porcelainandporcupines

A winter’s tale

Posted on: June 22, 2015

I believe I went on record not too long ago as in favor of the chaos and temporary societal breakdown that tend to accompany your larger winter storms; however, in light of this particular winter, in which storm followed storm followed storm, I’d like to amend my previous support to make it fully clear that my enjoyment stems from the temporary nature of the suspension of civility, of knowing that, no matter how dark it is, day will follow. This past winter, with its seemingly endless snowfall, which, last I checked, was still not entirely melted, proved too much even for my hardy constitution, which can’t help but rise to a challenge it knows it can win, and instead of taking joy in the conquering of elements, I too reached a point where I found myself to be conquered by them.

It happened toward the end of February. Prior to that I had also been not enjoying the mercurial turn of events so much, but I did recognize that I was getting through the season relatively unscathed. Yes, my evening commute was twice as long as it should have been, but I boarded the bus early enough in its run that it never passed me without picking up; I didn’t have to connect to another bus, or pick up children, or get to a second job. All I had to do was get to my house, put on pajamas and have the kitten stretch out over my legs, and it turns out that I can all of that just as easily at 6pm as I can at 5pm.

Despite my relatively easy travels, I did notice, on those days when traffic was too backed up and it wasn’t actively snowing or terribly windy, how much more sense it makes to be able to walk home rather than drive. Certainly, exposure to the elements is not my favorite thing, and I have in the past noticed with some dispirit how foot traffic is often reduced to single file in the snow, as all who follow fill only the footsteps of the first intrepid soul to pass that way, rather than attempt to widen the narrow trail that has been broken. Dispirit, and lack of charity, for I do the very same thing.

But, the extreme conditions of this terrible winter turned this inconvenience into a most unlikely source of camaraderie, a first as the usual brutish claiming of right-of-way was replaced by a delicate consideration of the rights and needs of fellow travelers. Instead of just brushing past one another as we would when the entire width of the sidewalk was at our feet, pedestrians seemed to be stepping aside whenever possible – sometimes even when the approaching fellow was as many as 5 houses away! – with a wry smile that acknowledged we were all in this together. In return, we received genuine thanks from the person given the right of way. On the rare occasions that I had to venture more than a few blocks out of doors, I felt not just my usual elation at conquering the elements (or at least putting up a very noble fight), but a sense of community and kinship that tends to be missing when my primary interest in my fellow pedestrians is finding out if they’re saying something stupid.

However the pleasures of foot traffic were enhanced by the inclement weather, the inclementness, as stated, was such that, more often than not, I eschewed that fellowship newly found for the exasperating inconvenience of a bus that provided me nearly door-to-door service from my home to work, and then eventually back again.

Before I go any further in my story, I want to state clearly that the MBTA and all employed by such have my 100% support and admiration for the way they operated this past winter. The underfunding chickens would have come home to roost eventually, and I believe the agency dealt with their premature arrival with determination and genuine effort to do the best they could, to keep operations running to the degree that would best serve riders while still minding the safety of their drivers. Yes: sometimes, that best service was a massive inconvenience, as I will go on to illustrate shortly; but, overall, I believe, in facing a spectacular challenge, the T did an admirable job. It’s just that, in lionizing David, we often forget that Goliath killed a LOT of people before being hit by that slingshot. [In case this tortured analogy is not clear, Goliath is the winter, and the T was slain. And, as is the case in any story, Charlie Baker is a jerk.]

So! Like I said – generally, I was unperturbed by the extreme weather and traffic conditions of the winter. Until early one morning, when I was packing up my lunch for the day and happened to notice that my sweet kitten, the incomparable Oola Belle, had gotten a little bit of pee on the floor outside the litter box. Usually she’s neater about that sort of thing, but of far greater concern than having to clean up a little bit of cat pee – which is actually barely a concern at all – was that this particular bit of cat pee was bright pink. Which is of very great concern indeed because, if you don’t have a cat or any experience with their urine, I will tell you that pink means blood. And no matter the season, you do not want to discover that your kitten is peeing blood.

At this point, I will remind that all of this happened several months ago, and Oola Belle is now 100% recovered. And, though I am happy every day that my kitten remains in good health and good spirits, on the morning of said discovery, I was not happy at all. In fact, I was quite upset. Blood in urine is not good for anyone’s kitten, but it’s particularly a problem for my kitten because she’s mine and I love her the most. In addition to which, Oola had had this problem before, and it turned out to be a chronic condition, for which she now eats a special prescription food. And though I appreciate the symmetry, pointed out by my pal Derbs, that I would happen to end up with a pet that, like me, needs a special diet because of her malfunctioning innards, the reappearance of blood meant that the special diet in this case was failing, that her condition was getting worse, and that I was going to lose my lovingly fractious kitten after only 4 years together.

Again, it didn’t actually mean any of that. But it’s hard, at 6:50 in the morning, after weeks of unrelenting darkness and cold, to think of anything but the worst, so it was in this frame of mind that I headed out to the bus stop. A few minutes late, since I had to stop to wipe up the blood of my dying kitten (not dying), give her kisses on her sweet little head for probably the last time (not even close to the last time – in fact, I kissed her sweet little face this morning! She pretended like she didn’t care, but I was undeterred by her lack of interest), and trucked my way through 7 feet of snow, to arrive at the stop just as the bus was, technically speaking, pulling away from the curb, but since there was still so much snow in the road, it was actually impossible to tell where the sidewalk ended and the road began.

Missing the bus would mean waiting 20+ minutes for the next one, that + being an entirely unpredictable variable due to the inclement conditions previously mentioned; alternately, I could continue to trudge through 7 feet of snow to the next nearest bus route, a mile in the cold to be dropped off so far from my destination that I’d have to trudge even further just to arrive at a place that I loathe. Not to mention that my cat was (totally not) dying, and I’d have to spend the rest of my life with(out) her. There was a lot riding on my catching the bus, is what I’m saying, although I would not have put it so drolly at the time.

So I began the nearly impossible task of running through the narrow rut of unevenly packed snow to catch the bus before if fully pulled away. And, for a moment, luck was on my side; I got to the bus, and knocked on the closed doors. The driver turned his head. We made eye contact, my eyes undoubtedly filled with a mix of gratitude at his impending kindness, and despair at my impending loss. And then, firmly, he shook his head. “No.”

I will point out that, in the time it took him to shake his head, and make the accompanying hand gesture that I should step away from the bus, that he could just as easily have opened the doors to let me board. Or he could have done that when he still wasn’t driving away and I said “Can you open the door?” Probably not nicely; I mean, my cat was (not) dying, and I was for some reason about to miss the bus even though it was right in front of me; that sort of stress really comes through in my voice. And I knew that the driver had a schedule to keep to, even though he had no hope whatsoever of keeping it. But he also had the option to let me on the bus; the option, and the ability. The graciousness of pedestrians, which I had come to expect, did not extend to drivers. Given the opportunity to help, he chose not to. And I, as would any reasonable person faced with the frustration of an unreasonable asshole who doesn’t even care that your cat is (totally not even) dying, screamed loud and profane, and, helpless to do otherwise, lashed out and punched the bus.

Immediately, I regretted this. I mean, instantaneously. Which is difficult to convey in writing; but the moment for you, between reading “bus” and “immediately”, brief though it surely was, did not exist between my fist hitting the bus and my realizing what a dumb fucking thing that was to do. It hurt. So. MUCH. Like, to a degree I would not have thought possible. Which is not to say that I’ve ever spent any time imagining what it would be like to punch a bus, but if I had, I’m sure I would have thought that I’d do at least a little bit of damage to the vehicle. It was shocking to realize how wrong I was, especially about something I’d never even believed to begin with.

Had I been less occupied with the stunning pain that had, somewhat amazingly, completely defused my anger, I might have taken a moment to note that the bus proved to be as unyielding as its driver. Instead, fully occupied, I could only notice that the immediacy of the pain had been paired with a simultaneous swelling and purpling of my knuckles. Not for the first time, I thought how smart I’ve always been to wear cheap jewelry as the ring on my swollen and no longer flexible finger was adjustable and could be removed easily, intact, and with a minimum of pain.

The rest of my commute was uneventful – I trudged through the snow, in the way of my elders, and eventually arrived at work. I made an appointment with the vet, who didn’t seem alarmed by Oola’s condition, which made me think she may not have been dying after all (she wasn’t!). And the next day, on the way to the vet, I discovered that, when you’re lugging a pet carrier through the snow, everyone will cede the right of way to you.

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