swankiest part of town.

I have never been so grateful to come home to an unheated house in my life.

Yesterday, I washed my hair with water heated on the stove, and was warmed by the hair dryer, before we headed off to church.

My dear brother brought over two space heaters.

We attended a last-minute, lovely, holiday party at the home of a family who have been exceptionally kind to us, especially my angelic, autistic daughter, who loves them, as they have come to love her.

I watched her make conversation with other guests without my cueing or help, or presence, really, beaming, like the lovely young adult she is, heart full of joy.

Today I’ll  make our traditional Christmas Eve clam chowder and cornbread, to be consumed after church, and then, we’ll put on our warm jammies, make a fire in the fireplace and we’ll make s’mores.

Camping! Pioneer ladies!

I have no heat and no hot water, Santa, and I won’t until Wednesday, when the first heat guys who came, whose heart-stopping bid was actually substantially lower than the next guy’s, will install a new boiler.

And I couldn’t be happier.

Because today, we have a roof over our heads, food in the fridge, two space heaters and enough blankets, hats, sweaters and sweatshirts to get us through to Wednesday.

Three years ago, our first Christmas without Mike, I burned the cranberry sauce for the first time in my life. I’ve been making it since I was twelve. I think that happened because of sadness, distraction and depression.

I burned it again, just now, for only the second time in my life.

Because I was distracted by writing a blog post about gratitude.

I’d call that progress.

So Santa, don’t worry about us  Please direct your attention to those truly in need, and we’ll try to figure out something we can do in our own small way. (But maybe could you save a package of cranberries for us at the local market for when we do our shopping after lessons and carols? They were out by this day last year).

Thanks for listening.

God bless us, every one.

See you next year.

Until then, I remain,

Your grateful, silly, burned-the-cranberries-but-thankfully-not-the-house-because-I-was-distracted-by-gratitude,

Ridiculouswoman