The Craggy Hole in My Heart and the Cat Who Fixed It
By Geneen Roth
A Zen teacher once said that life is like getting into a boat that is just about to sink. Death: it's the fly in the soup.
My mother says she is afraid of dying, not death. Not me: I am afraid of both. I am convinced that when I die, someone, I don't know who, is going to be there with a huge book, and go through my entire life with me, line by line: the times I told Linda Lang I would poke her in the eye with a straight pin, the times I stole baloney from the Safeway in Buffalo, the homeless people I've walked by without seeing, the wives of the married men I had affairs with thirty years ago, the times
I've stood by my answering machine, listening as someone asked me to pick up, all the times I took the biggest piece of cake or twisted the truth. I believe I am getting away with it now hut death will bring the final reckoning. Matt will go to heaven. He is courageous and generous, like Meryl Streep in Defending Your Life. I will go to hell; I hoard chocolate and believe I am what I wear.
I realize there are only two choices: either I will die before those I love or they will die before me, but I am still terrified. And just as the women in my workshops eat to store for the hunger to come, I store phone calls, trinkets, and paraphernalia-in-bulk to prepare for the moment I am always afraid will arrive tomorrow.
People who try to leave messages on my answering machine now are often cut off because the dozens of messages I've saved from my father leave about three seconds for anyone else to speak. And decades ago, when I showed up in my dorm room the first day of college, I pulled out a two-foot wooden statue of John F. Kennedy my father had given me ten years before. The woodcarvers hand was not as steady as it should have been, which left Mr. Kennedy with disproportionately large front teeth and feet the size of small canoes. My roommate, Jace, insisted it was the ugliest thing she'd ever seen. But that was before I pulled out the two white ceramic rabbits, also gifts from my father, which she said looked capable of devouring small children. Until she underscored their aesthetic liabilities, I'd never really assessed these gifts; I only knew that since my father could die at any time, I had to save every bit of concrete proof that I was loved before be vanished from the earth. The things he gave me were my certificates of love, my diplomas, my credibility.
As I've gotten older, my death tears manifest in ever more dazzling and creative scenarios. Each time Matt is about to leave on a road trip, before he gets in the car, I feel the need to apologize for everything I've ever done, every name I've ever called him, in case I never see him again. Since my behavior is frequently unruly, this ritual makes parting a cumbersome event. If he is in a rush, I often end up outside his car, in my nightgown, screaming out things like .. and I'm sorry I ate the cashew chicken salad yesterday, which I pretended you bought for me but I really knew you wanted for your own lunch .. Anytime, anything I've held back, any way I've loved him but haven't mentioned, I believe I have to say now.
But it is my tears of Blanche's death that qualify me for a new definition of insanity. When he sheds whiskers, I save them in a black-and-white-checked mother-of-pearl box, along with tufts of his curly stomach fur and butterscotch wisps of his tail. And ever since a friend mentioned that she might be able to make a sweater from cat hair, I've been saving bags and bags of the fur he sheds when I brush him every night, complete with dead fleas. I take thousands of photographs of him, tape his morning meows on my computer, and carry an alarm clock with his amplified purr as the wake-up tone.
In an attempt to reassure myself that I am unnecessarily concerned about Blanches death, I consult a team of animal psychics. Each of the pet communicators uses completely different methods of contacting Blanche.
Todd, an erstwhile lawyer, needs to have him in the same room, talks to him out loud, and then tells me, sentence by sentence, what Blanche says. Alana works over the phone. She sets the receiver down, goes oft for about fifteen minutes to speak with Blanche on the astral plane, then comes back and gives me a full account of his thoughts and responses. Ingrid seems to be especially attuned to the sphere of animal supplements, since after telling me about Blanches state of mind, she recommends many expensive vitamins, all of which she happens to sell.
Through Alana and Todd, I learn that Blanche is content with his life, his body, his environment, and that he has acid indigestion. Neither of them helps allay my fear of his death, though once, when Blanche was waking us up every morning at five A.M., Todd asked him what was going on. Blanche said he was bored because I was writing all the time and wasn't playing enough with him, and that waking us up early was an attempt to get our attention.