Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The (Half) Ironman: A metaphor

I've already written about how I'm a creature of metaphor and that the Boise Half-Ironman is more than just a race. It's a way for me to prove to myself that I am strong "like Iron" (or, half-iron anyway), that I can swim and bike and run and keep going for a pretty long time. But until yesterday I didn't realize how this metaphor has worked its way into other-- unrelated, even-- parts of my life.  The Ironman isn't just training and it isn't just a race; instead, it's presence in my life is like a complicated root system drawing nutrients from every aspect of my life: my home, my cats, my relationships, my body, my words.


Yesterday, the Sanchilla went missing. ("The Sanchilla" is Sanchia, my four-year old rescue cat who's only ever known the indoor world and whose previous owner died and left her homeless. She became mine when we were both going through rough times to put it mildly. I should also mention she is small enough to be a kitten, fluffy and unbelievably timid-- although not as timid as Jacques.)

"Going missing" isn't exactly accurate, however. I had spent most of the day gardening (after my bike/run adventure) and I'd met my mom for lunch in Carson City. I hadn't seen her for a while and we talked about just about everything, even CATS! And that's when my mom suggested the Sanchilla might like to see the garden herself: to roll in the dirt, to feel the sun on her coat, the wind on her little nose and keep me company when I work out there-- something I want to do more of this season.

(In other words, my mom doesn't want me to be lonely.)

"She's not as scared as Jacques," my mom said and I thought, there's something to that. 


But she's NOT an outdoor cat. And I should have known... (you need to know yourself, your competition, the landscape in order to be an athlete. You need to know your cat to be a great cat owner ...) And so, after a long day, I carried her outside with me to feel the sun and wind and soil, wrapped in my arms. "Safe", I thought.

That's when she got away.

It's like a nightmare, remembering it: her furry body slipping out of my hands, through the deck railing and onto the roof below me, and another roof, another roof and then... slip-- gone. A flash of her across California Avenue and I thought-- as a reflex-- she'd been hit.


Shoeless, I ran along the walkways of the little complex in which I live, calling into the afternoon wind, barefoot and crying: "Sanchia! Sanchia P! Sanchilla!" Two hours of that: of me walking along the sidewalk, shaking the treat bag, of me crawling under or climbing over fences, looking for her little furry body. Sometimes-- at the top of the hill, especially-- I'd hear her, that muted sassy (but now scared) "mew."  But for all the swaying tree limbs in the wind, for all the underbrush and shadows, I saw nothing. It was like I imagined she had existed.

And, most times I called all I heard was the wind answering me, empty.

And after two hours of that, what do you do?

If you're me, after two hours (120 minutes, much longer than it takes me to run 13.1 miles) you panic. You feel awful and guilty. It hits you when the window sill upon which The Sanchilla perched and gazed out on to the world is empty. Your heart goes cold when you put her bed outside, hoping the smell will draw her home.

I'm not casting you out, little one. Just come home, just come home. A prayer. A litany. I'd sell my soul, if I had one left, to get her back. And still, the silence. The waiting.

And the guilt! That window sill. That food bowl. That bed.

No more Sanchia: the Sachilla at dawn stomping on my chest, destructing sleep. Purring. Loving--however unlikely-- me. 


I remembered a night not long after I'd adopted her-- a December night before TMCC told me I could teach for them and before UNR confirmed, too--when I wondered if I'd have a home at all because I had no job and I had pennies in my bank account. I held that little cat in my arms and promised her we'd be OK, no matter what. I wouldn't let her go hungry or starve. I would learn how to be enough.

I'm going to fix this, I said to her one night as if she could understand: I will not let you fail, little one. You will have food and water and a home. Always. With me. I promise.

So that's why I pulled all the sheets and blankets off my bed and onto the deck. That's why, at dusk on a Sunday, I was laying on wood as still as the boards themselves. I wanted "the Sanchilla" back, yes, but also all that she represented.



11pm. Jacques trills his "it's a kitty!" noise. I wake and see her little body flitter in the shadows of night cast by the CVS marquee across the street from me. By this time, she'd been gone seven hours.

She is wild: untamed and almost a shadow herself.  I feign sleep until she runs across my body and I do the ultimate football catch knowing it might be--could be-- my last change to get her inside.

And I do: we cry. (Or, I cry: holding her too-tight on the couch and she cries to let me know I'm holding her too tight.)

For Sanchia: it was a day of adventure!

For me: I can't sleep that night. Every fifteen minutes or so, I wake and pet her. I stand and check the windows. The front door. I expect to learn I have lost everything.

But no matter the hour, there she is, Sanchia: small and furry and there. My cat. My life.

Both: still there.


I thought I'd lost her.

After all, we are the most comfortable with experience... what we know.

I don't know if I can swim in open water. I don't know how to bridge the worlds of my cat's indoor and outdoor worlds. I don't know if I can survive on my own, but I'm starting to believe I can.

And within those parameters, I guess, all we can do is our best.

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