The Authenticity Experiment, the everybody’s dead edition. It’s strange: now that the cat is dead all I want to do is call my mother and tell her when I haven’t felt the urge to call her in months. Tell her that the last two nights I’ve come home to an empty house—no tortoise shell cat sitting imperiously on the back left cushion of the couch and cussing at me for being out too long, too late, for choosing busyness over sitting in the low light and holding her. There is no tiny baby kitty curled into her brown and beige heated cat bed on the wood floor between my king sized bed and the window, no cat in the heated bed, paw over her nose, one eye looking up at me, a plaintive request to please turn on the heat in the bedroom. And no cat racing to the office at 7:25 a.m. waiting on the other heated cat bed for the morning scrum call to begin.
I want to call my mom and tell her all this. Tell her the cat died and now that the last of her, by which I mean the last of my mother, is gone, a new grief—no, not quite grief, but emptiness—has taken hold of my heart. It made me shave off all my hair today. It made me go to two different parties tonight when perhaps I would have been just as happy to be at home. In the office, on the red chair, no cat under my left hand, just me and the iPad crossword puzzle, me and a book, me and a guitar, me and much too much stillness. Who knew that 5.5 pounds of fur could fill up 1267 square feet over three stories?
And maybe my mom is close. Because I can almost feel her when I talk to her in my head. It’s that palpable, her presence. Maybe she’s close because I’m writing an essay about her in my head, an essay that the woman who is not my girlfriend suggested that I write to bridge Objects, Authenticity, and the third book.
Maybe she’s close because that’s what the dead do, they visit the living, especially when the living are, quite literally, on their knees begging for intercession.
I’ve been this way before. You’ve been this way, too. Hell, half the country is this way right now. Stunned, a low ringing in the ears. Quiet and not quite right. Standing alone in the dark on the sidewalk, feeling the wind, suddenly so cold when last week it was 60 degrees, standing alone in the dark and listening to the last of the leaves on the ornamental cherry trees rattle their own death rattle and finding some comfort in the darkness and chill of the season.
“There is yet faith,” says T.S. Eliot. “But the faith and the love are all in the waiting.”
We’re all waiting, aren’t we? Wondering what will come next, wondering if we can take it. I’ll tell you, we can. It isn’t fun. It isn’t easy. But we can do this, even when we can’t call our mothers.
Tonight I had dinner with a woman whose mother died almost half her life ago. This woman who is 20 years younger than I knows this emptiness and has gone on to build a beautiful life for herself with a man and two guinea pigs who love her. That sounds funny, yeah? But that’s what death does—it forces you to find the joy in small, strange spots—like two little guinea pigs with amazingly sharp claws who squeak with joy when you pick them up. In the sound of November leaves skittering down the sidewalk. In way you can finally hear the voice of your mother inside your head. In a heated cat bed, still plugged in, but empty save for a catnip mouse made from hemp cloth.
Eliot knew this. He wrote those lines above during the Blitz. If he can have faith when it seemed like the world was literally being bombed into oblivion, then so can I, so can you. And we’ll get through this time together, as a community, with or without our animals and mothers. We’ll get through this, all of us, because we must. Although there might be spots of darkness on the horizon there is yet faith.