Good morning! One of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Berg, wrote a beautiful book entitled What We Keep. This post, though, is about the things that we take. Last night as I was packing my bags for the trip I'm leaving on today, one of the last things I tucked into the side pocket of my purse were four items that routinely go with me each and every time I leave home for more than a day or two. The fifth is a recent addition. Naturally, these small, yet significant, almost totemic, items, are intimately connected to Tucker, Olivia, Tanner, Phoebe, and Finn. I love to travel, enjoy exploring new places and rediscovering those that I've visited before. Yet, almost always, I feel pulled. These five animals are so beloved by me, so incredibly dear, so indescribably important, that no matter how much I am looking forward to a trip, or how much fun I'm having once I get there, I feel, somehow, incomplete. If I miss family or friends when I'm away from home, they are but a phone call away. I can call them up, hear their voices, listen to them laugh, and tell them I'm missing them, and how much they mean to me. But I can't call up Tucker or Olivia, Phoebe or Tanner or Finn, and have a conversation with them. I talk to them all the time when I'm with them, of course, and they "talk" back in their way, but very often ours is a language of looks, of touches, the often unconscious reading of and responding to one another's body postures or emotional energies, and it just doesn't translate when we're separated. So I do what I can to make sure that they'll feel comfortable and secure when I'm gone. And for myself, when I leave home, I take with me these few items:
Tucker's ID badge from the hospital where we volunteered. (In his ID photo he's sitting up very straight and tall, with a particularly earnest expression on his face that just melts my heart, but more than that, the badge is a testament, to me, of the work this dog and I have done together, the deep bond of trust and love between us that is the foundation of our working partnership, and proof positive that a scrawny, scruffy little dog no one wanted was, and is, capable of great things.) It's really hard for me to describe what Tucker means to me, the essence of our relationship, being, as many very important things are, at once incredibly simple and indescribably complex. I loved Tucker at first sight. One look at his scruffy little face and I was a goner. He had my heart from the second I met him, and he will have it always, even when he's gone from me, something which just does not bear thinking about.
Olivia's baby picture. In it she is just four weeks old, and looks like a little bat-eared alien with these huge eyes dominating that tiny little face. I lost her other baby pictures when my computer crashed and I didn't have those pictures backed up anywhere, but I do have this one that I had printed, and as we approach the anniversary of our seventh year together, during which time she's grown to mean so much more to me than she ever did at the beginning, I can nonetheless look at this photo and remember the initial surge of fierce, protective love she elicited from me as a tiny, defenseless, recently orphaned kitten.
A picture of Tanner at about a year old, peering intently at me as I tried to take his picture. The picture is not the greatest, but in it you can clearly see the adorable freckles on his nose, his particularly long and luxuriant whiskers, and the gentle, loving, perennially curious expression in his green-gold eyes that is the essence of Tanner for me. This big lug of a man cat is special to me for so many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that he is not shy about letting me know how special I am to him. He tracks me as I move about the house, monitors my comings and goings from the front window, and as I've written before, I've almost never pulled into the driveway without first looking to the sunroom window that is his sentry post, and never once when I've looked up has his striped face and loving eyes not been there waiting to welcome me back from wherever I've been.
Phoebe's first ID tag. It is a pink heart, purchased from one of those instant tag kiosks at Petco the day I adopted her. As those tags do, it soon became scratched and illegible, whereupon I replaced it with the one she currently has. I kept this one, though, not only because it was one of the first things I ever bought for her, and the very first that ever bore the name I had carefully chosen for her, but because its valentine heart shape symbolized something deeper to me. At the time I adopted Phoebe, it had been only scant weeks since I'd lost one of my longest loves, my Malamute mix, Dakotah. He'd been with me for sixteen years, and so long had I walked through life with him ever by my side, that it took me a long while to learn how to venture on without him. My heart, in those first weeks without him, was, truly and really, broken. It ached. I ached. And so I did what I instinctively knew was the right, the only, thing to do. I looked for something, someone, else to love, to nurture, and to help fill some small part of the huge hole his passing had left in my life and heart. That someone was Phoebe. The antithesis of Dakotah in almost every way, she was nonetheless exactly what I needed, both then and now. She is my little monkey-faced court jester, and it takes little more than just looking at her sometimes to crack me up. I've yet to catch it on camera, but she really and truly smiles at me sometimes. Her little lip gets caught on her bottom teeth (her underbite is significant) and it appears as though she's smiling the sort of "say cheese!" smile very young kids often display in school photos. It just kills me. And it makes me laugh every single time, a healing thing to be sure.
And, lastly, the most recent addition to the small collection of totems I carefully set aside to bring with me on my travels - the bell from Finn's first baby breakaway collar, one which didn't come with the collar but which I added to it so that I'd have some hope of keeping track of him. Finn was four months old, roughly, when I trapped him in a Hav-A-Hart trap and changed both of our lives forever for the better. So terrified was he that he literally climbed the walls of the small bathroom I confined him to when, in those first days, I would enter to care for him. After a few days, he stopped doing that, and would even venture out to be petted when I would come in, but after I spent the better part of three hours one night taking my office apart to find him, I put a bell on him to better track him as I gave him more liberty. He doesn't need the bell anymore, because most often he's right there with me, and if he's not, it takes nothing more than a quiet call of "Finny-Finn!" to bring him streaking like a sleek black missile to my side. The bell, then, represents what used to be, not what is, but it is meaningful to me nonetheless, and so has become a sort of totem, something representative of how far this little kitten, once so petrified, scrawny, and sick, has, with love and much care (and more vet bills than I really care to think about) come in just a single year. Finn, as I've written before, was not intended to be a "keeper." In fact, I found him a home. Drove him there. Left him there. And was back less than 24 hours later picking him up again, when the woman who had briefly adopted him decided she didn't want him for keeps. I was upset and frustrated at the time. I didn't need or really want a third cat. Now, I couldn't imagine my life without this little guy.
And so ... I'm leaving home today, just for a few days (I'll be back Monday night), and I know I'll have a great time. I also know, for five very important reasons I'm sure you can name, how happy I'll be to come home again.