Good Narrative Principles

Momo’s Stories: My Cat Elaine


IMG_7771Meredith, Momo’s Mom now lives with her daughter year round. It happened this way: after Walter, Momo’s Dad died, Meredith couldn’t get her bearings. Stumbling through widowhood, Meredith was repeatedly hijacked by vivid memories triggered by random shops or street corners. Sometimes even a tree sent her spiraling. It felt to Meredith like she was being mugged repeatedly by the past. She tried cultivating a forward-looking attitude. She tried without much success to bring a sense of zeal or at the very least, neutral anticipation to her daily life.

A change of venue was in order and so Meredith showed up at Momo’s doorstep with no advanced warning. To be fair, she had tried alerting Momo that she was on her way, but her daughter never seemed to have time to take her calls. Luckily, Meredith traveled light and so Momo was able to accommodate her mother for what she assumed was a brief stay. When it became clear to both mother and daughter that this arrangement was for keeps, the two went shopping for a two-bedroom condo on the Upper West Side that was pet friendly.

Back in time, while Meredith and Walter were running the camp and living a full life in their tidy suburbs, Momo, in New York City, had become a cat person. She happily embraced all breeds save for Persians, which were too vocal for her taste. Until her mother arrived, Momo named each of her cats Elaine in honor of her sister who died before Momo could form memories. On the first night that mother and daughter shared a meal in Momo’s studio apartment, Momo called her cat by a new name. Elaine the cat, failed to respond. Momo tried keeping the name under wraps but eventually she slipped up. Meredith looked as Momo had expected, shocked. Deeply shocked.

Elaine, the cat, was no mental giant. So Momo had no choice but to call her Elaine. She whispered her name. Used it sparingly. But still it was there — forming a wedge between the two.

Another issue was Khalid who called reliably every Wednesday evening throughout the winter. If by some chance Meredith answered the call, she’d tell Khalid that Momo wasn’t at home and hang up. It was her way of thwarting the budding romance.

At Khalid’s urging, Momo considered converting. But six months into studying the Koran she admitted first to herself and then to her lover that she wasn’t a woman of faith. Lacking a clear path forward, the lovers settled into a fuzzy gray area where affections and intimacy were exchanged freely but the future was off limits.

In the summer, Meredith held her position as founder and director, which essentially meant she faded into the background, except for visiting day when former campers now grown, held her in a warm embrace. They talked about the past, a game of nostalgia that Meredith played well.

Momo, now in her early ‘60s, continued the peculiar and divided life of a camp director. On weekends in the winter she traveled the tri-state area, meeting with potential camp families and sleeping when necessary at the closest Hampton Inn. She stored her camp supplies at the self-storage so that the mice wouldn’t steal the construction paper and use it for their bedding. There was also the inevitable law suit from a dissatisfied family upset over some mishap. If asked, Momo would say that things are “ducky” but a fine web of lines now etch the sides of her mouth and eyes.

Last winter, during a recruitment drive through Waltham, Mass., a wealthy couple, former campers as a matter of fact, approached Momo about the possibility of buying Camp Walmer. Momo blanched when they made their preliminary sales pitch. It happened moments after she left the stage in a Karaoke Slam. With the final notes of “Summer Nights” originally sung by Olivia Newton John and John Travolta in “Grease” still reverberating, Momo was asked to consider a future that didn’t revolve around the rhythm of the summer.

It was an offer she mulled over for a year and half. Alone. It remained her special secret.

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