Pushkin’s Obscure Language

Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin, tamed squirrel, wild rabbit, my little half-feral cat. I call you little one, baby, honey, words I save only for you. I bristle at the thought of someone comparing me to an infant or small child and loathe call any human by the same name, but you’re so much like a helpless infant that they slip out, even when I intend to call you by your proper name, the one we chose because your elegant tuxedo markings seemed to fit with your namesake, the great Russian poet.

You’re bigger than you act, a full-grown male, lean and strong, instead of the typical indoor cat padding of fat, but you hide around the house as if perpetually scared of attack, a timid kitten in a house full of dogs. We’re gentle and kind and have been for years, but you still shy away. I hold out my unconditional love on a silver platter and yet you approach it with fear. In a few months, you’ll be five, and you still only accept me with the most tentative expressions of trust.

I’m often reminded of a quote by the real Pushkin,

“I want to understand you, I study your obscure language.”

And I do. I try to make myself as vulnerable as you think I’m scary. I lie back on my bed, perfectly still, arms thrown above my head, wrists crossed, hands limp, neck tilted at an angle so that you will see that I am willing to let you rip out my jugular, and I wait. I wait for you to stop mewing in the hall and come into the room. I let you leap up on the bed without turning to track you with my eyes. And then you stumble around on the duvet, strangely keening as though you are are singing a mourner’s lament. I wait for the moment when you determine that I am harmless enough and start to sniff at my cheek, your cold, wet nose sometimes brushing against my skin.

And then you do what I’ve been waiting for. You put your two front paws on my thigh and then begin to inch forward, until you are finally sitting on my stomach, regally upright like an Egyptian cat statue, bobbing on the waves of my breaths.

I open my eyes and say, “Hi, little guy,” and slowly raise my hand to do what you love best. I trace my thumb along the edge of your mouth and scratch the side of your face until you decide that the affection is too much and leap away, off to examine the world underneath the china cabinet or dining room sideboard.

I’ll learn to speak your crying language one day, and we’ll come to the understanding that I mean no harm. You’ve mellowed with age, and maybe your courage will continue to increase, until you curl close to me at night like Zelda Fitzgerald or remain constantly at my side like Maxwell Perkins. I don’t ask you to put aside all of your insecurities for me or to believe that I am wholly without threat, but I hope that you will accept fragments of my love and let me in just a tiny, minuscule bit. I am not as scary as I appear. Really. I promise.

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In Which Terrible Things Happen to Ella

When I was thirteen my friend’s mom sent the two of us to pick up some parsley from the grocery store two blocks away. We set out, happily chattering about whatever we were planning to do that evening and enjoying the warm spring air. We crossed the busy street, found the parsley, made fun of the tabloid headlines, made our purchase, and started walking home. However, right after we crossed the street, we passed a man, who reached out and grabbed my bottom.

But instead of screaming, calling the cops, confronting the man, or even mentioning it to my friend, I kept silently walking, convinced that I had imagined it. After all, who hasn’t accidentally swung their arm and hand into someone at some point. I once gave Leigh a pretty bad bruise on her face while gesticulating wildly. These things happen. And I did not want to falsely accuse anyone. Bad things like groping children don’t seem to happen in our part of town. It’s a very safe place. It just had to be an accident. Of course, I was wrong to think anything of it.

And then I didn’t say anything about it to anyone for years. I was so scared of making it into a big deal, if the contact had only been an accident. I didn’t want to cause any trouble. What happened could hardly be compared to sexual abuse. It felt like offensive to people who have been sexually abused to raise any sort of alarm of my own.

Almost exactly a year later, I went to France by myself and had four very frightening events happen within two days. I got chased down a street by a much older boy on the program who “just wanted to hug me” even when I said no several times (I got caught outside of a grocery store and he wouldn’t let go), hit on by a man in his twenties with a disturbing leer, grabbed around the waist very suddenly by another guy on the program, and woken up at one in the morning by two drunk roommates who were throwing condoms filled with water at my head. (This is not to mention the fact that I got attacked by a very large dog less than a week into the program and all of the bullying from the other Americans.) Once again, I said nothing because they were just “little things.”

When I was sixteen, I got cornered in a supply closet by a guy with several mental illnesses, and a slew of other things happened that I also didn’t mention to anyone because they didn’t seem like anything serious.

But I thought about these incidents constantly, at least five times a day. Sometimes they make me cry. I freak out when people touch me and I can’t see them first. I do not like to be alone with adult men, and I’m very distrustful of guys. The anorexia has left my arms weak enough that I can’t carry my one-year-old cousin if he isn’t resting on my hip. I am not physically strong enough to stop any sort of attack.

It wasn’t until three weeks ago that I tried to very casually drop the first grocery store incident into a conversation with my mom, who brushed it off as an accident and that “there are just some guys out there who are creeps.”

Maybe that is the truth. There is a large possibility that all of these things are comically trivial and that I’ve just built them up inside of my head, but I’m inclined to think that even if that’s the case, I do have a right to my fear.  Feeling guilty about it isn’t right. None of these things were my fault. It’s alright if I’m scared. I’m allowed to cry.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

Ella Panics

Among my infinite number of talents, I appear to possess an immense propensity towards panic.

It’s currently past midnight, and I’ve found myself curled in a ball on my bed among many papers and books, utterly frozen in terror. The type of terror that makes me feel like I’m going to throw up or pass out, though hopefully not at the same time because I have no interest in asphyxiating on my vomit and dying à la Jimi Hendrix.

Max has just shown up in my room, and it looks like he might stay the night. The unquestioning love of animals seems to make any emotionally fraught moment exponentially easier to cope with.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Goes to the Doctor

It is a well known fact that I do not like doctors. And by doctors, I mean the type of doctors who do strep tests and poke your stomach and tell you that the reason you feel miserable is that you have a virus and they’re sorry but you’re just going to have to wait it out because they can’t give you medicine to make the fever and vomiting stop because antibiotics don’t work like that. You know, those magical life-saving people who scare me.

I had to go to the doctor today. It was not a fun experience. I cried so much and had enough of a freak-out that I have to go back on Saturday to get my vaccinations. Yes, vaccinations with an s. Plural. I then went into hiding in my bedroom for the rest of the day and only emerged for dinner and to read aloud the last words of famous people to my parents*.

Saturday is going to require very large amounts of Xanax.

In other news, novel writing is going quite well.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

*I am absolutely fascinated by last words, something that I will elaborate on in a future post.