The husband and woman found the bones under the back patio deck when they returned to the house, the adhesive tape of the bank notice wearing on the windowpane of the front door since the foreclosure.  It wasn’t their cat, and they didn’t really discover the bones—their oldest daughter did—at that age where she was curious about everything, especially animals.  The woman surmised the cat belonged to the previous owner—the old woman they bought the house from—it had been her house for over 30 years, her husband dead twenty, and when they bought it she was living there with a cat, a cat and her son, who still lived at home.  It seemed to make sense so the husband agreed with the woman.  He agreed by not saying a word, but their daughter, well—she always had questions.

“Did she die?”

“Everything that lives dies, honey,” the woman said.

“God lives.  God doesn’t die.”

“That’s true… but all animals die.  She was an old cat.”

The husband is driving.  They live separately in another town now, and it was one of those weekend afternoons where they decided to get in the car and find a shaded park near sunset for the girls to play.  Their youngest is napping.  She doesn’t remember the house.  She wasn’t born there like her sister.

“Did another animal kill her?”

“I don’t know, sweet pea.  I think she was just really old.  Old animals do that.  They go off and hide when they’re sick because they wanna be left alone.”

“Well…  she’s still alive.  Her spirit is!”

“You might be right, darlin’.  Some people believe we’re born again and again.”

“Different bodies, but the same spirit?”

“Yes…” the woman turns to look back at her five year old daughter strapped in a booster seat.  She smiles at the quizzical look, the eyes lost in thought, and when she smiles and makes eye contact her daughter’s face brightens with a smile too.  She begins laughing, a loud and infectious little girl’s laughter.

The previous owner’s name was Hilda.  Shortened from Reinhilde, her German name.  And being German she lived up to it—a devoted wife, wishing only the survival and well-being of her children, or in this case her one son, George.  She worked in real estate, getting her license in the early eighties—she sold homes for a living, which made handling the selling of her house easy.  The only thing keeping her from selling sooner that Siamese cat, and not the fact her son was living with her.

The son wasn’t a father, and maybe that was the problem.  That strange thing that happens when a son becomes a father, when a daughter becomes a mother.  And it happens to cats too.  Hilda’s cat—Queen—she named her cat Queen, had litters of kittens, perhaps too many litters.  She was in heat the day George got that discrete package in the mail containing what was advertised as bath salts and climbed the roof of the house.  She’d been in heat before, and Hilda was used to her behavior, but George’s behavior that day, well, that’s a different story.

You don’t really become a father, become a mother.  You either are one or you aren’t.  Maybe it helps to have a reminder, and George didn’t have that—his father dying when he was just a boy—a suicide.  He shot himself in a room upstairs.  The same upstairs George lived in now, making it his home, which had a window out to the roof.  Hilda thought it was strange her son wanted to take a bath in the late afternoon.  It wasn’t like he’d worked that day, worked on anything that got him dirty, but she went on with cooking dinner when her son went upstairs and closed the bathroom door.  Queen following him.  She loved George.  Or rather she loved the cat nip in his pocket.  He always carried some with him when she was in heat.

George was a college graduate and a disabled veteran.  He received disability from his medical discharge from the military—a suicide attempt—like his father.  After coming home, after trying suicide, he decided he wanted to be a musician, and so he played a guitar, a guitar his grandmother gave him when he was in seventh grade.  He wrote a few songs, but didn’t really feel them.  The words more inspired from others rather than his experiences.  He managed a few gigs, most at fish fries for the Legion and the Knights of Columbus, where he played cover songs—the songs people wanted to hear—not because he was playing them, but because they remembered the words, the melody, and George just managed to be good enough to remind them of that—that first time they heard the song.

But that isn’t to say he was totally without experience.  One just had to follow his habits to know of his life, know his friends and enemies, his values.  He was introduced to drinking at sixteen by a family member—his mother’s brother.  This led to a friendship in his senior year of high school with a co-worker at his first job.  A fellow busboy just a year short of legal drinking age.  He discovered back roads and AC/DC.  The cops also discovered him, and a DUI was expunged just after his eighteenth birthday due to his good grades and an ROTC scholarship.  And so he went to college—in New Orleans.  His drinking there finding friends, but no loss to his virginity.  Fumbled experiences in high school further delayed.  His sophomore year he became addicted to cigarettes—this starting with a cigar, once again introduced by his mother’s brother with the late birth of George’s cousin—an It’s a Boy! cigar.  He had to get by the initial taste just like he had to with beer, but he liked the nicotine buzz just like he liked the buzz from alcohol, and after coming back from winter break he started bumming cigarettes from his college roommates on nights out at bars, soon buying his own packs.  Packs leading to cartons.  He was still a virgin when he tried pot and LSD, and by his senior year he’d been to a rave with ROTC buddies rolling on ecstasy.  He was still a virgin when he was commissioned as an officer, not commissioned with his class at graduation due to a fractured ankle at that year’s Mardi Gras—a drinking binge with a roommate’s girlfriend, who he sort of had a crush on.  He had to complete his physical fitness test back home in the Metro East of St. Louis—his mother pinning on his gold bars.  He spent ten months in the military, his first duty assignment in Los Angeles, and it was another alcohol binge, this at a training exercise in Texas, where he swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills due to anxiety.  He was twenty-three and still a virgin.

He had to lie about the drugs he experimented with in college for his security clearance in the military, but after his suicide attempt he didn’t feel the need to lie, and before he went home to live with his mother he visited a prostitute on Crenshaw Boulevard—a massage parlor.  He came home and began practicing on his guitar.  Singing songs he hadn’t felt, but he felt like he had, and that’s when he met a girl at a fish fry, who introduced him to smoking weed every day.  This in a way good for him—not the weed, but the girl.  Because he didn’t have to lie.  He really wasn’t a virgin anymore.

It’s a mystery and then it’s not.  How this girl helped him, and then she didn’t.  Just like a drug.  It always feels good at first, and then it still feels good, but you can’t forget—you can’t forget how you felt before—the bad you try to escape, because it’s still there.  And so you take more, you take more of the drug and you try different drugs to forget.  Even though it still reminds you of it, what you can’t escape—this the cycle of addiction—and how love, even love, can become a drug…  The facts of life being what they are there are always withdrawals.  Sometimes you have to go without.  You have to go without some things, even love sometimes, and somehow despite all of it you still have to survive—you still have to love yourself.  At least this was George’s experience.  His experience with girls and drugs.  And he was only twenty-five.  He was twenty-five when he met the girl and twenty-seven when they broke up.  He was twenty-seven and now he had three addictions—beer, cigarettes, and pot.  The beer and cigarettes came from family, but the pot—the love of pot—came from the girl.  And he didn’t know how to end it—this the sour truth he had to face.  He didn’t know how to quit.  He didn’t know how to end any of them, especially the girl.  His maturity level showing.  The sign of maturity when something ends.  When you quit something, and not because something makes it end.

So he tried legal highs.  The seed planted by the girl.  In the alternatives she gave him as a friend.  She quit smoking weed for a job, and then didn’t want to be around anyone who reminded her of it, including George.  She’d heard of salvia, and so she told him about it.  He ordered the leaves and some 10x extract online after reading testimonials of it being a substitute for marijuana, bypassing the tales of hallucinogenic trips out of skepticism.  Mazatec shamans of Mexico long used the plant to facilitate visionary states of consciousness during spiritual healing sessions.  They chewed it and mixed it with tepid water, seeing the plant as an incarnation of the Virgin Mary, who they say speaks with a quiet voice.  George smoked it.  It only took one hit of the extract.  The leaves four or five puffs—the trick the flame—getting enough heat, the right temperature for the leaves to combust.  The first time he broke through he was in his mother’s kitchen.  Hilda wasn’t home for she had a bible study she went to every Tuesday.  Fifteen minutes later he was standing in front of the open refrigerator, not sure where he was and what he’d just done—he didn’t remember taking a hit.  And that was it.  He didn’t try the extract again.  The scientist in him (he had a bachelor’s in chemistry) explaining it as a dissociative drug.  The spiritual, the out of body experience, the effect of salvinorin A, which if concentrated and smoked at the right temperature takes the you out of you, somehow a disconnect—your higher brain functions, the consciousness of your mind—separated from your body.  George liked it, and then he didn’t.  A few puffs of the leaves added colors to the day, but it wasn’t like weed at all, and after watching several videos on YouTube to see what he looked like on it he decided to pass.  It wasn’t addictive anyway.  The one good thing he took out of it his loss of introspection, at least for a while.  Salvia didn’t make him go in like marijuana.  It didn’t feed his self-love, for what it showed him was there was no self.  His body an illusion—this academic, amateur philosophy and the dogma of most religions.  He decided to stick to his beer and cigarettes, and maybe find something else to replace the weed because like it or not he still liked to love himself and real life was still real life.

So then he tried K-2, or spice as it’s called.  He’d read in the newspaper how the cops had confiscated it out of local head shops, and he figured it must be good.  After salvia he tried some of the legal buds on-line—wild dagga, or lion’s tail—smoked by prisoners in Africa, and some other ethno botanicals available, steering clear of the ayahuasca vine, or DMT, after his experiences on salvia.  He read The Yage Letters and that was good enough.  George didn’t really want to hallucinate or take a trip to find some spiritual truth—he just wanted to feel good—to get over the pain of the girl, at least that’s what he told himself.  He found the legal buds were just a waste of money.  It wasn’t weed—it didn’t really get him high, and that’s when he investigated synthetic marijuana, already illegal in his county, but not in the county to the north.  All it took was a drive of twenty miles and he came out of a head shop with a gram for $15.

George liked that it was legal, but then he wasn’t really sure if it was.  It was sold as herbal incense.  With a warning on the package that it was not for human consumption.  From what he read online the people that sold it just keeping one step ahead.  In the family of synthetic cannabinoids some were banned and some weren’t—at least not yet.  Local governing—states and counties—leading the way in making it illegal, as producers came up with new names and synthetic strands not on the list of banned substances.  But George didn’t really care if it was legal or not.  He wasn’t concerned that marijuana was illegal, and as far as he was concerned salvia was more dangerous than pot.  George didn’t live by these laws.  Alcohol and tobacco were legal, and addictive—many dying from it.  No one died from pot.  You could smoke as much as you want and never worry about overdose.  And he could buy K2 with a credit card.  Marijuana was hard to get after the girl broke up with him.  Her connections his connections, and George didn’t want to have to go underground, go hunting in the black market.  He wanted to be in control.

You might be wondering by now what this has to do with the cat.  The bones a five year old girl found visiting a house in foreclosure.  Why you should care about George, a son pushing thirty living with his mother, and his history of drug abuse.  In a story one thing always leads to another, and Queen was in heat the day George got high on bath salts and went out on the roof.  Laws were in play that day.  Laws a five year old girl was learning about discovering those bones—the history contained in them—about what lives, what dies.  And just like state and local laws were banning substances like salvia, K2, and bath salts, the story of George’s experience on that roof with Queen is a story about laws and how everybody, deep down, wishes they could be a cat, because that’s one thing we know for sure—cats love themselves just as much as they love cat nip—and therein lies the story, even if all that’s left in the end is bones.

K2 is like weed and then it isn’t—it’s much stronger—it has a stronger binding affinity to receptors in the brain than THC, with psychoactive effects.  And being strong it was addictive—you wanted it—you wanted the feeling…  Self-love is the strongest drug you can consume—the all-natural opiate.  You’ll never feel better than when you’re in love with yourself.  This perhaps a good thing.  When it’s natural, when you’re given that love, but George had to be something.  He had to be something to love himself.  Like when he lied to friends in college about not being a virgin.  He couldn’t be that.  He couldn’t be that and love himself, which is maybe why when he came home to live with his mother he wanted to be a musician.  People loved musicians.  People sang and danced to their music, to the songs.  George had to be that to love himself—something he thought people would love—and this is where self-love can become a sickness, a lonely sickness.  When you have to be something, when you have to fit a picture in your mind in order to love yourself.  You’re always seeking validation, verifiers to your reality, and that—well, that will always make you unhappy.  You can’t be happy on a false sense of security, and counting on anyone but yourself for your self-love is a false sense of security.  Since George couldn’t get this from people, from a girl, he turned to drugs.  He numbed himself with alcohol and relied on the hand to mouth of a cigarette.  And K2, well—it was easily available, and with one puff he still knew where he was, he knew that, but he just didn’t care.  He found being what he wanted, what he wanted to be to love himself—an artist—didn’t need other people—he could rely on his beer, his cigarettes, and the synthetic feeling of the spice, in his loneliness.  It made strumming his guitar without an audience easier.

But it’s the scene, his experiment with bath salts, which you have to see.  What happened that afternoon on the roof when the go-go powder George got online came in the mail.  And Queen—what happened to Queen—the story.  How the story ties into the questions of a five year old girl and the story of that husband and woman and why they’re defined as such, as a husband and a woman.  For that’s the tell—the tell of the story.  The engagement what happens between being told this and what that makes you feel—the conclusions you draw.  The conclusions you draw without saying a word.  Like how conclusions were drawn when those cat bones were found.  In how a girl had to ask, how she asked her father and mother about animals—about the wild ones, and the tame.  How she asked about how you tame an animal, the time and effort it takes—the love—what it takes to make a wild animal tame.  How you can never quite tame an animal if it’s been wild too long.  And a cat, well, a cat—even Queen—a domesticated cat, is never quite tame.  You have to earn their love—a cat’s love.  And George just cheated.  He cheated that afternoon on the roof, in how Queen followed him.  He knew she was in heat, and that’s why he had cat nip in his pocket.

One thing you learn as you get older is you’re not unique.  Not in the way you feel.  When you’re honest with your feelings.  When you’re honest with what we all learn from the past.  What embarrasses you would embarrass anybody.  You know what love feels like.  And jealousy.  And it’s the same with drugs.  People wouldn’t take them if they didn’t feel the same way.  The effects might be slightly different from user to user, but it still can fit nicely in statistics.  George was a virgin for a long time, but this didn’t make him unique, and neither did his songs, and when he felt that he felt the songs.  As for the girl that broke up with him, she was just another girl in the world—she wasn’t special either—and many twenty-somethings in this day and age still live with their parents.  Even George’s suicide was nothing unique.  It was the fact that he thought he was unique, that no one felt the way that he felt, which caused him to try suicide in the first place.  Fathers are fathers the world around.  Children are children.  Death a common denominator to us all.  Hilda a religious person, who believed in the power of prayer, not because it really availed much, but because it made her feel good.  The different ways we deal with death, our feelings, not really unique at all—we just try to find people who believe the same things we do.  The story of how this happens a world of givens and really only a few choices.  The same choices made over and over.  And as for stories we tell about it, well—it’s the same with them too—how the stories get told.  There may be different ways of telling them, maybe even rights ways and wrong ways, but what they make you feel—probably nine out of ten people will give you the same response, perhaps even the outliers easily explained.  By that want—the want of the feeling—to be different, and we all know what that feels like.  Maybe George felt special when that gram of bath salts came in the mail—a free sample with his order of K2.  The first order had been lost in the mail, and when he emailed the company they sent him another package, this one containing a free sample of their bath salts.  Everyone likes it when they think they get something free, and George was no different.  And like with anything we feel is free we’re not afraid to try it.  So that’s exactly what George did.

He went out on the roof because he saw his father.  Queen just wasn’t afraid to follow him.  Maybe if he would have made it through the first ten or fifteen minutes nothing would have happened.  You’d just see a guy frozen to a chair.  But George saw his father.  It was the same room where his father shot himself.  George was sitting in the same chair where his father sat when he pulled a gun to his head.  Pictures coming of his mother washing away the blood stains, the brain matter, a bucket of soapy water, and the sound of it as she scrubbed.  He could hear the sound of the brush.  Hilda was a Christian, and she wouldn’t get rid of it.  She didn’t get rid of the chair.  And maybe he knew.  George knew he just couldn’t sit there.  He couldn’t be his father.  That’s the only thing that became clear—he couldn’t be that—and maybe that’s what gave him the inclination to go out the window, that subtle shift of the drug where who you are gets lost, and instead of a ghost making you remember you are the ghost.  You are what makes you remember, and this is fear—fear in its most basic form.  George’s father wasn’t there.  He wasn’t there anymore, and when you imagine what makes you imagine this can only be evil.  This is pride—the pride of life.  And we all know that feeling…  Queen just wasn’t afraid.  She wasn’t afraid of what she followed.  She was just following the catnip.

There was an old cherry tree outside.  In the back yard.  Just under George’s window.  It had seen many harvests just as Queen had seen many litters.  And now it was partially dead.  After a bad summer, lack of rain, and maybe even disease—Hilda wasn’t sure—and she was its caretaker.  She was the one that picked the cherries every late spring, sometimes getting George to climb a stepladder to reach the cherries on the top limbs.  She froze them.  Later making them into jam.  It was just after the summer solstice when George climbed out that window, and the cherry tree had seen its last harvest.  Many of its branches barren.  Just naked wood—no leaves.  No fruit.  What could be picked from it had been picked, and now it was George’s chore.  Hilda wanted help cutting it down.

It just never was.  George never got around to it, and when his mother sold the house, after George’s hospitalization, it was still there.  By the back patio deck.  And when the husband and woman discovered the cat bones, or rather their five year old daughter discovered them, it was their two year old that screamed.  She screamed pointing, pointing at the barren tree.  Maybe somehow she knowing.  She knew it was dead, even if there were still a few branches that showed life.  Maybe she screamed because she knew how something dead could still show life.  And she could only scream because the words weren’t there—she didn’t know the words yet to ask questions.  Like George didn’t know what to ask of his father.  She could only point to the story she saw in it.

And as far as George’s story, well—he just thought he could fly.  At least he did after he saw Queen jump off that roof chasing the catnip.  Queen jumped into that old cherry tree.  Because that’s where George threw it.  Standing out on that roof, the sun in his eyes, wondering if his father was really there or if he wasn’t, he suddenly didn’t want Queen there, rubbing against his bare feet, purring.  And when she scratched him, scratched his foot with her claws, he threw it.  Maybe he thought he was getting rid of it.  Getting rid of the drugs.  The history of his life in his habits.  Maybe he thought he was finally saying goodbye to what he remembered, goodbye to his father, to a girl, and he didn’t want to be around it—a cat in heat.  He knew she only followed him because of that catnip anyway, and perhaps he felt ashamed, guilt a feeling we’ve all felt that’s only unique when we don’t share it, and so on impulse he threw it away.  He took it out of his pocket and tossed it into the cherry tree.  And Queen didn’t hesitate.  She jumped.  She jumped right in that old cherry tree, the outcome just fine, because she landed in what was dead, and even in that, even in that reckless chase after her fix, she had nothing to fear—that really it, the story—about how even a cat in heat always lands on their feet…  As for George, well, he wasn’t so fine—he let out a barbaric yawp—that’s true, that’s no lie, but that tree didn’t cushion his fall when he decided to jump.  He kept going.  Right down to the ground.  The outcome a broken leg…   That was George’s story.  That was George’s experience—his experience on a free sample—a free sample of bath salts.

A cat can’t overdose on catnip.  Usually they know when they’ve had enough.  It grows like a weed.  A patch of it growing under the deck—that back patio deck—where Queen’s bones were found.  After the fiasco on the roof Hilda decided to sell.  Their neighbor was a cop, and no prayers, no amount prayers can change a reputation.  Her church was forgiving, but that has no effect on your status as a homeowner, and Hilda didn’t want to live in a neighborhood where everybody talked about the old woman living with her crazy son.  George’s leg healed.  Eventually he found a job working on computers for a pharmaceutical company, renting an apartment and finding dates on Match.com.  He still smoked cigarettes.  The guitar–well, that he didn’t play so much anymore.  Maybe he just no longer needed it to love himself.  Hilda moved into senior living community, spending some of her profits from the sale on plastic surgery—a chin lift—one of the rules of her new community no pets.  Queen had run off anyway.  Maybe some old tomcat happy to find her in heat.  Her death—why her bones were found under that deck—no mystery.  Perhaps she had her last litter of kittens there, surrounded by catnip.  One can surmise that—that she died happy.  At least it’s nice to think so.  To feel that way.

As for the husband, he was looking up at the clouds, and he knew he couldn’t fly.  He was looking out the driver side window, thinking about God and what his five year old daughter just said.  It was nice visiting the house where they once lived, and he was wondering, wondering again why it had two front doors, only one with a foreclosure notice sticking to it.  When they bought it the inspector told him it was for funerals, for processions—one door for going in, and one for going out.  He was thinking of this, looking out on the clouds, when the woman said:

“I don’t want to be the devil or anything, but I think we should smoke weed.”

“I thought you wanted to use that money on the divorce.”

“You ain’t got no job anyway.  Working four days a month.  Let your mother pay for it…”

The man stopped looking at the clouds.  He stopped imagining what made him imagine.  His eyes on the road.  His mother needed help with the salt.  Four bags of salt were coming tomorrow for the water softener.  Maybe if he helped her with that she wouldn’t mind loaning the money.

“We’ll see… we promised to take the girls to a park first.  We’ll see after…but we promised—remember?”

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