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I was once adopted by a stray kitten whom we named Mathom (which as many Tolkien fans knows means “one of those objects you just can’t throw away and pass around,” and as far fewer Old English students know means “treasure”). He was patient, gentle, and brilliant even for a cat, with a large command of understood English; the kind of cat one can talk to. He would listen, and he understood the logical progression of things: One evening, he lounged nearby while we completed a jigsaw puzzle. He watched us admire it–and then his eyes bugged when we began to take it apart once again. We had clearly fallen off the interspecies ledge of mutual understanding–we had taken so much time on it! Had refused his help so politely! I have never seen that expression on a cat’s face again–not even on the Interwebs.

Mathom hated the vet. Far beyond the average vet-hating of hiding and swearing and an occasional irritable swat. He would turn into twelve pounds of tabby predator, snarling and screaming and lashing out at demon speed.  It took at least two people (one of them me) to pin him down long enough to give him his shots; one vet announced that he was clearly quite healthy and no exam would be needed! And the head of UW’s vet department looked very, very concerned as he washed off his wounds while looking at my load of two-week-late Annie.

“I’d keep the cat away from the baby. Just to be on the safe side.”

We followed his advice and shut him out of the nursery the first night we brought our daughter home from the hospital. Just in case.

Well, Annie coughed. Or something. Not even a fuss. But I had brand-new-mommy-ears, and off I went. OK, that sounds speedier than it was, considering I was clutching my cesarian staples as I lunged out of bed. The nursery was next door, and I was there easily within twenty seconds at most–

–and there was Mathom, pawing at the door and yowing that I had better get my sorry ass over there and see what was amiss with HIS BABY. We didn’t bother shutting him out after that.

But Annie wasn’t The Vet.

At long last (too long, really), after too many visits of them taking out the Dangerous Feral Cat Equipment (carpeting, gloves, and the stick with the gizmo that traps their heads) we all decided to just shoot him full of la-la while he was still in the carrier and come back the next day. Wayne, the vet who came up with this, even cut us a deal on the overnight–it was the best solution for everybody. (And it gave him bragging rights on what a nice bellyrub our jaguar allowed him in the morning.)

Somewhere along the years I found out that there was a word for this: Triggered. It was just that when Mathom went to the vet, he fought for his life–because when Mathom was at the vet, that was where he fought for his life, vets being the places where fighting for your life tended to happen. And so forth. He was triggered. He was already four or five months old when he found me–and intact–so God knows what vet experience had done it. Then again, I suppose being put into a box and taken out by strangers in scary smells and having a cold glass rod shoved up your butt isn’t a primo day for most of us, so maybe it was just business as usual that he was voting against.

Psychology is a horrible, desentientizing thing, to turn such a noble soul into a frantic killer, at the mercy of a fear that not even I could save him from. The vet trying to kill him was in his head, out of claw and hiss range. Nothing to be done.

What made me think of Mathom was that I’m about to move. I have all reasonable ducks in a row–no real shortage of apartments in our comfortably large area, a sufficient chunk of the ready saved up for the exorbitant expense, a now 24-year-old Annie willing to do the anxiety-provoking things of looking and calling and making arrangements–but I’m terrified. I have a huge life change happening right before then (baby #2, now 22, is coming to live with us) and it’s dwarfed by The Move. Because I’m triggered.

Moves have been places where I’ve fought for my life, albeit behind a cheerful nervous smile and hidden tears. Horrible screaming matches. Not being packed. Friends coming and going grim-faced through teetering walls of one’s crap as if plunging through jungle in 100° heat. Annie needing stitches in her eyebrow when crashing her tricycle onto the ramp of the truck. The humiliation of piles of debris that really, really, really should have been dealt with before other people had to catch you in the midst. The truck being too tall for the overhang. Rain. The inevitable mountain by the trash of didn’t-really-need-it, no-room-for-it–but DAMN IT still my STUFF!!! (Although I will always cling to the snapshot of pulling away from the curb as a happy man stood strumming our second-best guitar, already gone to a new home.)

None of these moves were presided upon by the sheriff, but a couple of them only beat him there by a couple of days–those occurred when I was at my most ill and thus most vulnerable, and so those triggers are the deepest of all. It doesn’t help that my best friend is moving too, and is in the midst of her own eddy of uncertainty about what and who goes where when. As I write this, I can barely look at my own possessions without wondering if I will ever find them after we pack and unpack, or wondering which bits will end up on that pile by the dumpster, of being afraid I’ll cry.

But I make myself remember the last move, when I visualized already being moved into my perfect apartment. (Not this one. Trust me.) And . . . my life was still my life, for good or ill. And that’s how it turned out. Unpacking happens, and there are worse things than driving home with somebody who got a good bellyrub and a clean bill of health and is sharing a loud still-drunken purr.

Got any for me, Dr. Wayne?

 

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