We all have quarantine stories to tell; this is mine.
In a time of loss, we must find joy.
This might be too easy for me to say. I’ve had it good, comparatively. I haven’t lost my home, or my livelihood. My loved ones are safe and healthy, as far as I know. For me, the loss that came with quarantine was secondary. On the Monday of the second week of March, I got news that my dad had suddenly died (not from Covid.) My brother, stepsiblings and I told ourselves that he would be with my stepmother now, and that he would have been at very high risk for suffering and probably dying from the Corona Virus. We wouldn’t have wished the prolonged pain, the fear, and the isolation on anyone, and especially not him. Still, it hurt that we couldn’t travel to Tucson to mourn together, memorialize him, and get his affairs in order.
By Friday of that second week of March, the country had gone on lockdown, and the biggest shock/loss of my life was now overshadowed by perhaps the biggest shock/loss of the century. My family, like so many others, cancelled plans. My husband Rich and I had been excited about our upcoming trip to Ireland to celebrate. My son, Eli, had been looking forward to travelling with his high school robotics league to Detroit for a national competition. My daughter, Pauline, was thrilled to have been cast as Ed the hyena in her 4th grade class’s production of The Lion King. As for me, I was looking forward to another spring of helping my high school students graduate, partaking in end-of-year activities, and enjoying spending time with my mom and stepdad, who always came to Minneapolis in the spring for April and May, staying in a month to month rented apartment.
Of course, none of that happened.
Instead, Eli and my stepdad worked on robotics together, over the phone. Pauline and my mom had tri-weekly Facetime sessions where together they read books about fairies and novels with strong female protagonists. Rich moved his photography business to our basement while helping Pauline every day with distance learning, and I moved my classroom to my office/closet in the spare bedroom, connecting with my students every day via Zoom.
We cancelled our gym membership, and Rich converted our garage into our own private gym, equipped with weights, a battle rope, and punching bag. We did a Marvel Movie marathon, and Rich and Eli took me through each film, basically in chronological order. Once the weather got warm, we installed an 8-foot Intex pool in our backyard, and now we’ve been swimming in it just about every day. But still, we were going stir-crazy.
So, when a friend told us they’d found two abandoned kittens that they couldn’t keep, Rich and I threw caution to the wind and said we’d take them. Eli and Pauline had wanted kittens for years, but we have an older, cranky cat who we didn’t think would take well to kittens. Plus, we have guinea pigs, which are prey animals, and yeah, we didn’t want them to get eaten. But suddenly, those concerns seemed small. Every time we’d thought about getting a kitten in the past, it had been shortly before we were about to leave town. We had no trips on the horizon, but we craved joy and excitement like how you crave aloe after getting sunburned.
I suggested we just take one of the kittens. “But they’d be so much happier if they had each other,” Rich countered. He firmly believes that if you’re going to have a pet, it’s on you to give that pet the best quality of life possible. “Plus, if we got them both, we could watch them play. I don’t want to miss out on that.”
So, we welcomed two tortoise shell calico sisters into our lives, and we named them Toffee and Pixel. Toffee is boisterous, with a loud purr, one elegant black paw, and an adventurous spirit. Pixel is more classically beautiful, and it’s like she knows how good looking she is, for she seems to think the world will come to her. It’s true that Toffee usually does. They love to wrestle with each other, but usually it’s Toffee who guards Pixel, sleeping on top of her, or grooming her, while Pixel stretches out luxuriously, and accepts what she believes to be her due.
Here, Toffee is guarding her sister (notice the black
paw) while Pixel naps.
It’s not all smooth sailing. We had to move the guinea pig cage to the basement and line it with mesh, and still, I worry the kittens will wreak havoc. Bunny, our older, cranky cat, doesn’t like Toffee and Pixel, and hisses every time she sees them, right before she runs away. And of course, Eli and Pauline get into arguments about the kittens all the time, finding something to be bossy or dramatic about, several times a day.
But Rich was right. Watching the kittens play is amazing. They leap, pounce, and roll around with each other. Then, they’ll groom each other or snuggle up together in a tight space, and nap. “It’s like they become one cat,” Rich says. We look at them and can’t distinguish where one cat ends and the next begins.
Their curiosity and playfulness are exactly what our family needed. And in this time of social distancing, I take joy in seeing two creatures who know no boundaries, who love each other more strongly than they love themselves.
I'm a high school English teacher and novelist. I love boots, chocolate cake, cooking spicy food, running, and BOOKS! I live in Minneapolis with my husband Rich, son Eli, daughter Pauline, our kittens, and guinea pigs. This blog is about life, love, and all things literary. Please follow me on Facebook and Twitter!