Begin

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”

T.S. Eliot

After a nice Christmas and New Year’s Day, by ten a.m. on January 2, I was at the veterinarian’s office saying goodbye to my 17-year-old cat, Molly. Diagnosed with osteosarcoma in August and mostly stable, her final weeks, while treasured, were helped along by painkillers, and balanced an increasingly volatile situation as her tumor spread along her cheekbone and toward her ears, mouth and eyes. Thursday was the day. I would never have been ready to let her go, but it was clearly not a moment too soon. I was grateful that it didn’t appear to be delayed into constant pain, either. Cosmic timing in many ways. As we say, 17 great years and one bad morning.

My acute grief and forever love for Molly is its own thing and needs its own post when I am better equipped to write it. But today Molly’s journey and the changing of the years made me think of the T.S. Eliot quote written above. Every end a beginning. How hopeful that is!

For me, new beginnings mean things like taking time to set healthier habits now that I am no longer needing to care for Molly in such consuming ways. I miss my old routine so much, even the dreaded eye drops that I know Molly doesn’t miss at all. My heart breaks a little when I wake up in the morning and she’s not crunching from the pile of treats my husband gave her before his shower (we were definitely in cat spoiling mode!), or running to me for her morning brushes. While I never want to lose those memories, I am trying to make a new routine by reading from a book between the time I wake up until James leaves for work and beginning my own work day, filling my “Molly time” with something relaxing vs. opening my laptop or clicking around aimlessly online, or thinking about what I have lost. Every end a beginning.

My husband has his own changes to make and goals he wants to reach now that his routine is different. He had “night duty” with Molly because he naturally stays up later, but that often meant a few extra chores before he could relax and sleep. He’s working to channel that found rest and energy into his physical health.

Our theory is that things are different anyway. Everything from our routines to the way our house looks and sounds. (Who knew the absence of a tiny cat and her thousand toys could cause a house to echo?) Why not guide those changes for good, to the extent we can? Every end a beginning.

One day, we will be ready to open our hearts to a new kitty or two, and by that time it can make its own, beloved, precious place in our lives, not simply fill the Molly-shaped hole that is so deep now. Every end a beginning.

We can’t control much about the endings in our lives, but we can control where and how we start from. That’s the lesson that I take from this sad start to a new year that still has a lot of potential and joy to be discovered.

In August, on the day that Molly was diagnosed, I sat on the couch and carved a rubber block while she rested in her carrier and slept off her X-Ray tranquilizer. The repetitive motion of the carving helped keep my hands busy while my mind was moving in a lot of new and confusing directions. It was a fun little piece then, and now, I love it not only because it features my favorite subject, but because it reminds me of the beginning of this journey, of Molly’s victory lap. How rich and rewarding and challenging the months in between have been, and how at the end of it, Molly still shines and so do we.

Every end a beginning. Every darkness an opportunity for light. MollyPop, my “Muse who Mews,” inspiring me even now.

“MollyPop” print, Stephanie Khattak.

Midnight Ramblers

Digital Painting by Stephanie Khattak. iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, Adobe Fresco

Nights were dark behind the pine curtain. I have written before about our relative comfort with cemetaries. I’ve been thinking on that a little more lately, perhaps because it’s the “spooky season” and it’s getting dark a little earlier. But there is more to say, because the bigger picture is that we were just pretty fearless.

We were never really afraid of the dark, period. Literally or figuratively. We weren’t afraid to go out at night, we weren’t afraid to take risks to pull pranks or do silly things. We loved who we loved, no matter what, and we were so loyal to each other long before “Ride or Die” became part of the pop culture lexicon.

As the Bible says, to paraphrase Romans 8:31, if you are for me, then who can be against me? The verse is referencing God, but for us, it was each other as well.

During slumber parties, after we tired of making prank calls, we would inevitably clean out the hosts’ toilet paper supply and load into someone’s car. (Sorry for any rude awakenings, moms and dads!) We would then drive to a house or two or three and proceed to toss toilet paper into the trees, across the shrubs, over the mailbox and whatever else we could. When plain toilet-papering became too predictable, we upped our game to “Oreo-ing” (Take an Oreo apart. Stick the icing half to house or car windows. Eat the other half.); “Forking” (Plant a million forks in someone’s yard); “Hot-Tamale-ing” (Similar to the Oreo, bite a Hot Tamale candy in half and stick it to windows” and general sign leaving (posterboard, markers and phrases that ranged from encouraging to amorous.)

During these attacks of extreme creativity, we were chased by angry people on four-wheelers; had popper firecrackers thrown at our legs, bumbled into a herd of geese and were almost always made to go back and clean up, if the victims’ parents knew ours. Once, in an impressive counter-attack, someone was hiding in a tree watching for us, jumped down and ran to his neighbor’s house (next on our list!) and woke him up so that they could lie in wait for us. I don’t remember what they did to defend themselves, but it was extremely well-played. (Unsurprisingly, that person went on to join the military and plan counterattacks and defensive actions for the government.) Another time, a house light came on and in our infinite wisdom, we fell down in the yard and “played possum.” That person didn’t confront us then, but his college-age girlfriend was absolutely ringing my phone the minute we got back home.

When you’re a champion, others try to knock you down. Once, a group of guys planned to wrap MY house when I was having a slumber party. Luckily (for us!) my mom had turned a mailbox into a bird feeder and hung the metal part from our biggest tree. One of the wrappers, sneaking around, stood up under it and saw stars. They all had to come inside for the adults to decide if he needed medical attention. (He was fine.)

All of these things took place after midnight with very, very minimal supervision. Before we could drive, our parents drove us, but then we were set free. My friend Courtney and I were recently brainstorming ways to entertain her daughters. Wrapping came up, but was then dismissed with “well, now they’d just get shot.”

We could just as easily have been shot then! Or the cops could have come, or someone could have come out of their house and cursed at us, or hurt us in other ways. Were we naive? I don’t think so. I think we were just confident in the dark.

Because we may have been vandals, but we were a UNIT of vandals! My bestie may have thrown that particular toilet paper roll, but if it knocked over a rose bush, we accepted that were all in trouble. We had faith in God, too but at the time we didn’t really articulate it as such. We certainly didn’t go around saying “Every Oreo Stuck Perfectly. God Bless Us, Every One.” or anything like that. But we did have a basic faith that something, someone, somewhere would make sure we would be ok.

And I know we were lucky. I do realize, especially as a grown up, that in some communities and some groups, this kind of “fun” would not be fun at all. We were lucky, and privileged. The worst we got was cleaning duty.

It’s October, almost Halloween, and I had originally wanted to write about things that scared me. But honestly, looking back, the things that scared me weren’t shadows in the dark or bumps in the night, or even the desolate streets and spooky back roads we drove after dark in our clackety “starter cars” before cell phones existed. As I have thought about this and other things we did, I think “wow, we should have been more scared!” Some of the things we did make my heart skip.

But my friends were with me. We were emboldened. We were safe. If we were together, if we were for each other, then who could be against us? There were so many things I truly was scared of – being made fun of, doing something wrong, the asshole on the school bus, my English teacher. But not this. Not this darkness, and not these risks. WE were the things that went bump in the night. WE were the prowlers, the instigators, the throwers of toilet paper and catchers of fireworks and consequences. And we loved every minute of it. Call it naivete’ or call it faith, I mostly call it friendship.

Gallerinas

In my other life, I have an art blog and work in the art sector. This means that I have spent the past few years being practically submerged in the art world, learning about it and how people find, engage with and collect art. I don’t really mix the two streams because I am not looking to be a professional artist in that respect. I am happy to work to help others engage with and discover art, and keep mine just for fun with the occasional transaction.

With that said, sometimes the inspiration does overlap. Particularly when I see a beautiful piece hung on the wall and think how it might work in a different way.

These thoughts have inspired what I call the “Gallerinas.” They’re mixed-media pieces that incorporate fine art pieces as collage, either repurposed or just reused. I take the images from magazines, ads or promotional brochures and cut them up to form new shapes.

Here’s the first “Gallerina.” If you look closely, her dress is a collage of David Park paintings. I saw Park’s retrospective at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth earlier this summer and loved it. (It’s up until Sept. 22 if you’re near D/FW or can get here.)

“Gallerina 01” by Stephanie Khattak. Collage, acrylic, gold ink and gold leaf on canvas board.