Until We Feel Safe Enough
It was February 3, 1996 when I relocated to the Pacific Northwest. I left my well-paying career as a domestic relations counselor. I left my friends, but I brought my cat, Chelsea.
Two friends drove me to the airport in a wicked snowstorm. Between Chelsea howling all the way there and me holding a lump in my throat and a herd of butterflies in my stomach, I’m still shocked I was able to get on that plane.
I left just about everything behind, but I also knew I needed a change and I needed to follow what I thought was right for me — I was newly engaged to be married.
My former job had been exhausting. At any given time, I had easily 150+ cases opened while juggling who was more important. It was like triage even though I knew each one of those cases deserved my attention. Ironically, I later found out my former job was divided amongst three people.
Once in our new home, I was engulfed in self-doubt as heavily as it rained. With the normal whys and worries one might have after a cross-country move, but without compassion or seeing my worries as real, I got quieter. My car hadn’t arrived yet and I was stranded in suburbia for weeks. This didn’t help and the weather baffled me. I had never seen it rain sideways until then.
My personal and emotional support was at an all time low and I heard a constant barrage of:
What’s wrong with you?
Snap out of it!
Look what I have provided for you!
I told you so.
You can’t be sad.
You aren’t trying hard enough.
I plummeted quickly and into one of my darkest depressions. My days became the same as night. I had my cat, but my fiancé wouldn’t allow her into the main part of the house. She was confined to a very small laundry room. It just about killed me. Until one day I let her out.
We had a beautiful mini reunion. I figured I could get away with it while my fiancé was at work for 10–12 hours a day. To think, that’s how I felt — I could get away with it — still shocks me. Nevertheless, she and I bonded as usual and we curled up together to sleep. Sleep was my new best friend. Unfortunately, that was the day my ex came home midday from work and surprised me.
I’ll never forget the intensity of my fear because of his anger. I was paralyzed.
For the next several years I heard on the daily, “that cat is more important than I am to you.” He also added that he was being held hostage because of a cat and refused to help with the laundry while she lived in our home.
There was a lot of truth to both statements. My cat was more important, but the hostage wasn’t him — it was me.
Memories hold insights until we feel safe enough to see.
By then I was a mother of an infant and a toddler. I couldn’t keep up with his harassment. His high standard of perfectionism was aimed at me on top of my own need for perfection which turned me into super-overdrive-mom-chef-gardener-wife and everything in between.
After three long years of being berated, I let Chelsea go live with another set of relatives back on the east coast. My own parents chided, “your husband is more important than a cat.” And to teach me a lesson, they refused to take her in.
I’ll also never forget the joy he had when returning from the airport to send Chelsea on her way. My heart was more than broken; it shattered. I stumbled into another depression but this time I stopped trusting him and therefore slowly stopped loving him.
However, the golden leaves inside of this are plenty. The neighborhood pets just knew something was up and decided to visit me. Two cats directly behind us arrived within hours of Chelsea’s departure and the two dogs across the street befriended me daily. Even after we moved again, the same scenario followed me.
Eventually, I forgave myself for letting Chelsea go and my regrets for not standing up to my husband at the time.
I’m reminded of Maya Angelou’s words, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Chelsea had a very good retirement in the country. I know now the love she taught me was something I truly needed. We protected each other the best we could. I also felt, if she stayed, something terrible might have happened to her.
Full circles have a way of unfolding beautifully.
I’m no longer with that man. I will not be held hostage in my own home. My children are young adults, and within four months of my ex leaving, along came a ginger stray who adopted us six years ago.
Copper is one protective, loving house tiger who came to show us another layer of love. One that isn’t perfect and yet we accept each other for who we are. This love has opened the healing doors to writing for online journals and publishing two books: “This is Love” and “Blue Clouds”.
My words have finally come out of that small laundry room and no one will ever banish me into submission or nullify my emotions and intelligence or tell me to stop loving a furry friend, my children or myself again.