This cat has seen some shit.
For one thing, he’s probably about seventy years old, and he has a tag that says he was made in the U.S. zone in Germany, which only existed from 1945 to 1955. He looks like he was made by the Steiff company, though he lacks the metal button in his ear or any hole from it, so he could also have been made by Hermann, who created similar animals.
More importantly, he was my mother’s friend as a girl, my sister’s when she was a girl, and mine when I was a boy. That’s three different childhoods. That cat remembers Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan, which is about the time he was put away in a box when my parents got divorced.
[This is the very last thing he remembers.]
When Karen brought him out to me yesterday, we had a lot to catch up on. I told him Donald Trump was president, and his eye shot out of his head.
We had a lot of adventures together, many of them involving hiding from my father under tables or in the woods. Stuffed animals and action figures were important to me as a kid, a posse of similarly powerless beings just trying to live more powerfully in my imagination.
One of the weirdest and most traumatic aspects of abuse is disbelief – not just from the world at large who can’t understand its specific impact, but also from yourself. I have deeper and more vivid memories about the past than anyone I know, but I also have a rich imagination, so I’m never sure how accurate those memories are. They’re consistent, at least, and I do more than most people to document them.
But as time goes on, some emotional circuit breaker flips in your mind so those things don’t seem as real, and you’re left wondering what really happened and, worse, how much of it was your fault.
One of the unexpected consequences of clearing out my mother’s house is this powerful sense of validation. She always loved archaeology, and I know now what Howard Carter felt when opening the tomb of Tutankhamen: “Oh, my God. This was real. It really happened.”
[Howard Carter re-enacting the scene a year after the actual discovery. ]
She kept my friend, the sitting cat. She kept calendars of what happened each day for twenty years. She kept one of the fake pirate coins my father would flip out into the surf to fool old men with metal detectors. She kept my sister’s application letter to college. She kept my brother’s drawings. She kept every magazine that every published a story of mine (in plastic bags).
[Imagine this dustier and with way less gold to get a sense of my mother’s house.]
My mother loved Nefertiti, and now she IS Nefertiti: someone nearly mythical who left just enough evidence behind to remind the believers that they were right.
[This was on my mother’s calendar for June of 1981. So yeah, archaeology.]
What we’ve inherited from her – aside from lungs choked with black mold, dust, and nicotine because she pushed the ancient tomb metaphor a little far – is the proof that it all happened.
My cat comes from a long line, apparently.