I Protest

There have been a lot of stories about the Women’s March on January 21st. Here’s mine.

I had not planned to go, initially. Boston isn’t an awful drive from here (an hour or so to Alewife, and then the subway, which I enjoy riding), but I’ve gone into town on Event Days before: Earth Day, Gay Pride. And the garage at Alewife (because heaven help you if you try to park in town) is always mobbed, and the trains are full, and I figured the crowds on this particular Saturday would be far heavier than anything I’d seen. I figured the Alewife parking lot would be full. I figured they didn’t need me.

But I checked the web site, and as it turned out, Boston wasn’t the only Massachusetts march. In fact, there was one pretty much the same distance away, but in the opposite direction: Northampton, MA.

Here’s a confession: I get very, very anxious traveling to places I’ve never been before. I worry about getting lost. I have some kind of strange perception thing where maps are of almost no help to me. I have tried, and I don’t think it’s lack of desire to learn; I think there’s just something hard-wired in me that can’t make the spatial translations properly. And I have let this keep me from doing things I otherwise wanted to do.

So when I say that without Siri, I wouldn’t have even tried to march on the 21st, I’m being honest. (And I know Siri isn’t the only game in town, and maybe not even the best one. Fill in your favorite direction-finding technology.) Thanks to Siri, I knew I could not only get where I was going, but back home again.

I brought The Kid with me. She had some questions about protesting, based mostly on what she’d seen in the media. I told her that I would protect her. I told her it was OK if she didn’t want to go.

She thought about it for a minute, and said, “Let me be angry too.”

Northampton was not crowded. We found a parking spot in a municipal lot (note to self: bring more change next time; the municipal lot only took coins), and grabbed a snack on the way to the UU church where everyone was meeting. We passed a guitar shop, and The Kid made me promise we could stop there before we went home.

The church, as it happened, was full to capacity, and for fire code reasons they couldn’t let any more people in. There was a woman directing everyone down the road to the field where the march was going to start. So we turned and walked back down the road we’d just walked up, this time with a group of people going the same way.

What surprised me – and it shouldn’t have – was how many of the people we were heading down the road with were closer to my age than my daughter’s. Many of them were older than I am. This is not a movement of the young. It’s a movement of all of us.

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The Kid’s favorite

The field was fairly crowded, but not uncomfortably so (the newspaper later tagged the crowd at 3,000; that seems not inaccurate). And there were so many people, and so many signs. Many of them were the Fairey pieces, gorgeous and iconic; but many were hand-made. There were children, and strollers, and men with families and on their own, and hundreds of pink hats, and political and non-political conversations all around me.

crowd2

We were more or less in the middle of the pack.

We started marching around 11:45. The police had us walk in the right-hand lane of the road, and traffic moved – slowly – in the other direction. At first we walked, but then the chants started, sometimes behind us and traveling up in a wave, sometimes in front of us and moving back. One woman we were walking with had a strong, clear voice; she led chants as well, and my daughter and I echoed her every time.

We chanted “Equal Rights are Human Rights.”

We chanted “No Justice No Peace.”

We chanted “Black Women’s Lives Matter.”

We chanted “Trans Women’s Lives Matter.”

And I felt, for a little while, like we might be OK after all.

We didn’t stay for the speakers. My lack of change meant I had to move the car, and my mapless anxiety liked the idea of getting away before the big flood of traffic. We did stop at the music store, where my daughter told me she wanted to learn guitar – not that acoustic stuff, which she calls “boring,” but electric guitar. We asked a few questions of the shopkeeper, who was unfailingly polite to the out-of-town newbies, and I told her we could look into getting her lessons.

And then Siri took us home.

In the days afterward, there has been pushback on the protests, from within and without. While I think there are certainly issues local organizers can work on – accessibility being a big one; I saw one woman on a scooter, and although she managed, I don’t know that there was a lot of specific effort made for those who were not as ambulatory as the rest – I don’t want to lose the forest for the trees. Do it better next time includes next time, and I think that’s critical. There must be a next time, and a time after that, and another.

Does it change anything? On a national level? I honestly don’t know. I suspect we’ll see changes designed to make assemblies like this more difficult, or even impossible. As much as I despair over the actions of this administration, the most alarming changes are to transparency and the right to speak. Protesting might just make them work harder to shut people up.

But I’ll tell you: I felt stronger that day. I felt less despair. I was still angry, still shell-shocked by moving through the looking glass overnight. But I looked around at the others, and at my child, chanting at the top of her lungs, and I thought maybe, just maybe, it was OK to hope that what’s happening to our nation is temporary.

Is that naive? Probably. But sometimes naiveté is what it takes to get me out of bed in the morning.

Keep yelling. Keep fighting. No matter what.

greaterthanfear

 

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All About Toad

This is Marmalade, a.k.a. Toad:

marmalade

“I hate all you people.”

Yes, it’s one of those serendipitous photographs. Most of the time she looked like a perfectly normal, vaguely annoyed cat. She was a beauty, really; she’d sometimes get knots in that coat, but it was silkier and smoother than the coat of many long-hairs I’ve known. And all the color: black and brown and gorgeous orange and bits of cream here and there.

But she was not the friendliest pet on the planet.

She chose us, as animals sometimes do. A few days before the 2008 ice storm, she showed up on our doorstep, thin and covered in bloated tics, hollering her lungs out. We took her in, warmed her up, and gave her food and a litterbox. We took her to a vet, who removed the tics, checked for a chip, gave her a bunch of shots, and sent her home with us. We called a couple of no-kill shelters in the area, but they were full. We put up some flyers: no response.

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Scrawny, just-rescued Toad

So she was ours, and I was leery at the start, because she was so non-social. Not like a feral cat—she’d clearly lived with humans before, and not only because someone had declawed her—but like an animal who preferred the company of no one. She was not a lap cat, she did not like being picked up, and although she liked, on occasion, to be petted, she would not put up with it long. And when she was finished accepting whatever attention you paid her, she would let you know, with a loud, constant, Siamese-level wail that didn’t seem to require any breathing on her part. She was, perhaps, part bagpipe.

To my daughter, who was less than five when Toad joined us, she was just another big fluffy kitty. She would pet her, and pick her up, and listen to her howl. When Toad howled, my daughter would talk to her lovingly. When Toad was really done, she’d bite—but gently. A mama telling her kitten to knock it off. Some cats, I have found, seem to understand about young humans.

When my daughter got older, Toad would greet her in the morning, jumping up on the bed and purring, succumbing to a little affection. At night she would jump up and stay on the bed until my daughter went to sleep. If she woke in the middle of the night, Toad would go to her to check.

This is what is missed the most: Toad’s routine. Her caretaking. Her grumpy, howling, resentful caretaking.

People describe her as an unusually bad-tempered cat. I suppose she was. My old Siamese could be a grump, but she was nothing compared to Toad. I loved that about Toad. She took what she wanted, and when she was done, she let us know. She’d insist if she had to. She knew herself, and her tolerances. She let us take care of her just enough, but no more.

pedestal_toad

If you stare at this picture long enough, she looks like a head on a pedestal.

I think one reason I’ve mostly had cats instead of dogs is that I love this aspect of the feline nature: “Sure, you’re upset, fine, here’s some rubbing and some purrs, now stop making that damn noise because shouldn’t you be feeding me?” That utterly unabashed self-centeredness. Genuine affection, but no neediness.

Or almost none.

The best guess for what got her is FIP. There was no way to test for it while she was alive, but all of her symptoms fit: digestive issues, lethargy, jaundice, paralysis. We treated symptoms as best we could, but she faded so fast. I fed her through a tube for a week and a half, and in the end she couldn’t even keep anything down that way. Ten years old, and we had to let her go.

I’ve lost pets before. That’s the life of a pet lover: unless you get a tortoise, you’re going to be saying goodbye to them. I lost my Siamese eight years ago, and there’s still a gap in my heart. But Toad was not my cat, not really, although I took care of her at the end, feeding and medicating and cleaning and taking her to and from the vet. She was my daughter’s cat, and that made it so much worse.

There’s an instinct that parents have to spare their children pain. You try to explain the world to them, in hopes that they won’t make the mistakes that you did, that they won’t go through the same awful experiences. You can know those experiences shaped you, made you stronger, made you a better person; but you wish, somehow, you could give your child all of that shape and strength without the pain.

I couldn’t do anything about this. I couldn’t save a cat my daughter should have had with her for many more years. I couldn’t save this animal who comforted her when she was sad, who was a companion when she was happy, who grumpily got up with her in the mornings and waited for her in the afternoons. I was powerless to save my daughter from the agony of swift and meaningless loss.

She will be stronger for it. And more compassionate. And more loving toward the pets—and friends—she has now. I remember my own childhood losses. I remember how they felt. So easy to see, in retrospect, that the pain meant I knew how to love.

But I still remember the pain.

I woke up that first day after Toad was gone, and I thought of all the times she would greet me: jumping on the bed, walking halfway toward my head, purring, accepting a few pets before she jumped down, lashing her tail, impatient for her breakfast. Such a lovely cat, with her bright green eyes and gorgeous tortoise shell fluff. So annoyed with everyone, always. So annoyed with needing affection. So annoyed that she loved us.

floofy_toad

That cat left us weeks ago. The animal we kept hoping to get back was already lost to us. The time that passes between recognizing your animal is suffering and recognizing that you need to let them go is the span of realizing that the only thing you can do anymore is help them hurt a little less. After everything they give, you have to help them. They are creatures of feeling, and we owe them all of our love and compassion.

We took her to a medical facility full of people she knew, people who had cared for her and been kind. They put in a catheter, which was undoubtedly unpleasant; but after that she was curled up on a piece of my husband’s clothing, surrounded by the smells of home, with me petting her and talking to her with my familiar voice. She dozed off. I stroked her. She died, and now she is gone. She will always be gone.

We have curled around each other, me and my little family, and we will survive. We will have this shared pain to remind us that we can count on each other, that we will hold each other up when things are hard. That’s good, right? That’s a small grain of not-awfulness in all of this.

Someday, maybe, it won’t feel so hollow.