Two days in a row I carted us to a place on my beach: unpeopled, sand a sheet of fresh powder, pleasantly cliff-backed—meaning fragrant chaparral and birdsong. The ocean both days: sun-smitten, dive-bombed by pelicans, a mother of all blues, an island standing in as immediate horizon—arcing ocher land softly filtered through a morning’s lazy, leftover fog.
Two days in a row I had the beach experience with my son I’d been waiting for him to grow into: respecting and playing with the tide vs. helter skelter lemming behavior, exploring beach vs. fixating on the umbrella or eating sand, using rocks and driftwood as tools for creating. At the close of our romps and exploring, I changed him into dry clothes, loaded him and everything else back into the jogging stroller and headed not for the parking lot, but farther up the beach, into vaguely sky-slipping sun, just for a bit, as he worked on a ricecake and kept his head turned left, left, his eyes on the sea (thrilling me).
The morning of our departure for Los Angeles, we returned to the beach and walked aimlessly in semi-fog. I sipped a venti-half-caf and he munched pumpkin bread, halting to gesticulate wildly at the low tide, or gulls. For once, in July, we wore sweaters, jeans instead of shorts with our sandals. That air, flushed by salt breezes, never fails to ease his night-wakings. Breathe, baby, breathe, I thought.
Two hours later we were back in dry, molten heat, the main water line from our house to the city hookup on the sidewalk creating a fine, cascading rain in summer’s scald. My husband was speaking to plumbers tramping the front yard scratching their heads over the useless pipe and reformulating original estimates, and my husband was speaking to plumbers coming in through the Bluetooth curling Star Trek style around his ear. I hurried inside, but our bathroom, also a victim of plumbing disorders, was dismantled. I had to pee desperately and was told to use the garden and just then I discovered that my cat of 17 years was, apparently, dying: A troubled meow, then more, like a cavern’s echo’s despair.
The water stayed off for the next 24 hours. The vet: called and seen. Various estimates came, altered, went. My son refused to nap, hyped on heat and domestic chaos, all sea breezes memories, only, if that. When everything happens at once, where does the cool come from? Through it all, my husband and I exchanged glances, shrugged—his turn to argue, my turn to weep worry, aware, of course, always, of our boy, his 20 month old sensors ON, working overtime. I found out how it is to slip into a room’s closet, escaping radar, running away out of a sense of protection. Still, he found me. Mama, he said, tugging open the double doors, excited and curious. Mama.
How everything can happen at once. The arrival of water, a grandmother for my son’s delight, and, within minutes, my cat’s demise. Give her sugar water from an eyedropper, the vet suggested, and I did and that was the end of my cat. 17 years done. Over. When I see the world and do not see my girl…Sorry, Lady Gregory, for the drastic substitution.
I took a shower—not because I was afraid of her death on my skin, but because I am always afraid for my son. The shower thundered out water, the sound appropriate, song-like, also torture. Later, my husband and I buried her under the potato vine. I despaired: Why must a move UP, why must a good change, why must one huge positive mean a sacrifice? Don’t overthink it, my husband suggested. I turned away from the grave, saw the hummingbird feeder needed refilling, the roses begging for a drink, patchy grass suffering. I saw my mother in the house with my son, reading, or read to. A plane muttered overhead. Heat persisted like a warning ache, persistently melting perimeters. Always that heat. So late in the day for so many metaphors. I placed a garden chair near the grave. I stayed close to her for a while. I probably prayed.