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  • Writer's pictureJoia

Today's rhaps is on ... Traumatized Cats and other Insults

Lexus reflecting on Proustian memories of things past

Symptoms are always strongest in the mornings. If I don't stall in place for a minute like Fred Flintstone prior to forward motion, my weak leg will give out completely after being ignored all night. If there's panic, it takes all my waking nerve to land on the tiny airstrip that maintains logic against the gnarly thicket of baseless fears. Or are they? Unfounded? It's only paranoia if the predators are not really out there, they say.

It takes about two hours to get through this, but my cat helps. Lexus needs to eat and meanwhile the Delta Q Qool Evolution máquina de café and the mosaic bistro table on the varanda remind me what is good about mornings. My cat does more than this though. He gives me a pure definition of trauma: I can't even verbalize the fear. I can't even open the damn cat food or turn the faucet for water. If I don't trust you to take care of me now I will die. Or go back out there and try to hide from the predators. So I guess I'll stay with you, all things considered.

So for Lexus the predators were real when he was abandoned—his right ear has raggedy, ripped out skin. Being the biggest feline at the Cascais shelter didn't help. Ending up in an empty apartment with nothing other than a Conforama sofabed from Alcabideche and a human who muttered indecipherable non-Latin phrases didn't help, either. Until she bought a TV and realized how obsessed I was with the Jornal do dia notícias on canál 6. Finally she started talking normally. Não, não faz isso...anda cá, anda cá...já tens fome? Já? Ainda não, gatinho, meu gatão, meu gatarrão...

Were the predators real in the old yellow stucco house in Leiria, just down from the Jardim Escola? All my therapists thought so. I just remember the cabinet at the end of the hall, pulling the door shut and trying not to breathe in the dark, wasn't much air in there anyway, waiting for it to be safe to crawl out. And having it not ever feel really safe.

I remember once Grandma Drake insisted that I come in from playing when the streetlights went on. I did, but she still got mad. "They've been on for ten minutes!" I was waiting for the little pink filaments to turn white hot and bright. Coming inside through the Looking Glass into an American home was a daily hell for me. The exact same behavior validated outside by Portuguese friends could suddenly be punishable. It's taken sixty years and a final round trip to figure out this particular mystery. It has to do with Freud's superego. In Anglo-Saxon cultures being socialized into maturity requires masking your true feelings. The false smile and cheery "Fine!" is considered imperative for healthy adulthood. (The extreme of this cunning cover up is of course toxic masculinity, when all sentiments are stuffed until crippling rage bursts out one fine day.) Each little individualistic monad is fully responsible for creating and maintaining this pretense of perfection and flaunting it unabashedly for all its monad-neighbors, busy constructing their own façades. Thus reality is at best empirically constructed, with the distant possibility of occasional intersubjectivity. At worst it is nothing more than solipsistic ideal. Pretty lonely, actually. Even before the solo suburban plots and the ticky tacky houses.

By contrast, in the nonAnglo-Saxon cultures—largely the rest of the world—reality is a collective construction. Your truth matters. Let me say it again. Your truth matters. Your truth matters. Your truth matters. So lying to disguise what you are experiencing is not only puzzling, it can be outright insulting. Why are you withholding this piece of the puzzle from me? Aren't we building it together? I need to know what you are feeling in order to complete my assessment of what's going on here. Then I'll know what to do next. If you're just playing games, lying to me, why would I want to be around you? Seriously, you need to mind-fuck me right now over the stupid menu, the weather, whether you want to have coffee with me or go out tonight? Why? Why would you need to do that?

Maturity in the rest of the world, Portugal included, seems to rely more on honesty, with having the integrity to interact with others—surprise!—with your boring old authentic self. I'm not referring to the semantic honesty between word and fact, but the internal congruence between word and feeling. Your word, your feeling. This is what children are taught here. This is what I learned. The painful contortion of learning to be transparent outside the house and opaque inside was excruciating but hey, I was a kid, kids can learn anything, no accent, pass like a native. No EST seminars, no new-agey smoothie blends, no sage-cleansing required. Just a weird contradictory bunch of Pavlovian conditioning rules, that's all.

So ending up president of an international club with women from more than 40 countries now living on the sunny coast of Portugal is like landing on a Magic Mountain, Mann, full of raw opportunities to witness the insanity of people talking at cross purposes. A lusitânic tower of Babel, surely one of the Wonders of the World. All because I was sent from the jazz club to find out why IWP members didn't come around more...fortunately my professional skill set includes knowing when I do not know something, which will hopefully result in some online improvements that can take the edge off the more prominent misinterpretations. The personality stuff goes deeper. Once offended in any geolinguistic framework, one's psychological evaluation tends to stick. Still my perspective is appreciated, if only because none of these dear people come close to inflicting the violence and trauma carried around in my muscle memory.

So, Lexus, here I came half way around the world to rescue you. Or for you to rescue me, I forget. In 2010 when you were born, I was fighting subzero Minnesota winters and didn't know you existed, didn't know what twisted David Copperfield route you would journey to one day land purring on my Maplewood Ashley HomeStore bed, shipped by International Sea & Air to a warehouse in São Domingos de Rana, detained for weeks there in its crate along with Grandma's India Tree Spode china, Great Aunt Helen's Victorian vase, and the six-volume set of Berkeley's CTNS-Vatican Observatory science & divine action series (most of my books having been given to the Women's Prison Project before I left), until my famous Lisbon artist friend complained to the Presidente da República Portuguesa at dinner one night that her famous philosopher friend was being maltreated by the local import company. Well, she's famous, I'm not. But it worked and all my stuff arrived within days at no further cost.

So here we are.

21 MAY 2019

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