Thursday, December 19, 2019

Themes of Trust and Loss

We lost our cat in September.

She was a sweet kitty but deeply damaged. She couldn't fully trust us so when she got out, we didn't have the tools that connect beings to one another so we could attract her back to us. She had no name. Wouldn't allow a collar on. We couldn't hold her long enough to get her to a vet for appropriate shots or a chip.

Instead, we operated a two-state system where she cautiously joined us at family-time but reserved the right to run away at any moment. Of our part, we tip-toed into attempts to connect with her knowing we might get our hands scratched or not see her again for three days. She could not trust. And we didn't know how to operate without it.

The trust we wanted her to take from us was inflated and unreasonable given who she was. I understood she had been through some trauma and wanted so keenly to help her. It turns out I wanted to feel good by helping her. There was a basic misunderstanding on my part. I couldn't have
grasped the depth of her trauma until she got outside and wouldn't be seduced by food or lured into traps. Her defense mechanisms made her return impossible and tragic.

The loss we felt, that I felt, was certainly sadness for her situation out in a very wild space with few resources. But I also had to question if she *felt* lost. Or did she feel free? Maybe she felt free from the burdens of the trust I wanted her to have of me?

I'm writing a story now about the cat getting out. But it's much less about the cat than about the family and the loss they feel. I have to learn how to summarize the story properly because it's really not about the cat. She is a catalyst (get it? cat --> catalyst? LOL) that triggers memories and experiences of their earlier losses. The family is simultaneously united in their loss and flung apart by it.

I was working on a scene where the Dad, who is normally a very sweet guy, is exhausted and blows up at the daughter. She is innocent of course in the blow-up. It is simply a frustrating time for everyone. Her pain springs from the confusion of losing trust that her Dad will always love and protect her. Now the biggest, deepest foundation she knows is melting.

I'm torn between my pain for her and the analytical need to understand this dynamic to write about it coherently. The bigger loss for her is, of course, losing trust in her father. And I think that's a universal concept. We have all had a moment when we discover that trust has been misplaced.

But we carry on. Sometimes we continue with damage, like our cat who could trust nobody, even when her life depended on it.  Sometimes we don't learn from the situation because what we need is bigger than what we want on a superficial level. Most days, we carry on.

Where does this recurring source of trust come from? Why are we not constantly betrayed by someone else's self-interest? Or why do we overlook it?

I think trust is one of those unquantifiable, irrational, intangible glues that hold societies together, like love, and protecting the defenseless. Even though it can be irrational, we need trust to survive. We build it with each other over repeated contact that does what it is supposed to do: if you need something, I will give it and if I need something, you will give it. These transact over meals, over lifetimes, with small gestures like a wave when a driver lets you in their lane, or a smile while passing in the hallway. We have to know that we can count on one another amid the dangers of life in the big savannah, and more so in the big city. 

My sweet kitty, tragically, did not have the mental infrastructure to know, or trust, that we would forgive the scratches or departures, and help her when she most needed help. She had not built that with us over multiple meals together or shared beds or gifts or comforting hugs.

I think I have another story in me, too about people who capitalize on that innate trust, and how that breaks down society. Of course there will be a happy ending. But that's for another book.

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