Retirement Age Stories

The Cat People

The Cat People            by Octo G. Enario

“My parents were really strict with us kids. They gave no special favor to the boys or the girls,” said a fellow gym-rat one morning. As usual others chimed in about their early family life. Most of the men recanted tales about how tough they had it. It became a competition about who had the toughest parents, apparently a sign of manliness. My relationship with my mother came to mind. I hesitated a moment but then called up the courage to throw my less than macho experience into the fray.         

The bond between my mother and me was strong. Not only was there the love of mother and child, but a powerful empathy as well. We reacted as one organism to stimuli. One tuning fork would start vibrating, and the other would pick up the beat. Our reactions were magnified because we reinforced each other’s responses. This connection was expected of a mother and child for the first few years after birth, but our psychological closeness never ended. Of course, I had my life and she had hers. However, whenever we came together, the old connection surfaced. Our strongest reactions usually involved humor or fear.

Both of us were afraid of heights. During a motoring trip with Mom to New York from North Carolina, I had to drive across a high, narrow bridge. As we approached, I started to feel uneasy, as I always did driving over any bridge. We were trapped; we had to go over that bridge.  Mom picked up on the fear and became a bit agitated. I then started to sweat. She became very silent. As we ascended  the bridge, she started to shift in her seat. I tried to drive as close to the middle of the bridge as possible without hitting cars coming from the other direction. I almost felt faint. As we passed the high point of the bridge and began our descent, our composure returned. There we were, two grown people acting so irrationally. I thought, “If I were driving by myself, it would not have been so traumatic.”

Both Mom and I loved eerie stories, mysteries, and science fiction. Watching “The Wolf Man,” “Frankenstein,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” or “The Twilight Zone” titillated us and scared us. We would watch the old black and white TV late into the night, shaking like leaves. Everyone else in the house was asleep and all was quiet except for the dialogue from the TV. The slightest external noise made us jump. If the refrigerator motor came on, we were startled. It did not take much because we got so engrossed in the stories.

One late evening we were spellbound by an old movie called “The Cat People.” This was a low-budget thriller that is now recognized as a classic of suspense and shock. There was no reliance on high tech special effects. The talented director made great use of shadows and camera angles to manipulate the emotions of the audience. Mom and I moved involuntarily closer together on the couch as the drama unfolded. The scary climactic scene had just begun. We leant in close to the TV as the heroine, doing laps in the darkened indoor swimming pool, realized she was being stalked by some inhuman presence. My hand was up to my mouth, and my breathing almost stopped. Mom was even more frightened. Suddenly, there was a loud, rapid knocking on the front door, and we both sprang up with startled screams. After a moment, I recovered enough to answer the door. It was my friend Frank, who was merely returning my baseball glove. Composing ourselves, we invited him in, and all three of us watched the end of the film. Frank had a good story to tell the neighborhood the next day.

On another occasion, Mom and I were watching a film we had never heard of, “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday.” It starred the French comedian and director Jacques Tati. Later we discovered that it was an award-winning classic. The quirky humor in the movie hit both of our funny bones. As the film progressed, we laughed louder and louder. Tears were flowing as we held our stomachs in fits of laughter. At the end of the comedy we were exhausted, and we retired for the evening. The next day, my Aunt Marie, who lived in the apartment on the second floor of the large family home, came down to find out what we were laughing so uproariously about the night before. We told her the name of the film, and Mom and I realized how out of control we were the prior evening.

As I look back on my relationship with my mom, I realize that   the physical cutting of the umbilical cord does not necessarily cut the spiritual bond — it can last forever.