June 6, 2008


Several years ago, when I was visiting my friend John in Toronto, I was knitting a pair of socks for my brother. It was in my usual pattern (for the knitters out there, Twin Rib, short row heel, made out of Fortissima sock yarn) and I had finished the first sock and was about three quarters done with the second.

I lost the second sock somewhere.

I don’t know where. It could have been at brunch with John, it could have been where we parked. It could have been walking around.

I spent portions of the next two days going back to places, calling and making inquiries to see if it had turned up. When you lose something, places need to be revisited; possibilities need to be crossed off the list. Until that point, the sock still might have been found – I couldn't allow myself to admit it was gone, I had to keep looking. As much frustration there was in losing the sock, dealing with that point before the loss is final was somehow worse. Sometimes, things turn up, like my driver’s license a few days ago when an airline mailed it back to me. Usually they don’t. In the interim, you’re suspended, unable to deal with the loss, because it might not be lost. You just have to wait.

Javi went to the hospital today. She lost a serious amount of weight while I was traveling. I was haunted by thinking that she may have starved herself (cats do) because she was upset. Because she hated going out of the building so much, I tried to get her to eat first without involving a vet. I tried bribing her with different food. For a few days she’d eat temperamentally, eating one food one day and refusing it the next, or eating the same food on a plate but not in a bowl, or on the bed but not at her usual spot. Last weekend, she started hiding and refusing food.

I took her to a local vet. He tried to not be alarmist, but couldn’t help saying, “You have a very sick kitty.” Things yo-yoed. She looked awful that day and much better in the night. We went over and spent time with our neighbors Janet and Mozart and she was social, even though she was weak. The next morning I went to the vet and got food for feeding via syringe. She accepted it, not happily, but she did. I thought if I could feed her, maybe I could help her get better. I could do something. The vet suggested I take her to a nearby hospital for a sonogram.

When I saw her that night my optimism was gone. She came out to greet me listlessly and I really looked at her. She couldn’t jump up and down and even climbing was hard. She needed to find flat surfaces to lie down on, and she had no energy. I had never seen her look like this. When I held her, she didn’t resist, and all I felt was bones and fur. She had lost more than half her body weight.

When something is lost, you can’t admit it is lost until you exhaust the possibilities.

My eyes kept closing and then snapping open. At 4:30 am I took a klonopin and passed out about a half hour later, getting up a little before nine. I didn’t bother showering and took Javi to the hospital.

The female doctor there was very caring, but more aggressive than Dr. Fisch. She didn’t want to do just a sonogram, but also chest x-rays and blood work, and then if treatment was possible, to keep Javi for the weekend for testing and transfusions. I didn’t know what to say; I said yes and handed them my credit card.

When I got home, I called Dr. Fisch. “She’s really very sick.” He said. “I guess the x-rays make sense, I thought of doing them myself, as does the blood work to see if there’s any movement. But I would have done the sonogram first to see if anything further was even necessary.”

The hospital doctor called me about an hour later. “There are possibilities, but I promised, and I want to check in with you before we do anything.” She explained that there was a mass in Javi’s intestine, and bleeding. She was anemic but the cause of the anemia would require further testing.

A hundred possibilities opened. Were any of them not dead ends? When my last cat Winnie died, I took her to the Animal Medical Center. They made her life – and death – hell over a week with exploratory surgery and learned nothing. I asked if I could call Dr. Fisch. “Of course. He speaks to me three times a day. Just tell him to call Jenny.”

Dr. Fisch is easy to read and he’s not one to dissemble. “Well, she has some sort of cancer. They could do something but it would take further tests and at minimum surgery and chemo. Maybe she could live a year. Maybe she’d never get out of the hospital.”

I asked if it was time to put her to sleep. I hate that term.

“I wouldn’t talk you out of it, no.”

I called Jenny and told her what Dr Fisch said. “Honestly, I wouldn’t talk you out of it either. I want to give you every option.”

When something is lost you need to exhaust every possibility before you can admit that it is lost.

I couldn’t. I hope I did it for Javi. But I have to live with the fact that I also did it for me. I couldn’t stay hostage to hope.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 7:51 PM | TrackBack

April 14, 2007

Live Birthday Kitty Action

Steve asked for something special for his birthday.

Here's some live action Kitty porn.

Happy Birthday, Steve.

This may work better in a new window.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:16 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 2, 2007

New Year's Eve

Was quite fun. I spent it with friends, and just enough celebration to enjoy the season (and not feel like a complete unloved loser) but not enough to have the thing I dislike about New Year's - enforced jollity.

Cynthia shows it all in pictures. Enjoy the videos. If you want to see exactly how I knit, she's documented it. As for Ric's story, I'm not telling what he's talking about. Check out his photo essay, which wasn't really anyone's idea. He passed around a wreath and it just happened.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:27 PM | TrackBack

October 10, 2006



Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:32 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 20, 2006

Laundry Angst

As I came home today Alfredo, the doorman, handed me a large black plastic garbage bag; something straight out of Jumpers. It was for the trash, in case of a strike of building staff, which looks like it will happen at midnight. I threw out whatever trash I could before that point and tossed my laundry together.

I do laundry as if I was in college; when the pile takes over the floor and the cat nests in it, I load it into an old-lady shopping cart and wheel it downstairs. Our building has “enhanced” the laundry machines with chip-cards instead of coin slots. Today I noticed that they were .10 more per load. The cards eliminate searching for quarters, but allow plenty of unannounced price increases and breakage for the company as laundry now costs $2.10, $2.60 or $3.10 and the charging machine for the cards only takes cash and only accepts $5, $10 or $20 bills. My card has .50 on it, so I add $20.

I load the first machine; my card now reads $18.40. I load the second machine. The card reads $1.60. What is going on? I’m leaving for Philadelphia tomorrow. There’s about to be a strike; who knows if they’ll lock the laundry room. I don’t have time for this. I run upstairs to get another $20 bill, because I don’t know where to get a new chip-card. When I come down and stick the card in the charging machine, it reads the card correctly - $18.40. The big machine still reads my card as $1.60 however. I take all the laundry out, and carry it in armfuls to a medium sized machine and jam it in. It’s packed solid, but I’m past caring. I dump in detergent and borax, insert the card, start it and leave.

When I come back down to load the laundry into dryers, of course half the laundry from that machine has not even touched water from being packed so tightly. Argh. I try to separate out the dry stuff to put in another wash. I bring it over to another machine . . . and once again my card reads $1.60. First I try moving my clothing from one machine to another – a messy process because I already added borax. No dice. Still $1.60. And I’ve left my cash upstairs.

I race upstairs and get two $5 bills. Mercifully, the machine reads them, and so does one of the laundry machines, so I start up a new load and go back to loading my wash into the dryers, trying to pick out the unwashed items.

A lady comes in and peers dubiously into the washing machine I couldn’t use. There’s borax left at the bottom. As I shuttle more unwashed laundry over to the washing machine, I apologize and tell her it’s borax, thinking she’ll just use the machine.

“Are you going to clean it up?”

Something inside me snaps. She reminds me of the girls from Long Island I used to loathe in college, only grown older but no less entitled and prissy. I just lost more than $15 from these fucking bandit machines and now she wants me to clean borax out of a washing machine. It’s a laundry booster, she might as well just use the machine and consider it a bonus. I look at her as blandly as I can manage and say, “No, I’m sorry.” This is my fault, I should have communicated better, because instead of “borax” she apparently thinks I have said “anthrax”. I go back to loading my wash into the dryer as I hear her explaining to someone that I refused to clean the machine. She then goes out to get paper towels to scrub the machine out and quietly but obviously suffers through the task. I am just too pissed off at this point to try and apologize or even reason with her.

I hustle down to take the final wash out of the last machine, then once it's dry I bundle it into my old lady cart to fold it in my apartment. I always fold it in the laundry room, but I just didn’t want to deal with her.

I'm still surrounded with laundry. And of course some of it is still damp.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:48 PM | TrackBack

April 17, 2006

Covered in flowers

My mother’s front lawn is covered in violets. When I walk across it I try to walk around them to avoid crushing the beautiful purple flowers underfoot. They’ve crowded out the grass. It started years ago; first wild onion and now the violets. The yard is overgrown, with tree branches from long-ago storms uncleared and shallow roots lacing across the ground like netting.

I go to visit her once a month now. I used to see her about every six weeks or sometimes less, but her health is not what it was. I block the dates out half a year at a time in my organizer, six to nine months in advance. If I don’t, I put the visits off.

When I visit, I ask her to make a list of things she needs done. It’s always a simple one; change a light bulb, bring boxes up or down the stairs, assemble a new vacuum cleaner. Things she can’t reach or can’t haul. It takes me about twenty minutes to do what would take her half a day.

In my head, I’m making a list of the things we aren’t doing; cleaning the place up, throwing papers out, packing things up. Getting her ready to move. She has difficulty getting up and down the stairs, getting into the tub. She climbed the seven or so steps from the entry landing up to the main floor. It took her more than a minute. I asked if she wanted help. “What would I do if you’re not here?” she asked.

She won’t move out. I’ve given up trying. Mom’s been a prisoner there since she and my father divorced; first a prisoner of her own stubbornness and pride when she refused to leave a house she couldn’t afford, now a prisoner of her infirmity. And time. The idea of living somewhere else; somewhere without steps so that she can get around attracts her. The idea of moving horrifies her.

The house is filled with stuff. Layers of stuff, like overlays of dust over dirt over yellowing varnish. Newspapers from six months ago with helpful hints she hasn’t gotten around to reading yet. The kitchen is filled with empty plastic containers spilling out of every cabinet and drawer, containers from supermarkets and delicatessens that she cleaned and frugally kept. More containers than she could ever possibly use. The refrigerator has expired coupons and two year old ads for Chinese buffets attached to it with magnets. They cover the entire surface.

Downstairs is worse than upstairs. There was a flood more than a decade ago. The parquet flooring buckled in protest and gave way. I think there was an insurance settlement, but Mom never got around to fixing it – probably she couldn’t find someone to do it for the money she got, or even someone she trusted to do the work. The black oilpaper is still exposed; boxes are still piled in the center of the playroom.

The door to my bedroom is shut. I haven’t opened it in about a decade. I don’t want to go in there; the room hasn’t changed since we moved into that house in 1967. It’s a sarcophagus of my childhood. I slept in the house once since 1985, and I couldn’t sleep in my room; I slept in my brother’s. Mom is now sleeping in my brother’s old room as well. She didn’t tell me; I noticed that the bed was being slept in. “My bed broke. I don’t have the strength to buy a new one.”

The visits recently have been much better. I even look forward to them. They’re short and structured. Mom meets me at the train station. Either we go out for a meal first or go to her home and do some tasks. I take her shopping. We go back to the train station; I go home about four hours later. I take Mom out for a Chinese meal; it is the only food she wants. She can eat Chinese food every time we go out, even the same entrée. Mom is steadfastly, maddeningly consistent. The furniture in the house has not changed since we moved there, except to become more worn and threadbare.

There was a Chinese restaurant right near her old office that we went to on occasion. It changed management and became one of the best Chinese restaurants in the county. The food is delicious, but we’ve discovered that the restaurant’s real gift is for daily specials. They have no touch with Cantonese hit parade items, chicken and broccoli tastes like packing material; crispy shrimp with walnuts are soggy. But flounder sautéed in delicate cubes is served on a bed of its fried carcass with different vegetable each time; this time with Chinese greens. Beef sautéed with fresh mango is sharp and sweet. With a little cajoling I can get her to try a new dish every time.

Things are not going to get better. Maybe they’ll stay the same for a while. But the house is going to keep falling apart and the stairs are going to get harder to climb. The tree branches will fall on the roof and the lawn will be a carpet of violets. I’ll have to get her out then. I look around my own apartment when I get home. The floor is covered with laundry, papers are strewn where they lay or where the cat knocked them over. Tapes are in dusty piles, books are heaped on the bookshelves. There are dishes in the sink. I dream about having a clean room to live in before I’m covered with a carpet of violets.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:39 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 15, 2006

Ich bin ein New Yorker

Over at First Draft, Scout was talking about the recent immigration rallies and asking how long her readers’ families have been in the United States. I’m between third and fourth generation on both sides and my family's history formed my pet theory of immigration:

The first generation gets here.
The second generation makes it.
The third generation looks around and thinks “There’s got to be more to life than making it.”

I’m proud to be an American (Hmm. Catchy. Someone should write a song . . .) but my real pride comes from being a New Yorker. I was born in the city, at the French Hospital, which is no longer a hospital. One night about a decade ago, I was walking on 30th Street and saw a large building that looked like a converted condominium labeled “The French Building” above the lintel. “Oh my,” I thought, “I was born there.” I hadn’t been there since my birth. I should have been born at Beth Israel Hospital farther downtown, but it seems that I wasn’t going to wait that long as my Aunt Molly was driving Mom to the hospital.

I was raised outside the city in Mamaroneck, but moved back to the city by the age of 21, at first to a tenement sublet share at 21 First Avenue in the East Village when it was only hip in the minds of developers. Mom: “We spent 30 years moving out of that neighborhood only to have you move back?” I moved out of that place within two months to Midtown, had a share at 714 9th Avenue (on the corner of 49th) for six months and then my name on the lease of a two bedroom walkup on 50th & 9th until 1991 when I moved to my present apartment on 56th Street.

I’ve been in New York on momentous days; the blackouts, the Bicentennial, the blizzards of ’93 and ’96 – I didn’t go outside for the one in ’06 – and yes, September 11. I don’t think it’s the momentous days that make one a New Yorker, in much the same way that New Yorkers take pride in not having been to the top of being to the Empire State Building. Being a New Yorker is taking the subway or walking to work every day, the same route every day. It’s shopping at the grocery store with your ubiquitous “old lady” folding cart; the only practical way to shop in a primarily car-less city. It’s grabbing something fast, a bagel or a banana, at the Korean deli. It’s knowing where to get the best hot dog in the city, cheap (Gray’s Papaya). It's the promenade at the State Theater or standing room at the Met. It’s not about the extraordinary, it’s about the quotidian. I go to sleep in the city, I wake up here, I spend my days here. It forms the rhythms of how I think. It’s what I know. It’s my first allegiance. I am a New Yorker.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 5:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 14, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging - Kitty on the Keyboard Edition


Someone's been using my computer for her own personal affairs again.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 12:24 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 14, 2005

Happy Birthday Steve!

I didn't forget!

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 1:24 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack