Reading with Friends

My friend Lizz asked me to look in on her two cats and spend some time with them while she was away at a family reunion and I quickly agreed to do it.  The cats, Oliver and Mackenzie, are really quite charming, and I though it might cheer me up a little after losing Nadja.  Also, Lizz has this great little reading nook in her apartment and I was looking forward to getting caught up on some important reading.  Allen is finalizing the draft for his second manuscript to be sent to his editor next week and I was anxious to read it over once in it’s entirety before then.  Nadja’s death hit Allen pretty hard too, so much so that he wrote her into the new book.  At one point during my time at Lizz’ place, I skipped ahead in the manuscript to the page where this passage begins.  I read over it several times as the cats stirred in another room.

The passage is below.  It starts off mentioning Ruah, a malamute Allen and his ex-wife had who died years ago.

– There was no ceremony.  Debbie had gone into the house. She couldn’t bear to see.  I fit Ruah into the grave looking north and placed my straw hat over his eyes.  It was hot.  The dirt was clotted.  I broke the clots into a finer ground with a hoe.  I carefully shoveled dirt around his face.  The effect was as if Ruah were diving headfirst into another world as his head and then his body was submerged.  I stacked rocks from the creek on top.  Unexpectedly, I was constructing a habitat for black widow spiders that hid in the dark creases between the large rocks. This was different than when I buried my grandmother.  I was in the room when she died, standing in the back behind my mother’s brother.  I saw the heart monitor go flat.  I remember no sounds, no emotions.  I drove home.  That night I decided I would dig the grave.  I persuaded my mother.  I dug the grave.  I buried her. My dog Ruah’s death was more painful than my grandmother’s departure.

The pain around Ruah’s death seemed proportional. He was the same size as a man.  On his hind legs, he stood over six feet tall and weighed a hundred and twenty pounds.  But now years later in Buffalo, a seven pound cat named Nadja has died. She was sixteen. We lived together for a brief time. She was so delicate and lovely. In my lap she was hardly there, a heavier part of the blanket spread across my thighs. But her death was large enough to swallow me whole. It didn’t feel like my thigh bone was cut out when she died. It felt like my lungs were beating against my rib cage trying to fly away after her. This is a familiar feeling for me. I want to reach across that space that divides us and hold her one more time not unlike the dead wanting to reach across that same space and touch me. I’m not disturbed by this. It isn’t even about clinging to memories. What Marc Auge so gently described as oblivion, the other side of remembering, with his lovely metaphor of the seashore, must’ve grown into a storm at some point in my life. I remember very little. Instead I feel like I’m easing myself into those waters. Borges tells a story about a man who remembers everything. Each detail pricks him. Memory is torture for him. There’s no room for anything else. I remember a world more like the floral wallpaper in my grandmother’s house. It’s fading and I can see another layer behind it. I remember the swirl in the wood grain of my ax handle and Nadja fetching her blue ball. These memories don’t feel like briars in my hand. In the summer, I would dive through the warm surface water to the muddy bottom of the Big Lake and lay in the cold until I had to come up for air. This is what remembering feels like.

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