Today, in three parts:
The rain patters against our metal roof. I pull the comforter over me, and I snuggle into my extra-long pillow. That sound — the rain against the roof — relaxes me, lulls me to some deeper realm of sleep.
Next to me, Noel‘s finally asleep after a restless night coughing and sniffling and generally not settling down for the night. I open an eye, a squint really, and see it’s nearly 6. Maybe I can sleep in for a little longer. My mind drifts to last week, or maybe the week before — it’s all blurring together lately — when I did that, and what was supposed to be a 2 minute snooze became 30 minutes later. 30 minutes later doesn’t mix very well with my anxious nature.
It’s Friday, and I’m sole charge at work, so I urge myself out of bed. At least today, I’m almost on time. 6:01 AM.
When I wake up early, I usually feed the girls any time between 6:30 and 6:50. They don’t mind. Not really.
This morning, I open the curtains, and it’s a deep dark blue outside, nearly black. The days are contracting now, faster than before, or at least that’s what it feels like. I fumble for my phone, find the lighting app, and turn the patio light on.
Standing at the door, waiting, pacing, meowing, is a surprisingly dry Star and a quite wet Twinkle.
Going outside, with 2 full food bowls and a bag of dry food in my hands, the girls dance around my feet. Star looks a little ticked off with Twinkle. Twinkle does her typical, “Pick me up! Pick me up!” (because she’s wet!). I squat to put the food down, and this provides them a Perfect Petting Opportunity™. Star steers clear of Twinkle — she doesn’t want to get wet! — so I stroke her along her back.
Twinkle’s a different story. I find a dry spot on her, around her face, and I pet her too. She purrs happily, very unaware I’m avoiding cuddling her and getting my work clothes wet.
Being early, I linger for a little while longer, petting them both as they move towards their food. What I love about these two is, even though they are hungry, there’s always time for a pat or even a cuddle.
I feel sorry for my professor because he told us we could pick a novel to write our essay on narrative ethics around. Having recently read A Little Life, I felt that would be an amazing book, despite its length, to cover. When I suggested it to him, I assumed my professor would have read it, or at least been familiar with its tome-like nature. It was only when we were Zooming as a class and talking about our essay that he informed me that he picked up the book and by God was it huge.
Putting my embarrassment aside for a moment, I privately offered to write about a different book. He’s busy, I’m busy, so our email exchange was drawn out, and the other day, he suggested we meet on Zoom to discuss this.
I’m staring at the screen, waiting for the Zoom call to connect on my computer at work, when I see an email’s come through from him. He hadn’t received my email confirming 1:30. Could we meet in, say, 10 minutes?
My iPhone (again) hasn’t sent an email. This message was an email yesterday to let him know that yes, 1:30 works fine instead of 2:30.
I look at my phone. Nope. No evidence of the email. And I know I sent it.
The camera comes on, and my office is brightly lit. All I can do is look at myself and how disheveled I look. My hair needs a cut. Straggly hair sticks out from over my ears. A lock curls behind my ear. My hair is a lot lighter than it’s ever been, except those summers I spent practicing swimming. And it’s really thinning at the top. Who the hell do I think I’m kidding? I look jagged, jaded, tired, middle-aged.
So I do what I do best. I put on a brave, happy face.
Imposter. That’s one of the words spinning in my head as I explain my concept for my essay and then for my thesis. Liar. Fraud. Faker. Wannabe. You’re not smart enough to do this. You’re not bright enough to do this. You don’t have the drive, the energy, the passion.
You’re gonna fail.
Despite the brave face, I can feel these accusations from the critic in my head cracking through the veneer. For some reason, the conversation shifts to the Christchurch earthquakes and the terrorist attacks. I’m not sure how.
And I regurgitate the same old crap about it. No, no, it was a long time ago. No, no, I don’t mind talking about it. No, no, we’re all over that now.
When, in fact, every tremor we have makes every muscle in my body tighten and adrenaline spike throughout my body. When I do talk about it, I try not to cry, or get upset. While people from outside Christchurch are sick of hearing about it, for me, it’s this fixed point in time, as they say on Doctor Who, in my life.
I change the subject to something else. Another question about next semester — I have the same professor for another class next term — about going back to the States mid-semester. (Of course, there’s a major paper due during the time I’m looking at being away. My anxiety fires up again.)
Before I know it, we’re awkwardly discussing a course of his I took back in 2014. He admits he’s not as active as he wants to be in those undergraduate courses, but I tell him, quite sincerely, I enjoyed every second of it. It’s the God honest truth, and he says it’s great to get the feedback because they rarely get feedback from students. I could swear I filled out the survey way back when but I can’t remember.
I assure him I’m not buttering him up or anything.
And after some more small talk, it’s 2 PM, and both he and I need to go.
I’ve waited so long to feel better enough to start a Masters. It’s been nearly a decade, and it’ll be 11 years if I finish it in the 3 years allotted for part-time students.
I feel so awkward and out of my depth. Like the critic in my head says, I feel like a fraud. A pretender. A faker. An impostor.
But I’ll do what I do best: persevere.
I pull in the driveway and dread how I’ll feel next.
Had this been late last year, I’d walk in the door, and Sissy would be there, eager to greet me.
Had this been a few weeks ago, I’d walk in the door, and Sissy would see me from her bed, consider me for a moment, then stagger out of bed to greet me half-way.
Last week, I rushed in the door, hours early. Sissy was breathing slightly heavily, weaving in and out of consciousness. Noel was next to her on the floor, crying.
By the time I’d normally get home, she had passed. We walked in the door with a hastily disassembled carrying case, crying.
I walk in this afternoon, and the energy is all off. I’m startled by how bare the living room is, even though Noel has rearranged the furniture to re-add the fourth chair that had been missing. But that’s not what’s throwing the energy askew.
Moving into the kitchen / dining room / main living room, I see her. Star is standing there, looking at me. Her eyes widen, and she bolts. Imposter, she seems to say as she flees.
A little while later, I’m outside, and Twinkle climbs the persimmon tree. I weave my way through the branches heavily laden with green fruit starting to turn orange, and Twinkle seems impressed. I pet her, and she rubs against the branches, then me. She loves me being home, and it shows.
We spend the evening with Star coming in and out of the house. Twinkle ventures in, but Star decides to rough-house her, so she decides to go out and stay out to get away from the constant barrage.
Star is bolder. She wanders up the back hallway, checking out Noel’s office, the spare bathroom, our bedroom, our walk-in wardrobe, our bathroom. She’s never been in these places before, but she smells our scents and wants to know this place better.
She meanders into the front living room. I don’t follow her because I want to give her the chance to explore. Curiosity gets the better of me, and I eventually acquiesce and see what she’s up to.
When I walk into the front living room, there’s a set of cat legs behind the farthest chair, the one nearest the front door. This odd topsy-turvy feeling comes over me, because had this been a morning two weeks ago, that’s exactly where Sissy would’ve been standing, enjoying the sun. It is like she is back from the antimatter universe and her legs are black now.
Star senses me there, so she emerges. For a few moments, she looks out the front window, realizing she normally sees this from the other side of the glass. I coax her with soothing words, but it’s something else she senses. She wanders over to the side window, and I think she’s checking out the side yard when her head bows and she sniffs the carpet. The exact spot where Sissy wet herself during the fit that sealed her fate. We had cleaned and cleaned and cleaned that spot, but the scent still remains.
Something strange occurs. Star stands there, considering what she smells but sombre at the same time. Something in the way she moves indicates she understands, and she seems to reflect on the Sissy she knew and what happened to her. That stirs something in me, but I don’t have the energy to delve deeper into whatever it is.
After our dinner, it’s usually time to feed Star and Twinkle left over chicken. Star’s never been inside before when I retrieve the chicken from the fridge and microwave it to warm it up, but she seems to know the sound of the microwave and its door opening and closing.
I’m patient with our pets, and I explain things. Star’s standing on the carpet between the couch and our kitchen when I remove the bowl, peel back the Glad Wrap, and lower the bowl so she can smell it. I tell her that the chicken is from the fridge, and I’ll take some out, put it on her plate, and microwave it. She seems to understand.
The chicken goes in for 5 seconds at a time, usually no more than 20 seconds in total. It’s not even in 10 seconds when Star arrives at my feet and looks up at the microwave in awe. 15 seconds, and she’s meowing at me in anticipation. 20 seconds, she’s on my heels, ready to go.
We go outside, and I sit on the concrete patio where I normally do. She cosies on up next to me, and I feed her piece after piece of chicken.
She purrs, growing louder as she swallows a piece of chicken whole. Twinkle stretches on her chair under the table, blowing kisses at me. The clouds look low but a cornflower blue and light gray as the setting sun tries to poke through.
The energy has shifted. Star and Twinkle, like Sissy before them, can see who I really am. I’m not an impostor in their eyes; they see the real me.
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