Now, big dragon, little wizard, take your true shape. I command you
by the power of your true name…
Your name is Yevaud!The Rule of Names,
by Ursula K. LeGuin
There is a solitude to an empty home that I have not yet had to face. This solitude is a shadow, which follows me through my lonely life, waiting to pounce when I walk without company, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. It frightens me, this shadow. It is there, in the pile of dishes, the stacks of books, the detritus of a consumer’s life which surround me. It is the shadow of a profoundly unhappy self, a reflection in a black-glass mirror, a shadow of contempt and mistrust.
Until now, until just hours ago, the shadow was held at bay by two mighty dragons. And now they have left.
Yevaud and Kalessin came into my life when I was adrift. I had just moved to Baltimore, when I adopted them from the MD-SPCA. Fresh out of a dizzying four years of college, staring down the barrel of another 5+ years of graduate school, I knew I needed something to keep me grounded. I knew I needed a presence to keep me company. A reason, literally, to get out of bed in the morning and start the day. I felt weak, but I knew then that I could be coerced by a bond. A promise, to another being who was counting on me for food and shelter. As long as they were there, I had to be at least as strong as it took to get up, put food in a bowl, clean a litter box. At least as strong as it took to play with a worm on a string.
“I have no strength against the thing…”
Ogion shook his head… “Strange,” he said: “…at Pendor you had strength enough to stand up to a dragon.”
“It was luck I had in Osskil, not strength,” Ged replied… “As for the dragon, I knew his name. The evil thing, the shadow that hunts me, has no name.”
“All things have a name,” said OgionA Wizard of Earthsea,
by Ursula K. LeGuin
Yevaud and Kalessin were known by different names, once. But they came to me, and their names did not seem to fit their posture. They were regal creatures, who delighted in hunting anything that moved and in deliciously long stretches. They were quixotic, out of time beings, they moved with their own rhythms and they did not ask but demanded what they needed. They curled, tails lazily wrapped, like dragons, atop small piles of blankets or toys. Yev’s profile, dappled with the browns and yellows and blacks of her tortoise-shell coat, resembled a crocodile’s snout. To me, they were dragons in all but form.
I was missing home, missing Portland, and rereading A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin when I adopted the pair, brother and sister. LeGuin was a resident of Portland, you see. The two kittens had been rescued from a hoarder’s house, and fostered until they were ready for adoption. I named the brother, with his shiny grey coat, Kalessin, after the dragon from The Farthest Shore. I named the sister, with her dark coloring, Yevaud, after the dragon from A Wizard of Earthsea.
It turns out, their bond gave me more than the strength to get out of bed. That summer I had a crash course (which I think I’ll still be taking for a few more years) in living on my own. It was facilitated in part by the extra… features… included when required to sustain two hyperactive kittens. Our brains only ever seem to remember the bad things, but in hindsight even those don’t seem so terrible. They scratched up my walls, broke into everything, demolished their fair share of my belongings. They were nothing I had hoped they would be – they were independent, to the point of being cold. I suffered months of watching cats online snuggle and purr for their owners, to return my gaze from my phone to the whirlwinds in my own home. I felt like a failure, a terrible parent, most days out of the week. The two dragons suffered my existence insofar as I would feed and house them.
I was exasperated and exhausted by them, sure, but they were magical. I watched them grow in real time, their bellies grow full, their stances become strong, their movements powerful. They taught me to find patience within myself, and to judge them on their own terms, not to compare them to the snippets of others on the internet. They showed me how to respect their wants, their boundaries, and they did it all while remaining nearly silent. They purred softly, and barely meowed. They were small, and often spent their time in the recesses of our apartment, in the warm and dark places I made for them. Their presence, though, was as large as could fit in my couple hundred square feet.
“If you could name it you could master it, maybe, little wizard. Maybe I could tell you its name, when I see it close by. And it will come close, if you wait about my isle. It will come wherever you come. If you do not want it to come close you must run, and run, and keep running from it. And yet it will follow you. Would you like to know its name?”– Yevaud to Ged
A Wizard of Earthsea,
by Ursula K. LeGuin
They were strong, but even Smaug was missing a few scales. Yev had never truly grown past an upper respiratory infection she had contracted as a kitten, and was prone to sneezing fits and a congested nose which caused her to constantly lick her face and nose. While trying to treat her for it, our Vet discovered that she also had a genetic gum disease, which, yet untreated, was causing her constant pain. We explored most other options, but she would eventually need to have all of her teeth surgically removed over the course of the next year. I couldn’t even afford the first treatment she’d need, and am barely staying afloat after her original medical bills covering our treatment of her URI (infinite thanks to those who have helped me ease that burden, especially my family, Nicole, Natalie, and Zafar&Zaya, it truly means the world).
We worked with the SPCA but I eventually came to the conclusion that I couldn’t properly care for two cats with lifelong illnesses, especially ones this young. This past week, about 6 months after adopting them, I had to make the decision to return them to the SPCA so that they could continue to receive proper care. I’m comforted by the fact that I did everything in my power to give them comfortable, happy lives while they were with me. Their previous foster, Alex, will likely get the opportunity to foster them again while Yev undergoes her surgery and the pair wait for another forever home. I can’t thank Alex enough for the support, emotional and logistic, when navigating this situation. They are truly a cat-superhero.
“You must turn around.”
“If you go ahead, if you keep running, wherever you run you will meet danger and evil, for it drives you, it chooses the way you go. You must choose. You must seek what seeks you. You must hunt the hunter.”A Wizard of Earthsea,
by Ursula K. LeGuin
And now the shadow grows nearer. I haven’t been in my home alone in more than 6 months, but I can feel it nearby. It hides in the pile of dishes collecting detritus in my sink. It hides in the pile of clothes on my unkempt bed. The stress of navigating this whole process has made me physically sick, just in time for the holidays. Yet, in my mind’s eye, I can still reach out to pet the two of them. Gently, of course, and only for as long as they’ll allow before squirming around, and moving on. I can still hear the echos of their claws, sinking into the drywall, tearing away my security deposit dollar by dollar. Each scratch was worth it.
I’ve never been great at crying. It doesn’t come easily to my brain. Now, though, they flow freely as I remember the light these two dragons breathed into my life. They were the kindest roommates I could have asked for, as messy as they were. My only regret is that they might not understand why I had to give them up, or why we will not meet again. If they knew, what then?
Tonight I will pace around my living room, the cat toys will remain in their drawer, and when I lay down there will be no shimmery grey blur to greet me, looking for scratches behind the collar and around the nose. There will be no golden paw to grant me luck, and no lazy puddle of molten metals to soak up the sun that will filter through my windows. I think now of the possum Yev met through the window. Of all the pieces of my food they snatched. Of the rides to and from the vet (thank you Damani, and Lakeisha). I can only hope that their next adventures unfold with the same magic we experienced in our time together.
Finally, in these last days of the year, I must learn to live my life without their strength, without our bond. I will start by hunting the hunter. I will start by waking up tomorrow, and getting out of bed. I will start with the pile of dishes and clothes and trash. I will try to accept the parts of myself I was afraid of, for their sake. They kept my shadow from me, until I was strong enough to face it alone.
Aloud and clearly, breaking that old silence, Ged spoke the shadow’s name and in the same moment the shadow spoke without lips or tongue, saying the same word: “Ged.” And the two voices were one voice.
Ged reached out his hands, dropping his staff and took hold of his shadow, of the black self that reached out to him. Light and darkness met, and joined, and were one.– ibid