In the first post I ever wrote for this blog, I said:
I love silence with a passion. To me, it’s not an absence of something, but an iridescent, sublime presence, that can move me to acute and transcendent bliss.
It’s 4 in the morning, and the great urban noise bowl that surrounds me has not yet begun to roar. Wrapped in a fog cocoon, the night is still.
My cat died yesterday. She was the last of her family, and now I am a person without pets for the first time in almost two decades. And I am feeling so, so ambivalent about it.
There are people who should not be parents, and mine were among them. My mother regularly expounded on what a burden children were. She said she loved me, but didn’t like me, and I’ve never felt likable or lovable since. And when she was stressed by her responsibilities, which was often, she lashed out in rage. If there is anything I don’t want to be, it is her.
Yet in the end, I am my mother’s daughter.
I talk about almost everything else, but my struggle to meet my own expectations about treating my dependents with kindness and patience is a dirty little secret. When a friend joins me at the vet’s office to see me through the final moments, she is platitudinal – verbal expressions of emotion are not her forte.
“You gave her a great life,” she says.
“I have regrets,” I reply, with a crypticness and brevity that are extremely out of character for me. But I owe honesty that much.
The truth is, I often couldn’t deal constructively with my cat’s demands, especially when they were vocal. I felt desperate – I thought I would break under the pressure – I just needed her to stop. She couldn’t help it, poor girl, and she was obviously stressed and confused by my reaction. Why didn’t knowing that reduce my desperation, or strengthen my compassion, or patience, or selfless love, or whatever it is I didn’t have enough of??
Many times, I resolved to change my behavior. But no matter what my intentions, I just couldn’t sustain those changes. More than once, it crossed my mind that I might benefit from anger management classes. Or a daily yoga and meditation practice. But I pursued neither solution. I didn’t even read a book.
I did finally succeed in altering her behavior in a way that improved our relationship during her final months, but I am deeply ashamed that an 8 pound cat with a wasting disease was better able to regulate her emotional expression than I was.
I want to think this is a cultural failure. If I lived in a world that acknowledges differences in sensory reactivity, perhaps I would have better tools and support for dealing with stress and sensory challenges – and less shame to impede availing myself of them.
And maybe that is true, as far as it goes. But HSPs are more independent of their culture than other people, which has certainly been the case for me throughout my life, so how far is that? I understand my mother better now, but the damage she wrought upon my life is beyond repair, and therefore beyond forgiveness.
So how can I forgive myself?
I spent yesterday weeping, posting memorials, poring over photos and videos, trying to stake down in the present that which has slipped irrevocably into the past. All the things grieving people do.
Yet despite my wrenched heart, the fact that my load is lightened intrudes itself constantly. Already there is more time, money, peace, space. As I move through the rooms of my small house and discover all the different cat-things I no longer need, I can’t help noticing there was literally not enough room for her in my life.
But the silence.
I never thought the house could be too quiet.
I was wrong.