When I was the size of five and a half leeks, I didn’t really understand why adults were so keen on making New Year’s resolutions.
I saw the coming year as a continuation of the sweet promise begun by the magic of Christmas, a holiday that symbolised the realisation of certain wonders (not some old capitalist thing): a jumper with ponies on it, the banishment of anything resembling Brussels sprouts for a delicious dip in fat and sugar, the joy of hanging baubles willy-nilly on the tree and being graced with wondering smiles, as if I’d just brought Mona Lisa to life (and discovering much later that I just had a natural inclination for anything less than perfectly aligned and supportive loved ones. .. or just chronic decorative laziness).
There was something about the festivities that had the joy of the infinite possible.
If the pony jumper was there, it was certain that much crazier things could materialize in the near future.
A dog for my birthday.
Winning a multi-coloured mamoth (for those of you who were born in France having always known the palmar excrescence known as a smartphone, and those of you who had the misfortune of only being able to entertain yourself with the bones of your ancestors as a child, it’s actually a giant marble. My parents, despite their obvious kindness, would have run out of room for a giant hairy psychedelic cow. A pity, I know).
Or still sneaking thousands of pistachio ice creams with my grandfather just before dinner.
Adults, on the other hand, didn’t always seem to embrace this era with such joy. There was hope, of course. A lot of hope.
Keeping the ones you love warm ans safe, with an ice cream cone in their hand.
A left-wing government (as a kid, I thought you would declare your political allegiance based on your writing hand. I thought it was great that all those left-handed people could finally write on a desk without having to keep bumping into the neighbour’s elbow).
From my relative height, I found their wishes somewhat narrow (I was 6 years old, with the accompanying dose of hasty judgment). Especially as they were accompanied by things that seemed more like torture than happiness: steaming Brussels sprouts, sorting out a whole pile of paper with numbers on it that were clearly not from an Andersen fairy tale, or running just to sweat without stopping to look at ants (even now I still claim to be able to run for 30 minutes continuously…). Actually, praised be the ant god for giving me some welcoming breaks).
Children’s brains are made to grasp infinity. Heck, most of them often end up trading in their desire to gorge on strawberries by staining their faces with a tutorial on the best way to remove stains from white (in case you were wondering, there’s nothing better than lemon, salt and Marseille soap on a tough red wine stain, but that’s not the point).
I didn’t escape the boxes rule. Nor the wishes that this year would be a little less trying than the previous year, spent breathing behind a mask that smells like a medicine box or noticing that people still think the earth is flat. Nor to the vagaries of life, which mean that ice cream shared with the same person will no longer be shared, because he has been far too busy trying to breathe through his cancer rather than swallowing a popsicle stick.
There’s a lot these condescending little brats don’t know.
That you can’t always tap dance, if you feel like it, in the middle of an open space. That you can’t always put off your accounts to run a marble marathon. That the people who loved you can pull out their cards, go from everything to nothing, even after ten years of shared haribo.
In December 2021, I had to close my eyes tightly and concentrate some superhuman efforts to get some remnants of that old feeling. The feeling of doors wide open and ants to look at.
I was warm in my kingdom. But the view before me was more like a minefield than a cake tree orchard. With people selling flasks of their chest sweats as the world burned. Heaps of quotes on Instagram urging people to have a butt to make the neighbour swoon while others still wondered if their supply of pasta would last the month. Stories of chips implanted by a giant reptile, while a whole bunch of nice writers were exhausting themselves providing information online. The dashed hopes of a post-Covid world promised renewal in the face of the clatter of extremism of all kinds.
In December 2021 came a point where the other, there, at the top of her 5 and a half leeks, had every interest in getting her ass in gear, with her pony jumper, her childish condescension and her love of hairy animals.
When she showed up, with her giant eyes and her raspy teddy bear, I handed her the wheel of my existence, because obviously, the boxes strategy didn’t seem to have the desired effect.
She sucked for two seconds on her index finger (which would earn her a few years of braces, but the most wonderful orthodontist with a sweet name close to a brand of foie gras, matched with the goodness of a soft-boiled egg, all hard on the outside, and so melting on the inside… I can’t hide the fact that no other chompers professional have since managed to compete with this soft-hearted giant who exclaimed: « Mademoiselle, a young girl of your quality must brush her teeth with bravoury!« )
She probably nodded a little, her obvious gaze riveted to mine, and said:
« Well adopt some furry animals, right? »
I looked at her, a little incredulous, and I recognised that annoyed look that made her look like an upset little pug. So I could only retort: « I know very well what you’re thinking, but space-wise, we’ll be a bit limited for an army of Saint Bernards… We can do a little more than a hamster this time though… »
The cheeky little thing did a butt dance of joy, clapped my hand to formalise this unspoken agreement, demanded a tap dance and hopped away happily.
When I returned to the alternative world of boxes (or real life, depending) I looked Perfidious Albion straight in the eyes (i.e. my dear British comrade, himself busy sipping one of the nectars of his native land) over my glass of red wine, and loudly proclaimed: « Come on, let’s go on an adventure. I’m adopting a cat today ».
He spat out his beer a bit, claiming he’d drunk too fast (but after centuries of doing it backwards, we French are not fooled by the shameless dissembling tactics of those damn English), contemplated me for a moment, and then soberly said: « Ok, let’s do it » (the inenarrable English phlegm, I presume).
After a first attempt to visit the refuge that left us exaggerated and feverish, like a freshly unmoulded jelly jar (thanks to an army of cute hairy dogs whose bright eyes were screaming: « MEEEE! SCRATCH ME! TAKE ME! »), we landed in the cat palace that nobody wanted.
I figured that from then on, things would flow like a quiet river, and that the hard part was over.
Then I saw a furry army with round eyes devouring me from the bottom of their cages.
I tried to find some moral support from the British guy, but I soon realised that he himself was mired in his own emotional demons (i.e. melting down in front of a white kitten who was happily showing him his anus, and then nearly catching scabies from trying to scratch an old grey cat in the middle of treatment).
My pragmatic mind tried to take over, because at this rate, it was very likely that we would come home with a crowd of cats (including a mangy one) in my den.
Somewhere on the internet I had read that black cats were the least likely to be wanted. And then my brain kicked in again, making the connection: black cat = final target.
So, with determination, I went to a cage in the back of the shelter.
The target was quickly identified.
Lying on its hind legs and spitting to death, it looked like the incarnation of Beelzebub. My rational mind cried out, « Oh a black cat, IT´S MIIIINE! », but my emotions, on the contrary, told me that this cat would be ready to slit my throat on a full moon night, as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
I was still caught up in my contradictions when the British guy came up to me and said: « It’s up to you, but for a first cat, this one seems to be quite a challenge« . He then tried to slip a finger into the cage as a gesture of goodwill, except that the other one wanted to shred it, similar to an Englishman on the day after a bender, confronted with a good old portion of black pudding.
The British withdrew his finger quickly, and bumped into the adjacent cage.
And then the miracle happened.
A tricoloured feline with ewok eyes began to purr as if its life depended on it. The Brit opened the cage (without losing his physical integrity this time), grabbed the creature that was advancing towards him, and the scene that followed was worthy of The Lion King (or of a great zoophile moment, depending on your degree of innocence)…
One censorious licking session later, I approached the beast myself, which the Brit reluctantly handed over to me. Two minutes later I was still struggling to sign the adoption papers with my feet, because my hands were too busy carrying Chester, which I refused to hand over to the child of Brexit (because you can’t have everything, the Beatles and the most fantastic cat in the universe).
Chester is kind of one of the best recent decisions my inner child has made.
Because she’s a dog and brings home the balls like a pro. Because she eats with giggles of pleasure, as if she’s discovering food for the first time with every millimetre of portions swallowed . Because she spends hours in winter on my lap when I’m writing. Because even if she sometimes ruins my sleep, it’s for a greater cause in her cat world (licking my nose greedily with an old kibble breath, or simply kneading my arm like good bread while purring at every turn).
There wasn’t a moment when I resented the inner little one for pushing me to make this decision.
Not even when that slutty cat revealed that she wasn’t in fact spayed and went off with the neighbour’s cat under the amused gaze of the assembly present that day, including my dear M., who laughed and said: « Come on, if it gives you a kitten, I’ll take one, but we all know very well that it’s impossible«
Chester, with her ovaries still very active, eventually gave birth to 6 offspring, adorable maincoon half-bloods. For three months, they punctuated my nights with frantic cavalcades after a fly at 4am, eventually leaving me, like a mother in disarray, to go and fill with joy and insomnia the homes of new owners, including M. (who, although initially indifferent to felines, turned out to be a fierce amazon as soon as one dared to touch her cat). This epic even added a new squeaky, albeit divine, addition to my feline team (known by the epic name of Lord Grey Socks).
One should not always believe in the world of boxes and its limitations.
Nor am I saying that adopting an armada of cats or multi-coloured mammoths is the ultimate remedy.
Everyone has their own rituals for summoning their inner child. The one who loved to chase a ball just for the fun of it, not the competition. The one who used to swallow tons of books under the duvet late at night. The ones who loved to do ridiculous dances to perform for amused adults (and it must be said, rather patient with improvised plays where the main monologue rhymed 18 times the word « blossom » with « so awesome »). The one who had no anxiety about being himself. The one who walked around in her panties without worrying about the injunctions of others about her body.
Reality is what it is, with the tons of good and bad things we let in. There is the one against which we can exhaust ourselves fighting for not much, forgetting that a little is already good….
There will always be accounts to be made, accounts to be rendered, and self-boundaries that cannot be crossed…
But in the end, reality is what you want it to be, with its glass ceilings against which you can sometimes get a little hurt by breaking them. By asking, if necessary, the help of our former self to give us a shortcut to see the other side, where there is laughter. People. Small and big victories. Jumper ponies. And also, big, greedy cats.
Chester has just reminded me, in between bellowing at a bird, that an important element of this story (and not the least important one) has been left out: the birth of his surname.
Quite simply, it so happens that in that same month of 2021, I found myself weeping with joy at the video shot during the tribute concert to the singer Chester Bennington (I won’t go back over what this musical reference, which you can read about in the very very detailed section preceding this hectic adventure).
What is perfectly fantastic is not so much the musical performance as what happens with the crowd, while the parts sung by Chester are supposed to remain vacant.
I think this video says a lot. About how a song by a band that may not go down in rock history could move a lot of people for different reasons. About how just a few teenage notes can resonate in the right place, at the right time. Enough that, deep down, you forget about the rage and heaviness, or what good musical references can mean.
Enough to sing at the top of your lungs a chorus that says the opposite of what is happening.
Enough to say that absence, boxes, death, the feeling of « not enough », Brussels sprouts, all this is not insurmountable.
That we will undoubtedly make it, with a crowd that will sing along and not give a damn about the rest, like us at this moment. With perhaps the help of a mini leek who arrives at the right moment. A hairy cat named Chester….
And maybe even by imposing a tap dancing day in the open space.