“There is a field out beyond right doing and wrong doing,
I’ll meet you there.”
There’s been a lot of debating, especially on Facebook, but then twenty-seven or forty-eight or ninety-two heated comments later, someone trips over the fact that we essentially agree.
I’ve seen it happen again and again–minds so tattered from the brutal slaying of innocents allowing HEARTS to speak louder.
First we are insulted or offended or threatened. Then we are furious or obnoxious or despairing. But with each reminder of the devastating loss in Connecticut, we re-evaluate… we attend our child’s holiday concert, we wrap her presents, we tuck him into bed–and with our joy comes the bitter sting of “their” devastating loss.
One Facebook friend stormed against the focus on guns in favor of prayer and the banning of video games, and then suggested this: Let’s see where we agree. I definitely think guns should be regulated and that assault weapons should be illegal and not even manufactured.
Another friend vigorously defended the need for guns as a means of protection, but eventually said: I’m confident that Vice President Biden will do what needs to be done. I would be thrilled if this administration banned all automatic assault style rifles. I also support ammunition limits. I think in the end we’ll all move forward with changes everyone can agree on.
Even a young man, claiming the need for arms against a potential dictatorship, relinquished his absolutism in the face of the Sandy Hook massacre, with: I whole heartily agree with some of the anti-gun arguments.
His friend, a Marine, did his own bit of surrender: I have learned a lot in the last 24 hours on Facebook. It certainly was not my intention to take our conversation this far, and I honestly had no idea so many people would be involved. I do appreciate that everyone respected each other and their opinions and had a civil conversation. Although my feelings remain the same, I am beginning to see others’ views. In the end we all want the SAME thing for ourselves, our families and our children who have their whole lives ahead of them.
I think the mystic poet Rumi had it right when he suggested that we meet out beyond the field of right doing and wrong doing. It’s the children of Newtown who have led us there.
After I gave up on God, two of my younger sisters took up with him–in that boorish, effusive way of the freshly born again. Their new-found love, only made me feel lonelier. Their certainty that Jesus belonged to them, left me wondering how he was ever my friend.
In my twenties, I came to Al-Anon, and there I began dating my “Higher Spirit,” who remained faceless, and who never quite hit the spot like the man in robes with penetrating eyes and long, sandy hair. It would be decades before I came to peace without a spirit lover, and until then I searched for him in many faiths.
When I finally found what I was looking for, it wasn’t in a chapel or a temple or even a women’s circle, it was… in the music. On the night before my beloved grandfather’s funeral–the man who lost his wife to the tragedy that stole God, my born-again sister handed me some music that she was ready to discard.
While The New Jersey Mass Choir seemed right up her holy alley, I was beginning to understand that there was a hierarchy among Christians which placed Catholics below the born-again. My sister saved my soul that night, though not in the way she had always wanted.
When the soloist delivered Jesus to me in her rich, sultry tones, it didn’t matter that my passion made no sense.
When the storms in my life are raging. When the weight of this world drives me to my knees… I found a Hiding Place…
I felt the love that had once been mine.
I reclaimed Spirit then, in every song and sound, no matter whence it sprang.
One of the things that I treasure about blogging is that it’s simple enough to do–even when the kids are home–as evidenced by these posting highlights harvested from each of my blogs this summer. I hope you find a title or two that intrigues you. As always, your voice is most welcome. Read a post, share a comment/connection!
I remember the exact moment that I became a grownup. It was on a playground in a suburb outside Philadelphia, and I was only twenty-one years old. A six-year old, named Danny Goldstein, was to blame.
I’d spent the better part of my youth avoiding “growing up” because I knew that I didn’t want any place in that serious world of adults. In fact, at 13, when I could feel childhood slipping away, I made a tearful pact with myself to keep the magic alive.
In some ways holding onto my youth was easier for me than other teens because I came from a large family. Spending time with little ones kept me young–and busy–which shielded me from having to grow up too soon. The first time I was “asked out,” I let my youngest sister answer for me. At two-years old, her answer was always, “NO!”
Just before I entered high school, my father took me on a date to the movies where the closing song became my personal crusade: “Don’t you know that it’s worth every treasure on earth to be Young at Heart.”
The years passed though and soon enough, my interests began to change. I started dating and driving and other teenage things. My best friend and I were always on the lookout for markers of our impending adulthood: the first time we drank coffee, the first road trip, the applications to college. “Now we’re real women,” we’d say, never believing it was true.
By the time I were in college, my high school sweetheart starting talking marriage. M. was two years older than me and was more than ready to join the real world—as an accountant and husband. BUT I hadn’t even chosen a major yet and couldn’t see myself in any role that required panty hose, heels and the title, “Mrs.” The day that he took me to look at rings, my hands began to sweat and I refused to get out of the car.
My fear of growing up took on such mythological proportions that even my youngest sister captured it in song. At 3 years old, she spontaneously adapted a Peter Pan tune for me, singing, “You don’t want to grow up. You don’t want to marry M.”
As my relationship with M. deteriorated, I decided upon elementary education as a major. Now I never had to grown up!
…Enter my semester as a student teacher. As seniors, my roommates had only a handful of classes a week while I spent all day—every day– with first graders! As my friends tossed aside books and headed out to parties, I made lesson plans and called it a night.
After two weeks in the first grade, I found myself stealing naps on the milk-stained rug at recess time. With ten weeks left to go, I began to doubt that this was the career for me.
It was in my last fateful days at Penn Wynne Elementary that my own youth was abruptly stolen. I arrived early to school that morning and just as I crossed the playground and stepped onto the blacktop, little Danny Goldstein, who wanted to be a paleontologist when he grew up, rushed at me with those irretrievable words:
Ms. Salasin! Thank goodness a GROWNUP is here!
My world stopped. My ears began to ring. I looked around the playground for the grownup to which Danny was referring, and found only–me. I stumbled through the school doors and down the hall, wondering how it had happened. How had I become a grown up when I tried so hard not to be?
For a couple more years, I pretended it wasn’t so. I turned my back on teaching, frolicked at the beach in the summer, back packed through Europe in the fall, spent a winter as a ski bum in Colorado, and at 22–made a pact with a lusty bartender to avoid credit, mortgages and marriages till at least the old age of 30 when we’d marry each other if we hadn’t found anyone else.
My frivolity caught up with me long before thirty however. After seven years of waiting, M. proposed to someone else! I didn’t think it would matter, but it did. I put up a good fight—humbly lost—and in the process, grew up. My life of fun suddenly became stale. Marriage and mortgages were held at bay, but I moved in with a man who swept me off my stubborn feet, and I even started substitute teaching.
The day that I was offered a full-time job, I cried as if someone had died. But to my surprise, once I began teaching, I was happier than ever. Within a few years, I wanted my own kids–and a house!
Though the realization that I was a grown up came in a single declarative sentence spoken by a six-year old on a playground, it truly didn’t happen in a one moment. The “grown-up” thing creeps up on you over time and never stops clobbering you over the head: like when you sign on the dotted line for 30 years; or when your closest friends tell you that their marriage is ending; or when your teenage son plays your old music, and you find yourself yelling, “Turn it down.”
When I take a good look back, I can see that “growing up” is something that started long before I’d even come of age. The seed of that transformation was planted and watered through a series of childhood losses:
The truth is that I held onto childhood for too long because too much of it had been ripped away from me too soon. And although I still have that 13 year old inside–promising to hold onto the magic– I have a grown up inside now too. She can’t believe she’s 45, but I wouldn’t give her up. I need them both, just as I need my three-year old and my eighty-year old, and everyone in between.
Over time, I’ve realized that the secret of staying “young at heart” isn’t about holding on to your youth, it’s about continuing to grow—up and out and all around.
Kelly keeps it “young” from the Green Mountains of Vermont. She welcomes your comments and conversation below. She also highly recommends the dvd, Young @ Heart (You’re Never Too Old to Rock) featuring Northampton’s remarkable “senior” rockers! Coldplay, The Clash & Hendrix will never sound the same!
Hard to believe that my Alma Mater is giving me homework–29 years after graduation. At least now I enjoy the writing process. But 2 “assigned” posts is too much in one week of a (rebellious) blogger-mother’s life.
Yet, once I get the “nudge,” it’s almost impossible to resist. Even if I don’t put my fingers to the keys, the story starts writing itself–at the most inconvenient times. Like when I’m trying to sleep or make love or drive in the snow.
So here I am, taking my assignment like a good Catholic schoolgirl. Only this time, I’ve been asked to resurrect my dying Alma Mater–rather than bash it.
If nothing else, the closing of Wildwood Catholic marks the end of an era even while its legacy lives on in its graduates who are the greatest testimony to its enduring value.
Take a quick glance at my class of ’81:
Ralph at the Pentagon, John on the State Superior Court Bench, Carole traveling the world, Gwyn living it UP in the deep South, Deb working oncology, Kathy mothering a sick child who recently passed away, Joe teaching history, Patrice coaching swimming, Lou Ann raising two fine boys, Kelley a college professor, Jesse a Public Defender–and that’s just the people that come to mind in this instance–the list goes on.
What did I learn at Wildwood Catholic High? What were the teaching moments that made a difference?
I see myself back in the basement, standing in the cafeteria–not in line for a wet pretzel or a Friday cheesesteak (Were those moms dedicated or what!) or even for the “Last Dance”–but for a testimonial–on behalf of Sister Henrietta–Catholic’s Principal, back in the day.
I can see her flocked with nuns as they play her favorite song and she wells up. “You Light Up My Life…” This struck me. It was a mushy love song. And then it hit me. This is her song for God. And I was moved.
Next stop is the Principal’s Office. Sister Marie, this time. I’ve been called down because of the political cartoon I turned in for Turco and Stubbs’ Senior Social Issues class. The cartoon was my commentary on Marie’s new policy of “no driving” off campus at lunch time.
Granted, in the past, seniors were heading to Woody’s for lunch and throwing down “a few” with their beef. (The drinking age was 18.) But that didn’t take away our indignation over the newly imposed restriction. (Teens excel at indignation.)
My cartoon featured Sister Marie with a ruler, standing at the corner, overseeing a group of chained seniors heading to A & LP where we would now be charged exorbitant prices for a slice of pizza.
“Sister Marie would like to see you in her office,” Turco told me when I arrived for class the Monday after turning in my assignment. Gulp.
She had the cartoon on her desk when I arrived. “Kelly, take a seat, and tell me about this,” she said, in her typically stern manner. Gulp.
But you know what she did? She simply dismissed me, saying “Thank you, Kelly, I’m going to have it framed for my office.” Surprise. Even Principals could be cool.
I have to acknowledge that my studies at Wildwood Catholic were celebrated in more ways than this. Upon a recommendation by the Art Teacher (whose name I wish I could recall), I was asked to design a banner on behalf of WCHS to welcome “THE POPE” on his visit through South America. Apparently, it didn’t matter that I was a Protestant, as long as I could draw Mary and some lillies. I felt honored and expanded–and included.
Art also helped me find my way onto the gym floor (since sports would never do that for me :) I was asked to help design and paint the new emblem at Center Court. With two athletic boys of my own now, I marvel at the dedication and performance that I took for granted in highschool. And I wonder, what will happen to the WCHS banners and trophies? And what about that legacy?
I’m glad to hear the school will stay a school, and a Catholic one at that. After years of teaching in the public system, I did a short stint in religious education, directing the program at a Unitarian/Universalist Church. While administration wasn’t for me, I’ve always loved the study of religion and the pursuit of “understanding.” My favorite Theology teacher at Catholic was a nun who was just there for a short time, but in whose class I delighted in our studies–going on to take three more Theology classes at my Catholic college.
And while I didn’t continue in theater at the college level, my participation in the FTT musicals at WCHS were a huge fulcrum for my sense of self–and belonging. I’ll never forget the feeling during yet another grueling late night rehearsal (and a Saturday night at that!) when Feraco would stop us to say,
You did it! I got chills.
Despite this extraction of sweetness from my years at WCHS, the news of its closing unearthed a range of emotions and memories that found their way into my first “assignment,”An Un-Tribute to my Alma Mater. And by the slew of comments that I received (better than any “A,”) my perspective struck a chord with many–often harmonious– and occasionally sour. Of the latter, this one stirs the most:
You were popular and well liked. I’m surprised you don’t feel more disappointed at the loss of the school. You too must have had many good memories, there were many fun times. There are still pictures and banners of friend’s records there that add to a sense of belonging to something bigger than us. It marks the success of completing a challenge, a place we became adults.
I was surprised about my own “negative” feelings too–which is exactly why I wrote that piece– as part confessional/part exploration. But John Osborne continued to put me in my place when he added this about the direct affect the closing had on his family,
My son just got the news of the end of the school. I wish you could sit in our house and see how the wind gets sucked out of a family.
And while fellow alumni Dan Rosenello ’86 shared that he heartily appreciated my “Un-tribute” , he closed with this “on the mark” sensitivity,
…For good or bad , it was and is the school where I began my own trip into adulthood, and as such , I will miss it. Godspeed WCHS.
And thus, I’ll close Part II of my Un-Tribute with the apropos sentiment of a fellow graduate, Tracy O’Brien ’80.
The most precious thing I took from Wildwood Catholic were my friends, I am still close with them today, and I love them all. I hope people read your letter in the spirit it was written, the truth isn’t always pretty, and it isn’t all ugly either.
With a special nod to Trish DiAntonio, also from the class of ’80, who tipped the scale on this second homework assignment, with these words:
I hope you write a follow up! I can’t wait to read more.
It occurs to me that this subtle sense of vindication isn’t an entirely “appropriate” response to the news that my Alma Mater is closing. Which makes this piece, part confessional/part research, as I ask, How can I hold animosity toward an institution I left 29 years ago?
Which then begs the question, How can I be that old? No matter though, because all those years fade away when I think back on my days at Wildwood Catholic High. And there I am, 17, in a pink Handi-Wipe uniform. I wasn’t even Catholic.
When it came to choosing my highschool, my parents disagreed. Neither wanted me to attend their respective Alma Maters. My father could not imagine sending his first daughter into the wilds of his own public high school experience (at Wildwood High), and my mother couldn’t imagine inflicting her experience at Catholic on anyone else. (She had abandoned her childhood faith when the Church refused to marry her, pregnant, to a Protestant/Jew.)
But when it came to choosing my high school, my father–and the subject of French–prevailed. Wildwood High didn’t offer French III and Catholic did. (Of course, what they failed to mention upon my registration at Catholic was that although they offered it, I wouldn’t be able to take it as a sophomore which was the intention.)
Though it’s come up briefly in other places, I’ve never written directly about my highschool before–and I’m a little nervous about it. Of course, it’s easier to bash something or someone upon death. And personally, I think it’s healthy to do so. A little Razor’s Edge makes the separation simpler.
And to be fair, lots of “good” took place within those walls for me: I met my first love and had my first kiss. I summoned up the courage to try out for the school play. (Thank you Peachy, FTT & the cast of Pippin.) I excelled in the small art classes. I toyed with honors. I recited the Canterbury Tales in Middle English (I still remember them!) And most importantly, I met some of my dearest friends–with whom I am STILL friends. (Take that, Mrs. Coughlin!)
So what is it that leaves me strangely satisfied about the school’s closing? Is it simply a case of Alice Cooper’s, “School’s Out for Summer” with a twisted emphasis on the line, “Schools Out Forever!” And who can resist the lyrics, “School’s been blown to pieces! No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks.”
Or does this sense of smugness smack of something hidden, some “slight” left unresolved?
Was it Sister Henrietta standing at the top of the stairwell after lunch, confiscating each of our illegal cardigan sweaters and stowing the whole pile of them in her office?
Was it Breslin throwing chalk at my head for falling asleep in English? Or Sister Paul Mary for slapping me after I asked a “stupid question”? (She was my mom’s Biology teacher too.)
Was it that Sister Eileen singled me out instead of the boys when they nudged my desk ever so slowly out into the front of the room until I banged into hers? (Thanks Keith & Porto!)
Was it the detention I got for scratching my name into the wooden auditorium seats during the weekly Mass? Or the “C ” I got in typing because I wasn’t a jock or a cheerleader? (I’ve only recently learned to type without looking.)
Was it that Father Hodges cleverly mocked my Protestant indignation over kneeling for the Rosary– by crowning me May Queen? Was it his hair shirt or the Irish Pub songs he made us sing? (“Oh it’s, no nay, never, no nay never, no more, Oh I’ll Sing the Wild Rover…”) Or Sister Saint Jervase’s unusually strong affection for the bust of Shakespeare?
Maybe it is even deeper yet… Something beneath the surface of institutionalized authority. Something that extends beyond my singular experience…
I wasn’t one of the students being made fun of by the teachers after play practice. But upon hearing them, I learned that not all adults had the integrity I expected of myself in coming of age.
It was also funny to be asked to release my boyfriend’s hand across the cafeteria table, “My dear couple, there will be no public display of affection,” while another girl was giving her boyfriend a hand job in the Library–or better yet, when the new teacher was screwing one of the students.
Admittedly, having my dress looked up with a shoe mirror by my classmates wasn’t nearly as bad as the humiliation endured by one of the smaller boys who was frequently stuffed in the trash can at lunch time or stowed behind the soda machine. (Watch out boys. He’s a Marine now.)
Or what about our very own guidance counselor, who told some of our “lower tracked” friends that they weren’t “college” material and that they shouldn’t bother applying– even to a community school? (Does anyone else feel creepy about the tracking system?)
What about how cruelly we treated one of our kinder, but odder teachers? I didn’t care to pay attention enough to understand Animal Farm, but I’ll never forget the way the teasing made me feel inside. (The term “passive colluder” comes to mind.)
When I look closely at my years at Wildwood Catholic, there’s nothing really terrible there. It was more of a Purgatory, a suspension of living—a forced “playing” of someone else’s game, before I could live my own. It’s probably true of most highschool experiences.
I appreciated the sense of “belonging” at WCHS. Like when the entire first track resorted to hiring the same math tutor (her condo was revolving door of seniors.) Or when we all chipped into the “Chem Pot” so that the poor soul who scored the lowest grade on the tests (which we had all repeatedly failed) would take home some cash. Or the ditties we prepared on our free period to make some abysmal teaching tolerable. I still sing, “B to the negative N, B to the negative N,” (to the tune from the Wizard of Oz.) That bright spot of a dull morning in the basement of the school was worth the pink slip that read, “Kelly is a constant source of disruption in class.”
One of the greatest covert acts of my lifetime was arriving late to school to discover an empty office with a pile of detention slips on the counter. Holding my breath, I shuffled through the pink pile, finding mine and stuffing it into the pocket of my dress.
I never understood why Mademoiselle Hodge distributed cookies during the SATs by serving one side of the aisle and not the other so that she was forced to make two round trips–just with the napkins. But I loved it about her– even more than her thoughtfulness.
And then there was the all time favorite, Mr. Stubbs, who was cool enough to manage the class and treat us like equals. Much to my initial discomfort, his wife insisted I call him “Sam” when we became teaching colleagues at Margaret Mace Elementary years later. We spent Friday afternoons together in the P.O.E.T.S. club (Piss On Education Tomorrow’s Saturday) and during our precious years together, he lost Sharon to cancer, and married a friend, and moved away, like me.
Maybe it’s the building that bothers me. The cross shape. I’ll never forget the look on my mother’s face the day my parents brought me there to register. “This place still gives me the heebie jeebies,” she said, with a shudder, as we waited in the cold marble lobby for Sister to see us.
It was the first time that my mother had let down the mask of “adult,” and I saw her just like me… as a person. She learned to smoke there at Wildwood Catholic High, across the street, hiding from the Nuns. Maybe in some twisted way I blame them for that.
I guess despite my extensive probing, I haven’t figured out this animosity toward my dying Alma Mater. And so I’ll end with love.
Love for all those who have had their highschool belonging years cut short by this closing. Love for those who never did belong, though they may have ached to. Love for teachers, past and present, who gave of their time and patience to be there, and for those who now face an ending that rocks their world. May you find higher ground.
While I don’t share their walk, I have long admired the living Catholic faith among my old highschool and college classmates, and I can only imagine what a loss this type of ending is for them–and for their children. For that, I offer my deep condolence.
“Hail Alma Mater, Wildwood Catholic High!”
PS. Sister Patricia was wrong. That track 4 guy (that I married) DID eventually go to college, graduate with honors and become a highschool history teacher himself: Vermont’s own version of Mr. Stubbs :)
Kelly Salasin, WCHS ’81 is a lifelong educator and “recovering classroom teacher” who now shines the light of learning through writing, yogadance & life coaching.
Scroll down below to the comment section to join the “conversation.” Add the name of your highschool and year of graduation to your name if you’d like.
“Is that live?” another patient asks, overhearing the President’s voice. I explain that it’s not, and that I’m just getting to it now because I don’t have television reception at home.
The doctor asks the receptionist to leave her office door open so that she can listen too. “I caught part of it in the airport,” she calls out from her desk, “But I’d like to hear more.”
“I love the sound of his voice,” says another patient.
In response, I complain that as much as I want to pay attention, speeches always put me to sleep.
As an educator, it occurs to me that politicians might be able to make these moments more participatory. They could split everyone into pairs and have them ask each other:
What would you do?
Then Obama could call on a few people to share their wisdom and take a survey of hands to see who agrees.
After the speech, my politically astute teen gets word of the increase of troops to Afghanistan and confides to his father on the drive home from school that he’s worried about the draft. He’s only 14. But I think about it too. We’ve never even let him play with guns.
I think back to a conversation on war I had with some women friends. One, a documentarist, suggests that we simply bring all the soldiers home and see what happens.
“But that won’t address the hunger some have for fighting,” I offer, adding that I think we need to find other channels for that warrior energy.
I wonder how it might look if our armed forces directed the youth’s need for action into combating other threats– like disaster, environmental degradation, poverty.
But what of the thirst for killing, I wonder?
This week a 17 year old boy was tried as an adult for the murder of his ten-year old brother. The parents didn’t attend the trial, but they supported the conviction at which they lost a second son. The boys had been wrestling and the teen strangled his younger brother in a hold–to satiate a desire to kill.
Is Michael Moore right? Has nothing changed? Will nothing change?
I don’t know, but I do know that we cannot collapse into defeat. As Gandhi says, We must be the change we want to see in the world—and that begins in our own hearts.
My memory turns toward a tiny park on a hill in the Berkshires of Massachusetts—where my own troubled mind was filled with the hope of peace.
I sit on a bench beside a young Japanese woman named Seiko. She and I are among 25 students training to be YogaDance instructors at Kripalu’s Healing Center in Lenox.
We have been assigned as partners with the task of supporting each other with our journey at Kripalu by taking a walk together.
On the path through the woods, Seiko tells me that she has been unable to find the song, “Over the Rainbow.” She asks if I can sing it for her so that she can practice the dance prayer she has created for our class.
I laugh at the thought of me singing while she dances, but I agree, especially because Seiko is a ballerina and I’d enjoy the treat of watching her move to that beautiful tune.
We come to a tiny park with a single bench under the shade of a thickly-trunked tree. Before we begin, I tell Seiko that there is something I must say. There among the mountains, I turn toward my new Japanese friend, and timidly offer,
I want to apologize for dropping the bomb on your country.
Seiko is taken aback by my unexpected words. She asks me to repeat myself. And I do– with tears stinging my eyes. Although I am twenty years her elder, Seiko responds to me with a the tenderness of a mother,
You don’t have to apologize for that, Kelly. You and I weren’t even born.
“I know,” I say, “but it’s important for me to say these words to someone from your country.”
Tears fill Seiko’s eyes as she replies in a whisper,
No one has ever apologized to me for that before, thank you…
I begin to sing, and Seiko begins to dance under the broad branches of a firmly rooted tree,
As an adult, I’ve never been a pet owner so it’s surprising to realize that one of my best friends– ever– was a cat named “Licorice.”
My dad was stationed in Colorado when this wonderful black cat came into our lives. My Aunt Rene found her, meowing from a storm drain. She was only a kitten then, abandoned.
“Can we keep her?” sang the chorus of my sisters and I. The answer was, “No.” In the meantime, we fed her and held her and cooed over her tiny frame until the day that she was to given away to a young couple from the hospital where my father worked.
On the afternoon of their arrival, I sat outside on the front lawn, praying with all my might that I would get to keep Licorice despite the inevitable. I held her close to say our last teary goodbyes. To this day, I delight in sharing the miracle that happened.
Just before they were to arrive, my parents came outside to tell me that the couple had called to say that THEY HAD CHANGED THEIR MINDS! They had just purchased a new couch and a kitten would be a big mistake. Licorice was mine!
Though it’s been over thirty years since this time, I can still recall my dear Licorice’s presence. I can feel her soft fur, sense her purr against my belly and smell the milk on her rough tongue as she licks me. In our most intimate of love rituals, I remember how Licorice would put her paws at the top of my head and run them down my face. Delicious.
With an 8 year-old’s fervency, I insisted that Licorice treat all beings with such kindness as we shared. We practiced with my neighbor’s cat. I scolded Licorice each time she howled or clawed– and praised her for her friendliness. The progress was slow, but I didn’t give up.
On the night that Licorice had her first and only litter of kittens, she must have come to get me for support. I know this because when I woke that morning, I found blood on the comforter of my top bunk. When I called out to my mother, Licorice came running into the room, insisting I follow her with urgent meows and a pacing back and forth until she was sure I was coming.
She led me to the storage room to an open box on the second shelf and to the sight of two black newborns. She jumped in beside them and licked my hands as we marveled at them together. For days, she refused access to “our” babies to anyone but me.
Licorice changed after becoming a mother. My parents had her spayed and she wasn’t a spry young kitten herself anymore. My parents let us keep “Jellybean,” the kitten who most resembled her once sleek form, but we were forced to give up chubby Gumdrop to others across town.
Both of Licorice’s children disappeared before long however and then one day so did she. I searched for her everywhere, canvassing the neighborhoods in our suburban Aurora. I’d even go so far as to jump over fences into back lawns to chase and retrieve any black cat I could find.
“That’s not her,” my mother would chide each time I dragged another certain stranger home. In later years, my mother would tell me that I had gone a bit “mad” in loosing Licorice. I know that my heart was never quite the same. Never again did I give it so fully and never again did I ask for a pet.