There are, throughout life, these little moments that are so insanely perfectly awful that they become wedged in your brain as symbolic of so many other things gone wrong, of larger problems. And, yet, there is nothing to do but store these moments up as stories to turn into bleak jokes at parties or trot out as anecdotes in future novels. You can only hold onto them.
I had one of those back when Steve was released from the hospital after six days and surgery — six days that I had driven back and forth, slept little, crammed in work when I could, and slowly come unraveled. The afternoon after Steve was released, I had to oversee my high school kids at a cross-country meet because the head coach was out of town, at which I quite literally nearly drove over the side of a cliff because I was so gone I couldn’t tell the car wasn’t in reverse. Then, I moderated an election debate, even though I had no wherewithal to do so, because I had already committed before the accident. On my way home, I was stopped at a DUI checkpoint and the cop who tapped on my window was the same cop who had pulled me over a few weeks earlier. At that time, a few weeks earlier, I had started crying from whatever myriad of fatigues and small slights seemed overwhelming then. But, that night, and that whole week Steve was in the hospital, I didn’t cry. So, the cop tapped on my window, I rolled it down, and he said: I’m glad to see you’re having a better week. Which was so unequivocally untrue, so mind-blowingly inaccurate — whatever had seemed so terrible a few weeks earlier paled so drastically in comparison to the previous six days — that I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t do anything but laugh hysterically.
It was one of those perfectly awful moments.
I had another one this past Friday. For a variety of reasons, this week was harder than it should have been — too many stories not panning out, essential calls not being returned, the kind of fatigue from work that builds up sometimes into a sharp malaise. And Thursday I went to an event that, because of specific circumstances I won’t go into on a public site because I’m not as stupid as I look, was sort of awful and tiring.
So, I intended to wrap up work early, run/explore a new trail, hang out with Sachini on Saturday, throw my own one-person Oscar party Sunday — you know, have a weekend. Then, I got back to the car from my run Friday afternoon and there was an email on my phone from the vet: Just got test results back. Looks like Floyd unfortunately has FIP, which sucks and strikes kitten. Protocol is generally to make them comfortable: sometimes they can go on for a few months before being put down and, sometimes, if they’re really sick, then they have to be put down right away.
I rushed home and jumped on my computer, because isn’t that what we do now when something is wrong. I learned that FIP (Feline Infection Peritonitis) is a rare, strange, and 100% fatal disease that comes from a very common virus that somehow, in some cats, mutates into a fatal version and destroys their organs — in summary. There is nothing to do about it.
It turns out, then, that Floyd isn’t just sad and not eating. He doesn’t need a friend. He’s anemic, yes, but it can’t be fixed by antibiotics. If the diagnosis is right, and it almost certainly is, then he is simply dying.
But, Friday evening, I didn’t have a lot of time to do anything with this information. I had to be at a writing critique group that I had previously committed to. So, off I went.
At the group, I got ripped into. It happens. The story I had written wasn’t great and there were problems with it. That was why I had submitted it for critique. There would have been things that people could have said that I would have understood. But, instead, it started with one girl, who I’m fairly certain already didn’t like me based on my previous mocking of her use of the word ‘passionate’ in conversation, spending an inordinate amount of time telling me mostly everything was wrong. The main character wasn’t likeable, it didn’t resonate, it lacked description (writing groups are always going on about more description), it was shallow and not colorful, it wasn’t believable – even the things that were actually literally true. And, perhaps what was most odd to me: some words were wrong or used incorrectly or didn’t make sense.
Since I do write for a (pretty decent) living, I don’t generally use words incorrectly. It’s not something I’ve done since college. I couldn’t figure out what she was talking about.
While other people in the group had other things to say, some good and plenty bad and most of it fair, the initial barrage was more than a little overwhelming. The criticism slowly piled up and the confusion over my word choice kept cropping back up. When I said the well-manicured women had “expensive husbands,” someone had crossed out “expensive” and written “wealthy,” as if I simply didn’t understand the difference between the two words. (No, it was deliberate, supposed to be a commentary, oh nevermind.) When I described big houses with “moderate lawns,” no one knew what that meant, perhaps I should describe the lawns, were they green, what kind of grass was it. (It’s not really about the lawns, oh nevermind.) And, the one that really stung: When I used the phrase “mediocre happiness,” it didn’t make any sense, she didn’t understand, how could happiness be mediocre?
I tried to respond at first. Then, I stopped. There’s not much to say really. And, my brain was too full and there was nothing left to be nice with. I tried, instead, to be polite, but I’m well aware my politeness comes across as cold, as I think you’re an idiot but I’m trying not to say so.
And, then, at the end, when it was all a little much, the girl turns to me and says: I thought you said you could handle it, haha.
Which I don’t know that I actually said. It’s not the word choice I would use. But, I’m sure I conveyed some similar emotion or idea, and it’s true. I can handle it. It’s fine. I’m not going to hate myself because of what you said or give up my job because you think I’m so very terrible at it. But, in that moment, it didn’t mean I didn’t want to punch her. It was one of those so perfectly awful moments that becomes etched in your brain.
Because Floyd is most probably going to die. For him, this disease is not something he can simply handle or deal with. No amount of positive thinking is going to make it go away. And, we’re going to have to decide, make a list of what is too much, when will we put him down (since with animals, as opposed to ailing humans, this is simply a given). When he loses control of his bowels? Gets paralyzed? Just wastes away?
I hold out a small hope that it is actually something else, something treatable, but the odds are it’s not. And, we will handle it, all of it, all the horrible specific awfulness of dying and the shocking pain of what I love being suddenly gone without knowing when that will be. Because it is painfully, horribly sad. But, it is also something that we will go on from. There are many terrible things in life and, for all that this is awful, this will not be the worse that ever comes. And things can either be handled or they simply can’t.
So, girl who made the ‘Whole Foods ought to be called Whole Paycheck’ joke like it was an original, yes, I can handle you. Of course, I can handle you. But not tonight, ok? Not tonight.