{ Motherhood Seems Like the Easiest Thing to Fail at with the Largest Consequences. }
Meghan Holohan

uptown girlsEveryday, I thought Red would die. Driving frantically on the Parkway West, weaving in between cars, moving slightly above thirty-five miles per hour, I fought onward. I'd snake in between barriers, orange construction cones, signs, cruising through stop signs. The whole way driving on the serpentine cement vein, all I could picture was him lying, lifeless, on the floor. What would I do if I found him cold, stiff? What would I say? A drive of only fifteen minutes seemed like an hour. I had to get to Red.
   Red is a cat. But he isn't just any cat—he's my boss' cat. He's old, and his kidneys are failing him. For four days, his frail life was in my hands, and I was positive I was going to kill him. He needed medication and I was on the one who had to take the IV, slide it into the rough skin of his feline neck and wait while the thick, clear liquid dripped through the tube, winding its way through a coil of plastic tubing. He'd whine at me, a growlish murmur escaping his lips. I'm sure he thought I was stabbing him. But this medicinal concoction had to infiltrate his system. The needle had to be securely inserted. If old age and disease ravage his body, I hoped it wasn't on my watch.
   Each day when I arrived, I almost cried with joy when I saw him slinking through the house or perched on the washing machine. I'd want to grab him and embrace him, but I refrained myself. The embrace might be as traumatic as my nursing skills. I filled his water bowl, his food, held Ping, the healthier cat, and cooed to Red in excited bursts of affection. I'd scoop him into my arms, shushing him, comforting him, scratching his neck, trying to make up for the pain that would ensue.
   The first day went well—I easily popped the needle into the scruff of his neck while he sat there patiently. The next day was different. Perhaps I was over-confident from my triumphant nursing stint the day before. Perhaps I was afraid I would fail and the poor kitty wouldn't get his meds. Whatever the case, when I grabbed Red and shoved the needle into his skin, the poor guy yelped and ran, still connected to his hanging IV bag. I lunged for him, fearing he would tear his skin, but the needle flew out and sprayed fluid all over my boss' pristine laundry room. With fluid sprinkling on me, the room, and Ping, I couldn't collect myself. I floundered after Red, suddenly backtracking. I had to shut the IV off. I was wasting some mystery medical fluid. After taking care of the medical equipment, I ran out of the room and caught Red backing skittishly into a corner.
   We were both shaking. When I scooped him up, I could feel his breath wracking against his hollow ribs. I hurt him and I wanted to make it better. I smoothed his long auburn hair to his head, whispering words of consolation to both of us. Ping just skipped about us on the floor, relishing that Red was hurt. I had a problem. If I tried the IV again, I might hurt him, again. But if I didnt give him his treatment, he could get sick. Visions of me flying through traffic, again, flashed in my head—I didn't even know where a vet would be in Rosslyn Farms. How could I tell my boss I made her cat ill or, worse yet, killed him?

All my life, I've suspected I would be a bad mother. Nine years ago, my cousin Austin was born, and I was his godmother, which meant that I had to hold him in church for his Christening. One evening in early spring, while his mother and I were standing in my aunt's driveway, I finally got my chance with the squirming three-month old. I cradled him in my arm, much like a football and squeezed him tightly. Too tightly, apparently, because my cousin urged me to let go. Austin was quiet though, even when, at one point, I had his neck in a contorted position, baby face smashed against the crook of my arm and chest. I was afraid to drop him. What if his head flopped back? While he looked like any other baby, with the smooth, bald head and slobber dribbling out of the side of his mouth, there was something scary about him.
   I was the only thing between Austin and the ground, much like I was the only thing between Red and death. As a mother, I would be the only thing between my infant and the world. I would have to feed, clothe, bathe, and play with my child. His or her whole beginning of life would center around me and my shaky way of holding a child, my impatience at changing a diaper, and my childish intolerance to spit-up. Even scarier than that is the looming questions of what if I grow impatient with my child? What if I resent my child? What if I become one of those mothers who do horrible things to her children? I don't think I can handle this responsibility.
   Motherhood is not some test to be mastered. It's something to continually worked on, not just aced and forgotten like some history exam. Tending to a cat or a child has to do with inherent and learned abilities. Sure, since I first held Austin, I've learned how to correctly cradle a child, but I still don't have that maternal drive. And even if I get urges to be nurturing, I could still fail. I still remember the harsh criticism from my mother—while she was concerned about me, she still couldn't get it right sometimes, and I have scars. I know careless words or actions could do the same for my child. Motherhood seems like the easiest thing to fail at with the largest consequences.

So I tried again. Red needed his medicine, and, sadly, he only had me. Shaking, I inserted the needle. He stared at me. Whined. Cried. I know I didn't shove it in too far this time, and, fearing he would run again, I clamped one of my hands on his back, holding him in his cage. He knew. He knew I am not his mother. I retuned the next two days to a cat who hated me. I'd walk into the house and he'd cry at me, run from me. Each day, I imagined an oozing wound had developed on Red's neck. Shock would paint his pathetic kitty face into a gruesome mask. I rationalized what I would say to my boss when she returned: Red fought a good fight. The vet said he was too sick. It's amazing Red lived this long, or I can't believe it—he ran out the door and a dump truck ran over him. Meanwhile, Red looked at me with fear, backing into corners and crying as I entered the room. I wanted him to like me. I wanted Red to be happy with me. He had no idea he was single-handedly invalidating my ability to be a nurturer. I failed.
   The fifth day of my boss' trip, I got a phone call at work from my boss' thirteen-year-old next-door neighbor. She just fed the two cats, and medicated Red, too.
   "So everything was okay," I tried asking nonchalantly, but I'm sure the teen could hear the uncertainty in my voice.
   "Yeah, why?"
   "Oh, no reason."

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