Without You I’m Nothing . . .

ocean cat 3
I took the money and moved to Connecticut. Dad wanted me to come back home, to stay put, but I had wanted to live in New England ever since Mom read One Morning in Maine to me as a child; it seemed so classy, so old money. I was done with the nouveau riche. I loved the ocean and became enamored of Southport when we stayed there during a tournament some while back, so why not?

Never having been personally wealthy before, my bank account now seemed ever-expanding. I bought some stock which brought in more. Secured the lease on a big stucco house of an absentee writer on an exclusive tree-lined street, one posh house after another strung along the beach like a stone circlet, the facades barely visible from the pavement beyond the long driveways, the backs facing out to Long Island Sound, each huge structure blocking the sight of the water from the road. Having bought the view for a hefty price, each homeowner felt it necessary to exclude it from vehicular gawkers. I settled down uneasily here to my self-appointed role of painter, vague do-gooder and lady-in-waiting for God knows what. If a bigger fool took a bigger fall in the vicinity around that time, it wasn’t noted.

My neighbors were all older than me, most seldom seen, the remainder immersed in their careers or families. They viewed me as weird but so far harmless—I did not tinker with cars in my driveway; I did not invite their kids in for snacks. When actually encountered, they were polite but distant, and I did not make new friends. The connections with my old ones—the few from the circuit, my college girlfriends—grew thinner and thinner until they snapped. They had too much going on in their lives to make sensible narratives of it at present; I had nothing to say. They were all working, or trying to work; all getting married or getting unmarried; having kids, not having kids. The silence surrounding me held shatterproof.

Each morning I’d drive out to the General Store, the billowy ocean horizon reflected in my rear-view mirror, and buy a paper I didn’t read; each morning I’d set up my easel facing the Sound, hoping to catch some left-over karma from the former resident of the house, his last book having hit the bestsellers list. But each day the clock would do the work; each night I’d toss myself to sleep. A solicitation letter from Human Rights International came in the mail, and after a couple of weeks of looking at it lying on top of the other junk mail and catalogs on the front hall console every time I went out, I sent them a check, pulled off the sticker they had enclosed (“HRI” in black letters on a blue and white background) and smoothed it onto the bumper of my car. The world was now a safer place.

Mom called one evening; Maureen had had another miscarriage. She had to go through the same procedure as before, and it made me immeasurably sad to think of my once blithe sister having her dreams suctioned out of her yet again. She was okay, physically fine. There was no reason they couldn’t try again. But if I wanted to come home for a visit . . . well, her continuing depression was worrisome (for Maureen viewed this as a failure as well as a tragedy). Mom wished she could right herself. “Gary has been great, but. . .” she sighed, “these things happen. . .”

I went home, but kept saying the wrong things, making it worse. In one respect at least I’d been right—returning here was not an option, the flat Ohio weariness, the dreary familiarity spooked me. I missed the motion, the commotion of the tour—without a final destination we were always bound for somewhere else, perpetual motion our saving grace. Two weeks was all anyone could take.

This time I brought Izzie back to Connecticut with me, forgoing first-class flight for a harrowing 17-hour trip in a rental car, frantic scratching, frightened and confused meowing issuing from the carrier on the back seat a good part of the way. “He’s too old for such an upheaval,” my father gravely warned, but I knew better. I missed the comfort of him, and after holding him again, petting him, fell upon the idea of starting my own breeding program. Lots of little Izzies. Not a grand scheme, but one that was good enough. I wanted to meet the standard on something and felt this was my last best hope. Perfect beauty in grace and form, perfect wisdom—I wanted to approach it. My painting wasn’t taking me there; why not dabble in a medium other than oils? I hoped failure didn’t run in the family.

I contacted a local breeder of Birmans as soon as I settled in and bought a male kitten. Ben would be my foundation cat, Izzie having been neutered long ago at the insistence of my parents. All the pieces were now in place. I daydreamt great dreams of glory heaped upon myself, the famous painter interviewed in her lovely garden by the sea, with her beautiful cats of gentle persuasion, her faithful Izzie always by her side. (And don’t forget the HRI sticker on the car.)

But it quickly swung out of control. Izzie never adjusted to the move, trotting neurotically round and round the big house, sticking close to the edges, tail dragging down like a fox leaving scent, and Ben was less healthy than he had originally appeared at the breeder’s house and did not grow robustly. Other breeders I had initially spoken with had cautioned quite soberly that it was not wise to start with a whole male, had lectured that a reputable breeder would not sell a kitten so young as was done with Ben (Really, don’t deal with her . . . ), but I turned away all offers of assistance, ignored all advice. I had a lot to prove, a lot to answer for.


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