Long before I was a dog person, I was a cat lover. It all started when I was not yet five and my brother left for college.
As I stood in my tiger bathrobe on the cold cement porch of our little suburban ranch house in the early morning hours, my brother held his grey tabby, Rex. He knelt to meet my eyes that were flooded with baby sister tears and placed Rex, his best pal for eleven years, into my arms.
“I need you to take care of Rex for me while I’m gone, okay? You’ll do that for me?”
“Okay,” I blubbered.
And I continued to blubber, as cabooses do, sending big brothers and sisters off to conquer college and frats and all things far from home. But I took the request seriously and spent the next seven years devoted to Rex. That poor feline didn’t know what hit him. Soon, he was dressed in bonnets and smocks and trotted around Sherwood Forest subdivision in a buggy. He attended tea parties and danced to show tunes. And while such business was beneath his dignity, I think he came to an understanding of how things were and eventually devoted his life just as much to mine. He finished the milk in the bottom of my cereal bowls, followed my pencil as I suffered through long division homework at the coffee table, and curled up next to me each night all the way to seventh grade. He wasn’t mine at the start of his life, but he was mine by the end. His departure from my day to day seemed to suck the happiness right out of my simple world.
The solution to my depression lay in a tiny brown tabby kitten with which my brother surprised me just a week later. I named him Roi and he expertly dissolved the lump that had been in my throat for days. Joy, it was. Pure joy from a kitten interrupted my first row with real sorrow.
If only life came with an endless supply of kittens.
January 2019 has arrived, as flashy as ever, beguiling us on that new year high, all fired up to start that diet or get that habit trained. I’m usually the first in line, easily swayed to fill the blank canvas with a more enlightened model of me. Only this year, I’m sort of stunned by the starting pistol. For the first time I’m looking behind. It’s not because 2018 was so rich with accomplishments that I can’t tear myself away. Nor is it laziness. The fact is, I hated 2018. It was about as craptastic a year as a crap year can muster, and yet at the invitation of a new year, I can’t help but stare at the wreckage left rather than cruise ahead.
This is uncharted territory for an optimist like myself. I usually soar along the silver lining of the cloud rather than soak beneath the cloud. But this time I’m stunned into submission, still in shock that the storm even happened. It amazes me how the events of the last six months of a year can be so powerful to block from view the first six. But try as I might, I can’t quite fit life before into the last of last year. For me, 2018 will go down, marked, as the year everything changed, a time I wish never happened.
And so maybe that’s why I’m stationary, why any of us let down by a year are hesitant. Perhaps we have our backs to 2019 because we’re desperately sorting the good from bad. It’s foggy, but I can just barely make them out. Back there in January 2018, I can just barely see that girls trip to New York. Over there in March was the night I ate boiled crabs until I couldn’t walk. In May I see myself dancing with my husband to Aerosmith at Jazz Fest. In June, my baby girl and I tearing through Manhattan. And yes, even beyond mid-July when my world began to crumble, there in the rubble is a Taylor Swift concert with my Goddaughter, a nail-biting win for one son’s 50 Yard Freestyle race, and a huge victory for another son’s flag football team. They happened but were lost in the rush of what followed – like old acquaintances who existed but were forgotten.
When a close friend wept beside Pop’s bed toward the end, Pop smiled at her and said, “Turn your tears to joy.” I have little energy to try new tricks this January. Fads just aren’t my thing this year, but there is a ghost of New Year past who keeps haunting me. Two Januarys ago, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo was my mission possible. I loved Kondo's message of establishing which possessions “spark joy.” The ones that don’t get tossed, the goal being to build an uplifting relationship with your home. I wonder if an old trick can be just the thing to turn my tears and face me forward?
I know enough to know that I don’t have the power to control everything that will happen in 2019, but when given the option, I can choose that which sparks joy over that which weighs me down. God willing, this year joy won’t slip through my fingers so easily. God willing, we’ll all have more to keep rather than toss and the acquaintances of 2019 we’ll want to bring to mind.
The irony is that the little girl who dressed her kitty in doll clothes went on to have a son with a miserable cat allergy. There aren’t enough antihistamines to calm his reactions. So I’ve settled into a happy dog life where, as I type this latest entry, a furry friend with floppy ears is nestled at my side. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t loosen this knot just a bit.
Happy Joy Year.
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.