We’re about to go to bed when Justin remembers. “Oh crap, I forgot to give Bela his medicine.”
Bela’s one of our cats, a 17-year-old former stray that originally befriended Justin on the steps of his frat house. Bela was just barely out of his kitten phase then. But for a young cat, he was pretty bossy. He insisted on being taken home and living with Justin and one of his fraternity brothers.
So that was that. And Justin and Bela have been together ever since.
Bela’s always had a giant personality. He doesn’t seem 17. I’ve personally known him since he was 8, and he’s pretty much the same cat as when I met him. Full of piss and vinegar. True, he takes a few more seconds to get up than he used to, needs extra time to stretch his limbs when he’s been taking a nap.
But the old cat still play fights with his brother. He can still run when he sees something exciting.
Unfortunately, he is 17, and he got ill a while back. Lost a bunch of weight. I thought then that we were going to lose him, but the vet prescribed some medicine, and so far so good. He’s been with us another 6 months, which is a minor miracle, really, when you think about how long cats typically live. Especially ones who spent years being indoor/outdoor and started their life out as strays.
So it’s one pill every evening for Bela, coated in a catnip paste that he can’t get enough of.
While Justin has popped downstairs to do the honors, I close the door of my office and whisper to the Google Home Mini, “Hey Google, play ‘Thank You For Being a Friend’ on all.”
The theme from The Golden Girls begins to play throughout the house, on every Google Home station. Including the one in the kitchen, where Justin is giving Bela his medicine.
A few minutes later, Justin comes up the stairs laughing.
“Bela and I were very, very confused,” he says.
Being Teased With Pizza Dough
A few days later, Justin and I are standing in the kitchen together. Making pizza. We have a way we always do it in the air fryer. The pizza is not really from scratch since we buy the can of premade pizza dough. The ones that are usually right next to the tubes of biscuit dough at the grocery store.
Justin starts to unwrap the foil on the tube of dough, before pausing.
“Oh Paaaaaage, you sure you don’t want to do this?” he teases me. He knows that I can’t stand the pop the tube makes. For some reason, it’s always bothered me. Whenever I have to do it myself, it sometimes takes me five minutes of poking at the tube with a spoon, trying to watch TV or something to distract me from the dread.
It’s a really stupid thing to have anxiety about, but my amygdala has apparently not gotten the message.
“No no no no no noooooo,” I say, wincing away from the tube.
“You suuuuuure?” he teases. “Well, if you can’t do it yourself, maybe I can just do it right next to you.”
“Noooooooo!” I say, running from the room.
I hear laughter in the kitchen.
“YOU ARE THE WORST!” I shout from the other room.
He walks into the living room, to just where I can see him and hear him clearly. “Maybe,” he says. “But you love it.”
I roll my eyes and shrug.
With that, he pops the dough. Or at least I think that’s when he does it. Because I don’t even notice.
“See? You didn’t scream or anything,” he says.
“What are you talking about?” I say.
“I popped the tube,” he says. He shows me that he has, even though I totally missed it.
“Did you?” I say. “Wow.”
“That’s the thing,” he says. “The dread of it is always worse than when it actually happens.” He pauses. “I seem to remember a certain writer saying that in one of her essays.”
“You’ve got me there,” I say.
We go to finish the pizzas.
Ludus Can Take A Lot of Trust, Especially for People Who Were Bullied as Children, But It’s Amazing
While English has only a single word, love, to describe a wide variety of emotional states, the Ancient Greeks had many (anywhere from four to eight, depending on which expert you ask). And each word refers to a very specific kind of connection that could easily be lumped in with a lot of other dissimilar ones as love.
One of my favorites of these Ancient Greek words for specific kinds of love is ludus (which is actually a Latin word, but the Greeks read Roman poets). Basically, it refers to when you can play around with someone. Especially the way that small kids play. Flirtatiousness, shenanigans, weird little adventures.
It’s something that I’ve always had with Justin. Not just silly little pranks (like the ones I just wrote about) but also going on adventures suddenly. Doing something completely random and unexpected for the day. And what I’ve always loved about Justin is that he’s not only spontaneous and up for going on adventures but simultaneously responsible enough that I know we’ll get home safely.
It’s a sharp contrast to my first marriage, where my ex-husband Seth couldn’t ever take a joke. He could make jokes, sure enough. Poke fun at me. Tease me like we were on the playground. But when it was his turn to be pranked or teased, he just couldn’t take it. He’d explode. He’d see nothing but hostility in my attempts to be playful back.
In some respects, I completely got where Seth was coming from. Because Seth had been bullied as a kid, and that tends to make you suspicious of other people’s motives, their intent. It can make playful humor seem like purposefully hostile attacks.
But the reason I know this is because I was bullied as a kid, too. And I don’t talk about it too much because it’s usually not relevant and can even be a real downer sometimes, but I have PTSD, and my amygdala sometimes does strange things.
Part of what I love now that I’m an adult is that I can take good-natured ribbing from the people close to me. And not only take it but enjoy it, in a weird way. I’m proud that I’ve managed to learn to trust the intent of other people’s humor once I get to know them. That I’ve developed a pretty decent compass that helps me differentiate between the kind of aggressive joking that close friends participate in as a form of private joke — versus attempts from outsiders to humiliate, to hurt someone else’s feelings, or to render themselves superior.
And when I have someone in my life that I can mess around with, that I can play with, and it just feels right, to me it’s the best kind of sign.
With Justin, it happened pretty quickly. Even though we were both bullied as children. We were able to trust that we were both coming from a good place and laugh our heads off.
It’s empowering, in a way, reclaiming those negative experiences and having them on your own terms. As adults who are laughing your fool heads off. Chasing one another around the house with pizza dough. Or blasting the theme of the Golden Girls throughout the house with no warning.