Impatience is my most persistent character flaw. When I was younger, fantasizing about future successes, or even just eager for the latest Uncanny X-Men, my grandmother, in her no-nonsense Massachusetts accent, would advise, “Slow down, baby boy; enjoy your time now.” Her advice made me more aware of my impatience, but it didn’t diminish it; restiveness remains within me, nagging when inconvenience, real or imagined, arises.
My innate impatience partially explains my irritation as I waited for a corn dog on December 26, 2014, Boxing Day. There were other factors, too; or, at least, one other factor: I was mourning my mother’s death, feeling raw after spending what seemed like my first Christmas without her. Yes, we’d been apart on Christmas before, but there were at least festive phone calls; and, yes, 2014 was technically the second Christmas since her death — she died in October 2013, but the first few months following had been a disorienting smear of shock, awe, and paperwork. Any semblance of holiday cheer, or even awareness of it, was lost in the whirlwind.
One year later, bureaucratic chores accomplished, and stunned numbness exhausted, Mom’s absence was impossible to ignore. The cloying joy of the season exaggerated my muddled anguish, and I awoke that Christmas acutely aware of my loss and isolation. Mom was my last parent; my father died when I was a young; Grandma was long dead, and Papa, too. I had no partner or kids with whom to enjoy the holiday; my sole sibling lives on the other side of the country; and my friends have families of their own. I felt like a 30-something orphan. Trivial.
There were no gifts, no calls, and only a handful of rote text messages. Aside from a pit stop to the deli for cigarettes and frozen pie crust, there was no human contact. I spent that second post-Mom Christmas sitting on the hardwood floor of my basement-level Brooklyn apartment, watching the Iron Man trilogy, smoking weed, and sinking into sadness, steeping in grief.
The next day, Boxing Day, I drudged myself up and out to meet an ex-boyfriend just back from living abroad with the man he met after dumping me. I’m a glutton for punishment, I suppose, and for comfort food, too, which is why I opted for corn dogs at the bougie Brooklyn food court we chose for variety and proximity – and which brings me back to my aforementioned impatience.
In my experience, corn dogs should take about five minutes. Maybe seven. But the corn dog aficionados of this Brooklyn food stand clearly had other ideas, because five minutes came and went, and no corn dog appeared. My annoyance stirred. Ten minutes; no corn dog; pique rose in tandem. Fifteen. Still a dearth of dog, and no amount of huffing or puffing, watch-checking, nor advanced level evil eye-eye roll combo could get the ball rolling. My blood was boiling, my top about to pop; I was this close to going through the roof, when — Finally! Just over the twenty-minute mark, my meal appeared — covered in Panko flakes and far more baroque than any corn dog ought to be; but it was there, and my stress dissipated. I had no idea I was in the midst of a life lesson.
Later, food consumed, and life updates shared, my ex and I stepped out into the winter-stripped afternoon. Everything was gray, from the cloud-clotted sky to the bleak, frosted concrete, and all accented by a bone-slicing wind. We were on the north side of the street, trudging west; to our right was a construction pit surrounded by chain link; up ahead, about half a long block, parked in the crosswalk, was a black SUV. Its occupants had disembarked and were peering underneath their vehicle, into the darkness below. My own gaze drawn by their gawking, I could faintly discern a huddled shadow scurrying under the vehicle’s chassis. Based on size and scragginess, I assumed it was one of two things: a possum or a kitten. Without confirming which, and much to my surprise, I broke into a run, cleared that half-block at superhuman speed, and lunged under the SUV.
Then, there, perched on a rear axle, I saw it: a crusty, grubby, crinkled-looking kitten, shrieking for help like a demon from hell. In an instant, my heart swelled.
After a bit of maneuvering, some sweet coos, and a few more gut-wrenching kitten cries, I emerged from under the SUV, filthy critter in hand. I half-heartedly offered to turn it over to vehicle’s driver and his family, but, much to my relief, they declined, as did a bystander. So, nestling the kitten into my coat, I bid my ex- a hurried adieu, and headed back to my basement apartment, where I gave the abandoned kitten milk from my dead mom’s antique tea saucer. That was five years ago, and that cat, who I named Leroy, has been with me ever since.
It may sound trite, but that tiny kitten helped me overcome my enormous sadness. With that adventurous, playful creature by my side, I discovered and felt glee once again. It wasn’t instantaneous, and other influences were at play – time, finding love – but Leroy’s been a (mostly reliable) ray of sunshine over the past few years (any cat owner knows felines’ mercurial moods), and she’s a fantastic reason (and often catalyst) for getting up in the morning.
On a broader level, Leroy’s a reminder to heed my grandmother’s advice and be patient; let events unfold in their own course. Had that corn dog not taken what I still attest was an excessively long time; had I lost my temper and stormed off; had that SUV driver been too rushed to stop for a stray, I never would have met that cat, my cat.
Like grief, impatience remains within me, but now, when it rears its head, I try to think of that bitterly cold December day, when a delay brought me to a kitten who brought me back to life.
I’ll let others debate what is and is not a virtue. I do know, though, that good things come to those who wait. Today, as the holiday magic wanes, a new year – and decade – dawning, let’s all practice a bit more patience in 2020 and beyond. You never know how it will pay off.