Dec 14, 2011

Bad things only happen in threes, right?


   This year marks the first Xmas I have decided to stay in Los Angeles for Xmas and New Year's in over a decade.

   Typically, I fly back to Massachusetts to visit family every year. People think I'm crazy to leave sunny California every winter to go to one of the colder states... and maybe I am because now that I'm not going I'm starting to really miss it. Of course, I miss my family, who doesn't, but what I didn't realize I'd miss is stuff like snow, the crisp of the air, all the decorations and celebrations, and the general vibe and atmosphere of New England at Xmas. The scents - pine needles and chimney smoke. The tastes - hot chocolate and apple cider. It's just a special place to be that time of the year. California tries to do Xmas, it really does, but fails.



   So, if I'm feeling so homesick for the holiday, why not just pick up and go, you might ask?

   Because the last time I left for a vacation, the day I returned one of my cats died. As if that might not scar a person enough on its own, this was the third time it happened to me.

   In 2008, upon returning home from, ahem, being indisposed for a month, my cat equivalent to a "first born" died. His name was Comet and he was the best cat ever. At 24 pounds, he was huge and stood tall and broad like a dog. He meowed loudly whenever I tried to have a conversation with anyone else, be it over the phone or in person. He butted his head against my desk if I worked too long providing a perfect excuse for a break. Also, he loved riding my old skateboard.


   Comet was the first cat I ever got as an adult living on my own. He was a tiny white kitten when I first got him and on his first day home he leaped from my arms and raced around the living room in a white blur. I yelled, "Hey, he looks like a Comet!" Thus his name was born.

   As a writer and graphic designer I spend a lot of time home alone with my cats. They become more than pets, more than family members even, they become helpers and assistants. Comet was the best assistant I ever had and the day he died my heart broke in two. (And I don't think it's ever really healed.)

   Shortly thereafter, upon returning home from a trip to Vancouver and Massachusetts, my second cat, Lucy, died.


   Lucy was a different sort of cat. Where Comet had been a tiny kitten, Lucy was full grown when we got her. Where Comet had been all white, Lucy was a multicolored tortoise shell. Where Comet was giant and loud, Lucy was petite and couldn't meow (something had happened to her vocal cord, so she just made these little breathy "eh-eh" sounds). Whenever I was sad, Lucy would sit on my chest and purr until I stopped crying. Right after Comet died, Lucy spent nearly every moment on my chest. She was the reason to go on, so when she died, I was a mess of a human.


   A dark cloud hovered over me everywhere I went. Anything could trigger a memory and spark a flood of tears. It took at least a year for me to feel like myself again. I can still cry at the drop of a hat over Comet or Lucy and it's been 3 years.

   Then in October I went to Florida for over half a month. I returned home to a sick cat. Julius. She - yes SHE - long story - died that night.


   Julius came to us as an adult. She just showed up on our porch one day. I knew instantly that she was an abandoned pet because she was just a little superficially dirty but she was clearly well fed and extremely friendly and domesticated. We brought her to the vet, cleaned her up and invited her into our home. She never really got along with the other cats, but she loved Jeremy to pieces and she was a good little friend to me, too.

   Julius was orange and white. Most orange cats are boys (as a general rule). I had been obsessed with the cable show Rome at the time so I named what I thought was a male cat, Julius. I thought it was cute because he was orange like the popular mall drink, Orange Julius. But then we found out he was a she. Thing is, Julius kind of stuck. We called her Ju-ju for short.

   Sometimes I'd find her asleep on my printer. I'd listen to her snore while I wrote or worked at my desk. She'd meow loudly like a Siamese when she wanted attention. Then if I held out my hand, she'd bonk her head against it and purr all the while pressing her little, soft head against my hand. If I or Jeremy were out all day, she'd get up and pace back and forth on the couch after a long stretch and meow loudly in sentences, to which we would respond with a, "Oh, yes, Julius, tell us about your day...Oh, really?...They did that did they...Well, we're home now." And so on.

   Her presence filled the room. She just had a giant personality. She could get very cranky and she'd let you know. She hated to be picked up and if you ever did pick her up she'd loudly snap at you in an angry meow crossed with a growl and an ear-piercing scream. She'd also get a little snappy if you pet her too much. I've heard it's called "heavy petting syndrome" or something. I don't know. Regardless, it was real weird, but it's just those peculiarities that I find myself missing most now that she's gone.

   It's like there's something missing from the room. It seems smaller, emptier. This happens every time. Comet, Lucy, now Julius. A little chunk of my heart breaks off every time. What happens when there isn't any left?

   And it was so sudden, such a shock to my system that I did not put it all together right off the bat. But then it slowly dawned on me... This is the third time one of my cats has died immediately upon my returning from a trip.


   This is why I don't want to leave. I never want to leave again!

   I will, though, leave, again. I mean, I'm sure of it... Right?

   But right now the wound is still too fresh.

   Also, I moved to California in 1998 and have traveled back East twice a year every year since then (if not more) for Xmas and summer vacations with family. However, my Dad up and decided it was high time for him to be living the hot, tropical, retired lifestyle, so he moved South to Florida and next thing I know I'm making a zillion trips per year to Mass and Florida all since 9/11 and travel has only gotten worse since then. I used to breeze in and out without a care in the world. Now I dread dealing with the TSA so much I have multiple panic attacks per day the entire week leading up to any trip then I need like a week to decompress from family once I get back to California. So all this traveling was seriously starting to hinder my work and writing.


   I figured 2 trips per year I could handle, 3 or more, no (not counting vacations or following U2 tours). Thus one winter time trip to Florida to visit Dad and one summer time trip to Massachusetts to visit Mum. However, this meant no Xmas in Mass, rather LA.

   What would I be missing at Xmas?


  • My Mum decorating a big, green, real tree with ornaments from my youth and fancy new one's she's bought since - each with a story!
  • My Step-Dad whipping up a yule log in the kitchen and the mountain of regret after eating too much of it because it's so delicious.
  • How much my Mum's cat Seamus loves the tree and how upset and grumpy he gets when they take it down.
  • Paul Frank stockings stuffed to the brim with exotic candy from all over the world - I live for Xmas stockings.
  • A big pile of presents under the big, lit tree.
  • My big, fluffy, purple and maroon winter coat.
  • The lobster trap tree in Provincetown.

   Maybe what I should do is flip-flop. Next year spend Xmas in Mass then the year after that summer and so on. I'm still only traveling twice a year, but I get to experience both a New England summer and winter. Otherwise, I'd be existing in some weird endless summer parallel realm by spending winter in Florida, then spring and fall in California, and summer in Massachusetts...

   Actually, that doesn't sound too shabby, but no, dammit, I miss Xmas in Mass so every other year I'll have to break my eternal summer with a New England winter.

Happy Holidays!


PS: I recently designed a website called Cats in Places by Amy Wallace that I'd like to dedicate to Comet, Lucy, Julius and all the cats loved and lost throughout time. I miss you, Ju-ju.
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