“You write about your life on the internet,” he said, “but you don’t really want people to know about your life?” I explained that the image I’m portraying online isn’t fake, but it’s not a full picture either… and I immediately began wondering why I’ve been avoiding putting one particular thing about myself in writing because I haven’t hidden this “secret” from any friends, acquaintances, or even passersby for quite some time. One recent morning, after I spontaneously agreed to be photographed “at my worst” and told my secret to two strangers (including the director of a local nonprofit animal shelter) while explaining how I “trained” my kitten to go on walks and be nice to dogs, I knew I was no longer keeping my cards close to my chest in the game of life and had no good reason to keep from laying all my cards on the table here.
When I play poker, I almost never show my cards unless you’ve paid to see them. I realized that morning as I boldly discussed my life with two strangers on the street in my glasses, bathrobes (I had on three for warmth), and slippers, holding my cat and morning coffee, that my kitten had forced me to lay all my cards on the table in life. Before she came along, I didn’t discuss the fact that I smoke spliffs (rolled marijuana mixed with tobacco) several times per day to manage my anxiety and occasional depression with strangers. When the kitten accompanies me and attracts attention, I can’t help but explain.
I thought the reason I “trained” my kitten was obvious to my veterinarian neighbor who had observed us more than most. Yet, a few days after my no shame moment on the street, she said, “I know you work hard to get her to be like that.” I told her that I didn’t/don’t feel I’m working hard at it – I’m just making the kitten share the free time which I have available – and she looked surprised, which surprised me. The day Harry came into my life (a rescue kitten delivered to me from the streets of Arroyo Grande by an acquaintance) I’d retrieved the bag of cat stuff I had in storage and found a kitten harness inside which I didn’t recall purchasing (but assumed I had planned to try on my box turtle). The kitten was only about 7 weeks old (so tiny) and I only got to spend a few hours with her before heading out to work. I didn’t want her to sit alone any longer once I finished my five hour dinner shift, but I also needed my evening smoke. So, I put her in the harness and carried her out to sit in my parked car with me, doing my best to keep the toxic fumes away from her. The kitten fussed while I snapped it on, but wasn’t bothered by the harness once it was in place. From that day forth, she happily accompanied me anywhere and everywhere I took her to ensure we got enough bonding time in around my busy work schedule, including one karaoke night and a New Year’s Day poker tournament. The only thing I did to train my kitten was to love her with all my heart and make her a real part of my life.
Last Saturday, sometime between running my (now 5 months old) kitten Harry (short for Harriet) to the hospital for emergency stomach surgery and learning that the primary indigestible item filling her tiny six month old stomach was my long blonde hair, I realized the real reason I haven’t wanted to discuss my smoking habit. I’m not sure how I’d live with myself if my hair was the cause of my kitten’s demise… and I realized I’m not so much ashamed of my smoking habit as I am afraid of the fact that it could kill me. I realized I might have issues loving myself as I am… then quickly found myself showered with support which made me wonder why.
My coworkers braced themselves to cover for me on an already understaffed night, just in case I couldn’t get the kitten checked into the hospital fast enough or stop crying. My my dad got the bill paid when my credit card limit was a few hundred short, adding the gigantic sum to an already large personal loan I’d been paying off slower than we all desired for years without question. One friend helped me pick up Harry from the hospital Sunday afternoon, went with us to retrieve the rest of my handmade candle and art display from the pop up shop they’ve been in the past three months and deliver the items to my storage unit, let me do a free emergency load of laundry, then served me a home cooked dinner. Another friend created a Go Fund Me to “Help Harry” just hours after she learned all that I had been through that past week.
“I haven’t seen a light like this in Rachel in years,” she wrote, bringing to mind a song I sang as a toddler at church where you hold a finger up as your symbolic light. “This little light of mine… I’m gonna let it shine…” the song chimes, over and over and over. I loved the part at the end when we remove the cupped hand which we put over our ‘lights’ before singing, “Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine! Let it shine let it shine!” With that childhood memory in mind, I ended the week pledging to love myself despite my habit and trust that God is in control. My last cat lived a long, happy life as an indoor/outdoor cat before the same thing that killed the two cats I had before her at a much younger age (a car) took her too. I know better than some that you never know what cards you’re going to be dealt in life. Sometimes we reflect the odds and sometimes we defy them. The only way to find out what will happen is to brave the risks that surround you and let the cards fall.
Until next time, follow @rachel_hoyt_artist and @pokeyandharry on Instagram to see more.