Shit! The Cat’s Out of the Bag!

Trust your instincts.

That’s what I need to remind myself over and over. Will I ever do it?

Last week I told you I was moving, which is my big new thing. This was the week we physically and emotionally moved into a new house. The move was stressful, which is what I kept telling myself was causing the boulder of anxiety weighing me down.

This is the wrong decision.

This isn’t right.

Don’t do this.

Something isn’t right.

I was just feeling nervous about change and moving and being in a new home and paying more in rent than we’ve ever had to before and having tiny bedrooms and probably not having a guest room and…

and…

and…

These are the things I told myself.

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But, for real, this is the largest bedroom in the house.

The last time I remember feeling this strongly (and subsequently ignoring it) was about five years ago when I interviewed for a job that I thought I really, really wanted. I was in graduate school for creative writing, and I wanted to move away from teaching when I got out, so I was looking for nonprofit work that ignited some of my social justice passions. I applied for two jobs that seemed like perfect fits for me. One was the domestic violence coordinator for a nonprofit that served minority populations. Another was a position in a nonprofit that helps victims of sexual and domestic violence.

I was invited to interview for the domestic violence coordinator position. When I arrived, I entered through the front doors and felt an inexplicable and overwhelming feeling of dread. I chocked it up to nerves for the impending interview. Throughout the interview, I nailed question after question. But there was something about the way the people in the room interacted with each other and with me that made me feel like something wasn’t right…I couldn’t pinpoint what it was.

A few days later, I was offered the position. That same day I was offered an interview at the other nonprofit. I debated whether I should wait to accept the position and attend the other interview, or if I should turn down the interview. My wife convinced me that I should cancel the other interview and accept the first position–after all, it was pretty much my dream job. But I was still niggled by an unknown and persistent feeling that something wasn’t right. I ignored the feeling, convinced myself it was just fear of change and having new and very important responsibilities. I took the job.

Within two weeks of starting the job, I was nearly paralyzed with anxiety. I don’t know how to express exactly what happened, but the people who worked there and ran the nonprofit were insidious in ways I couldn’t be prepared for. At one point, the executive director spent a closed-door meeting trying to convince me that because I’m a lesbian and therefore a man-hater, I will never see men as victims of domestic violence. This wasn’t said in coded language–it was outright stated. She said I would never be able to grasp the concept of male victims because inherent in my lesbianism is a dislike for men. (Nevermind the fact that a) men are primarily perpetrators of DV and women are the primary victims, or that b) I believe every victim, every time, or that c) the reasons I was being called in was because I was “out of line” in trying to highlight the disparate reporting rates of LGBTQ individuals, which inherently involved same-sex gay couples.)

I was also accused of being racist because…? I have absolutely no idea. What I do know is that one of their long-time employees showed up to the MANDATORY Halloween party dressed as “Whoopie Goldberg Cushion.” She was wearing a large whoopee cushion costume, then put on one of those Jamaican hats with attached dreads, and topped it off with some very offensive fake teeth. When we were all getting into our costumes in the bathroom, she came out of the stall and everyone cheered. Then she remarked that she was going to paint her skin black, but decided against it. The other employees, all of whom were non-white (but not black), expressed their disappointment and encouraged her that next time she should put on blackface. So they were totes cool with that, but I was the racist. (This isn’t to say that I haven’t said or done things that are racist or that I’m not a constant perpetrator of microaggressions–I am and I’m doing the work to be better. However, in this situation, that was definitely NOT my issue.)

It was the most toxic environment I’ve ever been subjected to, and something in my gut tried to warn me of that when I was interviewing and contemplating taking the job. The job ended with my bosses physically escorting me into an exam room in the clinic attached to the nonprofit and telling one of their physicians to prescribe anti-depressants to me. I nearly crashed my car the next morning from the medication, a pill that is now primarily used to treat severe insomnia and is no longer used for depression or anxiety.

Incidentally, while working at this nonprofit, I ended up visiting and working with the other one that I turned down the interview with. The feeling upon first entering the building was the exact opposite–it was calming, safe. I ended up crying with the woman who would have been my interviewer. I made the wrong decision. It was so very, very clear.

This is the wrong decision.

This isn’t right.

Don’t do this.

Something isn’t right.

We moved. We spent the week unpacking boxes, finding homes for our things, and yesterday, we started to make this place home. The house is looking like ours, like a home, like a place we could be for a very long time. I began to feel more at ease. I was convinced that those ominous feelings really were just associated with change and stress.

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Then we told our landlord that we have a cat. We didn’t initially divulge this information to any of the places we were looking to rent because most places have a two-pet limit. I’m not a fan of lying, but we’ve lied about having a cat or dog before, and it hasn’t really mattered, because everywhere else we’ve ever rented, the property management companies didn’t seem to care or take note. In the case of our previous house, they didn’t even do a yearly inspection for three or four years.

Our new landlord has given us the impression that she will be more present in the home. And her comments about the upkeep of the yard and other outside obligations have implied that she at least drives by on a fairly regular basis. If this truly is the case, she would eventually discover we have a cat because he’d be sitting in or near the window. So we decided we’d make a convincing case as to why we have a cat and why we should be allowed to keep him and she’d probably be fine with us having one. After all, the house doesn’t have a single inch of carpet or curtains to destroy, and he’s litter-box trained. (He’s never destroyed anything in the three years we’ve had him or made a mess outside his box.)

We were wrong.

Some of you might be thinking that this doesn’t seem like such a big deal. That we could and should just get rid of the cat.

We can’t do that. When we adopt an animal, that animal is a family member. We have made a promise to love, nourish, and care for that animal until its death. The only situation we’ve ever encountered in which we nearly gave up one of our pets was when our dog Rocky almost bit a child. He didn’t actually bite the kid, but he came close. So now we keep him far, far away from children, and we’ve made a pact that if he ever did harm a child or a small animal, we’d have him put down.

My wife and I talked around and around and around this last night, and we’ve made some plans. We’re going to lie again. If we’re asked, we’ll say we don’t have a cat, that we gave him back to our imaginary friend. In the meantime, we’re going to keep the blinds down at all times to keep the cat from standing in the windows and being seen from the street. When she’s coming over, we will put all of the cat items out in the garage storage area, and take the cat to a local vet clinic run by a friend of mine who offered to board him while she’s here. We’ve purchased a ton of anti-allergen sprays, detergents, and cleaning agents to “denature” our area rugs, furniture, curtains, bedding, and blankets. We’re going to get some heavier duty air filters for the furnace, and possible a HEPA air purifier for the main living area of the house.

And in six months, maybe nine, we’ll move again. Just the thought of that makes me nauseous.

Hopefully next time I’ll listen to my instincts. Hopefully the next house will be ours for good.

Until then, I’ll be over here eating away my cuticles and not sleeping.

 

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