Here I am, returning to the Athens Area Humane Society one year after adopting Leo. Dear Leo, the cat I wasn’t sure I wanted now had me contemplating a second. A few days earlier, I had received the mechanical mouse I had ordered for Leo. It wasn’t so much watching him chase the mouse that gave me pause, it was the sad, soft, lonely meow he uttered when the mouse stopped moving. I had been thinking about it for a few months, and I realized that Leo did indeed need a companion.
It had taken me quite a while to decide to adopt Leo. I had always been a dog person, but now my age and my knees prevented me from considering another. Would I like a cat? It was a hard decision because I had never owned one, and I wasn’t sure what was involved.
By happenstance, a neighbor mentioned she was reading about a Foster Cat Study conducted through the UGA School of Veterinary Medicine. The program studies the benefits of bringing together a senior person without pets with a cat that needs to be adopted. I could foster a cat to decide whether it was a fit for me. I had four months to try it out, and if I returned the cat, it would be with the knowledge that it was going to a no-kill shelter. The study seemed to be the perfect way to find out if a feline friend was for me.
I met with Dr. Sherry Sanderson at the school, and the principal investigator for the project. I learned that there were additional benefits to being part of the study. Dr. Sanderson and her team answer questions and provide support as needed and for one year provide the adoptive cat’s food and litter.
It has been a fascinating year, watching Leo grow from a 9-week-old kitten to a one-year-old cat. When he was just a kitten, he would burrow under the covers on my bed and sleep at my feet. How he could breathe I’ve never figured out, but it was his routine. Nothing was as cute and as sweet as watching that little mound work its way to the top of the covers when he realized I was awake. He sleeps on top of the bed now, but occasionally crawls under the throw at the edge of the bed, with one front leg and his nose sticking out of the edge.
And we have a very special morning routine. I don’t want to get up and he wants me to get up. Since he knows he is not to get on the night stand, he reaches out and paws the remote control off the table top. Three times each morning he crawls across me, perches on the edge of the bed, and puts one paw on the nightstand. Three times each morning I reach over and push him off the bed. I have no idea why three seems to be the magic number, but it works. After the third try, I am up and Leo is happy.
My cat worries were for naught. Leo behaves well. He knows where he shouldn’t be, but he does test me when he walks around the coffee table and places those front paws just on the edge and looks over the top, much like the silly remote routine of the morning. And I have decided that when I see his paw prints somewhere he’s not supposed to be that perhaps I was hasty in shooing him off. What’s the harm if Leo is adventuresome? Has he trained me?
I read Facebook a little differently since I am a cat owner. All those posts about them are true. They are their own creatures and they will love you on their own terms. I have spent this past year with Leo playing, petting, and loving (as much as a cat will let you love it), which has made him a beloved pet and me a crazy cat lady. I realized I had officially gained that title when the Fed Ex guy delivered a box of litter refills and that mechanical mouse for Leo. I went to the door, and without giving it a thought, I told the young man I had forgotten about my order and had told Leo this delivery was not for us. He snickered, which didn’t strike me as unusual until I had closed the door, and I realized that I had told him I was talking to my cat, as if one usually does talk to their cat. And in my case, I usually do. Hence, I am proudly a cat lady. If I have learned anything over the last year, it’s how much love and humor a cat brings to your life. So now, I am headed to the Athens Area Humane Society because Leo needs a playmate.
When I turned sixty-five, I promised myself a year full of adventures. So here I am on a Saturday afternoon at a trapeze lesson, secure knowing I have a Medicare card in my wallet.
When I was ten years old I was enamored of a pink woman flying on a trapeze, swinging high in the far-away peak of a circus tent, dangling by her knees as I gasped below. For the last fifty-five years I dreamed it was possible for me to do that.
I walk into Canopy studio and get acquainted with the space where I might make a fool of myself. For $15, I take this introductory class as a “drop in.” I prevaricate on the registration form, not mentioning the back surgery I had three years earlier. I do not want the whole series of lessons. I want to hang by my knees as I swing on a trapeze – once.
We gather in a large airy space, the floor covered in thick blue mats. Sixteen trapezes hang from, hopefully, sturdy roof beams. No net. Although advertised as a beginners’ adult lesson only two of the twenty-six students are over college age. I try not to act like a scared senior citizen.
We begin by standing barefoot in a circle, describing our experience in gymnastics, trapeze, and dance. When I say that my last experience in gymnastics was in 1960, there is a sharp intake of breath across the circle.
To my right, a punk-haired fellow in a tank top shows off his massive biceps and abs. A tiny black tire decorates a huge hole in one ear. Glittering on his face are silver piercings in his eyebrows, lip, and nose. “This is my second round of lessons,” he says. To my left is an adorable and petite freshman named Tracy, who says she has no experience of any kind. I feel grandmotherly toward her. We partner up.
The school director is middle aged but in fabulous shape. She leads us in a killer warm-up. My knees quiver as we wind up twenty minutes of yoga-with-attitude.
Our three instructors have no stomach whatsoever. I wonder what they use to digest their food. I have never – not even in high school – had strong stomach muscles. Two abdominal surgeries have not helped. My hope for survival today rests on strong arms and legs.
All the trapezes are lowered waist high. Tracy and I take turns sitting and swinging on the trapeze. It is much like sitting on a playground swing but instead of a flat board, we sit on a wooden rod the size of a broomstick.
For once, being well-padded is an advantage.
Then we both stand on one trapeze facing each other, her feet between mine. Tracy and I alternate hanging back by our arms while the other stands straight, eventually getting a nice swing going.
Next trick (that is what they call each new position) is hanging by our knees on the trapeze while neck and hands touch the mat beneath us. I ace that trick. So does Tracy, but she confesses that she had many years’ experience on a jungle gym. . . Recent experience.
Then comes the trick I both fear and crave. Trapezes are re-hung higher: above our heads. We are to grab the bar in our hands, bring up our legs, slip our feet between our arms and the rod into a pike position with legs parallel to the ground. Then hang by our knees.
My non-existent stomach muscles fail to pull my feet anywhere north of the floor. With help I get my left big toe on the bottom of the bar. From there I struggle a toe at a time until both feet are pushing against the bar. While in that awkward pose I notice it has been a long time since I shaved my legs.
I am able to perform the pike with my hairy legs and pointy toes roughly parallel to the ground. Then I hang by my knees, far above the floor. . . Well, a few feet above the floor. I end the trick hastily, not having the stomach muscles to unwind with graceful control. Tracy says, “Great job. I don’t think my mother could do that.”
I am proud of myself and satisfied.
Our last activity requires only arm strength. Three trapezes are left hanging above our up-stretched arms. I can reach the bar when I stand on my toes and jump up. We are to hang from our arms, swing in a wide arc, come back, and then drop with bent knees onto the mat.
One of the instructors says, “Pretend you’re a pirate with a parrot on each shoulder. Don’t squash the parrots. Keep your shoulders down and your arms wide.”
The fellow with the big biceps and the tire in his ear runs up to the middle trapeze, swings from one wall to the next, then goes into a knee hang. All three teachers yell, “No hanging upside down.”
I do as well as anyone else. My strong arms take the brunt of the pull. I swing, do a few dance moves with my legs, and get down with a bit of grace. I am very proud of myself for trying but Cirque du Soleil can do without me.
The other older woman and I both walk out of the school unaided. That counts.