My Month Alone: When the Cat Won’t Help and the Inner Critic Won’t Shut Up

By Hali Morell

arbon Monoxide. Carbon Monoxide.”

This is what I hear, accompanied by a horrendous beeping sound that cuts through my entire body like a razor at 8:04 a.m. on a Saturday. First of all, who the hell is saying this? Second of all, what does it mean? The cat and I look at each other, groggy and confused. I fly out of my bed, crashing into a standing fan and getting my worn Bad Religion T-shirt caught on the bedroom doorknob. Neither of these objects are out of place, but my brain is.

“Carbon Monoxide. Carbon Monoxide.”

Shut the fuck up! For the love of god!

It’s the smoke detector in the hallway.

I run into the kitchen to grab the step stool and crash it into everything along the way. My left thigh goes careening into the corner of the glass coffee table, I smack the right side of my face into the wooden coffee/tea station, my left foot goes into some cold, wet cat saliva mixed with four blades of green grass, and I finally reach the metal step stool leaning against the kitchen wall next to the fridge. Dust bunnies flying off the stool, I carry it back to the hallway, attempting a calmer disposition and repeating to myself over and over, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” I climb up to the detector and push any button I can find.

“Fire. Fire.”

What?! I grab the whole thing and rip it out of the ceiling. And it’s still beeping and speaking. Am I in the Twilight Zone? I unplug the battery and it stops. What the hell is happening?

“Do you believe this?” I yell to the cat, now sitting on the edge of the bed, his head fur a bit out of place and his eyes half closed. I don’t even want to look at my head fur. He yawns and circles, his body dropping into sleep mode. “Thanks for the moral support! And thanks for the grass barf, by the way! Yeah, we’re having a talk later, mister!”

Come on, man! This was going to be my sleep-in morning.

In the three days since my husband has been gone, I’ve been woken up by the cat at 3:45, 4:49, and 5:01 a.m. And he has absolutely no shame. He’ll walk up and down my body, across my face, pulling my hair, putting his clawed paw on my nose and screaming. Falling under the category of “things my husband does,” I usually hear the screams and gently fall back to sleep as he gets up and feeds the cat. So we’re not exactly getting along at this point. And I don’t want to lock him out because he’s 19½, and what if the one morning I lock him out he decides to die? So I’m suffering from sleep deprivation. My eyes are red, my lazy eyelid is drooping, and I look like shit. I just need a day. A day where nothing goes wrong.

When my husband told me that he’d be spending a month in New Hampshire taking care of his parents, I immediately began to think of all the “things my husband does,” and I panicked. The list kept expanding and swirling around my brain. Layers and layers of things! Yes, obviously I felt for his parents, but…well…what about me?

#1. The Plants. My husband, aka The Plant Whisperer, has a lot of plants, and he takes amazing care of them. They are his babies. I, on the other hand, do not have a green thumb. I have a thumb that is equivalent to death. So the thought of being responsible for the survival of hundreds of plant babies may kill me before I kill them.

“What if I kill all the plants?”

“You won’t, sweetie. Just take pictures of the ones I point out that need Wednesday Water.”

Wednesday Water. I used to love hearing him say that. I’d watch him fill his maroon watering can and go in and out of the house. It was a meditation. A joyous experience. But now that I’ll be in charge, the phrase is taking on a whole new meaning.

#2. The Arrowhead water jugs. How the hell am I going to change those fucking bottles? Am I now that helpless woman who can’t replace the bottles because I’m too weak?

#3. Daylight Savings! He always changes the clocks. Now I have to learn how to change the clocks. I mean, some of them I can do, but some are just weird and hard and high up. I hate this.

#4. The Vacuum. Where the hell is the vacuum? I know I’ve seen it.

#5. Astro Girl. The name for my husband’s Chevy Astro van. I have to drive it and not crash into anything. Yes, it’s just from one side of the street to the other for street cleaning but it’s still scary.

#6. Laughter. My husband provides a certain level of laughter each day that almost always causes me to pee my pants or spit out my food. My eyes fill with tears, my nose begins to run, I struggle to breathe, and I pray that I’ll make it to the bathroom in time.

#7. Moral Support. My husband is my touchstone. A reality check. The best friend who listens to me rant and vent each day. Now I’ll just have the cat. And we’ve seen his reactions. Not helpful.

Now, I understand that, in the grand scheme of things, the plants and the clocks and the water and the van are not even in the realm of the major tragedies occurring around the world, but, for me, it’s always been the little things that send me into a massive spiral where the world may in fact come to an end. I tend to go to the worst possible place. “Catastrophizing” is what my therapist calls it. So it’s not, “I get to water all of the plants!” it’s “I’m going to kill all of the plants!” Rather than, “I’m driving my husband to the airport,” it’s “I have to drive my husband to the airport and the traffic is going to suck and I’m going to get lost and he’s going to miss his flight and I’m going to have a panic attack while simultaneously throwing up and crying.” It’s always worst-case-scenario. In reality, the outcomes are rarely worst-case-scenario. Although I did get lost on the way home from the airport, and I did almost start crying. But the frustration then turned into comedy and I found myself saying out loud, “This is a joke! I mean, you’re really a joke, Hali! I guess you’ll get home eventually! Ha ha ha.”

“It can be empowering, you know? A month alone? You’ll get to do all those things you’ve been wanting to do!”

This is a comment I heard from multiple people, all women. So I start to think about this word “empowerment” and what it means. I look it up in my thesaurus. Yes, I still have one of those pocket-sized paperback thesauruses…or is it thesauri? Empower: authorize, entitle, permit, allow, enable. Usually when I hear the word “empower,” it revolves around women’s rights. Not in all cases, of course, but certainly more often in my experience. But when I think of my sense of empowerment, or lack thereof—disempowerment, I suppose—I don’t think I feel that way. At least not in the clichéd my-husband-sits-around-the-house-watching-sports-and-drinking-beer-with-his-friends-and-I-have-to-clean-up-after-them-and-put-my-life-on-hold-because-it’s-all-about-him kind of way. This could totally be the skewed version of what my friends mean. Quite honestly, I feel nothing but support and freedom in my marriage. There’s nothing he does that’s holding me back. In fact, the only obstacle that seems to delete my sense of empowerment is myself.

Whoa. Did I just have a breakthrough? Is this new information? Okay, everyone just hold the phone. Let’s examine. Self-empowerment. Do I permit or allow myself to do the things I really want to do? No. No, I do not. Okay…so what’s up with that? Hold on, guys, we’re going in…into the psyche.

I look around my bedroom. At all of the unfinished or untouched textile projects I’ve stuffed into yet another basket. I have too many baskets. The new loom I bought still in its wrapping. And here’s the inner dialogue.

“God, I really want to make that giant wall tapestry that I’ve been dreaming of. Let’s take out the loom!”

“Don’t bother. It’s going to suck. You’re going to fuck it up. Just stick to the scarf knitting. That’s all you’ve mastered and you know it. Stop trying to pretend like you have any talent.”

“But I really want to try it. Can’t I just try it and see what happens?”

“You’re going to try it? Like those clay beads you used to make into necklaces that are now collecting dust in that basket over there? Or the mosaics that you epically failed at? The hundreds of tiles living in that basket on top of the dresser? You never finish anything because you suck.”

The critic is loud and overbearing. It’s disempowerment at its core. And it’s all I hear.

But I keep hearing the words from my friends. “You can do all of those things you’ve always wanted to do!” And I realize it has nothing to do with my husband being there or not being there. It’s about me being there. Ugh, I hear that and it just so sounds so new-agey gross. Okay, shut up, critic. Let me say it without you butting your big ass in there! Because I like it, you a-hole! I like this discovery. Just shut the fuck up and take a time-out. The question now is, how do I start empowering myself?

The Arrowhead bottle is empty, and the pink unicorn needs a new yoga position. No, this is not an acid trip. I bought a pink stuffed unicorn for my husband. Yes, I know it’s weird, but it’s just a thing. We have a stuffed animal thing. And stop thinking it’s perverted, because it’s not. So, my husband keeps the pink unicorn on top of the water cooler and puts it in yoga poses. Rather impressive poses, I might add. And now, I get to do it. That’s right. I GET to do it. Critic, go fuck yourself.

“Guess what? I changed the Arrowhead water all by myself!” I tell my husband during our daily chat.

“Good job, sweetie! I guess it helps when they’re half empty.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Oh, you didn’t notice that I left the bottles half empty so it would be easier for you to pour them in?”

I look down at the remaining three Arrowhead bottles and notice that they are, indeed, half empty. That the joy and pride I felt a mere two seconds ago was all in my head.

“Oh, yeah. I do see that now. Well, I guess I’m not as strong as I thought.”

“That’s okay, sweetie! You still did it! I’m glad it helped.”

I hang up the phone and I’m craving more. Now that I’m semi-empowered, what else? What else can I do? I walk into my bedroom and unwrap the large loom that I’ve been staring at since August. Without thinking, I sit in the red beanbag chair that had been living in my car for months, and I begin to weave. No second guessing, no negative noise. It’s peaceful and calm. The cat is spread long on the bed across from me. And I weave for three hours. And I’m happy. I’m so happy.



Hali Morell is an actress, writer, and teacher who lives in Santa Monica with her husband and cat. Born with an anxiety disorder, Hali discovered Zoloft at 21 and has found humor in the little things. In 2013, Hali wrote and performed her solo show entitled “My Pretty Panic” and is currently working on another performance piece. Alongside her writing partner, Hali co-created The Missing Peace, offering memoir writing workshops, talking circles, and salons.

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