With all the change I’ve been embracing lately, I think it’s only fair to tell you about the one constant in my world. New readers to this page might feel a love story coming on—and I’ve been in love—but this has something of a happy ending. And just to catch up you neophytes, my romances generally don’t.
The night before I moved to New York I stayed out as late as you can in Minneapolis with my best friend taking pictures together at all of our soon to be old haunts. We were up long after that in her front room talking about where our lives were going and what we’d been through together. In mid-nostalgic anecdote, her face froze and her eyes locked onto something out the window just behind me. She couldn’t speak.
Maggie was an actress. One of those performers whose presence extends to all areas of life. You didn’t always know where the performance ended and the concept of off stage began. I’d seen this intensity before, often in response to an off hand remark or bad cheese. It didn’t bother me. The process of discerning the cause of her perturbation was plenty entertaining, well worth the interruption itself.
So, I took the bait and asked her what she saw. “There’s a man,” she said, “right outside the window.” A person would have to be well over six feet tall to see in the window or to be seen looking. But I went along, even raised the stakes for the Hell of it. “Okay,” I said, “then we should call the police.”
In my underwear, I went into the living room and dialed 911. I calmly reported that my friend had seen a man trespassing and looking into the windows. When the operator asked me if I had seen anyone I screamed at the top of my lungs for as long as I could. I saw him through one of the windows alongside the house. They say intruders are just as scared of you as you are of them, but he just stood there and watched me scream and finally casually walked off…not away, but toward the back of the house.
Someone had to stay on the phone with the operator, but Maggie’s roommate was asleep in the back bedroom and one of us had to check on her. And that meant, like in every horror movie you’ve ever seen, we had to split up. It was probably only ten minutes before the police came and maybe two that I spent standing alone in the house, but that was all it took. I was terrified. I flew to New York the next morning.
The one thing that’s safe about this city is that there are people almost everywhere and at all hours. They may not always care what happens to you, so you have to think about where you’re going, but you’re almost never alone. Between the bustle of Manhattan streets at night and the company of my four dorm roommates, I should have been fine. But I couldn’t sleep more than an hour or two a night for months.
Maggie sent me a photo album of our carousing that last night in a care package soon after I arrived. The best picture of me was a black and white shot taken in her front room at the end of the night. Looking at it, I wondered if he was there then. Not long after that my mother told me she’d seen a newspaper article that might interest me. The police charged a man for six related rapes in Maggie’s neighborhood. He was six foot four.
Really, I saw myself as fortunate. I was only frightened when it could have been much worse. And eventually I was sleeping through the night again. My terrors weren’t an issue unless I was visiting Minneapolis. Especially at my father’s house, out in the suburbs where everything was quiet…too quiet. But it was manageable.
When I moved into my first apartment after college, things were different. I was alone a lot and on the top floor of the building I couldn’t hear the reassuring street noises of the city. I would stay up nights, completely frozen in bed, contemplating the ease with which anyone could rappel down from the roof and into my window.
I passed by the veterinary hospital every day on my way home and the solution seemed simple. I adopted. Sisters from the same litter, my boyfriend named my cats George and Gracie after Burns and Allen. Ultimately I went one better; I gave up the boyfriend and took a basement studio in Brooklyn where I could monitor all points of entry from any place in the room.
It was a lot to have two cats, no longer kittens, in a one-room apartment. And as time went by I started to accumulate, you know, adult stuff. In a few years I had real furniture and a china cabinet and books. My friends used to joke that it looked less like I was living there and more like I was amassing my tomb, just way ahead of time. Hey, I was already underground.
This is about the time the kid came into the picture. There was a bakery on the corner of my block. I knew this because as I drank my way through my twenties I often had to smell my way home. Bread was always baking by the time I was turning the corner and, lucky for me, olfactory sensation is one of the faculties I generally keep in tact. One night there were six or seven kittens running out of the place. They didn’t look so good, but there were too many of them to gather up even if I could have saved them.
Some months later I came home to one of them waiting patiently, for me it seemed, on my doorstep. Not quite a kitten anymore and not so desperate looking, my will was strong. I told her I was full up on cats just then, but best of luck to her all the same. She looked at me like I was very foolish.
The next night she was there again. I explained that, according to classic American cinema, women either married men or kept cats. There was no wiggle room, just one or the other. And the line, as I understood it, between keeping cats and having cats was at three. If I brought her inside, I would never get married. It was just that simple. Her look turned to imperious omniscience. Clearly, my days were numbered.
The third night in a row I found her waiting for me, I crumbled. At least I went down swinging. I told her that I’d feed her and help find her a home, but that was it. My resolve lasted a full twelve minutes once I let her in the house. Since then, other far more real nightmares have dominated my mind. For starters, I’ve saved her from bleeding to death and rescued her from having wedged herself between my ceiling and my upstairs neighbor’s floor. And personally, I’ve been punished, penalized, and made to pay punitive damages merely for the pleasure of her company.
The bottom line is that I can’t conceive of a life without her. And I’ve never said that about a human being. I don’t know about you, but I find the combined notion a little disturbing.