Although my destination was only about 45 minutes away from home, I packed like I'd be gone for a month. I brought my laptop, plenty of books, a knitting project, coffee, favorite herbal teas, and foods like Satsuma oranges, Rye Crisp, leftover turkey, and Belgian dark chocolate from Trader Joe's.
You see, I foolishly, selfishly, envisioned a private writing retreat. I had two articles to finish, but then I'd dive into the world of my neglected novel. There I would be, all alone in the house with only my imagination and my new companion, Princess Kitty Muffin, the cat. How distracting could one cat be?
When I arrived, the little princess came to greet me in her own kitty cat sort of way. Her greeting did not resemble, in any fashion, the unbounded declaration of eternal love and devotion with which my greyhound greets anyone who comes to the door. This cat greeting could have meant "Pet me. NOW!" or "Where's my food?" or "Slave, let me out." She endured a few strokes of my hand, ducking as she did, but then ran to the door and demanded with her stern "Meow!" that I must open it at once. Of course I obliged with haste, as I would again, and again, and again.
There in a house not belonging to me―full of someone else's books, music, and favorite things, their posters and pictures on the walls, their Christmas cards on the fireplace mantel, their magnets on the fridge―I hoped, in my childlike way, to "play house" for a few days. I would pretend I lived there as a reclusive writer alone with my cat, not knowing the neighbors, just staying inside and making trips down the stairs in my slippers to put the tea kettle on again. I'd found a cozy spot in the guest room, where I felt less intrusive, and it would be all mine for three blissful days. So would Princess Kitty Muffin, I thought. But before long she would make it quite clear that, instead, I was hers.
She left me alone at first. She chose to remove herself to the top edge of the futon in an upstairs room across the hall from mine, a good vantage from which she could look out the window toward the street. With the best of intentions, I settled into the work station I'd set up in the guest room, consisting of a chair and table of the perfect height, a surface just large enough to hold my laptop, my copy of the Associated Press Stylebook, and a cup of tea. I needed to get busy writing.
As a backdrop for the skyscrapers downtown, the mountains rose on the western horizon in all their snow-covered glory, wilderness and city juxtaposed. I imagined I could smell the forests of Douglas fir at their base or hear my voice echo in the loneliness of that alpine air.
"I wish you could see this," my fingers blurted out in type, right in the middle of an e-mail to one of my article's sources. He lived on the East Coast, a total stranger, a person I'd never meet. "Right now it's extremely cold in Seattle," I went on, "but the sun is shining on the Olympic Mountain range, right across Puget Sound from the city."
He didn't comment on my impulsive diversion. Maybe he didn't care about mountains or Seattle or how the winter sunlight seems so fleeting and dear in December's last days. But Princes Kitty Muffin did. She wanted out again. I knew her thick coat would protect her, so I went downstairs and opened the door. She soon found a spot on top of the fence on which to sit, absorbing the impotent but brilliant winter sun in perfect contentment. It beckoned to me too, and watching her caused me to feel restless. Her attitude told me, "It is important to live in the present and savor what pleasures we can, while we can."
It didn't take me long to drive down to the Leschi neighborhood's waterfront on Lake Washington. I buttoned my wool coat up tight and snuggled into it's hood. But the icy wind still slipped in around the edges. It ran cold fingers along the sides of my neck and made my ears ache. No matter. I didn't mind exchanging a little discomfort for the chance to see the crayon-colored hulls of winterized sailboats, wrapped in their taut covers as if for warmth. Across the choppy water, the city of Bellevue glowed in the light of the winter sun. Already low in the sapphire sky, it slid behind the hill and the shadows grew longer.
When I came home, I made turkey soup flavored with curry powder. The aroma wafted through the house. Princess Kitty Muffin came downstairs. She "talked" to me, using a pattern of two or three assertive meows followed by a tiny, submissive, soprano squeak. It sounded like, "Do it! Do it! Please?" Once again, I refilled her four or five water dishes, including the one upstairs next to the bathtub, her favorite, I'd been told. But why? Only the princess knows. She did not want her dry food, so I treated her to some canned, and myself to some chocolate. "After all", she seemed to say, "small indulgences bring joy to the soul. We are worth it."
On breaks between my hours of writing, I read, sitting on her futon. Finally she came near and settled next to me. I missed my husband and dog. It felt good to pet a warm cat and hear her purr. I think she missed her people too and decided I would have to suffice. I could almost hear her thinking, "Appreciate what you have."
On the second night I brushed Princess Kitty Muffin. That changed everything. It sent her into a crazy frenzy of mewing, prancing, contorting delight and had me laughing out loud, taking in her message: "Sometimes it's good to be silly." Later, I sat on the futon and tried to write longhand in a notebook. I'm a writing workaholic, producing several pieces a week. But Princess Kitty Muffin wanted to be petted.
"Slow down for a few minutes," her brain waves told me. Silence your jumble of thoughts and absorb the essence of our surroundings: the scent of old wood, the warmth of fabric, the touch of fur, the soft glow of the fading light at the end of another year."
When I went to bed, settling into my hours of repose as easily as the warm blankets settled over me, I heard a noise. First came the thump. Then suddenly the bed moved a little and the faint silhouette of a long-haired cat appeared beside my pillow.
"Meow! Meow! Squeak?"
She stood there for a full minute, just staring at me. I waited. Then, in the darkness, I sensed the warm weight of her little body as she found a spot alongside my thigh and curled herself into a ball. The purring began. By this time Princess Kitty Muffin could read my thoughts, and I could read hers.
"Feline or human, man or woman, young or old, no matter who we are or where we live, our race or creed or even species, we all need shelter from the cold, food, comfort, warmth, companionship, love, and a little place that feels like home to call our own." In total agreement, we both closed our eyes and slept.
May the new year bring you good health, happiness, purpose, productivity, prosperity, and most of all, PEACE.
(a furry friend doesn't hurt either)
Copyright 2011 by Candace J. Brown