War no more

War no more

She has come to the riverside.

She has run free and naked from her armor.

She ain’t gonna study war no more.

Gunmetal grey and named for a warrior princess, Xena has been to the front lines. In three short years of life, she’s glimpsed the first war, the last war, the war that conscripts us all.

She has fought bitterly against herself.

Xena did not enlist for this. More mystic than soldier, the lithe little cat wanted to bend her sword into a spoon, her spear into a spatula, and serve everyone scallop sandwiches on the beach.

But the winds blew cold, and Xena was drafted into the wrong war, the long war, the war that lobs lies like stale treats.

The grenade in Xena’s garden was her own skin.

Invisible troops stomped back and forth through soft fields, booby-trapping every blossom with barbed wire. Xena itched and ached until she was exhausted.

Pain lied, as pain can only do: you must scratch. You must dig. You must wound yourself, bleed yourself, shred yourself like a bad story.

Encamped by enough pain, any of us would have done the same. Lies disguise as balm in desperate times. Xena warred with her silky pussywillow fur, until she was a cat’s cradle of cuts and crevices.

She had not studied for this. Tearing yourself to pieces is a war no one can win.

The tender troops at a public shelter had done all they could by Xena, but the war without end raged cold and cruel.

You can’t save yourself from yourself. None of us can.

But the barge of mercy rumbles down the river day and night.

There’s no one way to end a war, any more than there’s a single way to sing about tomorrow.

Tabby’s Place brokers peace in a hundred dazzlingly different pieces. While Rusty was curmudgeoning his past into a head-bonking future and McGregor was trading toughness for toe-rubbability (which also happens to be Fortune 500 companies’ most sought-after skill), the little grey seal was being peeled from her post.

This meant unbuckling her armor, a soft collar that was the feeble shield between herself and herself. It was Grover the Muppet against Genghis Khan.

But where barricades failed, our Seal/Vet Team prevailed.

Skin allergies are smarmy, simpering cowards.

Self-mutilation can be soothed into exultation.

And one glossy grey flower child was one prescription diet-plus-medication away from peace.

When you’ve wielded all your strength against yourself for so long, calm can feel anticlimactic. What is your purpose in peacetime? Where do you scratch the surface when you itch no more?

Is there room for one more down by the riverside?

Like Xena, like you, like every creature old enough to scar, I have witnessed wars seen by no other eyes.

I grew up hearing my Mom blast Pete Seeger songs on vinyl while cleaning the house, and I sang “Down by the Riverside” with all my little-girl might.

But in the peaceful 1990s, war seemed remote. Then I turned thirteen.

There’s no one way to turn against yourself, any more than there’s a single way to see your face through kind eyes. But although I didn’t scratch my fur off, I found ways to wage war against the weird world within.

Like Xena, like you, I was born for the riverside, the mischievous mystic shore where there’s room for the weird and the wobbly. But like every living creature, I had to be carried there, at times against my own will.

You can’t save yourself from yourself.

But you can’t stop the barge of love from barging in on your battles.

And so it was that the love of people, and cats, and people who love cats more than people, peeled off my armor, and put a straw hat on my head, and filled my armory with berries and forgiveness.

There was only one rule down by the riverside.

Those who have been loved back into liking themselves must love forward, forcibly.

Xena, all princess, no war, has learned this lesson well. She passes out peace like pepperoni slices, jostling Josie for the honor of loving. They tend wounds. They blend their voices in song. They mend the thorny field they’ve been given, and they bend all of our swords into smiley faces.

Suddenly itchless, we catch ourselves smiling into each other’s faces.

Saved from scratching, we even smile at our own faces.

Xena has come to the riverside.

She has come to our side.

And at Tabby’s Place, we all get to be on each other’s side. Forever.

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