Love is a Landmark

On being gratitude in motion. Plus cats.

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It sounds like someone is pouring the sky through a sieve over my head again. If there’s one thing you can rely on in the Netherlands, it’s the one thing I used to rely on in Seattle: the weather frequently defaults to liquid sunshine.

I let raindrops swaddle my ears as I lie on the sofa cradling my laptop, my gaze meandering for a while before coming to rest on the rafters. Only this time I see them as the beams that support the roof protecting me rather than as something despair is instructing me to hang myself from.

Today is Thanksgiving, which isn’t a thing in the Netherlands. As I haven’t moved yet and am still mostly based in France, I don’t know any other Americans even though I hear them around me. It’s a strange thing, this being an American abroad and also a European back on the continent that grew you, with traditions from two very different parts of the world you’re not sure how to reconcile.

In the US, I used to observe Thanksgiving quite literally by digging for gratitude, which was a complex endeavor during the five years I lost to depression. Back then, being alive was the greatest inconvenience of all, a constant source of pain; the only thought I could think of was how not to be.

But gentleness always won out. The life-saving role of my guardian angels in furs, Nuna the tabby and Trudeau the tux can never be underestimated.

This afternoon, I happened upon a cat café while walking around the city and it was one of the most joyous nods the universe had given me.

Nuna and Trudeau are still living in the Pacific Northwest, for now. Bringing them over will involve considerable trauma as it is a long flight so that won’t happen until I have found a home that can be theirs too. And saved up for their fares from Seattle to Europe, which will take some time. For now, I seek solace in the knowledge that they’ll be enjoying their Thanksgiving dinner in the form of some festive canned concoction.

This was part of my holiday tradition, getting the cats some celebration food as they’ve never had an interest in what I eat. I’m vegan; they’re obligate carnivores and the only use they might have for a Brussels sprout is as something to chase around the room.

Through an app in my phone linked to a home camera, I can see the cats sleeping by the front door but it takes me months until I pluck up the courage to log into it. When I do, I sometimes end up staring at a small sleeping fuzzball who will barely twitch a whisker when she hears the camera whirring into life.

Minutes can disappear, the almost imperceptible rise and fall of Nuna’s shape a kind of contemplative meditation. Some days, I am nose to nose with her, all bug eyes and big ears, our bond still strong despite distance or at least that’s what I tell myself.

Perhaps Trudeau will look in my direction for a couple of seconds before yawning and going back to preening. Unlike his sister from another litter, he seems uninterested in the camera, which as far as he can tell offers zero interactive potential.

The closest creature to a feline I have access to is a little yellow lion I’ve been carrying around since the summer whenever I’m not in the Netherlands. Because I’ve been living out of a suitcase for almost a year, my landmarks don’t tend to be things but people, the lion being the exception. One day I realized I needed a little extra gentleness and the little lion came into my life, the perfect blend of silly, soft, and sunny yellow. It is a cross between cats and sunshine with infinite potential to surprise and delight those whose inner child is still as curious as mine.

It sounds like someone is pouring the sky through a sieve over my head again; the crash of the raindrops on the roof has a calming effect. During the worst of assorted heat waves and insomnia during the years I spent in Seattle, I used to listen to a rain soundtrack on a loop. In the Netherlands, insomnia still tries but it always loses because it’s raining.

A year ago, I was trying to figure out how to be present for my parents and help them navigate the reality of Stage IV cancer from half a world away. I was about to shock my brain with music and Portuguese despite having set both aside years before. I had already spent a few weeks writing a handful of tentative personal essays about the horror of living with a parasite in my head but I was running in place.

And then there was the equivalent of what a spark would be if it were a phenomenon happening in very, very, very slow motion. A glow radiating from all the hope that appeared before me, unbidden, and that I would later identify as love.

Love, the life force that had deserted me when it broke my heart, stole my vocation, and ran off with my voice for five years came nose to nose with itself. Like a cat staring at a home camera only minus the feline and the hardware but with humans instead, more humans than I had ever had around me for years.

It is the most discombobulating thing ever, the thing that turns your brain into a carousel of flying horses. And you’re terrified of someone pulling the plug and for the ride to stop suddenly and throw you off.

Love is centrifugal, it transforms everything around you, it induces dizziness, and it is fierce, so fierce it keeps picking up speed. I guess that’s what it feels like to come back to life and keep writing your way forward because vocation says so even when the parasite in your head catches up with you. Every time you look around, you are never not mildly surprised by what you see; you vocalize it with a pithy “Wow!”; quiet fireworks go off in your brain.

A few hours go by, you find yourself in front of the page wondering how any of the above even came to be and then you remember it all happening.

Word by word, we made this, together. There are no writers without readers and I wouldn’t be still be around if it weren’t for you.

Thank you.

I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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