The Good Life

We planted a labyrinth. OK, I didn’t actually do any of the work, no, I was out there one day I think for an hour. Not hard work, mind you, sitting on my ass digging in the dirt with a garden trowel. I’d reach every once in a while for the cardboard flat of medicinal herbs and plop its tender little life into a hole. The other women, who are much more physically healthy than I am, did all the actual diagramming of the round-a-bout lines on the ground with jamming sticks into the soil and winding a thin rope around the sticks to outline where to walk and where not to walk.

We all donated to the cause to purchase the medicinal herbs to plant, and yes, again it was the other ladies who did most of that planting around and around in circles from the outside of the labyrinth to the center. It was large, I believe it was about 100 feet across in diameter. One lady and her husband and son owned the land it was on, way out in the country, next to the Mississippi River. When we were quietly working we could hear the river, but from the labyrinth we couldn’t see it. It was also a bit of a trek to get out to it from their house, at least 10 minutes to the clearing through the forest. To get to their house you also had to drive about 20 minutes from town.

We gathered there on Full Moons, Sabbats, and other celebrations. We ate marvelous food,  shared delightful conversation, and laughed until our sides ached.  Some of us went out to the labyrinth alone at times to meditate, pray, seek guidance, cry, or for another calls or needs. It was for women, though, for women’s synergy, partnership, and unity. It was for bearing each other’s good and bad and putting it back into the soil to turn back into Mother Nature, and all we could take away from it was the good bounty of medicine we’d grown and positivism and nurturance.

I had been out there alone one afternoon. I had come to the bottom of all I could endure and I was facing blackness all around me. I’d been to that pit before and I recognized it. Despair and depression, anger and suffering, and longing and I couldn’t hold it in. I should not have gone alone. I did put it into the ground, but I did not “ground” myself. I forgot to thank and walked away with dragging feet and unanswered tears and shouted cries. That night, lightning struck the rock I’d “placed” my anger within. If you’ve ever seen a rock that’s been struck by lightning, it’s pretty cool. For lightning to strike the exact center of our labyrinth, after I’d been out there-the last person to have been out there-is like what, one in a zillion?

The next day the owner of the land was calling us all to figure out the who and what. So, I the guilty party had to be present as we all gathered to heal the labyrinth. From the time we all arrived, yes, all eyes were on me. I had to be “healed”, too. It’s not as embarrassing as it sounds to have a gathering of supportive women to “cradle” you in a dark hour. I laid it out as best I could about what was going on in my life, all my needs, etc. No, of course they really couldn’t help, it was medical stuff mixed with my messed-up family stuff. Just having it out there and shared and knowing I wasn’t alone really did help. I could still feel that eyes were watching me though, but not from the group of women, this feeling was coming from the forest. It was behind me.

Whoever was watching me wasn’t bad. It didn’t make me feel creepy either. I just knew someone was still watching me. The feeling was moving around, from place to place, like telling me to hurry up. So, the women gave me healing hugs, told me healing stories, we danced “like no one is watching,” and giggled and laughed like cackling idiots. We went back to the house, walking through the wooded path with “someone” still watching me. I mentioned it to the owner of the house and she looked at me and smiled. As the other women were getting all the mouthwatering food ready to eat she took me aside. She gave me an stunning shawl that she had handmade, saying she’d thought healing thoughts for me while making it. She also said that was one of two things she had to give me, but the other had to wait.

Those “eye” still watched me from outside while I ate. Now it felt like someone endearing me to “please share?” I can’t tell you how I knew these thoughts. They just popped into my mind from out of nowhere. How could this “someone” know I was enjoying a sumptuous repast inside the house? What on earth was going on? Finally, it was getting late and I really did need to get home to my child. The ladies gifted me with the lightning stabbed rock to take home and leftover mini-doughnuts: one package of cinnamon flavor and one package of powdered sugar. The owner walked me to the door and to my car, and as I opened the back door to place all my “gifts”; out of the woods a black shadow suddenly charged and jumped into the backseat! The owner of the land said, “we’re all allergic, but she showed up last night after the storm. I figure since she’s been watching you all day she must be yours.”

A black cat imperiously sat on the back seat. Not afraid of us or anything. She came towards me, meowed, and rubbed against my arm and said “hello human.” Since she wasn’t afraid of people I figure she’d been thrown away by someone, just like me. I thanked my host for ALL of the gifts, told the cat she could stay, and got into the front seat and shut the door. She wasn’t very old, a little less than 2 years old, maybe? Skinny. Beautiful golden eyes. A very long cat with long legs and short sleek black fur. My infant would love to pull its tail. I did have one cat at home already. My sister called me one day and asked if I’d take hers before her asshole husband killed it. Of course I did. Tempest was a black & white very fluffy long-hair that slept with my son, sat next to my son always. I think that cat thought my son was hers.

As I drove home, the “eyes” stopped. I figured the cat had fallen asleep. My friend and I were deep in conversation anyway. Suddenly my friend burst out laughing! She told me I didn’t need to think of a name for my cat; it had one. What? She was busy eating the ENTIRE bag of cinnamon doughnuts! So, OK golden eyes, those cinnamon looking golden eyes…you are hereby dubbed: Cinnamon. When I said it she looked up long enough to give us a loud “meow,” so I guess that was an OK.

She was right at home in my adobe. When I brought her into the house she went right for the couch, like she’d been there before, lay down and went to sleep. Well, she did have a very full stomach. She and Tempest got along, too. They played together and they both loved my son. She never cared when getting her tail pulled or an entire handful of fur or an ear. I actually lived in a mobile home. As my son grew, their favorite games were throwing super balls down the hallway and watching Cinnamon chase them bouncing around or rolling Hot Wheels down the hall and watching Cinn try to catch them while on the tracks or off the “jumps” and ramps.

When my son was three we moved across town into a house. The cats didn’t mind the move. Actually, it was Cinnamon who alerted me to wake up when the house was on fire! A guy had been putting insulation in the attic earlier in the day and his light had started it on fire, but he’d thought he’d put it out. 2 AM ,Cinnamon on my feet, I awoke to the nastiest smell I’ve ever smelled. It was difficult to completely wake, though. I then wandered the house trying to figure out the smell. I went outside and saw flames coming out of the side of my house! I ran inside to get my son, but he was difficult to wake, too and the fire was burning inside his closet. I half held, half dragged him outside into the snow. It was Easter Sunday in MN, so yes, snow on the ground. I left him standing in the snow and went back inside to find the phone. I didn’t have a cell phone. I called 911 and went back outside to wait. They came, we both got oxygen for our coughing, and we cried for them to find our cats who had disappeared.

We were homeless for 2 months. The cats were found and housed in a kennel while I at first went from the couch at my sister’s, then to a room at my brother’s then to a hotel for a month, because as I stated earlier my family is screwed up. Getting back into our home and getting back to our beloved cats was a blessing. My son had lost everything in his room, but he had his Tempest. Yes, Tempest had become HIS. Tempest was his world. Cinnamon had become mine. We share a rare bone disease. Every time my son is injured Tempest was there. Tempest was better than ANY medication. Going 2 months without our cats was horrible. Cinnamon had saved our lives.

I believe Cinnamon was our/my body guard or something. At least she thought so. At times she was sort of like having a dog around. A watch cat. She always stayed in the yard when we were outside. If people were walking by she walked the perimeter of the yard, making sure they didn’t come over the threshold. If a dog was walking by with someone, oh boy did that dog get the stink-eye! IF a dog was on its own and came into the yard she actually chased them out of the yard! Yes, dogs were afraid of my cat. She turned into a big cat, too. At her biggest she weighed 18 pounds. She didn’t look round either. She was just big.

I am an animal lover. So is my son. At one time he even thought of becoming a veterinarian. He discovered how long they have to go to school though, and thought better of that. We volunteered at the local humane society taking care of cats and walking dogs. Mostly taking care of the cats. My sister called one day and said there was a couple of strays at her work and could I help. My son and I went to help. We caught them. Now what to do? I found a home for the adult male, but couldn’t say no to my son about the yearling. So now we had three cats. This one is a tortoise shell who was very well camouflaged under the bushes at my sister’s restaurant. Hence her new name: Camouflage, Cami for short. The other two cats didn’t seems to mind, too much.

A short year later a friend’s daughter’s cat had kittens and the mom said no, they couldn’t keep them. I made the mistake of visiting before she gave them all away. Now we added a little black runt of the litter to our house. The first male of the brood, hmmm, how would THIS go over? The first real kitten, too. OMG, yes, holes in the curtains and holes in my legs! Those little claws are hypodermic needles! Cinnamon was having none of it. My son LOVED it! This little guy was quite the acrobat and he played fetch! Right away he, like, did flying jump aerials off the walls! My son is a computer, Xbox playing total nerd. This kitten was named: Ninja! Cinnamon and Tempest and Cami DID get used to having a kitten around, eventually. I think it even perked them up and rejuvenated them a bit.

We had a few years with the four cats running around playing together. Tempest became the matriarch and Cinnamon the bouncer. I tried to teach them all to use a leash. That did NOT work. Older cats will not do it. I though since Ninja was a kitten we could teach him, but nope. He was just too energetic and was not gonna wear something that might “keep him down.” Cami, she dances to a different drum. I made all the cats become indoor cats. They live longer that way, and it’s easier to keep track of them. No way was Cami going to do that. She is some kind of Houdini. She can slip between legs, open door slots the size of a pea, I swear it. I can NOT keep her inside the house. I can’t keep a collar on her either. I’ve tried all sorts of collars. She can get out of them all. She will get out of them, or die trying. She also goes on walkabouts. Yup. She disappears. In the summer she will be gone for 2 months at a time. Just when we’ve given up hope and think she’s been killed by something, she’ll come trotting up the driveway. She’ll be just a little thin, with a Cheshire grin on her face.

Drat. They figured us out. My nephew called and said there was a little cat behind the dumpster at his job. Said she was half frozen and would I rescue her, please Auntie? Oh, hell, of course. Another black one. This one has thumbs. No kidding, she looks like she’s wearing mittens. We soon discover her cuteness is a disguise so she can use these to grab your food while you’re sucked in by her itty bitty little cutey face. Yes, this polydactyle (geeze, I know I’m spelling that wrong,) creature uses this feature to actually stick out her thumb and inch it forward to grab things, like food off your plate. Like the Madagascar Penguins: You See Nothing. When we received her it was obvious that she had just given birth, as all her “plates” were set. We assume they froze to death, poor dears. So we named her “Lil’ Mama in remembrance to her lost litter. She stayed little, sort of. She is a short, stubby legged, little round barrel.

Don’t shake your head at us, yes, we did it again. I have since learned to say no. The elders, Tempest and Cinnamon, took me aside and begged me to say no. A lady called and said a cat showed up. She had large dogs and didn’t want this cat. Would I? Could I find it a home? She was SOOO cute? Totally white! C’mon, we had black cats. We had to keep the white one. It was Feng Shui! It was Yin and Yang! It was Karma! Her moniker became: Blizzard. Perfect for a MN cat. Until she grew up and her coat told us she was Siamese. My son then said, OK so there’s dirt swirling around in the blizzard. Sure, that actually makes sense for a cat that plays tag with herself at 10 PM every  night. Well, I think that’s what she’s doing anyway. Not quite sure why she runs around to every room at that time of night, every cotton-pickin’ night. At midnight she and Mama play tag together. It’s like elephants rumbling around the house.

Don’t let dog-lovers tell you that cats are boring. They like to say that cats don’t play. Phooey! Apparently they have never seen more than one cat at a time. Cats like to play “wrestle” just like rag-tag little boys. It’s a silent pantomime of what the big cats do to their prey in the wild. It’s a lot like watching a pro boxing match, except there’s teeth involved. Cats also like to play tag; a lot. This game is best played when humans are around so you can be underfoot. Also, you have to tag the tail or it isn’t a true tag and you are still “it.” I’ve seen that. The same cat really does have to still go after the other one. Cats will also play hide-and-seek. Hiding under the chair that a human is currently occupying is the BEST hiding place, because waiting on top of the chair until you come out an inch at a time to peek, then the cat who is “it” runs down the human to “find” you is the best way to find you. Tag-team playing with human feet is allowed ONLY if ONE of you gets the sock. Chasing your own tail is only allowed within the confines of the human bathtub.

That last one was Cinnamon’s game. I never could actually catch her on camera playing it. When I’d see her in the bathtub chasing her tail in circles, I’d turn to go get my phone and if she saw me, wham, out of the tub. She was done. I have no proof. I couldn’t get her playing ANYTHING on camera! Like she just wasn’t going to allow me proof that she would ever do anything beneath being stoic. The old bodyguard standing watch over her family. If the herd, the other cats, got out of line and got too close to her, she just squashed them, literally. She’d put out a giant paw and squish their head down to the floor! Floof! As if to say, “stop it.” If they really pissed her off, which I can honestly say I only saw I think twice, she had a killer fast right paw that struck out so fast you could hardly see it, that hit 5 times in a row really really hard. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. I saw her do it to a dog, and it dazed the dog. I got in between her paw and the cat she was going to do it too when she got senile, and my hand went numb. She hit hard. She also had 6 toes, so her paw was large.

We’ve been in this house for 15 years now. A lively house with a family of 6 cats and two humans. We’ve had two other boys come and go, friends of my son who lived with us for a while. They loved the cats, too. A couple of other women lived here, too, friends of mine. It’s a small house, but full of love for our furry members. Tempest made it to 23 years old before we had to let her go. She nursed my son through 80+ broken bones and 10 surgeries. Cinnamon crossed that bridge two weeks ago, she was around 20. We grow ’em old here. Putting her “out of pain” was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

She was the bestest best friend I ever had. My constant companion. My best listener. My secret keeper. My tear dryer. She helped me to keep my courage when things were at the worst, for dignity is what a cat does best. I can see the days past when it was her who chased away strangers on my lawn. It was her who attacked any dogs, up to 4 times her size, that came near us, to protect us. She ruled this roost with an iron paw and kept all the other cats in line. She found me after someone else threw her away. Their loss was my gain. Her first hungry meal in my back seat of that bag of cinnamon doughnuts sealed the deal. Friends to the end. She became an elder and we taught each other a lot. We were together for 18 long years, but she was at least 20 or so (in human years anyway.)

The other cats sniffed around looking for their elder friend and seemed a little confused since she is not in her regular places. There is a palpable empty feeling, a definite knowledge that one is missing. A feeling in the room that is gone. Her essence, or aura, was so “there”, so felt. I think it will take a few days for it to all fade. She’s under the large Lilac with Tempest now. They liked to lie there in the shade in the summer and roll in the catnip. I let her outside her last day. One more time to walk in the sunshine. It was a beautiful day. She taught me a lot about mothering and a lot about chasing my tail with dignity. That’s what’s it’s about, right? Living the Good Life.

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