Friday, May 13, 2011

Growing Up

Two very significant things that I have been waiting for – for a long time, each of them – happened this week, within days of each other.  The first is, my birth father found me.  The more important one is, my cat died.

I hadn’t seen or heard from my birth father since I was a baby.  So for all intents and purposes, I really never knew him.  He and my mom were married when she was 20, then she had my brother – BOOM! – and then me a year later – BOOM! BOOM! And by age 23, they were no longer together.  A lot of shit happened in-between and I have surreal memories of him being abusive to my mom.  My mother, who was very young and beautiful even with two very small babies, got remarried when she was 25 and my brother and I were raised by a loving father who gave us everything we ever needed or wanted.  He and my mom are still very happily married. 

It has taken me nearly 40 years (and a lot of therapy and yoga and deep breathing) to excuse my birth father for his absence, although I feel as though I can attribute a great deal of my inner self-loathing and former perfectionist tendencies to his abandonment.  When my dad read me the letter that my birth father had sent to my mom via Facebook, I felt ready to hear it.  I was not destroyed or confused or… anything.  I was very surprised by my reaction, which was kind of a shoulder shrug and head leaning, my eyebrows pinched together as my brain processed it.  Huh.  That’s all I felt at first.  Huh.  It was precisely the same reaction I’d have if someone told me that they’d run into my old boyfriend.  Is that so?  Huh.  Another shoulder shrug, then onto the next thing.

I won’t lie: I also went through a very quick series of feelings that ranged from anger to disbelief to disappointment.  But I didn’t feel like my core was shaken.  If anything, I felt like I was more “me” than I ever had been.  All this time, I’d thought knowing that my birth father was out there or looking for me would do something… I don’t know if I expected unicorns to blow rainbows or bubbles out of their horns or lollipops to rain from the sky, but all I know is that it didn’t.  Instead, I felt like this person I’d become in 39 short years was just a small part nature (the DNA that he and my mom had contributed), a bigger part nurture (the family and environment that I’d grown up in) and the majority was self-evolved and created through hard work and dedication to learning about my own human spirit through the very act of living.  And so this letter, which upset my mother because she thought it would mean he was going to “take us away” (never gonna happen), really had very little impact. 

And so the day ended.  

The next day, however, it became clear that my cat Bootsie may not live through the weekend.  There are medical details and there were sad choices to make – I won’t elaborate on them here because it’s still too fresh and I’m too sad to make sense of it – but I decided it would be best to let my beloved cat go.  She was nearly 19 for god’s sake, much older than many animals ever get to live (too bad I didn’t fall in love with a Galapagos turtle, I suppose).  It was time. 

I sat in the vet’s office this morning before 8 am, knowing that I had to be the one to choose her fate: live uncomfortably or die compassionately.  Be a grown-up, I told myself.  This is what your life is about.  You cannot let this moment be chosen by someone else besides you and Bootsie.  And so I said goodbye to her, hoping she could understand me as I said, Come back to me.  Hoping, of course, that my fairytale of reincarnation is true.

After they took her back to put her to sleep – I couldn't make myself go with her, it was hard enough to know I’d been the one to end her life – it was only about two minutes before they brought her back to me in a box (so that I could take her home to bury her in my yard). They said she hadn't struggled a bit.  They said she seemed like she knew it was time.  

As I took the box, which was still warm on the bottom from the life slowly escaping her body, and slowly walked to my car, I was flooded with memories. I used to, for instance, serve her water in a crystal goblet.  She ate dinner on the table next to me. She came to me the weekend I moved into my first apartment in Hollywood and survived my crazy single girl years, then my marriage, then my kids, then our move (in which she traveled with us from temporary house to temporary house magnificently, even as we grieved over Max, until we arrived home).  She is a part of me and I am (I’m sure of it) a part of her.  She tolerated Raf and the kids and the dog, but she loved me.  Only me.

The point of this missive is merely that we choose the ones that we love.  We don’t have to be obligated to give emotion or power to the people or things that have not nurtured or loved us back.  This week, I learned to call a duck a duck – my birth father will never be my dad, although I am grateful for the part his DNA played in my creation – and I allowed myself the space to impart the ultimate act of kindness and love for my beloved cat. I don’t know if either one is the “right” choice, but they are my choices and I feel like I must be growing up because I feel like I can stand tall next to them.


  1. Beautifully said, Erin. xoxo, -ae

  2. Tears again Erin...and Love for you and your wonderful heart.

  3. They are the right choices because they're yours.

  4. Beautiful and reflective post Erin... I am so sorry about Bootsie:(

  5. All I can do is echo: beautiful, Erin.