My Life

Dan Jacobson

There are people, birds and mice, other cats, cars. There are trees, flowerbeds, the lawn, paths, fences. There are rooms, stairs, radiators.

It would be untrue to say that I have never known anything else. I can remember a place quite unlike this one. It had no shapes and names; it consisted only of a darkness that squirmed and moved about; it was part of me and I was part of it. Now wet, now dry, it would sometimes trample on me with many small feet. I would open my mouth, close my mouth, suck, suck, suck. What came into my mouth was not food but light.

At least, that’s how I remember it. I had no words then, and without them it is difficult to be sure of what you are experiencing. (It’s difficult enough even when you do have words!) A great deal of squeaking went on; often enough I must have contributed to it. Later on the light began: the real light, I mean, not the kind that seemed to come in through my mouth. That kind, my mother’s, the light I sucked, was hot and clear and ran so rapidly through me I shuddered as I took it in. But the other sort of light was so vague I did not even realise it was there until quite long after it had arrived. It did not shine or glimmer; it merely grew or expanded within the darkness itself, and as it grew it removed the darkness farther and farther from me, until it was like a shell or a horizon all around me, nothing more. Within the shell were my mother, and my brothers and sisters. And myself.

I don’t know what happened to my brothers and sisters, and to tell the truth I don’t much care. But I feel like howling whenever I think of my mother. Sometimes I do howl: then windows are opened and people clap their hands threateningly at me; once or twice hairbrushes and plastic mugs have been thrown at what people blindly suppose to be me. That’s the price of giving tongue and throat to the longings I still feel for her. It is as if nothing that I’ve been or become or have done since I was parted from her has had the reality she had for me; or the reality which she conferred on me. To remember her is to feel more deeply whatever I am than the rest of me can bear. Composed of darkness, she secreted light; her tongue was as rough as her teeth were tender; her purring made the world tremble with joy at its having life enough to tremble. As for her smell ... I can’t define it; I can say only that every breath carried it into every crevice of myself, too deeply to be reached now; I bear her smell within me and yet spend my life looking for it. I want nothing more than to be able to breathe it in again and again, never-endingly. But no such luck.

Well, I haven’t made much of a job of describing my mother; all I have done is to say something of my feelings about her. I doubt if it would be useful for me to speak about the colour and length of her fur, the markings of her face, the curl of her tail. Especially as I can’t really remember them. Sometimes I settle down to make up mothers and pretend that this one or that one is her. The truth is that they are all her, for she is everything I have lost and will never regain: unbegrudging love, constant protection, sustenance, warmth, licking, the perfect darkness which the light eroded from within.

Then I was snatched away from her and brought to this place, where I’ve lived ever since. That was my first experience of the power people have. Up to then they had hardly impinged on my life. Suddenly they took hold of me and I found myself alone in a box, in a corner which I now know to have been in the little cellar under the stairs. To one side of the box was a tray of sand, for purposes which were at once apparent to my infantile consciousness; on the other side was a saucer of milk which, oddly enough, was more of a puzzle to me. What was I supposed to do with it? It smelled quite good; it looked like nothing I’d ever seen before; it was quite motionless. How could I, my mother’s dearest, favourite son, the son of my dearest, favourite mother, conclude that I was to get sustenance from it? In the end, I managed.

If I am to relive or re-create my kittenish days, I must discover the living-room once again; try unavailingly to climb the stairs; have my paw trampled on in the kitchen; chase after pieces of string dangled in front of me; attempt to disembowel slippers and plastic balls with fierce slashings of my back legs; bristle and spit at non-existent terrors in shadowy corners of the hall; cock my head so and arch my tail thus and slither across the linoleum just like that. The usual stuff. Some of it I remember; some of it, like other autobiographers, I make up. One episode I do distinctly recall, however, is the first time I was taken out of doors. At least I think of it as the first time, even though I must have been taken outside when I was separated from my mother and brought to this house. But in the shock of separation I’d hardly noticed it; anyhow, I’d been carried in someone’s arms all the way. This time it was quite different. I was carefully put on the ground and left there, in the middle of a great expanse, under a swirling light, buffeted by a wind that made me totter where I stood. From all sides came a salutation of green things – I did not know what they were – some so high above me they seemed to have no connection with the place I was standing on; they all streamed and fluttered away in a frenzy, yet somehow remained where they were. There was no end to any of it: space, light, wind, growth, movement.

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