Let Love In: Lessons Learned from Nigel

Over ten years ago, my sister and I were at the animal adoption center, wandering between rows of penned animals. Don’t ask me why we made a habit out of breaking our own hearts; we had recently moved out of our family home together and one of the bold-faced rules in our new rental agreement was NO PETS. Still. We both loved animals, and apparently, we both thought it was enjoyable to pass a Saturday afternoon checking out scads of animals we could never take home or love beyond those few, fleeting minutes.


On a fateful day in October 2003, we walked by his cage, saw his orange face, and felt an inescapable stirring inside. We glanced at the name tag on the front of his pen: “NIGEL”, it read. Exchanging a knowing glance, we mouthed “perfect!” to each other, and within the hour, Nigel had found his forever family. Screw rental agreements, right?

How could we resist a face like this?

How could we resist a face like this?

Nigel was in rough shape when we took him home– physically, emotionally, and socially. For one thing, he was greasy. I’m talking really, super greasy. Even though the vet estimated Nigel was around four years old at the time, he either didn’t know how to, or didn’t care to, clean himself, so his fur was matted into what looked like a badass feline faux-hawk. Furthermore, his chin was sprinkled with generous doses of what we like to call catne— cat acne, for those in the know, and he had approximately zero muscle tone in his legs and torso. You could lie him on his back (theoretically), and his front and hind legs would splay out on the ground like he was making a snow angel instead of staying relatively pointed toward the heavens. Definitely unusual for cats.

Still greasy...

Still a bit greasy and matted…

On an emotional and social level, Nigel was a bit of a nut case, too. “Skittish” was an extreme understatement for him– he’d dart and dash away from even the hint of human interaction, and his eyes seemed to be locked in their ‘Alarm and Mayhem!’ expression permanently. The woman at the adoption center couldn’t even believe that Nigel had approached us, timid as hell, from the depths of his cage before we signed his release papers. During his stay at the center, she informed us, Nigel had earned a reputation as a coward-slash-Bad Seed, and the simple act of showing courage in front of an outstretched human hand was totally unheard of for him.

What the woman at the adoption center didn’t know, though, was that Nigel was on his last chance.

We later learned from the intake vet’s notes that Nigel was a “hard luck guy” who had been passed up for adoption enough times to warrant a scheduling of his demise in the not-so-far-off future. Apparently, acne-ridden tabbies weren’t in high demand as family pets, especially acne-ridden tabbies with deep-seated fears of everything. And even if the adoption center lady didn’t realize this, Nigel must have known The End Was Near to the very core of his greasy body. Woo-woo me totally believes that Nigel manifested us and enlisted us to orchestrate his prison break, just in the nick of time. (Rational me says “Oh, look! We adopted an orange cat named Nigel mere days before he was set to be destroyed. Funny that.”) There were only three problems:

1. Nigel had extreme health issues (kidney and liver issues in addition to his general greasiness, acne, and lack of basic muscle tone)

2. Nigel was completely unaccustomed to behaving in ‘normal’ cat ways (being aloof, preening the day away, feeling soft and pleasing to the human touch, etc.)

3. Oh yeah, my sister and I weren’t even allowed to have cats in our rental suite. Other than that, though, this was a perfect date with destiny! 🙂

Taking a cat nap. NIGE!!!

Taking a cat nap. NIGE!!!

To his immense credit, Nigel learned almost immediately to meet my sister and I half way: we would shower him with love and safety, and he would allow his deep suspicions of the entire world to slowly fade away into trust. We would buy him expensive cat food and let him sleep in drawers filled with our clean clothes, and he would improve his muscle tone and shock the vet at his follow-up visit a month after his adoption. (So fit and vibrant! How was that even possible?) We would try to dust him in “dry cat shampoo” and comb his greasiness away, and he would run around the house like a demon, resisting any and all efforts to tame the prized matted look that had taken a whole lifetime to achieve. Seriously, though– Nigel had known nothing but strife and struggle for the first four years of his life. To allow even a tiny bit of love to seep into the hardened crust of his demeanor took a mad leap of faith on his part, and whether or not Nigel did this “consciously”, he sure showed me by example how much we can all flourish if we simply Let Love In.

Nigel is my North Star

Nigel is my North Star

Time passed, and as things like grad school, blossoming love relationships, and moves away from the city started happening, Nigel was eventually placed in the care of my doting dad– Nigey’s forever and ever home. I swear, you have never seen a cat so loved. My suspicions of who was the Real Boss in my dad’s house were confirmed when Marty and I offered to cat-sit Nigel once on a trip back to Calgary. My dad had left us a 3-page list of caring instructions for Nigel, one of which outlined which stair we should sit on when brushing him, since he had apparently acquiesced to having his fur styled– but only if he got to sit on the top stair and we would sit two stairs below him. Only a truly doting dad could have figured that one out, right? And until some genius invented those magnetic patio door curtains, my dad would patiently let Nigel in and out of his house every few minutes, because even years of loving care hadn’t been able to erode Nigel’s ADHD. Bending over backwards for a cat every four seconds for hours at a time = true love.

Nigel wasn’t supposed to make it past October 2003, but he found a way to escape his fate and to thrive in an environment of love, safety, and trust. After ten years of living the Good Life, Nigel’s previous health issues suddenly came back full-force, and the vet’s prognosis was heartbreaking: pain, suffering, deterioration. My dad, fiercely devoted to this badass feline, made the courageous, never-easy decision to bring Nigel peace. Now, all that’s left of Nigel is his legacy:

Let love in and thrive against all odds

Allow yourself to be loved, even when it’s hard to love yourself

Let love transform you, and love will show you what’s possible (you’ll be amazed!)

R.I.P Nigel-- 1999 (?) to November 20, 2013 xoxo

R.I.P Nigel– 1999 (?) to November 20, 2013 xoxo

I love you, Nigel. Thank you for letting me in. xo

When Dana Met Marty, Revisited

This is my first ever re-post, faithful readers. Today is the 8th anniversary of the day that Marty and I met (and, coincidentally, started dating.) Since many of my readers are new(ish) to the blog and haven’t been around since the original post (Dec 2009), I thought I would share the story of how we met with you all once more. Enjoy!

Marty with what we fondly refer to as his "terrorist beard", and me with my "terrorist, in-sore-need-of-some-threading eyebrows"


In November of 2003, I was decidedly single. Mr. Wrong, my on-again/off-again beau (if you could even call him that), had up and moved to Japan in August of that year, and we had only e-mailed each other halfheartedly a few times in those three months. I was waking up at quarter to five every morning (!!) and going to the gym for 2 hours as soon as it opened. I was also going to bed between 8 and 8:30 pm every night (out of necessity, to help facilitate my ungodly early morning routine), so yeah– I was definitely single. Fit… but single.

On December 6, 2003– a Saturday– I was spontaneously invited to a party by one of my friends from university, Colin. I sighed. Not only was I experiencing the heaviest period EVER that day, but my hermit tendencies were flaring up really badly and I didn’t feel like socializing with anybody or pretending to have a good time at some party (which of course, I wouldn’t be.) Besides, how would I be able to wake up for my morning workout if the party didn’t even start until after I would normally go to sleep? I didn’t tell Colin any of these things, but I mumbled that I couldn’t go.

He pressed on and urged me to come. He was hosting a ‘listening party’ for one of his sets on CBC Radio [note: this is Canada’s national public broadcasting station, for my non-Canuck readers]. It would only be aired once and it was a big deal for him to have been selected as the emcee/DJ for this particular radio series. Plus, there would be 50 people there, so I could blend into the walls– cramping and kvetching all I wanted– without anybody noticing if I felt like it. All in all, he would be hurt if I didn’t at least make an appearance.

Ah, the Guilt Trip… such an effective weapon to wield against somebody like me!  Reluctantly, I agreed to attend the listening party. But I resented Colin every second before the party started for pressuring me into going. I was a full blown social recluse at that particular point in time, and I hated him for making me be interactive and festive.

Marty, in the meantime, was racing back to Calgary from Victoria. He had received an odd phone call from Colin that there was going to be a party thrown to celebrate some radio show. The only problem was– Colin had planned to throw this fabulous party at Marty’s house and had already put Marty’s address on all the invites. Fifty people were going to show up, so long as Marty would be there with the key to let everybody inside! Frustrated at Colin’s blatant disregard for his own plans and schedule (Marty had been housesitting Robertina in Victoria for the past 5 weeks), Marty left Robertine with the next door neighbours and made the 16 hour trek back to Calgary. He figured he would host this stupid party for Colin, pack his bags, and move to Victoria permanently the very next morning. He was ready to leave Calgary for good. Harumph! (Robertina, by the way, proceeded to dig up the next door neighbours’ entire backyard in Marty’s absence. She was so. very. upset. with him, and hell hath no fury like a puppy’s love scorned!)

On Saturday night, Colin picked me up at 7 o’clock to take me to his listening party. I felt bloated and cranky. And resentful. Marty’s house happened to be only 5 minutes away from my own house by foot, so we arrived there in no time by car. (We drove why..?) Marty, freshly back from Victoria, ushered us inside and let us know we were the first people to arrive. He was a very welcoming and gracious host, despite having gone 16 hours out of his way to be there. Excited, Colin unloaded hundreds of dollars worth of food out of the car and onto the kitchen table in preparation for the big night!

Half an hour passed, and we were still the only people at the party. We ate pizza and waited for the other guests to arrive…

An hour passed and we were still the only people at the party. By then, it was painfully evident that nobody else was coming, and that we had a mountain of food to chisel through by ourselves. I felt bad for Colin, stood up by most of his so-called friends in his hour of glory, but even worse for Marty, who had come all this way to hang out with two solitary people and listen to the radio.

We passed the time before the actual radio show by flipping through some of Marty’s photo albums. I noticed with a flicker of appreciation how great Marty’s legs were in the shots (Deep Thoughts by Dana L.), but at that point, I was still bloated and kind of cranky. I was mostly ready to listen to this radio show and then head home to bed.

The show finally came on and ended an hour afterwards, at midnight. Incredibly, I was still awake. The show itself was a really amazing collection of songs by Calgarian musicians, and for the first time that evening, I didn’t feel so resentful or upset that I was dragged the whole 10 blocks away from home to come to the party. I actually enjoyed the radio show! Then Colin, being the zany and offbeat character he is, suggested that instead of retiring to our own humble abodes for the night, we all sleep over at Marty’s house.

The universe must have been working its wacky magic at that point, because ordinarily– being both a Catholic girl and a certified hermit– I would never have agreed to this ridiculous idea. (And oh yeah, did I mention I was having the heaviest period EVER??) I would never, ever— in my right mind and better judgment– have agreed to sleep at a strange man’s home under these circumstances. But like I alluded to earlier, I was simply a pawn that night and the universe made me do it. So there.

Under the spell of the universe, I found myself agreeing to sleep over at Marty’s house and then changing into Marty’s pyjama pants (!!!) so I wouldn’t have to sleep in jeans. I said a quick prayer to the universe that I wouldn’t bleed through Marty’s (light blue) pants overnight and silently wondered to myself what the hell I was doing. Seriously, the whole night was so out of character for both Marty and I… there is no way we were acting on our own accord.

(I should also mention that at this point, I didn’t have a crush on Marty or anything, and I’m pretty sure he felt the same way about me– I was just randomly changing into his clothes and climbing into his bed. For real. Chalk everything up to Colin and his zany schemes… and of course to the mysterious workings of the universe.)

Even though there were three whole bedrooms in Marty’s house, somehow all three of us: me, Marty, and Colin– ended up piling into Marty’s bed for the evening. I was feeling wildly uncomfortable in between the two men (with my period, I might add. Again), and I was certainly beginning to wish that I had just walked home for the night when I had the chance. After some silly photos captured our night for posterity (Colin’s idea– I was freaking out), I closed my eyes and tried to drift off into an awkward, G-rated slumber.

A few moments later– I don’t know how much time had actually elapsed– I felt compelled to look at Marty. The side table lights were still on and I was as nervous as hell, but I slowly opened my eyes…

And that’s when I fell in love.

Marty was looking back at me– also nervous, awkward, and probably acting against his better judgment– but his stare was so deep and warm, it was all it took for me to fall in love with him. Funny, I had looked at him all night without really seeing him. At that moment, though, my eyes were truly opened and I finally recognized him as an offering to me from the universe. He was everything I had been searching for.

It sounds cheesy and cliché, but time literally stood still at that moment. (And puppies barked and unicorns galloped beneath rainbows!) It was like in the movies when all of the background noise gets muffled and the only thing that matters is what’s right in front of the main character… and Marty was all that mattered to me just then.

(Colin, btw, decided to go home after all and left Marty and I to fall in deep sweet love together. His spider senses must have suddenly alerted him to his impending Third Wheel Status Of Doom, so he bolted out of the bed and left in a real hurry.) Marty and I, finding ourselves alone à la that infamous Tiffany song, stayed up all night talking to each other (for real– not used as a euphemism here) and discovered with amazement and excitement what a perfect match we were together. I remember how happy my heart felt that night and how overjoyed I was to have met such a wonderful person under such awkward and unlikely circumstances! I WAS IN LOVE!!! AGAINST ALL ODDS!!! I was brimming with jubilation and thankfulness!

The night gradually gave way to morning, and Marty and I still hadn’t slept a wink. [Insert cheesy sitcom moment here.] Of course, Marty had already arranged for some of his other friends to stop by the very next morning so he could make them pancakes to celebrate one of their birthdays. (This was when he still thought he would be booting it back to Victoria ASAP and before he knew he would be meeting the very woman of his dreams the night before: the pancakes would provide good road trip fuel en route back to Victoria.) The friends arrived promptly at some ungodly hour on Sunday, December 7th, and they were greeted by a sleepless Marty and some strange– also sleepless– woman wearing Marty’s pyjama pants: me. Ahem… The looks on their faces said it all: who the hell are you and why the hell are you wearing Marty’s pants??!

Good question.

Best photo of me ever. Ahem. No wonder Marty fell in love... (?)

We all ate wholesome buckwheat pancakes with fresh raspberry sauce that morning. It was an awkward encounter, for sure. (Them: “Gee, I don’t recall Marty ever mentioning you before..”, Me: “Um, we actually just met last night.” [painful silence]).  However, when I left Marty’s house afterward, I did so knowing that I had found my soulmate and that we were in love with each other. That was Sunday morning, and by Monday evening, Marty and I had moved in together. (Taking it slow, like the slow learner I am.) On Wednesday of that same week, we said the ‘L’ word out loud to each other (and meant it!) And a year and a half later, we were married.

This was on the first Monday. Yes, I am wearing Marty's sweater AND pj pants and am busily knitting an acrylic scarf. I think I had bed head for a whole month after meeting Marty.

For the record: our friends who shared those awkward breakfast pancakes with us ended up being our Best Man and Maid of Honour at our awesome impromptu island wedding ceremony. And we lived happily ever after! (cue puppies and roll credits)

Our first awesome 'couples' shot, a la junior high grad. Ah, young love!