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What I Remember

On Tuesday I lost consciousness, control, and my lunch. I had had lunch with my friends Buddy and Cindy, who had driven down to the island on a rare day off to spend it with me at the beach. They’d had a rough morning already, had a hard time getting out of home, and we’d finally gotten together at 3 pm at the Mar Vista. They’d gotten a table in shade near a fan, where we could easily see the water. Not very hungry, but feeling celebratory, I ate a strange meal of nachos and a margarita. I drank only half the Margarita, though, and couldn’t seem to make it taste right no matter how much lime I added.

At the end of the meal I happened to be talking about my mother and how dehydrated she gets, how if I don’t follow her around with a glass of soft drinks or clear liquids she will drink only tea and wine all day, and then she gets weak and dizzy and sick, and sometimes has to go to the hospital because she’s so dehydrated.

At the end of a long, leisurely meal, when it was time to leave, I stood up and felt dizzy. I took a few steps but it seemed dark and I couldn’t walk properly. Feeling weak and strange and embarrassed, I leaned on the table briefly and then I had to sit down again. I put my head on my arms on the table and from a long way away I heard my friends asking if I was okay. I think I said, “I’m hot, very hot.” I think someone told me to take deep breaths. I and took some deep breath I and lifted my head off the table and asked if I could have the glass of water in front of Cindy. She said “It’s not very cold; Buddy’s has more ice in it.”

I said “I’m not going to drink it.” I got the big glass and leaned back in my chair to let my hair fall down over the backrest. As I did in Israel on the day when I walked many miles in the sun along the beach, I poured the water over my head. In Israel, doing that same thing repeatedly at all the little water fountains along the beach made it possible for me to walk back to my hotel, But this time I didn’t even feel the water. It made no difference at all. I just sat there for a few minutes with a black fog in my mind, and then took more deep breaths and looked up again and said, “Ladies room. I’ll splash myself with cool water.” Buddy said, “Cindy, if you want to help Gillian I’ll carry the purses.”

I said, “They won’t go with your outfit.”

He said, “Yeah, that’s what I’m worried about.”

I started walking in the general direction of the restaurant but it seemed dark I couldn’t see very well and I couldn’t remember where the ladies’ room was. I don’t recall how it happened but I sat down again, at a table under the awning, and after that my memories are fragmented.

Getting Help

I felt embarrassed at not be able to walk normally and having to hold up my friends. I put my head on my arms and rested. People were saying, “ Are you okay?” I felt dizzy. I pulled my long skirt up to try to cool my legs. Someone said, “It’s okay.” A man with black hair stood in front of me. He seemed very interested in my illness. He asked my name and address, which I gave him carefully but doubtfully; I always have trouble remembering the street number of my house and often get it wrong. I couldn’t seem to sit up properly. I was extremely hot. I asked if I could have a cold cloth. There seemed to be movement around and behind me. I wanted to rest my head in my arms but sometimes someone stopped me. There were people eating lunch at tables under the trees. I felt very thirsty. The man with black hair asked what I’d eaten and I said nachos and half a margarita. He wrote that down. Someone brought me a cold cloth. I put it to my face. There were more cloths on the table, folded.

There two big bags of ice. Someone said one was for my chest and one for my neck. One lay on the gray slate table. I felt very sick; sometimes I tried to lean forward to make the nausea stop. Someone said something about CMS. I didn’t know what that meant. I covered my eyes and leaned on my arms on the table. I sat up. I felt very sick. Someone moved my hand and skirt down. I wanted to lean back but someone kept stopping me. There were strong people behind me. People seemed to be moving my limbs around. I wanted to get cool. I saw Cindy’s face. She was sitting down on my right and she looked extremely worried.

Someone held the bag of ice on my neck at the back; it didn’t feel cold but it felt solid and comforting. Someone said something about “CMS.” I asked for a drink of water but the man with black hair said no. He said something else I didn’t understand. Someone said, “I don’t like the look of this.”


I was seeing a scene, perhaps in California, with many, many people in it and much activity going on. A lot of people were trying to do something important. I was involved and very interested in story. The color red was there. I was sitting up at the Mar Vista and feeling sick. I said, “Oh, I was dreaming!” Cindy said no, that’s not what had happened.


I needed to vomit. I held a cool cloth up. Someone said, “Do you feel sick?” There was no cup or bowl or anything. I didn’t want to vomit on the table so I moved my head to the side and vomited a long way down to the floor. I threw up three or four times. I thought, “I will never eat nachos again.” Someone said, “Get a bucket” and a black man who seemed to work in the kitchen put a gray dish bowl under where I was vomiting. I apologized to him. I don’t think he heard me. He kept a good distance. I was glad that we’d tipped well.

I was appalled to be vomiting within sight and earshot of people who were trying to have a civilized afternoon drink at the Mar Vista. I looked at one table to see the people were disgusted but they seemed to be looking away and I was glad but also horrified. I said, “I’m sorry.” Cindy said, “Would you stop apologizing!” which seemed very funny although I don’t think I laughed. Someone said the EMS was coming. I thought maybe that was an ambulance.

A lot of people were there, mostly behind me. People were talking about things I didn’t understand. A man in a dark blue uniform was right in front of me. He seemed to be where the table had been. Someone asked if Buddy was my husband, and I said, “I wish.” Buddy was a solid good presence behind me, holding ice on my neck. Someone asked my name. Someone was taking my pulse. A plump black man with curly hair leaned over from the right and said, “Now, I need to put these on your legs; don’t slap me,” and I wanted to tell him that of course I wouldn’t slap him. I knew he was helping me. Someone said, “This will sting” and there was a sting on my right side. I knew that several people were helping me. I felt dim and sleepy although not as bad as before I’d vomited. There were people in blue and people talking to me and asking questions. Buddy said, “Her eyes rolled up in her head and she went rigid.”

One man in a blue uniform kept talking to me. He said things I didn’t understand. There seemed to be a lot of numbers and acronyms and jargon in what he was saying. Someone asked me if I suffered from many different things, if I took any medication, what I’d had to eat and drink. I kept saying no, not asthmatic diabetic epileptic nothing, I have nothing wrong with me except a little overweight, I only had half the margarita, I’m not drunk. I live here; I’m not a tourist. I’m sorry. Someone did something to my left hand that hurt. There were a lot of numbers being spoken and people moving things around my body. I was very hot.

The man in the uniform said he’d like to do some more tests in the ambulance where it was cooler asked if I would consent. He and someone else were pushing me into the ambulance on a stretcher. I was impressed by the size of the space. The man who had been talking to me stayed with me and he was reaching around, getting things, putting things on me and around me; more tabs and sticky things I didn’t recognize. There were cords and lines and things in both arms and hands. I knew that they’d put things like that on my mother sometimes in hospital. I was glad to lie there in the coolness and be helped. People kept asking me if I was okay, was I dizzy or nauseous. I said yes.

The ambulance

The man kept looking at me and at the same time he was reaching for things and saying things that I didn’t understand, things like, “Run that Isis under the Frankenthaler at six and a half.” “Why isn’t the Oh four seven C in the black?” He said something about the B shift. He told me that the other man in the ambulance was on the B shift. He asked how I was feeling and I said better. He said to tell him if I got too cold to tell him. That seemed unlikely. A man apologized for putting something under my shirt. The man who kept looking at my face said things like, “I want the AKG at forty-eleven on half piece.”

He recommended that I go to Blake. I asked him to please get my cell phone from my bag and to please ask my friends to go back to my house. Someone tossed my bag into the ambulance. Someone said my friends were going to follow up to the hospital. I said, they were silly. He said there was a lot of that going around.

He told me it was nearly my birthday. He said we were the same age. He told me he had a pacemaker. He said my sugar was very low. I said I didn’t know what that meant. The ambulance was moving. Someone put a line with oxygen coming out of it under my nose. The man said it would help me cool down and feel better. He said something else was a different number. He pointed to a small plastic bag of clear liquid and said he was giving me saline and sugar. He said a lot about the mix of water and sugar, and using words I didn’t know. I told him I didn’t understand. I had the impression that he wanted to keep me awake. I breathed the oxygen. It smelled odd. It didn’t seem to help cool me down.

The sleeveless pink cotton shirt I was wearing felt like a suit of armor. My bra was constricting my chest. The ambulance was going to Blake, he said. The man kept complaining about the driving. He said we were going over a lot of bumps. I didn’t feel any bumps. I felt weak and I needed badly to urinate. The man who was my age and had a pacemaker asked if I knew the date. I told him it was the 8th of July, the day before Nic’s birthday, the day Buddy and Cindy were coming to visit. He asked me if I knew what day it was. I said it was either Tuesday or Wednesday and he seemed to agree.

He told me I reminded him of someone he used to work with in Hillsborough County. I told him that I grew up there. He said something about my blood pressure going back down very low. He said my sugar was very low. I told him that I wanted to pee. He said that he had a special pan that he could put under me if I needed it.

Blake and Getting Better

I was lying on the stretcher in the ER at Blake. Someone asked if I felt sick and I did. Someone asked for a bucket. Someone handed me an emesis bowl. I knew what it was called from writing Mark’s autobiography. A man on my left said, “I’m Dr. Blend by the way.” He asked me some questions about what had happened. I told him I’d had lunch and then got very hot and very sick. I was put into a cubicle and the man in the dark blue uniform asked if I could move myself from the stretcher to the bed or if I needed help. People were attaching things to my legs and arms and chest. Someone apologized for something. I said I could move myself, and I hoped I could. He said, “Not yet, not yet.” He said gravity would help me. Then I leaned to my right and moved sideways slowly. I was proud that I kept my skirt from getting tangled. He said, “Good job.”

A lady came in and asked for my insurance details. A nurse put a blue gown on my lap. Someone said, “This will be a sharp sting.” There was a sting in my left hand and it hurt. Nurses came and went and asked me things and did things behind me. I felt sick. I asked if I could use the restroom. They said they’d bring a toilet in. The doctor complained about the IV stand. The nurse said they were all like that.

My shoes had come off and my feet were cold. People left me alone for a long time and then came back in and asked me things and did things. I asked if the nurse could please put something on my feet. The same doctor came and talked to me. He said they were doing tests. He said my blood pressure had been extremely low. He said something about my heart that I didn’t understand. I asked if I could use the toilet. They left me alone. Someone brought a toilet and said I could use it soon, but not yet. She said they needed a urine sample so not to throw the tissue in the potty. After a while they said I could get up and use it. They asked if I needed help and I said no.

Someone came and looked in the curtain while I was sitting on the toilet. I wasn’t able to pass any urine. She wanted to ask me about insurance. I said, “Can I just have a pee first?” She apologized and withdrew. After a long time, I passed a very small amount of liquid and got back into bed. The doctor came back and said something about the IV line not working. He took it apart and liquid went all down his shirt and pants and onto the bed. He said, “Now we know where it was stuck.” A nurse gave him a syringe and he plugged the syringe in and the needle in my left hand jumped and jabbed and it felt very cold. The doctor asked the nurse if she had anything. She gave him a paper clip. He clipped the bag of liquid to the lamp over me. I hoped it would not fall on my hand.

Someone said that my heart rate was better. The doctor left. The nurses left. The curtain was open and I saw people walking back and forth. The curtain was closed and I thought I heard Buddy just outside the curtain, saying, “It was clear that she wasn’t faking any symptoms,” and I was grateful.

I asked the nurse to let Buddy in. She went out. I found the bed uncomfortable. I wanted to sit up. I wanted to have a drink. The nurse came in and said that she could not find my friends. She left. I felt a great sense of sadness and loss. It was Nicole’s birthday in Australia. She was in Australia.

When someone asked for my next of kin I did not tell them my parents’ information. I told her my sister’s name and address. She looked up my sister’s name in my cell phone. She could not find my wallet. I asked her to hand me the phone and if I could take the clip off my finger and she said okay. I called Buddy. I said, “How are you? Are you here?” He said, “I’m in your living room! How are you?” He went into my filing cabinet for me and found the insurance details. I couldn’t hear him well on the phone. I asked if he had my wallet. He said he had my keys.

Everyone left and my hand hurt and I was weak but I knew where I was and that I was alone and that Nic was not there and I didn’t want to alarm my parents. I was glad that Buddy and Cindy were at my house and not at the hospital, but I was puzzled because I had heard Buddy. I felt tears in my eyes and on my cheeks. A nurse came in. She asked how I was. I said I was confused and I didn’t know what had happened. She said that was because I had passed out, and I didn’t know what had happened.

The doctor came back. I told him, “I feel very strange.” He said, “You’re in a strange place!” I said I’d been upset. He could see I’d been crying. He said, “The emotions…” he sighed. He talked about hormones and reference levels and age and bio-identicals. He said traditional medicine was 10 years behind. I didn’t know what he meant. I said Dr. Kosfeld was a good doctor. He said he knew him and he was a good doctor but a lot of doctors don’t know how to treat women for menopause. He said I should ask Dr. Kosfeld about it or ask him to send me to a gyno. He sat down and held my arm and told me about bio-identical hormones, how they have no side effects, how I shouldn’t be afraid of them. He told me the problems they could solve in women my age. I said they wouldn’t have helped me that day, with my fainting, and he said he wasn’t so sure; it might have helped. I asked him what problems they alleviated and he rattled off a list of things that plague me, including fatigue, weight gain, insomnia, depression, and more. I asked for his card and I told him I still wanted to try diet and exercise to lose weight but if it didn’t work by the end of the summer, I’d find out more about the hormones. I asked him for his card and I asked him if I could go home.

Someone gave me some papers and went over them with me. I didn’t understand most of it but they told me it was all written down. I’d had a “vasovagal reaction” they said. I asked why my blood sugar had been so low, what that meant, and the nurse said she didn’t know. She asked me to sign something saying that I’d received a copy of the paper and all my questions had been answered. I signed it. The doctor came in and said that the low blood sugar was a side effect of my body’s extreme low blood pressure.

A while later, the second or third time I asked, I was allowed to get dressed and go home. Buddy was waiting for me in a huge white van. I was very glad to see him. He said cheerfully, “No offense, but you’re looking a whole lot better than last time I saw you. Would you like some water?” I said yes I would, thank you. I heard about what he’d experienced: my going into convulsions, my eyes rolling back, his holding my arms when they started flailing before I went rigid. I thanked him again and again and felt I could never repay him for his solidity and his kindness. I felt very bad about his day off at the beach being spent in such a horrible way. He said something about “Divine appointments.” I believed him. While he was holding me so I didn’t hit anything or swallow my tongue, he said, “Cindy was clearly in prayer.”

If Buddy and Cindy hadn’t been there, if I’d collapsed like that alone on the beach or in my garden, I don’t know what would have happened. Maybe it would never have happened if I hadn’t met them for lunch that day or maybe it would have been much worse. But I am glad that they were there to help when I lost control.

The Lesson

What interests me most is the dream that I was having while unconscious. I wish I could remember it, but all I know is it was a heavy, crowded scene in black and white and many colors, including red, and that I was seeing it as if it were an animation. In it a lot of people were trying hard to achieve something in which I had a great interest. I don’t know if I was out of my body and seeing the scene from above or if I was just out of my mind and hallucinating an unrelated story. It ended abruptly and I was sorry.

It occurred to me as I was in the hospital that although this was the first time anything like this has happened to me, it’s probably not the last. I’m 53. From now on when something like this happens, I will have to admit that something like it has happened before. I now have lost control of myself, however briefly, and had to be helped.

Finally, this is what I’ve learnt: I will never eat nachos again.

Mitzi elliptical Sept 2013Eight weeks ago, as described in “First Day of Forever,” I adopted two elderly cats. Although they’d lived in separate cages at the shelter and were put in separate carriers for the drive to my house, I was under the impression that I was rescuing a “bonded pair.” When they got to my house, I opened their carrier doors, and the short-haired calico then called “Lizzy” crept into the other cat’s little carrier, and they crouched there, side by side, peering at me with large, frightened, feline eyes. Seeing Lizzy purring, presumably to comfort herself and her friend, I thought, “They’ll be all right.”

Five minutes later, as they started to explore my house, they became antagonistic. One hid under the big gray couch for the first night, and the other went beneath the beige loveseat. On Sunday the short-haired calico, Lizzy, began to appear on top of the couches and then came into my bedroom. She was lying on my bed by the end of that day. Lizzy soon let me touch her and groom her. I don’t think she’d ever been brushed before; a lot of fur came out at first, and she seemed puzzled by the brushing though not opposed to it. Her fur – a lovely mixture of black and reddish-brown patches against bright white– became polished and smooth.Mitzi closeup Sept 2013

She soon proved to be the purringest cat I’d ever met, with a variety of purrs from baby kitten to Harley to helicopter. Lizzy started purring spontaneously, even when I wasn’t touching her; she purred as she slept. At night she’d snuggle up in my hair, or under my left arm, and purr us both to sleep.

I wanted to rename both cats. For shy, long-haired, gray-and-white Lilly, my mother suggested “Billie,” which we both liked (my mother and I, I mean: Lilly evidenced no opinion on this or any other matter: she remained hidden in the lining of the loveseat). “Silly” didn’t suit her, and “Frilly” would suit only a certain kind of female lizard. For the other cat, Lizzy, “Dizzy” or “Busy” were obvious choices to go with “Billie,” but Lizzy wasn’t dizzy or busy. Eleven years old and slightly overweight, she spent most of the day sleeping and purring.

One nap time, I was thinking of names for the cat that was drowsing above my skull, and I fell asleep. When I woke up, I had her name in my head, probably dreamt there by the cat herself: Mitzi.

Lilly, the long-haired calico, whom I remembered as beautiful but who remained out of sight under the loveseat, became “Milly.” Distressed that she would not come out, I’d post my worries on Facebook, or discuss the matter with friends, and get back well-meaning, thoughtful replies. “She’s been hiding all night?” someone said at first. “My cat did that, too. Then she was fine.” After it had been a few nights, two people told me of a cat who’d hidden for a whole week.

On day four, I felt that Milly had been hiding long enough. One afternoon, I cautiously tipped back the loveseat, making sure not to trap any paws or a tail. I thought to slowly, gently lift Milly into an embrace and hold her, talking to her to introduce her to her new life. I reached gently for her and she screamed and ripped deep stripes in my forearm. Yowling, she tore off to the other room and disappeared. As I bathed my wounds with hot water, soap, and rubbing alcohol, I decided not to disturb her again.

The next day, after more searching than I would have thought possible in this tiny house, I found Milly. There’s only one closet in my house, and it’s packed with clothes, shoes, sheets, and blankets; I had looked there several times before I finally spotted her on top of a green L.L. Bean quilt-bag, underneath the long, hanging trousers. I part the coat hangers, spoke encouraging words, and then moved the trousers back into place and left her alone.

Late that evening, as Mitzi and I were reading on the bed, Milly crept silently out of the closet, heading towards the food, water, and litter box. Mitzi leapt off the bed, hissing at her, and chased her into the living room and under the loveseat. There she remained.

As the weeks went on, my friend Carol told me of a cat who’d refused to emerge for a full month, but then “came and joined the family.” At the one-month point, where I was still lying on the floor to pet my new cat, and when she was starting to come close to the edge of the couch to eat from my hand at dinnertime, my friend Theresa told me of a cat who’d taken a full year to get used to living with her. A year!

It’s now been eight weeks and one day, and I have never seen Milly emerge in daylight. I spend many hours lying on my side, reaching under the couch and into the lining, to pet and stroke her. Often my hair gets in the cat food.

At first she kept so far away from me that the only way I even knew she was in the lining was by a small, aversive movement. Over the weeks, I began propping up the loveseat on books and magazines, adding a few centimeters every few days, so that now the front is about eight inches off the ground. I also ripped the lining, so that now it’s like a cloth cave instead of a box.

Short of calling a pet psychic — $60 for 30 minutes, and in my experience they just tell me things I already know or hope are true — I’ve done everything possible to help the cats get along. I’ve given them separate beds, food and water, and litter trays; I’ve traded bedding, so they could get used to each other’s scents; I’ve tried different “therapeutic” aromatherapy and drops from Petco. Nothing has made any perceptible difference, except that moments after I plugged in the diffuser that emits the scent of a lactating mother cat, Mitzi peed on my bed.

I kept asking people how long it might take for two acrimonious cats to come to a peaceable arrangement (In the last weeks, the Republican zealot faction has shown no signs of ceasing the bullying of the Senate…). My friend Mark Hanks, a vet & Sun reader, said he’d give cats two months to settle in.

And then, as we approached the 7-week mark, and the hissing and spitting at night was getting worse, I noticed that Mitzi was licking at a sore spot on her abdomen. Thinking it was just a “hot spot,” I made a vet appointment.

Note: when I adopted these cats, although I was happy to save their lives, I said to everyone that I could not and would not prolong those lives if either animal required expensive medical treatment. In my current circumstances (broke in the USA!) I can barely pay for minimal health care for myself, let alone manage cancer or other difficult conditions in elderly cats that I’d only just adopted.

So, after just seven weeks of ownership, and about 10 minutes and $111 dollars after we arrived at the clinic, the vet diagnosed a probable tumor. He gave Mitzi an antibiotic shot and gave me ointment to apply to the red, inflamed area around her nipple. A few days later, though superficial sore had healed, it seemed clear that there was a tumor.

I had no friends available to adopt Mitzi and I could not bear returning her to a shelter, where she would languish in a cage and then be put down. I asked the vet about the cost of the surgery (about $375 if he just removed the tumor; much more to do some needed dental work as well). I then told him my unhappy circumstances and asked how much it would be to have the cat put down.

Brusquely, he said he would not put down a “potentially healthy” cat, and that if I couldn’t get the surgery done, I should take Mitzi to “a no-kill shelter.” Maybe he’s never before met anyone who had an animal they could not afford to buy surgery for. This is a rich island, and most people probably would agree with him that the removal of the tumor was a “small” operation. I could see his side of it: to him, it was 15 minutes of his time: to me, it was a month’s earnings.

I explained to him what I understand happens to no-kill shelters (as I learnt after reading the Nathan Winograd interview in The Sun, and talking to various animal-care professionals at shelters in this area). The no-kill shelters either fill up and stop taking animals, or they take in animals and send them elsewhere to be killed. If I took Mitzi to the Bishop Animal Shelter in Bradenton, as I had done with a feral cat a few months ago, she’d be locked in a cage, tested for leukaemia, and then taken to a different facility to be put down.

The vet seemed shocked by this information. “What about the Cat Depot?” he said, naming a no-kill shelter in Sarasota. I said, as respectfully as I could, that although I loved the idea of no-kill shelters, I was not going to take my cat somewhere just to be taken elsewhere to be killed. No one was going to adopt an 11-year-old cat in need of surgery, and she’d be put down after days or a week of misery. The vet again said that it was a “small” surgery, and that I should get it done.

I then was in a difficult and distressing situation. In trying adopting what I’d thought was a bonded pair of doomed elderly animals, I’d ended up with two apparent enemies, one of whom was bullying the other and had a tumor. My theoretical, simple-sounding, sensible plan to “have put to sleep” a cat whose medical bills were beyond my reach would be impossible if my vet refused to assist.

In despair, I looked in the “Pet Pages” and found a two-page ad for a vet who would come to the house to perform euthanasia. Although expensive, it seemed like the best option to end Mitzi’s suffering. I called the vet — Robin Hughes – and told her the story. She listened quietly, and I was glad to have someone who seemed not to judge me. She gave me “kudos” for adopting elderly cats, and she said she knew what it was like to be unemployed and have trouble with bills.

After I’d gotten to the part of the story where the vet refused to euthanize a nearly healthy cat, Robin made an “mm-hmm” noise, as if she agreed. I was worried that she, too, would think me cruel or irresponsible for my decision. But she didn’t. She asked if the vet had done blood work. “Is the cat otherwise healthy?” she asked. I said yes, adding how nice Mitzi is, how intelligent, and how pretty. “She’d be very adoptable,” I said, “but no one wants old cats.” On the other end of the line, Robin mmm-hmm’d again.

Then she asked, “Do you know about the Cat Depot?” I didn’t even have a chance to say how I figured they would be turning away animals, because she went on to say that she was the vet there, and she would speak to the manager about Mitzi the next day.

Twenty-four hours later, I got a call to say that Mitzi had been “accepted into the program” at the Cat Depot, which, I knew by then, was like getting a child into an exclusive private school. By looking up Cat Depot online, I’d learnt that it’s a state-of-the-art cattery. When I read that, I thought, “The state of WHAT art?” But now I know — the art of housing cats, and these people are experts!

I’ll never know why Robin Hughes listened so kindly to my story about Mitzi, nor what motivated her to encourage the manager to make a space for my cat, ahead of the more than 200 animals on the waiting list. But I will always be grateful.

Mitzi under Hope's sign Sept 2013

I was given an appointment for Sunday, to bring in the cat and surrender her. If she tested negative for leukaemia and HIV, she’d be admitted, and begin the process of getting adopted. Calicoes went more quickly than some other kinds of cats, Robin said, and I began to hope that Mitzi might be okay. Maybe, although I had failed her, someone else could give her a good home.

Every time I looked at Mitzi, I felt relief as well as sadness. I liked her so much, especially considering that I’d had her less than two months. In that time, she’d gone from being a scared, noncommittal, rough-coated little creature with a cough to a sleek, happy, confident animal who stood up , tail erect and waggling, when I came into a room. She’d expressed a clear liking for the Zoom Groom (a purple rubber brush that massages the cat) and an equally strong distaste for the red grooming glove (which picks up hair via static electricity). Although she clearly had been taught not to go on any furniture (except beds and couches), I was able to teach her – with many Whisker Lickin’ chicken & cheese treats – to take her first steps onto my desk, and to look out the window. This cat had lived indoors for eleven years, and she showed no inclination to seek out sunlight or even look outdoors. But after a few weeks, she had begun gazing outside, and lately to pay rapt attention to passing birds and creeping lizards.

Unlike any cat I’d ever known, Mitzi would reach up to my nose for a sniff, as cats do to each other, and when I was grooming her, she’d purr and reach down to my arm and nuzzle and lick me, to show her appreciation. I thought that she was very intelligent.

But she continued to harass and bully Milly. But I still didn’t have any peace about the decision to abandon my responsibility. I had not slept at all well for several days, instead lying awake and petting her, worrying.

I talked to my friend Joan H. about the situation, telling her that I’d failed Mitzi. She sympathized, but she said in her view, I’d succeeded in saving the cats’ lives, and I was going to act as a conduit to get Mitzi to her next owner: that made me feel better.

I also told my friend Sy Safransky about how terrible I felt, and he said – I think – that it was because I was aware of the suffering of the animals, and my self-recrimination was a form of ego, because I wanted to be the one to control and prevent the suffering. At the time, I understood what he meant, but later, trying to explain to Ann D., I couldn’t get quite clear on it. One of the vows of a Buddhist, and the only religious vow I’ve ever believed in, is to relieve the suffering of all living beings. As a human who wants to alleviate suffering of animals, and as an ethical vegetarian, how could I accept that any animals, let alone my own pets, would suffer at my hands? Sy helped me to see that this was my ego causing me more distress, but I’m still trying to understand how I can try to alleviate suffering without ego attachment.

I spent Sunday morning composing Mitzi’s biography, which I packed along with Mitzi’s food, bedding, and treats and some other donations for the Cat Depot. I spent a long time grooming her, making sure that her coat and her skin were in top condition for the next people to see her – hoping they’d admire, enjoy, and want to adopt her.

She knew the cat-carrier when I brought it into the bedroom, and, sadly, her last ten minutes in my home were spent horribly, with me trying to trick/catch her and her evading me, till I finally grabbed her from the back of the closet and dropped her into the upended carrier, where she curled into a ball and started crying. She cried most of the way to Sarasota.

I cried, too. I thought about the nature of suffering, and how little of it I let myself feel. Sy said something about how we all are surrounded by suffering, whether or not we let ourselves be aware of it. I’d thought that, because I listen to the BBC news and read The Sun, I was aware of human pain and suffering globally. And yet, feeling the sadness of my cat, I realized that I usually block out nearly all the suffering around me.

Mitzi is just one, very lucky, very privileged pet animal, who in her life in the USA has suffered far less than many human beings endure daily. So far as I know, she’s never been hungry or thirsty or neglected or abused. If she died, it would be quickly and humanely; if she lived, she’d always have food and attention and stimulation. She’s not suffering very much, relative even to that of the animals living on the city streets we were then driving through.

My cat’s unease and discomfort at being trapped in a carpeted carrier in an air-conditioned car would count as less than a trillion of all the suffering of all the creatures on earth, if such feelings were measurable. If it were possible to weigh Mitzi’s misery on a scale, it wouldn’t even nudge the needle.

Yet I cried because she was crying, and I could feel her sadness and fear. Empathetic grief made me so sad and distracted that I could barely drive.

But Mitzi cried less as we drove south. The sun shone into the carrier, and she had her head in the light; at first I thought she was enjoying the warmth, but then I saw she was panting. I turned up the AC to mid-winter temperatures, but I think the panting was from fear. I talked in my most soothing voice, using the words I hoped she’d recognize: “Mitzi, good girl, Mitzi, you’re a good girl, you’re going to be okay.” I told her how sorry I was, how I hoped I was doing the right thing, how I couldn’t cope with both her medical needs and Milly’s shyness. But she didn’t seem to hear me, and even if she could, it wouldn’t have made any difference. Nothing I could do would help.

Before going into the Cat Depot, I composed myself, remembering what my mother and friends had said: that this was the best option. Mitzi would have her best chance at a real “forever home” by coming here.

And still, when I put the carrier on the desk and the lady in reception asked me if we were there for shots, I started crying again and couldn’t speak. I just shook my head: No, not there for shots. She said, softly, “For adoption?” and I nodded a slow yes.

She called the vet tech, whom I gathered from the receptionist’s end of the phone conversation was not expecting us. I waited, petting Mitzi, who was terrified, crouching wide-eyed at the far end of her carrier.

After ten minutes, a young, smiling brunette woman in teal scrubs came out and greeted us cheerfully. I followed her into the exam room. A English-accented man, a volunteer, came and carried Mitzi’s carrier for me. He talked to the cat, but although he was speaking kindly, I thought that his loud, masculine, and unknown voice would scare her.

Andie and another female volunteer petted and soothed Mitzi, asking me about her. Mitzi, amazingly, didn’t fight them; she seemed relatively calm. Andie asked about the tumor. She felt and looked at the blue-black spot under Mitzi’s nipple and said that although she couldn’t make a diagnosis, as she’s not a vet, she didn’t seem to feel a very big tumor.

I was glad to hear it, and I repeated what I’d told Robin and the director, Constance – that if by chance Mitzi did not have a tumor, I’d like to have her back. I’d then continue to try to get her and Milly to leave peaceably together. It wasn’t just the surgery, and it wasn’t just the fact of their fighting – it was the combination of the two factors that made me unable to keep Mitzi. I was crying off and on, and trying to get them to read the biography I’d brought, and asking questions, and probably babbling in my distress. I repeated myself a lot. I asked if I could, for sure, get Mitzi back if she didn’t require surgery.

“Oh, sure,” Andie said. And then, she said the words that would change everything: “Or if we do remove the tumor, you might be able to adopt her back.”

It wasn’t up to her to make the decisions, she said, but it was not uncommon or unheard of for a cat to come in, get surgery and be prepared for adoption, and then for the person who’d brought the animal in to be called and offered the first chance to adopt.

I started crying harder, feeling relief and hope like a small warm cloud around me. For the second time in a week, I felt not just lucky but blessed: that I would be able to have Mitzi back at home, well and whole, with only the socialization problem to deal with, seemed miraculous.

The volunteer and I held Mitzi as the vet tech took blood and did an exam; in between the vet’s attentions, the volunteer held Mitzi to her chest, wrapped up in a towel. Mitzi’s eyes were open, but she was no longer staring around in terror; with the gray towel wrapped close around her head like a babushka, she seemed to feel safe.

Bobby, the big English man who’d brought Mitzi in, offered me a tour of the facility, which I was glad to see. It’s the best animal shelter I’ve ever seen. Purpose-built four years ago, it has (yes) state-of-the-art ventilation, natural light, and super-clean, comfortable enclosures for groups of up to nine cats. Each “pod” is the size of a small bedroom, furnished with specially designed, color-co-ordinated, soft furnishings. The litter boxes, out of sight underneath a bench, have a separate ventilation & fan system from the rest of the building. The air was as fresh as if we were outdoors, although considerably cooler. In each of a half-dozen offices where the staff work, one “special needs” cat lived, with its own bedding and toys, and its own private person there at least 40 hours a week.

At the Cat Depot, there are about 125 cats there at any time. Last year, they found homes for nearly 900 cats and they hope to place 1000 this year. About half of those cats, the ones who’ve been there the longest, have access to the outdoors in the form of small, wire-fenced patios, where the cats can lie in the sun or the shade anytime they want. They’re all fed Science Diet, plus wet food and treats, and volunteers come daily to play with, read to, brush and pet the cats. Each pod has a television (!) playing soft sounds (all the same channel, human voices and nature sounds) and showing a video of a warm fire in a fireplace! There are toys, cushions, play spaces, scratching posts, climbing pillars, and lots of cubbyholes, padded benches and bed-boxes.

Now, the furnishings and so on were lovely – what other animal shelter has matching cushions in every room, or has different rooms in different earth colors? (When I put Mitzi in the cage where she’d spend the night, I got to pick between soft orange, blue, or green.) But what impressed me most was that, with the exception of one cat awaiting surgery, every cat I saw – over 100 – looked calm and peaceful. Not one was mewing or appeared to be in distress – not even the “pudgy pod” where the cats are all on diets!

In the pods were people playing with the cats with feather dusters and laser lights, reading to the cats (Dewey is a big hit; all the books seemed to be cat-themed), petting them, and generally giving the cats great attention. One woman, Donna, was speaking sweetly to and brushing a long-haired black and white cat. I asked her if she might pet my cat later, and she not only promised to do so but came back with me later to meet Mitzi and hear her story and start getting to know her. Donna even knew how to blink at a cat — both eyes, slowly — which is a feline signal of comfort.

Bobby, the man who showed me around, assured me that he knew how I felt and promised that they’d take wonderful care of Mitzi. He told me about his own – blind! – cat, from that shelter, who now has a great life. He said his wife would be in the next day to pet Mitzi specially. I ended up hugging him, and Donna, and wanting to hug everyone else, too – but the vet tech and the director, Shelley, were by then engaged with a set of kittens that had just come in.

As sad as I was to have to leave Mitzi anywhere other than home, I could not have imagined a better outcome than this – at least not short of a private home. I feel beyond lucky that, as Joan says, my good intention for Mitzi has had this result – and more than anything I feel grateful to the good people of the Cat Depot. I have already emailed them offering to join as a volunteer on their grant-writing committee; I have already decided where the bulk of my contributions this year will go.

And now, finally, I can turn my attention to the other cat whom I offered, and promised, a “forever home.”Image


Lizzy, in jail at the shelter, August 23 or so 2013

When is the moment when the lives of a person and an adopted pet come together? Is it when we find the animal at the shelter, when we bring the pet home, or when we first start looking for one?

I’ve been thinking of getting a cat since I moved into this house, last November. Nic and I fostered two kittens last spring, but owning a pet forever is a big responsibility, especially since I travel often.

A few weeks ago, though, I dreamt of an orange, long-haired cat and woke up feeling that he was my next cat. I spent many hours online, looking up animal shelters and Persian and Himalayan-cat rescues. I emailed enquires about cats in different states; I found a long-haired male called Dasher as close as Sarasota. And then, I found a beautiful orange Persian in a Tampa shelter, called French Fry. She was female, and prettier than the cat in my dreams, but I wanted her.


I called the Hillsborough County Animal Services, and learned that French Fry had a microchip, so they’d have to try to contact the owner, who’d have ten days to claim the cat.

Over the next few days, I hoped to adopt FF even as I Googled my way around the southeast, looking at other long-haired orange cats in need of a home. Dasher in Sarasota was male, and orange, like the cat in my dream, and he was available. I could have gone on indefinitely, looking up cats on the Internet, thinking about adopting, waiting for more dreams, but I received the September Sun and started reading the interview, “Inhumane,” with No-Kill advocate Nathan Winograd.

After reading half of it, I went to my computer to write a letter to the editor, to say that I didn’t care whether animals were adopted out to risky homes or humanely put down: what mattered to me was that we end animal suffering. But I didn’t even start the letter. When I sat down at my computer, I Googled the Hillsborough Animal Shelter and called them again.

French Fry had five more days before he’d be available for adoption. The officer I spoke to told me to come in and put in my application in person. It takes 90 minutes to get to the Hillsborough County animal shelter, and I arrived about 6.30 p.m., half an hour before the shelter closed. They had just taken an application from someone else to adopt for French Fry, about 20 minutes before I arrived.

I was shocked. How could the cat of my dreams have been taken away from me? In a daze, I said that I’d like to see him anyway, and have a look at the other cats.

I respect and appreciate the work of the Hillsborough Animal Services, but every time I interacted with a staff member, the staffer had to ask two or three other people for information: how to operate the computer, how to get information on an animal, how to let me see an animal. To be fair, the shelter is inundated with animals. One man, Alex, told me they get between 50 and 100 animals a day. Of the cats, 80% are put down. Of the lucky 20% that get homes, nearly all are kittens. Virtually 100% of the older cats that come in are euthanized.

I found my way past the rooms of cute kittens and big dogs to the older cats. But I couldn’t find French Fry, so I asked a girl in blue scrubs for help. She, Barbara, wasn’t a staffer but a cat-lover there to rescue a cat that would otherwise be put down. She showed me French Fry, and then she showed me all the oldest cats in several rooms. There was a big brown cat that turned to look at me, which she said was astonishing, since it had had its face in the corner since it came in. A longhaired, small, black-and-white cat was lying limp and unresponsive in a cage. There was a lovely Russian blue I might have adopted to please Nicole, but it hissed violently.

And then Barbara took me to a long-haired gray/white/tabby cat whose face reminded me of my Puffy, my childhood cat. There was a similarly colored, short-haired cat in the next cage. Reading their cage-tags, we realized that they’d been “surrendered” together – that meant the owner had dropped them off. Why they’d been put in separate cages, I have no idea. I said, “I could adopt those cats.”

Barbara told me that old cats at that shelter got very little time. Sometimes “owner surrendered” cats were put down right away; she thought the two calicoes would be put down in a day or two if I didn’t put in an application to adopt them. Out at the service desk I filled in the paperwork to adopt the cats that I’d never touched or even seen in clear light.

The next day I woke up a dawn, worried about cats. I felt guilty about rushing into the application in for the calicoes. And Dasher, in Sarasota, still needed a home. I put a call for advice on Facebook and got lots of it. The most common advice was that I should take all three cats: the two I’d “made a commitment” to as well as the orange one I’d dreamt of. Cousin Baby said that the dream had led me to the shelter to adopt the other two cats. Margie said I didn’t choose my human friends based on their color, so why would I pick cats that way? Colin said I could have three cats if I tried.

Most of the people advocating my owning three cats have never seen my house: I live, work, and play in 688 square feet. I didn’t know if any of these cats would ever venture outdoors.

On Saturday, I drove 30 miles south to Sarasota’s animal shelter to meet Dasher. My dream cat, maybe, Dasher, in SarasotaHe wasn’t the same as the cat in my dream – he’s unfortunately had a “lion cut” — and he wasn’t especially friendly. Furthermore, he was comfortable and safe: the shelter is spacious, clean, and bright. Cats  can curl up in a private niche, snooze in the sun, or play with other kitties. None is killed; they’re kept till they’re adopted or taken by a rescue group. I stayed about half an hour, but I left feeling that Dasher’s life was going to be okay without me, and mine without him.

Up at the shelter in Hillsborough (50 miles north) an hour or so later, I explained that I’d rushed into the adoption and I was starting to doubt my choice. Then a man at the next desk told me I couldn’t see those cats, because they were in “la-la land.” They’d just had surgery, he said, and were anesthetized.

Tearing up, I said, “I’ve driven up here from Anna Maria Island twice in 24 hours, and I haven’t been able to touch the cats I’m adopting. I don’t know if I’ve done the right thing.”

As I stood there, trying not to cry, the female worker recalled that those cats had not had surgery. They’d already been spayed when they were surrendered, so they’d simply been checked by the vet. They hadn’t been anesthetized, and it was fine for me to see them.

I thanked her, feeling stunned, while the man put a call over the intercom for a “meet and greet” in cat room four, to get someone to let me pet the cats.

Three times, I was told to walk back to the room where “my” cats were to wait for someone who would come and open Lilly’s and Lizzy’s cages. Three times, I trudged back to the cat room and found no one there, waited a while, and then went back up front to find someone else to put in another call over the loudspeaker. On the fourth try, a kind, tired-looking African-American woman called Kathy met me in the back rooms and opened Lilly’s cage.

Lilly is the prettier of the two cats — long-haired, gray and white and tabby, with a funny cream-colored dot on her forehead just like Puffy. I no longer have her “jail picture,” unfortunately. She shrank away to the back of her cage, but when I gently pulled her out, she settled into my lap, and I knew I would be adopting her, along with Lizzy.

And about an hour later, I did just that.

The man who did the final paperwork and took my money – cats were on sale! Just $20 apiece! – looked up the cats’ records and licenses and found that they both were probably at least 11 years old, maybe 12. They were given up because the owner had to go into a nursing home.

Because the carriers are so small, the cats were put into separate carriers for the trip home. We stacked one cage atop the other in the front seat of my car, and seat-belted them in. Lizzy (the shorthaired calico) cried a little, but after a while (in the nice, quiet Prius!) both cats calmed down. They both stopped sitting in a hunched ball and lay flat, maybe so they could feel in the sun coming through the openings in their cages.

For my cats’ first night in their forever home, I took both carriers into the smallest room in my house, a large, all-tile bathroom with two windows, much bigger than the cages they’ve been in for the last several days. The place is airy and clean, and stacked with towels and rugs and comfy places for cats to sit. They could get used to that one room first, I thought, so they wouldn’t be overwhelmed.

I set the cages side by side and opened the doors. Neither cat moved and both ducked away from my hand when I reached in, so I stepped outside the bathroom to get up a litter box and bowls of water and food. I left the carrier doors open so the cats could come out and stretch their legs and start getting acquainted with their new home.

When I returned five minutes later, neither cat was out exploring. But Lizzy had left her cage and gone in to be with Lilly. They crouched in the tiny carrier, side by side, staring out at me. Lizzy was purring a little, comforting and warming up her friend. They were going to be okay.

Sunday, Jun 30th, 2013

It’s been a long, hot and fairly hard day, at the end of a long, hot and hard few weeks. Very bad news from Nic’s family in Australia, which I will share privately with anyone who asks. For myself, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my parents, and in my garden, and in my parents’ garden, and sleeping, and faffing around, trying to clean up my too-small house, and not much time sitting at my desk working. Subsequently I’m not making any money, and I’m feeling broke, and I’m also feeling quite fat and unhealthy (not because I’m not making any money, but because it’s difficult for me to exercise because of foot pain).

I’ve decided to change a few things and I’ve had some great help, and, as usual, very good luck. And tonight, I think I had a kind of good omen. Let’s begin with the help and luck — three days ago, I put a “WANTED” ad on (an online community through which I’ve given away hundreds of items, but never before received anything), asking for a bicycle. The very next day, I got an email from a lady who lives near me who had a beautiful bike she had just replaced that day with a brand new one. The bike she offered, and which I picked up yesterday, is beautiful and exactly what I have wanted for years! It’s a large-frame Huffy cruiser, with a basket and a water bottle holder and a purple star on the gold-brown paint. It’s 3 years old but looks brand new. I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked by bikes like that at the beach, pointed to them, and said, “That’s the kind of bike I’d like to have.” And now thanks to this freecycle member’s generosity, I have one! It’s in the shop now getting a new inner tube, and as of tomorrow I’ll be riding it – a lot.

The other change will be dietary. Once again, I’m going to omit something from my diet in hopes of losing weight and becoming healthier. I’ve tried this often with refined sugars, but this time I’m omitting all wheat products, and hoping for similar great results (weight loss, improved clarity of mind, better sleep, less aches and pains, fewer headaches, etc.). I’ve had a lot of help on Facebook and in person from friends & relatives who’ve had good results.

So, tonight, the last meal of the month of June, I treated myself to a wheaty meal: two slices of pizza and a salad. It took me a very, very long time to find a place to eat dinner, because the island is so crowded this weekend, and I drove around for a long time, into Bradenton and back out again, before I went to Omar’s pizzeria across from the beach, near the Beach House (in Bradenton Beach). I almost never go there – it’s not especially good pizza – and it was rather odd that I chose it tonight. After I ate, I decided to walk across the street to the beach, even though I rarely go to that beach as it’s so crowded, and I prefer the ones north, on my end of the island.

I stepped onto the sand and was greeted by a very tanned man with a beard whose girlfriend was sleeping, under a sheet, on the sand. I walked up a few yards towards the Beach House restaurant, where there was music playing on the outdoor tikki bar – again, an extremely odd choice for me, as I usually walk away from crowds and noise – and saw something odd in the water. It looked like an otter. It bobbed up, then disappeared. I walked further towards it and saw that it was quite big; I thought maybe it was a dead fish. A very big dead fish. It seemed to be floating atop the water sometimes, but then it would disappear again: it was a sea turtle!

It came crawling out through the white froth and headed across the beach. I was, amazingly, the only person looking at it. I was about 30 feet away, and it was crawling up between me and the very crowded, very noisy Beach House restaurant and tikki bar. Within a few seconds, a dozen people had come out from the restaurant to gape and take pictures, and as the children ran pell-mell towards the turtle I yelled “Stay back! Stay back! Give her room!” and I waved them back with vigourous arm movements They were on the other side of the turtle from me, and they didn’t want to stay back, but, amazingly, the children listened to me, and then the adults had to back up too.

The turtle headed straight across the beach towards the road, moving slowly. More and more people poured onto the beach and more and more people rushed the turtle and I got more and more loud and strident, waving my arms and yelling at them to “GIVE HER ROOM! DON’T CROWD HER!” No one touched her, and they stayed about 10 feet away, but they were talking loudly, laughing, taking pictures, and making a lot of commotion.

The turtle stopped and then turned towards the crowd of people, confused. They should have backed away to let her move towards them, but they didn’t. Then the man who had said hello earlier came up next to me and started bellowing angrily at the other people that they should go away and leave the turtle alone and let her lay her eggs, and she’d never do it if they stayed there. They stayed there, though they did back up a bit more at his command.

In a few more minutes she turned around again, facing me and the man. We backed off quite a bit, giving her more space, but by then there were about 60 people talking and laughing and making noise within about 10 feet of her, and she’d had enough and decided this was no place to raise children. She wisely headed back into the water.

The man and I were joined by another self-righteous person from the restaurant, and both the men started saying how they’d been telling everyone to stay back, how they had protected the turtle, how the people were idiots, etc. I was surprised, because I was the first person on the scene, and for what seemed like a long time I had been the ONLY person directing the crowds to stay back. If it hadn’t been for me, the kids would have been riding that turtle’s back and probably picking her up and carrying her home…but these men seemed very proud of themselves and intent on letting me know how brave they’d been.

Put out that they weren’t noticing MY role in protecting the turtle, I was just like them…we all were relieved that the turtle had gone, and we were all mad at the crowd of tourists, and we all wanted to feel proud of ourselves and impress each other. Before he went back in the restaurant, the man introduced himself to the other man and shook his hand, but he didn’t do the same for me, and I felt, again, a bit miffed. I was uncomfortable, but it was interesting to see how much like the men I was.

The man from the beach was called Sunny, and he’s a professional fisherman. He told me that he’s often caught turtles, and often they die, because he uses “long lines” – those are the horrible fishing lines that drop down in the ocean and carry hundreds of big baited hooks. I asked if there were not some way that he could turtle-proof the long-lines, but he said no. He was sorry about the turtles that died on his lines, but he did admit that he eats them, if they’re dead when he gets them. I agreed with that – even as I wished he would either stop using long lines, or find a way to bait them that doesn’t attract turtles, preferably the first option.

I bet almost all of those people in the restaurant were eating fish, too.

I came away feeling excited, and glad that the turtle had gone back in the water, and worried that she won’t find somewhere more peaceful to lay her eggs. There are Too. Damn. Many. People. On this island, in this state, in the world. I’m always glad I haven’t hatched out any little ones of my own, but I sure wish there were more room for the wild animals to live and breed.

This was the second time in my life that I’ve gone impulsively and suddenly to a place where I had no reason to go, and at which I’ve averted disaster. The other time was in California when I pulled off the highway between my friend Paige’s house and my house, going to a gas station even though I wasn’t even low on gas, even though I didn’t need a break or water or anything. Even as I pulled off the highway and into the gas station, I didn’t know why I was doing it. I’d never been to that gas statuion before and it was not easy to get to. I parked and put a few dollars of gas in my tank, and as I was finishing up, flames emerged from under the hood of the truck next to me, which was running.

I was, again, the only person who saw what was going on. I ran into the store, where everyone else was lining up to pay for gas, and I said, as calmly as I could, “That guy’s truck is on fire; do you have an extinguisher?” And the guy who owned the truck said, “Oh, no, that always happens, it’s just a little smoke coming from– –”  and then he turned around and saw his truck and yelled “HOLY SHIT!” and the cashier didn’t know what to do, because she had to take the money and she obviously wasn’t supposed to leave the line of people waiting to pay, but she told everyone there was a fire extinguisher around the corner. Then all the men from the line  started falling over each other to run get the fire extinguisher and manhandle it out to the truck, all of them crowding through the door like the Marx brothers, all bumping into each other and scared and yelling at each other about how to use the fire extinguisher and where to point it and here, give it to me, damn it!

I got in my car and drove home.

Tonight I did the same thing, not knowing if my being there on the beach had made any difference to the turtle, but feeling that it did. And I think this is a good sign for my change in habits in the month ahead. I’m not going to say that I am like the turtle and need protection, or that I am like the man whose truck was burning who was in denial, or that I am like the stupid tourists who needed yelling at so they’d respect the wildlife, but I do feel that somewhere in here, there has been some providence, some guidance, some help from somewhere. And I’m grateful.

“It seems like a big ask,” I said to Nic.  I was worried about our planned date. On Monday, Nic would be returning to Australia after a six-month stay here in Florida. Sunday night, she had planned a great last date for us. She was taking me out to dinner plus a special event: releasing a bat that has been in the wildlife sanctuary where Nic has been a volunteer for six months.

“What does?” she said.

“The bat. It’s been in that little box for, what, two months? And now it’s supposed to make its way in the world? It’s been hand fed grubs and now it has to find someplace to live with a colony it doesn’t know, and fend for itself.”

“That sounds just like me!” Nic said.  She is going home to Melbourne with no job and no place to live: she’ll be sleeping in the extra rooms of friends or family for a few weeks, trying to find her place…so in that sense, yes, I could see why she empathized with the bat and the big ask. On the other hand, she hasn’t been kept in a box here, and she’s stretched her wings plenty. Also, she’s a large and intelligent mammal who can speak the language fluently and already has friends waiting for her.

I was more worried about the bat, which hadn’t so much as stretched its wings out for weeks.  According to Gail, who runs the wildlife sanctuary, it did get out of its cage once and fly around the room in the sanctuary, but for all I knew its muscles might have atrophied since then. It’s a tiny bat, not much more than a baby,  its body about 3 inches long at most, plus a tail of about 2 inches, and its head the size of thimble – plus big ears.  It’s very dark brown, though not black. At the wildlife sanctuary it lived  in a plastic box inside an incubator. The box was big enough for the bat to crawl around and try to clamber up the sides, but not big enough for flight.

After an early dinner by the water, we went back to the sanctuary, and Nic brought the bat in its box to my car. Nic drove, and I asked her to roll the windows up and not talk loudly. “The bat has very sensitive hearing,” I reminded her. As we drove, the bat moved around its box as if eager to get out. Again and again it tried to climb up the plastic sides, but found nothing to hang onto, and slipped back down into the folds of a thick cotton cloth.

We were taking the bat to a bridge over a river nearby where bats were known to hang out, and we would arrive there at dusk. The plan was for the bat to hear its friends-to-be squeaking under the bridge and join them.

About 7.45, just after sunset but with plenty of light still in sky, we got to the park, which is in the middle of an upscale residential area. The waterway is popular with manatees and small boat owners.  The river goes out to the bay there, under a bridge, and the sides of the park slope down towards the water, which is deep and black. I carried the box to a grassy spot, trying not to attract any attention from the few people left around. There were lots of bird noises and a few black crows and white seagulls heading home to their safe places for the night. There were also a lot of cars going over the bridge, which seemed disproportionately loud. The bat, which had been crawling disconsolately around its cloth bedding, hid for a while in a fold of the cloth. It stayed still for quite a while, maybe listening.

Nic and I made out  many different birdcalls, and some other high noises that might have been bats, and might have been insects or other birds. At one point the bat grew as animated as a bat in a box can be – it came out from a fold in the cloth and stretched out one large flat wing. Then it groomed itself a bit, then crawled towards the far side of the box and up the side. It stretched the other wing.

Nic went to look for other bats, trying to spot the colony whence the bats would depart at dusk. She went to the far side of the bridge, by the bay, and then walked back to another bridge a few hundred yards inland.  I sat there watching the bat and watching the sky get darker. The green grass and trees turned to gray-green and then gray. Nic came back reporting no bats. But just as she did, I saw something swoop under the bridge: it was time.

We’d been warned not to let the bat fly out over the water, in case its first flight wasn’t successful. So we carried the box across the bridge to a set of big banyan trees a dozen yards from the water. After we got there, on a bit of land that was between the banyans (on someone’s lawn) and the river, we saw more bats swooping out from under the bridge.

Nic held the camera and I opened the lid of the box. The bat did nothing. After months of trying to escape by climbing up the sides of the box, once the lid was removed the bat seemed to want to go to sleep. The woman who ran the wildlife center had said if the bat didn’t fly off, we could bring it back, but she said usually she just released bats by leaving them in a tree. I wasn’t sure about this – she doesn’t seem to have any evidence that the bats so released ever fly again.

After a few minutes, we lifted the cloth and bat out together, and set them on the grass, at which point that bat took off like a bat out of hell. It stretched its wings a bit but  didn’t fly … it refolded its wings and crawled, at a rapid pace, directly towards the banyan trees. The grass was deep and dark, but we saw the tall grasses moving and so watched the bat’s progress, faster than I’d expected, towards the big trees. It seemed intent on getting there – perhaps there were other bats in the trees and it could hear them, or perhaps the bat was just hastening in the opposite direction from us and the box. It moved as fast as a cat walking, and it was heading directly towards the iron fence. We watched with some alarm, because If it got beyond the fence we would not be able to get it back. I’d told Gail that we’d bring it back if it didn’t seem able to fly. But neither of us wanted to return the bat to the box.

“Well, maybe we should pick it up,” I said.

“Maybe,” Nic said.

As we stood there mumbling and watching the movements in the long, swishing grass, the bat trundled through the railings and onto the private land. Once there, the grass thinned out, and the bat  emerged from the underbrush and took a few trial hops, maybe a foot or so each, in the manner perhaps of the few flight of the Wright brothers’ Flyer at Kitty Hawk, but also in the manner of a creature that can no longer fly properly.  Then it continued crawling. We couldn’t see it anymore but we heard it. We stood listening for a long time, and the noises grew less distinct. There were about five huge trees with long roots hanging down and many dead leaves rustling, but in between the other rustles, every now and then we seemed to hear sounds like a bat crawling.

After a while I moved to another vantage point, and there I saw a creature with a tail  up in the branches of the tree. I saw something stretch a wing out on the ledge by the water. Nic heard bat-crawling noises at the base of the tree.

Well, I was disappointed. It would have been much more satisfying if the bat had swooped up and take a victory lap around our heads, then flown off into the sunset. Maybe in parting it could have given a slight tilt of the wings to acknowledge its appreciation for all Nic and the wildlife sanctuary and I had done  to save and rehabilitate it and give it its freedom. Instead, we stood in the increasing darkness staring through some iron railings and wondering if the rustles we heard were a good sign.

We went back to the car, and drove home. Nic is leaving tomorrow, and I don’t know how she’ll be.

On my way to Oz recently, I had a long layover in LA, during which I stayed at my friend Vicky’s house in Sherman Oaks. I met Vicky at a Sun magazine retreat about 7 years ago and we’ve seemed like lifetime friends ever since.

It was fitting with our Sun-born friendship that on the very day of my visit there would be, she told me, an annular eclipse – a rare event in which the moon passes across the face of the sun, creating a “ring of fire” effect. It would be late afternoon, peaking (or ringing) around the time I’d be waiting on her front step for my airport shuttle. But, she warned me in her best school-psychologist tone, “The only way to see it is not to look at it.”  She said we must  improvise a “viewer,” possibly  from cardboard and paper.

“We could use film,” I said, thinking back to my last eclipse-viewing, ca. 1979 in Florida, when the more scientifically minded of my classmates created little pinhole boxes that worked like cameras to project the light of the sun (of, actually, the absence thereof, in the form of the moon’s shadow) onto a safe viewing area. Other Floridians, we read in the paper, were viewing the phenomenon through used film strips, the brown, sharp-edged negatives that used to be returned when one had one’s photos quaintly “developed” at a “lab.”

Of course Vicky and I didn’t have time that Sunday to look up a website and figure out how to make a viewing device before it was time for the eclipse. We were busy talking, drinking, talking, eating, walking and talking and then packing in a flurry for my flight. I barely had time to call my sister on the East Coast and advise her of the “annular” eclipse.  She had been having cocktails with her neighbor and my mother and they were all a little tipsy.

“A lunar eclipse?” she said, both to me and to her neighbor, Betty, and other assembled guests. “How exciting!”

“No, not lunar, annular,” I said. “It means ‘ring of fire.’ It’s visible here; you’ll have to Google it to see if you can see it there.”

“There’s a lunar eclipse this afternoon!” she sang out to her friends, implausibly.

“No, there isn’t!” I shrieked. “It’s annular. It’s a ring of the sun showing around the moon!”

“An eclipse of the moon?” she asked me. There was a lot of noise in the background, and some static on the line.

“No, the sun! Look it up,” I said. “Google it, or ask Paul.”  Paul, my brother-in-law, tends to know about scientific phenomenon, having been a state park superintendant for most of his life.

“TellFrank and Paul there’s an annual eclipse!” she sang out, incorrectly.

“It’s once every 120 years,” I said. “Annular, not annual.”

“Well, I don’t know what that is,” she said, slightly annoyed. But she was excited about seeing it, whatever it was, and hung up torun find Paul.

Back in California, we toddled outdoors with my suitcase about 5 pm, Vicky carrying a piece of typing paper and a chunk of cardboard with a pencil-sized aperture.

The air was brownish gray and soft, as if it were dusk, and lots of neighbors were out on their own stoops, peering up at the sun between two high buildings. “Oh, wow, it’s really happening!” I said.

“Don’t look at it!” Vicky proffered the two pieces of paper. “If you look directly at it you’ll go blind.” Vicky is Scottish, and her premonitions of doom have a serious Celtic ring of firey authenticity to them.

“But it’s not bright right now,” I protested. “The moon is over it, see?”

“DON’T LOOK!”  She handed me the cardboard-plus-paper like someone giving a prescription drug to a dying person.

I hummed a few bars from the Manford Man song: “Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun; but, Mama, that’s where the fun is!” and we argued briefly about who’d written those lyrics. We agreed that Vicky’s boyfriend, Bruce Springsteen, had done a brilliant job with recording it.

I turned my back on the sun as directed by my hostess, and noted that there was a brilliant and interesting reflection in the window of an apartment nearby. “Can we look at it that way?” I asked.

“Not unless you want to go blind!”

I held up the cardboard and let the sun shine through it onto the paper. There was no result at all of my doing so, as the hole was large enough to allow a full beam of light in, with no lens-creation effect at all. “This is not a pinhole,” I complained. “This is supposed to be a hole made by a pin, not a pencil.”

One of the people standing near us overheard, and said, “A pen-hole? Do you have a pen?”

I didn’t (some writer I am), but he did, it turned out, and I pushed it through the thick cardboard in order to make a smaller,  more lens-like aperture.  Then, with a certain amount of angling of papers and imagination, it was possible to see a vague, half-moon-shaped shadow palely displayed on the paper.  It was hardly the “ring of fire” I’d been hoping for, but it was nonetheless evidence of an astronomical occurrence in progress, and I showed it to Vicky with pride.

She didn’t see it. When I looked again, I didn’t see it, either.

The neighbors, who were squinting at the sun through their eyelashes and not going blind, said they could see something, but they didn’t seem impressed. People in LA have pretty exciting lives and a once-in-120 year event is no biggie.

I gave the neighbor his pen back, and Vicky and I sat and waited for my shuttle, and talked some more, updating and deepening the long and ongoing exchanges that make up our friendship.  In the 18 or so hours I’d spent in LA, we’d caught up on our current views and experiences of The Sun, love, sex, families, her work at school, my writing, and weight-loss strategies that were working for us both. Mama, that’s where the fun was.