A lifetime ago, my marriage imploded. I recall feeling an immense sense of relief, followed by jubilation at having finally escaped the prison into which my life with my bipolar husband had descended. With two little boys, no steady income, no health insurance, and for several months, no child support, I managed somehow to buy a house, keep my Saab story, and put food on the table every day. My father would say that I was “determined.” My mother would say that I was “having a nervous breakdown.”
I think it must have been the cat box that gave her that idea. Not a litter box cat box, but literally, a cat box.
Shortly after my release from emotional prison, a friend invited me to go with her on a shopping excursion to the burbs. For the change of scenery, I agreed to accompany her, secure in the knowledge that my current lack of funds would lead me not into temptation.
I don’t shop. Like my mother, I was born minus the shopping gene. There are a thousand other things I could find to do that would be far more pleasant, but I don’t mind watching other people shop, and I do have an affinity for art and artifacts. Enter the cat box. In a little artsy boutique in an enormous mall, I somehow managed to find “the box.” I wandered about the little gallery, relishing the luminous glass and enchanting textiles, and marveling at the organically embellished ceramics and the intricately constructed metalwork. Plain and simple, I was woolgathering.
From a far corner of the shop, I heard a whisper. I looked about for my friend, who had long since moved on to a “real” store. I heard it again. “Psst! Over here!” Slowly I turned to where it seemed the whisper had come. There, on the floor, in amongst an eclectic collection of objets d’art, sat an amazing treasure, like nothing I’d ever seen before. Born a simple wooden box with two drawers, “Juggling the Dreams” had blossomed under a talented magician’s hand into a thing of beauty and joy, painted with cats and embellished with a fanciful ceramic tiled top and ceramic cat-face drawer pulls. I stood before this wondrous piece, transfixed.
My lack of available funds drew me back to reality and I moved on to other things. Twice, three times, I returned to visit the cat box. I studied each and every feature with intense scrutiny, developing an intimacy that I knew for certain would never die. I left the store and wandered about until I found my friend at Pottery Barn, scoping out the linens and candles. For the next two hours, as we traipsed from this place to that, stopping in at trendy boutiques, remarking on the craziness of a $300 five-dollar-wallet at Lord & Taylor’s, treating ourselves to lunch at a quaint little Zoroastrian restaurant, the cat box consumed me. I could think of nothing else. I had to have that box.
As we made our way back to the car, the little shop came into view. No two ways about it, I was going to have to pass by to get to the car. Drawn by some terrific magnetic force, I veered through the door and made a beeline for the box.
I froze in my steps. My box was gone. Missing. Not there. No trace that it had ever been there. Looking wildly around the gallery, I felt my spirit collapsing in upon me.
“Hi, there,” she said. “I knew you’d be back, so I’ve dusted off that lovely cat box and packed it up safely with packing peanuts and bubble wrap for you.”
My heart sang as I pulled out my credit card and dutifully handed it to her, all the while knowing that this would take my last $300 of available credit, the last bit between my kids and starvation if I didn’t get any new work in soon. I didn’t care. I was going to do something completely nonsensical, so totally out of character that I even astounded myself. This was my declaration of independence, my coming of age, my moment of truth, my turn to Juggle the Dreams.
This is who I really am, a cat lady at heart. With no one at home to criticize or ridicule me, for the first time in many years, I was the mistress of my own life. We carefully carried the box to the car for the trip home and then just as carefully from car to house when we arrived at my door. I lovingly unpacked my cat box, hoisted it up to a position of honor on the chest in the living room, and proceeded to sit and stare.
My reality check was bouncing hard. What would my children say about my extravagant purchase? How would I explain that I’d spent the last of the food money on a hand-painted, hand-sculpted ceramic-tiled box? The telephone ringing interrupted my ruminations.
“Hello. This is she. Oh, hi. Sure, I can start on that on Monday. 10:30? Yes, see you then.”
My declaration of independence was complete. Not only did I now own the one-and-only-just-like-it cat box, my finances were about to take an abrupt turn for the better.
Returning home from their visit with Dad, the boys dropped their little backpacks in the middle of the living room and sat down to tell me all about their weekend. They’d been to the aquarium, the museum, the library and the toy store. They’d stayed up too late playing with their new toys. As I listened, my eyes kept traveling to the box on the chest.
Finally, as they got up to go forage for a snack, the six-year-old chirped, “Oh, hey, cats.” In a voice full of wonder, he asked, “Where’d that come from?” And then, with great disbelief, “Did you go SHOPPING?”
All these years later, in another lifetime in another house, the cat box rests comfortably on the chest in the living room, my old friend and inspiration, my declaration of independence, still juggling the dreams.