I can still smell the formaldahyde, see the frog pithed to the board as I went about dissecting it, taking copious notes on what I found, identifying organs, both of us hidden in a corner of our fourth grade classroom so the other students didn’t feel like they had to vomit.
This Yom Kippur, even though I no longer practice the faith of my youth and early adulthood I shall seek the forgiveness of the frog who thought he was giving his life in the early training of a doctor, not one who ended up practicing law, and know he will probably forgive me for even amphibians have compassion for us, despite our obvious shortcomings.
The cat is stalking around the house, wary. She gets this way after coming back from the vet. She actually likes the vet, and not only for the treats she gets, and the pawdicure. But she must stalk and be wary so we will be remorseful for having taken her to the vet. And she knows we will be, given enough time and back turning. We are so predictable. She wonders if we were like that with our children when they were young. Probably, but we must have forgotten. So she will go on with our training, for a cat must bend humans to her will. That is an unwritten law of nature.
We both know that having a pet at our age is wise for they provide a companionship that can be difficult to find. I’ve had both dogs and cats, but the decision this time was reasonably simple, for dogs have an insatiable need to walk their people, weather is no impediment and my arthritis is no longer all that forgiving of damp and cold.
So we settled on a cat, and we have been pleased with our decision – she is joyous, playful and reads our emotional needs, but most importantly, other than not needing to walk us, she has been remarkably adept at training us to live in her new home.
The cat ignored him totally this morning. She wouldn’t give him the time of day if she could have told time. It was surprising, and for him it was painful. He loved the cat, and he thought the cat loved him. Once he thought he saw her sneer but he knew cats did not do that. But she looked away, if she had even looked at him in that moment. But to not even acknowledge his presence, to thank him for the food, that hurt. The cat hid her smile, knowing even Pavlov would be pleased with how well her training of the human was going. He would be wrapped around her paw before he knew it at this pace
We marched for hours, going nowhere really, but nowhere was the point of the marching so we achieved the goal the Air Force set. We didn’t even think it odd that they made us shave our heads, so we’d all look like fools, there was a war on and we were in the military, so we had already proven that point. We were the smarter ones, as it turned out, enlistees who’d spend our time on bases getting the pilots ready to fly into the danger we knew we had so carefully avoided, and for us the greatest risk appeared daily in the mess hall.
First published in As You Were, the Military Review, Vol. 13, 2020
It is always odd watching older men gather to talk about their lives, about how much they no longer remember of last year and a decade ago, about the infinite details they do recall of their time spent in the army, air force, navy, the smell of slop on a shingle, the stain on the finger from field stripped cigarette butts, the olive drab they were and lived, the base post exchange the mandatory Ray Ban aviator’s, the sergeants grimace, the body count no one mentioned in the war they hated, wanted over, how they were all brothers in arms, now just old men, sharing painful memories.
He is only four years old, has decided he will be “an X-ray doctor” in a few years because he wants to see broken fingers and legs, but if he sees bad things he can take them out and throw them in the trash. He is more perceptive that even he can imagine for without any medical training it is clear he can see right through any adult he comes across, and he does it was a gentle smile that says: your secrets are safe with me, probably, maybe.
The dog wandered up to me. Dogs often did that. This time he dragged his person along, none too pleased at the extension of what the person hoped was a short walk. Both dog and person smiled, the dog meaning it, the person likely out of habit. The dog confirmed the person was impatient. The dog said the only way to teach patience was to wander about, have discussions with friends, old and new, and slowly, over time, the person will learn why the dog has him or her on the leash in the first place. The dog saw a squirrel at the base of a nearby tree, and with a quick “farewell, I see an old friend,” dragged the person down the sidewalk. I waved goodbye, said “come by any time, but leave the grump at home.” The dog smiled and nodded in agreement.