Two weeks ago, I thought my cat was going to die, but to my overwhelming relief, she came home after a few days in the hospital with a hefty daily medicine regimen. Then the starving, sickly stray cat we had fed outside turned out to belong to our elderly neighbor, who claims to be feeding her. I don’t know if he has the money to take her to the vet, and he doesn’t have a car, and I’m not certain that he’s mentally healthy enough to take care of her. My other cat, a recently adopted stray, started to deliver her kittens, but she almost died, and after an emergency c-section and spay, only one kitten survived. We are relieved that she has a baby to take care of after such a rough delivery, and she is an attentive mama. For the last week, we’ve been managing two needy cats with complex health routines of pills and goo and subcutaneous fluids. But we’re grateful for mostly healthy cats and the ability to adapt our finances to meet these unexpected costs.
A couple days ago my supervisor turned in his two weeks’ notice, and I learned that I might have the opportunity for full time work in his absence. A question keeps simmering in my mind: if I could get this full time job, should I put grad school on hold?
Yesterday I spent an hour talking with S, the unhoused man who raked our leaves a couple of weeks ago, and he ate the granola bar and the leftover pizza and the sandwich I offered him all at once. He said he was so tired of walking everywhere. I considered offering him a ride, or inviting him to spend the night in our half-moved-in semi-disaster of a house, but I didn’t.
Today we spent another hour meeting the drag queen and his husband who live across the street. R revealed that he had just bought two types of sunflower seeds—J’s favorite. A sweet moment of welcome levity.
We also overheard another neighbor across the street kicking her husband out of the house. She later apologized to us for the noise and explained that after four years he had relapsed on his heroin habit and she was done with him.
Tonight is the second time I’ve called 911 in Dayton. As I typed this in the middle of the night, I heard a commotion, and when we paused our music, we recognized the neighbor was screaming to call the police because her now separated husband had just kicked in her back door. The husband walked away long before the police arrived, but it’s hard to relax right now. What if he comes back? What could I do, and what decisions could I be forced to make? When loud trucks rumble the windy midnight down my street, my stomach drops in anxiety until I hear them pass.
It feels like my mind has been swimming in questions of life and death for the last two weeks, and unsettling incidents keep dropping onto my days, like fog over a lake, to add to my disorientation. Last night was the first full night of sleep we’ve both had in the bed in a week, now that we’re not as worried about the cat tearing open her incision by licking or jumping or panicking because no one is on the couch with her. When we’re shaken out of our normal routine, we’re forced to confront uncomfortable questions. Where do our values and priorities lie, and what are we willing to sacrifice to honor them? How much care can we afford to extend to others before we start noticing unintended consequences? Conversation after conversation about risk and desire and facing facts. We felt sheltered in our privileged neighborhood in Chapel Hill and chose to experience something different in Dayton. Four months later, I feel guilty that I’m still experiencing culture shock. Lack of safety and belonging keep gurgling up into my consciousness, bitter and burning as acid reflux.
I just want everyone to be okay.