Chameleon, don’t paint yourself the color of perfection


Calcified pine sap (Teanaway River Valley, Washington)

It was very late August that summer we stopped in Portland on the way to the Redwoods and Loren made me some CD with early Pink Floyd I hadn’t heard, and I waited to play it until we left a campground one early morning and the sun changed, it’s like it just changed that day, the tint went from summer to autumn.

Our cats were always dying in autumn, it seemed. They waited until September, like they knew. One day I came home and Pokey was just there on the floor, undeniably dead, something I’d never considered before. And it was the first time I experienced the psychological value, the necessity, of burying a body.

We had a parking strip out front our bungalow in Wallingford, the place I rented from a Greek who was very hands-off but kept the rent low, and I was out there digging when one of our neighbors came by, a new couple who’d moved in and both looked like models, that look of wealth from entitlement, and the woman started showering in a side bathroom that faced our house but only had glass brick between the two of us so I could make out her silhouette in the mornings while I sat there with my coffee trying to wake up, and I wondered who was stranger for it, she or I.

But as I was digging a hole for Pokey she had an attitude one might have toward a renter, toward someone of lower status on the street, when she asked just what I was doing there and said it like I owed her a response — and I said I’m burying my cat and that got rid of her, and afterwards we scattered wildflower seeds and even though it was September they bloomed soon after, and the Greek’s nephew who rented the place below us stopped parking on it because I asked him to, I didn’t want him leaking oil onto the strip, onto the flowers.

Dawn and I went for dinner as a kind of distraction even though we couldn’t really afford to, and I got a stiff drink because I thought I deserved that at least, and the other cat, Pokey’s mom, sniffed the area where he’d been and looked at me, sort of glared, like she was probing or trying to transmit something to me psychically, but I’d never understand what happened, we assumed his kidneys just failed, he had that blood-in-the-pee problem for years we tried to manage but couldn’t, that was that.

It was the same time of year after we’d bought our first house I had to bury Sherman, Pokey’s mom, and because I didn’t have a car then I had to carry her to the vet’s office in a crate to have her put down, and walk back with it effectively empty, just the remains wrapped in a towel, and people would stop on the sidewalk to look inside but I just kept walking, and my team at work wrote me a card and mom tried to console me, but there’s some things like that you just can’t relate to fully, you have to let people suffer, to work through it. When I was in the waiting room with Lily last week I asked the nurse if I could come in with her for the procedure (she had two teeth pulled, and a chain fitted to another tooth to get it to come in right) and the nurse just looked at me like obviously not, you’ll wait here, so I said goodbye to Lily and went back to my book, and thought this is where it starts now, they start growing up, they have to learn about pain and putting gauze in your mouth to keep the bleeding down, and how it hurts more than you’re prepared for usually but you get through it, and that’s part of growing up, seeing the other sides of life.

In his backyard in Portland, Loren aggressively pruning the grape vines over the trellis, tearing it down and upsetting the wind chimes, collapsing branches into a waste bin, unable to sit, agitated. Playing the Moody Blues too loud on a Friday afternoon with cans of beer and the nearby freeway, the sound of cars, the same as our place in Wallingford, when I sometimes imagined the sound was the sea, the break between tides when it goes quiet, the otherwise constant rush. Loren, snipping with a pair of clippers, pulling out the brown sword fronds. A cat across the street preening by the recycling crates, and me looking at our car parked there thinking about going home, back to Seattle, how small and hopeful our car looks, as if it’s just there to serve me, to take me somewhere else.

Categories: musings

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22 replies

  1. Oh, Bill, this is so true. That knowledge that you can’t relieve another’s suffering, that you just have to let them go through it. So clear when you’re a parent, how you want to protect them from every bad relationship, every rotten friend, but if they don’t experience these things for themselves, they’ll never grow, never develop as people.
    A great piece, as always, Bill.


    • Thank you Lynn — oh ye of insightful remarks, I appreciate it. True for friends, too — hard to be around people who are suffering and just know they have to get through it and there’s not much else you can do, but be there.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Very true, Bill. I had to watch my husband go through his Dad’s death and it was traumatic, watching him so distraught at losing such a wonderful man and being unable to do a thing. I suppose these things make us stronger, though at the time it feels like the opposite.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. and the merrrygoround of life just keeps goin’ around. we come, we rejoice, we suffer, we live, we die. and we start again. each day, until we don’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. None of my pets has ever spared me the whole grim process of “putting them down.” In a way, Pokey was being truly kind to you (as upsetting as it must have been to see …). 😿

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So what is worse, losing cats or having a child learn about pain – and where do the chameleons come in?


    • I guess to be honest, I don’t have the street cred yet to have indefensible reasons for obscure titles that mean something to me but require several levels of abstraction to make sense — so thanks for calling BS on that Dave. It’s funny (to me) but there’s a line from a song from an album I gave my friend and I thought the lyrics were that, this title, but they weren’t, they were considerably less poetic, and yet it still meant something terribly obscure to me I felt I needed to assign to this post, here. Will try my best to work it out with the round 2 tomorrow. Had a nice, impromptu visit to your fine city for a couple nights last week — a walk to Reed college, spooling around SE Portland, the NW IPA shop, a debut of the Fort George 3-Way IPA collaboration, which was sublime (more the experience there, than the beer). Thanks for reading and sharing your ever-honest, insightful comments.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “BS” is a little harsh. I don’t have the mind of a poet so I was just wondering about the title, you usually have some subtle connection in your metaphors.
        Reed’s in a nice neighborhood. Did you stop by the Rhododendron gardens?


      • Thanks Dave, the connection this time was a bit remote. I like the notion of not worrying too much about fitting in, of allowing imperfections or embracing them. It’s a theme I’m drawn to. No, we didn’t get to those gardens but we’d planned to, then got sort of side tracked. I’ll save that for another time instead. We wandered the outskirts of downtown and later, to Foster near my friends neighborhood, to a small pub I really liked, some fresh oysters.


  5. I’m probably off target but there is something very Dover Beach (Matthew Arnold) about this piece. Maybe it is the sound of the sea/cars, maybe it’s the suffering life brings, or maybe it is my brain misfiring.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Whoa!! What’s the emoji for “mind blown”?


    • Maybe it’s both our brains misfiring in the same direction. I don’t know Arnold, or that book — but I’m glad it resonated with you, at least the sound of the sea/cars and the reference to the U Dub bridge, that divides the U district from Wallingford, that’s cool. We weren’t far from I-5, there. Close enough to be reminded of it constantly.


  6. I changed my avatar today after a commenter made me realize I was kidding myself. The past three years have been tough, I guess. My new one: we could be brothers.


  7. I know grief is just an all round stink time and the only way through it is through it, but I do like the freedom it gives us to say exactly what we want to others because we’re suddenly confronted with death, and our own mortality, so we don’t suffer fools or snooty neighbours or be PC about too much. Because suddenly only the important things matter.
    Those glass bricks might have been the most exciting thing in that neighbor’s morning.:)

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s right, on the freedom, provided we know what to say, which is often hard right? Especially with animals for some reason. Sometimes worse than when people go. Bill


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