What do you when your cat has a heart attack and dies and then comes back to life? You write a novel I guess. At least I did, for fun. Or not so much for fun but because I was freaked out by the experience. My cat had had a urinary tract infection and gave up eating. She vomited. So I took her to the emergency vet where after a routine examination, she went into cardiac arrest. Luckily, the doctors revived her. Afterward, the experience was on my mind and in my heart, my aching heart. In fact, I struggled with the trauma for months. Now, finally, she’s infection free and as good as a thirteen-year-old cat can be.
The artistic outcome was I started writing a story about it and couldn’t stop. It’s about a young woman who’s just finished graduate school and comes home to care for her family home while her mom’s away in rehab. The working title is Sophie and the Tree Hollow. And here are the first few paragraphs. If you like it and want to read more, let me know. I may self-publish it, I may shop for representation, I’m not sure yet. Regardless, here it is.
I’ll tell you who I am but only if you promise not to tell. It’s a secret. If word got out, people would get excited. I mean really excited. I’d have eccentric ladies at my door with questions about beloved relatives, skeptical teenagers wanting hard proof, and curious businessmen interested in the chances of job success. The truth is I can’t help with any of that. I can only help with what I’m asked to help with and I don’t decide when that happens. The Verdant Souls do.
So who I am can’t be explained by a short summary. It’s a long story but I’ll give it a go. First, I am human and I was made in Seattle, not by my parents, who indeed did make me biologically, but by, and don’t laugh, the forest. The natural world. I know that’s a “no duh” idea, we’re all of the natural world, but hear me out. Seattle is a city that used to be a forest and even though hundreds of loggers cut down hundreds of trees and built buildings out of them, you can’t take the spirit of the forest out of the city. Fir saplings sprout anyway. Bracken fern moves in. Birds spread mahonia seeds. The Native people understand this. The forest surrounds Seattle on all sides, it creeps into the suburbs, and in my case, exists outside my back door. But not only does it exist outside my back door, it exists inside me in a way it doesn’t with other folks. And that’s the crux of who I am.
It’s a gift, or as my mom says, a curse. I first discovered it a few months ago, on the night my cat Sophie died and came back to life. Yes, it’s weird. The whole thing is weird, but on the day I took her to the emergency vet, it wasn’t weird at all. Life was too very intense and real.
I sat in the reception area of the Seattle Emergency Animal Hospital, which was as bland as its name. It was a modern rectangular room with bamboo paneling and a beige rug and wheat-colored walls. It had tan leather chairs around a coffee table with two neatly fanned magazines. A New Yorker and a Real Simple. There was a gas fireplace. There were softly lit lamps. The emergency vet people know that owners who’ve brought in a pet that ate too much chocolate or downed rat poison need a calm place to sit, to stare, to hope for a good outcome as I did on that Sunday.
So I must have looked like a hippie oddball in this neutral room with my faded purple overalls and chunky rings and Princess Leia braided bun. I have these pointy glasses that Quince, my ex-boyfriend, likes to call “Granny Geek” glasses but that I call Nonna Delfina Costa glasses because she was my grandmother (after all, Quince) and I inherited them and modified them to wear not to be cool but to remind me of the giant squeezy hugs she used to give me as a girl. That was before she died and Papa Lorenzo had to tend the vegetable garden by himself.
In fact, it was a photo of Papa Lorenzo’s garden in California that I played with while I waited for news of Sophie that evening. I’d brought my tablet and with the photo editor, I put a monochromatic filter on a picture of my mom, dad, and me having a squirt gun fight. The picture was from the 1990s when I was actually young but I liked a 1970s mood better. A touch rougher, a touch more innocent. I had a flowery bathing suit on. My dad had on cargo shorts, his bony chest shirtless. My mom was in a Mexican sundress and macramé sandals. That’s what reminded me of the ‘70s. Back then, there were macramé plant holders, big cars, bell bottoms. I’ve seen my parents’ photos. I’ve seen All in the Family. What a time. The time of my parents’ childhood. So in my ideal digital life, the time of my parents’ childhood combined with the time of my childhood was the melding of two perfect times, the latter of course better since I was alive and Mom and Dad were still married and happy.
As I played with the photo, I caught myself smiling. I brightened the sun and made the chain link fence shine, laughed at the memory of my dad using a bucket as a shield as he moved in on me. It was then, in that moment of lost peace, that the door to the treatment room banged open and Doctor Zimmer burst through.
“Hi, Vera? Can you come with me?” she said. Her face was constricted, as if she’d bit into a rotten peach. “I don’t know what happened, it was so sudden.” She was a squat lady with curly hair and square glasses, a pink complexion, and Brooklyn accent. As I got up and followed her, I noticed the orange flames in the fake fireplace. Suddenly they seemed ominous and continuous as if sooner or later they might swallow me. I noticed the black void where they had shot up and disappeared. I shifted my eyes away from that void.