We adopted Yuki and Bitty on my birthday in October 2010 after fostering them for the Humane Society of Utah. At the time, we had two dogs, one old kitty, and five guinea pigs [this last volume-centric pig tally being a Petsmart customer service program that could be advertised as “Surprise! You've been selected as the recipient of our 'Adopt a Pregnant Guinea Pig' program”].
Bitty was an orphan--whose mother and siblings were gone--that was found at 6 weeks on the streets. Yuki had no back story, but she was thin, living outside, and had had a litter of kittens. The Humane Society asked if we would consider fostering both of them, with the intention of drying up Yuki’s milk so that she could be spayed and adopted.
Almost as soon as they were let out of their kennels at our house, they fell in love with each other.
Bitty began nursing off Yuki, and Yuki treated Bitty like her own kitten, sometimes even violently protecting Bitty from Bitty’s near-constant fears—our dogs, our older cat, loud noises. They were nearly inseparable—sleeping together, eating together, cleaning each other—and, even as Bitty grew up and became more independent, it was clear that these two were feline soul mates.
Last month, Bitty got into our unfinished storeroom and followed the joists until she became trapped behind our basement walls. My panic at realizing what had happened to our very fearful kitty was nothing compared to Yuki’s. Knowing from Bitty’s meow behind the wall that Bitty was scared, Yuki ran from one spot to another in our basement, trying to determine how to get to her. Of course, she couldn’t—Bitty had gotten way lost in there--and my girls had to hold Yuki as I cut a hole in the wall and pulled Bitty out. Bitty was freaked out, but Yuki went to her and immediately started cleaning off all the dirt and dust.
Last Saturday, Yuki went missing. And it hit me in a place that I haven’t felt since 2007. Landing in that place that the Smashing Pumpkins dubbed the “Infinite Sadness.”
Rorschach thought it was possible to use smudges and stuff to dig into the minds of people. So I asked my kids to listen to “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.” To see how it made them feel. To see where their minds went when it played. Not knowing the title of the song. Not knowing how it made me feel. In this instrumental song, then, only knowing the sounds of piano and strings, and the backdrop of their own life story imprinted upon the notes.
For Julia, it made her want to dance. “That’s all. I felt like I wanted to dance.”
Livy—the musical child, who communicates with her voice and violin teachers in some sort of magical musical code that only they understand--said that it was a song about sitting on the beach at sunset. And, with the water moving about the world, she imagined dancing on the hard sand near the water.
Rorschach tests are notoriously hard to interpret, and—for me, unlike my daughters--this song brings on sadness like it was my destiny. Somehow, the Smashing Pumpkins—wordlessly--takes my face, and melts it down through the stages of grief, as it reflects the soul knowledge that we all have of sadness that is universal to the human condition. Sadness whose source are things like the awareness of the world’s pointless suffering. And of smaller, personal things, like words spoken after hearts were hardened, or of being a disappointment to someone you love, or feeling unable to conquer your demons. The great sad things that prompt us towards empathy and compassion, and—therein--prevent us from becoming total fucking insensitive assholes.
“Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” is both what the entire album was called and the title of the first song on the album, a title which gives us a clue as to the tone of the album. A tone which some critics said meandered in directions that wreaked of Corgan’s wallowing self-pity. It was Rolling Stones’ Jim DeRogatis who gave the album 3 out of 5 stars, stating that Corgan was “stuck in a lyrical rut, wallowing in his own misery and grousing about everyone and everything not meeting his expectations.”
Harsh. Really. Because, if you have the album, you know that it also includes lyrical songs like “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” that are mesmerizing (Lyrics like, “Porcelina, she waits for me there, with seashell hissing lullabyes, and whispers fathomed deep inside my own, hidden thoughts and alibis, my secret thoughts come alive…..And in my mind, I’m everyone”).
But, I guess, DeRogatis could have hit on something. Because it’s true that sometimes—without thinking—we can focus on what’s wrong in life, and accidentally fall into a lifelong pity party. Because, sometimes, feelings like grief and fear can imprison us, and entangle themselves around our senses. And deaden our motivation and our hope. And then we fall into the pit of Infinite Sadness, sadness triggered not by immediate experience but by continually reliving moments of personal heartbreak without ever reaching the other side of that grief. The part where you acknowledge that you have survived, altered but mostly intact.
Or maybe he was just being an asshole. Because, let’s face it: the rush to judge the validity of other peoples’ grief can be uniquely and exquisitely hasty. It’s always so damned easy—from the outside, without the burden of mind-bending melancholy—to pick out exactly what should or should not bother other people.
I had very conscientiously wrestled with the demon that was worry over letting Yuki outdoors. We found out during her first year with us that corralling her indoors made her nearly insane—she would dash out the front door into the street, and get into even more dangerous situations when we tried to catch her--so I devised this elaborate system to keep her in our fenced back yard (flag poles, bird netting and bendable wire grating; pretty classy, let me tell you). Naturally, after a few months, she had outsmarted it, and got out, which is when we discovered that we could trust her not to wander too far. She'd hop over the fence but would come when we called her, knowing--somehow—that pacifying her worried humans was the price of being part of a loving family. Bitty—too scared to tag along with Yuki on her adventures—would greet her as she came back into the yard, and Yuki would meow and purr at being welcomed back home.
And then last Sunday morning she didn’t come to our calls.
The depth of my grief over Yuki’s disappearance almost didn’t make sense. I am experienced with heartbreak and have bounced around inside of it with enough regularity to know that it is an inevitable circumstance of the living. And I know that grief is often something that tricks us into thinking that we’ll always feel the same exact way as we do in that heartbroken moment, and—over the years--I have found a way to fast-forward into an imagined future time when things have all worked out for the best. Where—as has happened to me before—my cat reappears on my doorstep after a weeklong big adventure somewhere else.
But, for whatever reason, this time my brain couldn’t get to hope.
And I could feel myself imploding into where the Bitty/Yuki story has ended up as part of my Infinite Sadness. Bitty and Yuki—orphan, and mother cat, with inexplicable bond—being one of those sweet things that held my Infinite Sadness far enough away to keep it from tainting my hope. But Yuki was gone. And Bitty was meowing, searching the house, and—having decided that finding Yuki was much more important than feeling safe---attempting to climb the fence to find her.
I have not felt tinged in such sadness—bordering on near utter hopeless malaise—since J. left the kids; I have not cried so much, so hard, and for so long since that year, 2007.
And perhaps my grief wouldn’t make sense to Jim DeRogatis. But I realize now that grief doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to be authentic. Because it's always been true that one person’s tough week is another person’s Infinite Sadness.
I canvassed the neighborhood with postcards and flyers, and visited the Humane Society and the animal shelter multiple times. I told everyone I knew about it, and they told me they would keep an eye out for her. It is a very safe neighborhood, with cats never turning up missing, so it was a real mystery. Neighbors I didn’t even know posted her flyer on their front yard fences.
The flyers led someone to call on Friday. Dean T., who left a message saying he lived near the gully and would be watching out for Yuki. There had been no other calls about her. For some reason, I called him back, and our conversation triggered something in me. I made a new flyer.
On the lot that backs my immediate neighbor’s house, a couple were loading their baby up in their car when we walked up with these new flyers. The man said that they had gotten our original flyer but hadn’t seen Yuki. I explained about Dean T. and his cat getting locked in a garage, and this man perked up. There had been some strange white hair on a couch in his garage. But, he said, “I’ve been in the garage since last Saturday and didn’t see or hear anything.” He quickly opened the garage door, though, and, when I called “Yuki!”, we immediately heard the meow. I almost didn’t believe it might be her, but we dug around and there she was. Incredibly skinny and freaked out—having been without food, water, Bitty or her family for almost a week—but alive.
Sometimes, sad things inexplicably bounce off of us and we plod along until the passing of time relieves us of the threat of implosion. Sometimes, though, sad things hit us in a tender place, and we are knocked over, and can’t rally because our core strength feels hollowed out. And this last type is risky. Because sometimes sadness can settle in if it finds a home comfortable enough.
But I refuse to let it.
I made calls to agencies, stopped by strangers' homes, and took down flyers so that the word would spread that she was home. Then, I called Dean T. to let him know that talking to him had saved Yuki’s life. That he had said the right thing at the exact right time. I wanted to pay it forward--to show him what a difference he had made and relieve him of whatever small amount of anxiety that led him to call that first time--because, after all, one of the best avenues of hope is when we try our best to shelter each other from any new possible sources of Infinite Sadness.
He called back later and left a message.
I'm hoping that he'll always remember this week too.
After listening to the Smashing Pumpkin’s song, Livy added, “It’s so pretty. Words would have ruined it.”
And she was right. You don’t always need words to tell a story. Sometimes just a picture will suffice.
(Bitty and Yuki: I wish all love stories could end like this).
Referenced Rolling Stones/Jim DeRogatis article retrieved October 20, 2012 from http://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/mellon-collie-and-the-inf...