Another year is drawing quickly to a close. This morning, I paid a bill online, looked at the year, and remembered how crazy it seemed awaiting the new year 2000. How would we write it? How would we say it in conversation? And then eleven years passed, and I stopped thinking about it—for the most part, at least.
We have to let go of a lot to get through each day, week, month, and year on this planet. I have never been particularly good at letting go of anything. I save movie stubs, postcards, wrappers from chocolates if the occasion when I ate them felt even remotely sentimental or I just liked the design. I have trouble giving away an article of clothing, even if I haven’t worn it in ten years. I might wear it someday, right? While it is true that every now and then I think back fondly on a shirt or a sweater or pair of pants from my past and momentarily wish I had held onto it, it generally doesn’t cause me to lose much sleep.
I am actually so terrible at giving things away that my sister is wary of any hand-me-downs I give her because I have asked her to give so many back. I even bought her a sweatshirt to replace the one I gave her. Who does that? Can I blame neurosis?
I don’t know what is wrong with me, really. I love giving things to the people I love. I even love giving things I care about deeply to the people I love. I love the look on their face, the joy it brings them, the feeling I get from being the reason for the wave of emotion. I think it stems from a deep desire to make them happy, especially if they are not doing a good job of it themselves.
How does one get over this kind of problem? Is there a 12-step program? I do find that giving things away to someone I know can feel rewarding because I get to watch them enjoy the gift, I know the item I care about is going to someone who will appreciate and care for it. I love seeing Gustavus kiddos wearing my old sweaters and hats and toting around bags I have fashioned into birding gear.
Yet often times giving something away and having the opportunity to see it time and again makes the letting go that much harder. I am reminded of a connection I tried to discard that stubbornly keeps looking me in the face.
Sound a bit dramatic for an article of clothing? It is probably because I have shifted away from inanimate objects and thinking more about the animals I have parted with in the past year.
When I moved to Alaska, I left more than a dozen chickens behind—including my first and most beloved chicken Pippin who I gave to an equally beloved friend, crying as I gently picked her up, held her to my chest, and carried her to the car.
I still managed to arrive with an arc of animals of sorts, though really it felt more like a circus—two 100 lb. Labradors and 4 cats. Too much for one woman, even one as crazy as I must be. But these animals were my children. I raised them from when they were tiny, snuggled with them, took them to the vet, bandaged their wounds, and traveled with them across a continent to start a new life on the last frontier.
Even a heart filled with as much love for those critters as mine couldn’t hold it all together. Bit by bit, my world fell apart at the seams. Two love-starved Labradors home all day while I was at work was unsustainable, so I sent one off to a person I knew would care for him.
Down to one dog, 4 cats. I had friends who offered advice, tried to convince me to give away some cats, and I finally gave in. 4 cats are a lot to clean up after when you are tired at the end of the work day and at the end of another long work week. I brought one cat down to Arizona, my one cherished female who had slept beneath the covers, her head in the crook of my arm, since the first night I brought her home. She wasn’t the one I intended. There was a weather hold for hours the morning of my flight, and by the time the weather lifted, I had missed my opportunity for getting my skittish maine coon into a carrier. Arwen watched as I ran around the house with the three other cats. On of the cycles around, I noticed her sitting patiently and without a thought, I scooped her up and placed her in the carrier (I had already promised her to my sister…am I a great sibling or what?). Leaving her in Arizona, I cried. Then I headed back north. There was still one dog and 3 other cats in need of love and attention and just my one small lap and two hands.
Before leaving for a furlough from my job, I found a home for another cat—a family who lives on a farm in Gustavus and who had been looking for a second cat. They came over and left with Izzy ten minutes later. It still actually makes me cry just to write about it. No more Izzy sitting on the toilet while I shower, crying until I open the door so he can come in and lap up the soapy water.
I think my cats, having been raised in the shadow of Labradors, grew up thinking they were of the canine persuasion. They love tummy rubs. They are super affectionate. One even howls.
My one dog, Kota, who I have known since birth and brought home at 5 weeks, is currently on doggie holiday with my parents. And holiday it must be—attention all day and into the night, regular walks and visits to the dog park. Much better than sitting home along for 12-13 hours at a time while mom talks to visitors on board a cruise ship.
Animals are empathetic creatures. I have been biting my nails for at least two decades, and somehow all of my animals have picked up the habit. It is weird. I guess it is the reason why deep down I tell myself that no matter where they are, they are still mine, if only in spirit. In hindsight, I should have never adopted so many animals. It is too painful to part with them, however more sustainable your life may become. Plus, it is easier to ask for a sweatshirt back.
The only way I can handle not having them near me is the out of sight, out of mind scenario. I need to imagine they are happy—and I am sure they are—and push any other thoughts out of my mind. I am just a selfish human.
I wonder if we hold onto tangible things as an illusion of stability, an idea that we have control over the changes in our lives. With the events and dramatic changes I have experienced over the past year and a half, I am pretty sure I have lost the illusion. Sometimes, I feel like my critters and my things are all I have left to hold onto.
After all, as someone very dear to me used to say, “Home is where your stuff is.”