Monday, March 6, 2000

You Can't Go Back If You've Never Been There Before

Two years ago when Al and I ventured off to Japan I knew it would be a trip of much significance for me. I wouldn't say it was exactly like going home since I'm admittedly perhaps one of the most Americanized people around, but it uprooted a lot of feelings from deep inside.

There was a feeling on the trip that I needed to open up the sponge qualities of my memory so every nuance, every image would become embedded inside of me. And it worked because there are times it almost feels like I'm still there. For the first time I blended in with the people around me. Yet at the same time I was as foreign as ever. A former friend once accused me of wearing a mask that prevented most from getting a glimpse of what exists behind. I never thought that criticism was exactly fair, yet I won't deny that I have been misread a time or two. The feeling of projecting something I'm really not was at its most extreme during my time in Japan. That self exploration alone was fascinating enough to make me know that some day I have to go back.

But it wasn't like I didn't have a lot to come home to. I remember every night as I lie in my tiny little motel room my thoughts would inevitably drift back to wondering how that little 13 pound ball of neurotic fur I left at my parent's home was doing. I hoped Mr. Max was behaving himself for his grandparents and at the same time I hoped they were enjoying his spunky companionship.

Among the many fine feelings, moments and memories Max has inspired he is one of the few constants of the journey I'm on. He is one of the best markers of time I have, allowing me to see how far I've come over the years and how much further is left to go no matter what my heart says.

Years before I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Max I came across a rare soul who the more I got to know, the deeper I appreciated who she was. One of the stories this walker, the lucky rock giver told me was that she used to have a cat that she would take for walks on a leash. I had never heard of such a thing and it was one of the qualities that has etched that person forever deep in my mind. She said Jazz the cat wore a bell around her neck and she was determined to try and walk without making a sound.

I got Max shortly after I moved into my first solo living arrangement. It was a tiny efficiency on Goodrich Avenue. I asked another highly significant soul whether or not she thought there was enough space for a cat and I to co-exist. She didn't think so. Yet my sister had informed me that one of her friends was looking to get rid of a cat that had been left with her.

I'll never forget the day I went and picked Mr. Max up at a home off Hiawatha Avenue. His most recent owner gave me his brown food and water dishes and called out his name. Into her kitchen a large dog moseyed in followed by an anxious gray short haired kitty. He didn't seem to mind when I put him in the traveling cage I had just picked up but he let out several meows on our way home.

That night as Mr. Max lie on my chest purring away I noticed my T-shirt was becoming wet. I wondered which end the moisture was coming from. I grabbed underneath his ample belly and held him high above me. He looked down at me lazily, drool dripping from his slightly opened lips. I had a cat that drooled!

Mr. Max was declawed so he has to be an indoor cat. Each day as I got home I cracked my window open for him and he would immediately bolt up onto the sill sniffing the many smells from the outdoors. One day I bought a leash for him, with memories of my lost friend coloring my heart. I truly wish she had met Max. She would have appreciated the special soul that he is.

Every day Max and I would go for a walk. He wasn't quite sure what to make of the leash. Sometimes the wind would blow and the smells would swirl and he would forget he was harnessed as he bolted as fast as he could only to be rudely jerked backwards. I smoked a pipe back then so the two of us must have made quite the sight.

This has been perhaps the most difficult year of my life. Max was sick when my mom found out she was terminally ill. I'll never forget that after learning the news of her own condition Mom asked me how Max was doing. It was a continuing lesson in living unselfishly, of putting others above our own concerns. This past week as I got home late at night, stressed out from work and missing my mom, I for the first time in years took Mr. Max out for a walk. In the darkness he excitedly scampered in the world re-opened to him. It is a world he normally sees behind the impenetrable window glass akin to my experiences of Japan. It is a world he inherently knows yet remains foreign and out of reach. More than ever I appreciated how much Max has meant and at the same time I could feel my mom's smile rain down.

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