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My Psychedelic Cat (short story)

My Psychedelic Cat, Part 1
(A Short Story)

As soon as he heard the clinking of ice cubes in the near empty highball glass behind him, Eliot’s head pulsed in time with the percussion to an explosive clash, flinging his hand above his head to catch the diamond cuff-linked wrist of the menacing middle-aged noise-maker who winced in pain when Eliot’s claw clasped unforgivingly, cutting off his circulation. The highball glass fell to the overly-polished teak wood floor, sending shards of glass in a kaleidoscopic display underfoot of too many gleaming and sparkling dark shoes. And all the senseless and grating chatter was silenced by the first crack of the glass and replaced by the frantic pace of the hired help in the background ushering in the clean-up crew. The host, too dizzy from a high gin buzz to react, and the hostess too numbed from Xanax to bother lifting her head off of the red velvet arm of the sofa. It was late. But not late enough for parties such as these to end. Just late enough for all of the degradation of the wealthy to show through their pasty masks, and the banal plainness of their true characters to step forth and begin their first authentic introductions past midnight, or later.

Eliot decided to leave, and he made his way through the obstacles of countless uptight mannequins robed in formal wear and through the double stained glass panel doors, the size and weight of tall forest trees, swinging on easy hinges. His lungs inhaled an herbal infused smoky frigid winter breath, and his sense-recognition kicked into overdrive. He pivoted left, swayed his head in snake-like elegance and emerged as an apparition to the boys, appearing at once through the smoke-filled valet caboose. Without a word, he pulled up a stool to take his turn at the bong pass. Not that a bong was necessary what with the intoxicating fog of a half-hour’s worth of exhales and the smoke billowing from the lips of about a half dozen young men. But the ritual is part of the experience, bestowing a deeper meaning than even the high, representing times past and innocent suns dancing in clear skies and upon summer-tanned lakeside thighs. As he clutched the hand-blown glass bong of pale blue adorned with pillows of white, and his inhale stretched his lungs to full capacity, holding for an exact count of thirty, then exhaling effortlessly with a gaped jaw, he closed his eyes waiting patiently for the next round. He stuffs two 100-dollar bills into the basket in the center of the table—his philanthropic gesture for the boys’ kind hospitality. He could afford to be generous. He owed this and a hell of a lot more back to the world for all it has given to him. The bong came back around, and he gasped for the smoke as a guppy lay flopping on a dock longing to breathe. Again. Now, a count of forty followed by the slow-streaming unwanted exhale. He nods his head at the boys, reflecting glassy eyes in unison.

He removes his own keys from the valet board, and begins strutting ever so slowly towards his car, distracted by a set of enlarging headlights and the small green reflection on cat’s eyes just up ahead. Disturbed by the inevitable end that is sure to manifest within seconds and feeling the full extent of his powerlessness of this soon-to-be lost life, he begins walking towards the upcoming scene of a very sad occasion. And screeeetch! Shreeeek! It’s done. Old Sammy the beloved tabby is no more. Eliot decides not to progress any further and instead hides in the shadow of a large tree examining the goings on as a few unexpected tears well up and drip down his cheeks, which he wipes swiftly away. From the driver’s side of a silver BMW unfolds a youngish and very tall gangly man in an awkwardly-fitted and obviously rented tuxedo. His shoulder-length dark hair is a bit stringy, hanging around his angular face. He stands staring at the squashed mess that once was a cat and scratches at his patchy beard, which is too short to be intentional. He turns back, folding himself again inside of the car, turning the wheel, bouncing up over the curb and onto the circular garden surrounding an ornate limestone fountain, glowing in soft a light that lies just before the front lawn of the estate. He parks there, under another large tree, then makes his way with freakishly long strides carried by stork-like legs with a black leather guitar case swung onto his back.

Eliot is intrigued, and decides to leave the poor cat. After all, he’s dead now. Nothing can be done to reverse this misfortune, and he did live a long, luxurious life, even by a cat’s standards. He winks and says a silent, Goodbye Old Sammy, my friend, to the loving cat that always greeted him fondly upon every visit to the estate. Perhaps the only authentically friendly face you’d ever find around these parts. Oh, he’ll be missed. He’ll be missed dearly. Eliot turns and follows back to the party, after the stranger with the guitar.

The stranger enters through those remarkable stained glass doors and makes a bee-line for the intoxicated host, Eliot’s father, who seems to come alive at the gleaming aura beaming from the stranger’s smile. He shakes his had vigorously and leads him to the parlor, and as they make way through the guests, Eliot’s dad actually looked excited, gathering the crowed to follow after them, saying, “This is Badou, Tallon Badou! He’s from South Africa—the Ivory Coast! Come, and hear this. You won’t believe your ears!” Even Eliot’s mother arose from her Xanax-induced coma, rising off the edge of the velvet sofa to revel in her husband’s delight and proclamations.

And so Badou began to play his guitar and sing and tell stories of decadence, obscene excess, war and injustice, greed and depravity—things hey could all relate to in myriad ways. And then he sang of skinny dipping in lakes on the moon and sniffing on stardust, licking the spicy trails of comets and taking trips through wormholes to new universes where gleeful aliens danced in bright waves of light.

As Badou played, the crowd packed into the parlor, and not one soul was outside of that room. Shoulder to shoulder they swayed and tapped their pointy toes, hummed and fixed their eyes upon the performer. And swirling colors of spectrum light incantations playfully petted the heads of each spectator, beckoning them ever farther, deeper into the magic of the bizarre world that was unfolding before them.

And they all danced and laughed and dreamed. And the walls transformed to puffy clouds that transported them above the Earth. They laughed and twirled and the music turned into something no longer audible—it manifested into being, you could feel it. Like the fabric of crisp linen bed sheets, you could feel the sound and be shrouded in it and play with it like warm ocean waves splashing against your skin, and you could dive into it, like a pool of colorful plastic child’s balls. And they did all of that. And Eliot watched. And they all glowed warm auras of moonlight. And Badou played his music.

And Eliot wondered when the last time was that any of them had dreamed—really dreamed of things never before imagined. If they dared, they might find themselves far less dull, he thought. Far less dead inside than he knew them to be. Maybe even alive.

And as enchanted things are, they go. So this was no different. Badou’s music came to a close. The cloud descended, the music ended, and the afterglow on all the faces of all the men and women dripped from their chins and arms and fingertips, like a haunted ectoplasm of pale pink happiness, it melted off of them, and their weary frowns returned to their rightful places. And things were once gain exactly as they were to be, as they always were unfortunately. The crowd applauded with exuberance and their plastic smiles shifted beneath their steady noses violating the statuesque botoxed cheeks that hate to be bothered with damn smiles.

Eliot feels a stirring in the pit of his stomach. It has quickly augmented to a deep burning. Hs nerves were unsettled at first and now it’s as if the rage of a thousand abused and banished souls have taken refuge in the pit of his gut. He feels something snap, literally snap, like a green twig in his brain, and his eyes blaze fire. He blinks and finds the calm needed o breathe again. And a cool, mad creature has become him.

Eliot sees Badou walk carefully through a crowd of praise and adoration with his guitar slung onto his back once more. Badou thanks his host who slides a wad of big bills into his palm and continues his slow journey out the door. But something makes him pause once more. A deep pain radiates from his side and down his leg—too sharp and agonizing to even make a sound, he falls to his other side, instinctively try to escape from the vicinity of the trauma. It’s still there. Wet, hot to touch and gut-wrenching. He can’t breath. He lifts his had to grab at his throat to find it covered, dripping in blood. Eliot sees blood pouring out of Badou’s side, and he looks down to view a sterling silver dinner knife, with deep red blood souring its tip clenched in his hand. Eliot drops the knife to the floor. He shuts his eyes again only opening them when he feels a warm, strong hand soothingly gripped around his shoulder. He opens his eyes.

Badou is standing in front of him, as healthy as the day he was born, holding Eliot’s shoulder. “Hey man,” says Badou. “You look like you just saw a ghost, huh? You okay?” Eliot nods. Badou gives him a friendly pat and smiles a gleaming happy grin, a great dichotomy it seemed in this place of misery. Eliot succumbed to the contagion and smiled back.

Badou finally made his way out the door and towards his car, silently noticing Eliot following close behind. This time Eliot truly was wielding a knife, and Badou could he soft sobs whimpering from him. Badou continued to his car. Suddenly, Eliot lunged at him with the dull blade, and Badou caught his arm, struggling with him to the ground, near where Eliot saw Old Sammy lose his life. But Old Sammy wasn’t there. Instead, a crushed Heineken bottle rested before his raging eyes when Old Sammy himself, came up rubbing against the wrestling men, butting them hard with his loving head and shaking their bodies with his loud purr. Eliot immediately rolled off of Badou and onto the grass. Old Sammy was now between the two men, cleaning hi face. Smiling. Badou hopped up onto the hood of his car looking down at Eliot, “Friend, what the hell is your problem?”

Eliot began to sob, “I thought you killed my cat.”

“That cat?” Badou pointed to Old Sammy.

“Ye-es,” Eliot screeched out through his tears.

“Why would I kill that beautiful creature? Why, friend, would you think I killed your cat.”

“I thought you hi- hit him with you ca- car.”

Badou sensing the danger was gone, hopped off of his car next to Old Sammy, scratching him gently behind the ears, “No, friend. A beer bottle. And it retaliated. I could use some help changing my tire if you think you’re up to it.”

And Old Sammy watched then wandered off. Eliot and Badou took a look at him as he sauntered back into the garden, and his tabby fur began to lighten to a strange translucence, then took on an electric glow of pastel lighted colors as a fiber-optic fantasy in psychedelic patterns. “Did you see that?” Eliot asked Badou.

“I’ve seen that and a whole lot more, friend. What matters is that he’s let you see that now. And now, you have to decipher the meaning.”

“The meaning of what?”

“Exactly.”

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Posted by on January 12, 2012 in FICTION: Flash fiction

 

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ARTICLE: Caregivers Are Heroes, But Not Superheroes

Taking breaks and attending to their own needs can help these dedicated men and women stay at their most effective.

Michael Sheehan, M.D.

Caregivers are heroes — they care for our community’s most vulnerable. They care for our youngest and eldest generations, provide care and support to the sick and dying, and assist those with substance abuse or mental health disorders and developmental or physical disabilities. These are the family members, friends, professionals, paraprofessionals and volunteers there for us during the most difficult and trying times of our lives.

Although caregivers are heroes, they are not superheroes. They are prone to sickness, depression, sleep deprivation and neglecting other physical, emotional and spiritual needs for themselves. They give of themselves but too often forget to give back to themselves to stay physically and mentally healthy. Self care is the most neglected and important thing a caregiver must do.

I recently spoke with Dr. Michael Sheehan, medical director for Operation PAR, where I work. He is a psychiatrist who has experience with caregivers who come from a variety of backgrounds. From family members to professional counselors, caregiving is serious work. Sheehan makes a point to remind caregivers to love their neighbors and themselves. That is to say, no more and no less, that balance is the key to living and giving.

Sheehan uses the example of the oxygen mask on an airplane. Passengers are instructed to put their own masks on before assisting others. Why? “You have only a few minutes of not having any oxygen for yourself before you pass out,” Sheehan said. “Then, you’re no good to anyone. You won’t be able to help anyone if you don’t take care of yourself first.”

Caregivers sometimes feel like they must do everything themselves, he said. “Sometimes caregivers feel like they are a knight in shining armor, that without them no one else could fill this role and no one could ever do these tasks as well as they do. This is a danger sign. Often the person who is being cared after helps foster this role for the caregiver, helping to convince them that only he or she can be here for them.”

“We need to remember that we are all part of a team of caregivers,” he said. “There may be other family members, neighbors, friends and community resources we can use to help us build a team of support and caregiving. It is a balancing act.”

It is critical that caregivers build a network of support. First, help assign roles to family and friends, those who are willing to help in some way. Also seek out help from your community. Depending on your individual needs, many churches, area hospices and social service organizations can fill in some gaps and offer services and support. There is a national 211 information and referral search, sponsored in part by the United Way. This is both a phone and online directory for countless services available in your community. To access the service, dial 211 or go to www.211.org.

In addition to maintaining methods of self care and support, identifying and treating burnout is another critical step a caregiver must take. Caring for others can be rewarding, but it is not easy. Burnout is common among caregivers, and sometimes it can go unidentified for a long time, increasing the negative effects.

“Burnout is not always easy to identify in its early stages, but early detection is critical to help ensure that long-term effects do not take hold,” Sheehan said. “Moreover, people who reach burnout are often slow to see it in themselves. The first step in identification is often listening to the concern of others surrounding the caregiver.”

Some signs and symptoms of burnout include:

  • Feeling an urge to abruptly flee the situation
  • Feeling trapped
  • Feeling apathetic — not caring and just wanting to get through the day
  • A decline in self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Feelings of depression, hostility and/or anger
  • Irritability — engaging in arguments with family members and co-workers
  • Inability to enjoy yourself in situations that used to be pleasurable
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Physical distress, including stomachaches, headaches, insomnia, chronic colds or flu
  • Overusing or abuse of alcohol and other drugs
  • Overeating, under-eating or other compulsive issues
  • Failing to take care of your daily needs, such as paying bills, attending appointments, exercising and eating healthfully, or doing things you enjoy

If you are a caregiver who may be experiencing some of these symptoms or if you know a caregiver who is showing signs of one or more of these symptoms, don’t panic. There are many ways to successfully overcome the effects of burnout. Most often, that includes finding a way to take a break from the caregiving role.

“Some caregivers may feel like this is irresponsible or uncaring because they have become so connected to the role of caregiver,” Sheehan said. “Yet taking a break is critical to maintaining or regaining a sense of good mental health. It also will help reinforce the perspective that is very freeing — there is not just one caregiver; it is teamwork.”

You may also choose to seek out counseling to help identify ways to reduce the burden of your role as caregiver, emotionally and realistically. A mental health professional will be able to assist you in identifying needs and treatment for burnout, and help link you to resources and supportive services.

Other great resources for caregivers in Pinellas County and beyond include:

PUBLISHED ARTICLE: http://largo.patch.com/articles/caregivers-are-heroes-but-not-superhuman-2

 

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