Monday, August 01, 2011

I remembered. I am haunted. I am hot.

I remembered on my way downstairs at work this morning that The Geej used to love playing on my bed when she was a baby. For some unknown reason, the memory just leaped into my brain, immediate and vivid. About 11 months old, she would gleefully throw her tiny body around on the bed for long stretches of time, knowing that either I or the soft mattress and pillows would catch her. Her huge open grin, with gums just beginning to sprout what is now a mouth full of teeth, showing how completely happy this little repeated act of abandon and trust made her. I believe that this is what a child's love for her parent is based upon: the unquestioning belief that you will always be there for them, no matter which way they throw themselves.


I am haunted by an eyeless cat I met this weekend. We didn't need to go to Petsmart, but we were shopping nearby, and The Geej wanted to go "see the animals." There are always adoption events on the weekends put on by various local animal rescue groups, and generally there are a fair number of cats, kittens, puppies and dogs you can interact with, and some you can even hold or pet. They had moved the canine adoption candidates inside the entryway of the store because of the heat. It was crowded and unfortunately, for the dogs and for us, it wasn't very easy to interact with or even see the puppies. We made our way inside, and halfway down the main aisle, there were tables with cages set up on them, and in the cages were cats and kittens ready to be adopted. Each cage had a laminated page attached to it that gave the cat's name and some information about it. The second cage held the eyeless cat. Full grown with a coat of long, cream-colored fur, she sat perched in her little fabric hammock that hung from the cage's four corners, quietly alert. She listened and sniffed. I could see the tiny corners of her pink nose moving as she took in every smell that passed her. The Geej looked at the cat and asked in slight alarm, "Where are her eyes?" I read the information page aloud to her: Ophelia. Born with a genetic eye defect. A stray. Part of a feral colony. Repeated infections. Unable to save the eyes. Recently removed. Don't feel sorry for her because she has adapted amazingly.

We stuck our fingers through the black wire openings, hoping Ophelia would smell something she liked and come closer to the cage walls so we could pet her. But she stayed put, interested but not quite sure enough to move from her safe spot. One of the women manning the adoption center said, "You can open the cage and pet her if you'd like." I carefully opened the latch and stuck my hand in, touching Ophelia's soft head and ears. The Geej concentrated on petting her side and back. Immediately, Ophelia began to purr and pushed her head into my hand, lunging into a half-roll upside down so that I could access her chin and neck. Her paws began to knead the air, a sign of comfort and bliss. I moved my hand away so The Geej could pet Ophelia's head too. She giggled with Ophelia's pushes into her small hands, saying, "She REALLY likes this, Mommy!" After a couple of minutes of communion with this blind cat, we closed the cage and stepped away to look at the other kittens and cats. She composed herself back in her hammock, listening and sniffing, her sewn-together eyelids on her beautiful face pointed in our direction.


I am hot. This summer has been horrible, and now it is August 1st, which means that we have at least two more months of this shit. I have moved on from being frustrated and sizzled into boredom by the relentless swelter, and now I am just hot and angry. There is no rain, few clouds, and everything is dead or dying. Tempers are short, and the nights offer no respite.

I think back to my last summer in Chicago. A famous Midwestern heatwave sat upon the city like a fat, sweaty old man. People were dropping dead. The city's electrical grid couldn't handle the demand. On my way home from my wonderfully air-conditioned office to my apartment that was only sort of air-conditioned by a couple of lame window units, I noticed that the traffic lights in our neighborhood weren't working. Rolling brown outs. No power anywhere for blocks. I walked into the apartment and was overwhelmed by the stillness and oppression of the heat. My dog lay on the floor, listless. I got his leash and took him on a short, slow walk, after which he drank a bowl-and-a-half of water in record time. I kept thinking to myself, "But I'm from TEXAS, goddamnit! I can handle this stupid heatwave." But the truth was, I couldn't. I was miserable and couldn't bear to be in the boiling house, but also couldn't risk leaving the dog there without care. I took his leash and went to sit on the front stoop of our brownstone, in the shade. Together with our neighbors, we waited for the sun to go down. When it did, the dog and I made our way back upstairs. The air temperature seemed to increase by ten degrees with each step up. After dragging ourselves inside, I had to light a few candles since we still didn't have electricity and had no idea when it might return. The coolest place in the apartment was the kitchen with its hardwood floors and windows at either end that offered a slight hope of a cross-breeze. I took off everything but my bra and underwear and went to lie in the middle of the kitchen floor, staring at the ceiling illuminated by a couple of flickering tea lights. Other than traffic noises through the open windows, the dog's incessant panting from five feet away was the only sound I could hear. I thought, "We are going to die tonight, me and this damn dog. We're going to become statistics." I wondered who the poor soul would be that would find me dead in my underwear on the kitchen floor next to my beautiful Siberian husky. I wondered if my death announcements would focus on the irony of a Texan dying in a heat Chicago. However, we survived.

That day and that night are STILL the hottest I can ever remember being, and that's saying something. The Chicago heatwave lasted what, a few days? A week? And then things went back to what was considered "normal" summer weather--warm days, pleasant nights, the occasional rain shower. I'm beginning to wonder if this intense monotony of extreme temperature coupled with drought is now what's considered "normal" summer weather here. And if so, will I be able to stand living here for the rest of my life?


Kathy said...

I'm wondering the same thing. I don't think people who aren't here realize how hot it really is. It has been SO hot and dry for SO long, and the nights are so short this time of year, that it NEVER cools down. The sidewalks and parking lots and whatnot soak up sun all day, every day, and it's not dark long enough for them to cool. I haven't walked my freaking dog since MAY because he just can't handle it. It's making me completely insane.

Deb said...

This is one of my favorite posts ever. Thanks, more than you know.