Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Strange Bedfellow

As I’ve written before there was a nine-month stretch when I shared my Baltimore apartment with a cat.

When it came sleeping arrangements, Archie was mercurial. There were times when he’d join me in bed, flopping as he was wont to do, his furry brown back with the black stripes in my face. Other times, he’d have no interest in joining me at night, preferring instead to wander the darkened apartment, leap atop the kitchen cupboards, or find other places to rest.

Regardless of how he spent the night, the mornings were mostly the same. Around five he’d come into the bedroom and leap onto the bed. If I didn’t get up with enough immediacy he’d proceed to my nightstand, where he’d knock my phone to the floor. Then my pen. Then my legal pad. A few times, my clock radio. I’d get up and feed him and go back to sleep--on work days for an hour or two, on weekends for quite a bit longer. Sometimes Archie would join me in bed after his breakfast. Other times he’d go about his cat business.

There remains one, specific Saturday morning that was different. When I went back to bed and rolled to one side of the bed to fall asleep. An hour or two later, I woke, rolled onto my back, and looked to my side.

Archie lay there beside me, head propped on a pillow, facing the same way I had been. He opened his eyes and blinked away sleep just as I had. I rubbed his tummy and he purred.

And I thought of how different and the same an animal friend could be to a person. How Archie assumed my posturing in that moment, shared my bed, shared my sleep. And how in the seconds to follow, I knew exactly what to do for him to make him happy. To help him rest easy again.

And I thought of how rarely people do that for another. Sure, rubbing my fingers against someone’s chest and stomach would be a bit presumptuous in most circumstances. But I thought of all of the times I knew the right compliment or question or comment might brighten someone’s day; let alone the impact of a pat on the back or a hug. I thought of all these moments that I had let pass.

It was hard to feel too guilty on a Saturday morning, though, when I had forgotten to draw the blinds the night before, and sun poured in from the east warming Archie and me both, and the sky was a clear blue. And though the floorboards creaking overhead informed me my upstairs neighbors had begun to stir, I didn’t yet hear the bass of the sub-woofers from my young couple across the hall, or the Mandarin cries of the first morning argument from next door.

In that moment, there was only me and this cat. His purr turned to a snore and I kept rubbing him until I was sure he was asleep. I watched him for a while in this state of simple contentment. I breathed in and breathed out, and let all manner of heavy thoughts take flight from my mind as I, too, returned to slumber.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Cracking My Fingers

Now and again, someone draws your attention to an unconscious tic. More often than not, intimacy over time reveals such behaviors, and thus romantic partners can be best attuned to recognizing them, and particularly well positioned to alert us to what we're doing.

Such is the case for cracking my fingers.

For both of my middle fingers and sometimes my left index finger, I tend crack the middle knuckle. More than a simple crack, it’s more of a crackling not unlike sound of a bonfire or twisting a sheet of bubble wrap in your hands. Whether it’s an actual physical need or psychological compulsion, I feel my fingers aren’t properly stretched without the cracking.

I never really noticed this behavior in myself--how often I did it, or which fingers I did it on, until Heather pointed it out to me. And expressed her disgust.

She claimed that it sounded as though my finger bones were shattering with each motion. That the sound was akin digging my fingernails into a chalkboard and dragging them downward as hard as I could.

Thus, I tried to stop cracking my knuckles. Or to do so softly. Or to do so as aggressively as possible when were entered a bout of teasing one another.

But then there came one night when we fell asleep on the couch, amidst watching a series of episodes of Modern Family. I spooned her close to me with my right arm, my chest to her back, my right leg pinned between her knees, my left shoulder tucked beneath my head, hand in her hair. When I woke, I could vaguely recollect running my fingers the curls of her long brown hair.

I felt the need to stretch the joints in my left hand--more precisely to crack my middle finger. I made the familiar motion to do so, touching my thumb to the top of the knuckle, poised mere inches from Heather’s ear.

And I stopped.

She would wake soon enough. And the two of us would migrate to my bed. Maybe stopping to brush our teeth first. Maybe to pour glasses of water to keep at our respective sides of the bed. Certainly to pee. Maybe she would wake when I coughed, or when she roused herself from one of her habitual nightmares, or when one of the neighbors cried out the way they had a tendency to at all hours of the day and night.

There were any number of reasons she might wake.

But in that moment when she was warm and still and her breath was shallow and the world was quiet, I let my hand fall limp. I closed my eyes and smelled her hair.