I have this theory that cats only count to three. Knowing cats, they could probably choose to count higher than three but have, for whatever inscrutable cat reasons, decided that three is how high they will count. After three, numbers lose meaning for cats.
One. Two. Three. Forever.
When you go out of town for one day, they’re like, Oh, you’re back.
Two days, they’re like, I can’t believe you left me alone for two days, all alone except for that very expensive cat sitter you pay to drop by and feed me and comb me, and play with me, and keep me company.
Three days: You left me alone for three days? Who does that? I threw up in your shoes.
But at four days, it’s like, Yes? Who are you? You look like someone who used to live here a long time ago but I’ve been alone forever. The last time I saw you, the Statue of Liberty hadn’t been swallowed up by sand.
One, two, three, forever.
I feel this way when I’m sick. The first day I start to feel achy and maybe a little headachy.
The second day, my energy plummets and every joint hurts, like I pushed myself in a full body workout. Even my teeth hurt.
The third day, I start to feel massively stupid, like my brain has stopped working and is really no good for anything except daytime television, the kind where you can fall asleep and wake up again and not have lost your place or anything.
By day 4, if I go to the doctor and they ask how long I’ve felt like this, I just feel like I’ve been crawling through mud for weeks. I can’t pin-point the day that I started to feel this way. Maybe I was feeling this way since yesterday, maybe it was a week ago, or a month. Time has lost meaning.
The illness feels like it will never end.
Like it has always been this way and will always be this way. I’ll always have this cold and I can’t imagine ever not having it.
Humans start to lose object impermanence in their first year: they begin to recognize that, just because they can’t see the toy when it’s covered by the blanket, the toy is still there. And then we retain this stubborn situational permanence into adulthood: after a certain period of time, we perceive our situation as being unchangeable. We trust that the toy will always be there under the blanket, even if it won’t.
The teenaged boy who irritates you has always been this hateful, rebellious child, and will be this way until he’s forty or you’re dead, whichever comes first, and will never again accept your love for him. Our parents will always be there for us, no matter how old they get, they will just keep being there. The job you’re working in will still be there tomorrow and the day after, until you choose to leave it on your own terms. You’ve been unemployed for days, weeks, months, and you’ll never find another job. You’ve felt fat and weak for months or years, and exercising is hard and you’ll never get any better at it. You’re skinny and can eat whatever you want and never gain weight; or you’ve been this big forever and will never see size 8 again and may as well eat that pint of ice cream. The spouse who has been around forever will always be there, will never get sick, or suddenly want something different from you. The stock market will never fall, climate will never change, congress will always go on being hypocritical, self-serving, and – worst of all — useless. The president will get reelected and we’ll never get rid of him and go back to being the country we always were.
We believe that, because something has been how it is for awhile, it will always be that way, and it will never change, whether we want it to or not.
All that we have and everyone that we love is of the nature of change: we cannot escape their loss. We come here empty-handed and we leave empty-handed.
I say that to myself every morning.
Sometimes it’s a sobering reminder that everything can be taken away in a single moment, a single conversation with someone that changes everything. So I mustn’t be too attached to things.
Sometimes it’s a reminder to savor the good things, like the man who fell off the cliff and hangs onto the vine, with the tiger snapping at his toes, the venomous snake crawling down from above, and the rat above him, nibbling through the vine. He plucks a wild strawberry – how sweet it tastes!
Sometimes it’s a reminder that even things I don’t like will come to an end someday. Things will change if I just wait them out. I mustn’t give up: things will get better. Or at least different. Good news, bad news, who can tell?
One, two, three, forever.