That Look

that-lookA momentary position among the wave’s rolls
when the black takes hold as the eyes glance down
toward a silent understanding.

“I met her eyes with my own…and stared.”
For one fluid moment I saw you naked and bared
to me without apples, scent; and without form…

We shared such a small slice of time, you and I.
Together we rode the tide of Mons Olympus
in full flowery expanse
and didn’t even know it.

I held you and kissed your neck.
I saw your eyebrows,
I tasted you.

…for a moment I saw you from behind a newspaper and stole your eyes, then looked away…

by Jason DeGrande, copyright protected.

Summer Friends

I had a privileged but isolated childhood.  I used to drive every weekend possible to get away from home and visit my father on his horse ranch in the Bradbury hills near Santa Anita.  I loved horses fiercely and longed to have my own horse to love.  I took equitation and dressage, as well as jumping classes, but had to be content with the rental horses. In fact, I spent most of my spare time at the public stables, walking the horses, brushing them, and being a general nuisance.  It was the best part of my life.  Still scan-87there was the niggling little bothers that crept up – like the fact that my two cousins both owned horses which were privately stabled across the street from the public stables. The final injustice from my youthful perspective was when my little sister, who rarely went down to the barn, was given two Shetland Ponies, and later a Palomino. My little sister was cute as a button, I will agree; but I was the only one in the family that was truly horse crazy. My father and I had a very distant relationship; he had married the widow of his horse trainer, who had died suddenly of a heart attack. My new stepmother came complete with three kids, all very sweet, who won my father’s focus. It wasn’t fun to be the throw-away kid from the first marriage, the one reduced to the status of visitor. Since my father owned a stable of thoroughbreds, though, it seemed reasonable to hope I might get some attention from my him in that area, but it never seemed to happen.

The Summer of Hope

One summer, my father’s hired hand took me to see a wonderful show horse that was for sale, and I thought my turn had finally come.  He took me to inspect the horse and let me ride him – a beautiful animal with top-notch bloodlines.  I was thrilled beyond all imagination.  But when we went home, things quickly fell apart. Someone called my father, or so he said, and told him that the horse was too much for me and they were pulling him out of the sale. I was crushed.  I was struggling with the difficulty of a relationship with the father I adored; I was the awkward middle child.  My older sister spent several years living with my father in the household before my parents divorced and they were close; and my little sister seemed to trigger his guilt, as she was born during their second doomed-to-fail attempt at marriage so she got most of the gift-giving.  I had no special position.To make matters worse, I looked the most like my father, and I secretly believe I triggered some horrible self-loathing that he had. That summer of being 15 I prayed: just let me have one good summer with my father, just this one, just this one.  But it was not to be.

paddocks-300x274Later, my father had one of his race horses recuperating in one of the paddocks. This horse had an injured tendon and was most likely going to be retired. I spent every day walking alongside him in the paddock, talking to him, until he began to run up to the fence when he saw me coming.  His name was Lucky Cover and he was a beautiful, sleek, black animal, proud yet friendly. He was my sole companion that difficult, dreadful summer of my adolescent longing.  My father finally told me he was going to give me Lucky because he was not of much use for racing any longer. I was elated and hopeful, but not so secure that I could fully exhale.  I was old enough to know how these things usually turn out, but the flame of hope was still flickering. And I waited and longed for the day we could ride together and get out of the confines of the paddocks.

Summers and Winters

Of course, I did have to go back to my unhappy childhood home and readjust to the travails of my everyday life.  But when a weekend would come, I would be traveling whenever possible to the ranch.  I couldn’t wait to get down to the paddocks and see my pal Lucky, but one day, jockey-230x300to my dismay, he was gone.  In his stead was a beautiful baby steer with the most soulful eyes I had ever seen, gazing at me with intensity and fear from the center of the paddock, where he usually stayed. I gave him my usual patient presence, but he was always very skittish and never approached the fence. I felt so badly for him – so little, so alone. I knew just how he felt.

I asked my father what had happened to Lucky, who was supposed to be my horse.  Oh, he said, I sent him to Mexico to try to get a few more races out of him before we retire him.  I was very upset, because I knew this was not a safe practice for Lucky as he was still recuperating from an injury that I was told rendered him unfit for racing.  Before much time had elapsed, I heard that he had to be destroyed after a further injury following a race at Calexico.  It seemed so disrespectful to send him down there, to die all alone, that beautiful and proud animal, my friend. I was devastated and ran back to the bathroom and locked the door. My father was never much for emotion, so I had to let mine out privately.  I was filled with grief.  My father seemed to think it was quite quizzical that I would be upset – he didn’t suffer, he told me.  But I did: I thought we were both invisible to my father, Lucky and I, phantoms that floated through his life and disappeared in the mist.

Baby, Too

barn-300x217The little baby steer was my only companion over the next several visits. I fell in love with his beautiful muzzle and his sweet face, but he never really seemed to trust me, never allowed me to get near.  I soon learned why he might have been so fearful, for his was to be a short and vicious life; the approach of a human must have signified absolute terror for him.  One day my father told me not to go down to the barn. He was very stern so I obeyed him.  Later I learned they had slit the throat of the baby and hung him up to bleed out.  I was sick.

Lucky and the baby both had short, lonely lives because they were treated like commodities, like thingsrather than beings. The beautiful and privileged setting of thoroughbred horse racing affords a privileged life for some, but hides a nightmare of suffering for many of the animals. I survived my childhood and felt the confusion of my early, erratic life into my adulthood. Experiencing the life of thoroughbreds and horse people by summer, being a kid with a single mom during the winters, gave me a breadth of experience that helped me when I later became a psychotherapist; I learned a lot from my childhood. In later years, my father and I have become acquainted and forged a positive relationship. And animals have helped me get through some of the tough times in my life; I have come to know them, to see how they have individual personalities, to recognize their feelings, their ability to dream and their wish to avoid pain and suffering.  I was only beginning to see how cruel the racing industry could be. But I can tell what I now know, I can try to make the world a little less brutal. I can respect their lives enough to give them this space on the white paper of my life.

Please consider the animals and please go vegan!

Finding Sophia

SophiaI used to work in a two-story building built around a courtyard. It was a series of small businesses sharing the center, filled with umbrellaed tables and chairs.  It was pretty easy to become friendly with colleagues in other offices; in fact, I walked at lunch with a woman in an attorney’s office, and got to know the entire staff there. Surrounding the building were acres of open fields, surrounded by other business properties and many busy suburban streets. The fields were shrubby and barren, with no source of shade or water – not too hospitable to life.  But amid the brown grass and thorns, there was a struggle for life taking place.

One day my fellow office worker noticed a scraggly cat scratching around in the shrubs.  The cat looked dissipated and wan, as if it was starving and barely hanging onto life.  Nearby was a very young cat, possibly the daughter of the first one.  After a while, she also noticed another older cat, a male, also struggling in the inhospitable terrain, so she decided to intervene. She carefully set about trying to trap the cats by enticing them with food and water, using a professional-grade trap and a ton of patience.  The entire office was aware of the drama unfolding – all of us invested in saving these feral cats, and the cats just as invested in avoiding us.

Animal Control

Unbeknownst to us, there was an antagonist in all this: cat haters.  The older female cat had evidently been impregnated, probably by the roving Tom, and delivered her kittens here and there among the office shrubs.  The entire office (geologists, engineers, lawyers) were out on their hands and knees, peering about  in the bushes, trying to find the kittens as the mother cat moved them.  Just when we thought we knew where they were, she would move them again. Meanwhile, not content to allow us to rescue the bunch of them, the antagonists called the local animal control folks and they took the babies away – without the mother – to the pound and probable doom. All that left was the Tom, the Mom, and the little Daughter.

My colleague, Lana, was not one to give up. Bless her, she spent over $200 going to the pound and bailing out the babies, then continued to try to trap the scraggly Mom. She eventually caught the Daughter, and the Mom was not long behind her.  It was in time for her to care for the young ones and get the whole bunch of them off to good homes. One of the geologists agreed to take a few of the kittens but unfortunately, his daughter proved to be allergic, so they came back onto the market. Finally, Lana kept the Mom and the kids moved in with her next door neighbor, keeping the family intact – all save the Tom.  He was older, and wiser, and despite continual attempts, he alluded us.  We always tried to look out for him but he was no way going to be anything but feral.

A Happy Ending

Once the Mama Kitty, as she came to be known, was given vet care (she nearly died, so it was a good thing we found her when we did,) and food and TLC, her transformation was absolutely incredible.  It was like finding Sophia Loren underneath a bag lady’s layers of clothes – this was a gorgeous cat. She adapted to the indoor life and spoiling that Lana gave her and continued, as did her kids, to thrive. She never seemed to miss the outdoors – after all, it nearly spelled death for her. She was truly a princess awaiting her time to rule. Anyone that can get engineers and lawyers on their knees must have some special gift – Mama Kitty had that.  She was royalty, we were her subjects. Isn’t that what cats always seem to know?

Copyright © 2009 Veganacious. All Rights Reserve

Thumper

dad-with-thumper2-622x1024My first pal in this world was a boxer name Thumper; he was the Adored One of my father.  I do not recall ever seeing my father show any emotion, except at the mention of his name.  He was the pick of the litter that  a champion wrestler, Sy Williams, had. Mr. Williams owned a local bar and grill which was only a couple of blocks from the office where my father worked, Case American, so my father had become friendly with Mr. Williams.  It was one champion finding another champ, a top-notch pedigreed pup.    When I was just a few months old, Thumper would accom-pany me around the backyard, picking up ripe peaches from off the ground, eating them until our skin itched and our tummies protested. We were true co-conspirators; he even allowed me to use his water bowl for wading purposes, and never shirked from my clumsy toddler efforts at affection.  My folks were surprised that he didn’t knock me over or react aggressively towards my toddler ways, as he was just a young pup himself.

When I was studying clinical psychology in graduate school, I had to work on a genogram (a relational family tree) of family history, going back several generations. When I queried my father about his memories of my childhood, he asked, “Do you remember Thumper?”  I answered I remembered the peaches, the water dish, and the itchy skin on the patio. My father had no other memories of me to share.  Thumper was paramount.

thumper1-195x300Sadly, Thumper contracted a deadly form of mange while left in a kennel when my father was out of state.  Despite repeated trips to the vet, Thumper did not recover. His health was going downhill quickly, and my father had to make the agonizing decision to have him put down.  I did not know at the time it was the beginning of the end – for my father’s sense of place in the family, for our family unity, for my feeling of safety. My parents ultimately divorced and my brief interlude with family and a good pal ended forever.  I wish, though, that I could thank Thumper for being so patient with me and giving me that time, short though it was.  It was one precious connection to my father, one thing we shared: we both loved Thumper.

Copyright © 2009 Veganacious. All Rights Reserved

Dog

istock_000001218667xsmallThe power to affect comes only at night…

We worked within the womb of the hospital

As headlights streaked the street outside.

A door bell fractured the industry.

Two ghosts appeared and appealed,

The purple bundled blanket in their arms hiding a snout, a paw,

Ushered in by a wave of innocence.

They spilled the dog onto the table.

The dog! A pulsing streamlined random Shepherd of hair and beauty whose feet walked a path unique,

The sights emulsified upon its eyes never to be spoken or viewed again by any but tranquility.

He fell from our hands, his parts rolling freely.

A medical photo spilled from the tear in his neck:

A shoulder blade lined by rilles of raw white nerves breathed each breath in my hands.

Doctor Greene grabbed for a paw,

But it was gone…

They were all gone, ground to the bare white joints. Bloody.

Hers was all I heard in that British voice so queer for an Angel,

“I’m afraid we’ve got a non-stahter.”

The dog lay quiet.

We pumped purple juice into its vein with a yelp.

It died quietly.

So did I.

by Jason DeGrande

Copyright © 2009 Veganacious. All Rights Reserved

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The Cat Who Came in from the Cold

We used to live on the banks of the Russian River in Northern California. It is still a place I long for, so beautiful and magical that a sharp intake of breath accompanies the recollection.  The river was an old, winding one, cutting between a lush growth of river-2trees and foliage.  We lived in a large cabin-type  home, with only a small gas heater to keep us cozy.  The door to this cabin had a small window cutout so you could look out of the glass to see who was on your porch – not one of the tiny things that work one-way –this one gave a pretty good view in both directions.

A Winter Visitor

One particularly icy Christmas season, we hung a wreath over the glass window on that door. My two sons and I were usually in the family room where the heater resided and where we were huddled on our evenings together, trying to stay reasonably warm, usually not succeeding to any great degree.  This was the room with the windowed-door.  I remember clearly looking up at the sound of a small cry, and seeing this little orange kitty hanging from the wreath, looking longingly into that cozy, primitive room.  It was the little kit-kat that I had seen hanging about the mountain for sometime, seemingly independent.  (We had a porch railing that went on the other side of the walkway between our front door and the river, as did most of the cabins on the mountain; the cat had evidently walked up the railing and jumped onto the wreath.) This one had a reputation. I had heard tales about him, that he followed one little boy after another home and was so cute that the mother would let him in, only to toss him out on his ear when he did something very uncivilized.  It was a rough neighborhood, with lots of large-breed dogs roaming about at will, some fast traffic rushing by the narrow road, and all the hazards of a mountain or hill terrain– snakes, critters, little boys.

Unknown to me at the time was a duplicity between my eldest son and this cat.  My son had removed the screen from his bedroom window and was sneaking food to the cat.  We were a vegetarian family so I am sure the cat was not particularly pleased, but I had seen him fishing down by the river with his paws, catching small prey with a keen eye. He was not your finicky type. I think by this time, Slinx (we later found out his name) had worn out his welcome all over the mountain and his options were getting extremely limited.  This funny little house on stilts above the river was probably starting to look pretty appealing to him.

the-deck-300x207I could not bear to see this tiny little creature out in the cold on his own.  When I opened that door, little did I realize what would come in along with him and the gust of wind that followed him; Slinx lived with us longer than we lived with one another.  He died in my arms after twenty years of loving every minute of his life.  Where some cats would leave the occasional dead bird or bug on your doorstep, Slinx would drag home a squirrel.  In fact, he had a long-term battle with the squirrel that lived in the tree that grew through our deck.  The boys were leaving cashews and other deluxe nuts for the squirrel on that porch railing I mentioned so he pretty much spent a lot of time in that tree. But Slinx considered it his territory, so the two of them would go at it: the squirrel would screech and toss things at the cat, and Slinx would dart up the tree and twitch his tail.  (I think they really appreciated each other, though, because this went on for many moons; but they had to keep up appearances after all.)

Alpha Cat

One day, Slinx simply disappeared.  We thought he might have been hit by a car.  We hunted for him, called for him, walked around the mountain, but could not find a trace of him anywhere.  Then one day, he showed up on our doorstep with his front leg in a very professionally made cast, acting as if nothing had happened.  We once again took him in and he once again made himself at home – his home, as he had tried to tell us.  Later, I ran into an old boyfriend in town. It came to light that Slinx was an abandoned kitty; my friend had found him with a broken leg and  had taken him to the vet, thinking he was still homeless.  Once he was in his cast, he had hobbled off with no sign of where he had gone; he was indeed an independent type.  My friend was relieved we were taking him in and refused any recompense for his expense. He said that the cat’s name was Slinx and that he was an amazing animal. He was glad he was ours.

When we moved, Slinx moved with us.  He lived long enough to spend time with Brittney and Jesse, the next generation down, and became a fixture in their early lives.  He was a tough Tom but very gentle with all children.  He adapted to life in a condo, although he loved being outdoors.  When we lived in the Ojai Valley in southern California, he disappeared once again.  Luckily in this area we had a large amount of undeveloped land around us.  I was searching the open land, calling for Slinx, when I ran into a man who was doing the same, searching for his cat.  He later told me that his cat was trying to take the Alpha cat title from Slinx, to no avail; but not to worry, they were moving, so Slinx could be dominant male once again– without challenge. Meanwhile, we found our bad boys, with nasty bites in their sides, helped support our local vet, and went on our way.

The Warrior Leaves

Slinx lived a good long life.  He disappeared for the third time in his golden years and was gone for two days.  I made up colored flyers and posted them all over the alleyway, with photos of the little children holding him and pleas for information for this family member.  He came home within an hour of the posters going  up; I am sure that some kind soul thought this dog-eared cat was homeless, or he had been uncivilized again. He made friends more than most people.  The last place I lived with him did not leave him much space for the outdoor life he seemed to need, but he made the best of it.  There was an alley behind my condo near the beach that had a lot of traffic, since it led to a small grocery store and strip mall.  When Slinx finally died, I was amazed at how many people stopped me and asked where he was.  A grandfather with his little granddaughter used to walk by and talk to him; a homeless man was leaving him food that was better than what he was consuming himself.  A woman in an SUV got out of her car to inquire about the orange cat – where was he? The neighbors, kids, young adults, teens….Slinx had touched a lot of lives, not least of all those in our family.

slinx-300x196I have heard it said that animals will crawl off on their own to die.  But that was not my experience with Slinx.  His last night, he would try to crawl after me if I left his side for a second to use the restroom; I finally slept on the kitchen floor with him, which seemed to be where he was the coolest and most comfortable.  I took him to the vet the next morning, but he appeared to be losing his battle for life.  I had taken him outside the day before, and he rallied slightly, raising his little head and putting his nose into the air, trying to take in one more taste of life.  I did not want to have to take one second from his life, nor did I want him to suffer.  But Slinx was a warrior to the end, and as I waited for the vet to see us, he let go.  I was surprised by the amount of grief I felt. In fact, I have tears running down my face as I write this, and he has been gone for more than a decade.

A Member of the Family, Forever

So, don’t tell me animals are not individuals, do not have feelings, or personalities, or have an impact, or a mission.  Slinx found a single mom with two troubled kids and nurtured us for all of his life.  I think if you asked my sons what they remember from their childhood, Slinx would be one of the first and best of their memories.  He found us; all I had to do was open the door.

*I believe in indoor cats and now have one; Slinx was part feral and never took to the indoor life. FYI.

Copyright © 2009 Veganacious. All Rights Reserved