September 10, 2021
This morning I feel good, like really good, probably the best I have felt in nearly six weeks. My sleep was mostly uneventful, except for the crazy dream that woke me just before midnight. Looking around the room, my lamp still on, helped bring me back to reality: I was at home and not in Afghanistan. Back to sleep.
The gym is now calling for me like it used to. At 6:00 a.m., I climb on the stationary bike for 20 minutes, which is followed by 10 minutes on the free stride trainer. This morning's podcast recounts the history of animal mascots: the Budweiser Clydesdales, Spuds Mackenzie, the Merrill Lynch bull and Morris, the “Clark Gable of cats.” Whatever. Weights are next, then stretching. At my age, stretching takes up nearly as much time as my actual workout. I don’t love it but it is fine. If it will keep me moving into the years that lie ahead, then I’ll happily stretch even those tiny finger muscles. I roll into the tail end of my workout, which now includes a session on Mindfulness training, something I began about a year ago when I was diagnosed with PTSD. Now, my days are spent mostly doing PTSD recovery work, including the critical Mindfulness training. By 7:00, I am out with the dog for a quick three kilometre walk. I do really feel great this morning.
Back at home, a scoop of food goes into the dog bowl, I make myself a fried egg on a bagel, and then flip open my laptop. My routine is to start the day with a check of the news and weather. I click on my favourite news site and in that moment, my mood instantly changes. I know the news has been difficult to read lately, but in the last two weeks, I have managed to get past the Afghanistan chaos stories and onto reading other news. This time, I saw just a smidgeon of the headline: Korean Air Flight 085.
My heart rate rising as a shiver blows through my body, I quickly close my computer and decide to tackle the laundry. My mind needs to focus on something else and chores will help. Echo, our little black adopted cat, follows me up the stairs, and she almost always does. A quick leap and she sits on the window sill watching me before dropping back down and rubbing against my legs. I forget the headline as I pick her up, turn her over and cradle her, gently rubbing her belly as she grabs at my fingers, alternating between licking and biting them, all-the-while her little motoring purr announcing her joy. When I put her down, she goes right back to my legs, rubbing up against them over and over again. I laugh, playfully saying "Listen. You gonna let me get the laundry done or not?” She obliges, sprawling out on the stairs, watching me. Then I abruptly remember last evening, the moment right before sliding into bed.
I am not a cat person. To me, cats are just there, hanging around but not actively interacting the way a dog does. A dog's face can be read like a book, but with a cat, it seems the pages are blank, just like their stare. I can’t tell what they are thinking, so they have never much interested me, even after we adopted our first cat some 18 years ago.
Gems was pretty much what I expected of a cat. He was around, played with cat toys, and was generally quiet. Surprisingly to me, he was very gentle with the everyone, only using his claws two times when he was pushed to his limit. He was a big boy and my family loved him. I, however, had no emotional attachment to the handsome feline. He was just there.
When Gems passed, we adopted Gucci, a teenager-like Ragdoll who, within a few minutes of striding through our front door, splayed out like he owned the place. He fit right in, simultaneously putting our dog in her place while claiming various areas of the house for himself. Our Samoyed, who loved to do anything with me, just looked at me as if to say What gives? I shrugged my shoulders. As was the case with Gems, Gucci was very gentle, never using his claws, and my family loved 'The Guc.'
As Gucci got older, he started laying on my chest at night. I didn’t like it at first, as my eyes started to itch and my sinuses stuffed up, but I put up with it for a few minutes before nudging him away. Later, as he aged further and slowed down, I let him stay on my chest. I wasn’t going to push the old boy away, but I really could care less if he was on my chest or in his bed. I viewed him as just there, just being a cat.
March 25, 2020
Gucci dying in front of me soon after I returned from my deployment to Iraq was traumatic in a way I did not expect. I was angry that we did not put him down earlier and now he was suffering a seizure in front of the family, looking to me for help. I could do nothing. His eyes, after staring at me, rolled back in his head. A few minutes later, at the vet, he was gone and I was back to myself, helping the family remember that life is hard and creatures are born and die all the time. That is how I viewed life; it happens and then you die. Sadly, it was no different for our pets. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a heartless stone, but inside my scientific and rationale mind I know everything alive will eventually die and it is best to remember that. It helps keep pain and grief at bay.
September 9, 2021
The evening before I see the Korean Air headline and Echo is brushing up against my legs more than usual. As she returns for a second round of rubbing, purring, rolling, and grabbing at me with teeth and claws, I say “I thought you were done. You must be playful tonight.” A few more minutes of play and then tiny cat hops onto the bed and finds a spot between my ankles. Gently, I pick her up and move her a few feet over before laying down and closing my eyes. I feel her curl up between my ankles again. Unusual. She must be having one of those needy days.
April 4, 2020
In the advertisement from our local SPCA, her name is Spitz. She looks like every other black cat I’ve seen, but my daughter is spellbound. Together, we fill out the application.
Since we didn’t hear anything back from the SPCA, we keep searching, but nothing is panning out. COVID arrived around the globe and everyone seems to want a pet now that they spent most of their time at home. We keep looking, not expecting to hear anything from the SPCA as we continue to watch cats, including Spitz, disappear from their adoption webpage, presumably going to new homes.
April 17, 2020
Out-of-the-blue, we get a call from the SPCA asking us if we want to go there and see Spitz. Within a few minutes of being at the SPCA, my daughter calls my wife.
“Are you sure?”
We come home with a very small, very timid black cat. She is 15 months old but weighs only about 6 pounds. The workers at the SPCA attribute this to her condition when she arrived. Covered in mites, fleas and ticks, she was not healthy at all when a disheveled person dropped her off, saying he could not care for her. They tell us that she won’t grow much more, maybe reach 7 or 8 pounds at most, which is a few pounds under weight of the average house cat.
Spitz spent much of her first few weeks bonding with my daughter in her room and getting comfortable with her surroundings. She was quite apprehensive, so we let her decide where and when she would engage with others. Since she did not like our dog, sending her hissing and spitting noises to make sure the message was received, Spitz passed her time upstairs. It was more than a month later when she started to venture downstairs for short periods, hugging the walls as she moved around before scampering back up to my daughter’s room. In that time, she became Echo, since none of us felt Spitz suited her.
Being science-driven, I believed our little cat needed to feel more comfortable, so I made an effort to work with her, coaxing her with treats, petting her, and doing everything I could to make her realize this family was not a threat. I imagined that her previous life on the streets made her weary of almost everything, unlike our dog, who in comparison, was pretty clueless.
It took a few months but Echo started to fit right in. However, opposite to the other cats we owned, this one was very fond of using her claws and teeth. My wife decided to nickname her Jaws right after she sprung from under our bed as my wife walked by, grabbing her toes before scrambling back under the mattress as my wife leapt onto it.
“Oh my god! This cat is crazy.”
“Nah. That is just how she plays.”
As it turns out, Echo likes to play with people. She will chase cat toys but with just as much enthusiasm, she will play with me. As I walk towards the stairs each evening, Echo scampers up, arriving at the landing before I do, rolling onto her side and pawing at the air. She is telling me it is play time, and I oblige. Excited, she tosses her head side-to-side and up-and-down, anticipating my fingers tapping and scampering along the carpet. We play as we make our way up each riser, she always ahead of me darting around before running back at me. It is almost dog-like, but in a cat way, if that makes any sense.
At times, after playing for awhile, Echo is so out-of-breath that she just lays down and pants, looking much like a black panther.
“And acting like one too,” adds my wife, who is still skeptical of our little fiendish feline.
By the time I am ready to crawl into bed, Echo is at the bedside, rubbing back and forth between my legs. I smile. My wife makes a sarcastic remark about me not being a cat person.
November 11, 2020
Remembrance Day is always an emotional time for me. This year, I watch the somber ceremony on TV, since COVID restrictions prevent large in-person gatherings. Echo sits on the table and watches as well. She is such a TV junkie. As the piper starts into The Lament, I struggle to swallow my emotions. Echo watches the whole ceremony.
September 10, 2021
House chores done and Echo and the dog sleeping after some play time with each, I open up my computer again and read the full headline: 'Vivid' Memories Persist of Korean Air Flight 085, Whitehorse's Scare on 9/11. It describes the day when a Canadian Prime Minister was ready to give an order to shoot down a Korean 747 airliner. It was all part of the chaos that happened soon after the attacks that brought down the Twin Towers and began the so-called War on Terror. My involvement in that war was as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, deploying to Afghanistan in 2007, working at NORAD from 2008-2012, the organization that would have shot down that Korean Airliner in 2001 had the order been given, and then deploying to Iraq between December 2019 and March 2020. Today is the day before the 20th anniversary of the day that has come to be known as 9/11. Nowadays, as I work to recover from PTSD and get myself healthy again, certain dates naturally bring on more emotion than others, and the last six weeks have been difficult. I wrote about the challenges in a short story titled Afghanistan Fallout.
Everywhere I turn, there is news about Afghanistan, be it factual, an analysis, varying opinions or outright speculation. None of it has been helpful to me, or I imagine any other Afghanistan Veteran, so I try to block it out and focus on other things. In doing that, I know my emotions can be challenging to manage. Again I think back to last night, and Echo’s unusual behaviour.
Therapy with dogs and horses have proven to be helpful for those who have experienced trauma, but the same can’t be said of cats, yet. That may be changing. Could Echo have sensed that something wasn’t right with me last night, the day before all the news stories would flash about the 20th Anniversary of 9/11 and re-emergence of the Taliban as the rulers in Afghanistan? Not at all. Like I said, I am a rational and science-minded person. However, knowing what I now know about trauma and the human brain, the changes it undergoes when exposed to trauma, and how the body continues to react even after the threat has long gone, I wonder if somehow Echo was sensing something I could not. Perhaps she could feel that my body was hyperactive, so she spent more time with me, and all-the-while I was thinking something was off with her? I like to think so. After all, I am not a cat person, but with Echo, our tiny cat, I seem to have become one. Huh, will you look at that. Echo is sitting on the chair beside me, wondering what I am doing. I’l just scoop her up, turn her over and cradle her, and gently rub her belly as she grabs at my fingers, alternating between licking and biting them, all-the-while her little motoring purr announcing her joy. What was I writing about again?